Initial reaction to my interest in the Anabaptists, and especially my assertion that in many ways they were better "Theonomists" than the Reformers has usually provoked questions about infant baptism.  "Do you mean you don't believe in infant baptism anymore?"  As has been hinted at, I still uphold household (covenantal) baptism as demanded by the Scriptures.  Some Anabaptists did not believe in infant baptism, and although I am really quite sympathetic with them, given the abuse of baptism prevalent in their day, I have expressed my disagreement with them on this issue.   But the issue of Anabaptism really wasn't central to the Anabaptist perspective.

It would be hard to say what the most important issue with the Anabaptists was, whether the necessity of good works, the purity of the church or the need for the covenant community to be separate from the world. To say that the most important issue was the doctrine of the separation of church and state would not be far from the mark, however, for it considers two of those three issues ("church" and "separation"). All of those issues, as are all ethical and doctrinal issues, are inextricably tied together as a seamless garment.

It is easy to say what the most important issue with the Anabaptists was not. Some will be surprised to find out that the most important issue with the Anabaptists was not Baptism!

The mode of baptism was definitely of no concern to them:

It is noteworthy that those first believers' baptisms (in Switzerland) were by pouring; immersion was introduced later. Also that in all the lengthy treatises of Zwingli on baptism there is no discussion as to the mode. These early Baptists practiced pouring, sprinkling and immersion as suited their convenience, and did not consider the mode as of much importance.82

The mode of baptism was never a matter of discussion. Most of them practiced affusion, the form then prevalent on the Continent; but some of the Swiss and Polish Anabaptists insisted on immersion as the only possible form, thus anticipating the modern Baptist position.83

Schaff notes that

The mode of baptism was no point of dispute between the Anabaptists and Pedobaptists in the sixteenth century. The Roman Church provides for immersion and pouring as equally valid. Luther preferred immersion, and prescribed it in his baptismal service. In England immersion was the normal mode down to the middle of the seventeenth century. It was adopted by the English and American baptists as the only mode; while the early Anabaptists, on the other hand, baptized by sprinkling and pouring as well. We learn this from the reports in the suits against them at Zurich. Blaurock baptized by sprinkling, Manz by pouring.84

As he puts it elsewhere, "with the Anabaptist movement . . . the baptismal question was secondary."85  The central issue with the Anabaptists was not baptism, it was Statism. They wee attacking the Statism of the temporal rulers of the day, who sought to aggrandize power for themselves over the poorer peasants, and the Statism of the Reformers, who thought they could create Reformation in Europe by obtaining the sanction of the State (cp. Matt 20:25-28). The question posed by the Anabaptists was, Is the church to be controlled by the State, and hence composed of all those who are citizens of the territory controlled by the State (whether or not they have made a public profession of faith, to say nothing of being truly repentant and regenerate), or is the Church to be composed of those who are repentant and separated from Baal and the world. Because the Reformers wanted the State to sanction the Protestant Reformation, they were reluctant to affirm the latter proposition.

The Anabaptists held to a form of political pluralism, which we have already critiqued.86   Fortunately, they held to this pluralism in word only, not in deed, so we need not be too disturbed at Verduin's assessment of the Anabaptist controversy:

      One of the things that has become apparent is that near the heart of the conflict that raged at the Second Front lay two irreconcilable and mutually exclusive concepts of the delineation of the Church of Christ. Modern investigators have, one by one, singly and in combination, come to see that this was the heart of the matter, two diverse and disparate conceptions as to what the Church of Christ is and what its relation is to that which lies around it. All the several features of the struggle are so many implications of this master struggle. It is very nearly correct to say that there is consensus at this point.
      The Stepchildren believed that the Church of Christ is by definition an element in society, not society as such. Their opponents, the Reformers as well as the Catholics, were unwilling to go along with this; they continued to look upon the Church as coextensive with society.
      It has been said of late that Luther was faced with a dilemma, the dilemma of wanting both a confessional Church based on personal faith and a regional Church including all in a given locality. It was this dilemma that gave rise to the Second Front.
      This dilemma was a cruel one. He who things of the Church as a community of experiential believers is bound to oppose him who things of it as a fellowship embracing all in a given territory; he who operates with the concept of the Church as a society embracing all in a given geographic area must of necessity look askance at him who restricts the Church to the believing ones. The two views cannot be combined; one cancels out the other. In the one view the Church is Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, which consists of believing folk and of them solely; in the other view the Church is Corpus Christianum, the body of a "christened" society. As we shall see, attempts have been made to combine these two, but without success.
      Upon the horns of this dilemma Luther was impaled. And not only Luther -- all the rest of the Reformers were torn between the same two alternatives. They one and all halted between two opinions. They one and all tried to avoid an outright choice. All tried to ride the fence.
      It was this fence-riding that was the immediate occasion for the exodus of the people who thereupon came to be known as the Stepchildren and treated as such. When the Reformers gave evidence that they were not minded to let go of "Christendom," that is, of the Church embracing a whole society, then the exodus occurred. Those who departed were convinced that ":Christendom" is a myth, seeing that the Church of Christ consists of the believing element of society and of it only. Their going only made the Reformers burn the midnight oil in an effort to provide an apology for the inclusive Church. And the Reformers grew progressively more hostile toward those who left. Here we are standing right in the middle of the battle at the Second Front.87

Even Balke would agree for the most part with Verduin:

The name "Anabaptist" is a nickname that was applied to this group by their opponents. It was a pejorative designation and can occasion misunderstanding of the movement. The name "Anabaptist," or "rebaptizer," picks out what actually was only an incidental teaching. The central concept of the movement was not the doctrine of the sacrament but the doctrine of the church. They were committed to a congregation that demonstrated that it was a community of believers by living a life of active and practical obedience to the Scriptures. This, in turn, demanded their rejection of the established state church, or, in other words, the established church of their time. The name "Anabaptist" has been commonly used, however, and even though it is not an accurate designation, it cannot be avoided in consulting the literature.88

Eberhard Arnold has written an amazing article for the Mennonite Quarterly Review which demonstrates clearly that the issue was church vs. state.

      The separation between Zwingli and Grebel, who had been particularly close friends, had to do with the concept of the church and the concept of the state. The two go together.; not the church problem apart from the state problem, but the two seen together as one problem -- this is what divided Zwingli and Grebel. This was at all times clear to Zwingli, and he expressed it repeatedly. He said, for instance, "Baptism in itself would not be important enough for us to arrest and execute people." Zwingli himself often declared infant baptism to be unjustified. "But," he continued, "we had to resist the Baptizers because we noticed that in baptism they had found the symbol that represented their dissenting attitude toward church and state." Zwingli constantly referred to things said by Grebel and others: "There is not better way of coming to grips with the state or of eluding it than through baptism." IN this very concern for the true church in opposition to Roman Catholicism and in the concern about injustice in opposition to the state, baptism was the symbol for the Baptizers of the separation of church and state.
      Zwingli conceived of the church as a state-constituted body based on law. The church of the Brothers was a community of heart and life based on the Spirit. It could be a voluntary church only; it could be a church only through the inspiration of the Spirit.89

For the State-Church of the day, Baptism was a simply a civil rite that placed a child under the care of the Church as a citizen of the State. An analogy might be appropriate. Suppose your church wanted to put itself under the authority of the Ku Klux Klan. You would, I trust, find this unacceptable. Suppose also that the KKK practiced a form of "infant baptism," by which an infant is initiated into the KKK-church. You would, I trust, oppose this "infant baptism" even if in other contexts you supported a form of "infant baptism." You might even oppose the KKK rite so ferociously that your KKK opponents might misunderstand you to oppose all infant baptism. Of course, the Anabaptists did indeed oppose infant baptism as a whole, but

It appears that the Anabaptists turned their guns on the institution of "christening" because they had rejected the "Christendom" which this institution fed.90

We who uphold infant baptism and the appropriateness of infants, children, etc., partaking at the Lord's Table, believe it to be taught in the Scriptures, but we also believe that when any indication is given that the child is rebellious or unrepentant he should be barred from the Table as would any adult. Although the indicators might be different, there is a vast difference bweteen a Biblical doctrine of infant baptism and a KKK or Statist Doctrine; we may presume that the KKK and the State are not interested in holiness as defined for the Christian in the Word of God. This is why we say that the issue with the Anabaptists was related more to the State than to the Church and Baptism. My personal opinion is that if the Statism of the Reformers had been absent, the question of baptism might have been very quickly resolved, if it had come up at all. Even Verduin says that with the issue of the State-church out of the way, baptism and the church would be an easy hurdle:

Perhaps we would want to splice out the Restitutionists' definition of the Church; we might want to make room in it for the children of believing parents. (The Restitutionists would have been willing to make this adjustment once their criticism of the territorial Church had been granted.) The Restitutionists would have been quite willing to grant that as men see the Church, there may be an admixture of hypocrites (they said plainly enough that such was likely to be the case). But they were dead set against the Church as described in the Constantinian vision, as "including all in a given locality," without any reference to a conduct "such as becometh saints."91

Elsewhere he is even more assertive:

There is every reason to believe that it was not infant baptism as such that was repudiated by the medieval "heretics" but infant baptism that had been transformed into christening:  they were against it in the context of Corpus Christianum (the State-Church) but not necessarily in the context of Corpus Christi (the Free Church).  They were opposed to christening because it was one of the supporting pillars of "Christian sacralism" (i.e., the State using the sacraments to bolster their power over the citizens).91b

This statement is not as speculative as might at first seem. Both Reformed and Anabaptist historians are now in agreement on this crucial point, more and more seeing that the proper emphasis in recounting the beliefs of the Anabaptists should be on the State. The Anabaptists may not have used the word "Statist," but they share our concern over the presence of an association of power-hungry non-Christians attempting to exercise authority over the church. Apparently, the reformers were not at all unwilling to give the State increased power contrary to Biblical Law, and this is why the Anabaptists parted company with them.

To the Anabaptists, however, the fundamental issue was not baptism. More basic was their growing conviction about the role the civil government should play in the Reformation of the church. Unlike the other Reformers, the Anabaptists were not committed to the notion that "Christendom" was Christian. From the beginning they saw themselves as missionaries to people of lukewarm piety, only partly obedient to the Gospel.92

The first and chief aim of the Radicals was not (as is usually stated) the opposition to infant baptism, still  less to sprinkling or pouring; but the establishment of a pure church of converts in opposition to the mixed church of the world. The rejection of infant baptism followed as a necessary consequence. They hoped at first to carry Zwingli with them, but in vain . . . .  Zwingli could not follow the Anabaptists without bringing the Reformation into discredit with the lovers of order, and rousing the opposition of the government . . . .93

The Anabaptists would have nothing to do with a State Church; and this was the main point in their separation from the Lutherans, Zwinglians, and Calvinists. It was perhaps the one conception on which all parties among them were in absolute accord.94

Their statement of principles is an exposition of the fundamental conceptions which lay at the basis of the whole Anabaptist movement, and explains why they could not join either the Lutheran or the Reformed branch of the Reformation Church. They insisted that an Evangelical Church must differ from the Roman Church in this among other things, that it should consist of members who had made a personal profession of faith in their Savior, and who had vowed to live in obedience to Jesus Christ their Hauptmann. It could not be like a State Church, whether Romanist or other, to which people belonged without any individual profession of faith. They insisted that the Church, thus formed, should be free from all civil control, to decide for itself what doctrines and ceremonies of worship were founded on the Word of God, and agreeable thereto, and should make this decision according to the opinions of a majority of the members. They further asked that the Church should be free to exercise, by brotherly admonition and, as a last resort, by excommunication, discipline on such of its members as offended against moral law. They also declared that the Church which thus rejected State control ought to refuse State support, and proposed that the tithes should be secularized. The New Testament, they said, knew nothing about interest and usury, tithes, livings, and prebends.95

Of course, as is so often the case, "the early Zwingli" also "knew nothing about interest and usury, tithes, livings, and prebends," but soon after finding out what the State knew, became "the later Zwingli," and knew of all this and more:

It can be proved that Zwingli was in contact with the "school of heretics" in Zurich. Zwingli's original opposition to charging interest, to capitalism, stems from this "school of heretics." As late as 1523, Grebel wrote to his brother-in-law, Joachim Vadian, who was a member of the Great Council of St. Gall, that interest and tithes would soon be abolished in Zurich with Zwingli's agreement. Unfortunately, he had to write a month later that Zwingli had defected from his own convictions and had agreed with the decision of the Council, which had come out in favor of tithes and charging interest. This came about because Zwingli was convinced that the emerging reformed church could not exist without the help of the state.96

To their discredit, the Anabaptists did not believe that the children of believing parents are saints, to be considered as sanctified until evidence to the contrary is apparent (1 Corinthians 7:14).97 Thus, they over-reacted in their opposition to the non-Christian State and became individualists, not familialists. The Anabaptists did not believe, as we do, that the family is God's basic social institution. Infant baptism is, after all, really household baptism. Providentially, because of their commitment to Theonomic good works, the Anabaptists were preserved from errors that might have stemmed from their individualism and abandonment of the centrality of the family in opposition to the State.98

The sister error of Statism is,  of course, ecclesiocentrism, where church leaders attempt to exercise authority like the Gentile lords (Mark 10:42-45). The Anabaptists opposed the clericalism they saw in the Reformers, and this also preserved them from errors. The character of the Anabaptist life was surprisingly familial:

      On the other hand, there are good reasons for asserting that the distinctively religious side of Anabaptists had little to do with the anarchic outbreaks. It comes in direct succession from those communities of pious Christians who, on the testimony of their enemies, lived quiet God-fearing lives, and believed all the articles in the Apostles' Creed; but who were strongly anti-clerical. They lived unobtrusively, and rarely appear in history save when the chronicle of some town makes casual mention of their existence, or when an Inquisitor ferreted them out and records their so-called heresies. Their objections to the constitution and ceremonies of the mediŠval Church were exactly those of the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century; and if we do not find a universal repudiation of infant baptism, there are traces that some did not approve of it. They insisted that the service ought to be in the vulgar tongue; the objected to all the Church festivals; to all blessing of buildings, crosses and candles; they alleged that Christ did not give His Apostles stoles or chasubles; they scoffed at excommunications, Indulgences, and dispensations; they declared that there was not regenerative efficacy in infant baptism; and they were keenly alive to all the injunctions of Christian charity -- it was better, they said, to clothe the poor than to expend money on costly vestments or to adorn the walls of Churches, and they kept up schools and hospitals for lepers. They met in each other's houses for public worship, which took the form of reading and commenting upon the Holy Scriptures.99

Due to the persecution they received, and to their revulsion at the thought of worshipping in the State-sponsored "temples," the Anabaptists worshiped in homes.100 Their pattern of administration of the sacraments was simple, with the focus being on the World of God.101 The Anabaptists hesitated only slightly in allowing an "unordained" man to preach the gospel, and every man was convinced of the important of the Great Commission, and many would freely fill the role of a missionary. This stands in contrast to the clerically-minded Reformers:

Considering . . . clericalism, and the authority of Popes, bishops, and councils, we are refreshed by the reformers' cries of "back to the Bible." However, as we examine the facts, their real piety and practice, we are disappointed to find again a betrayal of the cause of true reformation. Though a watchword of the reformers was the priesthood of all believers, the fact is that they definitely forbade anyone to preach and testify who was not ordained by the official political and ecclesiastical machine. Again and again, Luther stormed against the "unauthorized" preachers of the Anabaptists, whom he contemptuously called "hedge-preachers."102

"Unauthorized" by whom? By the State. The anti-clericalism and anti-Statism of the Anabaptists closes our discussion of them, and brings us to the Reformers. In the next part of this paper we shall examine the Statism of the Reformers, and its manifestation in verbal and physical violence against the Anabaptists. It is a shocking revision of "mis-history" and has chilling implications in our own day.


82. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, I:162.

83. McGlothlin, p. 410.

84. Schaff, VIII:78.

85. Ibid., p. 70

86. Kevin Craig, "Social Apologetics," in Christianity and Civilization, No. 1 (Spring, 1982) passim, esp. pp. 47ff. As Verduin puts it, the [Anabaptists] believed that the Church of Christ is by definition an element in society, not society as such" (cf. note 87). As conscious as they were of the need to separate from the world (including the worldly State), they were technically incorrect here. Although Christians must not put a block of stumbling before unbelievers, and thus must pay their taxes and otherwise obey the State where the State claims lordship over them (Matt. 17:27; 1 Peter 2:13; Matt. 20:25), yet in another sense, Christian are not to consider themselves citizens of any pagan State (Matt. 17:26; Philip. 3:20; cf. Matt. 20:26). and will separate themselves from non-Christians  politically (1 Cor. 5:10). Regardless of what they said, the Anabaptists did virtually all of this, and it is in this sense -- 180║ away from the Reformers at their worldliest -- that Christians are "society as such."

87. Verduin, Stepchildren, pp. 16-17.

88. Balke, 11.

89. Eberhard Arnold, "The History of the Baptizers' Movement," in Baptist Reformation Review, Vol. 7 No. 3 (Autumn 1978, p. 19 (excerpted from MQR).

90. Verduin, Stepchildren, p. 205.

91. Ibid., p. 117.

91b.  Verduin, Hybrid, p. 148.

92. Yoder, 399-400.

93. Schaff, VIII:75.

94. Lindsay, II:443.

95. Ibid., 445-46.

96. Arnold, p. 19.

97. The word translated "holy" in the KJV is the plural form (corresponding to the [pl.] "children") of the Greek word consistently translated elsewhere as "saints." The force of the word in this verse is that children are saints,   eligible for the covenant sign. The Bible teaches, and observers of children recognize, that in a child's early years, the parent stands to the child in the place of God, so that a child's obedience to his parents is an indictor of his obedience to God. It is always one's profession, as seen in external obedience, that determines whether or not one shall remain a member of the covenant community. If a small child displays a pattern of general obedience to this parents, he gives sufficient evidence of faith for membership in the "church."

98. To say that the Anabaptists were not concerned about the State but rather about the church is merely to reveal one's predilection towards ecclesiocentrism (sometimes called "theology") rather than politicism ("statecraft?"). The impact is the same. To be for a pure Church, obedient in all areas of life to the Savior, is to place yourself at odds with all power-grabbing States.

99. Lindsay, 432-33.

100. Hulse, 17; Schaff, VIII:74,78; Estep, 14, 27, 28, 31, 34; Lindsay, 433, 441; Verduin, Hybrid, 189; Kuiper, 204, 205, 207.

101. Schaff, VIII:79; Estep, 59.

102. McGrath, 10.

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