There are four suggested origins of the Baptist Church
There are many different answers to the question, “where did the Baptists come from?” It really depends on who you talk to as to which theory they agree with. I have talked to many people throughout the years and received many answers to the question, a majority of the answers fall into one of these four theories. Here is a brief statement summarizing the theory and later each one will be addressed in more detail.
Baptists descended from the Anabaptist movement
Baptists can trace a direct line of connection between John the Baptist (or one of the Apostles) and our time today – also called the “Trail of Blood” theory
Baptists descended from a group of English Reformers
There is not direct links or ties to anything previous, they sort of “popped up” on the landscape with no connections to another group
Baptists descended from the Anabaptists (a short history of Anabaptists)
For simplicity let’s just say the Protestant Reformation in Europe started on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Shortly after this many, many people wanted to express their discontent with the Catholic Church (this discontent had been building for decades) at the time and, in essence, secede from the church and start a new (true) church (I know, I know many like Luther did not want to secede but reform the church). This ‘reformation’ spread throughout Europe and changed the European culture. Zurich, Switzerland was one of these places where the citizens wanted change from the established church.
The well known reformer Huldrich Zwingli was attempting to reform Christianity in Zurich. Some of his followers, however, did not think Zwingli’s reforms went far enough. In short they wanted to change much if not most of the workings of the established church, so they pushed for more reform than proposed by Zwingli. Historians now (and honestly even back then) called these people ‘radical reformers’.
These men who liked Zwingli’s suggestions but wanted more radical reforms were named Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz. Some of their radical ideas were: getting rid of tithing, paying interest, and serving in military service. They also wanted each church to govern itself, so as not to have a leader who is corrupt and lived thousands of miles away instructing them them on how to run their church. Zwingli disagreed with Grebel and Manz and so parted ways with them. In 1525 the Zurich city council forbade the ‘radicals’ from spreading their views, so Grebel, Manz, and others fled to a nearby village where they baptized each other (hence the name Anabaptist or re-baptizer) into the “true church”. They continued to spread their form of Christianity and were persecuted by many of the other factions.
Did Baptists come from Anabaptists?
Because of the similarity between the words “Baptist” and “Anabaptist” many people believe the Baptist church has a direct connection to the historic Anabaptist church. These people think there was a group of Anabaptists who changed some of their thinking and theology so took on the name Baptist to keep similar beliefs but distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists. There are to be sure some similar doctrines, however, there are some very different (and significant) beliefs between the two. Here are some differences and similarities:
Beliefs Anabaptist Baptist
Congregationalism Yes Yes
Separation of Church/State Yes Yes
Believer’s Baptism Yes Yes
Pacifism (exempt from military) Yes No
Living distinct from society Yes No
Community of goods Yes No
Salvation is Christ and good works Yes No
Reason held above Scripture Yes No
Works of the Spirit held above Scripture Yes No
So I would assert that even though the history of Baptists is a little fuzzy, due to the comparison of some of their beliefs, they are not the same animal. They may have come from the Protestant Reformation but they are very different, therefore, Baptists did NOT come from Anabaptists.
Who are the descendants of the Anabaptists around today?
Some of the followers of Grebel and Manz who developed a following of their own were men like: Jacob Hutter and Menno Simons. Both of these men (Hutter and Simons) had their own brand of Anabaptism, and had various groups believe in their brand of Christianity. A group called the Hutterites were followers of Jacob Hutter. The Mennonites and Amish are descendants of Menno Simons.
I would say the direct link to the Anabaptists today would be the Amish and Mennonites, not the Baptists.