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Monday, 8 August 2011

Anabaptists

One of the first protestant movements to spring up in the early days of the Reformation in Europe were the Anabaptist groups. They did not consist of a single, coherent organization, but a loose grouping of movements, all of whom rejected infant baptism and practised the baptism of adults upon confession of faith. Their name was given to them by opponents- it literally meant 'rebaptizer.'

The Anabaptists movement quickly gained strength in Europe in the 1520s, in particular in Germany, where they took over the city of Münster. Unfortunately a wild, licentious lifestyle developed there, due to their belief that as the “elect”, they could do no wrong. Jan Matthys of Münster who was regarded by his followers as a prophet and who controlled the city declared that no unbaptized adult was allowed to remain in Münster.

It was soon discovered that the term 'Anabaptist' gave the authorities a legal precedent to persecute and execute them. By the mid 16th century central and northern Europe, the persecution of Anabaptist Christians was so prevalent that in many places anyone who did not drink to excess, curse or abuse his workmen or family could be suspected of being an Anabaptist and was harassed accordingly.

The Anabaptists were forced to find devious ways to avoid persecution. For instance Peter Peters of Amsterdam, a ferry boatman, loaded up his boat with Anabaptists and whilst pretending to ferry his company across the river, they would hold a Bible study. Persecution wasn’t always avoided and they were frequently killed and stuck outside the city gates on poles as a warning to the general populace. This had the opposite to the intended effect as many of the general population were impressed by the Anabaptist’s desire to die for their faith and were consequently drawn to God through their witness.

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