While many historians consider that there is no historical relationship or kinship of faith between the Cathars, Donatists, Waldensians, Mennonites, etc., we in the Anabaptist tradition believe they were all manifestations of one, holy, apostolic faith. The following paragraphs are excerpted from the author’s introduction to a massive book (1100 pages) compiled in 1660 by Thieleman J. van Braght and commonly referred to as The Martyrs Mirror.. The book is a compilation of the history of these groups from the time of Christ to the year 1660, taken from various ancient records. The quotations are from the third English translation, which appeared in 1886.
We have chosen holy baptism in preference to any other article of the Christian and evangelical religion: (1) because it is the only sign and proof of incorporation into the visible Christian church, without which no one, whoever he be, or whatever he may profess, or how separated and pious a life he may lead, can be recognized as a true member of the Christian church . . . (2) because it is, beyond contradiction, the only article on account of which others call us Anabaptists . . . (3) because the imperial decrees (when some so-called Christians began to tyrannize) in the days of Theodosius and Honorius, A.D. 413, were issued and proclaimed everywhere expressly against the Anabaptists and those who were rebaptized . . . which was also the case in the last persecution, during the reign of Charles V, . . . A.D. 1535; when all who, having been baptized in infancy, had been rebaptized upon their faith and repentance; or who maintained these views, were punished with a severe death.
As the moon, notwithstanding her substance and body never perish, is not always seen in her full light by the human eye, either, because she sinks beneath the horizon, or, being too close to the sun, is darkened by the shadow of the earth, which is called an eclipse; even so it is with the substance and appearance of the church of God on earth. The latter, though never perishing entirely, does not always show herself in her full form, yea, at times she seems to have vanished altogether, yet not in all, but only in some places, either through the slothfulness of some people, who, from want of regard, or for some other reason, neglect the external, manifest commandments of God, or on account of some misconceptions or errors that have arisen, and whereby sometimes many of the true believers have been perverted, and seduced from the true worship of God; or in consequence of persecutions, violence and tyranny exercised against the faith and the practice of it, on account of which the pious are compelled to hide and, as outcasts from mankind, seclude themselves in forests, wildernesses, and solitary places; so that its characteristics, light and virtue could not be seen, much less known, by the common world.
Here the words of Tertullian are applicable. He says: “The Christian church is called apostolic not just because of the succession of persons, but on account of the kinship of doctrine, since she holds the doctrine of the apostles.”
This doctrine, everyone who boasts of the true succession, must prove from the true apostolic writings, as the means by which the church was originally instituted, subsequently established, and maintained through all times (we speak of the Christian and evangelical church). Therefore, this doctrine must necessarily, also in these last times be the mark of the true succession.
Now, if this is united with the common succession of teachers, we have everything that is necessary for the demonstration of the true church. This stands so fast that it cannot reasonably be disputed, much less refuted.
The question now will be, in what church the true apostolic doctrine has been held from the beginning, and is still held; which is a privilege boasted by many. We leave it to them, and content ourselves with the testimony of our consciences, compare with the holy Gospel of Christ and the faith of the holy church, of which mention is made throughout, in the ancient church histories.