What’s RIGHT with Anabaptism?

In this, my concluding blog on Anabaptism, I thought I would do something to redress the balance. My criticisms of Anabaptism up till now have not been motivated from a personal antipathy but rather I have wanted to sharpen what I have perceived as muddle headed thinking towards Anabaptism in its original form in the sixteenth century. Because of their commitment to believers’ baptism we can far too easily overlook other serious errors of doctrine and practice.

Nevertheless, the Anabaptists’ contribution to Reformation practice and theology needs to be recognized in 3 distinct areas: -
1) Their ruthless commitment to the principle of “sola scriptura” which led to their conviction that they must baptize believers and not children:

Now because it is a testament of the recognition, knowledge, and grace of God, baptism is also, according to the words of Peter (1 Peter 3:21), the bond of a good conscience with God, that is, of those who have recognized God. The recognition of God, however, cometh, as hath been said, from hearing the word of the Gospel. Therefore we teach that those who have heard the word, believed the same, and have recognized God, should be baptized – and not children.1

2) The outworking of this view that that the church did not embrace the whole of society in their determination to build a “gathered” community of believers:

We confess that God hath, through Christ, chosen, accepted, and sought a people for Himself, not having spot, blemish, wrinkle or any such thing, but pure and holy, as He Himself is holy.2

Of course, Anabaptists held other beliefs which got them into serious bother with the political establishment, such as a refusal to swear oaths or to take up arms in military service. However, these views, although held by a majority of Anabaptists in the post-Munster period, were never universally adopted. Moreover, these beliefs were of secondary rather than primary importance. They stemmed from their view that the church was a gathered community separated from the world.
3) Their steadfast commitment to these beliefs even to the point of martyrdom:

My heart rejoices in God, who gives me much knowledge and wisdom, that I may escape the eternal and never-ending death. Therefore I praise Thee, O Lord Christ from heaven, that thou dost turn away my sorrow and sadness; Thou who God hast sent me as a Saviour, and for an example and a light, and who has called me into His heavenly Kingdom, already before my end has come, that I should have eternal joy with Him, and should love Him and all His righteousness, which exists here, and which shall endure forever hereafter, and without which nothing avails or subsists.3

Martyrs came in all shapes, sizes and creeds in the sixteenth century. John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1554) did much to shape generations of English readers in their understanding of martyrdom and their knowledge of the English Reformation. Less well known to English readers are the French and Dutch Reformed equivalents – Jean Crespin’s Book of Martyrs (1554) and Adrian van Haemstede’s History and Death of our Martyrs (1559). However, we must not overlook the courage and fortitude of the first generation of Anabaptists recorded for us in Thieleman J van Braght’s Martyrs Mirror (1660 but based on an earlier martyrology of 1562). A full version of Martyrs Mirror is available online.


  • 1 Peter Riedemann, a leader of the South German Hutterite Anabaptists 1540.

  • 2 Peter Riedemann.

  • 3 Felix Mantz, the first Anabaptist martyr, executed 1527.

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