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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Anabaptists

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Those who maintain that baptism ought always to be performed by immersion. The word is compounded of "new, " and "a Baptist, " signifying that those who have been baptized in their infancy, ought to be baptized anew. It is a word which has been indiscriminately applied to Christians of very different principles and practices. The English and Dutch Baptists do not consider the word as at all applicable to their sect; because those persons whom they baptize they consider as never having been baptized before, although they have undergone what they term the ceremony of sprinkling in their infancy. The Anabaptists of Germany, besides their notions concerning baptism, depended much upon certain ideas which they entertained concerning a perfect church establishment, pure in its members, and free from the institutions of human policy. The most prudent part of them considered it possible, by human industry and vigilance, to purify the church; and seeing the attempts of Luther to be successful, they hoped that the period was arrived in which the church was to be restored to this purity. Others, not satisfied with Luther's plan of reformation, undertook, a more perfect plan, or more properly, a visionary enterprise, to found a new church entirely spiritual and divine. This sect was soon joined by great numbers, whose characters and capacities were very different. Their progress was rapid; for in a very short space of time, their discourses, visions, and predictions, excited great commotions in a great part of Europe.

The most pernicious faction of all those which composed this motley multitude, was that which pretended that the founders of this new and perfect church were under a divine impulse, and were armed against all opposition by the power of working miracles. It was this faction, that, in the year 1521, began their fanatical work under the guidance of Munzer, Stubner, Storick, &c. These men taught that, among Christians, who had the precepts of the gospel to direct, and the Spirit of God to guide them, the office of magistracy was not only unnecessary, but an unlawful encroachment on their spiritual liberty; that the distinctions occasioned by birth, ran, or wealth should be abolished; that all Christians, throwing their possessions into one stock, should live together in that state of equality which becomes members of the same family; that, as neither the laws of nature, nor the precepts of the New Testament, had prohibited polygamy, they should use the same liberty as the patriarchs did in this respect. They employed, at first, the various arts of persuasion, in order to propagate their doctrines, and related a number of visions and revelations, with which they pretended to have been favoured from above: but when they found that this would not avail, and that the ministry of Luther and other reformers was detrimental to their cause, they then madly attempted to propagate their sentiments by force of arms.

Munzer and his associates, in the year 1525 put themselves at the head of a numerous army, and declared war against all laws, governments, and magistrates of every kind, under the chimerical pretext, that Christ himself was now to take the reins of all government into his hands: but this seditious crowd was routed and dispersed by the elector of Saxony and other princes, and Munzer, their leader, put to death. Many of his followers, however, survived, and propagated their opinions through Germany, Switzerland, and Holland. In 1533, a party of them settled at Munster, under two leaders of the names of Matthias and Bockholdt. Having made themselves masters of the city, they deposed the magistrates, confiscated the estates of such as had escaped, and deposited the wealth in a public treasury for common use. They made preparations for the defense of the city; invited the Anabaptists in the low countries to assemble at Munster, which they called Mount Sion, that from thence they might reduce all the nations of the earth under their dominion. Matthias was soon cut off by the bishop of Munster's army, and was succeeded by Bockholdt, who was proclaimed by a special designation of heaven, as the pretended king of Sion, and invested with legislative powers like those of Moses. The city of Munster, however, was taken, after a long siege, and Bockholdt was punished with death.

It must be acknowledged that the true rise of the insurrections of this period ought not to be attributed to religious opinions. The first insurgents groaned under severe oppressions, and took up arms in defense of their civil liberties; and of these commotions the Anabaptists seem rather to have availed themselves, than to have been the prime movers. That a great part were Anabaptists, seems indisputable; at the same time it appears from history, that a great part also were Roman Catholics, and a still greater part of those who had scarcely any religious principles at all. Indeed, when we read of the vast numbers that were concerned in these insurrections, of whom it is reported that 1000, 000 fell by the sword, it appears reasonable to conclude that they were not all Anabaptists. It is but justice to observe also, that the Baptists in England and Holland are to be considered in a different light from those above-mentioned: they profess an equal aversion to all principles of rebellion on the one hand, and to enthusiasm on the other.

See Robertson's Hist. of Charles V.; Enc. Brit. vol. 1: p. 644; and articles BAPTISTS and MENNONITES.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Anabaptists'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/a/anabaptists.html. 1802.

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