What is an 'Anabaptist'?

'Anabaptist' means 're-baptizer'. It is the name given to members of a Christian reformation movement in the 16th century by their opponents. The Anabaptist movement was characterised by adult baptism, in contrast to the general practice of baptising infants.

Determination to follow the teachings of Jesus led Anabaptists to believe that:

  • the church consists of people who have chosen to join upon their confession of faith and is separate from the state;
  • baptism is a sign of that voluntary adult commitment;
  • the Holy Spirit empowers believers to be faithful to Christ’s teachings;
  • following Jesus as Lord precludes allegiance to governments and human institutions; and
  • Christians must abandon violence, including military service.

For these beliefs and practices many 16th century Anabaptists were persecuted and put to death.

Today there is a global community of believers who continue to hold and practice these same beliefs. Aspects of their theology and practice are found in many churches, such as Baptists and Pentecostals/charismatics. The main denominations that trace their heritage to Anabaptists are Mennonite, Mennonite Brethren, Brethren in Christ, Church of the Brethren, Amish and Hutterites – and related churches whose names are in other languages.

Of the one and a half million Anabaptists in the world today, one third are Africans, almost as many are North Americans. There are also significant numbers in India and Indonesia, as well as other parts of the world.

For more information about the meaning of the term 'Anabaptist', consult GAMEO.