Who were the Anabaptists?

The Anabaptists were the predecessors to the Amish, Mennonites, and a number of other Christian groups

anabaptist menno simonsThe Anabaptists were a religious group which developed a set of beliefs counter to the dominant Catholic Church.  Anabaptist beliefs also set them apart from Protestant reformers.

When and where did the Anabaptists begin?

The Anabaptist movement began in Zurich in Switzerland in 1525 as an offshoot of the Protestant reformation.  Protestant reformers such as Ulrich Zwingli, despite his impetus to reform, nonetheless felt that the church should subordinate itself to the state in reform matters.  His students Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and Georg Blaurock objected to this approach, feeling the church should be independent of state power.

A particular sticking point for these early reformers was the issue of infant baptism.  Despite efforts to reach a compromise, Zwingli and the reformers were not able to resolve their issues.  In January of 1525, the Zurich City Council instituted legal requirements of infant baptism, with fines for those who failed to do so.  In response, Grebel, Manz, and Blaurock re-baptized each other and their followers in secret at Manz’s home a few days later on January 21, 1525, and began the Anabaptist movement.

What did the Anabaptists believe?

Anabaptists believed in a number of  tenets which conflicted with Church and state authority, including adult baptism.  The name “Anabaptist” was originally a derogatory name meaning “rebaptizer”.  Anabaptists also believed in non-resistance, which prevented them from serving in state militaries.  Anabaptists subscribed to a number of other doctrines, including social shunning for excommunicated members.

State persecution

Anabaptists meeting on a boat

The State Church saw the Anabaptists as a threat.  Infant baptism was a means of controlling the populace, as children were entered into state records.  Anabaptist demands for adult baptism and other changes to the state church, including challenges to priestly authority, were seen as upsetting the established order.  Anabaptist refusal to bear arms was considered seditious and threatening to security in the face of external threats.

As a result, both Protestant and Catholic authorities persecuted Anabaptists, capturing, torturing, and killing many over the ensuing decades.  The book Martyrs Mirror, by Thieleman J. van Braght, is an account of the martyrdom of numerous Christians, including early Anabaptists.  The Martyrs Mirror is well-known among Amish.  The martyr tradition of Anabaptism influences the way that Amish and other descendants view their place in the world today.

Which groups fall under the Anabaptist umbrella?

The Amish and Mennonite traditions eventually emerged from the Anabaptist movement in the late 1600s.  In addition to the Amish, numerous other groups including Mennonites, Hutterites, and Brethren can be included as descendants of the Anabaptists.  The term Anabaptist is still used to describe these groups, many of which still share similar doctrines of non-resistance, adult baptism, and social shunning.

For more information, see:

A History of the Amish, Steven M. Nolt

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    1. Sydney

      Were Quakers also considered anabaptists?

    2. Quakers Anabaptists?

      Hi Sydney, Quakers were a separate movement from the Anabaptists. Like Amish and other Anabaptists, they have traditionally been considered a peace church (believing in non-resistance).

    3. Mark FitzGerald

      Quakers Anabaptists

      Not to contradict, but Quakers do not believe in non-resistance. They are pacifists. The two are not the same. Non-resistance covers one’s entire life choices while pacifism is confined to war and peace issues. Pacifism also usually includes political action such as non-violent resistance. Non-resistance precludes any political activity.

    4. Paula


      I’m 65, & have always felt a strange pull to Anabaptists, though I was raised Catholic. I always thought they “have the right idea”.

      Imagine my surprise when I discovered about a year ago that my ancestors were Anabaptists, having come here in 1707 from Germany after persecution there for their religion. 3 brothers came to VA on the Friend Ship, one of them stowed in a barrel.

      Throughout this ancestry book, throughout the next 200 yrs (the book was published in 1907 by Joseph Wenger, a descendant of another family who travelled with them), my ancestors are described as Mennonite & Brethren, often as church leaders, elders, ministers. My great x’s many grand father was a founder of New Bremen OH. The families went mostly to Hocking County OH, some to Iowa, some to NC.

      Some years ago I was the event coordinator for a store & I decided to have an “Amish Fair”, bringing in Amish from Holmes County with quilts, quilters, baked goods, furniture, etc. At the end of the weekend Mattie came to me & said “Miss Paula, come join us…you have an Amish heart”. I replied “oh Miss Mattie, I’m too spoiled. I have to have my hair dryer”. We all laughed, but to this day it is the nicest compliment I’ve ever had.

      I am enjoying understanding more & more through your columns. I have visited many Amish communities, but I have a deeper understanding & to be sure…a validation of something that I’ve always felt. And lots of pride.!

      1. Melanie Cameron


        Did those 3 brothers have the last name “Bower”? If so, I believe we are related.