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.
|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.
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. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Manz,_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.