The Anabaptists are sometimes called the Third Wing of the Reformation. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries
when the Reformation was taking place, the two primary groups that arose out of the Reformation were the Lutherans and Reformers.
But certain followers of these two groups were not at all satisfied with the break that was made from Rome.
In Zurich, Switzerland in 1525, the early Anabaptist movement begin. Three men by the names of Conrad Grebel,
Felix Manz, and George Blaurock along with a few others started their own movement. The largest point of contention between
these men and other reformers was their conviction against infant baptism. These men boldly re-baptized adult believers who
had been baptized as infants. For this reason, they were called Anabaptists, or re-baptizers, by their enemies. This group
termed themselves 'Brethren' however, a name which is retained by the Anabaptist churches in Switzerland to this day.
The Swiss government/church, saw the Brethren as a threat, since they taught against infant baptism and sought
to destroy the movement. Everything short of the death penalty was tried; torture, imprisonment, and exile were common punishments
for those who associated with the Brethren. Finally, in 1527, the death penalty was applied to members of the Brethren. The
Brethren sought refuge in other countries as well, but everywhere they went, the church controlled governments sought to eradicate
them. For three hundred years, the Swiss government carried out their campaign against the Brethren to no avail. To this day
there still exist Brethren churches in Switzerland.
In other countries, the Brethren did not fare so well. In South Germany and Austrie, the Brethren were forced
to flee. Only one branch of the Brethren church, the Hutterites remained until the late eighteenth century when they were
forced to flee to Russia.
Persecution of the Anabaptists was widespread, and was conducted by both the Roman Catholic church governments,
and the Lutheran and Reformed church governments. Henry VII executed large numbers of Anabaptists in England, and it is estimated
that under Mary I, almost eighty percent of all executions were Anabaptists. The largest reason for this persecution was because
of the stance the Anabaptists took against infant baptism.
In 1536, a Catholic priest by the name of Menno Simons converted to the Anabaptist faith. Menno Simons began to
have doubts about the Catholic faith during his first year as a priest, in 1525. In order to solve these doubts, for the first
time in his life he began to read the New Testament. He had never read the Scriptures before, since he believed the Catholic
Church to be infallible he followed what the Roman Church taught. Upon the reading of the Holy Scriptures, he began to discover
that doctrines he once believed were not taught in scripture. His conversion was not a sudden one, but one wrought by years
of study and prayer. In later years, the Brethren began to be known as Mennists, and later Mennonites.
In the late eighteenth century, the Mennonites split into two main groups, the Amish, and the Mennonites. The
Amish, under the leadership of Jacob Amman left the Mennonites because of what they perceived to be a lack of discipline in
the Mennonite church.
During the early eighteenth century, the Anabaptists, including the Mennonites and Amish emigrated to
the New World. Pennsylvania became one of the largest sites for Anabaptist colonization at first, but settlers soon dispersed
to Delaware, New York, Ohio, and many other states.
Today, there are over a million members of Mennonite churches worldwide. Numbers on members of Amish communities
are sketchy, but it is estimated that there are around 134,000 adult members of Amish communities. Baptists also share
history with the Anabaptists, although they have long separated themselves from what Anabaptists have historically held to,
with the exception of baptism of believers only.
The history of the Anabaptist movement is rich with stories of God's grace to this humble movement. Although hunted
and exterminated in many European countries, they grew and thrived into a large sect of Christianity.