An Anabaptist is a member of one of the many Anabaptist sects which emerged during the Radical Reformation in the 1600s or even later. Some examples of churches which are considered Anabaptist include the Amish, Hutterites, Baptists, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, Quakers, and Brethren in Christ. As you can gather from this list, Anabaptism takes a number of forms, and it is an incredibly diverse branch within the larger theological family of Protestantism.
Anabaptists held the church to be the congregation of true saints who should separate themselves from the sinful world. Their theology was highly eschatological, and they claimed direct inspiration by the Holy Spirit. The Anabaptists refused to take oaths, opposed capital punishment, and rejected military service. Their beliefs made them appear subversive and provoked persecution. Many of the Reformers disclaimed them, regarding them as fundamentally opposed to the ideas of the reformation.
In Zurich, Conrad Grebel performed the first adult baptism on Jan. 21, 1525, when he rebaptized Georg Blaurock in the house of Felix Manz. Anabaptism spread to southwest Germany, Austria, Moravia, along the Danube, and down the Rhine to the Netherlands. Numbering less than 1 percent of the population, the Anabaptists were for the most part of humble social origin. Among their leaders were Balthasar Hubmaier, Hans Denck, Jacob Hutter, and Hans Hut.
In 1534, militant Anabaptists, inspired by radical Melchior Hofmann, seized control of the city of Munster. Led by Bernt Knipperdollinck, Jan Mathijs, and Jan Beuckelson, better known as John of Leiden (c. 1509 - 36), they drove out all Protestants and Roman Catholics. John set up a theocracy, became king, and established polygamy and communal property. Munster, instead of Strasbourg, was to become the center of the projected conquest of the world, the "New Jerusalem", the founding of which was signalized by a reign of terror and indescribable orgies. Treasures of literature and art were destroyed; communism, polygamy, and community of women were introduced. Rothmann took unto himself four wives and John of Leyden, sixteen. The latter was proclaimed King of the "New Sion", when Francis of Waldeck, Bishop and temporal lord of the city, had already begun its siege (1534). After a 16 month siege, the bishop of Munster recaptured the city and executed the rebels. Menno Simons, a Dutchman, later revived the Anabaptists through his leadership. His followers have survived and are known as Mennonites. The Hutterian Brethren are descendants of the group led by Hutter.
The distinctive principles upon which Anabaptists generally agreed were the following:
They aimed at restoring what they claimed to have been primitive Christianity. This restoration included the rejection of oaths and capital punishment and the abstention from the exercise of magistracy.
In a more consistent manner than the majority of Protestant reformers, they maintained the absolute supremacy and sole sufficiency of the canonical Scriptures as a norm of faith. However, private inspiration and religious sentiment played an important role among them.
Infant baptism and the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone were rejected as without scriptural warrant.
The new Kingdom of God, which they purposed to found, was to be the reconstruction, on an entirely different basis, of both ecclesiastical and civil society. Communism, including for some of them the community of women, was to be the underlying principle of the new state.
The true faith of Jesus Christ is a deposit. It does not fall out of the sky to a man or men who lives 15 centuries after Christ. It was revealed by Jesus Christ to His Apostles 2,000 years ago, and it was passed on by the Apostles to the Church.
Following Martin Luther's excommunication from the Catholic Church in 1520, which marked the beginning of the Protestant movement, over 20,000 different denominations have been created in about 500 years. In 1980, David A. Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press) gave the number of different denominations as 20,780. He projected that there would be 22,190 denominations by 1985.
This would mean that there are approximately 25,000 (or possibly 30,000) different denominations today. Even if, for the sake of argument, one were to take a conservative estimate, and give the number as only 15,000 different denominations, this equates to more than one new sect having been created every two weeks.
When we consider the fact that the original founders of Protestantism didn't even agree with each other on major points of doctrine, such denominational chaos shouldn't be a surprise. Protestantism is man-made religion, in which each person ultimately determines for himself what he thinks the Bible teaches. Martin Luther (the initiator of Protestantism) condemned the doctrinal views of John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, two other leading Protestant figures. They all claimed to follow the Bible.
Basically all of these thousands of non-Catholics sects purport to be Christian and claim to follow the Bible, even though they disagree with each other on crucial doctrinal matters, such as: the precise nature of justification; whether human works and sins are a part of salvation; whether men have free will; predestination; whether infants need baptism for salvation; what Communion is; whether it's necessary to confess to the Lord; which books of the New Testament apply to us today; the structure of the Church's hierarchy; the role of bishops and ministers; the Sabbath; the role of women in church; etc. ad nauseam. Most of these groups even claim that the individual "Christian" will be led by the Holy Spirit when privately reading the Bible. The disunity of these sects constitutes an irrefutable proof that their doctrine is not of the Spirit of Truth; and that their principle of operation (i.e., Scripture alone apart from the Church and Tradition) is not the doctrine of the Bible and the Apostles.
Many Protestants do not believe that infants should be baptized. They think baptism should only be given to those who have reached the age of reason and have chosen to receive it. They consider the baptisms of infants to be invalid and unscriptural. This position is false for many reasons.
It should be pointed out, first of all, that most Protestants agree with Catholics on this point. Most of them practice infant baptism. Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and others practice infant baptism. This is obviously not to suggest that infant baptism is proven true by the fact that these groups practice it; but merely to note that Protestants who reject infant baptism are in the minority, even among Protestants.
Second, the Bible teaches that whole households were baptized:
1 Cor. 1:16 "And I [Paul] baptized also the household of Stephanas…"
Acts 16:15 "And when she [Lydia] was baptized, and her household…"
Acts 16:33 "And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway."
Entire households were baptized. Think about these verses. The Bible refers to a woman and "her household." It refers to a man and his "household." Why didn't the passage just generally include children. Scripture connects the two:
Gen. 18:19 "… he will command his children and his household after him…"
Gen. 36:6 "And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house."
Since households generally include children – and the Bible repeatedly mentions that whole households were baptized – these passages by themselves make the case against infant baptism extremely unlikely. In fact, if a Protestant who rejects infant baptism believes in Scripture alone, he would have to find an explicit teaching in the Bible that infants should not be baptized. But there is nothing like that.
Third, Jesus clearly taught that every man must be baptized to be saved. We saw this in John 3:5. He does not make any distinctions or exceptions. This is very significant because in John 6:53 – a passage on the necessity to eat Jesus' flesh, which uses language that is similar to John 3:5 – we do see a distinction. In John 6:53, Jesus says:
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you."
But in John 3:5, he says:
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
In John 6:53 (John 6:54 in Catholic versions), Jesus says unless YOU eat the flesh of the Son of man. But in John 3:5, the statement is universally applicable: unless A MAN is born again of water and the Spirit.
The wording is slightly different because receiving the Eucharist is necessary for all who hear the command and can fulfill it, such as those above the age of reason. Jesus said unless you, to those to whom He was speaking and to others who hear the command. But the necessity to receive water baptism is universal. Hence, Jesus says unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. Every man necessarily includes infants. It logically follows from the teaching of Jesus in John 3:5 that infants should be baptized.
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT BAPTISM IS THE NEW CIRCUMCISION –
INFANTS WERE CIRCUMCISED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Moving to the next point, which is extremely important, we must consider circumcision. Circumcision was the Old Testament counterpart to Baptism. Circumcision was the way that males in the Old Testament entered a covenant relationship with God. If you were not circumcised, you were not in God's covenant. It was a type of baptism.
Like other types, not every aspect of circumcision corresponded to what baptism would be. For instance, only males could be circumcised in the Old Testament, but males and females are baptized in the New. But there is no doubt that circumcision was the Old Testament counterpart to baptism. Colossians 2 teaches that baptism is the New Testament circumcision.
Colossians 2:11-12 "In [Jesus] also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith…"
This passage identifies baptism as the new and greater circumcision. It also says that one rises to new supernatural life in Christ by baptism. Infants were circumcised in the Old Testament. If baptism is the new circumcision, it follows that infants are to be baptized in the New. If not, then God would have been more generous, more universal, more inclusive in the inferior Old Covenant than He is in the New. But this is not the case.
The salvation which is made available in Jesus is open to all peoples: to Jews and Gentiles. It's unthinkable that Jesus would not establish a means to incorporate children into His spiritual Kingdom and to give them His blessings and salvation.
In fact, notice what Peter says in his famous sermon on Pentecost in Acts 2:
Acts 2:38-39 "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. For the promise is unto you, and to your children…"
This passage is speaking of baptism, and the blessings and forgiveness given through it. It says that the promise is also for the children. They receive the forgiveness through water baptism.
Matthew 19:13-15 "Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence."
THE FATHERS OF THE CHURCH BELIEVED IN INFANT BAPTISM
The fathers of the Christian Church also believed in infant baptism, having received this tradition from Jesus and the Apostles. Here are just three passages; others could be quoted.
Origen, Homilies on Leviticus 8:3, 244-248 A.D. "In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous."
Pope St. Innocent, 414 A.D. "But that which Your Fraternity asserts the Pelagians preach, that even without the grace of Baptism infants are able to be endowed with the rewards of eternal life, is quite idiotic." (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3:2016.)
St. Augustine, Letter to Jerome, 415 A.D. "Anyone who should say that even infants who pass from this life without participation in the Sacrament [of Baptism] shall be made alive in Christ truly goes counter to the preaching of the Apostle and condemns the whole Church, where there is great haste in baptizing infants because it is believed without doubt that there is no other way at all in which they can be made alive in Christ." (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3:1439.)