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Anabaptism (from Neo-Latin anabaptista,[1] from the Greek ἀναβαπτισμός: ἀνά- "over again" and βαπτισμός "baptism"[2]) is a Christian movement which traces its origins to the Radical Reformation. Anabaptists are Christians who believe in delaying baptism until the candidate confesses his or her faith. Although some consider this movement to be an offshoot of Protestantism, others see it as a distinct one.[3][4][5] The Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites are direct descendants of the movement. Schwarzenau Brethren, Bruderhof, and the Apostolic Christian Church are considered later developments among the Anabaptists.

The name Anabaptist, meaning "one who baptizes again", was given them by their persecutors in reference to the practice of re-baptizing converts who already had been baptized as infants.[6] Anabaptists required that baptismal candidates be able to make their own confessions of faith and so rejected baptism of infants. The early members of this movement did not accept the name Anabaptist, claiming that since infant baptism was unscriptural and null and void, the baptizing of believers was not a re-baptism but in fact their first real baptism. Balthasar Hubmaier wrote:

I have never taught Anabaptism. ...But the right baptism of Christ, which is preceded by teaching and oral confession of faith, I teach, and say that infant baptism is a robbery of the right baptism of Christ...[7]:204

As a result of their views on the nature of baptism and other issues, Anabaptists were heavily persecuted during the 16th century and into the 17th by both Magisterial Protestants and Roman Catholics.[a]

While most Anabaptists adhered to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, which precluded taking oaths, participating in military actions, and participating in civil government, some who practiced re-baptism felt otherwise.[b] They were thus technically Anabaptists, even though conservative Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites and some historians tend to consider them as outside of true Anabaptism. Conrad Grebel wrote in a letter to Thomas Müntzer in 1524:

True Christian believers are sheep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter... Neither do they use worldly sword or war, since all killing has ceased with them...[8]:45


Medieval forerunners

Although Anabaptists began with the Radical Reformers in the 16th century, certain people and groups may still legitimately be considered their forerunners because of a similar approach to the interpretation and application of the Bible. Petr Chelčický, a 15th-century Bohemian reformer, taught most of the beliefs considered integral to Anabaptist theology.[9] Medieval antecedents may include the Brethren of the Common Life, the Hussites, Dutch Sacramentists,[10][11] and some forms of monasticism. The Waldensians also represent a faith similar to the Anabaptists.[12]

In the following points Anabaptists who held to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount resembled the medieval dissenters:

  • They condemned oaths, and also the reference of disputes between believers to law-courts in accordance with 1 Corinthians 6:1–11.
  • 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). Matthew 5:39
  • 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. John 18:36 Romans 13:1–7
  • 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 5:9–13 and Matthew 18:15 seq. But no force is to be used towards them.

Zwickau prophets and the German Peasants' War

On December 27, 1521, three "prophets", influenced by and in turn influencing Thomas Müntzer, appeared in Wittenberg from Zwickau: Thomas Dreschel, Nicholas Storch and Mark Thomas Stübner preaching an apocalyptic, radical alternative to Lutheranism. Preaching such as that done by the "prophets" helped to stir the feelings concerning the social crisis, which erupted in the German Peasants' War in southern Germany in 1525 as a revolt against feudal oppression. Under the leadership of Müntzer, it became 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. Although the Zwickau prophets were not Anabaptists (that is, they did not practice "re-baptism"), the prevalent social inequities and the preaching of men like this have been seen as laying the foundation for the Anabaptist movement. Although the social ideals of the Anabaptist movement coincided closely with those of the German Peasants' War, studies have found a very low percentage of later Anabaptists to have been active participants in the peasant uprising.[13]

Views on origins

Research on the origins of the Anabaptists has been tainted both by the attempts of their enemies to slander them and by the attempts of their supporters 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, and Thomas Müntzer. Those desiring to correct this error tended to over-correct and deny all connections between the larger Anabaptist movement and the most radical elements.

The modern era of Anabaptist historiography arose with the work of Roman Catholic scholar Carl Adolf Cornelius' publication of Die Geschichte des Münsterischen Aufruhrs (The History of the Münster Uprising) in 1855. Baptist historian Albert Henry Newman (1852–1933), who Harold S. 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 ones are:

  • that Anabaptism began in a single expression in Zürich and spread from there (Monogenesis);
  • that Anabaptism began through several independent movements (polygenesis); and
  • that Anabaptism was a continuation of true New Testament Christianity (apostolic succession or church perpetuity).


A number of scholars (e.g., Harold S. Bender, William Estep, Robert Friedmann) have seen the Anabaptist movement as radiating from the Swiss Brethren movement of Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, George Blaurock, et al. They 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.[14] In the monogenesis view the time of origin is January 21, 1525, when Conrad Grebel baptized George Blaurock, and Blaurock in turn baptized several others immediately. These baptisms were the first "re-baptisms" known in the movement[15] and therefore this remains the most popular date posited for the establishment of Anabaptism.


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," suggesting that February 24, 1527, at Schleitheim is the proper date of the origin of Anabaptism. On this date the Swiss Brethren wrote a declaration of belief called the Schleitheim Confession.[16] The authors of the essay noted the agreement among previous Anabaptist historians on polygenesis, even when disputing the date for a single starting point: "Hillerbrand and Bender (like Holl and Troeltsch) were in agreement that there was a single dispersion of Anabaptism ..., which certainly ran through Zurich. The only question was whether or not it went back further to Saxony."[16]:83 After criticizing the standard polygenetic history, the authors found six groups in early Anabaptism which could be collapsed into three originating "points of departure": "South German Anabaptism, the Swiss Brethren, and the Melchiorites."[17] According to their polygenesis theory, 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". As examples of how the Anabaptist movement was influenced from sources other than the Swiss Brethren movement, mention has been made of how Pilgram Marpeck's Vermanung of 1542 was deeply influenced by the Bekenntnisse of 1533 by Münster theologian Bernhard Rothmann. Melchior Hoffman influenced the Hutterites when they used his commentary on the Apocalypse shortly after he wrote it.

Others who have written in support of polygensis include Grete Mecenseffy and Walter Klaassen, who established links between Thomas Müntzer and Hans Hut. In another work, Gottfried Seebaß and Werner Packull showed the influence of Thomas Müntzer on the formation of South German Anabaptism. Similarly, author Steven Ozment linked Hans Denck and Hans Hut with Thomas Müntzer, Sebastian Franck, and others. Author Calvin Pater showed how Andreas Karlstadt influenced Swiss Anabaptism in various areas, including his view of Scripture, doctrine of the church, and views on baptism.

Apostolic succession

Baptist successionists have, at times, pointed to 16th-century Anabaptists as part of an apostolic succession of churches ("church perpetuity") from the time of Christ.[18] This view is held by some Baptists, some Mennonites, and a number of "true church" movements.[c]

The opponents of the Baptist successionism theory emphasize that these non-Catholic groups clearly differed from each other, that they held some heretical views,[d] or that the groups had no connection with one another and had origins that were separate both in time and in place.

A different strain of successionism is the theory that the Anabaptists are of Waldensian origin. Some hold the idea that the Waldensians are part of the apostolic succession, while others simply believe they were an independent group out of whom the Anabaptists arose. Ludwig Keller, Thomas M. Lindsay, H. C. Vedder, Delbert Grätz, John T. Christian and Thieleman J. van Braght (author of Martyrs Mirror) all held, in varying degrees, the position that the Anabaptists were of Waldensian origin.


Spread of the early anabaptists in Central Europe


Anabaptism in Switzerland began as an offshoot of the church reforms instigated by Ulrich Zwingli. As early as 1522 it became evident that Zwingli was on a path of reform preaching when he began to question or criticize such Catholic practices as tithes, the mass, and even infant baptism. Zwingli had gathered a group of reform-minded men around him, with whom he studied classical literature and the scriptures. However, some of these young men began to feel that Zwingli was not moving fast enough in his reform. The division between Zwingli and his more radical disciples became apparent in an October, 1523 disputation held in Zurich. When the discussion of the mass was about to be ended without making any actual change in practice, Conrad Grebel stood up and asked "what should be done about the mass?" Zwingli responded by saying the council would make that decision. At this point, Simon Stumpf, a radical priest from Hongg, answered saying, "The decision has already been made by the Spirit of God."[19]:79

This incident illustrated clearly that Zwingli and his more radical disciples had different expectations. To Zwingli, the reforms would only go as fast as the city Council allowed them. To the radicals, the council had no right to make that decision, but rather the Bible was the final authority of church reform. Feeling frustrated, some of them began to meet on their own for Bible study. As early as 1523, William Reublin began to preach against infant baptism in villages surrounding Zurich, encouraging parents to not baptize their children.

Seeking fellowship with other reform-minded people, the radical group wrote letters to Martin Luther, Andreas Karlstadt, and Thomas Müntzer. Felix Manz began to publish some of Karlstadt's writings in Zurich in late 1524. By this time the question of infant baptism had become agitated and the Zurich council had instructed Zwingli to meet weekly with those who rejected infant baptism "until the matter could be resolved."[20] Zwingli broke off the meetings after two sessions, and Felix Manz petitioned the Council to find a solution, since he felt Zwingli was too hard to work with. The council then called a meeting for January 17, 1525.

Dissatisfaction with the outcome of a disputation in 1525 prompted Swiss Brethren to part ways with Huldrych Zwingli.

The Council ruled in this meeting that all who continued to refuse to baptize their infants should be expelled from Zurich if they did not have them baptized within one week. Since Conrad Grebel had refused to baptize his daughter Rachel, born on January 5, 1525, the Council decision was extremely personal to him and others who had not baptized their children. Thus, when sixteen of the radicals met on Saturday evening, January 21, 1525, the situation seemed particularly dark. The Hutterian Chronicle records the event:

After prayer, George of the House of Jacob (George Blaurock) stood up and besought Conrad Grebel for God's sake to baptize him with the true Christian baptism upon his faith and knowledge. And when he knelt down with such a request and desire, Conrad baptized him, since at that time there was no ordained minister to perform such work.

After Blaurock was baptized, he in turn baptized others at the meeting. Even though some had rejected infant baptism before this date, these baptisms marked the first re-baptisms of those who had been baptized as infants and thus, technically, Swiss Anabaptism was born on that day.[21][19][22]


Anabaptism appears to have come to Tyrol through the labors of George Blaurock. Similar to the German Peasants' War, the Gasmair uprising set the stage by producing a hope for social justice. Michael Gasmair had tried to bring religious, political, and economical reform through a violent peasant uprising, but the movement was squashed.[23] Although little hard evidence exists of a direct connection between Gasmair's uprising and Tyrolian Anabaptism, at least a few of the peasants involved in the uprising later became Anabaptists. While a connection between a violent social revolution and non-resistant Anabaptism may be hard to imagine, the common link was the desire for a radical change in the prevailing social injustices. Disappointed with the failure of armed revolt, Anabaptist ideals of an alternative peaceful, just society probably resonated on the ears of the disappointed peasants.[24]

Before Anabaptism proper was introduced to South Tyrol, Protestant ideas had been propagated in the region by men such as Hans Vischer, a former Dominican. Some of those who participated in conventicles where Protestant ideas were presented later became Anabaptists. As well, the population in general seemed to have a favorable attitude towards reform, be it Protestant or Anabaptist. George Blaurock appears to have preached itinerantly in the Puster Valley region in 1527, which most likely was the first introduction of Anabaptist ideas in the area. Another visit through the area in 1529 reinforced these ideas, but he was captured and burned at the stake in Klausen on September 6, 1529.[25]

Jacob Hutter was one of the early converts in South Tyrol, and later became a leader among the Hutterites, who received their name from him. Hutter made several trips between Moravia and Tyrol, and most of the Anabaptists in South Tyrol ended up emigrating to Moravia because of the fierce persecution unleashed by Ferdinand I. In November 1535, Hutter was captured near Klausen and taken to Innsbruck where he was burned at the stake on February 25, 1536. By 1540 Anabaptism in South Tyrol was beginning to die out, largely because of the emigration to Moravia of the converts because of incessant persecution.[26]

The Low Countries

Melchior Hoffman is credited with the introduction of Anabaptist ideas into the Low Countries. Hoffman had picked up Lutheran and Reformed ideas, but on 23 April 1530 he was "re-baptized" at Strasbourg and within two months had gone to Emden and baptized about 300 persons.[27] For several years Hoffman preached in the Low Countries until he was arrested and imprisoned at Strasbourg, where he died about 10 years later. Hoffman's apocalyptic ideas were indirectly related to the Münster Rebellion, even though he was "of a different spirit."[28] Obbe and Dirk Philips had been baptized by disciples of Jan Matthijs, but were opposed to the violence that occurred at Münster.[29] Obbe later became disillusioned with Anabaptism and withdrew from the movement in about 1540, but not before ordaining David Joris, his brother Dirk, and Menno Simons, the latter from whom the Mennonites received their name.[30] David Joris and Menno Simons parted ways, with Joris placing more emphasis on "spirit and prophecy," while Menno emphasized the authority of the Bible. For the Mennonite side, the emphasis on the "inner" and "spiritual" permitted compromise to "escape persecution," while to the Joris side, the Mennonites were under the "dead letter of the Scripture."[30] Because of persecution and expansion, many of the Low Country Mennonites emigrated to Prussia, and from there to Ukraine (which at the time was part of Russia). In the late 1800s, many of the Russian Mennonites emigrated to the prairie states and provinces of the U.S. and Canada; to Mexico; to Belize, and to South America (especially Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil) where thousands of them still live in colonies.


Although Moravian Anabaptism was a transplant from other areas of Europe, Moravia soon became a center for the growing movement, largely because of the greater religious tolerance found there.[31][32] Hans Hut was an early evangelist in the area, with one historian crediting him with baptizing more converts in two years than all the other Anabaptist evangelists put together.[33] The coming of Balthasar Hübmaier to Nikolsburg was a definite boost for Anabaptist ideas to the area. With the great influx of religious refugees from all over Europe, many variations of Anabaptism appeared in Moravia, with Jarold Zeman documenting at least ten slightly different versions.[34] Soon, one-eyed Jacob Wiedemann appeared at Nikolsburg, and began to teach the pacifistic convictions of the Swiss Brethren, on which Hübmaier had been less authoritative. This eventually led to a division between the Schwertler (sword-bearing) and the Stäbler (staff-bearing). Wiedemann and those with him also promoted the practice of community of goods. With orders from the lords of Liechtenstein to leave Nikolsburg, about 200 Stäbler withdrew to Moravia to form a community at Austerlitz.[35]

Persecution in South Tyrol brought many refugees to Moravia, many of whom formed into communities that practiced community of goods. Jacob Hutter was instrumental in organizing these into what became known as the Hutterites. But others came from Silesia, Switzerland, German lands, and the Low Countries. With the passing of time and persecution, all the other versions of Anabaptism eventually died out in Moravia, leaving only the Hutterites. Even the Hutterites were eventually dissipated by persecution, with a remnant fleeing to Transylvania, then to the Ukraine, and eventually to North America in 1874.[36]

South Germany

South German Anabaptism had its roots in German mysticism. Andreas Karlstadt, who first worked alongside Martin Luther, is seen as a forerunner of South German Anabaptism because of his reforming theology that rejected many Catholic practices, including infant baptism. However, Karlstadt is not known to have been "rebaptized", nor to have taught it. Hans Denck and Hans Hut, both with German Mystical background (in connection with Thomas Muntzer) both accepted "rebaptism", but Denck eventually backed off from the idea under pressure. Hans Hut is said to have brought more people into early Anabaptism than all the other Anabaptist evangelists of his time put together. However, there may have been confusion about what his baptism (at least some of the times it was done by making the sign of the Tau on the forehead) may have meant to the recipient. Some seem to have taken it as a sign by which they would escape the apocalyptical revenge of the Turks that Hut predicted. Hut even went so far as to predict a 1528 coming of the kingdom of God. When the prediction failed, some of his converts became discouraged and left the Anabaptist movement. The large congregation of Anabaptists at Augsburg fell apart (partly because of persecution) and those who stayed with Anabaptist ideas were absorbed into Swiss and Moravia Anabaptist congregations.[37]:35–117[38] Pilgram Marpeck was another notable leader in early South German Anabaptism.

Persecutions and migrations

The burning of a 16th-century Dutch Anabaptist, Anneken Hendriks, who was charged by the Spanish Inquisition with heresy.

Roman Catholics and Protestants alike persecuted the Anabaptists, resorting to torture and execution in attempts to curb the growth of the movement. The Protestants under Zwingli were the first to persecute the Anabaptists, with Felix Manz becoming 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". The Tudor regime, even the Protestant monarchs (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. Martyrs Mirror, by Thieleman J. van Braght, describes the persecution and execution of thousands of Anabaptists in various parts of Europe between 1525 and 1660. Continuing persecution in Europe was largely responsible for the mass emigrations to North America by Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites.


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."

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 1534–35, and the Batenburgers, who persisted in various guises as late as the 1570s.


Memorial plate at Schipfe quarter in Zürich for the Anabaptists, executed in early 16th century by the Zürich city government

Charismatic manifestations

Within the inspirationist wing of the Anabaptist movement, it was not unusual for charismatic manifestations to appear, such as dancing, falling under the power of the Holy Spirit, "prophetic processions" (at Zurich in 1525, at Munster in 1534 and at Amsterdam in 1535),[39] and speaking in tongues.[40] In Germany some Anabaptists, "excited by mass hysteria, experienced healings, glossolalia, contortions and other manifestations of a camp-meeting revival".[41] The Anabaptist congregations that later developed into the Mennonite and Hutterite churches tended not to promote these manifestations, but did not totally reject the miraculous. Pilgram Marpeck, for example, wrote against the exclusion of miracles: "Nor does Scripture assert this exclusion... God has a free hand even in these last days." Referring to some who had been raised from the dead, he wrote: "Many of them have remained constant, enduring tortures inflicted by sword, rope, fire and water and suffering terrible, tyrannical, unheard-of deaths and martyrdoms, all of which they could easily have avoided by recantation. Moreover one also marvels when he sees how the faithful God (Who, after all, overflows with goodness) raises from the dead several such brothers and sisters of Christ after they were hanged, drowned, or killed in other ways. Even today, they are found alive and we can hear their own testimony... Cannot everyone who sees, even the blind, say with a good conscience that such things are a powerful, unusual, and miraculous act of God? Those who would deny it must be hardened men".[42] The Hutterite Chronicle and The Martyrs Mirror record several accounts of miraculous events, such as when a man named Martin prophesied while being led across a bridge to his execution in 1531: "...this once yet the pious are led over this bridge, but no more hereafter." Just "a short time afterwards such a violent storm and flood came that the bridge was demolished".[43]

Holy Spirit leadership

The Anabaptists insisted upon the "free course" of the Holy Spirit in worship, yet still maintained it all must be judged according to the Scriptures.[44] The Swiss Anabaptist document titled "Answer of Some Who Are Called (Ana-)Baptists – Why They Do Not Attend the Churches". One reason given for not attending the state churches was that these institutions forbade the congregation to exercise spiritual gifts according to "the Christian order as taught in the gospel or the Word of God in 1 Corinthians 14." "When such believers come together, 'Everyone of you (note every one) hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation', and so on. When someone comes to church and constantly hears only one person speaking, and all the listeners are silent, neither speaking nor prophesying, who can or will regard or confess the same to be a spiritual congregation, or confess according to 1 Corinthians 14 that God is dwelling and operating in them through His Holy Spirit with His gifts, impelling them one after another in the above-mentioned order of speaking and prophesying."[45]



Hutterites in North America
Mennonite family in Campeche, Mexico
Amish children on the way to school

Several existing denominational bodies may be regarded as the successors of the continental Anabaptists: Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, Schwarzenau Brethren, River Brethren and to some extent the Bruderhof Communities. Sometimes the Apostolic Christian Church is seen as Neutäufer ("Neo-Anabaptist").[46] 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, only the Amish and the Hutterites today are composed almost totally of descendants of the continental Anabaptists, while among the Mennonites there are Ethnic Mennonites and others who are not. Brethren groups have mostly lost their ethnic distinctiveness.

Total worldwide membership of the Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and related churches totals 1,616,126 (as of 2009) with about 60 percent in Africa, Asia and Latin America.[47] In 2015 there were some 300,000 Amish, more than 200,000 "Russian" Mennonites in Latin America and some 60,000 to 80.000 Old Order Mennonites, who have preserved their ethnicity, their German dialects (Pennsylvania German, Plautdietsch, Hutterisch), Plain dress and many other old traditions.

Similar groups

The Bruderhof Communities were founded in Germany by Eberhard Arnold in 1920, establishing and organisationally joining the Hutterites in 1930. The group moved to England after the Gestapo confiscated their property in 1933, and subsequently to Paraguay to avoid military conscription, and by settlement then moved to USA after World War II. They are not recognized by more conservative Hutterites.

Groups deriving from the Schwarzenau Brethren, often called German Baptists, while not directly descended from the 16th-century Anabaptists, are usually considered Anabaptist because of an almost identical doctrine and practice. The modern-day Brethren movement is a combination of Anabaptism and Radical Pietism.

The relations between Baptists and Anabaptists were early strained. In 1624, the then five existing Baptist churches of London issued a condemnation of the Anabaptists.[48] Puritans of England and their Baptist branch arose independently, and although they may have been informed by Anabaptist theology, they clearly differentiate themselves from Anabaptists as seen in the London Baptist Confession of Faith A.D. 1644, "Of those Churches which are commonly (though falsely) called ANABAPTISTS;"".[49] Moreover, Baptist historian Chris Traffanstedt maintains that Anabaptists share "some similarities with the early General Baptists, but overall these similarities are slight and not always relational. In the end, we must come to say that this group of Christians does not reflect the historical teaching of the Baptists." [50] German Baptists are not related to the English Baptist movement and were inspired by central European Anabaptists. Upon moving to the United States, they associated with Mennonites and Quakers.

Anabaptist characters exist in popular culture, most notably Chaplain Tappman in Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22, James in Voltaire's novella Candide, Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Le prophète (1849), and the central character in the novel Q, by the collective known as "Luther Blissett".


Common Anabaptist beliefs and practices of the 16th century continue to influence modern Christianity and Western society.

Dirk Willems saves his pursuer. This act of mercy led to his recapture, after which he was burned at the stake. Luyken, Jan (1685), Dirk Willems (picture) .

The Anabaptists were early promoters of a free church and freedom of religion (sometimes associated with separation of church and state).[e] 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[52] traces the birth of anarchist thought in Europe to these early Anabaptist communities.

According to Estep:

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.[53]

See also


  1. ^ Since the middle of the 20th century, the German-speaking world no longer uses the term "Wiedertäufer" (translation: "Re-baptizers") considering it biased. The term "Täufer" (translation: "Baptizers") is now used, which is considered more impartial. From the perspective of their persecutors, the "Baptizers" baptized for the second time those "who as infants had already been baptized". Since the denigrative term Anabaptist signifies re-baptizing, it is considered a polemic term and therefore has been dropped from use in modern German. However, in the English-speaking world it is still in use in order to distinguish the "Baptizers" more clearly from the "Baptists" who emerged later.
  2. ^ For example, the followers of Thomas Müntzer and Balthasar Hubmaier.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Such as the Adoptionism of the Paulicianists; some of the other groups often cited were in fact little different from the Catholics and bore little similarity to modern Baptists.
  5. ^ The origins of religious freedom in the United States are traced back to the Anabaptists.[51]


  1. ^ "Anabaptist, n.", Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press), December 2012, retrieved 21 January 2013 
  2. ^ "Anabaptism, n.", Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press), December 2012, retrieved 21 January 2013 
  3. ^ Klaassen 1973.
  4. ^ McGrath, William, "Neither Catholic nor Protestant", CBC 4 me (PDF) 
  5. ^ Gilbert, William, "CHAPTER 15 THE RADICALS OF THE REFORMATION", The anabaptists and the reformation 
  6. ^ Harper, Douglas (2010) [2001], "Anabaptist", Online Etymological Dictionary, retrieved April 25, 2011 
  7. ^ Vedder, Henry Clay (1905). Balthasar Hübmaier, the Leader of the Anabaptists. New York: GP Putnam's Sons. 
  8. ^ Dyck 1967.
  9. ^ Wagner, Murray L (1983). Petr Chelčický: A Radical Separatist in Hussite Bohemia. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-8361-1257-1. 
  10. ^ van der Zijpp, Nanne. "Sacramentists". Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Archived from the original on 27 February 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-12. 
  11. ^ Fontaine, Piet FM (2006). "Chapter I – part 1 Radical Reformation – Dutch Sacramentists". The Light and the Dark: A cultural history of dualism. XXIII. Postlutheran Reformation. Utrecht: Gopher Publishers. 
  12. ^ van Braght 1950, p. 277.
  13. ^ Stayer 1994.
  14. ^ Estep 1963, p. 5: ‘Too much has been said of Münster. It belongs on the fringe of Anabaptist life which was completely divorced from the evangelical, biblical heart of the movement’
  15. ^ Dyck 1967, p. 49.
  16. ^ a b Stayer, James M; Packull, Werner O; Deppermann, Klaus (April 1975), "From Monogenesis to Polygenesis: the historical discussion of Anabaptist origins", Mennonite Quarterly Review 49 (2) 
  17. ^ Stayer 1994, p. 86.
  18. ^ Carrol, JM (1931). The Trail of Blood. Lexington, KY: Ashland Avenue Baptist Church. 
  19. ^ a b Ruth, John L (1975). Conrad Grebel, Son of Zurich. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press. ISBN 0-8361-1767-0. 
  20. ^ Dyck & 1967 46.
  21. ^ Dyck 1967.
  22. ^ Estep 1963.
  23. ^ Hoover, Peter (2008). The Mystery of the Mark-Anabaptist Mission Work under the Fire of God. Mountain Lake, Minnesota: Elmendorf Books. pp. 14–66. 
  24. ^ Packull 1995, pp. 169–75.
  25. ^ Packull 1995, pp. 181–5.
  26. ^ Packull 1995, p. 280.
  27. ^ Estep 1963, p. 109.
  28. ^ Estep 1963, p. 111.
  29. ^ Dyck 1967, p. 105.
  30. ^ a b Dyck 1967, p. 111.
  31. ^ Estep 1963, p. 89.
  32. ^ Packull 1995, p. 54.
  33. ^ Dyck 1967, p. 67.
  34. ^ Packull 1995, p. 55.
  35. ^ Packull 1995, p. 61.
  36. ^ Packull 1995.
  37. ^ Packull, Werner O (1977). Mysticism and the Early South German-Austrian Anabaptist Movement 1525–1531. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press. ISBN 0-8361-1130-3. 
  38. ^ Stayer 1991.
  39. ^ Klaassen 1973, p. 63.
  40. ^ Little, Franklin H (1964), The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism, New York: Beacons, p. 19 
  41. ^ Williams 1992, p. 443.
  42. ^ Marpeck 1978, p. 50.
  43. ^ van Braght 1950, p. 440.
  44. ^ Oyer, John S (1964), Lutheran Reformers Against Anabaptists, The Hague: M Nijhoff, p. 86 
  45. ^ Peachey, Paul; Peachey, Shem, eds. (1971), "Answer of Some Who Are Called (Ana-)Baptists – Why They Do Not Attend the Churches", Mennonite Quarterly Review 45 (1): 10, 11 
  46. ^ Apostolic Christian Church of America at Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
  47. ^ 2009 New global map locates 1.6 million Anabaptists Check |url= scheme (help), Mennonite World Conference 
  48. ^ Melton, JG (1994), "Baptists", Encyclopedia of American Religions 
  49. ^ "London Baptist Confession of 1644". Of those Churches which are commonly (though falsely) called ANABAPTISTS; 
  50. ^ Traffanstedt, Chris (1994), "Baptists", A Primer on Baptist History: The True Baptist Trail 
  51. ^ Verduin, Leonard (1998), That First Amendment and The Remnant, The Christian Hymnary, ISBN 1-890050-17-2 
  52. ^ Kropotkin, Peter (1910), "Anarchism", The Encyclopædia Britannica 
  53. ^ Estep 1963, p. 232.


Further reading

External links

16 Annotations

Bchan  •  Link

According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia (1908):

(Gr. ana, again, and baptizo, baptize; rebaptizers).

A violent and extremely radical body of ecclesiastico-civil reformers which first made its appearance in 1521 at Zwickau, in the present kingdom of Saxony, and still exists in milder forms.


The name Anabaptists, etymologically applicable, and sometimes applied to Christian denominations that practise re-baptism is, in general historical usage, restricted to those who, denying the validity of infant baptism, became prominent during the great reform movement of the sixteenth century. The designation was generally repudiated by those to whom it was applied, as the discussion did not centre around the question whether baptism can be repeated, but around the question whether the first baptism was valid."


Patrick W. Conner  •  Link

The old Catholic Encyclopedia, in spite of its many excellencies, is not a good source for the various protestant parties and reforms. The Church, both then and now, cannot be objective about the various groups who attempted either to reform or to make irrelevant the Church of Rome.

The Anabaptists were the forerunners of the Mennonites, who are more or less identical with the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch in the USA. The greatest leader of the Anabaptists was Menno Simons (1492-1559), from whom the Mennonites took their name. For twenty-five years he shepherded the scattered Anabaptist societies in Germany and the Netherlands. In 1608 some men of Puritan views who had left the Church of England fled from persecution to Holland. Some of them later were the Pilgrims to Plymouth Plantation in New England. Others came under the influence of Mennonites and adopted their views, being referred to as Anabaptists. About 1611 some of these latter founded in London the first Anabaptist or Baptist church of England. Other early English Baptists were in association with Dutch Mennonites. From these first English Baptists have come the Baptist churches of the English-speaking world. The Mennonite name is still borne by churches in Germany and by churches of German origin in Russia and America. I have taken much of this from

Emilio  •  Link

[At least as of April 1660, their reputation seems to have been more decisive than their actual intentions in determining how Montagu and other outsiders treated them.
This posted by kvk for the 1 Apr, 1660 entry: ]
After Monck announced his intention to oppose Lambert, he began purging ‘Anabaptists’ and Fifth Monarchists from his army. The term Anabaptists is applied somewhat loosely at this point - to General and Particular Baptists, for instance - but it’s not a general term for zealots. It carries implications of extreme radicalism and subversion, primarily because of the lingering memory of the Munster community of the 1530s (Munster was mentioned frequently in civil war pamphlets). The Baptists have not been doing much lately, but in uncertain times Monck and others aren’t willing to extend trust to a group that has been a traditional source of fear.
This Baptist history page mentions some of the suspicions floating around at this time:
“Many spoke of what the “Anabaptists” in the Army were about to do. The old stories of M

Alicia  •  Link

Patrick Conner said above, The Anabaptists were the forerunners of the Mennonites, who are more or less identical with the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch in the USA."
Well, this is sort of true, but not really - kind of like saying "Church of England members, who are more or less identical with the so-called English." Lots of English people are not members of the CoE, as I understand it, and the same is true of the Pennsylvania Dutch. This term describes the large numbers of Germans (it actually is Pennsylvania Deutsch) who settled central and south-central Pennsylvania. Many were Mennonites, or an offshoot of the Mennonites called the Amish, and many were of other faiths entirely. Similarly, there are many Mennonites, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the US, who have no relationship to the Pennsylvania Dutch. So while the groups have overlap, they actually are quite different.
I am part Pennsylvania Dutch, but not at all Mennonite or Amish (my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors were Lutheran.)
Sorry if this is too much of a tangent ...

John  •  Link

What Alicia says is certainly true and I might add that many Mennonites who settled in PA (and many, like my paternal Loyalist Mennonites who were hounded out of the country because of their loyalty to the Crown at the time of the American Revolution, subsequently settled in what is now Ontario in Canada)were originally from German-speaking Switzerland.

Also part of the Anabaptist world were the Quakers and in fact it was partly because of the similarity of beliefs that William Penn conducted 3 recruiting drives amongst the Mennonites and offshoots in Germany to persuade them to move to his new persecution-free "colony".

Alicia will recognise my Overholt surname as a good Pennsylvania Dutch one as also may some rye whiskey drinkers!

Las Vegas Baptist Church  •  Link

The problem with the child baptism is that the child didn't CHOOSE it. Pretty simple. You can't choose salvation (or in the case of baptism, to be marked for Christ) for someone else. Not complicated.

Christian baptism was solemnly appointed by the risen Christ, prior to His entering into the state of glory by His ascension.

Matthew 28:18-20 and its parallel Mark 16:15-16 are the principal texts of Scripture on which the church in all ages has based every essential point of her teaching regarding this ordinance. The host of other baptismal texts of Scripture expand and illustrate the contents of these two texts.

The Bishop  •  Link

Las Vegas, you're missing the point that in the reformed church of England of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the basic theology was Calvinist, and therefore it was denied that human choice had any role in salvation. Since people could not choose to be saved, it made sense to go ahead and baptise everyone, and it was easiest to do this when they were babies.

Jenny Doughty  •  Link

I may be misremembering this, but wasn't it also thought by Catholics before this period that the souls of unbaptised babies would not go to Heaven?

Grahamt  •  Link

This was a period of high infant mortality. As Jenny Doughty says, it was thought that unbaptised children's souls went to purgatory as they inherited the "original sin", though innocent themselves. The Council of Florence (1438) decreed:
"unless we be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, we can not enter into the kingdom of Heaven"
Baptism by water, ritually washed away the sin, so was done as soon after birth as possible, especially if the child was sickly and unlikely to survive for long.
As an aside, right up until the 1960's, British catholic children were being taught that protestants' souls went to purgatory.

Laura Brown  •  Link

Actually, the Catholic Church's teaching was (and is) that just about *everyone* will spend some time in purgatory. Purgatory is the process of purifying the soul of sin, and is a preparatory step to the soul's entering heaven.

I believe Jenny and Graham are actually thinking of the popular Catholic belief in limbo, a sort of neutral area whose inhabitants were cut off from God but did not suffer eternal punishment. It was here that unbaptised babies were thought to end up. However, this was strictly a folk belief and was NOT Church doctrine. (Neither is the thing about Protestants going to purgatory, though I'm sure some ill-informed teachers did propagate it.)

Olwen Hufton's book 'The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800' contains a long and heart-rending discussion of both Catholic and Protestant beliefs about children who died without baptism.

Anyway, to get back to the Anabaptists: Another prolific 17th century diarist, the Puritan turner Samuel Wallington, recorded in 1646 that 'a most obstinate Anabaptist' in Dover beheaded her baby son 'and having severed the head ... did present the dismal spectacle to her husband and bid him baptise him then if he would.' (Paul S. Seaver, 'Wallington's World: A Puritan Artisan in 17th-Century London', Stanford University Press 1985). I don't know whether this was true -- to me it sounds more like the 17th-century equivalent of an urban legend -- but it does show how Anabaptists were viewed by other Christians in England.

Laura Brown  •  Link

Here's an interesting site with some primary documents about the Anabaptists of the 16th and 17th centuries:

Also, just for the benefit of anyone who'd like to explore Wallington's life or writings further -- his first name was actually Nehemiah, not Samuel. Clearly, I still had 'our Sam' on the brain!

Tim Nafziger  •  Link

On Anabaptists in Britain:

"On Easter Sunday 1575 a group of 26 Anabaptists, all apparently refugees from The Netherlands, were arrested while meeting near Aldgate. Over the next months they were imprisoned in severe conditions, both in solitary confinement

Tim Nafziger  •  Link

More on the use of "Anabaptist" in sixteenth-century England:

"To be sure, the epithet "anabaptist" was freely bandied about to describe Protestant radicals generally. The term, however, was intended as an insult. It was shot through with suggestions of the fanaticism at M

Benaiah  •  Link

John Thomas MD an English doctor wrote an article entitled Anabaptism in 1834 in his publication Apostolic Advocate. vol.1, no.6. This in connection with the issue of rebaptism for those coming over (from the Baptists) to the so called 'Reformation' led by Alexander Campbell. He referred to their persecution in the reign of Elizabeth 1. This inqiry led to further scriptural investigation into:
1. the mortality of man,
2. the promises God madeto Abraham

Pedro  •  Link


For a BBC podcast that may be of interest…

“Melvyn Bragg and guests Diarmaid MacCulloch, Lucy Wooding and Charlotte Methuen discuss the Siege of Münster in 1534-35.

In the early 16th century, the Protestant Reformation revolutionised Christian belief. But one radical group of believers stood out. The Anabaptists rejected infant baptism and formal clergy, and believed that all goods should be held in common. They were also convinced that the Second Coming was imminent.”

Bill  •  Link

ANABAPTISTS, a Sect whose Tenet is, That Persons ought not to be baptized till they are able to give an Account of their Faith.
---An Universal Etymological English Dictionary. N. Bailey, 1675.

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