Baptism during the Reformation

by: Alfreda McClendon


 Baptism has been apart of the Christian Religion for a numerous amount of years. Baptism is a washing or immersing of the carnal body that symbolizes that a person has been “born again”. This means that the person’s old sins have been washed away and once baptized a person will become like new. It is considered to be a sacrament and ordinance of Jesus Christ.Today, Baptism can be performed various different ways, among these is sprinkling water or rubbing holy oil on the forehead, a person may be dipped in water or totally submerged in water. Although Baptism is an ancient custom, it has evolved over centuries and continues to evolve with the birth of new religions, every couple of hundred years. What prompted the initial change was the argument that occurred during the European Reformation, which was incited by the Anabaptists. Here in this video, is a modern day clergyman defining Baptism.

In order to gain a full understanding, I'd like to take a little time, to explain just who the Anabaptists were and their position in Baptism.
Who were the Anabaptists?
The Anabaptists were a group of people whose aim was to dispose of the old practices of Religion. The Anabaptists saw fault in the way the old traditions and negated any of the old practices such as participating in government and wearing wedding rings. The Anabaptists earned their name because they did not deem it necessary for babies to be baptized. Instead, they thought that individuals should be old enough to make such decisions on their own. Clearly, infants did not have the intelligence to make such decisions. Below are some videos that will help give us a better perspective of these "Radicals," the Anabaptists.

Draft argument: Because of the fact that Baptism focused on both the gospel and the society of the sixteenth century, there was extreme variance on the topic of Baptism between the Radicals and those of the Early Church. In my argument, I will prove why Baptism was such a big deal in Medieval Christianity.

Because of the fact that Baptism focused on both the gospel and the society of the 16th century, there was extreme variance on the topic of Baptism between the Radicals and the Protestants. As my argument, I will prove why Baptism was such a major concern in this time period.
Exactly why was Baptism so controversial during the Reformation? Baptism was such a concern in the sixteenth century because of diverse reasons, one was that the Protestants by now had procedures in place that they had already been accustomed to for so many years before the birth of these “Anabaptists” so the Protestants were already set in their ways. Another reason was that their belief about baptism totally differed from that of the Anabaptists, while the Protestants believed that baptism should occur at the very beginning of life, as an infant, the Anabaptists argued that Baptism should take place later in life, as an adult.Clearly, these two sides had two totally different agendas. However, I think, for superior reasoning. Conversely, the bigger picture was who was more right, and who was more wrong. That was to be determined. Let the arguing begin, shall we? Both sides were ready and willing to fight to the end, to prove their own point. According to Meinbold (1972), "The most difficult issue which the reformation of the sixteenth century had to deal with the problem of society and the political-social question." The Anabaptists aborted much of this, which made for a great deal of conflict in the sixteenth century.

The Anabaptists were completely out of line to rise up against what had already been spoken and taught years before their existence and the Protestants were not having this at all. Rules had been set; precedents had been put in place. Just who did the Anabaptists think they were? The Anabaptists had been given so many names because none of their ideas seem to have a central theme. Their ideas were all over the place, jumbled, confused, and just did not make any sense. Among the names that they had been given was names such as Radicals and Radical Reformers, Spiritualists, and Fanatics. There were different groups of Anabaptists, but essentially, they all fell under the same umbrella because they had no clear focus. They posed a real threat to the sixteenth century. Although there was no structure, this new group was sure to have an impact on society as the Protestants knew it. " The Anabaptist movement was multiform and varied; what was true for the first decade of its existstence, up to the risisng of Munster in 1534/35, was not true for later decades; or what was true for one region, such as Switzerland, was not necessarily true for Southern Germany, Holland, or Moravia (Kirchner, 1974)." Upon reading Lindberg, I stumbled upon the saying, “too many bees chasing too few bonnets (pg. 188).” I consider this to be a remarkable allegorical declaration. It gives so much significance as to define what exactly the Protestants felt about these new comers. These new comers were just merely a group of people who had no focus, who even argued against one another, they were sometimes ready to take a stand for what they believed in and sometimes not. It is safe to say that these Radicals had the Protestants both in a state of bewilderment and in a state of perplexity. They were shaking their heads while scratching their heads at the same time. Evidently, these members of the old church were not seeing eye to eye with these new comers, they had already been set in their own ways and was not about to let some novices come and change what they world had been doing for years. It was unquestionably a situation of who is right and who is wrong. "

Now that we have discussed the view that the Protestants took on the Anabaptists, let us now focus on the perspective that Anabaptists had towards their opposing side. The Protestants perceived the Anabaptists to be a disruptive group of people, while in contrast the Anabaptists looked at these Protestants as a group of individuals who were stuck in the past, outdated. Even though the Protestants looked down on these “few bees that were chasing many bonnets,” they could not allow themselves to see what was really going to begin to take place. These Anabaptists, although not quite yet structured was about to take the world by storm and assist in changing the views of many. The great attribute that the Anabaptists had was that they referred back to scripture to strengthen their argument. According to Lindberg (1996), “When the Anabaptists read the Bible they could find no warrant in it for infant baptism, but only for baptism as a sign of adult faith and regeneration. Nor could they find any warrant in the Bible for union of the church and state.” It became noticeable that the Anabaptists had some clue as to what they were arguing because of the fact that they were able to back it up with scripture, while the Protestants were just stuck on ritual. Suddenly, the Anabaptists began to look as if they knew what they were talking about. All they needed was a comprehensible plan.

Now the debate of baptizing as an infant as opposed to baptizing as a conscious adult spread like wildfire, no one side was ready to back down the stances they had previously taken. The Protestants strongly believed that baptizing as an infant would symbolize a covenant with God at the onset of birth while the Anabaptists argued that one must be conscious and aware of what he was doing and understand the concept of being saved before taking on such a responsibility, rather than the responsibility just being pushed off on the individual when they had no understanding of what is being required of them biblically. According to Fix (1987), “Anabaptism, born in Zwingli’s Zurich in 1523 but soon widely spread over Switzerland, north and south Germany and the Low Countries, sought to restore the spiritual purity of primitive Christianity to the sixteenth century church through a strict adherence to the Bible, a great moral rigor, and rejection of infant baptism,” and in essence this was the focus of the Anabaptists. Their main priority was to bring awareness to the Christianity that they knew and not have everyone relying on tradition. They read the words of the Bible, achieved their own interpretation of how things should be, baptism included, and then proceeded to make attempts to arrange these thoughts and concepts into realism for the world. Although, they made several attempts to persuade the world to agree with their rationalization, they were shot down time after time, overlooked, and all the time, harshly criticized. “They rejected the importance of all external religious institutions, sacraments, and ceremonies as well as the relevance of theological doctrine in favor of a religion based entirely on the direct, sanctifying and illuminating inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the individual soul of each believer (Fix, 1987).” They were not concerned with the church or Christianity as a whole. Rather than focusing on the broad focal point of the church, their intentions was to examine each person on an individual scale. Essentially, they came to the conclusion that God’s intention is to examine each person individually. They had a “one bad apple should not spoil the whole bunch mentality.” Coincidentally, that is how the Christian culture is sculptured today; it is everyman for himself and God for us all. The old saying goes, “take the log out of your own eye before you try to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”Scholarly Sources

Radical Reformation and Second Reformation in Holland: The Intellectual Consequences of the Sixteenth-Century Religious Upheaval and the Coming of a Rational World View
Andrew Fix

The Sixteenth Century Journal
Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring, 1987), pp. 63-80
Published by: The Sixteenth Century Journal

Stable URL:

State and Anabaptists in the Sixteenth Century: An Economic Approach

Walther Kirchner

The Journal of Modern History
Vol. 46, No. 1 (Mar., 1974), pp. 1-25
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL:

Society in Transition in the Age of the Reformation
Peter Meinbold

The Sixteenth Century Journal
Vol. 3, No. 1 (Apr., 1972), pp. 25-36
Published by: The Sixteenth Century Journal

Stable URL:

The European Reformations Second Edition
Lindberg, Carter
Published by: Wiley Blackwell

Article Analysis #1

Title: Radical Reformation and Second Reformation in Holland: The Intellectual Consequences of the Sixteenth Century Religious Upheaval and the Coming of a Rational World View.

Focus: This article focuses on the three main branches of the Radical Reformation, which were Anabaptism, Spiritualism, and Evangelical Rationalism in the Second Reformation in Holland. The author illustrates a clear example of the intellectual evolution and he also gives an unequivocal elucidation of Religious Movements in the Radical Reformation as well as the Second Reformation.

Author: Andrew Fix

Radical Reformation
Second Reformation
Intellectual Evolution
Intellectual transition from Reformation to Enlightenment. From faith to reason.
During the Second Reformation, more individuals began to rely on theology and philosophy. Colleges began to be established.
Religious Movements
Anabaptism, Spiritualism, and Evangelical Rationalism all came together.
Collegiantism became the center and focus of development in the evolution of European religious and philosophical thought.
Popular Beliefs
Churches of the Radical Reformation were perceived to be corrupt and argumentative amongst one another.
The “Inner Light” theory had been set in motion. Led the believer to his salvation without any intermediate intervention by external sources.

Implications: It is very easy for me to see how the early church was reformed in the Radical Reformation, then again in the Second Reformation. Once more, it has been argued in this article about who was right and who was wrong. I think that one thing that would have made the world a significantly better place in this era is if everyone would have been able to take a little bit of insight from one another, instead of constantly arguing over who is right and who is wrong. Article Analysis #2
Title: Society in Transition in the Age of the Reformation.

Focus: The focus of this article is the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century. The article however, sets its sights on and points out the problems of society at this critical time. At this time, society was certainly in a real state of crisis.

Author: Peter Meinbold

Social Trouble
Money in this time became a tremendous international power.
The importance of money was leading to great riches and in luxury, which also, subsequently, produced undeniable poverty and human need.
Feudal orders of knights and barons were losing power in favor of emerging territorial government under the spiritual and secular princes.
Peasant and lower bourgeoisie were pressing for changes.
Social Status Issues
Peasant uprisings in 1524 and 1525.
Continuation in peasant revolts, thus the peasant war. The peasants rejected the rich and powerful church. The peasant wars complicated the financial system and caused the exploitation of the peasants and caused the removal of their rights.

Implications: Undoubtedly, there was a great amount of uproar and cataclysm in the Sixteenth Century. From this article, we are able to conclude that the Anabaptists, although a lot of blame was aimed in their direction only contributed a small portion of pandemonium to the Sixteenth Century. The Sixteenth Century was indubitably a time of difficulty and is a time that I am glad that I did not get the pleasure to experience.

In closing, here is a couple of more videos to provide us more insight and entertainment..........