During the latter part of the Reformation in the 1500's, a movement began among young people towards wholehearted Biblical fidelity as seen in the Book of Acts. This meant a further separation from the Roman Catholic traditions than what those who started the reformation were prepared to take. One practice that still remained in the Protestant Church was infant baptism, which, according to tradition, made newborn babies Christians. These young radicals insisted on re-baptizing those adults who had come to a personal experience of faith. This, as well as other attempts to become New Testament believers, caused them to be persecuted by the Catholics as well as the Protestants. The Swiss and German reformers actually joined forces with the Roman Catholics to stamp out these re-baptizers, or Anabaptists as they were called. From this movement came the Baptist and Brethren Churches today, as well as other non-liturgical religious groups that exist around the world. In time, a former priest named Menno Simons helped the Anabaptists get a biblical foundation under their movement. From this time on some Anabaptists were nicknamed "Mennonites". Early Mennonites were persecuted for what they believed and many were martyred. They decided that their response would be biblical even in the face of persecution. So they refused to take up arms to defend themselves from the Reform and Catholic coalition set against them. Some fled the area, but many were murdered by their persecutors. (It is from this that they developed their standard of non-resistance.) After years of persecution, many fled Europe for religious freedom in North America.
As a religious movement, Mennonites have had their spiritual highs and lows. As with any church, there is a constant need for renewal and realignment. A 1987-88 survey conducted by the Mennonite Board of Missions estimated that one-third of the Mennonite Church had participated in the Charismatic Renewal over these past three decades.
The church I helped plant in Lowville, New York was a Mennonite church for over 22 years. I was ordained as a Mennonite pastor and later served as an overseer for our conference. Like the young radicals from early Anabaptist history, the Mennonites who attended our church were committed to becoming more and more like the church we see in the book of Acts, with a strong Biblical foundation, standing up for what we believe, and promoting the need for constant renewal. At the same time, we also participated in what God was doing in other parts of he church. Our love for the brotherhood allowed us to traverse many different organizational lines. This was evident by the fact that our membership was made up of various denominations. We found our basis for fellowship around our common quest for New Testament Christianity.
Today, most mainline churches would agree with the five points listed in the side column, without necessarily accepting the extremes to which some Mennonites took these truths to at times. There are other Anabaptist distinctives, such as:
The Primacy of the New Testament. The Anabaptists and early Mennonites believed that both the Old and New Testaments were God's infallible and Holy Word. In this, they agreed with other Protestants. But they also held that the New Testament has superseded the Old Testament as a religious system. All doctrine, they insisted, must have a New Testament basis. The Sermon on the Mount received special emphasis. It was in this view of the relation of the Testaments that they grounded their high ethical demands. The Old Testament permitted hating your enemies, swearing oaths, divorce, and polygamy; but God has now given a more complete revelation of His will for men. It is therefore not right to set aside the higher ethic of the New Testament in favor of that which God once permitted because of the "hardness of heart" of the ancient Israelites. The leading reformers considered this interpretation heresy, and proceeded to try to wipe out Anabaptism with force—the same way the ancient Israelites handled their enemies.
They believed that good works were important. Many reformers rested on faith alone to save them. Anabaptists were trusting in God’s Grace for their salvation too, but 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" (James 2:20).
They had a strong commitment to evangelism. They were bold in their witness, which was quite unique in a day when there was little zeal for public evangelism.
They believed in living disciplined lives. The Anabaptist felt that disciplines of discipleship should be a part of our daily live. They maintained regular times of personal devotion in an age when most people only prayed or listened to scripture in church.
Scripture Alone— Anabaptists were usually more consistent than other reformers in their insistence on having biblical authority for their beliefs and practices.
Separation of Church and State— They saw how the church was the assembly of the redeemed, not something that was to be under the management of the Government.
Here are a few tenets that would have been commonly held by early Anabaptists:
Believers' Baptism— Anabaptists were among the first to point out the lack of explicit biblical support for infant baptism. They insisted that only those who trust in Jesus Christ for their personal salvation should be baptized.
We believe that all believers should follow Jesus’ example of being baptized in water because the Father required it of everyone as a way to demonstrate our obedience to Him. We prefer the practice of immersion so we can follow Jesus’ own example.
Matthew 3:16 “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water…”
Acts 8:39 “…Now when they came up out of the water…”
We believe that babies and young children should be dedicated to the Lord rather than be baptized or christened.