“Anabaptist” was the nickname given to a group of Christians in the sixteenth century. It simply meant one who baptizes again. A person could not be called a dirtier name in sixteenth century Christian Europe. By its enemies Anabaptism was regarded as a dangerous movement—a program for violent destruction of Europe’s religious and social institutions. Its practices were regarded as odd and anti-social; its beliefs as devil-inspired heresy. At other times and to other people Anabaptism has been an antique social curiosity, the first true fundamentalist movement, or a Christian movement— tough, resilient, and genuine because it was tied to the land and expressed in hard work and simple frugality. Still others have regarded it as the only consistent Protestantism which overcame the perversions of the church of Rome and brought Protestantism to the goal which Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, and John Calvin did not reach.

Anabaptism was a sixteenth-century religious movement which grew out of the popular and widespread religious and social discontent of that age. Its immediate source was the reform movement of Huldreich Zwingli that had begun in Zurich, Switzerland in 1519. Anabaptism began formally in 1525 and spread with great rapidity into nearly all European countries, but especially in the German and Dutch speaking areas of Central Europe.

It was never a unified movement if by unified we imply a common form of church order and common leadership. That was prevented from happening by the Anabaptist policy of congregational autonomy, by the fierce persecution which made Anabaptism become an underground movement, and by geographical barriers. Considerable differences therefore existed between the various Anabaptist groups in ...

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