The Reformation and the Emergence of Anabaptists, Amish, Mennonites and Other Protestant Denominations

By Peterson, Daniel; Hamblin, Bill | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), October 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Reformation and the Emergence of Anabaptists, Amish, Mennonites and Other Protestant Denominations


Peterson, Daniel, Hamblin, Bill, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


In the early 16th century, most Protestants belonged, broadly speaking, to the Lutheran or Reformed (Calvinist) movements. However, many other minority Protestant denominations quickly developed.

When Luther launched the Reformation in 1517, he could have had no idea of the Pandora’s Box of sectarianism that he was opening.

Reformers maintained that both the authority of the pope and the previous centuries of Catholic tradition were ultimately unreliable sources for Christian theology and practice. That left the Bible alone as the source of both authority and theology for Protestants.

But this new understanding opened many avenues of potential dispute. Are the Apocrypha to be included in the Bible or not? Which translation, if any? And which interpretation? In many ways the Reformation became a battle over the meaning of the Bible. While Protestant teachers all agreed that the Catholic interpretation of the Bible was wrong, they often couldn’t agree on which interpretation was correct.

The “Magisterial” Reformation — meaning essentially Lutheranism and Calvinism — believed that church and state (the “magistrates”) were interdependent, and that the church should be intimately involved in political affairs. In Calvin’s Geneva, church and state were essentially one.

In many ways, this policy was related to attempts by early Protestants to gain political protection from friendly princes against potential harassment and persecution by Catholic religious and secular authorities. But the state just as easily became a mechanism by which Protestant leaders could impose their will on Protestant dissenters.

And there were many such dissenters — some of whom were called “Radical Reformers” because they believed not just in theological reform of the church but in reform of the very root of the contemporary social and political order. In many ways the Radical Reformers believed in the supremacy of the individual conscience against state-sponsored religion — be it Catholic or Protestant.

A core component of the thinking of many Radical Reformers was the insistence that each individual must have a personal conversion to Christ and undergo adult “believer’s baptism.” Infant baptism was meaningless, because infants were unable to have faith in Christ. These people were often called “Anabaptists” or “re-baptizers.” A person can’t be born a Christian; he must make an informed adult decision to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Many reformers were restorationists, believing that the ultimate purpose of the Reformation was to restore the original form of Christianity described in the New Testament. …

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