There were three big names involved beginning the Protestant Reformation—Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. Out of the third and least known of the big three, Zwingli, came The Anabaptist movement, which is also called the Radical Reformation (radical from the Latin, radix, meaning “root”). The Radical reformers believed that Luther and Zwingli failed to get at the root of the problem in their reforms of Roman Catholicism—i.e., the union of church and state. They often referred to themselves simply as “The Brethern.”
The Anabaptists believed the church needed to follow the practices of the New Testament church. They refused military service. They taught that Christians must adhere strictly to the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, no matter what the consequence of following that sermon might be. They also believed and taught that Christians should help the poor. They rejected the doctrine of predestination.
One central tenet of the Anabaptist was a rejection of infant baptism, insisting on the baptism of adults. Mark Noll writes, “The Anabaptists rejection of infant baptism and their insistence upon adult baptism after an individual professon of faith grew out of a desire to distinguish Christianity from state citizenship, as well as from a fresh interpretation of teaching about baptism in the NT. As much as Anabaptist teachings anticipated later Western convictions about the separation of church and state, at least in the sixteenth century their beliefs were regarded by Catholics and Portestants alike as grave threats to the stability of European Christian society.” Thus, the Anabaptists were heavily persecuted. Other Protestant groups and the Catholic Church both persecuted the Anabaptists.
The Anabaptists were strict pacifist. One story is told of an Anabaptist who was being chased by someone who wanted to arrest him and execute him. The Anabaptist escaped over a frozen lake. His pursuer followed over the ice. The ice broke and the pursuer fell into the freezing water. The Anabaptist stopped and rescued his pursuer. The pursuer arrested the Anabaptist, took him back to town, and executed the Anabaptist for his religious convictions.
Some Anabaptists believed the end was at hand. They established towns where they strictly enforced the rules of the town. This group gave up on pacifism and embraced arms to protect their town. The best example of this occurred in Munster. They declared the city the “New Jerusalem.” John Leiden proclaimed himself king. He proclaimed that polygamy would be practiced. Some citizens grew restless with Leiden and his regime, so they opened the gates of the city to Catholic forces and they conquered the city and tortured and executed the king and the leaders of the movement.
Their confession was affirmed on Feb. 24, 1527, and is known as the Schleitheim Confession. It contains seven articles:
- Believers baptism over infant baptism.
- A ban for those “who slip and fall into error and sin” after being privately admonished twice.”
- The Lord’s supper is for believers only.
- It affirms the separation “from the evil and from the wickedness which the devil planted in the world.” Separation from all things “popish” and “drinking houses” and “civic affairs.”
- It downplayed the formal training of ministers asking them to rely on the Holy Spirit instead. (Luther strongly disagreed with this. He believed the clergy must be trained. He said you wouldn’t rely on a doctor that just trusts the Spirit.)
- The confession asserts pacifism. “The government magistracy is according to the flesh, but the Christian’s is according to the Spirit; their house and dwelling remain in this world, but the Christians’ citizenship is in heaven; the weapons of their conflict on war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christian’s weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the evil.” Therefore, Christians belong to the kingdom of God and should have no dealings with the kingdoms of this world.
- Christians should not take oaths. Christians could not “pledge their allegiance.”
The confession says, “Eliminate from you that which is evil and the Lord will be your God and you will be His sons and daughters.” They believed in separating from culture and society. As a means of discipline, they shunned people.
Michael Sattler was the primary author of the confession. In 1524, he left the Catholic church (Benedictine Order) and in June was baptized in Zurich. After writing the confession, he was tracked by the army of Archduke Ferdinand. He was arrested and brought to trail in Rottenburg. On May 21, 1527 he was brutally tortured and then burned at the stake at the hands of Roman Catholic and civil authorities. His wife was drowned just over a week later on May 29.
What do you think our movement has in common with the Anabaptists? What are the differences between our groups? I must say that I appreciate their desire to follow the Bible in a strict and radical manner. They were so committed to their cause that they were willing to die for it. How about you?