Who Are the Anabaptists?

This article is a result of various people I meet who say “Anabaptist? Who are they? I never heard of them.” There are many good articles on Anabaptists: Some seem too long, some too historical and some too academic. Hopefully this one is short enough you will read it, long enough you want to know more.

First, let’s start with some unsolicited testimonials from people you might even know.

I’ve studied the Anabaptists all my life, and I believe they were right. The roots of the global missions are not in the magisterial reformers [Protestants]; they are in the Radical Reformation [Anabaptists]…Not only the concept of global missions–but the exact order of them…study the Anabaptists. They have more than you could possibly imagine. We have in these great saints and martyrs an understanding of what it means to be Christ-like that nobody else has understood so clearly.” –Rick Warren, Pastor Saddleback Church Baptist Press 2012

Millions of people are abandoning the Christendom paradigm of the traditional Christian faith in order to become more authentic followers of Jesus. From the Emergent Church movement to the Urban Monastic Movement to a thousand other independent groups and movements, people are waking up to the truth that the Kingdom of God looks like Jesus and that the heart of Christianity is simply imitating him. Millions are waking up to the truth that followers of Jesus are called to love the unlovable, serve the oppressed, live in solidarity with the poor, proclaim Good News to the lost and be willing to lay down our life for our enemies. Multitudes are waking up to the truth that the distinctive mark of the Kingdom is the complete rejection of all hatred and violence and the complete reliance on love and service of others, including our worst enemies. Masses of people are waking up to the truth that followers of Jesus aren’t called to try to win the world by acquiring power over others but by exercising power under others — the power of self-sacrificial love…The only tradition that embodies what this rising breed of Kingdom radicals is looking for is the Anabaptist tradition (which the Mennonites are heir to). This is the only tradition that consistently refused political power and violence. This is the only tradition that made humble, self-sacrificial love the centerpiece of what it means to follow Jesus. It’s the only tradition that isn’t soaked in blood and the only tradition that looks remotely like Jesus.” –Gregory Boyd, Theologian, Pastor Woodland Hills Church Reknew 2008

In Africa and Asia when I have asked, “Which relief and development organization does the best, most efficient work here?” inevitably the answer comes back “Mennonite Central Committee.” –Phillip Yancey, PhilipYancey.com April 2014

So why the rave reviews? What makes these Christians called Anabaptists so unusual?

Which Christian group kick started the idea of separation of church and state in the 1500’s?

There can be no question but that the great principles of freedom of conscience, separation of church and state, and voluntarism in religion, so basic in American Protestantism and so essential to democracy, ultimately are derived from the Anabaptists of the Reformation period, who for the first time clearly enunciated them and challenged the Christian world to follow them in practice. The line of descent through the centuries since that time may not always be clear, and may have passed through other intermediate movements and groups, but the debt to original Anabaptism is unquestioned.” –Harold S. Bender, PhD, Anabaptist Vision

Separation of church & state, voluntary church membership and freedom of conscience sounds normal today, but when Anabaptists first suggested these ideas in 16th century Europe they were considered death worthy…by other Christians!

Which group to come out of the Reformation did not persecute & kill other Christians?


What should Christian faith & life look like?

An early leader summarized well how Anabaptists believe faith & theology do not remain a “a mere thought in the head”:

For true evangelical faith…cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it…clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.” –Menno Simons, early Anabaptist leader, (Read more here)

Did Jesus Mean What He Taught in the Sermon on the Mount?

The Anabaptists answer is an unequivocal Yes. Many acknowledge that Jesus’ teaching is revolutionary. (Even atheist Richard Dawkin’s notes that Jesus’ ethic was 1000 years ahead of its time!) Anabaptists are among  those who live the Sermon on the Mount in daily life.

More reading:

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