Anabaptists and Baptists: How Closely Are They Related?
Alex K. TO

The relationship between Anabaptists and Baptists has caught the attention of many researchers in recent years. Did Baptists grow out of Anabaptists? When Baptists first appeared in the early 17th century, many people had confused them with the Anabaptists who emerged in the 16th century. However, the full title of the first Baptist confession, "A Confession of Faith of Seven Congregations or Churches of Christ in London, which are commonly (but unjustly) called Anabaptists…," which is commonly known as the First London Confession (1644), makes clear Baptists are different from Anabaptists.

Anabaptism began with the followers of the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli. During their quest for a true church, these young followers concluded from their study of the Scripture that a true church was made up of regenerated people who had made a public confession, and baptism was only for believers. Since small children were incapable of repenting and confessing faith, infant baptism was both meaningless and unscriptural. As Zwingli was afraid that their radical idea would not be supported by the city council of Zurich, he distanced himself from these young people. Ignoring the government's ban, the young dissenters held a private gathering and baptized one another in early 1525. The Anabaptist idea spread rapidly within a short time. Among the different strains of Anabaptism, Menno Simons who upheld the belief of pacifism and non-resistance became the most important and influential Anabaptist leader. His followers, Mennonites, become the mainstream Anabaptists nowadays.

John Smyth, an English Puritan-Separatist, started the first Baptist church in Amsterdam in 1609. Thomas Helwys continued to uphold the Baptist ideas and led the General Baptists in England. The Particular Baptists also came into the scene in England shortly afterward. Johann Oncken started Baptist churches on the European continent independently two hundred years later. All these Baptists were somehow related to the Anabaptists. Based on the encounters of the different early Baptists with Anabaptists, in particular Mennonites, the author shows that there were close connections and interactions between the groups.

By comparing the Schleitheim Confession (1527), the first Anabaptist confession, with several early Baptist confessions, in particular A Short Confession of Faith in Twenty Articles (1609) and the First London Confession (1644), it is further noticed that there are obvious similarities and noticeable differences between their core beliefs. Both Anabaptists and Baptists place emphasis on believer's baptism, believers' church, purity of the church, the symbolic meaning of the Lord's supper, and the good reputation of pastors. Although both advocate the separation of church and state, they have divergent views toward civil magistracy. The other obvious differences are their stances on Christian pacifism and oath-taking.

Both Anabaptists and Baptists are seeking a true church despite their dissimilarity. We should learn to appreciate each other's beautiful heritage and seek the wisdom to know what needs to be treasured.