Anabaptism (from Neo-Latin anabaptista, from the Greek ἀναβαπτισμός: ἀνά- "re-" and βαπτισμός "baptism", German: Täufer, earlier also Wiedertäufer) is a Christian movement which traces its origins to the Radical Reformation. The movement is commonly understood to be an offshoot of Protestantism, though this view is not shared by Anabaptists, who view themselves as a separate branch of Christianity.
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Over four million Anabaptists live in the world today with adherents scattered across all inhabited continents. In addition to a number of minor Anabaptist groups, the most numerous include the Mennonites at 2.1 million, the German Baptist Brethren at 1.5 million, the Amish at 350,000 and the Hutterites at 200,000 (in Canada alone).[not verified in body] In the 21st century, there are large cultural differences between assimilated Anabaptists, who do not differ much from evangelicals or mainline Protestants, and traditional groups like the Amish, the Old Colony Mennonites, the Old Order Mennonites, Old Order River Brethren, the Hutterites and the Old German Baptist Brethren.
The early Anabaptists formulated their beliefs in a confession of faith called the Schleitheim Confession. In 1527, Michael Sattler presided over a meeting at Schleitheim (in Schaffhausen canton, on the Swiss-German border), where Anabaptist leaders drew up the Schleitheim Confession of Faith (doc. 29). Sattler was arrested and executed soon afterwards. Anabaptist groups varied widely in their specific beliefs, but the Schleitheim Confession represents foundational Anabaptist beliefs as well as any single document can.
Anabaptists believe that baptism is valid only when candidates freely confess their faith in Christ and request to be baptized. This believer's baptism is opposed to baptism of infants, who are not able to make a conscious decision to be baptized. Anabaptists are those who are in a traditional line with the early Anabaptists of the 16th century. Other Christian groups with different roots also practice believer's baptism, such as Baptists, but these groups are not Anabaptist. The Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites are direct descendants of the early Anabaptist movement. Schwarzenau Brethren, River Brethren, Bruderhof, and the Apostolic Christian Church are considered later developments among the Anabaptists.
The name Anabaptist means "one who baptizes again". Their persecutors named them this, referring to the practice of baptizing persons when they converted or declared their faith in Christ even if they had been baptized as infants, and many prefer to call themselves "Radical Reformers." Anabaptists require that baptismal candidates be able to make a confession of faith that is freely chosen and so rejected baptism of infants. The New Testament teaches to repent and then be baptized, and infants are not able to repent and turn away from sin to a life of following Jesus. The early members of this movement did not accept the name Anabaptist claiming that infant baptism was not part of scripture and was therefore null and void. They said that baptizing self-confessed believers was their first true baptism:
I have never taught Anabaptism. ... But the right baptism of Christ, which is preceded by teaching and oral confession of faith, I teach, and say that infant baptism is a robbery of the right baptism of Christ.
Anabaptists were heavily persecuted by state churches, both Magisterial Protestants and Roman Catholics, beginning in the 16th century and continuing thereafter, largely because of their interpretation of scripture, which put them at odds with official state church interpretations and local government control. Anabaptism was never established by any state and therefore never enjoyed any associated privileges. Most Anabaptists adhere to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7, which teaches against hate, killing, violence, taking oaths, participating in use of force or any military actions, and against participation in civil government. Anabaptists view themselves as primarily citizens of the kingdom of God, not of earthly governments. As committed followers of Jesus, they seek to pattern their life after his.
Some former groups who practiced rebaptism, now extinct, believed otherwise and complied with these requirements of civil society. They were thus technically Anabaptists, even though conservative Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, and many historians consider them outside true Biblical Anabaptism. Conrad Grebel wrote in a letter to Thomas Müntzer in 1524: