Throughout history, the Anabaptist Movement began and changed because of strong beliefs regarding Communion and Baptism. The earliest Anabaptists wanted reformation in these two core issues so strongly because they wanted to be in alignment with what God’s Word said. They were willing to lay down their lives rather than to not live their lives in accordance to Scripture on these two issues. These two issues have also been the core issues that set them apart from others and later caused divisions within their movement.
Anabaptists Original Beliefs on Baptism and Communion
When the Anabaptist movement began, it was the doctrine of baptizing only adults on the confession of their faith that set them apart from the other reformers. But wanting a change in Communion was the first thing that set them apart from the Roman Catholic Church and then also even from those that followed Luther’s teachings.
Luther and his followers believed that the Roman Catholic church erred in the belief that the bread and wine became the literal body and blood of Christ. The Roman Catholic church believed it was necessary to take communion in order to stay forgiven.
Luther believed that the bread and wine only became the spiritual body and blood of Christ. This was on of the issues that started the Reformation.
But Zwingli differed from this in that he believed the bread and wine was only symbolic of the body and blood of Christ. The earlist Anabaptists were originally Zwingli followers, but then the issue of baptizing only adults caused the schism that divided them, followed by persecution from Zwingli himself.
So here we see how the sacraments of Communion and baptism were what began the Anabaptist movement and set them apart.
Menno Simons Original Beliefs on Baptism and Communion
In 1524, during the first year that Menno Simons was ordained into priesthood, he began to have some questioning doubts about Communion. He wondered how the bread could become the literal physical body of Christ. It was a disturbing thought to him and he quickly dismissed it as a doubt from Satan. But the more he pushed it away, the more he struggled with it. He finally decided to read the New Testament to see what it said about it. Always before he had avoided reading the Bible because he was afraid that it would corrupt him as it had Luther and Zwingli.
But when he did finally read it, he found his answer– that it was not the literal body of Christ. This brought relief to his mind and persuaded him that the symbolic interpretation of the Lord’s Supper taken by the Sacrementists was correct.
However, history does not show us that he did anything differently at that time. But then in 1531, he began questioning infant baptism and came to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church erred in two of the Sacraments, Communion and baptism.
However, he still did not join the Anabaptist movement until 1536, when his brother was killed while in an Anabaptist group.
Jacob Ammonn Schism in Regards of Baptism and Communion
The first prominent schism that history shows happening within the Anabaptist group was in 1693, when Jacob Ammonn called for a meeting with the other Anabaptist ministers of that region (Switzerland). He had several things he wanted to discuss with the other ministers, but the three main issues on his agenda were related to either Communion or baptism in some form.
At this time, Anabaptists followed the teachings of Menno Simons in regard to banning those who practiced outward sin from partaking in Communion. This was in accordance to 1 Corinthians 5.
Jacob Ammonn wanted to change some things and add some things. He brought three main issues that he wanted to discuss with the other ministers. They were as follows:
1. Shunning of those excommunicated
2. Whether liars should be excommunicated
3. Whether people could be saved who did not “follow God’s Word”
There were also other issues brought up; such as feet washing, frequency of communion, and dress and beard styles. But the afore mentioned three things were the issues for which Ammonn originally called the meeting.
Jacob Ammonn felt that if someone was excommunicated, (banned from partaking in Communion) the rest of the group should also shun them socially. Some of the other ministers felt that refusing to give them communion was enough. This was because of disagreement concerning 1Cor. 5:11 “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”
There was disagreement whether the word “eat” referred to Communion or just eating in any social setting.
Not much has been recorded regarding the second issue. It can be assumed that since he thought liars should be excommunicated and since they are not listed in this verse, Ammon wanted to add liars to the list.
3. Salvation of adults who would not take the step of re-baptism
This one was because during this time, there was still persecution, but many were sympathetic to the cause and helped them. But even while they were sympathetic, they were not willing to join their group and get re-baptized –whether out of fear of their lives or lack of belief. Jacob Ammonn believed they could not be saved if they did not join them– thus should not partake in communion.
The meeting did not go well, ending with Jacob Ammonn excommunicating all the ministers that did not agree with him. Those that followed Ammon were later called Amish and those that did not follow him were called Mennonites.
Anabaptists on Baptism and Communion Today
What about today? Are there areas regarding these two issues that Anabaptists today have strayed away from Biblical accuracy? Do we need to take a look at these core issues and to realign ourselves to Scripture even if it means “persecution” from those in our Brotherhood communities?
Our forefathers were never afraid of taking a stand if they had Scripture that backed up their beliefs. I believe there are some things in these two core issues that need reformation in. Since the first controversial issue in Anabaptist history was Communion, that will be the first one that I will be addressing as well.
John Horsch, Menno Simons, His Life, Labors, and Teachings