By Norman H. Wells
It is an established fact of history that as far back as the fourth century those refusing to go into the Hierarchy o f the Catholic Cult, and refusing to accept the baptism of those baptized in infancy. and refusing to accept the doctrine of “baptismal regeneration” and demanding rebaptism for all those who came to them from the Hierarchy were called “Anabaptists” – rebaptizers.
The Origin of the Anabaptist Churches
A. For the first century or so, nearly all the churches remained comparatively pure in doctrine and practice.
1. With the growth of error concerning church government, doctrine, ordinances, etc., there came a widening of the separation between those churches departing into error and those remaining loyal to the scriptures.
2. Those churches who remained loyal were called “Anabaptists” from the very beginning.
3. One of the first great errors to divide the churches was “baptismal regeneration” and “infant baptism.”
B. As all the groups who bore many different names held true to “believers baptism” they were all called Anabaptists. The Montanists, Novatians, Donatists, Paulicans, Henricans and Amoldists were all Anabaptists.
C. Near the beginning of the 16th century, the “Ana” was dropped, and the name shortened to simply “Baptist,” and gradually all other names were dropped.
D. No definite beginning can be ascribed to the Baptists of today this side of Christ Himself.
1. First, all churches were true New Testament churches believing and practicing the doctrines held by unincorporated Baptist churches today.
2. For centuries the loyal, true, New Testament churches were called by many different names (as followers o f their pastors) and were always classified “Anabaptist.”
3. The unincorporated Baptist churches of today are a continuation of this line.
The Character of the Anabaptists
A. Never in any age, did the Anabaptists form any hierarchy that bound their churches together.
1. No one “bishop” or leader ever spoke for all of them.
2. In every age they remained free, independent churches governed by the rules of family.
3. The counterfeit “state church” always practiced an Episcopal form of church government that allowed tyrants to use the civil magistrate to persecute the Anabaptists.
4. Anabaptists spoke of the hieracrchy system of Popes, Cardinals, and Bishops as “Anti-Christ” and understood it to be “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” of Rev 2:6, 18.
B. Not all the churches that were called Anabaptist remained true to the New Testament. Each age and each locality had its deflections and errors but it is marvelous to see how the truth was preserved through so many of these churches.
C. With no connecting link of communication and with no history to go by, these churches scattered all over the world and in every age all fit into the same pattern of doctrine and practice, by making the Bible their only rule of faith and practice.
1. All this was accomplished without any centralization of authority, establishment of hierarchy, etc.
2. This is the miracle of the fulfillment of God’s promise, “the gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matt 16:16)
The Persecution of the Anabaptists
A. The Anabaptists were always hated and despised by those who sought to bring about the establishing of doctrinal error.
B. During the 1,200 years of the “dark ages” it is stated that fifty million died of the terrible persecution. The great majority of these were Anabaptists.
C. During this period it is recorded that along one single European highway, thirty miles distance, stakes were set up every few feet along this highway, the tops of the stakes sharpened, and on the top of each was placed the gory head of a martyred Anabaptist!
The Encyclopedia Britannica reports:
“The Anabaptist program [in Germany] was perceived as a threat to the social and political order by Catholics and Protestants alike. The Diet of Speyer in 1529, for example, subjected the Anabaptists to the penalty of death with the concurrence of Catholics and Lutherans. One of the Anabaptist leaders, Felix Manz, was drowned in Zurich in 1527, and persecution eliminated other Anabaptist leaders.”
The Diet of (1529) ordered that Anabaptists were to be killed like wild beasts as soon as they were captured. No judge or trial was necessary. One Anabaptist wrote: “Some were racked and drawn asunder; others were burnt to ashes and dust; some were roasted on pillars or torn with red-hot pincers…Others were hanged on trees, beheaded with the sword, or thrown into the water…Some starved or rotted in darksome prisons…Like owls and ravens, which durst not fly by day, they were often compelled to hide and live in rocks and clefts, in wild forests or in caves and pits.”
End-time apostasy is a Bible doctrine. New Testament prophecies describe two separate streams of churches operating side by side throughout the church age.
First, there will be true churches of Jesus Christ, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. The Bible tells us that they will be persecuted, hated, despised, yet they will continue to st until Christ’s return. The Lord Jesus promised His faithful ones, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world” (Mt 28:20).
Second, there will be apostate churches, which will increase in number and grow worse and worse as the centuries pass.
Consider the following Scriptures: Matthew 24:4,11,24; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-13; 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1-3; Jude 1:3-4; Revelation 17.
In light of these prophecies it should not be surprising that the majority of churches today are not committed to the sound teaching of God’s Word.
“Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).