Twenty-five Misconceived Anabaptist Tenets?

R_andFallI have been perusing the work by the British philosopher and journalist Ernest Belfort Bax entitled The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists. In there he quotes the principal pastor of the Reformation era Church in Zürich, Switzerland Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) who presents some charges against the Anabaptists in the work that he had written Der Wiedertaüfferen Ursprung, Furgang, Secten, Wesen (Loosely translated: The Anabaptists origin, process, Sectarianism), that “enumerates thirteen distinct sects, as he terms them, within the Anabaptist body.” He also details the “general tenets of the organization…in the form of twenty-five propositions”.[1]

They regard themselves as the true Church of Christ well pleasing to God; they believe that by rebaptism a man is received into the Church; they refuse to hold intercourse with other Churches or to recognize their ministers; they say that the preachings of these are different from their works, that no man is the better for their preaching, that their ministers follow not the teaching of Paul, that they take payment from their benifices, but do not work by their hands; that the Sacraments are improperly served, and that every man who feels the call, has the right to preach; they maintain that the literal text of the Scriptures shall be accepted without comment or the additions of theologians; they protest against the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone; they maintain that true Christian love makes it inconsistent for any Christian to be rich, but that among the Brethren all things should be in common, or at least all available for the assistance of needy Brethren and for the common Cause; the preachers of the official Reformation, they maintain, mix up the Old Testament with the New, unmindful of the fact that for the Christian the New Testament has superseded and abolished the Old;they declare it untrue, as the Lutheran and Zwinglian preachers allege, that the soul flies from the body straight to heaven, for it sleeps until the Last Day; they maintain that the preachers rely too much on the secular arm ; that the attitude of the Christian towards authority should be that of submission and endurance only; that no Christian ought to take office of any kind; that secular authority has no concern with religious belief; that the Christian resists no evil; and therefore needs no law-courts nor should ever make use of the tribunals; that Christians do not kill or punish with imprisonment or the sword, but only with exclusion from the body of believers; that no man should be compelled by force to believe, nor should any be slain on account of his faith; that Christians do not resist, and hence, do not go to war; that Christians may not swear; that all oaths are sinful; that infant baptism is of the Pope and the Devil; that rebaptism, or, better, adult-baptism, is the only true Christian baptism; that the Lutheran and Zwinglian preachers make no distinction of persons, allowing sinners, as well as others, to receive the Sacrament, which should be reserved for the elect, that is, for such as by being re-baptized are received into the community of the saints.[2]

At this point in history, proponents of the Magisterial Reformers tended to lump all those that disagreed with them together. The above list of teachings may not properly apply to those that are classified as Anabaptist proper. However much of what is compiled does in fact align with is known definitively regarding Anabaptist opinions. Bax substantiates this by writing “We may fairly take the above doctrines given by Bullinger as representing, on the whole, what we may term the common ground of Anabaptism. There were, however, numerous variations within the body.”[3] According to Bax the reformer Bullinger essentially groups the Apostolic Baptists, Separate Spiritual Baptists, Holy and Sinless Baptists, Praying Baptists, Ecstatic Brothers (enthusiasti, ecstatici) and the Free Brothers among others in with Anabaptism proper. Even in light of this, I am taken aback how the catalog of doctrines corresponds with Anabaptism and there are some listed that I in my view feel should be incorporated into contemporary Anabaptistica.

[1] Ernest Belfort Bax, Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co, 1903), 30

[2] Ibid., 30-2

[3] Ibid.


7 thoughts on “Twenty-five Misconceived Anabaptist Tenets?

  1. Actually, if you want an excellent resource on the primary premises of Anabaptism, I’d suggest Harold Bender’s “The Anabaptist Vision”.

    As for some of those 25 items in that list… when it comes to the Anabaptism that survived the Reformation, there are quite a few that do not apply… I’d suggest, in your research on Anabaptism, to actually read Anabaptist authors themselves and not depend quite so much on outside resources.

  2. Robert

    Saved it a while ago but this raises a question. I know that the pdf was published by the Mennonite Mission Network but how come many Mennonites I met on the web (I do not know any in person) or have read on the web claim that the Mennonite Church does not live up to the things mentioned in the pdf, that they lost their way?

    • Probably because there are a lot of Mennonite congregations who are Mennonite in name only but probably lean more towards mainline Protestantism rather than referring back to these foundational views. I, personally, share this view for some Mennonite congregations. It is one thing to attach the name “Mennonite”, something entirely different to actually be Anabaptist in core values.

      I would say that, probably, the biggest problem in many Mennonite churches is a reliance on political activism when it comes to peace and justice issues and losing sight of the alternatively lived life that is more “activist” than any state-sanctioned action. Secondarily is the expression of sacrificial love which tends more towards the universalist view rather than a sacrificial love that is motivated by a connection to Christ. “Love everyone” is many times the mantra but they neglect the part of the Anabaptist perspective that such love has a grounding in bringing others into that alternative community.

      Anywho, I think there is still a lot of “wiggle room” to be an Anabaptist Mennonite so that not every congregation looks the same, but in many cases, there are congregations that just don’t look Anabaptist any more on those two points.

      • Ahh that might explain why the first time I met a Mennonite he was one of the rudest persons I ever met. He was selling handcrafted goods at a trade show I was managing once and I tried to ask him some questions about his faith because I had just started learning about Anabaptism at a time when he was not busy and he was just waiting for the people to arrive. His answer was that his faith was private and it was more of a family thing. For a long time I had the hardest time believing that Mennonites was still Christian because of the lack of evangelism.

      • I think, right there, is another misconception. You are equating all Mennonites with the more conservative sects. We are not. As example, check out and head to the photo galleries.

        There are quite a LOT of different “flavors” of Mennonite. From the Amish (who aren’t exactly Mennonite but are a splinter sect) to the Yoders (look a lot like Amish) to the Horning (which drive cars but have the chrome spray painted) to my grandparents’ families (which still dressed plain but drove “normal” cars) and so on up to me family and those like us.

        So, when you talk about “Mennonites” you gotta be a bit more specific. 🙂

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