All farmers know that to grow healthy plants that bear fruit, three things are necessary: good seed, good soil, and careful cultivation. The Mennonite family sprang to light in the sixteenth century from an Anabaptist seed. That seed found fertile soil, was nurtured, and produced an abundant harvest. The seeds of that harvest have been transplanted throughout the world. The basic nature of the seed is still visible, although cultivation and different climates have changed the plant in important ways. The nature of this Anabaptist seed includes:
The Anabaptists were people inspired by reforming ideas that were circulating in the 1520s in Europe, the time of the Reformation. A few were educated, but Anabaptism was above all a reform of the common people. They were called "Anabaptists" or "re-baptizers" because they insisted that water baptism should be reserved for adults only. This conviction led them to baptize one another as adults, even though they had been baptized as infants.
The first adult baptism took place in Zurich, Switzerland, in January 1525. Political authorities quickly declared the movement to be illegal, but the baptizers flourished, practicing their faith in secret. In a few years, there were groups of baptizers throughout Europe. They called each other "brothers and sisters in Christ."
Anabaptist doctrines were not new inventions, or even very distinctive. Almost all the Anabaptists, when asked to give an account of their faith, simply repeated the Apostles' Creed, which they called the "Twelve Articles of the Faith," or simply, "the Faith." The Anabaptists taught the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer to their children and to converts.
"We must rightly know the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that they are the true, living God. ... This God has created us, has redeemed us, has taught and enlightened us ... in him we must believe." Dirk Philips
When they were asked what they believed, it was common for Anabaptists to answer, "I believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of God, our Lord and Savior, and in the Holy Spirit."
The Anabaptists were part of the Reformation movement. They agreed with Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin that salvation is by faith, not by sacraments or works of penance. They also agreed with the reformers that the final authority for Christians is the Bible.
But the Anabaptists did not agree with the more famous reformers on all points. What made the Anabaptists a distinctive reform movement was the way they emphasized and interpreted common Christian teachings. Their most important emphases were:
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