Theology of Anabaptism

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Anabaptists (originally a pejorative title, meaning "re-baptizers", from Greek ανα and βαπτιζω) are Christians of the Radical Reformation.


The leading elements of Anabaptist theology are:

Believer's Baptism
Baptism is to be administered to believers only.
Symbolism of Holy Communion
Communion is a memorial of the death of Christ, and transubstantiation does not occur.
Restricted Communion
The bread and "fruit of the vine" should be broken with baptized believers only.
Religious Separation
Christians should be separated from the world.
Separation of church and state
Christians should not make an oath or hold the office of magistrate.
Christians should not exercise coercion, whether political, physical or otherwise, most prominently illustrated by refusal to vote, engage in self-defense, or go to war.

(Note: Schwertler Anabaptists, such as Balthasar Hubmaier, were not nonresistant and supported the government; they even encouraged involvement in government.)

Anabaptists also regard true religious reform as involving social improvement. The socialism of the 16th century was Christian and Anabaptist, though most Anabaptists never adopted a strict communal lifestyle.

The Anabaptists practiced church discipline before any of the Reformers adopted it. Reformer Martin Bucer was influenced by them to introduce discipline into the church in Strassburg, though the attempt was not successful. Bucer convinced John Calvin of the idea, and he established church discipline in Geneva. Calvin read the Schleitheim Confession in 1544 and concluded, "these unfortunate and ungrateful people have learned this teaching and some other correct views from us." Calvin was only 18 years old and still a Catholic when the Schleitheim Confession was formed in 1527.[1] According to Harold Bender and several of his colleagues, the Anabaptists were "voluntaristic in religious choice, advocates of a church completely free from state influence, biblical literalists, non-participants in any government activity to avoid moral compromise, suffering servant disciples of Jesus who emphasized moral living and who were persecuted and martyred as Jesus had been, and restitutionists who tried to restore pre-Constantinian Christian primitivism." While within historical Anabaptism numerous variations occurred, the comparison of Anabaptism with Protestantism highlights a consistent core of faith and practice among the Anabaptists.

After Martin Luther's rejected reformation of Roman Catholicism, these groups denied the validity of infant baptism. In addition, Anabaptists rejected all Roman Catholic baptism as invalid. They therefore re-baptized those whom they regarded as not having received any Christian initiation at all, and claimed that their baptism after profession of faith was the recipient's first legitimate baptism. Reportedly, one of the first adult baptisms was publicly performed in Zürich, Switzerland, in January 1525.


The Anabaptist view of baptism is one of its outstanding features. In their view, baptism was reserved for repentant believers who were aware that their sins had been forgiven, not unknowing infants. In this view they defied both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformers. According to the Schleitheim Confession (1527):

"Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ, and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with Him in death, so that they may be resurrected with Him and to all those who with this significance request it (baptism) of us and demand it for themselves. This excludes all infant baptism, the highest and chief abomination of the Pope. In this you have the foundation and testimony of the apostles. Matt. 28, Mark 16, Acts 2, 8, 16, 19."

The Dordrecht Confession (1632) states,

"Concerning baptism we confess that all penitent believers, who, through faith, regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, are made one with God, and are written in heaven, must, upon such Scriptural confession of faith, and renewing of life, be baptized with water, in the most worthy name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, according to the command of Christ, and the teaching, example, and practice of the apostles, to the burying of their sins, and thus be incorporated into the communion of the saints; henceforth to learn to observe all things which the Son of God has taught, left, and commanded His disciples."

The concept of believers' baptism drew the main attention of 16th-century Continental Anabaptists, but the mode was also an issue. The majority appear to have taught and practiced baptism by pouring, while a minority practiced baptism by immersion. The writings of Menno Simons seem at times to promote immersion as the proper mode, but his practice was by pouring. Bernhard Rothmann argued for immersion in his Bekentnisse, and Pilgram Marpeck copied this idea into his Vermanung, but weakened the position by accepting pouring or sprinkling as an alternate mode. The mode of baptism was debated by the Hutterites and the Polish Brethren around the turn of the 17th century, and the arguments for immersion by Polish leader Christoph Ostorodt were incorporated into the Racovian Confession of Faith in 1604. Servetus made a strong case for immersion. The Mennonites, Swiss Brethren, South German Anabaptists, and Hutterites were not as concerned about mode, and, while not rejecting immersion, found pouring much more practical and believed it to be the Scriptural mode.


Christology addresses the person and work of Jesus Christ, relative to his divinity, humanity, and work of salvation. The 16th-century Anabaptists were orthodox Trinitarians accepting both the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ and salvation through his death on the cross. In the area of his humanity certain Anabaptists adopted somewhat different views, which left them open to charges of heresy. Melchior Hoffman, Menno Simons, Dirk Philips and others held and taught an idea which has been dubbed "celestial flesh". Hans Denck (1500–1527) held a view often called "Logos Christology", but his view was much less influential on the movement as a whole.

In attempting to explain how Jesus Christ's two natures came to be, Menno Simons and Dirk Philips concluded and taught that Jesus did not derive his humanity from Mary. This view has also been called the doctrine of "heavenly flesh" and "Incarnational Christology". In this view they were dependent on Melchior Hoffmann, who probably was influenced in this view by Kaspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig. Hoffman wrote, "We have now heard enough that the whole seed of Adam, be it of man, woman, or virgin, is cursed and delivered to eternal death. Now if the body of Jesus Christ was also such flesh and of this seed ... it follows that the redemption has not yet happened. For the seed of Adam belongs to Satan and is the property of the devil." Similarly Menno concluded: "In the same manner the heavenly Seed, namely, the Word of God, was sown in Mary, and by her faith, being conceived in her by the Holy Ghost, became flesh, and was nurtured in her body; and thus it is called the fruit of her womb, that same as a natural fruit or offspring is called the fruit of its natural mother." In 1632, 71 years after the death of Menno Simons, and near the end of the first century of Dutch Anabaptism, mention of Menno's Christology was left out of the Dordrecht Confession of Faith. Not only was the "celestial flesh" doctrine a point of controversy between Mennonites and Protestants in the 16th and early 17th centuries, it was also a source of controversy between Anabaptist groups.

In Poland and the Netherlands, certain of the Anabaptists denied the Trinity, hence the saying that a Socinian was a learned Baptist (see Socinus.) With these Menno and his followers refused to hold communion. Italian Anabaptism had an anti-trinitarian core but was a part of Anabaptism in general. In his work, Stella showed that movement's connections to Neapolitan spiritualism, (especially Juan de Valdés), but also made the connection to the Marranos as well.

Lord's Supper

In the early Anabaptist Schleitheim Confession, breaking of bread is the term used for the Lord's supper or communion. The Anabaptist view of the Lord's supper is similar to the Zwinglian or symbolism view. The corporate nature (fellowship, unity) of participation is emphasized to a greater degree than in many communions. Pilgram Marpeck wrote, "As members of one body, we proclaim the death of Christ and bodily union attained by untainted brotherly love." The terminology sacrament is generally rejected. Marpeck further wrote, "The true meaning of communion is mystified and obscured by the word sacrament." In connection with the Lord's supper, many Anabaptists stress the rite of feet washing.

Old Testament

Most Anabaptists held that both the Old and New Testaments were the word of God, while insisting that the New Testament was the rule of faith and practice for the church. Some emphasized this latter position so strongly that the Anabaptists were at times accused of rejecting the Old Testament (Marcionism). This charge of their enemies remains unsubstantiated. Anabaptists Hans Denck and Ludwig Hätzer were responsible for the first translation of the Old Testament Prophets from Hebrew into the German language. On the other hand, the Münsterites accepted Old Testament practices such as theocracy and polygamy as normative for the church.

See also


  1. "The Anabaptists: Did You Know?". Christianity Today. January 1, 1985. Retrieved 14 July 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Anabaptist Baptism: A Representative Study, by Rollin S. Armour; ISBN 1-57910-158-5
  • Covenant and Community: the Life and Writing of Pilgram Marpeck, by William Klassen
  • Lords Supper In Anabaptism; A Study In The Christology Of Balthasar Hubmaier, Pilgram Marpeck, And Dirk Philips, by John D. Rempel ISBN 0-8361-3112-6
  • Mennonite Encyclopedia, Harold S. Bender, Cornelius J. Dyck, Dennis D. Martin, Henry C. Smith, et al., editors ISBN 0-8361-1018-8
  • The Anabaptist View of the Church, by Franklin H. Littell; ISBN 1-57978-836-X
  • The Theology of Anabaptism, by Robert J. Friedmann; ISBN 1-57910-210-7

External links