The Anabaptist movement emerged in the 16th century in Switzerland during the Reformation movement. The word Anabaptist literally means “rebaptizer” and it was given to them as a nickname which they didn’t appreciate at the time because it was a form of mockery. Nonetheless, the name is a good summary of what the group stood for because they emphasized the importance of water baptism for adults who had made a public profession of their faith in Christ.
On the other hand hand, the Baptist movement emerged in the 17th century in England and the term Baptist was also used to refer to the main doctrine of baptism that they were promoting. Just like the anabaptism, Baptism believes in baptism by immersion after a person had made a conscious decision to follow Christ. For Baptists, baptism is a way of making a public declaration of one’s faith in Jesus.
What are the differences between Anabaptists and Baptists?
Both Baptists and Anabaptists believe in individual faith and the believer’s baptism. They also agree that infants should not be baptized because baptism is viewed as a way of showing one’s decision to follow Christ – a decision that an infant cannot make. This doctrine makes Anabaptists and Baptists different from Catholics and lots of other protestant denominations that look at baptism as a way of initiating one into Christianity and therefore allow for children’s baptism as well.
But even though Anabaptists and Baptists agree on some things, there are also a couple of beliefs and practices that distinguish them. The most important differences between Anabaptists and Baptists are their views on church and state, the principle of pacifism, Counter-cultural and nonconformity to the world, as well as the role of good works in salvation.
Let us take a closer look at each of these differences below:
- Separation from the government (state churches)
Anapabtists put a lot of emphasis on the concept of separation of church and state. They believe this is important to prevent the corruption of the government from influencing the church. The idea of state-controlled churches is not welcome in Anabaptism. This separation was crucial to preserve the purity and integrity of the church, ensuring that it was not compromised by political power.
Anapabtists are traditionally known for their commitment to pacifism. The anabaptist doctrine seeks to promote peace by rejecting all kinds of warfare. This is based on the teaching of Jesus to love one’s enemies and pray for them instead of harming them. The lessons drawn from the sermon on the mountain were also key in developing this doctrine. Anabaptists believe that the sermon on the mountain (Mathew 5) is central to their ethical framework.
- Counter-cultural and nonconformity to the world:
Anabaptists believe that even though they are in the world, they are not of the world and as such, they seek to live distinctly from the surrounding society. They do this by trying to live by a higher moral standard that is informed by their interpretation of biblical teachings. For instance, they reject any societal norm that contradicts the Christian faith and what is required of them as Christ’s disciples.
- Importance of “good works” in salvation:
Anabaptists believe that good works are a surefire way to express one’s faith and obedience to Jesus Christ. According to anabaptists, salvation is a holistic process that involves not only faith but also the active pursuit of righteousness and a transformed life. The beginning point of the good deeds was to observe the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount.
- Biblical literalism:
Anabaptists believe the Bible is the final authority and they promote its literal interpretation. According to Anabaptism, applying biblical truths is a great way of aligning their faith and practices with the straightforward teachings of scripture.
Anabaptist beliefs and teachings
- Views on baptism
Anabaptists have a strong conviction in baptism because they believe it is a symbolic gesture of obedience to Christ. To them, baptism is not a means to salvation. Consequently, anabaptists emphasize the baptism of believers which can on happen once one professes their faith in Jesus Christ.
- Separation of church and state
One significant belief among Anabaptists is the idea of the separation of church and state. According to anabaptist doctrine, the church must be autonomous and free of any political influences. They are against the concept of state-owned or state-controlled churches.
- Theological perspectives
Anabaptists have a couple of theological perspectives that differentiate them from some of the common Christian traditions. For instance, they place a lot of emphasis on the sermon on the mountain and believe it is the perfect guide for the Christian life on earth. They also believe in pacifism, community, and discipleship. Anabaptist doctrine teaches against violence and preaches rejection of war and love for enemies. Finally, they believe in the priesthood of all believers and affirm the equality and participation of all members in the life and mission of the church.
Baptist beliefs and teachings
- Views on baptism:
Just like the Anabaptists, Baptists also believe in the baptism of individual Christians who have professed their faith. Baptism is held in high regard as it is considered a must-have sacrament in the believer’s life. Baptism however teaches against the doctrine of infant baptism that is commonly practiced in catholicism and protestantism. Baptism is believed to be a symbolic act for believers to represent their identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
- Congregational governance
Baptists believe in the autonomy of churches and so each local church is structured to be self-governing. Any decision on church leadership, faith, as well as administration, is made by the congregants either collectively or through the delegated authority of their elected leaders. This emphasis on congregational autonomy stems from their belief in the priesthood of all believers, where every member has a direct relationship with God and is called to participate in the decision-making process.
- Core theological principles
Some of the core theological principles that are upheld by Baptists include salvation by grace through faith, the authority of scripture, and the self-governance of individual congregations. Baptists believe in religious freedom and also encourage every Christian to participate in spreading the gospel.
In summary, Anabaptists and Baptists have almost similar doctrines. For instance, both believe in the importance of baptism as a way of demonstrating their inward faith and transformation. However, Baptists do not necessarily take the radical stand that Anabaptists take on some issues. Anabaptists take the Bible literally and that is one of the reasons for their unique stand on issues and that also makes them unique.