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Baptist History Notebook
By Berlin Hisel

Chapter 19

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      The word Anabaptist signifies to re-baptize or baptize again. Those who baptized those who were sprinkled in infancy or those who baptized those from irregular churches were called, by their enemies, Anabaptists. They rejected this title of "Rebaptizers," saying that such persons as they baptized had never been baptized before. What they had received was not baptism, whatever else it was.

      No doubt there were many who were called Anabaptists who were of a radical sort. With them we claim no kin as I am sure they would claim no kin with us. In a later chapter we will have something to say about the Anabaptists of Munster, etc., with which most of the Anabaptists of those days had no connection or sympathy. Yet within those called Anabaptists by their enemies, we find the true churches of our Lord Jesus Christ. They were our ancestors. In the process of time the "ana" was dropped and we became known as the Baptists.


      There are a few quotes from John Lawrence Mosheim that have become quite famous among Baptists. He was a Lutheran historian and these quotes are important for that very reason.

      "The true origin of that sect which acquired the denomination of Anabaptists by their administering anew the rite of baptism to those who came over to their communion, and derived that of Mennonites from the famous man to whom they owe the greatest part of their present felicity, is hidden in the depths of antiquity, and is, of consequence, extremely difficult to be ascertained."1

      Several things appear evident from this quotation. The Anabaptists movement did not begin with the Reformation. Those who credit John Smythe (Smith) or others with the founding of the Anabaptists do not have the support of Mosheim. If their origin is hidden in the depths of

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antiquity this goes a long way toward the doctrine of perpetuity which true Baptists hold.


      Mosheim, after stating that they were not entirely in error when they boasted of their decent from the Waldenses, Petrobrusians and other ancient sects, who are usually considered as witnesses of the truth in periods of darkness and superstition writes: "Before the rise of Luther and Calvin, there lay concealed, in almost all the countries of Europe, particularly in Bohemia, Maravia, Switzerland, and Germany, many persons, who adhered tenaciously to the following doctrine, which the Waldenses, Wickliffites, and Hussites, had maintained, some in a more disguised and others in a more open and public manner; viz. 'That the kingdom of Christ, or the visible church which He established upon earth, was an assembly of true and real saints, and ought therefore to be inaccessible to the wicked and unrighteous, and also exempt from all those institutions which human prudence suggests, to oppose the progress of iniquity, or to correct and reform transgressors.'"2

      We are truly indebted to Mosheim for this statement. Before ever Luther or Calvin led in the Reformation, the Anabaptists were worshipping in the caves and dens of the earth, hiding from the Roman Catholic persecution. When the Reformation began, Anabaptist churches sprang up all over Europe overnight. Mosheim here explains how. They already existed, worshiping in secret. They just came out in the open when the Reformation took form. They claimed their origin with the Waldenses, Petrobrusians and others who claimed their origin with Christ and the apostles.


      One more quote from Mosheim concerning the Anabaptist faith: "Notwithstanding all this, it is manifest, beyond all possibility of contradiction that the religious opinions which still distinguish the Mennonites from all other Christian communities, flow directly from the ancient doctrine

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of the Anabaptists concerning the nature of the church. It is in consequence of this doctrine, that they admit none to the sacrament of baptism, but persons who are come to the full use of their reason; because infants are incapable of binding themselves by a solemn vow to a holy life and it is altogether uncertain whether, in mature years they will be saints or sinners."3

      The nature of the church has been the most distinguished mark of difference between all of our ancestors and the Roman Catholic Church. The Montanists, Novatianists, Donatists, Paulicians, Petrobrusians, Henricians, Arnoldists, Albigenses, Waldenses and all of our Baptist ancestors have contended for the purity of the church. To them, a church was a group of saved people, baptized upon a profession of faith. Since infants can make no profession of faith, infant baptism was rejected. True Baptists today believe the same thing. The truth of the Lord's church is a great truth with far reaching effects.

Depths of Antiquity

      Dr. John. T. Christian, in his excellent history of the Baptists, gives several quotes from different authors concerning the ancient origin of the Anabaptists. We begin with his quote from Alexander Campbell, the father of the Campbellites: "Alexander Campbell, in his debate with Mr. Macalla says: 'I would engage to show that baptism as viewed and practiced by the Baptists, had its advocates in every century up to the Christian era ... and independent of whose existence (the German Anabaptists), clouds of witnesses attest the fact, that before the Reformation from popery, and from the apostolic age, to the present time, the sentiments of Baptists, and the practice of baptism have had a continued chain of advocates, and public monuments of their existence in every century can be produced.'"

      "Again in his book on Christian Baptism (p. 409, Bethany, 1851), he says, 'There is nothing more congenial to civil liberty than to enjoy an unrestrained, unembargoed, liberty of exercising the conscience freely upon all subjects respecting religion. Hence it is that the Baptist denomination,

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in all ages and in all countries, has been, as a body, the constant asserters of the rights of man and of liberty of conscience. They have often been persecuted by Pedobaptists; but they never politically persecuted, though they have had it in their power.'"4

      Alexander Campbell knew the Baptists were descendants of the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists descended from the apostles. Baptists have existed in all ages, from the time of Christ and His apostles.

      John T. Christian also quotes from Robert Barclay, a Quaker, upon this subject: "We shall afterwards show the rise of the Anabaptists took place prior to the Reformation of the Church of England, and there are also reasons for believing that on the Continent of Europe small hidden Christian societies, who have held many of the opinions of the Anabaptists, have existed from the times of the apostles. In the sense of the direct transmission of Divine Truth, and the true nature of spiritual religion, it seems probable that these churches have a lineage or succession more ancient than that of the Roman Church (Barclay, The Inner Life of the Societies of the Commonwealth, 11, 12, London, 1876)."5

      A great many of the historians of other denominations are a lot fairer with the Baptists than the liberal historians of our own denomination. Certainly, Barclay, the Quaker historian, gives a fair statement of the Anabaptists.

Anabaptists Ancestors

      Actually, all of our ancestors were termed Anabaptists for that is exactly what they were. Listen to Vedder: "Like the Novatians, the Donatists were Anabaptists, but their rebaptizing seems to have been based on a false idea (that is Vedder’s false idea), namely, that in baptism the chief thing is not the qualifications of the baptized, but those of the baptizer. The Donatists and Novatians both rebaptized those who came to them from the Catholic Church, not because they did not believe these persons regenerate when baptized, but because they denied the "orders" of the Catholic clergy. These ministers had been ordained by traditores, by bishops who were corrupt; they were members of a church that had

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apostatized from the pure faith, and therefore had no valid ministry or sacraments; and for this reason their baptism could not be accepted."6

      While disagreeing with Vedder about the Novatians and Donatists being wrong on their reasons for anabaptism, it is more-the-less a good statement. It shows that our earliest ancestors were Anabaptists. The idea that many modern Baptist have, is somewhat like Vedder's on alien baptism. Some Reformed Baptists, and others not so reformed, will say the whole alien baptism movement began with Dr. James Robinson Graves. This is a silly charge for the question of alien baptism has always been the dividing issue. Being correct on the nature of the Lord's church means a rejecting of alien baptism.

Waldenses Were Anabaptists

      Vedder gives the following connection between the Anabaptists and the Waldenses: "The utmost that can be said in the present state of historical research is that a moral certainly exists of a connection between the Swiss Anabaptists and their Waldensian and Petrobrusian predecessors, sustained by many significant facts, but not absolutely proved by historical evidence. Those who maintain that the Anabaptists originated with the Reformation have some difficult problems to solve, among others the rapidity with which the new leaven spread, and the wide territory that the Anabaptists so soon covered. It is common to regard them as an insignificant handful of fanatics, but abundant documentary proofs exist to show that they were not inferior in learning and eloquence to any of the reformers; that their teachings were scriptural, consistent and moderate, except where persecution produced the usual result of enthusiasm and vagary."

      "Another problem demanding solution is furnished by the fact that these Anabaptist churches were not gradually developed, but appear fully formed from the first - complete in polity, sound in doctrine, strict in discipline. It will be found impossible to account for these phenomena without an assumption of a long-existing cause. Though the Anabaptist churches appear suddenly in the records of time,

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contemporaneously with the Zwinglian Reformation, their roots are to be sought farther back."7

      It seems, without doubt, then, that the Anabaptists and the Waldenses before them were the same people. All of the honest historians see the historical problem of dating the Anabaptists as beginning with the Reformation.

Anabaptist Beliefs

      Later in this Notebook we will examine the Anabaptist movement as it related to Luther, Calvin, Zwingh and the Reformation. To close out this chapter with some of their beliefs we give a quote from W. A. Jarrel.

      "In the time of the Reformation, the genuine Anabaptists were the great and evangelical movement. Out of their principles and spirit grew all that was good in Luther's Reformation. Historians credit the Anabaptists with being the originators of the separation of church and State, of modern liberty and of the doctrine of a regenerate church membership."

      In faith the Anabaptists of the Reformation were one with the Baptists of to-day.

      In a paper read by Rev. Henry S. Burrage, D. D., one of the highest authorities on this subject, before the "American Society of Church History," in 1890, on "The Anabaptists of the Sixteenth Century," he says: "What were some of the ideas that characterized the Anabaptists movement of the sixteenth century? The following are especially worthy of attention: (1) That the Scriptures are the only authority in matters of faith and practice. (2) That personal faith in Jesus Christ only secures salvation; therefore infant baptism is to be rejected. (3) That a church is composed of believers who have been baptized upon a personal confession of their faith in Jesus Christ. (4) That each church has entire control of its affairs, without interference on the part of any external power. (5) That the outward life must be in accordance with such a confession of faith, and to the end it is essential that church discipline should be maintained. (6) That while the State may properly demand obedience in all things not contrary to the law of God, it has no right to set aside the dictates of conscience, and compel the humblest individual to set aside

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his views, or to inflict punishment in case such surrender is refused. Every human soul is directly responsible to God.'"8

Notes on Chapter 19

1 Church History, pages 490-491.
2 Church History, page 491.
3 Church History, page 498.
4 A History of the Baptists, Volume 1, pages 84-85.
5 A History of the Baptists, Volume 1, page 85.
6 A Brief History of the Baptists, page 66.
7 A Brief History of the Baptists, page 130.
8 Baptist Church Perpetuity or Baptist History, pages 182-183.

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