“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins….” —Acts 2:38
In the early 1500s, the flames of reformation were kindled and spread rapidly through Europe as God began to restore the knowledge of Biblical truths. The world had been in relative spiritual night from the dark, papal reign of the Roman Catholic church who had apostatized the truth of the early morning church. The Protestant Reformation, beginning in Germany with Martin Luther in 1517, grew as people began to see the fallacy of Catholicism. Many of the reformers, while not seeing all the light, were getting pockets and rays of truth on various doctrines and practices.
Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz were young men who studied under the reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, in Zurich, Switzerland. They severed ties with him over the long-standing Catholic practice of infant baptism, which was contrary to the practice of the New Testament church. Grebel and Manz, amongst others, received light and understanding that water baptism was for those who had repented of their sins and been born again. They advocated a “believer’s baptism” and taught that candidates for baptism should make their own confessions of faith. They rejected infant baptism because infants can neither repent nor believe, so they should not be baptized.
There is no scriptural support for infant baptism nor are there examples of it in the Bible. It appears that infant baptism probably began in the late second century and gained widespread acceptance by the middle of the third century. The practice gained popularity as it was falsely taught that infants would be lost to hell and that baptism itself saves from sin. Water baptism does not save the soul. Infants are innocent before God because there has been no willful transgression and they will go to heaven if they die.
Infant baptism has done a great disservice to many. Children grow up thinking that they will go to Heaven because they were baptized as infants, and yet as adults they live very sinful lives. People need to be washed in the blood of Jesus and should not lean on the crutch of infant baptism.
Those who took a stand against infant baptism and advocated a believer’s baptism became known as Anabaptists (one who baptizes over again). The first baptism was the infant baptism which was unscriptural. The second baptism, or “re-baptism,” was the believer’s baptism.
The Anabaptists were persecuted by both the Roman Catholics and the Protestants for baptizing adults. Felix Manz suffered much persecution and was imprisoned numerous times for preaching about baptism. On March 7, 1526, the Zurich council in Switzerland passed an edict that made adult re-baptism punishable by drowning. Manz was once again placed in prison. Upon being released, he continued to baptize and preach. Manz was faithful and obedient to not compromise this truth in the face of great opposition.
On December 3, 1526, Manz was arrested again and placed in the Wellenberg prison. On January 5, 1527, he was sentenced to death by drowning. Death by drowning became known as the “third baptism.” As Manz was led to the Limmat River, with a loud voice he praised God and testified to the people. A minister walked beside Manz encouraging him to recant his beliefs. In the distance, his mother and brothers encouraged him to stand firm and suffer for Jesus’ sake. Manz’s hands were bound and pulled between his knees and a stick placed between them to immobilize him. He was then tipped into the water and drowned as the first Anabaptist martyr. His alleged last words were, “Into thy hands, O God, I commend my spirit.”
The truth of a believer’s baptism did not come cheaply. God be thanked for restoring this beautiful truth to His people and for those who were willing to lay down their lives for its preservation. May the ordinance of baptism continue to be valued and respected among God’s people.