Anabaptism refers to a series of Reformation-era movements that was a part of what is commonly called nobles (an aberration of Christian teaching that that at the end time, God would judge the unrighteous). This eventually led to armed conflict that was put down in April 1525.

For his part in it, Müntzer was tortured and killed. In January 1525, Zwingli and Grebel held a disputation in Zürich to debate Baptism, with Zwingli prevailing. Grebel left Zürich, and by October he was imprisoned for his beliefs. He escaped in March 1526 and died of the plague that summer.

In 1527, a group of Anabaptists, whose followers were called the Swiss Brethren, met in Schleitheim, Switzerland, and adopted the Schleitheim Confession. In it, seven articles described the basic theology of the Anabaptist movement—adult baptism, the “ban” (expulsion from the church of unfaithful believers), a definition of the Lord’s Supper, separation from the world, a definition of the office of the pastor, refusal to take part in military service, and refusal to swear an oath. The author, Michael Sattler, was subsequently put to death for his beliefs. Many of his fellow participants were eventually killed.

Later that year, in Augsburg, Germany, a different group of Anabaptists connected with Zwickau, led by Hans Hut, Hans Denck, and Melchior Hoffmann, met in Augsburg. This so-called Martyrs Synod (of the 60 attendees, only two were alive five years later) emphasized the imminent return of Christ (some thought in 1528), along with a communal sharing of goods.


In the coming years, many Anabaptists were executed as heretics for their beliefs. Both their view on baptism and their view on refusing military arms were grounds for punishment. Some were drowned as a mockery of their view of baptism (which the Anabaptists defined as full immersion).

Many fled to nearby Moravia, where a substantial community was established under the leadership of Jacob Hutter. Hutter was captured and burned at the stake in Austria in 1536 for refusing to renounce his faith.

The burning of a 16th-century Dutch Anabaptist, Anneken Hendriks
The burning of a 16th-century Dutch Anabaptist, Anneken Hendriks

The culmination of the extreme wing of Anabaptism was the rise of the Münster Commune in 1534–35. Followers of Melchior Hoffman made their way to this German city and in a series of bizarre episodes, took over the city, forcibly converting townspeople to Anabaptism and eventually instituting polygamy and the “Kingdom of Münster” until the city was conquered in 1535.

After 1536, there were fewer violent episodes, though Anabaptists were persecuted by Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed alike. Anabaptists found new leaders, most notably Menno Simmons, a former Catholic priest who became an Anabaptist in 1536 in the Netherlands. His followers were called Mennonites.

The followers in Moravia, called Hutterites (after Jacob Hutter), were led by Peter Riedeman. By 1600, there were over 15,000 Hutterites in Moravia. The Amish were a group of Mennonites who, under the leadership of Jacob Amman in 1693, separated from the other Mennonite churches in Switzerland. Many migrated to Pennsylvania in the early 1700s.

While some Baptist denominations can trace their origins to Anabaptist influence, most Baptist denominations trace their origins to the English Reformation and the Puritan movement in the later 1500s and early 1600s. While both Baptist and Anabaptist would practice adult or “believer’s” baptism, Baptists would not have the same emphasis on nonviolence or separation from the world.

Today, the largest grouping of Anabaptists is the Mennonites, with around 1,250,000 followers throughout the world. The Amish number around 120,000 and are located primarily in the United States with a small number in Canada. The Hutterites number around 10,000 and are located in the United States and Canada.

All of these groups share the foundational beliefs and characterizations of the Anabaptists, being separate from the world around them, not serving in the military, and refusing to take oaths. The Amish and Hutterites still practice a strong communal approach to possessions.