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Baptists in the Reformation

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Beyond candy, skeletons, and witches, October 31 is also Reformation Day

Baptists have a unique place in the Protestant Reformation.

We could actually say that historically Baptists are not Protestants. Rather, Baptists belong to a third waythe radical reformation.

While Martin Luther was leading reformation in Germany and John Calvin in Geneva, the early Baptists (called Anabaptists at this point) were not content with either movement. They felt that the burgeoning reformation did not go far enough. The Anabaptists (literally "rebaptizers," a pejorative title given by their enemies) were disjointed groups throughout central Europe that desired full freedom of the church from state control. Figures like Conrad Grebel, Balthasar Hubmaier, and Michael Sattler insisted that following Jesus could not be compelled either by government or even by family (in the case of infant baptism). Regeneration, they believed, only took place when the Spirit of God called an individual and that individual made a commitment of faith. Such views made them heretics, not just to Roman Catholics but also to the Protestant reformers.

Heretics who were regularly put to death.

Today this distinction is largely lost. Baptists are popularly understood as the largest Protestant denomination in America, and many Baptists are more than happy to acquiesce to government power. As we approach Reformation Sunday, let us consider what was at stake for these early Anabaptists. What could it mean to find a ‘third way’ today? What could it mean to recover the historical sense of Baptists and stand in the tradition of the radical reformation?


Posted by Scott Hovey with


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