Although Luther and other mainline Reformers made many radical changes during the Reformation, sometimes the Anabaptists did not believe they went far enough. The practice of baptism was perhaps the most important and divisive issue of all.
The Roman Catholic church baptized children to inaugurate them into the religious institutions of the day. Despite its major critiques in other areas, the Lutheran church continued this practice. Although a religious issue, infant baptism also had major political implications. In effect, it meant that the place of your birth (and the religion of your ruler) decided what religion you adopted - and, in times of conflict, which prince you might serve in war!
Thus, children born in Lutheran areas were baptized Lutheran, and those born in Roman Catholic countries were baptized Roman Catholic. Religious orientation was directly tied to political citizenship as well as to military loyalty.
A Different Perspective
Some did not agree with this practice. They did not find evidence of infant baptism in the Bible, but found several instances of the baptism of adults (including that of Jesus). In addition, they thought that becoming a Christian should be a conscious choice and commitment, not a political requirement. They saw the church as something to which people should join voluntarily, not an institution determined by political boundaries.
Beliefs about baptism were very closely related to those of "community." As the Anabaptist movement spread, these groups stressed that believers needed to hold each other responsible for how they were living. Accountability meant that how you lived was someone else's business. If you were doing something wrong, other Christians had the right and even duty to step in and tell you. If you refused, you would be subjected to christian discipline. Such discipline could take several forms, from a quiet consultation to an outright "ban."
Created 1998 by Derek Suderman