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Continental European Protestantism


Doctrines The term Anabaptist (rebaptiser) was applied to a radical movement that emerged during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Their beliefs differed from those of mainstream Protestantism in a number of key areas. The most important of these was the rejection of infant baptism. Claiming that there is no New Testament basis for the baptism of infants, the Anabaptists believed that baptism was only effective when undertaken by adults who had experienced conversion and openly confessed their faith.
This doctrine had important implications for the Anabaptist view of the church. They believed that the church should consist only of baptised regenerated believers - unlike other Protestant movements, which allied themselves with the local political authorities and regarded all those under their jurisdiction as within the church. No one, therefore, should be forced to join the church against their will. The church and state should be absolutely separate from one another. Christians should not take up arms, involve themselves with civil governments or take any form of oath.

History The Anabaptists belonged to the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation. The movement originated in Zurich in 1523 among a group who were originally followers of the Reformer Huldrych Zwingli. This group felt that Zwingli was progressing too slowly in reforming the Swiss church, particularly in his failure to abolish the Mass. In early 1526, in defiance of the Zurich authorities, some members of the movement were baptised and established themselves as a separate religious community.
Persecution soon followed. On 7 March 1526 the Zurich council decreed that Anabaptists were to be drowned, and the following June Felix Manz, one of the movement's founders, was martyred through drowning. Such persecutions led the Anabaptists to flee Switzerland and to spread their beliefs into Germany, Moravia and Holland.
Flight, however, did not bring relief from persecution. Hans Hut, the leader of the congregation in Augsburg, died in 1527. Balthasar Hubmaier, one of the original founders of the movement in Zurich, was executed in Vienna in 1528. The city of Munster, which had come under the control of the Anabaptists, was destroyed by German princes and its leaders tortured and killed.
After 1535 the pace of persecution was increased, leaving only remnants of the original movement in Holland, northern Germany and Moravia. These groups came to be known as Mennonites and Hutterites after their leaders Menno Simons and Jacob Hutter. They survive today in North America, Latin America and other parts of the world.

Symbols Anabaptist use the same sacramental symbols as other Protestant groups; namely, baptism and bread and wine. However, the sacramental theology is quite different. Baptism involves full immersion in water in imitation of the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan and is undertaken only by those mature enough to profess faith. The Roman Catholic Mass and doctrine of transubstantiation are repudiated. Instead, the Lord's Supper is simply treated as a memorial meal.

Adherents See Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites.

Main Centre
 It is not possible to talk of an Anabaptist headquarters because the movement was too disparate. However, the movement came to be particularly associated with the city of Zurich, where it emerged, and Munster, where an extreme form of the movement became dominant.