- One of the four major dissenting groups that emerged during the Reformation, the Anabaptists were unique in rejecting the idea of an inclusive state church. Fiercely independent and combative, Anabaptists were unable to prevent repeated schisms and were eventually far less successful than Lutherans, Anglicans, or Reformed Protestants.The first Anabaptist fellowship was the Swiss Brethren of Zurich, who emerged in the mid-1520s. The movement spread through the German-speaking lands within a few years, and expanded to the other Protestant regions soon after.Anabaptists argued that the church should consist only of those who were old enough to make a conscious commitment to faith in Christ and a life derived from that faith. They refused to baptize infants. Rejecting any alliance with the secular government, they had no means of coercing members, apart from the tool of disfellowship-ping (usually called "banning").The movement soon became home to a wide variety of opinions. It was greatly embarrassed by the violence associated with the followers of Thomas Munzer and with the communalists who attempted to build an end-time society of MunSTER, Germany. In reaction to the violence, the authorities killed many Anabaptists, who responded by adopting statements opposed to any violent activity; in fact, most of them became pacifists. The states defined the role of the magistrate as the keeper of the social order and reaffirmed their belief in core Christian principles.Many first-generation Anabaptist leaders became martyrs; most believers left their homes to seek havens in the Netherlands and a few tolerant German states. In the late 1530s, Menno Simons welded the majority of the Anabaptists into the major surviving group, the Mennonites. Only a few other small groups, such as the Schwenkfelder Church, continue in the contemporary world.See also Radical Reformation.Further reading:■ Cornelius Krahn, Dutch Anabap-tism: Origin, Spread, Life, and Thought (1450-1600) (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968)■ C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 1995)■ J. Denny Weaver, Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1987)■ George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation (Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal, 1992).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.