The Anabaptist movement started in 1521 in Wittenburg under three "prophets." Martin Luther had posted his thesis on the church doors only three years earlier and each Protestant sect was convinced that it was the one true faith. Anabaptist comes from the name "re-baptizers" and was used as derision; their own name was simply Baptist. These were the left wing reformers of the Reformation and Anabaptist doctrine covered various different opinions. They were apocalyptic, believed the Day of the Lord was at hand and they would represent the bloody purification. The act of adult baptism was a confession of faith and they were hated for refusing to baptize infants. The followers of Huldrych Zwingli felt that infant baptism was invalid and only admitted those of the age of accountability. This doctrine went in other directions as well.

The Anabaptists had no theology, instead they fostered an inner revelation and brotherly love was for them the highest form of religion. They placed an importance in a personal faith in God and were opposed to the ritualistic practices of the established church. Their church practice was upon apostolic authority and they accepted the community of goods as their ideal, many of them were in the trades. They considered themselves approved saints made sinless by regeneration and their sufferings as apocalyptic in nature. They preached faith and repentance and were orthodox in their beliefs. They were above all pacifists; their refusal to bear arms and their loving peaceful nature has endeared them. The Anabaptists built their church from self-denial, a profound moralism, simplicity and brotherly love; they increased numerically at a rapid rate.

Anabaptists were separatists, refused to hold public office and considered state and society outside the ideal of Christian perfection. They regarded themselves only as citizens of Heaven and withdrew from society completely in a "segregated Protestant community". This separation of church and state soon came in conflict with Protestants and Catholics everywhere. They used the scriptures only as an adjunct to the prophetic power within them and in doing so, alienated the fundamentalists of Luther's Sola Scriptura doctrine. Trusting the law of love, they felt directly in touch with the Holy Ghost. This extremism was feared and hated by the Lutherans, Zwinglians, Calvinists, and Catholics and the Anabaptists were persecuted from all sides. The rejection of infants for baptism was a mark against them, with whom no responsible Christian leader could associate with without losing face. Luther considered them "work saints" who disown justification by faith. The Anabaptist felt that they were simply fulfilling God's commands in obedience, not in order to be saved. The issue of Calvin's predestination and the bondage of the will were rejected as the "abomination of all abominations". They agreed with the Christian humanist Desiderius Erasmus and believed in free will and independent personal judgment as indispensable for a responsible moral life.

The Anabaptist did have an inner light but it was misplaced. They foreshadowed the true prophets to come in the last days and in many ways resemble restoration manifest sons but with a few striking differences. The Anabaptist Thomas Muntzer and the three "Zwickau prophets" believed in progressive revelation and with their manifest spirituality and charismatic authority they hoped to establish the kingdom of God through peaceful or forceful means by transforming the world into their own monastery. They were 500 years out of place but all in all, the chrurch in the first century also believed we were in the last days. By 1525 the movement had broken into open insurrection, the peasants revolt burst forth with apocalyptic denunciations against the rich and became permeated with Anabaptist doctrine. The indiscriminant slaughter of these peasants dispersed the Anabaptists into all of Europe and the movement spread, winning the people over district by district.

Both Protestants and Catholics killed many thousands of Anabaptists, often by burning at the stake or by drowning in parody of the baptism. The Anabaptists were cultural revolutionaries disrupting the social order. They refused to swear by civil oaths and the second baptism became a capital offence. They were beaten, imprisoned, tortured and branded. The peaceful Waldenesians of the Durance Valley were massacred. In 1529 the Anabaptists were ordered put to death by sword and fire without trial by the Emperor Charles V. Even Zwingli authorized the killing of them.

Hans Hut had his own end time views of the kingdom of God and between 1532 and 1535 the insurgents occupied the town of Munster and tried to institute their own kind of Christian communism apart from the state.

Martin Luther and his follower Melanchthon thought it perfectly acceptable to kill anyone who would be re-baptized. In a remarkable meeting of unity for the time, Catholic and Protestant princes were gathered at the Second Diet of Speyer in 1520, then spoiled it by helping to enforce the following edict:

"Whereas it is ordered and provided in common law that no man, having once been baptized according to Christian order(as a baby), shall let himself be baptized again or for the second time, is forbidden on pain of death... Therefore every Anabaptist and rebaptized man and woman of the age of reason shall be condemned and brought from natural life into death by fire, sword, and the like, without proceeding by inquisition of the spiritual judges." The edict was reaffirmed in 1530.

Melanchthon, in a letter to Friedrich Myconius 1530, making no distinction between the quiet evangelicals and the extremists who had used violent measures, declared. "The government is under obligation to kill them. Luther in a 1531 letter, also written by Melanchthon, added "I approve, although it is terrible to view."

Under Menno Simons, Anabaptism was purged of its eschatological elements and earned respect. He understood the Sola Scriptura to mean a minute ordering of human life according to the commandments of the Sermon on the Mount, a literal restitution of New Testament Christianity by a covenanted community of believers separated from the world and it's evil works. Many ended up in New England; they became Mennonites in Holland in 1545. There were about 40 some sects altogether, most of them secret and under terrific oppression. You can still see them in the Amish, Hutterites and Brethren groups among others.

War sprang from the seed of the Reformation and was a time of Christian persecution. Dissenters were persecuted and heretics burnt. The only exception to the rule was the Anabaptists with their prophetic cry of liberty. They give us an example of the continuing message of liberation God has been unfolding through history. Our ideas of church and state and the prospect of a liberty that transcends the authority of ecclesiastical and civil tyranny were built upon the martyrdom of the Anabaptists and predate the American Constitution. They stood alone in the midst of squabble and pride to pursue the dream of the millenium and be counted as worthy to suffer in the name of Jesus. Today's Baptists may disown them and the Lutherans, Calvinists and Catholics may still hate them but they shine in history as a beacon, shedding light on what is to soon come.
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