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Landmarkism Part 4: The Anabaptists

Updated on January 24, 2019
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Barry is the founder and dean of Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

Landmark Baptists and the Anabaptists

The Landmark Baptists have no qualms believing that the Anabaptists are their forefathers. They will go so far as to argue that the Anabaptists descended from groups like the Waldenses (please see “Trail of Blood” for a brief synopsis of their beliefs). The Waldenses take their name from the merchant turned lay-preacher Peter Waldo from Lyon, France who lived around 1100 A.D. The Landmarkists do not explain the direct connection of the Anabaptist to Waldo. They also place “anabaptists” groups prior to the Reformation. They deny that Anabaptists were given their name for the rejecting their infant baptism and being baptized again as adults.

“Were the so-called Anabaptist really rebaptizers [sic]? Absolutely not! They could no more be charged with rebaptism than Paul can. The Apostle Paul baptized, not rebaptized (1 Cor. 1:14-17) the twelve disciples mention in Acts 19:1-7.17”[1]

If we were to refer to any group prior to the 1500s that rejected the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of infant baptism as “anabaptists,” this would be an anachronistic use of the word. The word itself finds its origin in the time of the Reformation. We can see that Mr. Smith is terribly mistaken about the origin and meaning of the word “anabaptist.”

Etymology Dictionary: Anabaptist (n.)

class of Christians who regard infant baptism as invalid, 1530s, literally "one who baptizes over again," from Modern Latin anabaptista, from Late Latin anabaptismus "second baptism" (used in literal sense from 4c.), from Ecclesiastical Greek anabaptismos, from ana "again, anew" (see ana-) + baptismos "baptism" (see baptism).

Originally in English in reference to the sects that practiced adult baptism and arose in Germany from 1521. Probably so called because, as a new faith, they baptized converts who already had been baptized (as infants) in the older Catholic or older Protestant churches. Modern branches (notably Mennonites and Amish) baptize only once (adults) and do not actively seek converts. The name also was applied, usually opprobriously, to Baptists, perhaps due to the multiple immersions of their baptisms.[2]

Who were the Anabaptists

When we talk about the Anabaptists, it is important to realize we are not talking about an organized entity or denomination. Rather the word is used to describe some of those groups who broke away from the Reformers. It is also important to note that they did not exist prior to the Reformation. The first groups to be identified as “anabaptists” were followers of Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli was the Chaplin of the city council in Zurich, Switzerland.

There were three main leaders: Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and George Blaurock. They believed that the Reformation had not gone far enough and that the pace at which reform was moving in Zurich was far too slow. Zwingli was at first sympathetic to their cause but urged them to be patient. He realized that he needed the backing of government to continue the reforms and that the Reformation had caused great instability, not only ecclesiastically but also politically. Eventually, the Anabaptists grew tired of waiting. They broke with the state church and began meeting in their homes.

It was in the home of Felix Manz, that George Blaurock asked Conrad Grebel to baptize him. Upon studying their Bibles, they realized that infant baptism was not found in the New Testament and that the sacrament was only administered to adults. The baptism was not preformed in a church nor by a minister, but rather Grebel poured water over Blaurock. This is not an insignificant point. Landmark Baptists insist that the only “Biblical” method for administering baptism is by immersion. The Anabaptist would not meet their criteria for a “true Landmark church” given that they baptized adults by pouring.

Anabaptist Persecutions

Why were they imprisoned and killed? It is vital to understand that at this time, there was no separation of church and state. What the king was so was the people. If the king was Roman Catholic then the country was Roman Catholic. The Pope and the Church would often use their power to influence the king of a country and demand his loyalty. It was the same in those areas which were Protestant. If the king was Protestant then the country would be Protestant. This however, does not mean that there was religious tolerance. Religious tolerance does not come into existence until later. The Protestant countries had a state church, just as the Roman Catholic countries were loyal to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. It is for this reason that the Anabaptists were persecuted.

To reject the state church was to also reject the state and the king. Those who did not conform to the laws of the state, including laws of religion, were viewed as radicals and something like anarchists. They were seen as a threat for their refusal to obey the laws. It is for this reason that both the Roman Catholic countries as well as the Protestant ones, persecuted the radicals. It was not so much for theological reasons but because of their refusal to conform. Their nonconformity was viewed as an act of treason. I do not say this to defend the persecutions of the Anabaptists. I simple want to accurately portray the world view at that time.

Descendants of the Anabaptist

While modern Baptists cannot trace their roots to the radicals of the Reformation, the Anabaptists did have offspring. The groups that can directly trace their lineage to the Anabaptists are the Hutterites, Amish and Mennonites.


Jakob Hutter (1500-1536) was a hat maker from the town of Tyrol. After the peasant’s revolt of 1524, he joined with the Anabaptist movement. To flee persecution, his group moved to Moravia (in the modern Czech Republic) in 1528. Later persecutions forced them to relocate to other parts of Europe and eventually to the United States and Canada.


Menno Simons (1496-1561) was a Dutch priest who left the Roman Catholic Church and aligned with the Anabaptists movement. Emperor Charles V issued a bounty for his death. Menno went into hiding where he wrote about his new convictions. Like the Hutterites, his group migrated to Eastern Europe and then later to North America.

Jakob Ammann (c. 1644–c. 1730) was a leader in the Swiss Mennonite church. He taught that that sinful church members should be shunned socially by the community. He insisted that “foot washing” as preformed by Jesus to his disciples, was an ordinance to be practiced by the Church. He also introduced strict codes of dress and behavior. After many schisms, some of them began emigrating to the US. They are known today as the “Amish,” taking their name from a Germanic pronunciation of the contraction of Jakob Ammann’s last name.

Conclusion

There is a very fatal and obvious flaw in referring to the Anabaptists as “early Baptist.” They came out of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. They did not exist prior to the Reformation. And while many of them did reject infant baptism, this does not mean that they were Baptists. Some of their beliefs, such as baptism by pouring, tendencies to individualism, legalism and mysticism are in contradiction to Baptist beliefs.

Read all the articles on Landmarkism

Early General Baptists

Footnotes

[1] Royce Smith, Baptist History, p. 43

[2] <https://www.etymonline.com/word/Anabaptist#etymonline_v_13378> Dec. 12, 2018

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