Anabaptists

Anabaptists were part of a religious movement known as the Radical Reformation, which arose in German-speaking areas of Europe, primarily the Rhine Valley and the Low Countries, during the sixteenth century. The reaction among the established churches of Europe to the Radical Reformation was swift and severe, forcing many Anabaptists to migrate to the New World. Many Anabaptists who fled to the New World migrated to the religiously tolerant colony of Pennsylvania. In 1683, Anabaptists established their first permanent settlement in colonial North America in Germantown, Pennsylvania. A group of thirteen German families of Dutch ancestry arrived in Philadelphia aboard the Concord in October 1683 and immediately laid out their small village just north of the city. They had purchased the land from Jacob Telner, a Mennonite merchant from Amsterdam, and from the Frankfort Land Company, which was led by Francis Daniel Pastorius. Initially, Anabaptists met with their Quaker neighbors in common worship, but, as more Anabaptists arrived in the colony, the two groups began to meet separately. By 1690, Anabaptists were meeting privately in members’ homes for religious instruction, which usually consisted of a set of readings from a book of sermons. They had also elected a papermaker, William Rittenhouse, who had arrived in the colony in 1688, to serve as their first minister. In 1708, Anabaptists constructed their first permanent, separate meetinghouse. Anabaptists held several fundamental beliefs that made them appear radical to many of their contemporaries. They believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible and attempted to carry out a literal following of the teachings of Christ. Among other things, this meant that they rejected anything that might be considered worldly and chose to worship in barns, houses, and other secular buildings. Believing in the importance of personal faith in God, they shunned the rituals of established churches, did not conduct Mass, and instead engaged in a memorial Last Supper. They also believed in the baptism of faithful adults rather than infants and considered infant baptism invalid. Their baptismal process, which they conducted by immersing the person in a stream of running water, came to be known as rebaptism, or anabaptism, by its detractors. Finally, unlike Catholics and most Protestants, Anabaptists believed in a complete separation of church and state. These pacifists refused to pay taxes, swear oaths, serve in the military, or cooperate in any way with a civil government whose authority rested upon the use of force. Needless to say, Anabaptists became extremely unpopular in many parts of Europe and the New World. The term Anabaptist is actually a misnomer and was used as an epithet by those individuals who opposed the Radical Reformation. Most Anabaptists would not have referred to themselves as such, but would have instead used the term Brethren, Hutterite, Mennonite, or Amish. Most Anabaptists traced their spiritual beliefs to the teachings of Menno Simons, a Dutch Catholic priest who renounced Catholicism in 1536, and they referred to themselves as Mennonites. Members of a sixteenth-century Christian movement in Europe, the Anabaptists later settled in Pennsylvania. They rejected baptism for children but believed in it for faithful adults. Detractors called the latter practice rebaptism or anabaptism. (Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-3265) The first settlers at Germantown were Mennonites. The largest Mennonite settlement during the colonial period was not at Germantown, however. It was actually in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, along the banks of the Conestoga River. The other major Anabaptist sect, the Amish, took their name from Jacob Amman, a Swiss Mennonite leader who came into conflict with other Mennonites over the practices of banning and shunning. Amman believed in the maintenance of a strict system of banning and shunning for followers who broke the rules, as well as a strict repudiation of all forms of worldliness. The first Amish settlers arrived in Philadelphia aboard the Adventure on October 2, 1727. Initially, the Amish were reluctant to leave their Swiss homeland but many did eventually emigrate. Throughout the remainder of the colonial period, Amish immigrants formed communities in Berks, Chester, and Lancaster counties, Pennsylvania. The third group of Anabaptists, the Hutterites, took their name from Jacob Hutter, whom they chose as their leader in 1533. For refusing to renounce his faith, he was burned at the stake in 1536 on orders of the government of the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I, but Hutter’s church survived. Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites brought the Anabaptist tradition to the New World, primarily to Pennsylvania, but also to the Midwest and the Canadian prairie. Today, there are at least nineteen distinct Mennonite and Amish communities, consisting of approximately 200,000 members. A much smaller group of Hutterite Brethren, who migrated from Russia and Europe, live in communal colonies primarily in the northwestern United States and Canada. Michael A. Rembis See also: Bible; Christ and Christianity; Germans; Religion (Chronology); Religion (Essay). Bibliography Bender, Harold S., and C. Henry Smith. Mennonites and Their Heritage: A Handbook of Mennonite History and Beliefs. Rev. ed. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1964. Bennett, John W. Hutterian Brethren: The Agricultural Economy and Social Organization of a Communal People. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1967. Hostetler, John A., ed. Amish Roots: A Treasury of History, Wisdom, and Lore. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. Rich, Elaine Sommers. Mennonite Women: A Story of God’s Faithfulness, 1683 1983. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1983. Smith, C. Henry. The Story of the Mennonites. 4th ed., revised and enlarged by Cornelius Krahn. Newton, KS: Mennonite Publication Office, 1957. Williams, Peter W. America’s Religions: From Their Origins to the Twenty-first Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002. What Are Mennonites? 4 Insane Ways The Catholic And Protestant Churches Dealt With The … The Anabaptists: The Radical Reformation

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