The Importance of Believer’s Baptism

By Jeff Straub

Editor’s note: In honor of the 500th anniversary of Reformation Day, this article is the fourth in a series exploring the history and significance of the Protestant Reformation from a Baptist perspective.

People often ask me these days, as we approach the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses, whether Baptists are Protestant. My answer is always an unequivocal no and yes. If by “Protestant” a person is asking if Baptists originated during the protest reform movement of Germany in the 16th century, the answer must be no. But if someone is asking whether Baptists have any legitimate Reformation antecedents, the answer is certainly yes. In this article, I want to consider the Anabaptist movement that emerged during the Reformation, focusing on the so-called Swiss Brethren: Conrad Grebel (c. 1498–1526), Felix Manz (c. 1498–1527), and George Blaurock (c. 1491–1529). Recently I had occasion to stand at the historical marker on the Limmat River in Zurich, Switzerland, next to the spot where Felix Manz and his wife were drowned for their faith. They had been baptized as adults in violation of the civic prohibition. For this crime, they were executed.

Grebel, Manz, and Blaurock had concluded, following the logic of sola Scriptura (that the Scriptures alone determine faith and practice), that only believers should be baptized. So the three men met secretly and submitted to a second rendering of the ordinance, this time on the profession of their faith. Grebel baptized Blaurock; then Blaurock baptized Manz and Grebel. This act of defiance earned for themselves and their followers the moniker Anabaptist, or rebaptizers, not as a term of approval but of opprobrium, and made them guilty of breaking the law.