© 1998

On a cold winters morning, 21 January 1525, in the Swiss city of Zurich, Conrad Grebel baptised George Blaurock, who in turn baptised the others present. So was formed the first distinct reformed Protestant congregation of the Reformation era, and the first church of baptised believers in over 1000 years. Within 10 years almost all involved would have been martyred yet the movement they began would prosper.

The purpose of this study is to answer these questions, and to better understand our own Reformed Baptist heritage.

Outline | Return to RBC Front Page |

  1. ORIGINS - The Swiss Anabaptists
  2. OTHER RADICALS - Spiritualists, Rationalists & Revolutionaries
  3. EARLY ANABAPTISM - Expansion & Persecution
  4. LATER ANABAPTISM - Hutterites & Mennonites
  5. CONCLUSIONS - Doctrinal Critique & Application

Definition of Terms:

The term "Anabaptism" (literally: rebaptism) was a nickname used by the opponents of the Radical Reformation in order to identify it. Anyone who claimed to be a Christian but wasn't Lutheran, Protestant or Catholic tended to be labeled Anabaptist. As a result the term became associated with extreme groups, rather than the great majority of moderate, scripturally committed and pacifistic Anabaptists. True Anabaptists refuted the term they did not RE-baptise because they viewed infant baptism as invalid. They saw believer baptism as the only valid scriptural baptism.

For the purposes of this study, the following definitions will be used:

(Ana)baptist: Rejects infant baptism and practices believer baptism.
Anti-paedobaptist: Rejects infant baptism but does not re-baptise those who were "baptised" as infants.
Evangelical: Holds to Grace, Faith and Scripture Alone.
Magisterailist: Believes that the magistrate (political authorities) are to promote and defend the official faith of a nation using political means.
Paedobaptist: Practices infant baptism
Rationalist: Emphasises reason above Scripture
Revolutionary: Believes that the current political structures are unjust and should be overthrown through use of the sword, to be replaced by the direct rule of the Elect.
Spiritualist: Emphasises the Spirit over against Scripture.



Prior to 1523, there was no distinction between those later be known as "Radicals" and the more conservative Zwinglian Reformers in Zurich. All were known simply as the "Brethren" (a title which the radicals were to continue to hold). Indeed, as early as 1521 most of the radicals were studying under Zwingli who owned them as friends.

During the Second Disputation (1523) concerning the Reformation of the church in Zurich, Zwingli backed away from his earlier call that the council act immediately to abolish Mass, or else he would act on his own, to the more conservative position of not acting without council authorisation. This was in a response to the Council's willingness to embrace Reform, but at a pace at which the whole Canton of Zurich could move. To Grebel, Manz and the other Radicals, such a concession was an undermining of Zwingli's own principle of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) as the sole authority in matters of Faith. Grebel and the others saw that in arguing that the magistrates were to determine what reform was to occur, Zwingli was undermining the authority of Scripture as it is God (as He reveals in His Word) who determines how we are to worship, not the State. It was from this concession that the Radical's disillusionment with Zwingli's Reform began.

At first there was no question concerning infant baptism, but rather a call for those who desired to be faithful to partake of the Lord's Supper apart from those who would deny it in word or deed.When it became obvious that the magistry was not going to support their appeals, the radicals began to seek the formation of a voluntaristic group of believers. Meanwhile, the view that the Lord's Supper was only valid for faith naturally lead on to the view that Baptism was only valid where faith was present. Election to the Covenant was increasingly seen to be only by spiritual REbirth, not physical birth. This conception caused even Zwingli to doubt infant baptism at one point. However, by this time Zwingli began advocating infant baptism by appealing to a comparison of circumcision with baptism - that both are given to children. The Radicals rejected this interpretation, pointing out that the former was but a type of the other, as Passover (which children had attended) was but a type of the Lord's Supper (which even for Zwingli only adults could attend).

The idea of excluding the unbelieving or unworthy from communion (as later practiced by the Reformed and Lutheran in response to Anabaptist criticism) was subsequently extended to church membership and called the "Ban". This, along with the ideal of the purity of the church was  to become a distinctive Anabaptist doctrine.

By 5 September 1524 Grebel, in a letter to the Revolutionary Müntzer (which, tragically he never received), the main traits of Anabaptist theology are clearly emerging:

  • rejection of infant baptism
  • children included in Christ's sacrifice until age of discernment
  • need for the Ban (cf Matt 18:15-18)
  • consequent rejection of the Sword (the Word is the sword of the Christian)
  • rejection of mass, priesthood and other aspects of worship not supported by Scripture
  • (None of the above were practiced by Müntzer.)

    In Early January 1525 a Baptismal disputation was held with Zwingli. The Radicals were no match in debate with the eloquent Zwingli, and the Council (having already made up its mind to support Zwingli), condemned the Radical's bible meetings and antipaedobaptist views. In defiance, on the 25 January, the Radicals formed the first congregation of believers through baptism (by pouring).

    Following this, in response to the rapid spread of baptist beliefs and practice through the canton, the Zurich authorities forbade the teaching, or even association of anyone with the Anabaptists on pain of imprisonment or banishment. By 1526 the Council decreed the death penalty by drowning for persistent Anabaptists. On the 5th January 1527, Felix Manz was the first of many Anabaptists to be drowned.

    So began the Anabaptist Reformation.

    The Original Swiss Leaders

    Conrad Grebel: Son of a Zurich Councilor educated in ancient languages in Vienna and Paris. One-time friend of Zwingli, he joined in 1522 the group of faithful Brethren around Zwingli. By 1524 he began to oppose Zwingli's attempts to form a State Church, arguing for an independent and voluntaristic assembly. After his baptism, Conrad traveled the canton promoting baptist beliefs publicly baptising hundreds. Eventually he was arrested and thrown into prison where he died in 1526.

    Georg Blaurock: A former monk and firery orator. Being a foreigner, he was whipped and sent out of Zurich after several episodes in prison on January 17th 1527. He then took the Anabaptist message to Biel, Berne and the Catholic province of Tyrol.

    Felix Manz: A citizen of Zurich and a Hebrew scholar. The Anabaptists frequently met in his mother's house. He was drowned for Anabaptist beliefs on January 5th 1527 with Zwingli's approval, mother and son forced to watch on. None recanted. Manz was the first victim of a Protestant State Church. 11 others soon followed.

    Wilhelm Ruebin and Simon Stumpf: Pastors of Basle and Hongg respectively. They came to baptist views and were expelled and went on to spread their views through Switzerland and Southern Germany. Tragically, after doing much to establish the Evangelical Anabaptists, Rueblin was to repudiate the movement in 1535.

    Key teachings

  • Scripture alone as final authority
  • Need for a pure church of believers, entered through baptism
  • Pacifism the Word is the Christian's sword in a different Kingdom
  • Universal atonement (in response to infant baptism for removing original sin)
  • Free-will and experiential understanding of salvation
  • Imminent coming of Christ



    In order to understand the diverse nature of Anabaptism, we must first look at the wider influences occurring at the time. From this we will be able to perceive the unique place the Anabaptists held in the Reformation, but also see their failings.

    Spirit over the Word

    Key Teachings

    They emphasised the inward work of the Spirit over against Scripture. They could be divided further into Evangelical Spiritualists and Prophetic Spiritualists:

    Evangelical Spiritualists

  • Key influencers of the Zwinglian Reformation, especially in promoting the memorial/symbolical view of the Sacraments
  • Emphasised inward enlightenment or inspiration (from earlier Catholic mysticism) and inward regeneration. This led over time to the rejection of external forms. Inward feeding on Christ, not outward observances of the signs (baptism and Lord's Supper) were all that was required. Evangelical spiritualists argued that outward forms could be abandoned for unity of the Elect through the Spirit. Many remained in Catholic Church a result. Evangelical Spiritualism failed to bring outward Reformation.
  • Sometimes the stress on inwardness over externals often led to the mistaken belief that there was no Law or possibility of sin for the Christian. Your outward actions were believed by some to be of little consequence.

  • Prophetic Spiritualists

  • Emphasised gifts of inspiration, vision and prophecy
  • Imminent coming of Christ and His kingdom as revealed to the prophet
  • More willing to embrace external signs than their more Evangelical counterparts
  • Key Individuals

    Hinne Rode: Originally rector of the school of the Brethren in Utrect, Netherlands, Rode was in contact with Reformation developments in Wittenberg and Zurich. Evangelical views had much sympathy in the traditionally tolerant Netherlands, and many watched developments with great interest. However, Rode and others went further than the earlier Netherlandish Spiritualists who merely emphasised a body of believers within the Catholic Church. Now they began to agitate for Reform. To this end, Rode visited Wittenberg, but there he disagreed with Luther's view of the sacraments. On his return, Rode was accused of being a Lutheran and was dismissed from his post. Carrying the works of the Netherlandish spiritualists, he made his way to Switzerland, promoting Evangelical views. In 1523, Rode met Zwingly, who found in the symbolic/memorial view of the sacraments (taking "this is my body" to mean "this signifies my body") a crystallization of his developing thought. The sacraments were only valid where Faith remembered. Following this, Rode returned by way of Strasbourg to minister in the Netherlands, being imprisoned in 1530 as a Zwinglian(!). Rode's main influence was in promoting the memorial/symbolic view of the sacraments into the early Zwinglian movement, thereby creating the doctrinal basis for Anabaptism.

    Zwickau Prophets (1521-1522): 3 craftsmen from the town of Zwickau claimed the gift of prophecy and began promulgating a mixture of Taborite and Waldesian teachings: including antipaedobaptism; denial of a professional ministry or organized religion because all godly people would be under the direct influence of the Spirit; special revelation through visions and dreams; and the imminent return of Christ. In December 1521 they came to Wittenberg to try and persuade the reformers. Melanchthon, impressed by their biblical knowledge was uncertain of what action to take. Their continued presence created great agitation, as the "Prophets" became more outspoken in their millennial views and criticisms of Luther's conservatism. Upon Luther's return in 1522, they were expelled and little is known of them after this. Their main significance was their influence upon the revolutionary Müntzer, and in the warning to us that we should not be intimidated about "quenching the Spirit" if we reject teachings of "prophets".

    Andreas Karlstadt (1477?-1541): Born in Bavaria, educated in Erfurt, Colonge and Wittenberg where he became a member of faculty in 1511. At first an opponent of Luther, he became a Lutheran after reading Augustine. He remained a supporter of Lutheranism until 1521. Then, when Luther was in hiding in Wartburg, he proceeded to reform the church by forbidding music and by giving communion to the laity. It also became apparent that he had come to antipaedobaptist views and a memorial view of communion. Forced to leave, Karlstadt went to Orlamünde he attacked his former associates, and identified himself with the peasants by renouncing his academic titles and dressing like them. He came to believe that spiritual experience demanded social equality and his ideas gave theological justification to the rising revolt. (Karlstadt himself never became a revolutionary or supported the violence of the widespread Peasant Revolt of 1525. He claimed God alone would bring this Kingdom.) Luther came to debate him, and Karlstadt claimed direct revelation of the Spirit to justify his actions and doctrines. In 1524, he was forced to leave, rejected even by the peasants. He went on to have contact with Zwingly and other leaders, eventually being won to their cause. Consequently he became a Zwinglian pastor at Altstatten in 1531. In 1534 he was appointed professor at Basel and remained there until he died in 1541.

    Kaspar Schwenkfeld (1489-1561): The leading Evangelical Spiritualist, Schwenkfeld came to Reformation principles through Müntzer and Karlstadt. However he rejected their later extremism and developed his own principles. Schwenkfeld argued for the invisible unity of the Elect Church through the Spirit. He refused to join any of the religious groups of his day, seeing the error of party spirit in all of them. For the same reason he discouraged his followers from forming separate groups. He down played the word and both sacraments, preferring to stress the inner Word of the Spirit in regeneration and sanctification - as well as the inward feeding of faith on Christ. The believer was to evidence a changed life. He opposed state interference in religion as contrary to the idea that only the Spirit can grant spiritual Light and Truth. Schwenkfeld also promoted the doctrine of the Celestial Flesh of Christ - that his humanity came from God, not Mary. He argued this from the fact that Christ was "begotten", not "created" in an attempt to counter anti-trinitarianism. Although outlawed, Schwenkfeld had wide correspondence with the leading Reformers and Radicals of his day, heavily influencing Sebastian Frank (1499-1543). Some of his emphases were taken up in Anabaptism, Puritanism in England and the Pietistic Movement on the continent. He was also a forerunner of Quakerism.

    Reason over the Word

    Key Teachings

    Key individuals

    Miguel Servetus (1511-1553): Most famous for being the heretic arrested and executed through Calvin's initiative. Servetus, a Spaniard, had studied biblical languages, mathematics, theology, philosophy and law at universities in Zaragoza and Toulouse. He became secretary to Charles V's confessor. He left the Court, traveling to Basel and Strasbourg, where he met Martin Bucer (the "Gentle Reformer") and possibly some of the Anabaptists. From this he developed his interest in studying the Bible. Servetus came to believe that in order to convert the Muslims (Moors) and Jews, the doctrine of the Trinity would have to be re-interpreted. He argued that the most serious error was the belief in the eternal existence of the Son (and consequently His deity, and the personality of the Holy Spirit). He expressed his ideas and criticisms in a series of works (1531-1532) for which he was virulently opposed by the leading Reformers and Catholics alike. To avoid persecution, Servetus adopted a second career as a physician, studying at Lyons. There he published his discovery of the pulmonary circulation of blood. Later he worked in Vienna as a physician to the Archbishop where he returned to his study of theology. Servetus became an abusive denouncer of Calvin whom he saw as the promoter of error, writing The Restitution of Christianity in response to Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion. In it he also revealed antipaedobaptist views, as well as arguing that God could be found through all religions. As a result he was arrested by the inquisition in Vienna, but escaped, only to be later arrested while passing through Geneva on Calvin's charge of heresy. His burning to death on October 27th 1553 started a controversy surrounding toleration of religious differences in the Protestant lands.

    The Minor Reformed Church (Poland and Transylvania, 1550-1578): This church formed as a result of historical circumstances in Poland and Transylvania. The first Protestant influence to arrive was Lutheranism, which was embraced by many of the independent-minded Lords. Following this came Calvinism, which won many from the Lutheran position. Amongst the Calvinists a dispute arose concerning the trinity, with each side accusing the other of heresy. Eventually the Reformed Church split into the Major Reformed Church that adhered to the Orthodox Nicean position, and the Minor Reformed Church that felt that only scriptural language should be required. The Minor Church was a loose coalition united by anti-trinitarianism, but within which (until the arrival of Fausto Sozzini) the views ranged from tri-theists (who were happy to worship Christ) through to full Unitarians (who would not worship Christ). The earlier Calvinistic influence continued with the belief in predestination, and a growing antipaedobaptism developed into anabaptist practice. The Minor Church was able to survive because a third of the population supported it, a third the Major Church, and a third the Catholic Church. This forced the rulers to grant a remarkable amount of religious toleration until "God guided more clearly from His Word".

    Fausto Sozzini (Socinus) (1539-1604): Born in Siena, Italy, Socinus was early orphaned and received little formal education. At 20 he was denounced for heretical views, and he fled to Lyons. Here he produced a work on John's Gospel in which he denied Christ's deity. He returned to Italy to Florence where he remained outwardly Roman Catholic, before going to Transylvania and on to Basel to meet his uncle, Lelio Sozzini (1525-1562). (His uncle had been a friend of Servetus, and had continued to promote Servetus' works in a modified form after his death). In 1578 Socinus was requested to come and assist the anti-trinitarian Minor Reformed Church of Poland based in its academy (of 1000 students) in Racov. There Socinus extended his influence through Poland and Transylvania, uniting the Minor Churches with the revised Racovian Catechism (1574, 1605). This document stressed: Jesus as a revelation of God, but only as a man; that the "Word made flesh" meant God's decree became flesh in the man Jesus; Christ was not the Son of God prior to His birth; separation of church and state; soul sleep and the annihilation of the wicked (conditional immortality). The Socinians (as they became known) rejected all the classical Protestant doctrines, including the divinity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, original sin and total depravity. Ironically, Socinus himself never joined the church. Most of the Minor Church was baptist in belief, but Socinus remained antipaedobaptist This was because his Spiritualist tendencies resulted in a reluctance to insist on the rebaptism of those sprinkled in infancy. This, in addition to his commitment to free will, prevented his full membership in the Minor Church. In 1638, in response to the Catholic counter-reformation, the Polish authorities suppressed the Minor Church, and Socinianism was spread throughout Europe by refugees, later to emerge as Unitarianism in the 1700s, and developing into theological liberalism by the 1800s. An interesting aside is that the refugees also brought the view that immersion was the correct mode of baptism (something they gained from Eastern Orthodoxy). This was to pass through the Netherland Mennonites to influence the English Baptist tradition.

    The (Elect) Sword over the Word

    Key Teachings

    Key individual

    Thomas Müntzer (1490?-1525): Born in Southern Germany, Müntzer came to Lutheran views while a student during Luther's disputation in Leipzig. Appointed as Pastor of Zwickau on Luther's recommendation, he became involved with the Zwickau Prophets. Increasingly violent in his denunciation of the Catholic clergy, he began to also emphasise the need for the Holy Spirit's direct guidance and for lay involvement in the Church. This brought him into direct conflict with Egranus, the chief Lutheran reformer in the area. Upon his dismissal he went to Prague, calling on the followers of Hus to help him bring in the new age. From there he became Parish Priest at Allstedt where he reformed the local church. At Müntzer he was the first Lutheran to introduce a full common language mass, lay communion and hymnody. In a largely Catholic area, his reforms attracted much attention from the populace. In early 1524 he secretly organized his followers in bands in anticipation of taking up arms for the cause of the gospel. In May his followers sacked a nearby catholic shrine. This, coupled with Luther's warnings caused the Duke to demand an explanation. Müntzer tried to persuade the magistrates that they should fulfil their role and use force to establish the gospel. Eventually expelled, Müntzer went to Muhlhausen where he urged his peasant congregation to join the Peasants Revolt and bring God's Kingdom - a Kingdom where all would be equal in an economic (communistic) and political (democratic) sense. In this Kingdom there would be no nobles or clergy, for all evil rulers would be destroyed. The revolt was crushed, partly because of Müntzer's military incompetence, and the survivors were slaughtered. Müntzer hid, but was caught, interrogated and eventually executed. Despite the claim of history, Müntzer and most of his followers were not Anabaptists. Müntzer himself was antipaedobaptist and was never rebaptised. Most of his followers who survived never joined the Anabaptists. Many of Müntzer's ideas would have an ongoing influence amongst Spiritualistic Anabaptists in a non-revolutionary form.

    Church/Tradition Over the Word.

    Catholicism openly argued that God's word could only be validly interpreted by the church hierarchy in light of further revelation in the form of accumulated traditions. The distortion of the gospel that this had generated by the 1500's was the primary cause of the Reformation.

    The Magistrate/Prince over the Word.

    Although theoretically adhering to Sola Scriptoria, the Reformers undermined this by placing the final authority in religion with the State.


    The Anabaptists, like the Reformers, stood for

    The Evangelical Anabaptists alone stood for a Christianity centered solely around God's Word as her only weapon. We see this worked out in the subsequent history of the Anabaptist movement. However, despite their correct understanding of the nature of the Church as a spiritual body, the Anabaptists were not immune from the errors of those around them.


    Expansion and Persecution

    Despite the persecution in Zurich, the movement continued to spread.

            1523-1525    Baptists in 6 places in Zurich Canton
            1525-1527    Baptists in 26 places in Zurich Canton
            1527-1531    Baptists in 56 places in Zurich Canton
            1531-1535    Baptists in 70 places in Zurich Canton

    At one stage, the Anabaptist churches in Zurich and the neighboring canton of St Gall numbered 800 each. As the movement spread, the initial toleration of the authorities often evaporated and persecution forced further spread of the gospel. In this the Anabaptists were deeply aware that their predicament was much like that of the New Testament church and suffering became to them a key mark of the true church.


    Spiritualistic Anabaptists originated from Southern Germany, and drew from many of the followers of Müntzer and Karlstadt. It followed Luther's emphasis on Sola Fidei (Faith Alone) to an extreme, where inward enlightenment (or the "Inner Word") became central, to the exclusion of the authority of Scripture. The Inner Word was the link between the Evangelical Spiritualism of Schwenkfeld (and later Serbastian Frank) and the Prophetic Spiritualism of Müntzer and Karlstadt. The "Inner Word" was the source of both regeneration and prophetic guidance. It alone was to be followed - with disastrous results. Spiritualistic Anabaptists tended to emphasise unity in the Spirit, and were not rigorous in Church discipline, being generally suspicious of any emphasis on mere outward "forms".

    Hans Denck (1495-1527): Denck was to have a huge influence within the Anabaptist movement, despite his short involvement. Denck, was born in Heybach, Bavaria. He studied under Oecolampadius (an associate of Zwingly) in Basle before becoming a theological teacher in Nuremburg. While there, he was strongly influenced by Müntzer, Karlstadt and Schwenkfeld. Denck came to the view that "Inner Word" was superior to even the Scriptures, and it alone was to be obeyed. He consequently rejected the doctrines of: the authority of Scripture; predestination; total depravity; justification by faith; the sufficiency of Christ's atonement and the necessity of Baptism; Lord's Supper and the ministry. Christ was merely an example of divine love, and salvation was essentially due to will and works. In April 1525, Denck was persuaded to join the Anabaptists by Hubmaier. He argued that there were 3 baptisms: Baptism of the Spirit (or regeneration) common to all ages; Baptism in Water, common to the New Covenant, and Baptism of suffering - common to the Elect in the last days. Denck promoted his views with great success in Southern Germany, eventually arriving in Strassburg in 1526. Defeated in disputation with Bucer and Capito, Denck and the Spiritualistic Anabaptists were forced to flee. In August 1527, Denck with Hans Hut presided over the Spiritualistic Anabaptist "Martyrs Synod". However, the martyrdoms of those involved and the resultant evaporation of the synod's hopes left Denck disillusioned. In a letter to his old tutor, Oecolampadius, he asked for pardon and was willing to renounce Anabaptism and embrace the Reformed church (although he actually held to a conforming Evangelical Spiritualist view of the church). Shortly after he suddenly succumbed to the plague and died.

    Hans Hut (149??-1527): Hans Hut was the publisher for Müntzer. Upon the failure of the Peasant Revolt, Hans Hut began promulgating Müntzer's doctrines in a non-revolutionary form. After meeting Denck in Augsburg, Hut was "re-baptised" on the 26 May 1526. From there he began to travel, baptising hundreds and warning them of the coming judgment. He saw Turkish inroads into Christendom as God's rod of anger against a corrupt Christianity. He prophesied a coming new age, and on the basis of Daniel 12 and Revelation 13, he claimed that the end would come in 3 1/2 years from the "Restitution" of the true Church. (It was not clear whether this is to be dated from the outbreak of the Peasant war, or the first Anabaptist congregation - in either case, mid 1528 was the date.) In Autumn 1526, he condemned the peasants for prematurely taking up arms in the Peasant's Revolt, arguing that only in God's time would they be given authority to rule and judge the ungodly. In the meantime, the elect were called to suffer. Leaving Augsburg, Hut traveled through Austria. His influence became so great that he became known as the "Austrian Apostle". From there he came to Nicolsburg in Moravia where he disputed with the Evangelical Anabaptist, Hubmaier in the famous Nicolsburg Disputation of May 1527. Seven articles outlining the Spiritualistic Anabaptist position were presented which became known as the Nicolsburg Articles. Siding with the more communistic Anabaptists, Hut opposed taxes for war or any other involvement in the state. Despite his current pacifism, Hut's bloody "end-time warfare of the saints" doctrine, caused Lord Liechtenstein, (an associate of Hubmaier's congregation) to panic and imprison Hut for causing a civil disturbance. The arrest of the "Apostle" by an associate of Hubmaier caused much resentment, and greatly assisted the schism between the Spiritualistic and Evangelical Anabaptists, each excommunicating the other. Released, Hut made his way back to Augsburg to preside over the famous Martyr's Synod with Denck in August. On September 15th 1527, Hut was captured. Tortured for a period on the rack, he was one day left for dead in his cell. A candle kicked over by a guard caused his pallet to catch fire, and helpless, he perished. Still not satisfied, the authorities had his charred corpse brought into court tied to a chair, where it was summarily sentenced to death, taken out and burnt at the stake on the 7th December 1527.

    Melchior Hofmann (1500?-1543?): Born in Wurttemberg, Germany, Hofmann was a leatherier by trade. Convinced of Lutheranism, he began to preach, albeit with a mystical emphasis. His preaching was so effective, he was driven from Wolmar in 1525 following contacts with Müntzer. Preaching revolutionary ideas and prophetic visions of a Millennial Kingdom, he went to Dorpat. When authorities tried to seize him, it caused a popular uprising. He left in 1526 to pastor in Stockholm for two years, before traveling to Strassburg via the Netherlands. There he became an Anabaptist, joining with the group gathered around Denck. He attended the Martyr's Synod. Taking over the movement following Denck's death, he claimed to be one of the witnesses of Revelation 11:3, and that Strassburg would become the New Jerusalem of the Millennial Kingdom in 1533. He argued that non-resistance could be given up at the advent as the saints "judged the unbelievers". He also emphasised the Celestial Flesh doctrines of Schwenkfeld. In 1533, he was arrested in Strassburg and imprisoned where he remained until he died. Hofmann's followers became known as Melchiorites, and they rapidly spread throughout North Germany and into the not-yet-reformed Netherlands.

    The "Martyrs Synod", Augsburg, August 1527

    This Synod (so-called the "Martyrs Synod" because only 2 of the original 60 odd delegates were alive 5 years later) was organized by Denck and Hut. The Synod aimed to prepare the churches for witnessing in the last days - a time expected to end in 1528. To this end, the recently formulated Nicolsburg Articles were presented. They consisted of:

    In addition to these, further missionaries were chosen to spread the message, and a missionary strategy developed to reach all of Europe, and even beyond. However, the heavy loss of lives so quickly after this Synod shattered most of these hopes.


    Evangelical Anabaptists derived their origins from Zwingly and his emphasis on Sola Scriptura. Guided by Scripture, they sought the restitution of the Church according to its New Testament pattern and practice. Over against the Spirtitualizers, they sought an obedient and visible expression of their faith in the context of a congregation of believers, united through baptism, enforced by church discipline (the "Ban").

    Balthasar Hubmaier (1480?-1528): Born near Augsburg, Hubmaier studied under the famous Catholic theologian Dr. John Eck. At 30 Hubmaier became Professor of Theology at the University of Ingolstat and pastor of the town church. Later he became preacher at Regensburg Cathedral, where he came to Protestant opinions and was dismissed in 1522. He took up a pastorate in Waldshut and visited Zwingli in Zurich where he became a staunch supporter of the Swiss Reformation. However, by 1525, he had come to side with Grebel, Manz, and the other Radicals in opposing infant baptism. In Easter 1525 he was able to persuade nearly the whole town of Waldshut to accept the Anabaptist cause. As a result he and 360 others were baptised by himself in William Rueblin, and the church was thoroughly reformed of catholic elements. This successful reformation was not to last, as Waldshut fell into Austrian (Catholic) hands on the 5 December 1525 and Hubmaier fled to Zurich. There he hoped to join with Grebel and the others in persuading Zwingly to adopt the radical cause. Unfortunately, Anabaptist sympathy for Müntzer's rebellion and the Peasant cause put them under suspicion. As a result, Hubmaier, Grebel and the other Anabaptists were imprisoned. Hubmaier eventually recanted under torture (something he later was deeply ashamed of). Released, Hubmaier fled to Moravia where he gathered a large following among the Brethren, eventually becoming a pastor of a congregation and founding a printing press. However, once again the Catholics (under the cruel and zealous Ferdinand) came to power. This time Hubmaier and his wife were arrested and taken to Vienna for interrogation. Encouraged and supported by his wife, and determined not to make the same mistake twice, Hubmaier steadfastly refused to recant, was publicly and slowly roasted death in March 1528, having been stripped naked and rubbed in salt and gunpowder.  A few days later, his wife was executed by drowning. Hubmaier was distinctive among the Anabaptists for his commitment to the belief that a Christian could work for the state (on the basis of Romans 13 and Luke 3:12-14, etc) and the belief in the validity of oaths (based on the 3rd Commandment). He also held to Reformed views on predestination, until being won to the free-will position by Denck in April 1525.

    Michael Sattler (1490-1527): Commissioned by Wilhelm Rueblin in Rottenburg in 1525. By 1526 Sattler had arrived in Strassburg, quickly becoming the leader of the small group of Evangelical Anabaptists. He had an extensive correspondence with Bucer and Capito, winning their respect and friendship for his Evangelical commitment and peaceful demeanor. He strongly opposed the Spiritualistic extremism of Denck, but nevertheless choose to leave Strassburg following one of the Anabaptist expulsions, despite being allowed to stay. From here he went to meet Wilhelm Rueblin at Horb, a centre of missionary activity. From there he presided over the Schleitheim Synod. However, the Catholic authorities had been informed of his return to Rottenburg, where he was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death, despite widespread public sympathy. On 21 May 1527, Sattler was first tortured, having been sentenced to: ". . . be delivered to the hangman who shall take him to the place of execution and cut out his tongue; he shall then throw him on a cart and twice tear his flesh with red hot tongs; then he shall bring him to the city gate and there torture his flesh in the same manner" by slowly roasting him alive. 24 other Anabaptists who still refused to recant (including Sattler's wife) soon followed, while many who could fled. Within 10 years, Rottenburg would see the execution of 900 Anabaptists. The severe cruelty of these deaths brought widespread protests from Catholics and Protestants alike, and resulted in many states determining to make greater efforts to convert rather than execute the Anabaptists. Bucer, Reformed Pastor of Strassburg wrote the following to the persecutors regarding Sattler: "We do not doubt that Michael Sattler, who was burned at Rottenburg, was a dear friend of God, although he was a leader of the Anabaptists, but much more skilled and honourable than some." He went on to point out that even though Tertullian erred as a Spiritualist, and Cyprian as an Anabaptist, yet they are considered martyrs. He also reaffirmed Sattler's Evangelical views, especially on the atonement, over against the Spiritualist excesses of Denck. Bucer concluded: "We do not doubt that Michael Sattler is a martyr for Christ".

    Pilgrim Marpeck (1495-1556): Born in the mining town Rottenberg, Tyrol, Marpeck became a town councilor and municipal engineer. He came to Lutheran, and then Anabaptist views. Dismissed and exiled for his refusal to help "investigate" the miners to capture Anabaptists, his substantial estate was confiscated. From there he made his way to Strassburg (1528), joining with the Evangelical congregations under Rueblin (now based there after Sattler's death). They became active members (his wife even hosting meetings in their home). Marpeck became involved in the timber industry in the Black Forest, but by October was devoting himself increasingly to the church. Marpeck became the leader of the Evangelical Anabaptists in 1529 after the arrest of Rueblin (who later escaped to Moravia, only to renounce Anabaptism in 1535) and other leaders (many of whom conformed or later fled). The presence of relatively orthodox and Evangelical Anabaptists in Strassburg became an increasing threat to the reformation of the Strassburg church. This was because of the vocal opposition of Marpeck to state compulsion in religion - a view with widespread sympathy. In December 1529, the mass was finally abolished in state churches. From then to 1532 Marpeck and Bucer had a long series of written and verbal debates on the issue. Eventually however, the council expelled Marpeck in December 1531 for his efforts to abolish infant baptism and establish a separatist church. Also, the arrival and arrest of Melchior Hofmann in Strassburg earlier that month had put the Anabaptists under suspicion of revolutionary activity - though Marpeck and his associates were admitted by all to be of unblemished conduct. In 1533, the state church in Strassburg held a synod to decide the future faith of the state, and by 1535 Strassburg's toleration ended with the expulsion of all who could not agree with its confession. Meanwhile, Marpeck traveled widely through Central Europe, attempting to strengthen the churches. He worked hard to try and establish a united Anabaptist movement, going as far as Moravia to try and convince the newly formed Hutterite communities, but was largely unsuccessful. During this time he came to realise with growing alarm that the greatest threat to the movement came not from the Reformers, but from the Spiritualists who were discrediting the movement. Many were defecting, preferring more spiritualistic groups whose emphasis on discipline and Christian duties were less rigorous. For the remainder of his life, Marpeck devoted himself to a literary crusade against the teachings of Schwenkfeld, Sebastian Frank and Hofmann. Marpeck stressed the difference between old testament and new, and the Scriptural demand for external obedience in the sacraments, church discipline and Christian living - emphasising the unity of the inward and outward man. He also warned against an excessive legalism in some of the Swiss Anabaptists, which sprang from an over-reaction to the Spiritualists and a tendency to read their own rules and traditions into Scripture. Through Marpeck's efforts, three Conferences were arranged in Strassburg (1554, 1556, and 1557) in an attempt to unite the ex-Melchiorite Mennonites with the Evangelical Anabaptists in the South. This unity was to eventually occur some decades later. Marpeck died peacefully in Augsburg in December 1556.

    Schleitheim Synod, 24 February 1527

    Called through the efforts of Michael Sattler, this, the first Protestant Synod, aimed to distinguish the Biblical and Evangelical Swiss brethren from the Spiritualistic South German Brethren following Denck and Hut, who minimised the importance of the local church and its observances. The result of the Synod was the Schleitheim Confession of Faith containing seven articles, summarised as:

    This Confession of the Evangelical Anabaptists was clearly attempting to show their emphasis on returning to New Testament church practice and discipline on the basis of Scripture as their only authority, over against the Spiritualistic desire for a new age of the Spirit beginning with a body of the elect.


    Developed relatively independently of the rest of Anabaptism for different reasons. Rationalism sought to remove contradictions from Scripture. Infant baptism was contradictory to Baptism as a sacrament of Faith/Repentance, so it was rejected. However, this rationalizing also went on to reject the Trinity. This form of Anabaptism came to dominate the Radicals in Poland, Lithuania and Transylvania. However, it made little inroad into the rest of Anabaptism due to the low education level and incipient anti-intellectualism of many Anabaptists and the fact that Rationalistic Anabaptism was predestinarian (reflecting its Calvinistic roots) rather than the free-willism of other Anabaptists. The Rationalistic Anabaptists did adopt the pacifistic and anti-state sentiments of mainstream Anabaptism. A few adopted the communistic pattern of the nearby Hutterites in Moravia.

    An aberrant minority

    After the crushing defeats of the Peasant Revolution, many of those who had been influenced by the Müntzer and Karlstadt came to reject violence. Hut, Denck and Hofmann for example, while maintaining Müntzer's basic theological framework, now argued against violence. God Himself would cause the Elect to rule, the Elect would not gain this power themselves. However, despite this there were sporadic groups, some of whom claimed to be Anabaptist, that took up arms, but these were isolated incidents and often an excuse for thugs to pillage more than anything else. However such events caused Anabaptists to remain under suspicion of being social revolutionaries, especially with their seemingly subversive doctrines of separation of Church and state and congregational (ie: democratic and egalitarian) rule. Such concerns were to be tragically become paranoia after the infamous events in a town called Munster:

    The Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster (1533-1535):

    After Melchior Hofmann's imprisonment in Strassburg in 1533, Jan Matthys, a tailor by trade, became the new leader of the Melchiorites. This was despite Hofmann's vociferous opposition to Matthys. Matthys became increasingly militant in his attitude to the authorities that dared to persecute God's elect. In 1534 he moved the headquarters of the Melchiorites from Strassburg to Munster in Westphalia in order to greater secure his control of the movement. He baptised many converts, eventually winning enough support to overthrow the "ungodly" government, replacing it with the government of 12 Elders, with himself as another Enoch. Any who would not be rebaptised into the New Zion would be executed for defiance of the new divine order. As a result, many of the Lutherans and Catholics fled. Having established control, Matthys set about enforcing a compulsory communism in the town. However, the expelled Catholics and Lutherans called on a joint force of troops to lay siege to the town. After about 3 months, Matthys was killed in a skirmish with the bishop's troops. Most ignored this providential warning, and leadership of the "New Jerusalem" now came under one of Matthys' leading converts, John of Leydon (b.1508). Leydon rapidly reformed the government of Munster, declaring it the "Kingdom of Zion" and himself as the "King of Righteousness", requiring all to bow before him. Justifying this by analogy to the Old Testament theocracy, he continued the analogy by declaring compulsory polygamy (taking Matthys' widow to be Queen). Many opposed this move, but all those foolish enough to voice dissent were quickly executed. Increasingly the actions of the Anabaptists became more debauched, fanatical and cruel. Any who dared oppose the Kingdom were summarily humiliated and killed. Licentiousness ruled the city. As the siege continued, the situation became more desperate. Leyden sent out several parties to travel the region, calling for the Anabaptists to take up arms to defend the New Jerusalem, but significantly, the response was minimal. The majority of the Melchiorites had stayed with the prophetic pacifism of Hofmann. A few hundred men gathered in Freisland, Netherlands, in order to render assistance but they were caught in the abbey and killed. (One of these was Menno Simons' brother. Menno Simons was soon to become the most important leader of Anabaptism). The Anabaptists fought off several attempts at storming the city with great fanaticism, knowing what the price of defeat would be. Casualties to the siege army were high. Eventually though, Leydon was only able to maintain control and prevent defections through the utmost cruelty and fear, at one time even beheading one of his wives and stamping upon her body in the market place for merely criticizing his rule. Guards were posted on the gates with orders to execute any who tried to flee. Then, in January 1535, the one of the gates were opened through the efforts of some of the disillusioned leaders who risked their lives to work in collusion with the bishop's forces. The troops poured in and the city was routed with most of the populace being slaughtered the leaders being put to the most cruel torture and deaths. Munster was restored to the Catholic fold.

    The Aftermath

    Munster was a disaster for the Anabaptist movement. Protestant and Catholic propaganda worked overtime in trying to give Munster as an example of the social chaos that the Anabaptist doctrines led to. Now viewed as violent, immoral and seditious revolutionaries, the Anabaptists were to experience far worse persecution than before. For the next 300 years, Munster was to be upheld as the centre of Anabaptist doctrine and practice, rather than as the fringe aberration from the pacifistic majority that it was. Munster has done more harm to the Baptist cause through the centuries than all the martyrdoms, banishments, tortures and official censures could ever achieve. It cost the Anabaptists the sympathy of the populace and left the Melchiorite movement shattered and disillusioned. It cured forever any revolutionary tendencies in the Anabaptist churches, driving them to an absolute pacifism which would not even allow self-defense.


    As we have seen, the Anabaptists had been persecuted from the earliest days. To Catholics, they opposed Church and Tradition; to the Reformers, they were a threat to the reformed social order they were hoping to establish. Anabaptists were a threat because, in their denial of infant baptism and insistence on a voluntary body of the faithful, they denied the whole foundation for the state-church system that had dominated for centuries. The magisterialists believed that allowing freedom of different viewpoints would result in social chaos. They saw this as proven by Munster, using it as an excuse for persecution and discrimination against Baptists, even up to the beginning of this century in parts of Europe.

    Imperial Decree of Speyer (1529)

    This restored the death penalty as the punishment for all Anabaptists for all states throughout the Imperial (ie: Catholic and Protestant) realms. This, at the same Diet that the Protestants pleaded for freedom of conscience and practice for themselves! The intensity of the enforcement of this decree varied markedly from place to place, depending largely on the sympathies of the rulers. Tyrol was a centre a savage persecution under Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and King of Bavaria, with thousands of Anabaptists being martyred even prior to the crack-down after Munster. In 1527 Ferdinand decreed that all who did not bring their children to be christened were to be executed. In Tyrol, 1000 would be burned, beheaded or drowned. In the year 1529 alone, 67 perished in Kitzbuhel and 210 in the Inn Valley. In Ensisheim, capital of the Hapsburg possessions in Upper Alsace, 600 were martyred. In Linz 73 more, at Passau 30, and the list could go on.

    A Tolerant Minority

    Protestants were generally more tolerant than the Catholic authorities. Protestants were responsible for only 15% of the executions, preferring the lesser punishments of banishment or imprisonment. Many Protestant cities executed either none, or only one or two Anabaptists. Unlike some Catholic authorities, no Protestant magistrates would ever execute Anabaptists who recanted (no matter how many times they may have "recanted" before). Many, such as the "Gentle Reformer", Bucer, along with Capito and Zell also of Strassburg, were reluctant to use force in a matter of faith, which alone could come from God. These would often distinguish between the quiet and righteous Evangelical Brethren and the Spiritualistic radicals and argued that only civil disobedience, not wrong doctrine should be punished. Phillip of Hesse also stands out. Despite the fact that he had sent his troops against the peasants in the Peasants Revolt and that his first contacts with Anabaptists were with revolutionary Spiritualists, Hesse was extremely reluctant to use force against religious beliefs held in good conscience. He allowed Anabaptists in his realm, imprisoning only those who created civil disturbances or committed other civil crimes. Phillip of Hesse was even willing to listen to the Anabaptist's criticisms of the Lutheran state church. As a result he reintroduced confirmation as the means of securing church discipline and limiting access to the Lord's Supper to believers. (This practice was later taken up by other Lutheran Churches, and as "profession of faith" by Calvin in Geneva). Hesse was so effective with his reforms and persuasion from the scriptures that 200 of the 250 Anabaptists in his realm (starting with their leaders) felt that they could reunite with the state church. Despite strong pressure to conform, Hesse refused to persecute the "innocent and deluded" Anabaptists on the grounds that only God through His Word can persuade them. Of all the territories in Europe, only in Hesse could it be reported that there was "no trouble with Anabaptists" in the realm from 1550 on. Religious toleration was also to be found for a time for the Huttites in Moravia. They were not persecuted for they were a valuable source of cheap and skilled labour to the rulers. Polish and Transylvanian Anabaptists found toleration due to the balance of power in the region and the sympathies of the rulers. Fearing future persecution however, the leaders of the various groups signed the Pax Dissendentium (1571) required to be signed by the King. This guarantied absolute freedom from fear of any punishment for any Christian view, provided civil law was respected. However, this freedom was short-lived, being obliterated by the Catholic counter-reformation which retook Poland. Freedom for the Mennonites in the Netherlands was granted by William of Orange in 1572 after the Catholic wars in sympathy for their courageous suffering.

    The Persecuting Majority

    Despite these tolerant examples, most Protestant rulers, such as Luther, Zwingly, Calvin and their immediate followers, were quick to resort to execution of the "fanatics". To them, the Anabaptists were nothing but a menace and spreaders of revolutionary ferment and heresy. For example, Luther's successor, Melancthon (despite the fact that he himself had doubted infant baptism when the Zwickau Prophets criticised the practice in 1521) worked hard to encourage the princes and magistrates to take strong measures against the Anabaptists for their "seditious articles", arguing that their sect was most "certainly of the devil". On his advice, 3 Anabaptists at Jena who refused to recant under torture (one of whom was arrested with his 6 year old daughter) were executed on the 27th January 1536. Melancthon accompanied them right to the scaffold. Their constancy amazed him, but he attributed it to a "terrible obduracy from the devil."

    In England

    In England, radical beliefs came in through Dutch and Flemish refugees as early as 1530. Most met informally in small, secretive groups in houses for fear of persecution. Fourteen Anabaptists were caught and executed on the 4th June 1535 in London. Being an island state, it was relatively easy to prevent the spread of baptist beliefs from the continent. Nevertheless, the executions of the Anabaptists brought their existence to public light, as well as winning a few sympathizers amongst the English. One notable case was Joan Boucher, a woman of impeccable character and high social standing who was burnt at the stake by Cramner for refusing to recant of her Melchiorite views. (Cramner himself was to suffer a similar fate at the hands of the Catholic Mary, in an ironic fulfillment of Matt. 7:2). No indigenous Anabaptist congregation formed due to this persecution, and most of those with Anabaptist leanings were absorbed into the growing Puritan and Separatist movements. As a result, modern Baptists cannot be said to be a continuation of the Anabaptist movement, but rather parallel and independent development.

    Catholic Oppression in the Netherlands

    The worst persecution was to occur after Munster at the hands of Charles V, and later his son Phillip II (who declared that he would rather rule over a wilderness than heretics). Their attempt to stamp out heresy led to the eventual liberation of Holland by William of Orange and the Calvinist forces, which won toleration for all protestants (1572). But not before 18,000 were martyred. Two thirds of these were Anabaptists (the rest Calvinists), of whom half were women (significant in a movement consisting two thirds of men). It was common for anabaptists to be executed by slow roasting while conscious. Prior to the persecution, Anabaptists in some places were (eg: Freisland) were over a quarter of the population. Many defected to Calvinism. Despite persecution, by 1650 10% of the 2,000,000 population were still Anabaptist.


    Hutterites and Mennonites



    The Hutterites originated in Moravia where Hubmaier and others had established Anabaptist churches. A difference arose between these churches regarding non-resistence, Christian involvement in the state, communalism and some other practices. Eventually, in 1528 following Hans Hut's visit, several hundred under the leadership of John Weidermann separated from the rest and established a "common household" (Bruderhof) where the community of goods (or common ownership) was practiced. It was to this group that a young Swiss Brethren pastor from Tyrol named Jacob Hutter (?-1536) attached himself in 1529. Well educated, with knowledge of geography and mathematics, as well as brilliantly gifted in organisation, all led to Hutter's rapid rise in the churches. Following Hubmaier's death he was a key instrument in overcoming disarray and dissension in the Moravian churches. By 1535 Hutter was chosen to lead the Moravian churches. He effectively strengthened and established the Moravian churches in the communistic pattern, and instilled them with a sense of mission. Hutterite missionaries were sent out all over Europe to recruit and bring back disciples to the communities in Moravia. In 1536 however, while on a missionary journey to Tyrol,Hutter was abducted. As the leading Anabaptist in the region, Hutter was subjected to severe torture, including being bound and gagged and placed in freezing water until almost dead, before being removed into a warm room, having his flesh lacerated, poured with brandy and set alight. Despite such cruelty, Hutter never gave names of his associates or recanted. He was later, by order of Ferdinand, publicly burned at the stake in Innsbruck, Tyrol, the place of Blaurock's martyrdom some years earlier. Despite this set-back, the Hutterite movement began to thrive under the tolerance of the independently minded rulers in Moravia who sought the economic benefits of reliable Hutterite labour. During this period, new and competent leaders were able to establish continuity without fear of execution. Thousands of refugees poured into Moravia, many fleeing from the extreme persecution in Tyrol. By 1600, the Bruderhof's numbered some 25,000. These Golden Years ended abruptly in the early 1600s with the re-emergence of Catholic power in the area. Under persecution they were forced to abandon their communities in Moravia, moving initially to Transylvania, Slovakia and Ukraine, before being forced on into Russia by 1770. Persecution also led to dwindling numbers, so that by 1874, the whole Hutterite movement of 1000 members moved to the United States. There the movement prospered. However their pacifism caused much hostility during World War 2, and some relocated to Canada, but most returned after the war. By 1990 the Hutterites number some 35,000 world-wide, found in about 350 Bruderhofs.

    Key Teachings

    The early Hutterites were exclusivistic, tending to regard themselves as the only true church. This was because they saw the true marks of the church as including the practice of community of goods. Hence they had a territorial view of the church. Converts were expected to travel to join with the true church/community. Often this required traveling great distances. Many converts were encouraged to leave behind their unbelieving spouses and children, though they were permitted to write to them to encourage them to come to the "paradise" of the Hutterite communities. Some leaders were also not adverse to sheep stealing from other Anabaptist groups. It is certain that the relative prosperity of the communities persuaded some poverty stricken individuals to become converts, but the practice of church discipline often weeded these out. The Hutterites were protected from the excesses of the Spiritulisers due to Hutter's background as an Evangelical Swiss Anabaptist with his resultant emphasis on Scripture as the sole authority. They avoided polygamy (the communism of wives), but did have a communal education system rather than children being raised in families. Marriages also were often arranged. Because the communistic system requires a certain amount of bureaucracy and organisation, the Hutterites moved away from a congregational to a semi-episcopal bishopric system of government.


    Following the debacle at Munster, the Anabaptist movement came under fierce persecution. The Melchiorites were disillusioned with the failure of their prophets, and the obvious exposure of them as false. It was at this time of lowest ebb, that God called Menno Simons to serve this despised movement. Menno was to so deeply influence the Melchiorite movement that it would abandon its spiritualist tendencies. Through his efforts in shaping Anabaptist thought and practice, almost the entire Anabaptist movement would eventually unite in a denomination that still bears his name. Such was his role, that many historians argue that he should be viewed as the fourth leading Reformer after Luther, Zwingly and Calvin.

    Key Individual

    Menno Simons (1496-1561): Born at Witmarsum, Friesland, Menno was trained for the priesthood and ordained in 1524 at the relatively late age of 28, taking up a Catholic vicariate in the village of Pingjum. In 1532 he became pastor. However, prior to this he had increasing doubts about Roman Catholicism. Starting from the late 1520s Menno began to have doubts concerning whether the bread and wine of the Eucharist was really the blood and flesh of Christ. His study of the Scriptures only increased his doubts. On the 20th march 1531 he witnessed the cruel execution of the Melchiorite Sicke Freercks (a disciple of Hofmann) which deeply distressed him. Wondering why a man would be willing to die for baptist practice, he began to study the Scriptures concerning baptism. As a result he began to doubt infant baptism as well. (This execution was also the turning point for Obbe Philips (1500?-1568) who became a key Anabaptist leader, and who baptised Menno - but who would eventually abandon the Anabaptist faith in 1540). In 1534, Menno had his first direct contact with Anabaptists, emissaries from Munster. Although impressed by their zeal, he vigorously opposed their fanaticism. However he was challenged as to his easy life-style and compromise in continuing to remain in the security and prosperity of his Catholic pastoral position. This pang of conscience was intensified upon hearing of the slaughter in April 1535 of 300 Munsterite Anabaptists who had sought shelter in a nearby abbey (one of whom was his brother). During that period he continued to examine the issue of infant baptism, and being unpersuaded by the writings of Luther, Zwingly and Calvin on the matter he began to suspect the despised Anabaptists were right. Finally he could stand it no longer - his conscience condemned him for standing by while so many helpless and deluded Anabaptists died. On Sunday, January 30 1536 (the same year Jacob Hutter died) he left his pulpit from which he had tried unsuccessfully for 9 months to preach his new faith. He fell in with the pacifistic Melchiorite Anabaptists under Obbe Philips, by whom he was baptised. For a while he doubted his role, and retired to East Friesland to think through his conversion. But while there he was approached by a delegation of Friesland Anabaptists who begged him to provide some leadership. Ordained an elder in Groningen in early 1537, Menno began his itinerant ministry of reforming the Dutch Anabaptists. As he became more well known, Menno was forced to travel secretly with his wife and family, constantly on the move, moving from congregation to congregation to teach and encourage. He became the most wanted person in the Europe of his day, but was never caught. At the same time he began a prolific writing career defending Anabaptist practice and doctrine, especially against post-Munster prophetic spiritualists, such as David Joris. In 1543, Menno left Holland for Northern Germany, where he was finally able to find protection, and for the next 18 years he continued to support the churches. His later years saw him involved in a dispute that split the movement. Argument arose as to how strictly the ban should be enforced, and to what extent the banned should be shunned. Eventually Menno sided with the strict party, which proceeded to "Ban" the moderates. The moderates (who became known as Waterlanders) then formed their own denomination. The Waterlanders were in many respects like modern baptists. Although still pacifists, they did allow for Christians to work in the state in non-military roles. They also viewed other churches as valid, though in error, even to the extent of allowing marriages with believers in the state churches. After a brief illness, Menno died at his home on January 31 1564 exhausted from his long struggle for the churches.

    Key Teachings

    Menno Simons took the Melchiorite movement back to the teachings of the original Swiss Evangelical Anabaptists with a strong emphasis on Scripture alone. Rejecting the "Inner Light" doctrine of the Spiritualists, Menno emphasised that the Holy Spirit's works of illumination, regeneration and sanctification came through the preached Word and the sacraments. As a result Menno also emphasised the visible church, along with church discipline. Membership was to be guarded by believer baptism and the "Ban". However, Menno was unable to shake off some of the Melchiorite doctrinal aberrations, such as the "Celestial Flesh" and soul-sleep doctrines. Even here though, he was prepared to go no further than the statements of Scripture, and refused to allow these doctrines to become a divisive matter.

    Mennonitism after Menno

    Even before Menno's death, discussions had begun with the moderate Evangelical Marpeckian Anabaptists regarding the unification of the movements. Although both sides were sympathetic to each other, the Marpeckians were still wary about the implications of the Celestial Flesh doctrines and the strictness of the Mennonite Ban. However, the differences between the Waterlanders, Mennonites, Marpeckians and the strict Swiss Anabaptists increasingly became one of emphasis rather than fundamental doctrinal issues, now that Spriritualism was abandoned. The movement began to merge into the Mennonite stream. Although there were tensions (the Waterlander schism) - essentially all these groups remained fundamentally united. Toleration was won for the Dutch Mennonites in 1572 under William of Orange, and many Mennonites became leading contributors to Dutch society. As late as 1650 200,000 belonged to the Mennonites. However, as persecution decreased, so did the spiritual vitality. From 160,000 members in 1700, the Dutch Mennonites suffered as they gradually abandoned their commitment to Sola Scriptura and embraced the rationalism and secularism of the Enlightenment. By 1873, there were only 15,300 members in Holland, but since this time there has been a substantial increase as the churches have moved to a less critical view of the Scriptures. Outside of Holland, the Marpeckians and Swiss Brethren had continued to suffer persecution. Many now called themselves Mennonites to associate themselves with the respectable connotations gained in Holland. Nevertheless, many groups were forced to emigrate, while some (such as the Amish who split of from the Swiss Mennonites in 1693-1697) took a solution akin to that of the Hutterites - the formation of self-sufficient communities. The first Mennonite migrants to the United States occurred in 1663, and ever since there has been a steady stream. By 1984, Mennonites world-wide numbered 700,000, and theological persuasions range from liberal to evangelical Arminian - with most emphasising religious freedom and pacifism.


    Doctrinal Critique & Application

    In conclusion, we give a doctrinal critique and application of Evangelical Anabaptism.


    Scriptural Doctrines Doctrinal Failings  Our Baptist Heritage
    Authority of Scripture (Word centred) Medieval state tradition over the Word 1; 21:2
    Gathered church State church 26:2, 4-5,7
    Congregationalism Clergy/presbyterial control 26:7,15
    Freedom of conscience State enforcement of official religion 21
    Separation of church and state  State as enforcer/protector of faith 21; 24 cf WCF 
    Regenerate church membership Mixed church membership 26:2,6
    Believer baptism Infant baptism (followed by confirmation or profession) 29:1-2
    Church discipline, especially the Ban (excommunication) Excommunication as a crime accompanied by civil punishments 26:7,12; 30:7-8
    Doctrinal Failings Scriptural Doctrines Our Reformed Heritage
    Practical denial of original sin (Christ's sacrifice removes it for all) Original sin 6
    Free-will in salvation (Semi-Pelagianism) Calvinism: TULIP 9-18
    Soul sleep until resurrection Soul present with God until resurrection 31:1
    Dualism: a suffering Church in a hostile world. Both are separate realms. God's Kingdom has entered the world and influences it (but this was often confused with State) 16; 22:6,8; 23; 24:2
    Law versus Grace. Law leads to grace and guides the gracious. 19:1-2,5-7; 21:3
    Pacifism. Christians cannot serve the state. Civil oaths are disallowed. Just War theory (the right of states to self defense). States are ordained by God, hence Christians can serve. Civil oaths valid. 23; 24
    Pre-millenialism: a coming age of the reign of the saints under Christ on earth. A-millennial: The reign of the saints = the gospel age (or the state church) 31:2; 32


     Learning from History

    Many of the ideals the Anabaptists died for have become what we take for granted. Yet they had many failings. Likewise, the Reformers held many truths, but also allowed a non-biblical tradition of 'Christendom' to influence them. The result is that both sides with which we have sympathies, committed grievous errors to the detriment of the gospel they sought to proclaim. In 1689 our spiritual forbears confirmed a Confession of Faith that was formulated to protect us from the errors of the past by declaring the truth. We would do well to learn from past mistakes which are so often repeated, by remembering our Confession.

    Sola Fide

    Anabaptists of all persuasions were agreed that the Church was built on faith in Christ alone. In this they had rediscovered the biblical truth that the local church is a visible manifestation of the universal and invisible spiritual body of God's Elect through faith. They sought to reconstitute the visible church upon New Testament lines, where the entrance was protected by believer baptism, and the church's purity kept through the use of the Ban and believer communion. From this, several implications follow:

    The 1689 Baptist Confession: Aware of this error, and committed to freedom of conscience, the framers of our 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith did not follow the Westminster Confession in advocating state enforced religion (see 1689 Chapters 21 and 24; cf the original text in the Westminster Confession of Faith). Baptists have never had to change their confessions to support freedom of religion.

    This Refutes today's errors:

    The 1689 Baptist Confession: Chapters 26:2,6,7 and 27

    This Refutes today's errors, for example:

    Sola Scriptura

    Let us learn from the tragedy of the Spiritualist Anabaptists who rejected this principle and relied on the 'Inner Word' of the Spirit. By the 1600's, despite the fact that at times the Spiritualists had threatened to overwhelm the Anabaptist movement, no remnants of the Spiritualist Anabaptists survived. It came to nothing (as did the 'Holiness' movement of the 18th Century, and the Montanists of the 2nd to 4th centuries, etc). Thousands had perished following the error and delusions of the Spiritualizers, and in the end the fruit of all their efforts was nothing. Only those Anabaptist groups that returned to Scripture ALONE as the source of God's Word survived. Likewise, despite massive persecution and the full support of the State, the Magisterialists were not able to prevent the acceptance of the truth of separation of Church and State that the Anabaptists proclaimed. That biblical truth is now accepted by all Western nations, and even many non-Western ones. In the words of Hubmaier: "Truth is immortal!" (On the Sword, 1527). God has promised to honour His Word where it is faithfully proclaimed and lived by the church.

    The 1689 Baptist Confession: Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures (especially paragraphs 1 and 6). Also 14:1.

    This Refutes today's errors, for example:

    Sola Gracia

    This was the area of greatest failure for the Anabaptists. By insisting on human "free"-will as the ultimate source of salvation, and practically denying original sin the Anabaptists (and most modern Baptists) created a seed-bed for an easy-believism which led to many spurious converts (such as Hut, Denck, etc), and later sucked the spiritual life from the churches. As a result, in terms of the doctrine of salvation, the Anabaptists were closer to Roman Catholicism with its co-operation of faith and works that the Reformation principle of Grace Alone.

    The 1689 Baptist Confession: Chapters 3-20.

    This Refutes today's errors, for example:

    Sadly today many groups descended from the original Anabaptists have lost their original zeal and become either cultural enclaves (Eg: Amish) or largely adopted the values of the society around as they became more tolerated and assimilated (Eg: liberal Mennonites today). May we strive to be different and " earnestly contend for the faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3).

    Dualism is another result of misunderstanding the role of Grace in salvation. Many set up OT Law (especially the 10 Commandments) over against grace. We are 'free' from Law, presumably to do what we like - or at best live the 'Law of Christ'. Rather than seeing God's Moral Law as reflecting God's Holy nature; the Ceremonial Law as continuing in Christ, and the principles behind the Civil Law continuing. Often this leads on to the misunderstanding that the OT saints were saved by obeying the Law (albeit in faith) - whereas Christians are saved by merely 'deciding for Christ' (='grace').

    The 1689 Baptist Confession: Chapters 16; 22:6,8; 23; 24:2

    This Refutes today's errors, for example:


    This has been a detailed study of a turbulent period in the Church's history. Let us be willing to learn from the mistakes of both the Magisterialists and the Anabaptists, for so many of those mistakes are still with us. Let us take the best of the past, tested by the Word, that we may stand in the present.


    This century has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of scholarly research on the Anabaptists. This has come about through a return to primary sources, which revealed the majority of Anabaptists to be pietistic, committed, individuals rather than the revolutionaries of previous histories. Consequently, there is now a wealth of material available. Some premier examples include:

  • Baylor, Michael G (ed.) (1991) The Radical Reformation. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. [Consists of extracts from primary source materials.]
  • Clasen, Claus Peter (1972)Anabaptism - a social history, 1525-1618: Switzerland , Moravia, South and Central Germany. Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
  • Estep, William Roscoe (1996) The Anabaptist story: an introduction to sixteenth-century Anabaptism. 3rd ed., rev. and enl. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans.
  • Verduin, Leonard (1964) The reformers and their stepchildren. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
  • Williams, George Huntston (1962) The Radical Reformation. Philadelphia, Westminster Press.
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