Radical Reformation

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The Radical Reformation represented a response to corruption both in the Catholic Church and in the expanding Magisterial Protestant movement led by Martin Luther and many others. Beginning in Germany and Switzerland in the 16th century, the Radical Reformation gave birth to many radical Protestant groups throughout Europe. The term covers radical reformers like Thomas Müntzer and Andreas Karlstadt, the Zwickau prophets, and Anabaptist groups like the Hutterites and the Mennonites.


In Germany, Switzerland and Austria, a majority sympathized with the Radical Reformation despite intense persecution. [1] Although the surviving proportion of the European population that rebelled against Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed Churches was small, Radical Reformers wrote profusely, and the literature on the Radical Reformation is disproportionately large, partly as a result of the proliferation of the Radical Reformation teachings in the United States. [2] [ page needed ]


Schleitheim Confession printed in 1550, displayed in the Anabaptist Room of the Local History Museum in Schleitheim, Switzerland. Schleitheimer Bekenntnis Druck 1550 ausgestellt im Tauferzimmer des Heimatmuseums Schleitheim.jpg
Schleitheim Confession printed in 1550, displayed in the Anabaptist Room of the Local History Museum in Schleitheim, Switzerland.

Some early forms of the Radical Reformation were millenarian, focusing on the imminent end of the world. This was particularly notable in the rule of John of Leiden over the city of Münster in 1535, which was ultimately crushed by the combined forces of the Catholic Bishop of Münster and the Lutheran Landgrave of Hesse. [3] After the Munster rebellion, the small group of the Batenburgers continued to adhere to militant Anabaptist beliefs. Non-violent Anabaptist groups also had millenarian beliefs.

The early Anabaptists believed that their reformation must purify both theology and the lives of Christians, especially their political and social relationships. [4] Therefore, the church should not be supported by the state, neither by tithes and taxes, nor by the use of the sword; Christianity was a matter of individual conviction, which could not be forced on anyone, but rather required a personal decision for it. [4]

Many groups were influenced by Biblical literalism (like the Swiss Brethren), spiritualism (like the south German Anabaptists) and mainly absolute pacifism (like the Swiss Brethren, the Hutterites and the Mennonites from northern Germany and the Netherlands). The Hutterites also practiced community of goods. In the beginning, most of them were strongly missionary.

Later forms of Anabaptism

Later forms[ clarification needed ] of Anabaptism were much smaller and focused on the formation of small, separatist communities. Among the many varieties to develop were Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites.

Typical among the new leaders of the later Anabaptist movement, and certainly the most influential of them, was Menno Simons, a Dutch Catholic priest who early in 1536 decided to join the Anabaptists. [5] Simons had no use for the violence advocated and practiced by the Münster movement, which seemed to him to pervert the very heart of Christianity. [5] Thus, Mennonite pacifism is not merely a peripheral characteristic of the movement, but rather belongs to the very essence of Menno's understanding of the gospel; this is one of the reasons that it has been a constant characteristic of all Mennonite bodies through the centuries. [5]

The Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation continue to inspire current community groups such as the Bruderhof and movements such as Urban Expression in the UK. [6] [7]

Non-Anabaptist Radical Reformers

Though most of the Radical Reformers were Anabaptist, some did not identify themselves with the mainstream Anabaptist tradition. Thomas Müntzer was involved in the German Peasants' War. Andreas Karlstadt disagreed theologically with Huldrych Zwingli and Martin Luther, teaching nonviolence and refusing to baptize infants while not rebaptizing adult believers. [8] Kaspar Schwenkfeld and Sebastian Franck were influenced by German mysticism and spiritualism.

Other movements

In addition to the Anabaptists, other Radical Reformation movements have been identified. Notably, George Huntston Williams, the great categorizer of the Radical Reformation, considered early forms of Unitarianism (such as that of the Socinians, and exemplified by Michael Servetus as well as the Polish Brethren), and other trends that disregarded the Nicene Christology still accepted by most Christians, as part of the Radical Reformation. With Servetus and Faustus Socinus, anti-Trinitarianism came to the foreground. [9]


The beliefs of the movement are those of the Believers' Church. [10] Unlike the Catholics and the more Magisterial Lutheran and Reformed (Zwinglian and Calvinist) Protestant movements, some of the Radical Reformation abandoned the idea that the "Church visible" was distinct from the "Church invisible." [11] Thus, the Church only consisted of the tiny community of believers who accepted Jesus Christ and demonstrated this by adult baptism, called "believer's baptism".

While the magisterial reformers wanted to substitute their own learned elite for the learned elite of the Catholic Church, the radical Protestant groups rejected the authority of the institutional "church" organization, almost entirely, as being unbiblical. As the search for original Christianity was carried further, it was claimed that the tension between the church and the Roman Empire in the first centuries of Christianity was normative,[ clarification needed ] that the church is not to be allied with government sacralism, that a true church is always subject to be persecuted, and that the conversion of Constantine I was, therefore, the Great Apostasy that marked a deviation from pure Christianity. [12]

See also

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anabaptism</span> Non-conformist Christian movement

Anabaptism is a Christian movement which traces its origins to the Radical Reformation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mennonites</span> Anabaptist groups originating in Western Europe

Mennonites are groups of Anabaptist Christian church communities of denominations. The name is derived from the founder of the movement, Menno Simons (1496–1561) of Friesland. Through his writings about Reformed Christianity during the Radical Reformation, Simons articulated and formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders, with the early teachings of the Mennonites founded on the belief in both the mission and ministry of Jesus, which the original Anabaptist followers held with great conviction, despite persecution by various Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant states. Formal Mennonite beliefs were codified in the Dordrecht Confession of Faith in 1632, which affirmed "the baptism of believers only, the washing of the feet as a symbol of servanthood, church discipline, the shunning of the excommunicated, the non-swearing of oaths, marriage within the same church", strict pacifistic physical nonresistance, anti-Catholicism and in general, more emphasis on "true Christianity" involving "being Christian and obeying Christ" however they interpret it from the Holy Bible.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hutterites</span> Ethno-religious group since the 16th century; a communal branch of Anabaptists

Hutterites, also called Hutterian Brethren, are a communal ethnoreligious branch of Anabaptists, who, like the Amish and Mennonites, trace their roots to the Radical Reformation of the early 16th century and have formed intentional communities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Schleitheim Confession</span> Statement of Anabaptist principles

The Schleitheim Confession was the most representative statement of Anabaptist principles, by a group of Swiss Anabaptists in 1527 in Schleitheim, Switzerland. The real title is Brüderliche vereynigung etzlicher Kinder Gottes siben Artickel betreffend ....

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Plain people</span> Simple lifestyle Christians

Plain people are Christian groups characterized by separation from the world and by simple living, including plain dressing in modest clothing. Many Plain people have an Anabaptist background. These denominations are largely of German, Swiss German and Dutch ancestry, though people of diverse backgrounds have been incorporated into them. Conservative Friends are traditional Quakers who are also considered plain people; they come from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christian denomination</span> Identifiable Christian body with common characteristics

A Christian denomination is a distinct religious body within Christianity that comprises all church congregations of the same kind, identifiable by traits such as a name, particular history, organization, leadership, theological doctrine, worship style and sometimes a founder. It is a secular and neutral term, generally used to denote any established Christian church. Unlike a cult or sect, a denomination is usually seen as part of the Christian religious mainstream. Most Christian denominations self-describe themselves as churches, whereas some newer ones tend to interchangeably use the terms churches, assemblies, fellowships, etc. Divisions between one group and another are defined by authority and doctrine; issues such as the nature of Jesus, the authority of apostolic succession, biblical hermeneutics, theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and papal primacy may separate one denomination from another. Groups of denominations—often sharing broadly similar beliefs, practices, and historical ties—are sometimes known as "branches of Christianity". These branches differ in many ways, especially through differences in practices and belief.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Old Order River Brethren</span>

The Old Order River Brethren are a River Brethren denomination of Anabaptist Christianity with roots in the Radical Pietist movement. As their name indicates, they are Old Order Anabaptists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conrad Grebel</span> Co-founder of the Swiss Brethren movement (1498–1526)

Conrad Grebel, son of a prominent Swiss merchant and councilman, was a co-founder of the Swiss Brethren movement.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Felix Manz</span> Co-founder of the Swiss Brethren movement (1498–1527)

Felix Manz was an Anabaptist, a co-founder of the original Swiss Brethren congregation in Zürich, Switzerland, and the first martyr of the Radical Reformation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anabaptist theology</span>

Anabaptist theology, also known as Anabaptist doctrine, is a theological tradition reflecting the doctrine of the Anabaptist Churches. The major branches of Anabaptist Christianity agree on core doctrines but have nuances in practice. While the adherence to doctrine is important in Anabaptist Christianity, living righteously is stressed to a greater degree.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zwickau prophets</span> Three men of the Radical Reformation in Saxony, Holy Roman Empire (16th century)

The Zwickau Prophets were three men of the Radical Reformation from Zwickau in the Electorate of Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire, who were possibly involved in a disturbance in nearby Wittenberg and its evolving Reformation in early 1522.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Swiss Brethren</span> Branch of Anabaptism

The Swiss Brethren are a branch of Anabaptism that started in Zürich, spread to nearby cities and towns, and then was exported to neighboring countries. Today's Swiss Mennonite Conference can be traced to the Swiss Brethren.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Believer's baptism</span> Person is baptized on the basis of their profession of faith in Jesus Christ

Believer's baptism or adult baptism is the practice of baptizing those who are able to make a conscious profession of faith. It is an essential doctrine of the Believers' Church.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Protestantism:

A Seeker is a person likely to join an Old Order Anabaptist community, like the Amish, the Old Order Mennonites, the Hutterites, the Old Order Schwarzenau Brethren or the Old Order River Brethren. Among the 500,000 members of such communities in the United States there are only an estimated 1,200 to 1,300 outsiders who have joined them.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Old Order Anabaptism</span> Branch of Anabaptist Christianity

Old Order Anabaptism encompasses those groups which have preserved the old ways of Anabaptist Christian religion and lifestyle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charity Ministries</span>

Charity Ministries, also called Charity Christian Fellowship, is an Conservative Anabaptist network of churches that was formed in 1982 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The believers' Church is a theological doctrine of Evangelical Christianity that teaches that one becomes a member of the Church by new birth and profession of faith. Adherence to this doctrine is a common feature of defining an Evangelical Christian church.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conservative Anabaptism</span>

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  1. Horsch, John (1995). Mennonites in Europe. Herald Press. p. 299. ISBN   978-0836113952.
  2. Euan Cameron (2012). The European Reformation (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-873093-4.
  3. Donald B. Kraybill, Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites, JHU Press, USA, 2010, p. 12
  4. 1 2 Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 88.
  5. 1 2 3 Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 96.
  6. "Why the Bruderhof is not a cult – by Bryan Wilson | Cult And Sect | Religion And Belief". Scribd. Retrieved 2017-07-12.
  7. "Eberhard Arnold: Founder of the Bruderhof". www.eberhardarnold.com. Retrieved 2017-05-25.
  8. Hein, Gerhard. "Karlstadt, Andreas Rudolff-Bodenstein von (1486–1541).". Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  9. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought, 101.
  10. Donald B. Kraybill, Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites, JHU Press, US, 2010, p. 25 [ ISBN missing ]
  11. Robert S. Ellwood, Gregory D. Alles, The Encyclopedia of World Religions, Infobase Publishing, US, 2007, p. 912 [ ISBN missing ]
  12. Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought (Abingdon: Nashville, 1975) [ ISBN missing ]

Further reading