A common question that comes up is, “What is the relationship of Anabaptists to Baptists?”
Paedobaptists will tell you Baptists are Anabaptists. and it doesn’t help that some Arminian Dispensational (SBC) Baptists will trace their roots to Anabaptists.
On a surface-level view it would be easy to think they are one and the same – but a simple look at history and doctrine reveals otherwise.
From Phil Johnson’s, “The Anabaptists“:
Many Anabaptist ideas made invaluable contributions to the Reformation. For example, these five tenets might be identified as Anabaptist distinctives:
Sola Scriptura—Anabaptists were sometimes more consistent than the Magisterial Reformers in their insistence on biblical authority for certain practices in matters of church polity and worship.
Separation of Church and State—Anabaptists correctly saw the church as the assembly of the redeemed, antithetical to the world and sometimes antagonistic to society as a whole. For this reason they advocated separation of church and state.
Freedom of Conscience—because of the Anabaptists’ convictions about the role of the secular state, they believed that the ultimate remedy for heresy was excommunication. They steadfastly opposed the persecution that was so characteristic of their age. They denied that the state had a right to punish or execute anyone for religious beliefs or teachings. This was a revolutionary notion in the Reformation era.
Believers’ Baptism—The anabaptists were the among the first to point out the lack of explicit biblical support for infant baptism. Most of them made no issue of the mode of baptism, and practiced affusion (sprinkling), however, so they were not true baptists in the modern sense of the word.
Holiness of Life—Anabaptists gave much emphasis to spiritual experience, practical righteousness, and obedience to divine standards. They had no tolerance for those who claimed to be justified by faith while living unfaithful lives. Anabaptists pointed out that Scripture says, “Faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:20).
On most of those points we would strongly agree with the Anabaptists’ thrust (though not necessarily with the extreme conclusions they sometimes came to).
Nevertheless, there is very good reason to approach the Anabaptist movement with a healthy dose of caution. While acknowledging our very real debt to the Anabaptists on the matters enumerated above, we must also recognize an unhealthy tendency in Anabaptist doctrine: Anabaptists rejected the Reformed understanding of justification by faith alone. They denied the forensic nature of justification and insisted that the only ground on which sinners can be acceptable to God is a “real” righteousness wrought within the justified person.
For further reading on Anabaptist theology see the recommended resources (links) on Phil Johnson’s site.
Also at Phil Johnson’s Spurgeon.org is Chris Traffanstedt’s piece, “A Primer on Baptist History: The True Baptist Trail“:
Most Baptists are fooled into thinking that we come from the Anabaptists just because the word “baptist” is found in their name. But we must use great caution here. We must explore who the Anabaptists really were and ask the all-important question: Are they truly representative of Baptist beliefs?Who are these people called “Anabaptist”? This group refers to a community of rebels during the Reformation period; they were considered to be the radical wing of the Reformation. Even within this group there were various views and camps. Two main separate camps can be identified: the “revolutionary Anabaptist” and the “evangelical Anabaptist.” We really do not want to spend too much time on the revolutionary group for they hardly reflect a biblical approach to Christianity. They actually took on the form of a cult, holding to an extreme mystical experiential view and believing their leaders to be prophets (future-tellers). They were also quick to use violence to get their way.However, the “evangelical” Anabaptists were a movement of a different type. And it is from this group that many say the Baptist movement was born. Thus, we need to take some time to examine them. This group, first of all, rejected the orthodox Christian view of sin. Instead of holding to sin as a bondage both of the nature and actions of mankind, they held that sin was “a loss of capacity or a serious sickness.” The Anabaptists, in following Rome’s view of justification, held that God makes us righteous and then accepts us on the basis of our righteousness. They also believed that Christ did not take His flesh from Mary but held to a heavenly origin for His flesh. When it came to the world, the Anabaptists believe we were to totally separate ourselves from it (although they did dip into it with a zealous evangelism on occasion). The Anabaptists rejected infant baptism and held to believer’s baptism, but their mode for the most part was sprinkling, not pouring or immersion. Their view of interpreting Scripture was that of just strict imitation which led to large movements of legalism.When we look at the Anabaptists we must agree that there are some similarities with the early General Baptists, but overall these similarities are slight and not always relational. In the end, we must come to say that this group of Christians does not reflect the historical teaching of the Baptists. The large portion of Baptist history shows us that Baptists held to a strong position on sin, both in our nature and in our actions, not as just some mere sickness. Baptists have also held to a belief in the virgin birth and see that this is what points to the doctrine of the God-Man, not just some heavenly illusion. As well, Baptists have held strongly to the Reformation’s recovery of justification – that it is based upon Christ’s righteousness alone and not our righteousness because we have none. And finally, Baptists have always seen that the Scriptures are to be studied and applied to everyday life through the power of the Holy Spirit and are not to be followed just in blind imitation or by a leap of faith. So we must clearly reject, as history does, that the Baptist origins flow from the Anabaptists.
The fact of history is that three “Believer’s-Only” groups arose independently of each other and with a few similarities, but even more dissimilarities. The Continental Anabaptists (who did not immerse), the English General Baptists, and the English Particular Baptists.
1644, The First (Particular Baptist) London Confession of Faith
The Confession of Faith, Of those Churches which are commonly (though falsly ) called Anabaptists;
1660, The (General Baptist) Standard Confession
A Brief Confession Or Declaration Of Faith. Set forth by many of us, who are (falsely) called Ana-baptists…
For more on Particular Baptist History, read and listen to:
CONFESSING THE FAITH IN 1644 AND 1689
Dr. James M. Renihan
The Confessing Baptist Interview with Dr. James Renihan on Particular Baptist History
The Reformation and the Baptist [AUDIO]
Dr. James M. Renihan
Where Did Baptists Come From? [AUDIO]
Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin
So if Baptists are not the heirs to the Anabaptists, who are? The Amish, The Brethren, and the Mennonites.
In 2006 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and in 2008 the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) apologized for the Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists. To whom did they apologize? SBC, or any Baptist group? No. They apologized to Mennonites. (see ELCA and LWF)
I’ll end with a quote from Erroll Hulse,
As Professors James McGoldrick [Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History] and Michael Haykin [Kiffin, Knollys, & Keach: Rediscovering English Baptist Heritage] have shown, historical evidence is lacking to prove a connection between the Continental Anabaptists of the sixteenth century and the English Baptists.
Hulse, Erroll. Who Are the Puritans?: And What Do They Teach? Darlington (England): Evangelical Press, 2000. Print. Page 188.