Who were the Anabaptists?
The Anabaptist movement was a little known third wing of the Protestant reformation. The following is a little bit of their story.
While Martin Luther was leading the Protestant reformation in Germany, a lesser known Reformed leader was leading a similar group in Zurich Switzerland. Ulrich Zwingli was concerned that he brought the people and the city council along with him in his movement away from the Roman Catholic church. He therefore authorized some of his college students to hold Bible Studies throughout the city of Zurich. They took Bibles (something just made possible with the invention of the printing press) with them to the taverns where the people gathered in the evening. There they read the New Testament passages and had extended discussions about what they read.
The Bible study groups soon concluded that many of the teachings of the Catholic church were based on tradition, not on New Testament doctrine. They found no New Testament basis for veneration of Saints, for belief in purgatory, or for accepting the authority of a pope in Rome. Zwingli supported these findings. He wanted his people to have beliefs that supported his break from the Catholic Church. The problem that developed was as the scholars and the people read and studied the Bible, they found some of Zwingli’s favored beliefs also to be without Bible support.
One very important truth they found in the New Testament was that Jesus Christ brought a kingdom of heaven or of God to earth. People could become a part of this kingdom through spiritual conversion. Being part of Jesus’ kingdom kept them from being a part of earthly kingdoms. This meant they would not be involved with the carnal warfare or other activities of earthly nations. They found the church is to consist of volunteer members, members who loved and served each other. This local body was to be kept pure and holy through church discipline.
Along with these convictions, they began to question why babies were being baptized, since the Bible taught baptism upon repentance for one’s sins and confession of Christ. They questioned Christ’s presence in the mass, since Bible practices were acts of obedience and faith, not a sacramental means to grace. They could not accept a state directed church.
These beliefs led them into direct conflict with the ruling parties. As a result, only a year and a half after being authorized by Zwingli to establish Bible studies, the Anabaptist as they were called for being re-baptized for their faith, were imprisoned, banished from their homes and even put to death. The ones who were banished or else fled to escape persecution went to new areas to share their newly found faith. New geographical areas were challenged to read the Bible for themselves and soon the beliefs of the Anabaptist spread throughout Europe.