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Anabaptists Today
by Don Murphy

    The Anabaptist Church began in Switzerland in 1525 when three men were baptized upon their confession of faith.  It quickly spread throughout the German speaking lands and just as quickly was subjected to severe persecution by the established churches, both Catholic and Protestant.
    What was so unique about the Anabaptists that the enemy of God tried to extinguish this fire of God?  They had three unique beliefs, unique from the established churches but very biblical:

    (1)  Believer's Baptism  The Anabaptists held that a person must first believe the gospel before he could be accepted into the Church with the sign of water baptism.  This is in accordance with the teachings of their Lord Jesus who placed believing ahead of baptism (Mt 28:19 and Mk 16:16).

    (2)  Pacifism  The Anabaptists held that one could not obtain or protect his rights by the use of force. This is in accordance with the teachings of their Lord Jesus who commanded his followers not to resist an evil man (Mt 5:39 and John 18:36).

    (3)  Community of Goods  The Anabaptists held that one could not have private property but must share all his goods in common with Christ's brothers and sisters.  This is in accordance with the teachings of their Lord Jesus who said that no one could be his followers unless they gave up all of their possessions (Luke 14:33, also Mt 6:19-34, Mt 19:21, Luke 12:33, John 13:34-35, Acts 2:44-47 and Acts 4:32-5:11).

    Today most Anabaptists do not hold to item 3 above, community of goods, but it was part of the original Anabaptists belief.  We see this in the first Church Order, written in 1527, and called the Swiss Order or The Congregational Order:  "Of all the brothers and sisters in this congregation none shall have anything of his own, but rather, as the Christians in the time of the apostles held all in common, and especially stored up in a common fund, from which aid can be given to the poor, according as each will have need, and as in apostles' time permit no brother to be in need."  (translated by John H. Yoder)
   
The first statement of belief of the Anabaptists in Austria, written by Leonhard Schiemer about 1527, includes this article:  "The brothers and sisters shall give themselves body and soul to God in his community.  Every gift that God gives shall be held in common after the practice of the apostles and the first Christians."  (translated by Peter Hoover)
    The people that later became known as the Hutterian Brethren began living in community of goods in 1528, and with two exceptions, continued to live that lifestyle through the centuries and still do now.
    The Discipline or Discipline of the Believers, written in 1529, stated:  "Every brother and sister shall yield himself in God to the brotherhood completely with body and life, and hold in common all gifts received of God, and contribute to the common need so that brethren and sisters will always be helped; needy members shall receive from the brotherhood as among the Christians at the time of the apostles." (translated by Robert Friedman) 
    About 1530, Johannes Kessler wrote about the first Anabaptist congregation in Switzerland:  "Now because most of Zollikon [a Swiss town] was rebaptized and held that they were the true  Christian church, they also took, like the early Christians, to community of goods (as can be seen in the Acts of the Apostles). (translated by Peter Hoover)
   However, a few years later, in 1540, some Anabaptists had already fallen away from the original narrow path of community of goods and sought a broader path.  The Scharnschlager Order or A Church Order For Members Of Christ's Body stated:  "Since the example of the primitive church in Jerusalem is misunderstood by some giving rise to error and contempt, special sects and the like, and some have made of this example [community of goods] a law, a requirement, a fetter, even almost a carnal righteousness, demand, and the like, therefore let us recognize that in the early church at Jerusalem the sharing of goods was a voluntary matter and further observe what took place after the dispersion of the church from there."  (translated by William Klassen)
     The Swiss Brethren continue to teach community of goods but gradually fell away from practicing it as shown in the Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren for the year 1556:  "At this time, in the Palatinate by the Rhine River, a number of people left the Swiss Brethren community near Bad Kreuznach because of the sin and offenses revealed there.  They were ... and several other brothers and sisters.  First, although they had been taught that a man should sacrifice himself with all that he had to God and to his saints, their life was in opposition to their teaching.  Everyone was allowed to keep his possessions and give the poor whatever suited him.  Second, they taught that community meant that no one owned private property:  each one's possessions belonged to all, to his neighbor as much as to himself.  On the other hand, if anyone was in need he had to buy from others."  (Volume I, page 330-331)
     Article 36 of the Reformed Church's Belgic Confession, written in 1561, states:  "Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates, and would subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency and good order, which God hath established among men."

Today

    The Anabaptists taught, like Jesus did, that the way to the Kingdom of God is on a narrow path.  Each of the three unique Anabaptist beliefs make the path narrower.
    Today the first one, Believer's Baptism, is widely held by many Christian religions, not just the Anabaptists.  Believer's baptism makes the path narrower, but not too narrow.  The second belief, Pacifism, is held by some Christian religions or segments of various Christian religions in addition to the Anabaptists.  Pacifism really narrows the path to the Kingdom of God, few are willing to accept it.  The third belief, Community of Goods, is held mainly by the Hutterian Brethren Church (which began in 1528).  Community of goods makes the path way too narrow for most people.
    Other descendents of the Anabaptists today are Mennonites and the Amish (a major branch of the Mennonites).  The Amish are distinguished by their use of horse and buggy for transportation and their non-use of electricity. The Hutterites are distinguished by their living together communally, usually on large farms, with all material possessions owned by the church, the members having no possessions of their own. The Mennonites are quite varied, from the conservative groups that dress plain with head covering on the women, to the liberal groups that are largely indistinguishable from their Protestant counterparts. There are also a number of Anabaptist groups that derived from the Mennonites that do not call themselves Mennonite.
    Other groups today that were influenced by the Anabaptists are the Brethren, the Baptists and the Quakers. The Brethren (Church of the Brethren, Brethren Church, Grace Brethren, Dunkard Brethren, and the German Baptists) are a Pietist group that began in Schwarzenau, Germany, in 1708 and adopted many of the practices of the Anabaptist groups with which they had contact.
    Some of the German Baptist groups are:
        Old German Baptist Brethren - car driving - very conservative.
        Old Brethren - car driving, pretty conservative.
        Old Order German Baptist Brethren - horse and buggy, non-electric.
        Old Brethren German Baptist - horse and buggy, non-electric, no telephone.
    The German Baptist churches are plain and usually have separate entrance doors for men and women as they sit on opposite sides of the church. Plain wooden benches (with backs), polished wood floors. Winter heat is frequently a wood stove. Summer, some have overhead fans. Nearly all have outhouses for the facilities out back.
    The above description of the various German Baptist groups could also well describe some of the conservative Mennonite groups. 
    The Baptists (the big denomination, not to be confused with the German Baptists) are a Protestant group that began in England about 1610 by several men who had spent several years in Holland and came back with the understanding of believer’s baptism.
    The Quakers began with Puritans in 17th-century England who subscribed to the principles enunciated by such reformers as Kaspar Schwenckfeld of Lower Silesia, Sebastian Franck of Swabia, and Dirck Coornhert of the Netherlands, who denied the effectiveness of the sacraments, Baptism, and the Scriptures as a means of salvation.
    What sets the Anabaptists apart from other Christian religions is their view of Jesus Christ.  Those Christian religions who do focus on Jesus, such as the evangelicals and other Protestants, tend see Jesus primarily as a child in the manger and as a sacrifice on the cross, he is their savior.  This is what one sees in their songs and in their confessions of faith.  The Anabaptists see Jesus not only as their savior but also as their teacher, the one who teaches them how to live their lives while on this earth.  They believe that obedience to his commands is required; therefore they try to live as he taught.  Thus they are a separate people, following the hard narrow path to the Kingdom of God that Jesus taught and lived.
    It might be accurate to say that evangelicals and other Protestants today stress the salvation aspect of the Gospel (evangelism, witnessing, building large congregations) and interpret this as faithfulness to their religion, while Anabaptist groups today are concerned with discipleship, seeing this as faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus.
    There are a number of people who identify Anabaptism with 'plain' living.  By 'plain', they mean beards on men, and head covering and dresses on women.  Some go farther and say that a 'plain' church is one where the members use horse and buggy for transportation (Old Order Amish and some conservative Mennonites).  Those who stress the 'plain' aspect of Anabaptism usually have strong opinions on what constitutes 'plain' living, which frequently results in splits within the church over such matters as the use of telephones, rubber tires on tractors, and clothing styles.

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This page was last updated on 06/20/2007