By Norman H. Wells
It is an established fact of history that as far back as the fourth century those refusing to go into the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and refusing to accept the baptism of those baptized in infancy, and refusing to accept the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration" and demanding rebaptism for all those who came to them from the Hierarchy were called "Anabaptists" — rebaptizers.
The Origin of the Anabaptist Churches
A. For the first century or so, nearly all the churches remained comparatively pure in doctrine and practice.
1. With the growth of error concerning church government, doctrine, ordinances, etc., there came a widening of the separation between those churches departing into error and those remaining loyal.
2. Those churches who remained loyal were called ''Anabaptists'' from the very beginning.
3. One of the first great errors to divide the churches was ''baptismal regeneration" and "infant baptism."
B. As all the groups who bore many different names held true to "believers baptism" they were all called Anabaptists. The Montanists, Novatians, Donatists, Paulicans, Henricans and Arnoldists were all Anabaptists.
C. Near the beginning of the 16th century, the ''Ana'' was dropped, and the name shortened to simply "Baptist," and gradually all other names were dropped.
D. No definite beginning can be ascribed to the Baptists of today this side of Christ Himself.
1. First, all churches were true New Testament churches believing and practicing the doctrines held by Baptists today.
2. For centuries the loyal, true, New Testament churches were called by many different names and were always classified "Anabaptist."
3. The Baptists of today are a continuation of this line.
The Character of the Anabaptists
A. Never in any age, did the Anabaptists form any hierarchy that bound their churches together.
1. No one leader ever spoke for all of them.
2. In every age they remained free, independent churches governed by the rules of democracy.
B. Not all the churches that were called Anabaptist remained true to the New Testament. Each age and each locality had its deflections and errors but it is marvelous to see how the truth was preserved through these churches.
C. With no connecting link of communication and with no history to go by, these churches scattered all over the world and in every age all fit into the same pattern of doctrine and practice.
1. All this was accomplished without any centralization of authority, establishment of hierarchy, etc.
2. This is the miracle of the fulfillment of God's promise, "the gates of hell shall not prevail."
The Persecution of the Anabaptists
A. The Anabaptists were always hated and despised by those who sought to bring about the establishing of error.
B. During the 1,200 years of the "dark ages" it is stated that fifty million died of the terrible persecution. The great majority of these were Anabaptists.
C. During this period it is recorded that along one single European highway, thirty miles distance, stakes were set up every few feet along this highway, the tops of the stakes sharpened, and on the top of each was placed the gory head of a martyred Anabaptist!
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