“One cannot and should not use force to compel anyone to accept faith, for faith is a free gift of God. It is wrong to compel anyone by force or coercion to embrace the faith, or to put to death anyone for the sake of his erring faith. It is an error that in the church and sword other than that of the divine Word should be used. The secular kingdom should be separated from the church, and no secular ruler should exercise authority in the church. The lord has commanded simply to preach the Gospel, not to compel anyone by force to accept it. The true church of Christ has the characteristic that it suffers and endures persecution but does not inflict persecution upon anyone” (Bender).
In order to realize the importance and to understand the problems of the Anabaptists, we need to look at the causes of the eventual movement from a historical perspective.
In the early 1500’s great changes were taking place in the European economy. The peasants, for example, were leading fairly pleasant lives on their farms. Taxes were low. Landowners who rented land to peasants started getting a little greedy and began collecting more rent for their land. Since the governing authorities were trying to enforce new laws of taxation, the peasants and the working class were badly affected. They were paying taxes in order to support the cities and nobility. This badly hurt their way of living. The value of money sank and prices of goods rose, which caused inflation in the economy. So, with the increase in taxes and rent there was great disappointment amongst the people. They became desparate and turned to anything they could find for comfort. One of these things was Religion. (Jedi
The more educated class began examining documents and teachings of the church, which at this time were very strict. The church back then was not as it is today. The church was joined with the state, so everything that affected the church, affected the state in some way too. Now, the state and church are separated. The church was very forceful, and worked with a “swift hand.” The newly founded city council allowed no room for change and expected all to abide by the political as well as the religious laws. If you didn’t abide by any of these laws, you were exiled. ( Hillerbrand 4 )
This strict way of living brought about discontent. Therefore, bringing about a group of reformers who decided to take everything from the bible and interpret all of it as literal. They were known as fundamentalists. The bible scholars read and believed that there was only adult baptism in the bible, so that they felt that this must be the correct way to truly profess the faith. They didn’t allow their followers to baptize their children; they had to wait until they were adults. In the year 1525, a group was established known as the Anabaptists. (Bender)
Anabaptist is defined as: a member of a sect that denied the validity of infant baptism and practiced baptism of adults; this sect originated in Switzerland. ( Webster’s 52 )
Anabaptism originated in Switzerland. Ulrich Zwingli was a Swiss reformer who organized everything with the Anabaptists in 1526. He and his supporters helped make Anabaptism known all through Europe. He wanted everyone to realize that their faith was superior. His mission was to show that adult baptism was the only acceptable thing, because in order to understand all you are undergoing you must be older. You can’t understand anything as an infant. He refused infant baptism totally. Some people accused Zwingli of being overzealous when others said he was truly motivating. (Knox 6)
Another great reformer was Conrad Grebel. He was another leader who wanted Anabaptism known to everyone. He helped Zwingli with his mission. He baptized George Blaurock (ex-priest), who in turn baptized fifteen others who were assembled in a private home. They then celebrated the Lord’s Supper as a memorial service, and a new community of believers was created. (Knox 6)
After the Anabaptist religion became widely known, a lot of controversies were stirred up in the Catholic Church and the government.
The church was very upset at the Anabaptists and their new religion. The three most important reasons the Anabaptists were hated so much was their belief in adult baptism, their belief against oath-taking, and their belief in a monastic ideal. ( Lester )
The Anabaptists believe in adult baptism was truly a problem for the church. Adult baptism was a violation of Canon Law. Canon Law stated that all true Christians were never baptized more than once, and this was exactly what the Anabaptists were doing. If there were people who wanted to convert to the Anabaptist faith, they would have to be baptized in order to become one in the faith. They refused to baptize their children, and they baptized adult converts. ( Knox )
Anabaptists were also against oath taking. This was something that really infuriated the government. Since the Anabaptists found explicit prohibitions in the bible against oath taking, they refused to ever take an oath. This made them poor citizens, for they could not participate in most juries and would not swear oaths of allegiance. It also meant that they could not serve in public office. The government strongly disliked the Anabaptists for this.
Lastly, Anabaptists held a monastic ideal. This meant that they felt they were true Christians and therefore were separate from the state and lived in the kingdom of God. They literally withdrew from the world. They felt like they were too good or holy for everyone else to even be associated with anybody outside their group. This was a very dangerous aspect of their faith. Holding a position like this can definitely cause some disputes. ( Knox )
Not only were the Anabaptists hated, but they were also feared. Since the Anabaptists held to their strong beliefs and practices, this made them objects of suspicion among the common people. They became the most feared of Protestant sects. The people that feared them can be broken down into four groups: the princes, Catholics, Lutherans, and even the non-religious. ( Knox )
The princes feared the Anabaptists, because of their political radicalism. The Catholics feared them, because they represented the uneducated, and they felt that they didn’t need any priests, who were supposed to be educated. The Lutherans feared them, because they felt that the Anabaptists were taking the whole reformation too far. They felt that they were to extreme and that they were the worst of all reformers. Even the non-religious feared the Anabaptists, because they felt that they were corrupting all social order, and bringing nothing but chaos. ( Bender )
In conclusion, over a period of years nearly 20,000 Anabaptists were killed for their beliefs. Only two were said to have survived. Two men named JakobHutter and Menno Simmons. They started new groups called the Mennonites and the Hutterites. There is not much heard about either of the two groups. ( Knox )
I think that even though the Anabaptists were extreme, they should have still been able to express their views freely. Just because they had a certain view that disagreed with The Church they were persecuted for it. I think they actually had a lot of courage to stand up to everyone. They certainly got the message across that their beliefs were important to them. I feel that the Anabaptists were wrongly persecuted.
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