The Anabaptist’s Role in the Radical Reformation

Posted on November 17, 2011 by


Europe’s reformation is one of the defining events in religious history. This major event began in 1517 in Wittenberg, Saxony, when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the door of the Castle Church, protesting the catholic church’s doctrine, which consisted of rituals and payments for sins. From then until 1648 the reformation made a huge mark in Europe’s church system. At the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther articulated a doctrine of the two kingdoms, marking the beginning of the modern conception of separation of church and state, which refers to the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state. Protestant’s and Catholics differed in many ways but the main topic of controversy was the way in which each church dealt with repentance of sins. On one hand the Catholics said only a priest could save you, and that you must pay money for the sins you have committed. On the other hand, the Protestants said that divine grace and faith is the only way to be saved from your sins. Due to the revolt of the Protestant church against the Catholic church, many other small religions were either created or tried to revolt against the Catholics in their own way. Of all the possible religions which rebelled against the catholic church I chose the Anabaptist’s, part of the radical reformation. I decided to focus in on Anabaptism (modern day Mennonites) because of their interesting and extreme belief’s. Anabaptist’s got their name from the Latin term anabaptista, or “one who baptizes over again”, in reference to practicing adult baptism. They believed that they had received direct revelation from God telling them to reform their church and spiritual guidance to a religion centered on a desire to return to certain basic teachings of Jesus Christ.

They formed a policy of nonviolence and nonresistance, considered it wrong to swear oaths, and other beliefs. They were most famously known for believing those who had already been baptized as infants did not count as true believers of God, but that one must choose to be baptized when he or she can make the decision for themselves. Anabaptist’s were hunted and persecuted at first, and many mocked them because of their belief’s. The main mindset of Anabaptism is composed in The Schleitheim Confession of Faith written in 1527 by a group of Swiss Anabaptist’s. In this primary source, the belief’s and views of Anabaptist’s are stated, and how they differed from the belief’s of the protestant and catholic churches. These were the considered guidelines of Anabaptist’s and the rules by which all true Anabaptist’s lived by. It consists of seven articles exposing the views of Anabaptist’s. First the document addresses baptism stating, “Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life and who believe truly that their sins are taken away by Christ” (The Schleitheim Confession of Faith, Article 1). Anabaptist’s believed one should be baptized when they were old enough to decide for themselves they believed in Christ and truly repented for all their sins. To me, this doesn’t sound to radical of an idea, but in the 1500’s there was major controversy over the idea. The following article talks of Excommunication and the open punishment of believers who have sinned more than twice in their life. Article three talks about the breaking of the bread explaining that one must be baptized and has openly committed to this religion before partaking in the feast of god, or communion. The Anabaptists believed in two classes, believer’s and non-believers, and desired an extreme separation between the two, pointing out the people who were not Anabaptist to be the evil or dark ones. The final articles of the Confession of Faith include communal ownership of material possessions, non-violence, a complete separation of church and state, an article concerning the rejection of oaths, and a desire to return to the simple pattern of daily life that existed in biblical times.

These beliefs were a rebellion against both the previous catholic structure of churches and the Protestant structure. Anabaptist’s created their own new view of religion and a totally different take on the Bible itself. This primary source outlines the views the Anabaptist’s held on the reformation and how opposing churches were exploiting religion by combining it with the state and involving money. Anabaptist’s were adamant about their belief that church and state should be separate, claiming it to be ungodly to combine money with the repentance of ones sins. They founded this belief on the passage from  (John 15:19; 17:11-16) interpreting the meaning as:

The Church and state are two separate organizations with separate responsibilities and functions. The government is ordained of God to maintain order in society, while the mission of the Church in the world is to glorify God and lead others to faith and trust in Him.

The entire reformation was based on the fact that church and state were causing controversy and exploiting the purpose of the church. Anabaptist’s play a huge role in this by starting their own religion and therefore rebelling against the catholic and Protestant churches. It is also important to note that the Anabaptists were first persecuted by the Protestants under Zwingli. He may have been afraid that the existence of several rival versions of Protestant’s would harm his chances of accomplishing any reform, so therefore he declared re-baptizing a capital crime.

Although the Anabaptist’s were known as non-violent people, this did not stop others from acting out violently against them. On May 20, 1527, Michael Sattler, one of the authors of The Schleitheim Confession of Faith, was executed by Catholic authorities. Thousands of other Anabaptist’s were burned and many usually drowned, mimicking the Anabaptist’s by giving them a “third baptism” ending in their death. The extreme reaction to these non-violent reformers begs the question of acceptance in the time of the reformation. Today re-baptizing is a common practice, and most Christians find it to be an important part of religion and one’s acceptance of God into their lives. Anabaptist’s, although not accepted at the time, in my view changed the outcome of the reformation by exposing people to a religion based off the scriptures in the Bible, and radical beliefs which caught people’s attention. Today, these beliefs do not seem radical, but moreover, rational. The fact that they were non-violent disassociates the word ‘radical’ with them completely. The Anabaptists clearly had influence over many people during the reformation, and some traits of Anabaptism are still carried on today. This form of radical reformation formed the reformation in its own small way, but without Anabaptism in the 1600’s, today’s religious society would be much different.

Lindberg, Carter. The European Reformation Sourcebook. MA: Blackwell, 2000. 302. Print.

“The Schleitheim Confession .”Anabaptists. (1985): n. page. Print. <;.


“Pre-Anabaptist History.” All About Baptists. n. page. Print. <;.

Mishra, Patit Paban. “Protestant Reformation.” In Ackermann, Marsha E., Michael Schroeder, Janice J. Terry, Jiu-Hwa Lo Upshur, and Mark F. Whitters, eds.Encyclopedia of World History: The First Global Age, 1450 to 1750, vol. 3. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2008. Modern World History Online. Facts On File, Inc.
ItemID=WE53&iPin=WHIII253&SingleRecord=True (accessed November 11, 2011).

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