Devon Dick | Baptists should embrace the heritage of Anabaptists
Last week, I gave a lecture at the 47th annual gathering of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, held at the Breezes Hotel in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. The topic was 'The Anabaptists-Radical Reformers: Relevance for Baptists in the 21st century'. I argued that Caribbean Baptists should embrace the heritage of Anabaptists even as the world celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Protestant movement next week.
The fact is, most writers writing about Caribbean Baptists do not associate the establishment of Baptist work and witness with Anabaptists, save and except for this writer in The Cross and the Machete (2009) who identified George Liele, founder of Baptist work in Jamaica, as an Anabaptist, and one Donald M. McCartney in Bahamian Culture and Factors which Impact Upon it , who said that in 1824, there were three licensed Anabaptist preachers in New Providence. This writer claimed that the Baptist church in the Bahamas identified with the political and social condition of the masses. Apparently, this was due to the Anabaptist influence.
There is a long-standing negative perception of Anabaptists. John Calvin, leading reformation figure in the 16th century, labelled them as fanatics, deluded scoundrels, asses and scatterbrains. Edward Underhill, secretary of the BMS in the 19th century, said Anabaptist was a term of 'reproach'.
Anabaptists were perceived as 'radical reformers'. 'Radical' in this context does not mean fundamental changes or thorough overhaul, but rather 'radical' has a connotative meaning as away from orthodoxy or as an extremist wing. Additionally, some perceived Anabaptists as the left wing of the Reformation meaning that they took Reformation to the logical conclusion that Infant Baptism had no scriptural warrant, a position Zwingli did want to embrace. Furthermore, the Anabaptist movement is often defined by the German Peasants' War (1524-25) under the leadership of Thomas Muntzer who agitated against feudal oppression, and also based on the failed rebellion (1532-35) to establish a theocracy in the German city of Munster.
FOR BELIEVERS ONLY
'Anabaptist' was a nickname given to those who practised 'Believers Baptism' and who were classified as rebaptisers. Anabaptists believed that baptism was for believers only, that is, after personal regeneration. The Anabaptists also believed in the separation of church and state, meaning that the state should not interfere in matters of religion or show preference to any one denomination. In addition, they upheld religious liberty, wherein people should be free to practise their religious beliefs
B. Carlisle Driggers, American Baptist minister, said, 'As is well documented, the journey of Baptists worldwide can be traced back to the Anabaptists in Switzerland in the sixteenth century'. There is an umbilical cord joining Anabaptists to Caribbean Baptists.
Baptists need to recommit to social justice and religious freedom. Those who struggle for social justice never struggle alone because God is on the side of social justice. Religious freedom allows an individual or community, in public, personally or privately, to declare religious belief, teaching, practice, worship, and observance without hindrance or persecution. It also includes the freedom to seek to convert others to one's belief and also includes the freedom to change religion or not to follow any religion. There is a Charter of Rights which legally offers every Jamaican religious freedom. More Caribbean governments need a charter which guarantees religious freedom.
Although the belief and practice of obeah is still illegal in Jamaica and Antigua, and although there is a claim of religious discrimination against Rastafarians and Muslims, in the Bahamas, by and large, as Dale Bisnauth, church historian, observed, all major religions of the world are found in the Caribbean, and there exists a remarkable degree of mutual tolerance.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.