Anabaptists (Greek "ανα" (again, twice) +"βαπτιζω" (baptize), thus "re-baptizers" [ [ Anabaptist] at] ) are Christians of the Radical Reformation. Various groups at various times have been called Anabaptist, but the term is most commonly used to refer to the Anabaptists of 16th century Europe. Today the descendants of the 16th century European movement (particularly the Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, Brethren in Christ, and other respective German Baptist variants) are the most common bodies referred to as Anabaptist.

Believer's baptism is one of the defining characteristics of Anabaptist beliefs, but was considered heresy by the other major religious groups of the reformation period. As a result, Anabaptists were heavily persecuted during the 16th century and into the 17th.



Though opinion is that Anabaptists, by name, began with the Radical Reformers in the 16th century, certain people and groups may still legitimately be considered their forerunners. Petr Chelčický, 15th century Bohemian "Reformer", taught most of the beliefs considered integral to Anabaptist theology. Medieval antecedents may include the "Brethren of the Common Life", the Hussites, Dutch Sacramentists [cite web|url=|author= van der Zijpp, Nanne|title= Sacramentists|publisher= Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online|accessdate=2007-04-12] [Citation | last = Fontaine | first = Piet F.M. | title = The Light and the Dark A cultural history of dualism | place= Utrecht | publisher = Gopher Publishers | year = 2006 | volume = XXIII Postlutheran Reformation [ Chapter I - part 1 Radical Reformation - Dutch Sacramentists] | url = | id = ] and some forms of monasticism. The Waldensians also represent a faith similar to the Anabaptists.

In the following points Anabaptists resembled the medieval dissenters:

# Some followed Menno Simons in teaching that Jesus did not take the flesh from his mother, but either brought his body from heaven or had one made for him by the Word. Some even said that he passed through his mother, as water through a pipe, into the world. In pictures and sculptures of the 15th century and earlier, we often find represented this idea, originated by Marcion in the 2nd century. The Anabaptists were accused of denying the Incarnation of Christ: a charge that Menno Simons repeatedly rejected.
# They condemned oaths, and also the reference of disputes between believers to law-courts.
# The believer must not bear arms or offer forcible resistance to wrongdoers, nor wield the sword. No Christian has the jus gladii (the right of the sword).
# Civil government (i.e. "Caesar") belongs to the world. The believer, who belongs to God's kingdom, must not fill any office, nor hold any rank under government, which is to be passively obeyed.
# Sinners or unfaithful ones are to be excommunicated, and excluded from the sacraments and from intercourse with believers unless they repent, according to 1 Corinthians 6:1–11 and Matt.18:15 seq. But no force is to be used towards them.

They may have preserved among themselves the primitive manual of conduct called the Didache,Fact|date=January 2007 for Bishop Longland in England condemned an Anabaptist for repeating one of its maxims "that alms should not be given before they did sweat in a man's hand." This was between 1518 and 1521.


Research on the origins of the Anabaptists has been tainted both by the attempts of their enemies to slander them and the attempts of their friends to vindicate them. It was long popular to simply lump all Anabaptists as Munsterites and radicals associated with the Zwickau Prophets, Jan Matthys, John of Leiden (also Jan Bockelson van Leiden, Jan of Leyden), and Thomas Müntzer. Those desiring to correct this error tended to over-correct and deny all connections between the larger Anabaptist movement and this most radical element.

The modern era of Anabaptist historiography arose with the work of Roman Catholic scholar Carl Adolf Cornelius' publication of "Die Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs" in 1855 (The history of the Münster riot). Baptist historian Albert Henry Newman (1852–1933), who Bender said occupied "first position in the field of American Anabaptist Historiography," made a major contribution with his "A History of Anti-Pedobaptism". Though a number of theories exist concerning origins, the three main ideas are that,

# Anabaptists began in a single expression in Zürich and spread from there (Monogenesis),
# Anabaptists began through several independent movements (polygenesis), and
# Anabaptists are a continuation of New Testament Christianity (apostolic succession or church perpetuity).


A number of scholars (e.g. Bender, Estep, Friedmann) have seen all the Anabaptists as rising out of the Swiss Brethren movement of Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, George Blaurock, et al. The older view among Mennonite historians generally held that Anabaptism had its origins in Zürich, and that the Anabaptism of the Swiss Brethren was transmitted to southern Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and northern Germany, where it developed into its various branches. The monogenesis theory usually rejects the Münsterites and other radicals from the category of true Anabaptists. In this view the time of origin is January 21, 1525, when Grebel baptized Georg Blaurock, and Blaurock baptized other followers. This remains the most popular single time posited for the establishment of Anabaptism. But in the last quarter of the 20th century, Deppermann, Packull, and others suggested that February 24, 1527 at Schleitheim is the proper date of the origin of Anabaptism. This correlates with the following polygenesis theory.


James M. Stayer, Werner O. Packull, and Klaus Deppermann disputed the idea of a single origin of Anabaptists in a 1975 essay entitled "From Monogenesis to Polygenesis". That article, emphasizing distinctive characteristics and distinct sources, has become a widely accepted treatment of the plural origins of Anabaptism. According to these authors, South German-Austrian Anabaptism "was a diluted form of Rhineland mysticism," Swiss Anabaptism "arose out of Reformed congregationalism", and Dutch Anabaptism was formed by "Social unrest and the apocalyptic visions of Melchior Hoffman". Pilgram Marpeck's "Vermanung" of 1542 was deeply influenced by the "Bekenntnisse" of 1533 by Münster theologian Bernhard Rothmann. The Hutterites used Melchior Hoffman's commentary on the Apocalypse shortly after he wrote it. David Joris, a disciple of Hoffman, was the most important Anabaptist leader in the Netherlands before 1540. Grete Mecenseffy and Walter Klaassen established links between Thomas Müntzer and Hans Hut, and the work of Gottfried Seebaß and Werner Packull clearly showed the influence of Thomas Müntzer on the formation of South German Anabaptism. Steven Ozment's work linked Hans Denck and Hans Hut with Thomas Müntzer, Sebastian Franck, and others. Calvin Pater has shown that Andreas Karlstadt influenced Swiss Anabaptism in areas including his view of Scripture, doctrine of the church, and views on baptism.

Apostolic succession

It is believed that the 16th century Anabaptists were part of an apostolic succession of churches (or "church perpetuity") from the time of Christ.

The opponents of this theory emphasize that these non-Catholic groups clearly differed from each other, that they held some heretical views, are not successors of the Apostles, or that they had no connection with one another with origins that are separate both in time and place. This view is held by some Baptists, some Mennonites, and a number of "true church" movements. [A "true church" movement is a part of the Protestant or Reformed group of Christianity that claims to represent the true faith and order of New Testament Christianity. Most only assert this in relation to their church doctrines, polity, and practice (e.g., the ordinances), while a few hold they are the only true Christians. Some examples of "Anabaptistic" true church movements are the Landmark Baptists and the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. The Church of God (Charleston, Tennessee), the Stone-Campbell restoration movement, and others represent a variation in which the "true church" apostatized and was restored, in distinction to this idea of apostolic or church succession. These groups trace their "true church" status through means other than those generally accepted by Roman Catholicism or Orthodox Christianity, both of which likewise claim to represent the true faith and order of New Testament Christianity.] The writings of John T. Christian, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professor, contain perhaps the best scholarly presentation of this successionist view.Fact|date=April 2008 Somewhat related to this is the theory that the Anabaptists are of Waldensian origin. Some hold the idea that the Waldenses are part of the apostolic succession, while others simply believe they were an independent group out of whom the Anabaptists arose. Estep asserts "the Waldenses disappeared in Switzerland a century before the rise of the Anabaptist movement." Ludwig Keller, Thomas M. Lindsay, H. C. Vedder, Delbert Grätz, and Thieleman J. van Braght all held, in varying degrees, the position that the Anabaptists were of Waldensian origin.


Different types exist among the Anabaptists, although the categorizations tend to vary with the scholar's viewpoint on origins. Estep claims that in order to understand Anabaptism, one must "distinguish between the Anabaptists, inspirationists, and rationalists." He classes the likes of Blaurock, Grebel, Balthasar Hubmaier, Manz, Marpeck, and Simons as Anabaptists. He groups Müntzer, Storch, et al. as inspirationists, and anti-trinitarians such as Michael Servetus, Juan de Valdés, Sebastian Castellio, and Faustus Socinus as rationalists. Mark S. Ritchie follows this line of thought, saying, "The Anabaptists were one of several branches of 'Radical' reformers (i.e. reformers that went further than the mainstream Reformers) to arise out of the Renaissance and Reformation. Two other branches were Spirituals or Inspirationists, who believed that they had received direct revelation from the Spirit, and rationalists or anti-Trinitarians, who rebelled against traditional Christian doctrine, like Michael Servetus."Most of the Anti-Trinitarian Anabaptists were modalistic monarchians and baptized in the shorter formula of the name of Jesus Christ. They also spoke in ecstatic languages and prophecies known as "speaking in tongues." Holiness was a very important doctrine to them.

Those of the polygenesis viewpoint use "Anabaptist" to define the larger movement, and include the inspirationists and rationalists as true Anabaptists. James M. Stayer used the term "Anabaptist" for those who "rebaptized" persons already baptized in infancy. Walter Klaassen was perhaps the first Mennonite scholar to define "Anabaptists" that way in his 1960 Oxford dissertation. This represents a rejection of the previous standard held by Mennonite scholars such as Bender and Friedmann.

Another method of categorization acknowledges regional variations, such as Swiss Brethren (Grebel, Manz), Dutch and Frisian Anabaptism (Menno Simons, Dirk Philips), and South German Anabaptism (Hübmaier, Marpeck).

Historians and sociologists have made further distinctions between radical Anabaptists, who were prepared to use violence in their attempts to build a New Jerusalem, and their pacifist brethren, later broadly known as Mennonites. Radical Anabaptist groups included the Münsterites, who occupied and held the German city of Münster in 1534–5, and the Batenburgers, who persisted in various guises as late as the 1570s.

Zwickau prophets and the Peasants' War

On December 27, 1521, three "prophets", influenced by and in turn influencing Thomas Müntzer, appeared in Wittenberg from Zwickau: Thomas Dreschel, Nicolas Storch and Mark Thomas Stübner. The crisis came in the Peasants' War in southern Germany in 1525. In its origin a revolt against feudal oppression, it became, under the leadership of Müntzer, a war against all constituted authorities, and an attempt to establish by revolution an ideal Christian commonwealth, with absolute equality and the community of goods.

Münster Rebellion

A second and more determined attempt to establish a theocracy was made at Münster in Westphalia (1532–5), led by Bernhard Rothmann, Bernhard Knipperdolling, Jan Matthys and John of Leiden.

Persecutions and migrations

Much of the historic Roman Catholic and Protestant literature has represented the Anabaptists as groups who preached false doctrine and led people into apostasy. That negative historiography remained popular for about four centuries. The Roman Catholics and Protestants alike persecuted the Anabaptists, resorted to torture and other types of physical abuse, in attempts both to curb the growth of the movement and bring about the "salvation" of the heretics (through recantation). The Protestants under Zwingli were the first to persecute the Anabaptists. Felix Manz became the first martyr in 1527.

On May 20 1527, Roman Catholic authorities executed Michael Sattler. King Ferdinand declared drowning (called the "third baptism") "the best antidote to Anabaptism". It has been said that a "16th century man who did not drink to excess, curse, or abuse his workmen or family could be suspected of being an Anabaptist and thus persecuted." [cite web|url=|title= Did You Know?|publisher=Christianity Today Library|year=1985|accessdate=2008-02-05] Thousands died in Europe in the sixteenth century. [Estep] The Tudor regime, even those that were Protestant (Edward VI of England and Elizabeth I of England) persecuted Anabaptists as they were deemed too radical and therefore a danger to religious stability. The persecution of Anabaptists was condoned by ancient laws of Theodosius I and Justinian I that were passed against the Donatists which decreed the death penalty for any who practiced rebaptism.

Thieleman J. van Braght's "Martyrs Mirror" describes the persecution and execution of thousands of Anabaptists, such as Dirk Willems, in Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and other parts of Europe between 1525 and 1660. Continuing persecution in Europe was largely responsible for the mass immigrations to North America by Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites.


Several existing denominational bodies may be legitimately regarded as the successors of the Continental Anabaptists—Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, Mennonites, and Bruderhof Communities. Some writers prefer to distinguish institutionally lineal descendants (Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites) from the spiritual descendants (Brethren, Church of the Brethren, the Bruderhof Communities, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists and the many parts of the Emerging Church in the UK, Australia and parts of the US).Fact|date=April 2008 Nevertheless, some historical connections have been demonstrated for all of these spiritual descendants, though perhaps not as clearly as the noted institutionally lineal descendants. Although many see the more well-known Anabaptist groups (Amish, Hutterites and Mennonites) as ethnic groups, the Anabaptist bodies of today are no longer comprised mostly of descendants of the Continental Anabaptists. Total worldwide membership of the Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and related churches totals 1,297,716 (as of 2003) with about 60 percent in Africa, Asia and Latin America. [Mennonite World Conference [ 2003 Mennonite & Brethren in Christ World Membership] ]

In addition, it may be argued that one of the historical Anabaptist doctrines, specifically that one must volitionally, consciously, and "personally" relate to God, is likewise found among much of Evangelical Protestantism, even though these churches may not be historically linked to the Anabaptists.

Anabaptism and the 21st century

In response to post-modernism, what some theologians are calling 'the end of Christendom', and the global ecological crisis, some churches and theologians draw upon Anabaptist traditions as a paradigm for Christian spirituality in the 21st century. This movement, sometimes referred to as 'neo-Anabaptism', includes theologians and communities who are from Christian denominations not part of the historic Peace Churches but who see in the 16th century radical reformers an authentic witness of early Christianity and of the life and teachings of Christ. Some such thinkers include Stanley Hauerwas, Nancey Murphy, Glen Stassen, Lee Camp, Marva J. Dawn, Richard B. Hays, Craig A. Carter, James William McClendon Jr., and Michael Cartwright.

"Sojourners Magazine" editor Jim Wallis has said that Mennonite theologian John H. Yoder "inspired a whole generation of Christians to follow the way of Jesus into social action and peacemaking." The neo-Anabaptist communities and theologians are also considered a nearly direct result of this legacy and communities are often identifiable by a desire to live as an prophetic alternative to a larger society through their commitment to Christs' Sermon on the Mount as normative for the Christian life when empowered by the Holy Spirit. Outworkings of this spirituality include simple yet joyful lifestyle, peace and justice making, the practice of nonviolence, communal living and the voluntary sharing of goods, particularly with those in need all as an outworking of seeking the kingdom of God.


*Bible as the sole rule of faith and practice
*Freedom of religion
*Priesthood of all believers

The Anabaptists were early promoters of a free church and freedom of religion (sometimes associated with separation of church and state). [The origins of religious freedom in the USA is traced back to the Anabaptists in Verduin, Leonard "That First Amendment and The Remnant" published by The Christian Hymnary Publishers (1998) ISBN 1-890050-17-2 ] When it was introduced by the Anabaptists in the 15th and 16th centuries, religious freedom independent of the state was unthinkable to both clerical and governmental leaders. Religious liberty was equated with anarchy; Kropotkin ["Anarchism" from The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910 By Peter Kropotkin.] traces the birth of anarchist thought in Europe to these early Anabaptist communities.

According to Estep, ["The Anabaptist Story" – see Bibliography.]

Where men believe in the freedom of religion, supported by a guarantee of separation of church and state, they have entered into that heritage. Where men have caught the Anabaptist vision of discipleship, they have become worthy of that heritage. Where corporate discipleship submits itself to the New Testament pattern of the church, the heir has then entered full possession of his legacy.

Popular culture

In Joseph Heller's novel "Catch-22", the character of Chaplain Tappman identifies himself as an Anabaptist. He states that for this reason, it is not necessary to call him "Father".

Voltaire's novel, "Candide", features a character named James, who identifies himself as an Anabaptist and helps the eponymous protagonist and his teacher Pangloss but later drowns in Lisbon harbor.

The novel "Q", by the collective known as 'Luther Blissett' features an Anabaptist as the central character and is set in the 16th Century, touching on key elements of Anabaptist history such as the siege of Munster.

ee also

*Apostolic Christian Church
*Brethren in Christ
*Christian anarchism
*Peace churches
*Protestant Reformation
*Radical Reformation
*Schleitheim Confession
*Simple living
*The Upside-Down Kingdom

Footnotes and references


*"A History of Anti-Pedobaptism, From the Rise of Pedobaptism to A. D. 1609", by Albert H. Newman, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 1579785360)
*"Anabaptist Bibliography 1520-1630", by Hans Hillerbrand, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0910345031)
*"Anabaptists and the Sword", by James M. Stayer, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0872910814)
*"An Introduction to Mennonite History", by Cornelius J. Dyck, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0836136209)
*"Covenant and Community: The Life, Writings, and Hermeneutics of Pilgram Marpeck", by William Klassen, ( [ Google Books] )
*"Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments During the Reformation", by Werner O. Packull, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0801850487)
*"In Editha's Days. A Tale of Religious Liberty", by Mary E. Bamford LCCN 06006296 (republished as "The Bible Makes Us Baptists", Larry Harrison, ed.), ( [ Google Books] )
*"Mennonite Encyclopedia", Harold S. Bender, Cornelius J. Dyck, Dennis D. Martin, Henry C. Smith, et al., editors, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0836110188)
*"Revelation & Revolution: Basic Writings of Thomas Muntzer", by Michael G. Baylor, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0934223165)
*"The Anabaptist Story", by William R. Estep, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0802815944)
*"The Anabaptist Vision", by Harold S. Bender, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0836113055)
*"The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror", by Thieleman J. van Braght, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 083611390X)
*"The Encyclopedia of American Religions", by J. Gordon Melton, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0810369044)
*"The German Peasants' War & Anabaptist Community of Goods", by James M. Stayer, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0773508422)
*"The Pursuit of the Millennium", by Norman Cohn, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0195004566)
*"The Reformers and their Stepchildren", by Leonard Verduin, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0801092841)
*"The Anatomy of a Hybrid : a Study in Church-State Relationships" by Leonard Verduin, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0802816150)
*"The Tailor King: The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster", by Anthony Arthur, ( [ Google Books] , ISBN 0312205155)
*"The Radical Reformation", by George Hunston Williams, Third Edition. Sixteen Century Journal Publishers, 1992.

External links

* [ Church Communities International]
* [ "Der wedderdoeper eidt" / Oath of the Anabaptists of Münster]
* [ The Rise and Fall of the Anabapists] , by E. Belfort Bax 1903

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