It is a well-accepted opinion that the modern Baptists have their roots in the old Anabaptists of Europe. This opinion includes the Mennonites and Dutch Baptists who played a part in the history of the English Baptists. Protestant Baptists claim that all Baptists today are descendants from either the Particular or General Baptists of England (both of whom are Reformers). So we ask; Who were the Anabaptists? No serious student of Baptist history will fail to discover that there are many who assert that the Anabaptists originated during the Reformation period. If this assertion is true then that would make the Baptists to be in the class of the Protestants. Thus there is a need to investigate the Anabaptists and any connection with the Baptists.
This study is in two parts. The first is a discourse on the Anabaptist, and the second is a Protestant claim of the Anabaptists.
PART ONE: ANABAPTISM
The bulk of the following material was written by Robert Robinson in his book The History of Baptism, first published in 1790's Cambridge, England, and later reprinted in 1817, Boston. You may find this material to be tedious and difficult reading due to the style of writing of the eighteenth century English. But with patience and concentration the reading of Robinson will be rewarded with a depth of knowledge of the features and history of the Anabaptists and the Baptists. You may need to read sentences several times to get the full force of the details discussed, I urge you take the effort.
The History of Baptism, Chapter XXXIV, Of Anabaptism.
It is not a little diverting to see with what perfect self-complacence many authors have given the world histories of the Anabaptists. Indiscriminately, without definition of terms, or any distinction of times, places, persons, or circumstances, without suspecting any thing to be false, or proving any thing to be true, they roll the narration rapidly along, and conclude without giving the reader any information. There is not a plainer tale in the world than that of the Anabaptists, yet there is not a tale more confused in the telling. According to some, who have done the Anabaptists the honor of writing their history, without knowing any thing certain of the matter, it ought to be reported at the end of a doleful tale about heresy, and sedition, that the first Anabaptist of record is the apostle Paul. For it is strictly true, as Paul re-baptized certain disciples in Ephesus he reflects perfectly what is an Anabaptist. One page of criticism is of more worth than a whole volume of declamation, and the critical accuracy of the history of Anabaptists is nothing in the world but a failed narration of distinct facts. To mix all these facts into one general history is to create a chaos.
An Anabaptist is one, who is re-baptized or re-baptizes: but if it be granted that baptism may be administered wrong, what possible reason can be given why it should not be re-administered right? Certainly something is essential to baptism; if that something be omitted in an administration, the act is not a baptism but a fiction, and consequently reason requires that the fiction be superseded by conferring the essence. The little boy Athanasius, when he was twelve years of age, at play dipped his play-fellows in the sea, and it was adjudged by the bishop and his councilors a valid baptism, because it appeared on inquiry, he had previously asked the usual questions, the boys had made the proper answers, and he had pronounced as he dipped them the same words, which he had heard the bishop pronounce when he baptized Catechumens. Had any of these parts been omitted, the baptism would have been thought invalid and the children must have been re-baptized, or rather they must have been baptized, for the first would have been adjudged no baptism, but the mere sport of boys who knew not what they were about. The bishop of the church did not hold a council of bishops on the question of Anabaptism, but on the fact before them, whether the boys had been baptized, or not, and when it was determined they had, nobody thought of re-baptizing them. If it had been determined they had not, would any accurate writer have called them Anabaptists for being afterward regularly baptized by the bishop? Here then lies the whole mystery of Anabaptism. Nobody holds, or ever did hold, at least in this part of the world, a repetition of baptism*: but different Christians in the same ages have thought differently of what makes the essence of baptism, as a narration of facts will prove.
*There are a limited number of churches today who will re-baptize those returning in penance to their membership after exclusion.
Different Kinds of Persons Called Anabaptists.
There are in general six sorts of Christians, who have, been called Anabaptists, as different from one another as can well be imagined. The first placed the essence of baptism in the virtue of the person baptized: the second placed it in the form of words pronounced in the administration: the third in the virtue of the administrator: the fourth in the consent of the person baptized: the fifth in dipping: and the sixth in both a profession of faith and an immersion. [Another sort of Anabaptists can be added in our modern times; that re-baptism is performed because at the time of the first baptism the candidate did not possess their system of beliefs.]
I. The first class is very large and extremely respectable. It was about the close of the second, or the beginning of the third century, that Tertullian began to complain of the corruption of baptism, and he wrote a book in the Greek language, against the administering of it to immoral persons.* After his death, Agrippinus, bishop of the church at Carthage, and many neighboring bishops, agreed to reject the vague baptisms administered, they knew not how or by whom, on account of the immorality of the people, who had been baptized, and to re-baptize all such as should come over from those communities to join their churches. A few years after, Cyprian and seventy-one neighboring Bishops renewed this agreement. Then Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and a great many bishops of Galatia, Cilicia, Phrygia, and other parts of Asia, determined for the same reason to re-baptize. Dionysius and his followers in Egypt, the Acephali, Novatus of Rome, Novatian of Carthage, all the Novatian churches, Donatus and his numberless followers, called after him Donatists, all rejected the baptism administered by those, who have since been called Catholics, whom they reputed heretics, and whose churches they called habitations of impurity, and all such as came from those churches to them, they re-baptized. All these, and they were very numerous, considered the moral integrity and good faith of the person baptized, the very essence of baptism, and if a professor of Christianity were an unholy man, they adjudged his baptism like his profession, vain and invalid, and himself not a weak believer of Christianity, but a mere unprincipled Pagan. These rigid moralists, however, did not count themselves Anabaptists; for they thought there was but one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and that their own.
*Tertullialu de baptismo. Cap. xv.
II. The second class consists of such as place the essence of baptism in the form of words pronounced by the administrator, or, to speak more correctly, in a belief of that concerning the nature of God, which the form of words was supposed to express. In the year three-hundred and twenty-five, the council of Nice was held under the direction of the Emperor Constantine the Great. In this council the Trinitarian Christians got themselves established, and it was decreed that such as should come over to the established church from the congregations of the Novatians or Puritans, should be admitted by the laying on of hands: but that such as should come from the Paulicians both men and women, should be re-baptized. Commentators assign a very true reason for this distinction. The Nicene council held the doctrine of the Trinity as did the Puritans, and both expressed their faith in the Trinity by administering baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: but the Paulicians, who denied the Trinity, and affirmed that Jesus was a mere man, omitted this form. Their baptism, therefore, the Catholics rejected as trivial and of no value. The Arians for the same reason rejected the baptism of the Catholics, and they also re-baptized such as came from them to join their societies. Anabaptism, as it is called, at that time, was thought by all parties necessary to the purity of their churches: yet in their own opinions they did not re-baptize: but supposing what was essential to baptism to have been omitted, they administered it rightly, as they thought, for the first and only time.
III. The third division comprehends all such as placed the essence of baptism in the virtue or competency of the administrator. If this be an error, as it should seem, it is one of the most specious, and therefore one of the most popular and pardonable mistakes in the Christian world. To see a bad man perform the most solemn rites of religion, to see him perform them with carelessness, or it may be with contempt, is to behold a spectacle shocking to the most vulgar eye, the cause, naturally, of prejudice and infidelity in the people. It was on this account that many of the ancient Bohemian Brethren re-baptized, and were denominated by the priests, whose services they disowned, Anabaptists. The truth is, the brethren estimated baptizing as they did praying, and as they thought a vicious priest did not pray because he chanted, so they supposed he did not baptize because he administered the form rightly. They complained that their parish priest administered baptism laughing, and in a manner so profane, that it had more the air of a ludicrous comedy than of a religious institute. Bishop Bossuet properly enough observes, this re-baptizing was an open declaration, that in the opinion of the Brethren the Catholic Church had lost Baptism. This was precisely their meaning. They did not pretend to re-baptize: but supposing what was done in the church to be no baptism, they baptized, as they thought, properly.
IV. The fourth class consists of such as think a personal profession of the Christian religion essential to baptism. This was the opinion of Socinus, as it is of the Baptist churches in Holland and Germany. In what light so ever Christianity be represented, whether as a law to be obeyed, a declaration to be believed, or a covenant to be acceded to, it should seem, there is no such thing as reconciling either with allowed ideas of justice and propriety without admitting, that the consent of both parties is of the very essence of the transaction. The forcing of a Jew or Pagan to be baptized without his consent is now-a-days considered as an unwarrantable and unprofitable act of violence: but the baptism of a babe, who may when he grows up to manhood be an idiot or a madman, or what is worse, an infidel and a persecutor, doth not shock any body. So wonderful is the tyranny of custom! Christians of this class consider the baptism of an infant as they would consider his signature of a deed, if, while at the breast his guardian had guided a pen in his little hand, and had made him set his name. Such a deed, and such a baptism, for the very same reasons, they hold null and void, and consequently baptize people on their own profession of faith. They do not imagine they re-baptize, though others call them Anabaptists.
V. The fifth class places the essence of baptism in dipping in water, and had a person been sprinkled ever so decently in any period of life, they would not therefore think him baptized, because, in their opinion, to baptize is to dip, and nothing else. The Greek Church does not hold sprinkling to be baptism, yet the Greeks ought not to be called Anabaptists. A man holds every part of baptism indifferent is, if he repeats it in any way, on his own principles, an Anabaptist: but he, who holds any thing essential to baptism, must necessarily determine that there is no baptism where that essential is omitted. Dipping is that essential with the Greeks.
VI. In the last class are included the churches of the British Baptists, and those of Poland, Lithuania, Transylvania, America, and many more, which, however diversified in speculation and the practice of positive rites, all hold that dipping in water and a personal profession of faith and repentance are essential to baptism. On the first of these principles they disallow sprinkling: on the last they reject infants. Not one of these churches holds two baptisms: not one of them ever repeats baptism. If it be said, they dip in mature age, those who had been sprinkled or dipped in infancy, they reply, sprinkling is not baptizing, and dipping a rational being without his consent is not baptism. They strenuously decry a repetition of baptism, and when any one calls them Anabaptists, they always understand it as the language either of ignorance or malice.
The Difficulty of Writing an History of a People So Diversified.
There is, it should seem, something so very inoffensive in itself, and so perfectly indifferent to society, in a man's being re-baptized, that, if baptism were repeated every month, as the administration of the Lord's supper is, no serious consequences, except to the person himself, could follow. It must, therefore, at first sight, appear as a singular phenomenon, in the history of this people, that they should be described by many celebrated writers as a dangerous set of men, justly forbidden in one state, banished from another, burnt in a third, drowned in a fourth, and allowed to live in any only as a favor. There must be something more than baptism in this affair.
Many writers have given themselves over to the trouble of informing the world what this something more is. Robinson gives a clearer account of the objections a little later under the heading of Anabaptistical Errors.
It is not an easy thing to write the history of a body of people, especially of such a body as this. Natives of all ages, and all countries, with education and without it, rude and refined, living in different habits and customs, subjects of different governments, here protected, and there plundered and driven to madness, having for ages no local legal settlement, entertaining different notions of government, learning, and religion itself, divided in opinion about every speculation of theology, as all other denominations are, of different languages, and without any common standard of belief, agreeing in nothing, except three or four articles necessarily connected with adult baptism: How is it possible to give a true account of all these people under one general name of Anabaptists? Their history must be divided and subdivided, and it must be shown wherein they differ, and in what they agree. Two or three such confused writers have misled many other writers, much wiser and better than themselves. Some were in other respects men of learning and merit: but utter strangers to the general history, which they pretended to give. It is diverting to see historians on the continent quote an obscure scribbler in England in evidence of what was done an hundred and fifty years before, within a few miles of the places where these foreign historians themselves lived.
All Baptists, However Diversified, Agree In Holding What Are Called Anabaptistical Errors.
Leaving all such writers to suffer or to enjoy their own reveries, and private piques, at their own discretion, it is proper to go on to opponents worth answering, for it must be allowed, English Anabaptism is connected with what are called anabaptistical errors; and it would be a vain undertaking to attempt to deny or disprove facts, which no less than five respectable classes of men have always objected against them. Every writer, who knew what he was about, from the days of the Donatists and the Acephali, to the present time, has directed his main force against these anabaptistical errors, in comparison with which re-baptizing is not worth a moment's attention. The baptism of an adult is of no consequence at all but as it is connected with these errors: and if these errors be disproved, adult baptism falls of itself. It is therefore absolutely necessary to give a sketch of this heart of the history of the Baptists.
History is a monument erected for posterity, and sacred to truth, and a reverential awe for what appears to be true ought to be considered as a sufficient apology for any man's stating a case differently from what it may appear to others. Several respectable bodies of men have taxed the Baptists with holding many dangerous errors. These errors are properly reducible to five heads, and from these as from so many springs, all other small articles like rivulets proceed. Some Baptists, too hastily it should seem, have disowned these errors in the gross, but it is impossible to disprove the existence of them; on the contrary, they are the bases and bonds of their societies. Here it is that their history becomes of consequence; for if the practice of re-baptizing naturally and necessarily includes these errors, the baptism of an adult is not such a futile unconnected thing as some have imagined, and there is great reason to expect objections against it.
A few outlines shall suffice, and two previous remarks are necessary to them. It was said, some time ago, that the established church in the council of Nice ordered some to be re-baptized: but they soon after discovered that the baptism of adults was connected with some other articles dangerous to their system: they therefore forbade re-baptizing, and have held it in abhorrence ever since. So extremely cautious has the Catholic Church been in this affair, that infant baptism, performed by any body, was allowed valid, and the infant deserted by its parents, and found in the street, the priest was directed to dip the child with these words. "Peter, I do not intend to re-baptize thee: but if thou hast not been baptized, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen." It is to be observed, 2dly, that it is not the mode of baptism, dipping or sprinkling, that hath excited the resentment of the opponents of the Baptists, for such as baptized adults by sprinkling have been as much involved in the scandal of holding anabaptistical errors as others, who practice dipping. It is the baptism of an adult precisely, that forms the grand objection, and this it is, which is connected with the errors charged upon Anabaptism. As these errors cannot be denied in regard to such Baptists, let five opponents state their objections themselves.
The first is a statesman, who, in behalf of emperors, kings, princes, barons, burgomasters, and civil rulers of every description, objects, that the Anabaptists affirm “a Christian ought not to execute the offices of, magistrates, an error teeming with sedition.” It would be trifling to reply, Adult baptism hath no connection with the subject of government. It has a close connection with it. An infant is baptized by ORDER of authority: but if when he grows up he be re-baptized, he practically rejects the order, and the power from which it proceeded, and consequently the baptism of an adult is connected with government, and the baptized, disowns all government in this matter of conscience, except his own. This man will not baptize his son, and a person brought up without baptism, is left in a condition of freedom to dispose of himself as he thinks right. Such a state implies liberty to examine religion, to reason about it, to reject or to embrace it by being baptized into what belief and profession a man judges proper. There is, therefore, an inseparable union between adult baptism and civil liberty, and in this great principle all Baptists everywhere agree. The old Donatists used to say, “What have we to do with the Emperor? What business hath the Emperor with our religion? What have bishops to do at court?” When in any age Baptists appear in despotic governments, they are seen, struggling for liberty, and the end of the struggle is burning, banishment, or freedom. They cannot live in tyrannical states, and free countries are the only places to seek for them, for their whole public religion is impracticable without freedom. They differ as other denominations do, about the best means of obtaining and preserving liberty. The English Baptists approve of a limited monarchy, the Dutch of a republic, the Poles of a government nearly aristocratical. The English Baptists think, it is lawful for the members of their churches to execute the office of a magistrate, provided it be not clogged with religious tests. The Dutch, the Swiss, and the Moravian Baptists, execute no offices, take no oaths, bear no arms, shed no human blood, and in civil cases resist not government. The old German Baptists fought for liberty, so did many in Oliver's army here in England, and the only principle, in which they all agree, is, that the civil magistrate hath no right to give or enforce law in matters of religion and conscience. Whether this be an anabaptistical error, or a first principle of good government, must be left with the Miltons, and the Lockes, and Montesquies, and Beccarias to determine.
The second opponent appears in behalf of the intellects, and he affirms: It is an anabaptistical error to prefer illiteracy before learning, and set aside the latter as destructive of religion. Various are the sentiments, which Baptists entertain on this subject: but it must be granted, there is one general principle, in which they all agree, and which is necessarily connected with a personal profession of believing the truth of the Christian religion. An infant asks no questions, he may therefore be baptized into a profession of believing any thing. They will require proof of every article, and consequently both they and their teachers ask what translates a revealed religion into a secret; what was the original character of Christianity, simplicity or obscurity; what keeps a religion intended for everybody a secret from anybody? The Baptists are compelled by the very constitution of their churches to simplify the gospel, to strip it of false ornaments, and to render it intelligible to youth and poor plain men and women, by proving it the most easy, the most evident, the most artless, and therefore the only popular and practicable religion in the world. In a course of experiments they found, that Pagan literature had perverted the gospel, that Christianity was not a learned science, that the world had been imposed on by an unprofitable much learning, and ought to be disabused. They differ very much in their application of this doctrine: but the general principle runs through all their history, and is most remarkable in their schools and colleges, where literature is best understood, as their university at Racow in Poland hath proved. The Baptists are not alone in refusing Plato and other Pagans the honor of expounding the inspired writers. The Jews forbade the tutors of their children to instruct them in Pagan literature. The Baptists, as their history proves, hold all branches of science in a just and proper esteem.
The third is a deputy from the clergy, and he complains: That the one anabaptistical error of rejecting all clerical authority is the cause of a thousand heresies, schisms, divisions, and scandals. There is a great variety of opinions among the Baptists on this subject: but, as before, there is one general principle in which they all agree, from which their variety proceeds, and which, it cannot be denied, is a foundation of truth, on which the charge is founded. By requiring every individual to judge for himself, as a qualification for communion with them, by giving each the holy scripture as the only and sufficient rule of faith and practice, by holding themselves all competent to judge of the nature and evidences of the gospel, by affirming that they are accountable only to God for the use they make of their reason, and that every man, who has a talent is obliged to make use of it, they reduce a priest to a mere tutor, and so effectually subvert all clerical authority. Various as they are, they all unite here. The Moravian Baptists had no regularly ordained ministers, the order was not known among them, and any who could, even women gave instruction. The American Baptists elect teachers of their own, and regularly install them in office, as they call it: but they refuse to pay taxes to support other ministers, and they urge the great principle of the American struggle.* The Polish Baptists ordained in their synods. The English and Dutch Baptists elect their own teachers, and when they please dismiss them. In some congregations the people ordain, in others the people elect, and neighboring ministers ordain by laying on hands and prayer. Some support their teachers by a free and plentiful subscription; others are too poor to do so, and their teachers support themselves by agriculture or trade: but all reduce the minister to a mere teacher, and allow him no authority over any man's conscience, either alone or in, connection with other ministers. It is true, having no masters, and no notion of a power lodged any where to compel uniformity, they part into innumerable societies of different faith and practice. Some are Socinians, others Arians, some Trinitarians, others Arminians, others Calvinists: and others, as the Moravians, and most of the ancient Baptists, place religion in virtue more than in faith [in a system of beliefs]. All of them reject canon law, and place councils, synods, convocations, kirk [church] sessions, and all such tribunals, along with a history of the inquisition. To this article therefore they plead guilty; and having persevered for ages in this error, repentance is hid from their eyes.
*This American struggle is the rejection of state supported bishops.
The fourth is a philosopher, a close connected reasoner, He says, The anabaptistical error of the influence of the Spirit is a source of enthusiasm. Be it for a moment admitted, that the Baptists are enthusiasts, but that they are willing to be taught the reason and soundness of things, and for this cause to examine the wisdom attending the baptism of a new born infant. Is it the conveyance of holiness into water? Is it the washing away of original sin? Is it the price of a contract? Is it a wise man putting questions to a baby at the breast, who can neither hear, see, speak, or think? Is it the conveyance of spirit, and grace, and new birth? The baptism of a believer, embracing Christianity because he has examined and approved of it, is the first step of the Baptist churches, and a perfectly philosophical one it is. However, this objection deserves a direct answer.
I. Let it be observed, that if any Baptists be enthusiasts, they derive it not from baptism, which proceeds on a cool, rational, deliberate exercise of thought, and is regulated by an express command of scripture, the authenticity of which all Christians allow: but from some other notions, which they were previously taught in the Pedobaptist school, and which produce more enthusiasts in other communities than in theirs, and particularly in the church of Rome.
II. The Baptists publicly disavow enthusiasm by making the written word of God the sole rule of their faith and practice, and most think, the doctrine of divine influence without the written word was the parent, and is the nurse of Popery.
*Enthusiasm in this context is the unreasonable and irrational adherence to a doctrinal position or practice without any collaborative scriptural evidence to support such beliefs. It is coupled with fanaticism and superstition, both of which arise from blind and passionate zeal.
Purity of Churches.
The last, but not the least respectable complainant is a representative of the people, who affirms, that the great anabaptistical error, on which their whole economy is built, is chimerical [a wildly fanciful imagination] and cruel, that is, that the Christian church ought to consist of only wise and virtuous persons. It is truly said, this is the article, from which all their other principles and practices precede. It is for the sake of this that adult baptism is practiced, and it is to preserve this that infants, who at best are doubtful characters, are excluded.
This charge is of considerable magnitude, for it includes many articles: it is objected by many writers of great and deserved character, and it is confessed by the modern Baptists, to be what their opponents affirm, the true source of all the peculiarities that are to be found in the religious doctrine and discipline of the Waldenses, the Wickliffites, the Hussites, the Baptists, and many more, who, before the dawn of the reformation, held the same principle, and were remarkable for the same peculiarities. These are nearly the words of Dr. Mosheim. It would not be fair to pass over this article lightly.
I. Baptists oppose four things. First, they deny the fact, that infants derive any religious benefit from baptism. Next, they affirm, on the contrary, that a great injury is done them by it, because they grow up in a prejudice that they are Christians, and therefore never examine what Christianity is. They add, thirdly, that the ordinances of Christianity are not theirs but, they are entrusted by the divine Legislator with the use of them, and they ought not to dispose of them without a direction from him, and they say he hath not given them any order in Scripture to administer the ordinances of his religion to infants. Moreover they observe that, though this sort of people are eager to profess to believe both for themselves and their children, yet there is great reason from their lives to doubt their sincerity.
II. A second class which ought to be heard on the same side, consists of all such as officiate in this lucrative business, and the number is greater than it appears at first. In all Catholic countries a great number, beside the clergy, have an interest direct in the baptism of infants, as venders of wax tapers [candles], oil, salt, and all other articles of daily use in this ceremony. All these complain of the Baptists for attempting to set aside a practice which they say does the children no harm, and does them a deal of good: to which the Baptists reply, religion ought not to be made a trade; such parents, whatever they may pretend about Jesus Christ and the creed, and faith, and regeneration, only mean to train up their children to trade in religion as they do: but argument would be ill directed here, for prejudice in favor of gainful offices is a thing of course.
III. The eloquence of the pulpit, like that of the bar, is sometimes the chaste ornament of truth, at other times the mere enameling of error, inlaying fiction with glowing colors, to give that a gloss, which would otherwise be beheld with disgust. Roman Catholics argue for the baptism of infants from the authority of the church, which is good logic, though bad divinity. A man who holds himself bound by canon law, reasons consequentially when he says, I baptize infants because such a canon orders me to do so. This man's business is to defend not infant-baptism, but canon law. It is not he, it is the Protestant, who denies human authority over conscience, and who affirms the sufficiency of scripture, he [the Protestant] is driven to the necessity of inventing scripture arguments, for in vain he affects to be eloquent among Protestants without them. It is to be presumed, if there were any one chapter professedly on this subject, that chapter would be quoted; but as there is no such chapter, arguments must be taken from detached sentences, and figures of speech, and allusions. Protestants have discovered great genius in inventing arguments. Really the Baptists ought to be forgiven for not having a taste for this sort of eloquence: yea, they ought to be applauded for preferring argument before elocution.
The Catholic Church and the Baptists seem to be at the greatest variance in religion. No. It is not so in regard to baptism. The dispute is short, and soon over, for both sides reason justly. The Catholic produces a written order, called a canon law, as a reason to baptize infants. The Baptist denies the competence of every human tribunal to make religious law: and the dispute is at an end. Protestants who seem to agree with the Baptists in many things urge scripture for infant baptism: but the Baptists do not allow that scripture so much as mentions the subject.
A General Notion Of A Baptist Church.
The fact is this. Let the impartial judge. The Baptists form precisely such an idea of a Christian Church as that ornament of this country, the late Mr. Locke did. His words are these: “A church I take to be a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord, in order to the publick worshipping of God, in such a manner as they judge acceptable to him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls. I say, it is a free and voluntary society. No body is born a member of any church; otherwise the religion of parents would descend unto children, by the same right of inheritance as their temporal estates, and every one would hold his faith by the same tenure he does his lands; than which nothing can be imagined more absurd. Thus, therefore, that matter stands. No man by nature is bound unto any particular church or sect, but every one joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly acceptable to God. The hope of salvation, as it was the only cause of his entrance into that communion, so it can be the only reason of his stay there. For if afterwards he discover any thing either erroneous in the doctrine, or incongruous in the worship of that society to which he has joined himself, why should it not be as free for him to go out as it was to enter? No member of a religious society can be tied
with any other bonds but what proceed from the certain expectation of eternal life. A church then is a society of members voluntarily uniting to this end.”
"Things never so indifferent in their own nature when they are brought into the church and worship of God, are removed out of the magistrates' jurisdiction: because in that use they have no connection at all with civil affairs. The only business of the church is the salvation of souls: and it no ways concerns the commonwealth, or any member of it, that this, or the other ceremony be there made use of. Neither the use, nor the omission of any ceremonies, in those religious assemblies, does either advantage or prejudice the life liberty, or estate of any man. For example: Let it be granted, that the washing of an infant with water is in itself an indifferent thing. Let it be granted also, that if the magistrate understand such washing to be profitable to the curing or preventing of any disease that children are subject unto, and esteem the matter weighty enough to be taken care of by a law, in that case he may order it to be done. But will any one therefore say, that the magistrate has the same right to ordain, by law, that all children shall be baptized by priests, in the sacred font, in order to the purification of their souls? The extreme difference of these two cases is visible to every one at first sight. Or let us apply the last case to the child of a Jew, and the thing will speak for itself. For what hinders but a Christian magistrate may have subjects that are Jews? Now if we acknowledge that such an injury may not be done unto a Jew, as to compel him, against his own opinion, to practise in his religion a thing that is in its nature indifferent; how can we maintain that any thing of this kind may be done to a Christian?"
The leading idea of this great man in his description of a church is the maxim, from which Mosheim truly says all peculiarities of the Baptists proceed: but that it deserves to be considered, as he hath been pleased to call it, a visionary illusion of enthusiasm, an erroneous, and chimerical notion, productive of seditious, tumultuous, and desperate attempts, equally pernicious to the cause of religion and the civil interests of mankind,
are positions, which a Briton who understands liberty will not suffer a German ecclesiastick to affirm without contradiction. There is no hazard in saying Mr. Locke understood liberty, and a British Baptist day-labourer understands it better than the learned Dr. Mosheim. This one principle, which includes the four mentioned before, is so far from deserving to be called an enthusiastical anabaptistical error, that it is a sober first truth of civil and religious liberty, and as such hath been supported by the ablest of politicians and the best of Christians, and by many of both, who never had any knowledge of the Baptists. The freedom of religion from the control of the magistrate: the simplicity and perfection of revelation without the aid of scholastical theology: the absolute exemption of all mankind from the dominion of their clergy: the sufficiency of reason to judge of revelation: are all included in the voluntary baptism of an adult, and in the maxim, "that the visible church, which Christ hath established upon earth, is an assembly of true and real saints, and ought therefore to be inaccessible to the wicked, and exempt from all institutions of human authority. It is this maxim with its contents, and not re-baptizing, that hath occasioned most of the persecutions of this party of Christians. Such re-baptizers as did not hold these sentiments, as the council of Nice for example, have been caressed and not persecuted: and such as practised no baptism at all, as the people called Quakers, or infant-baptism, as the English Independents, but have held these sentiments, have drunk deep for the same reasons of the same bitter cup.
It was Anabaptistical, to hold that the church ought to be constituted of believers only;—to separate from the national church because of its many unscriptural practices, unauthorized constitutions, and the impiety of the majority of its members ;—to demand that the minister of the word should be a believer of the truths he preached, and a practicer of the piety he inculcated;—to give to the whole community of the faithful the power of electing their pastor, of binding and loosing, of discipline and instruction, and to call such as were gifted by divine grace, whether learned or unlearned, to the teacher's office ;—and lastly, to exclude the magistrate from the exercise of any civil power in the church.*
* See A Godly Treatise, wherein are examined and confuted many execrable fancies, given out and held partly by Henry Barrowe and John Greenwood: partly by other of the Anabaptistical order. Written by Robert Some, Doctor of Divinity, 4to. London, 1589.
From what has been said, it appears that an history of the Baptists is a history of the five important articles, in which they always have constitutionally differed from all established churches of every form. These are, as has been observed: a love of civil liberty in opposition to magistratical dominion: an affirmation of the sufficiency and simplicity of revelation in opposition to scholastical theology: a zeal for self government in opposition to clerical authority: a requisition of the reasonable service of a personal profession of Christianity
rising out of a man’s own convictions, in opposition to the practice of force on babes, the whole of which they deem enthusiasm: and the indispensable necessity of virtue in every individual member of a Christian church in distinction from all speculative creeds, all rights and ceremonies, and all parochial divisions. A mere statement of these five points is sufficient to excite a presumption that in all countries, where Catholick Christianity was established by law, the Baptists must have had a great number of enemies, who had an interest, an inclination, and a power to render them odious. The theory is too well confirmed by historical facts.
PART TWO; ANABAPTISTS OF THE PROTESTANT
Here is the story of the Protestant Anabaptists as told by their writers.
“It begins in 1524 with four men who were to play a prominent part in the formation of a new ‘Anabaptist’ group. These men were, Felix Manz a catholic priest, Balthasar Hubmaier a disciple of Luther and a Lutheran preacher, Conrad Grebel a disciple of Zwingli, and George Blaurock a married ex-Catholic priest. These men had looked to Zwingli of Zurich, Switzerland to be a champion of believers' baptism and for the abolition of Mass and images in the church. Initially Zwingli embraced these reforms but later turned from them. In the eyes of his followers he had become a false prophet. So they became dissenters of Zwingli and the council of Zurich.”
“On January 17, 1525, the city council of Zurich ordered all unbaptized children to be presented for baptism within eight days. The dissenters distressed, at this edict, met on the evening of January 21, 1525 at a house belonging to Felix Manz's mother. According to an eyewitness account the following occurred. ‘After they had prayer, George Blaurock (the married ex-priest) implored Conrad Grebel for God's sake to baptize him with the true Christian baptism upon his faith and knowledge. And when he had knelt down with such a request and desire, Conrad baptized him, since at that time there was no ordained minister to perform such work.’ After his baptism by Grebel, Blaurock proceeded to baptize all the others (15) present. The newly baptized then pledged themselves as true Disciples of Christ to live lives separated from the world and to teach the gospel and hold the faith.” [From this it is declared “Anabaptistism” was born, the birth of the Anabaptists.]
With this first baptism, the earliest church of the Swiss Brethren was constituted.
“The following week these men held open revival meetings and led prayer meetings in private homes. Those who experienced regeneration were baptized by affusion [sprinkling or pouring]. - [There are accounts where they later practiced immersion.] - They also administered the Lord's Supper in these homes.”
“Through these faithful acts, the dissenters formed themselves into a separated community, a ‘gathered church’ of ‘genuine believers.’ By their opponents they were nicknamed ‘Anabaptists,’ or rebaptizers. [Today they are called Swiss Brethren.] But, this title was both inaccurate and prejudicial, since they recognized but one baptism, that for adults only, and so denied the validity of their baptism in infancy. They called themselves simply ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters.’
[Here are some of their beliefs. However, at what time in their existence these beliefs were embraced it is not told. Nor is it clear which Anabaptists held these beliefs. Since the position is taken that all Anabaptists were of them, no effort is given to distinguish between them and others or the doctrines of each body.]
“They maintained that a life of saintliness must be the test of true faith, discipleship, and the spiritual rebirth. The true church of God is made up not of all professed Christians, who have entered upon church membership through baptism in infancy, but only of all convinced believers, who have received baptism as adults in full consciousness of faith and who now display in their lives the palpable fruits of faith. They refused to have any part in inclusive state-churches. Thus, they were the first to practice separation of church and state. [This statement ignores the principles of the fifth century Donatists who objected to the state, Constantine, ruling in church matters.] They took the position of freedom of worship and belief [or the refusal of it] of individuals. One of their ministers, Hubmaier, baptized more than three hundred men out of a milk pail [using a ladle]. Foot washing was engaged in by the newly baptized.”
They are reported to have grown rapidly and expanded into Germany, Moravia, and throughout the high valleys of the Alps (apparently only in Switzerland and not Italy).
“On February 24, 1527 there was held a synod of Swiss Brethren at Schleitheim. From this synod came the drafting of the ‘Schleitheim Confession.’ This confession affirmed believers' baptism, that the church is regarded as composed of only of local associations of baptized regenerated Christians, united as the body of Christ by the common observance of the Lord's Supper; its sole weapon is excommunication (the ban), and absolute rejection of all ‘self-indulgence of the flesh.’ The forms of worship of the Roman, Lutheran, and Zwinglian churches are explicitly repudiated as unchristian. The duties of the pastor - who is now regarded as a settled minister rather than an itinerant evangelist - are clearly defined: his chief responsibility is to read the Scriptures and to teach and admonish in their light; he leads in prayer; and he presides at the Supper, in which connection he disciplines and bans in the name of the church.”
*This account was taken from the book, The Anabaptist Story, by William R. Estep. Many others have picked up on his position of the origin of the Anabaptists.
It is presented that the Swiss Brethren migrated into Germany and from there spread into Holland. In about 1535 Menno Simons, a Dutch Catholic priest, met these Brethren and was converted to their doctrine. From Menno came the Mennonites. The assertion of today's Mennonites is that their beginning was in the Swiss Alps when the Swiss Brethren, called Anabaptists, separated from Zwingli and founded a new sect. Thus they conclude that they are the original Anabaptists.
At this junction we leave off the story of this group of people called "Anabaptist." It must be observed that the leaders of the Swiss Brethren were courageous, dedicated, zealous, and fearless. Many were put to death cruelly and others suffered in daily persecutions. If any Protestants were to be praised, it would be due them. They were heroic in what they believed.
But our argument is not against these people. It is against the claim of many modern writers that they, the Swiss Brethren, and they alone were the Anabaptists existing during the sixteenth century and that there were no others before them. The statement that on that night on January 21, 1525 was the birth of the Anabaptists is grossly inaccurate as we have seen from Robinson’s account of Anabaptists. It may have been the birth of a new group, which was labeled Anabaptists, but it was not the birth of the Anabaptists. Ever since the third century true, pure churches were re-baptizing and carried the name Anabaptists. If the point were pressed even the Apostle Paul was an Anabaptist since he "re-baptized" a group of believers in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). It is to be seen that in every century, in many parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa churches were called Anabaptists.
What is at the heart of this false proposal is the failure to distinguish the Anabaptists. This same failure is seen in the false proposals of the Waldenses. The Swiss Brethren called Anabaptists was a Reformation church. So it is important for all to distinguish between the Ancient Anabaptists and the Reformation Anabaptists. Their doctrines, which on some points they agree, were not entirely similar. Their practices were certainly different, i. e. foot washing and the power of excommunication given to pastors. Absolutely their historical lineage is different. The ancient Anabaptists preceded the Swiss Brethren Anabaptists by over twelve hundred years.
There was interaction between these Swiss Anabaptists and the older Anabaptists on a friendly basis. At some point they had contact with the Waldenses. There was much they had in common and there was no threat of mistreatment from either of them. The Swiss seemed to be very receptive to the truth of the Bible, and accounts are that they appreciated any who opened the Scriptures to them. They appear as children in the faith but mature in their dedication even unto martyrdom. It can be seen that many came more into line with the doctrines of the older Anabaptists in that they altered their baptisms to immersion and some left off foot washing. Originally they had no position on the constitution of the church, but that also changed. So theirs was an evolving, growing, and developing system of faith. Other Anabaptists were fully developed in their cardinal beliefs and practices since they had them from the first century.
If one reads carefully the works of these modern authors, a rather remarkable fact comes into play. Many seem to cautiously avoid naming the Anabaptist churches well known as the Albigenses and Waldenses. Others only briefly mention them as existing before 1525 and gloss over their history. It can be seen that the Lutheran Historian Mosheim, plus an array of Catholic documents, maintained that they existed in every century and in vast numbers. This fact is not mentioned by these writers, and why it is not mentioned is a mystery. It is as though they wish to conceal evidence and make themselves the exclusive Anabaptists of all ages.
Another point to observe is the number and locations in which the Anabaptists were found in the 1500s. If it is true they had their beginning in 1525 with 15 persons then it would be miraculous that in so short of time they covered practically all of Europe in huge numbers. The following is an excerpt from the history of the German and Dutch Baptist:
“It is highly possible, that the gospel was preached in the area of Germany from the apostolic times. It is absolutely certain that the Goths professed Christianity several centuries before their kings became Catholics. The Catholics all through this early period called them Anabaptist, Heretics, and not Christians.
The wilds and forests of Germany would prove asylums to dissenters through the rise and assumption of the Catholic Church. That Germany was inhabited by persons of this description is evident, and that such persons must have been very active in disseminating the truth becomes plain, since it is recorded that the Baptist itinerant preachers, could in their travels pass, during the ninth century, through the whole German empire, and lodge every night at the house of one of their friends. It is very probable these traveling ministers were Paulicians or Paterines from Bulgaria or Italy.
The Waldenses and the Albigenses took refuge in Germany when they were driven out of their countries because of persecutions, in the 11th century, a Dutch man, Walter Lollard, came to Germany and embraced the Anabaptist views and his followers were called the Lollards, in 1315. His association was with the Albigenses. In 1320 Walter Lollard was apprehended and burnt. The Lollards spread into England and became very prominent there.
In 1457 a great number of Waldenses were discovered by inquisitors in the diocese of Eiston in Germany, and were put to death. Trithemius, living at this time, wrote that Germany was full of Waldenses prior to the Reformation by Luther; for he mentions it as a well known fact that so numerous were they, that in traveling from Cologne to Milan, the whole extent of Germany, they could lodge every night with persons of their own profession, and that it was a custom among them to affix certain private marks to their signs and gates whereby they might be known to each other.
Mosheim asserts, "before the rise of Luther or Calvin, there lay concealed, in almost all the countries of Europe, particularly in Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland, and Germany, many persons, who adhered tenaciously to the doctrine of the Dutch Baptists, which the Waldenses had maintained."
These German Baptists were also known as Picards. The Emperor of Germany at the time of the Picards concurred that their views and practice were nearer to apostolic precedent than any other religious sect. Their bitterest enemies, who were eyewitnesses of their actions, said that they resembled the ancient Donatist.
In the early 1500's the state of the priesthood of the Catholic Church was that of tyrants, and they lived rioting in luxury wrung from their respective peasants. The ignorance of the priests was extreme. Numbers of them could not read, and few had ever seen a Bible. Many, on oath, declared they knew not that there was a New Testament.
The Picards in their conduct in re-baptizing awakened the anger of the Catholic priesthood. Consequently, in 1510, the clergy and bishops prevailed upon the Sovereign to use means equal to the danger, whereupon, an edict was made, that all the Picards, without distinction of sex, age or quality should be slain. The threatening aspect of affairs in Germany suggested to the Picards the necessity of emigrating, and Mosheim asserts, "that the German Baptists passed in Shoals into Holland and the Netherlands, and in the course of time, amalgamated with the Dutch Baptists."
Mosheim also stated, "there were certain sects and doctors against whom the zeal, vigilance and severity of Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists were united. The objects of their common aversion were the Anabaptists."
At Zurich, in 1522, the senate warned the people to desist from the practice of re-baptizing. When the warnings failed they took monetary measures against the re-baptizers, a fine of a silver mark was set upon all such as should suffer themselves to be re-baptized, or should withhold baptism from their children. (It had been death to refuse baptism, and now it was death to be baptized; such is the condition of a state religion.) When the fines failed, they took stronger measures and decreed that all persons who professed Anabaptism or harbored the professors of the doctrine should be punished with death by drowning.
When Prince Frederick, in 1532, conferred privileges on the German Protestants, he excluded the Baptists. In 1533, a reward of 12 guilders was promised to any person who should apprehend an Anabaptistical teacher.
In 1555 a council was held at Augsburg and a peace treaty was signed between the Catholics and the Lutherans. In this treaty it was agreed that neither party would persecute the other. The Baptists were ignored in the terms of the treaty and were not granted any rights by the governments. Both the Lutherans and Catholics freely persecuted the Baptists without any restraint.
In the well known work, "A History of The Baptists," by Armitage, page 149 quotes Professor Ypeig, Chaplain to the King of Holland, who prepared a History of the Netherlands Reformed Church, for the Government to have a record of principles.
"We have now seen that the Baptists who in former times were called Anabaptist, and at a later period Mennonites, were originally Waldenses, who, in the history of the Church, even from the most ancient times, have received such a well deserved homage. On this account the Baptists may be considered, as of old, the only religious community which has continued from the times of the Apostles; as Christian Society which has kept pure through all ages the evangelical doctrines of religion. The uncorrupted inward and outward condition of the Baptist community afford proof of the truth contested by the Romish Church, of the great necessity of reformation of religion such as that which took place in the sixteenth century, and also a refutation of the erroneous notion of the Roman Catholics that their denomination is the most ancient."
Ypeig places the antiquity of the Anabaptists to be older than the Roman Catholic Church.
The claim that the birth of the Anabaptists came with the Swiss Brethren is false. Also the claim that all who are called Anabaptist or Baptist are of their stock is false. Those who hold the view that Baptists are Protestants need to be aware of the distinctive characteristics of the Anabaptists. It must be realized that all who were called Anabaptists were not the same. It is an embarrassment to make universal claims for all Anabaptists as the modernists have labeled them. The title of Anabaptist may have been applied to the Swiss Brethren for that is what they were. However, there are a number of practices and doctrines of the ancient Anabaptists* which differ from the Swiss Brethren
* Two of these differences are baptism by immersion and the absence of foot washing.
As Robinson has taught us there are a variety of Anabaptists. Sporadically groups of churches arose who were given many names by their enemies, but the name Anabaptist was common. But that does not make them all the same. There has existed from the days of Novatian and Donatus of the third and fourth centuries churches called Anabaptists and Cathari. These churches reflected the founding truths of the New Testament and stood in opposition of the corruptions and heresies of fallen churches. Throughout the centuries other churches have existed which held to the same principles and doctrines as the Novatians and Donatists. They also were called Anabaptists and Cathari. Some had direct links with these churches and others had parallel histories. Nevertheless, the heritage of the Anabaptists churches with this lineage is not of human invention or origin. To deny their very existence is a cruel attack on people who, for fourteen centuries, suffered every kind of persecution and yet remained faithful witnesses of Christ. This fact should never be hidden by deceit and deception but should be clearly proclaimed and never be disavowed.