they grew up in the Roman Catholic church that practiced infant baptism. When this first generation came to the conviction that infant baptism was wrong and believers baptism was right, they rejected their initial baptism as infants and had themselves baptized again -- from their perspective, they weren't being baptized again, but instead were being baptized properly for the first time. By getting baptized for a second time this group was actually breaking a civil law that dated to the late Roman Empire which actually called for the death penalty for those who practiced re-baptism. (The Roman law was harsh because when it was written, parts of the empire were threatened by a movement known as Donatism, who along with advocating re- baptism for some of its members, also had some of its members take up arms and revolt against Roman rule).
Since the Anabaptists were such a diverse movement, I want to spend a bit of time describing some of the main Anabaptist groups. The first is known as the Swiss Brethren. This group began in Zurich in Switzerland as a direct result of the ministry of Zwingli. After listening to Zwingli and his calls for reform during the early 1520s, this group eventually came to the conclusion that Zwingli wasn't going far enough with his reformation of the church. Remember that Zwingli's reformation goal was the restoration of New Testament Christianity. The Swiss Brethren agreed with this principle, but they also believed that the New Testament required Christians to go farther than Zwingli was willing to go. They said that according to the New Testament, Christianity is something that individuals choose to accept or reject. It shouldn't be forced on anyone. It requires a personal decision. And baptism is the individual's statement to the church that he or she has made that personal decision to follow Christ. Infants are incapable of making that type of personal decision, so they shouldn't be baptized. The Swiss Brethren put their beliefs into practice in 1525, when George Blaurock, their leader, had a member of his congregation baptize him, and then he in turn baptized the rest of the group. Of course this action was viewed as re-baptism by those outside of the Swiss Brethren, and the group was heavily persecuted as a result of what they had done. Along with a new theological understanding of baptism, the Swiss Brethren and some of the other Anabaptist groups also argued for a new way to understand the relationship between church and state. They believed that the nature of the church in the New Testament and in the Patristic Era was very different than the view of the church held by the Catholics and the other Protestant groups. The Swiss Brethren interpreted the New Testament as describing the church as a community gathered out of the world at large. John 15.18-19 says, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you."
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