The Anabaptists: Did You Know?
Anabaptists are the originators of the “free church.” Separation of church and state was an unthinkable and radical notion when it was introduced by the Anabaptists. Likewise their defense of religious liberty was regarded as an invitation to anarchy.
In the court records of 16th century South and Central Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, only 12,522 Anabaptists can be counted. Their numbers were never very large, yet they managed to populate 2088 towns and villages of that region!
Protestantism did not make inroads without the backing of princes and powers of state. From the beginning Anabaptism was an underground movement that lost virtually all its leaders in the first two years.
It was partly because of Anabaptism that Protestant churches adopted the confirmation service, and baptismal registers (the boon of genealogists) came into being.
A 16th century man who did not drink to excess, curse, or abuse his workmen or family could be suspected of being an Anabaptist and thus persecuted.
Anabaptists were the first reformers to practice church discipline. Under their influence the Reformer Martin Bucer attempted without success to introduce discipline into the church in Strassburg. He succeeded in convincing John Calvin, who was able to establish church discipline in Geneva. Without knowing when the Anabaptist Schleitheim Confession was formulated, Calvin read it in 1544 and concluded “these unfortunate and ungrateful people have learned this teaching and some other correct views from us.” Calvin was an 18-year-old Catholic at the time of Schleitheim.
Direct decendants of Anabaptists today number 730,000 in 57 countries, with the largest numbers in North America, Zaire, Indonesia, and the U.S.S.R. Over half live in third world ...