Like Puritanism, Anabaptism arose out of the Protestant Reformation, but Anabaptism was labeled as the “Radical Reformation” of sixteenth century Europe. Anabaptist is derived from the Greek “anabaptista” meaning “one who baptizes over again”. Some have theorized that Anabaptists were actually the first Puritans since their reformed theology was being taught in the fifteenth century.
Anabaptist, however, was not a denominational name, but a derisive term – given to them because they re-baptized converts who had previously been baptized as infants. Anabaptists believed that a person should be of a certain age and able to consciously make a faith decision before being baptized. Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528), an early leader of the movement objected to the “re-baptism” label and clarified:
I have never taught Anabaptism. …But the right baptism of Christ, which is preceded by teaching and oral confession of faith, I teach, and say that infant baptism is a robbery of the right baptism of Christ.
Most Anabaptists adhered to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, which meant they would not take oaths, nor participate in military actions or civil government. These beliefs led to persecution directed at them by those of practically all other faiths, Protestant and Catholic. Offshoots of the Anabaptists include the Amish, Mennonites, Brethren and Hutterites, all of which have complex (and interesting) histories.
Anabaptists, martyred and persecuted by both Protestants and Catholics, fled to Switzerland and Germany, where the Amish and Mennonite movements sprung forth. Anabaptists, essentially, were spread throughout Europe. Suffice it to say that there was a tremendous amount of upheaval in medieval Europe and beyond which would eventually cause these faith groups to seek more religious freedom and make their way across to ocean to the New World.
Some Puritans, before immigrating to America, had immigrated to the Netherlands and likely lived among Dutch Mennonites, probably influenced by Anabaptist/Mennonite teachings. Puritans, however, still practiced infant baptism. When Anabaptists began their migration to America, like the Puritans, they set up their own colonies and communities. This perhaps prevented them from being directly persecuted by other faiths – unlike the “rabble-rousing Quakers” the subject of last week’s article, they kept to themselves.
As early as 1644, Dutch “Menists” arrived in New York. Permanent settlements were established by Mennonites of the Lower Rhine and Hamburg in Germantown, Pennsylvania. In the early eighteenth century (1701-1710), Mennonites arrived from Switzerland and the Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) area of Germany, settling in an area northwest of Philadelphia.
The Amish began making their trek to America in the mid-1700’s, with another wave beginning in the early 1800’s and continuing through the mid-1800’s. Early Amish settlers chose Pennsylvania as their home, but spread to Ohio and Indiana (as did the second wave of Amish immigrants in the 1800’s).
Anabaptists were early Protestant reformers and radicals, some would say. It was un-thought of prior to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for religion to be separated from government (the state). In that period of history, such a radical idea was akin to anarchy. However, some would say that Anabaptists, with their emphasis on a free church and freedom of religion, contributed to the concept of “separation of church and state”.
Today these faith groups have become a part of the American fabric, although to some they are treated as “oddities” perhaps. An entire literary genre has sprung from Amish and Mennonite tradition – Beverly Lewis, Wanda Brunstetter, Vannetta Chapman and Mindy Starnes Clark, to name a few, are best selling authors. Someday I will do a series of articles on the complete (and complex) history of Anabaptists, highlighting Amish, Mennonites, Brethren and Hutterites.
Speaking of Hutterites – this group settled in rural Montana, and the next few articles next week are Montana-related (Military History Monday, Tombstone Tuesday, Ghost Town Wednesday and Book Review Thursday) – be sure and check it out!
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!