The Movement Begins

“Notice concerning baptism. Baptism shall be given to all those who have been taught repentance and the amendment of life and [who] believe truly that their sins are taken away through Christ, and to all those who desire to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and be buried with Him in death, so that they might rise with Him; to all those who with such an understanding themselves desire and request it from us; hereby is excluded all infant baptism, the greatest and first abomination of the pope. For this you have the reasons and the testimony of the writings and the practice of the apostle. We wish simply yet resolutely and with assurance to hold to the same.“ –Schleitheim Confession, Article I

One by one, the small group of believers trickled into the home of Felix Manz and his mother. They came quietly, because their meeting was illegal. That cold, January evening in 1525 marked the start of the radical reformation. These believers could wait no longer; one by one, they were all baptized in the name of the Trinity. They encouraged each other to stand strong for the truth of the New Testament.

Felix Manz was one of the principal leaders and his boldness aided the quickly spreading radical reformation. Repeatedly, Manz was imprisoned; sometimes he was released with a warning, sometimes he escaped. Then one day, a sentence was handed down; a different kind of baptism. Stripped and bound, Manz was taken to the center of Lake Zurich and drowned. He became one of the first Anabaptists to die for his convictions. As the water closed over his head, Manz once again testified to the faithfulness of Jesus and moved from death to life.

A Radical Step

Anabaptist literally means “re-baptizer.” The radical group was given this name due to their direct defiance of the state church’s policy on baptism. At the time of the Reformation, the Catholic Church not only required the baptism of infants, but also taught that infant baptism was necessary for salvation.

However, the Anabaptists realized that the Bible taught that only those who believed on Jesus Christ should be baptized. Baptism was an outward symbol of what Christ had done inside a person. Since infants were not capable of choosing to believe, they should not be baptized. The Anabaptist movement began when a group of Christians rejected their infant baptisms and chose to be baptized as adults. This radical step meant publicly identifying with Christ and also choosing to suffer for Christ.

A Biblical Command

The first Anabaptists weren’t the only ones known for their stand on baptism. Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples and baptize them. Again and again in the book of Acts, people “believed and were baptized.” The New Testament writers mentioned baptism nearly 100 times, and the early church fathers also spoke of baptism with reverence. Clearly, it is important. But baptism as a symbol alone is worthless; it is the meaning behind a symbol that gives it importance.

Baptism is a symbol of a changed life, consequently it should have deep significance for every believer. Yet, I look at my own baptism and wonder how much I valued it at the time. Was my baptism about becoming a church member? Or was it merely a ceremony? Did I take for granted what Christ has done?

More Than a Symbol

I think that baptism is something we are doing right. Still, it seems that baptism no longer carries the same meaning that it did in Christian history. Is it possible that over time we have lost some of the significance and are left with only the symbol? That’s a dangerous place to be.

Marriage is a good example of this. Many people want a wedding ceremony, but what a wedding represents – Christ and his bride, the church – is forgotten. In the same way, baptism can lose its meaning if we aren’t careful.

Take, for instance, the ongoing debate about whether baptism means immersion or pouring. It isn’t wrong to have this discussion, but it misses the real issue. The real issue is that baptism represents real change from the very real redemption of Christ in our lives. Without Christ, it doesn’t matter if you were baptized by pouring, immersion, or taking a bath; you only got wet!

What Does it Mean?

The crux of baptism is this: we were dead in our sins, but Christ loved us and by his death we have been made alive! Romans 6:4 says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Baptism, then, is a beautiful picture of how the gospel transforms a person. Baptism is publicly choosing to identify with Christ. I like to break this down into two parts: identifying with Christ and identifying with the church. Through baptism, believers are confessing that Jesus is worth dying for. Believers are also acknowledging that they are accountable to each other for their actions.

Your baptism is more than just a ceremony that happened on such and such a day; baptism is a daily reminder. Baptism reminds us as believers that we were dead, but Christ has made us alive. It reminds us that we have chosen to follow him. It tells us, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above” (Colossians 3:1). Live like you have new life, not like you just got wet.

Read the Schleitheim Confession here

Bryce Bryce Wenger lives and works on a small farm near Dalton, Ohio. He has a love for music, literature, and learning. His free time is usually spent backpacking, canoeing, or otherwise enjoying nature. He is passionate about knowing God’s Word and living life to the fullest.

Sources used:

All scripture quoted from the ESV

Neff, Christian and Harold S. Bender. “Manz, Felix (ca. 1498-1527).” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 28 Sep 2015.,_Felix_(ca._1498-1527)&oldid=129975

Strong, James, and James Strong. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: With Main Concordance, Appendix to the Main Concordance, Key Verse Comparison Chart, Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible, Dictionary of the Greek Testament. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984. Print.

Bercot, David W. “Baptism.” A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Fathers. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998. 50-64. Print.

10 thoughts on “Baptism

  1. Wow this really struck home to me. Thank-you! Especially because I can really relate with your experience with baptism: it seemed to be a sign of church membership, and the dutiful follow-up move on my conversion. A friend of mine, with a story like this, decided to be baptized again now that she’s older and understands more. Would you also encourage this, that we from this background be rebaptized, now that we are older and have greater understanding of the matter?


    1. Glad you enjoyed the article! Thanks for reading. You raise some important questions. I also know of people who have chosen to be “rebaptized” later on in life. I think this is something we should be careful with. Baptism can be legitimate even if we don’t fully understand it at the time. Just like all other parts of the Christian life, we understand it better as we grow spiritually.

      I think we as Anabaptists can loose the significance of baptism, but I still think we are practicing biblical baptism. We don’t baptize infants; we only baptize believing adults. So, if a person was genuinely saved when they were baptized, I don’t think that person should seek to be rebaptized later. Rebaptism should only happen when a person was first baptized without professing faith in Christ. I think for most people, its good to take a step back and reevaluate our views on baptism, but I don’t think we should try to seek another Baptism. Studying baptism should help us appreciate it more, not make us doubt if it was legitimate.

      Hope this helps. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, thank-you: that does help. I suppose the greatest problem I have had with my baptism is that it seemed so linked to church membership. I believe that baptism does bind us to the universal church, not that it is a symbol of membership in a local church. However, having been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and not in the name of such-and-such a church, I know it was Biblical. 🙂
        1 Peter 3:21 ESV- “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I love that- “an appeal to GOD for a good (clear) conscience”- it is NOT by our own righteousness. Our hope is in Jesus Christ and him only, and baptism is a beautiful picture of God’s power to live as a new creation!!
        This has been a great blog post and discussion. Thank-you for studying into this and sharing your insights.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It seems from my research that immersion was the primary mode in the early church, though some disagree. Pouring became the primary mode in the centuries leading up to the reformation and was continued by most of the reformers. Some groups, such as the Baptists, some Mennonites, and others have reintroduced immersion. It seems that pouring was the primary mode practiced by early Anabaptists, with some exceptions. I’m not sure if they practiced pouring because of a certain belief or simply because it was easier to perform in secret during times of persecution.

      Here is a good article on modes of baptism if you want to look into it further.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like what you said about the method, “Without Christ, it doesn’t matter if you were baptized by pouring, immersion, or taking a bath; you only got wet!”
    The method was never an issue to the early Anabaptists. They practiced both. And there are still Anabaptists today that practice both. Since Scripture does not give a clear command of which is the “right” way; nor does it condemn either practice, it is safe to assume that God recognizes both as well.
    However, with that said, I think Anabaptists have strayed from some of their early practices and no longer are aligned with Scripture in the area of baptism.

    The early Anabaptists never separated conversion and baptism. They baptized their converts immediately with no “proving time”. There was no “instruction class” for six months to make sure the converts understood every doctrine.

    Anabaptists today do it more like the established church did of that time. The established church only baptized twice a year at specific times and converts had to be examined seven times to be sure they had really converted.


    1. Good thoughts Simon. I have had some of these same questions myself. I see value in both approaches to baptism; it seems that baptism should follow soon after conversion, but it is also important to disciple new believers. That said, I do tend to agree with you that the most scriptural method is baptism following confession of faith. “Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ” is the only qualification for baptism. Anyone who understands the work of salvation and has chosen to believe is eligible for baptism. I think immediate baptism upon confession of faith should be the norm for adult converts (I do think it is good for children who become believers at a very young age to wait at least a little while until they have a better understanding of salvation).

      That said, I also see the value of instruction class.. It seems that the primary purpose of instruction class is discipleship, which is also a Biblical command. In my opinion, it seems that instruction class should follow baptism instead of preceding it. Discipleship should be ongoing for believers in all stages of the Christian walk. It seems that a more biblical model would be baptism upon conversion followed by an instruction class or mentorship and ongoing discipleship. Therefore, my main problem with instruction class is the timing, not the instruction itself.

      So yes, I do think this is an area that we as Anabaptists could improve upon. However, we should remember that this is a fine point of doctrine and give some grace to our brothers. It is an area we could change, but not something over which to divide a church. Discussions like this should always be approached with both truth and love.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It sounds like you and I are pretty much on the same page on the subject of baptism and instruction class. I’ve wondered if we have put the proverbial carriage before the horse, so to speak. I agree that instruction class would be great as a mentoring/discipling class, or maybe even a membership class as some other denominations have.

        This may well be only a “fine point of doctrine”, but I don’t think this is the only area concerning baptism that we as Anabaptists have strayed from. When we refuse to baptize people who have converted because we have differences of opinion regarding interpretation of doctrine, how are we any different than the Jews in Acts 10:44-48 who weren’t so sure that the Gentiles should be baptized along with them even though they also had received the Holy Ghost? Peter’s response to this group was, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?

        I’ve wondered if his response to some of our baptism rules would be the same?

        Feel free to read the following article on my blog and give me some feedback on it.

        My desire is not for more schisms within our Anabaptists circles, but yet I feel our falling away from our earliest beliefs is much more crucial than most of us will admit. Anabaptists used to stand out from the rest of the religious groups mainly because of their radical willingness to baptize or re-baptize any new believers immediately upon conversion. But today they are known to be the opposite of that. We want people to prove that they are “true Anabaptists” before we will baptize them. And the only thing that seems to make us Anabaptists is our dress and separated life style. And we equate that outward look and separate lifestyle to be evidence of the only “true faith”.

        What I would like to see happen among our people is a deep inward searching and asking God to show us areas that we need to realign ourselves with Scripture and then acting on it. Being referred to as the “silent in the land” is not a compliment– considering that the disciples were beaten and killed for refusing to stop speaking of Jesus. Our Anabaptist forefathers were also tortured and killed for their refusal to be silent on the issue of baptism and re-baptism.

        You mention approaching discussions like this with both truth and love. I agree. Apparently I have a tendency to present truth and forget to offer grace with it. :/ I still believe we do many things right as Anabaptists. There is some great discipling going on in our circles. Our desire to obey Biblical truths in practical ways in every area of life is an inspiration many around us. Lets just not forget to discern which of our beliefs are Biblical and which are only traditions.

        Sorry this got so lengthy. I get a too long-winded on subjects I am passionate about..


  3. You definitely raise some good thoughts. I will have to consider the other issues you raised about baptism further. I definitely agree that we need to return to a proper, biblical understanding of Christianity. It will take work and much prayer to separate harmful tradition from truth and good traditions. Tradition is not bad in itself; some traditiions are very helpful to us as Christians. Because the Bible does not spell out every detail of the Christian life, we must make some standards in light of what the Bible does say. Different cultures will have different ways of obeying scripture, and that is ok. However, the problem comes when tradition is placed on the same level as scripture. We must constantly evaluate our understanding of scripture to make sure we are remaining within the truth. Good thoughts, once again.

    Liked by 2 people

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