Anabaptists are Christians who emerged in Europe during the 1520’s. “Anabaptist” (literally “re-baptizer”) was a derogatory term applied to them by their opponents; they called themselves “brothers and sisters.” Mennonites are one branch of the Anabaptist tradition whose name derives from Menno Simons, an early Dutch leader.
Anabaptists from their origins until today have been in agreement on at least these three aspects of Christian baptism:
- It is believer’s baptism; that is, baptism is only for those old enough to make a conscious and voluntary decision. Various Anabaptist groups have practiced different modes of baptism (like pouring or immersion) but all agree that baptism is for believers.
- It is symbolic of salvation; it does not constitute it. In other words, baptism is not a sacrament; the act itself does not change one’s spiritual status. Rather, baptism dramatizes the on-going salvation which God has already initiated by the gift of faith. The baptized are not made sinless, but are empowered by the Holy Spirit to follow Christ in life.
- Christians are baptized into a community to which they are accountable and by which they are treasured (1 Cor 12:12-13; see also Matt 18:15-20). To Anabaptists, baptism is not merely a private consent to ethical and moral life principles, nor a private ascent to spiritual enlightenment. Rather, the baptized join the people of God, the body of Christ, to blend their gifts together in mission and accept the privilege and responsibility of discipling one another. Early Anabaptists emphasized that they considered baptism a symbol of their bond with one another by speaking of a three-fold baptism of Spirit, water, and blood (that is, even to the point of giving their lives for one another); see 1 John 5:6-8).