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I believe the ancient Anabaptists were a variegated lot, so not all would be identified with the same actions, etc.
That being said, what were the main distinguishing marks of the Anabaptists, what were their main problems, and what were their strengths?
(I'm speaking in general, not only of the Muntzer/Munster group.)

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The zwickau prophets. Buncha yahoos.

Reeb from heaven!

Wait...Thomas you sure you're not secret prophet? Your last name isn't Muntzer...IS IT??
Their name: "Anabaptist" tells us of the common thread among them. They practised Believer's Baptism, and didn't recognize infant baptism as valid. Luther didn't question infant baptism, and he hated Anabaptists. Muntzer's crowd ran roughshod over non-believers.
The Book: "Out of the Storm", recommended by one of our contributors, was very enlightening. I also recommend it.
This is from the Book of Concord:



The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

Other Factions, Heresies and Sects.

Which Never Embraced the Augsburg Confession.

1] However, as regards the sects and factions [sectarists and heretics] which never have embraced the Augsburg Confession, and of which express mention has not been made in this our explanation, such as are the Anabaptists, Schwenckfeldians, New Arians, and Anti-Trinitarians, 2] whose errors have been unanimously condemned by all churches of the Augsburg Confession, we have not wished to make particular and especial mention of them in this explanation, for the reason that at the present time this has been our only aim [that we might above all refute the charges of our adversaries, the Papists].

3] Since our opponents alleged with shameless mouths, and decried throughout all the world our churches and their teachers, claiming that not two preachers are found who agree in each and every article of the Augsburg Confession, but that they are rent asunder and separated from one another to such an extent that they themselves no longer know what is the Augsburg Confession and its proper [true, genuine, and germane] sense; 4] we have not made a joint confession only in brief words or names, but wished to make a pure, clear, distinct declaration concerning all the disputed articles which have been discussed and controverted only among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession, 5] in order that every one may see that we do not wish in a cunning manner to dissemble or cover up all this, or to come to an agreement only in appearance; 6] but to remedy the matter thoroughly, and have wished to set forth our opinion of these matters in such a manner that even our adversaries themselves must confess that in all this we abide by the true, simple, natural, and proper sense of the Augsburg Confession, in which we desire, moreover, by God's grace, to persevere constantly until our end; and so far as it depends on our service, we will not connive at or be silent, lest anything contrary to the same [the genuine and sacred sense of the Augsburg Confession] is introduced into our churches and schools, in which the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed us teachers and pastors.

7] However, lest there be silently ascribed to us the condemned errors of the above enumerated factions and sects ["of which evil the papistic tyranny, which persecutes the pure doctrine is the chief cause"], 8] —which as is the nature of such spirits, for the most part, secretly stole in at localities, and especially at a time when no place or room was given to the pure Word of the holy Gospel, but all its sincere teachers and confessors were persecuted, and the deep darkness of the Papacy still prevailed, and poor simple men who could not help but feel the manifest idolatry and false faith of the Papacy, in their simplicity, alas! embraced whatever was called the Gospel, and was not papistic,—we could not forbear testifying also against them publicly, before all Christendom, that we have neither part nor fellowship with their errors, be they many or few, but reject and condemn them, one and all, as wrong and heretical, and contrary to the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles, and to our Christian Augsburg Confession, well grounded in God's Word.

Erroneous Articles of the Anabaptists.

9] Namely, for instance, the erroneous, heretical doctrines of the Anabaptists, which are to be tolerated and allowed neither in the Church, nor in the commonwealth, nor in domestic life, when they teach:

10] 1. That our righteousness before God consists not only in the sole obedience and merit of Christ, but in our renewal and our own piety in which we walk before God; which they, for the most part, base upon their own peculiar ordinances and self-chosen spirituality, as upon a new sort of monkery.

11] 2. That children who are not baptized are not sinners before God, but righteous and innocent, and thus are saved in their innocency without Baptism, which they do not need. Accordingly, they deny and reject the entire doctrine concerning original sin and what belongs to it.

12] 3. That children are not to be baptized until they have attained the use of reason and can confess their faith themselves.

13] 4. That the children of Christians, since they have been born of Christian and believing parents, are holy and the children of God even without and before Baptism; and for this reason they neither attach much importance to the baptism of children nor encourage it, contrary to the express words of the promise, which extends only to those who keep God's covenant and do not despise it, Gen. 17, 9.

14] 5. That a congregation [church] in which sinners are still found is no true Christian assembly.

15] 6. That no sermon should be heard or attended in those churches in which the papal masses have previously been said.

16] 7. That no one should have anything to do with those ministers of the Church who preach the holy Gospel according to the Confession, and rebuke the errors of baptists; also, that no one should serve or in any way labor for them, but should flee from and shun them as perverters of God's Word.

17] 8. That under the New Testament the magistracy is not a godly estate.

18] 9. That a Christian cannot with a good, inviolate conscience hold the office of magistrate.

19] 10. That a Christian cannot without injury to conscience use the office of the magistracy in matters that may occur [when the matter so demands] against the wicked, neither can its subjects appeal to its power.

20] 11. That a Christian cannot with a good conscience take an oath before a court, nor with an oath do homage to his prince or hereditary sovereign.

21] 12. That magistrates cannot without injury to conscience inflict capital punishment upon evil-doers.

22] 13. That a Christian cannot with a good conscience hold or possess any property, but is in duty bound to devote it to the common treasury.

23] 14. That a Christian cannot with a good conscience be an inn-keeper, merchant, or cutler.

24] 15. That married persons may be divorced on account of faith [diversity of religion], and that the one may abandon the other, and be married to another of his own faith.

25] 16. That Christ did not assume His flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary, but brought them with Him from heaven.

26] 17. That He is not true, essential God either, but only has more and higher gifts and glory than other men.

27] And still more articles of like kind; for they are divided among themselves into many bands [sects], and one has more and another fewer errors, and thus their entire sect is in reality nothing but a new kind of monkery.

Erroneous Articles of the Schwenckfeldians.

28] Likewise, when the Schwenckfeldians assert:

29] 1. First, that all those have no knowledge of the reigning King of heaven, Christ, who regard Christ according to the flesh, or His assumed humanity, as a creature, and that the flesh of Christ has by exaltation so assumed all divine properties that in might, power, majesty, and glory He is in every respect, in degree and position of essence, equal to the Father and the eternal Word, so that there is the same essence, properties, will, and glory of both natures in Christ, and that the flesh of Christ belongs to the essence of the Holy Trinity.

30] 2. That the ministry of the Church, the Word preached and heard, is not a means whereby God the Holy Ghost teaches men, and works in them saving knowledge of Christ, conversion, repentance, faith, and new obedience.

31] 3. That the water of Baptism is not a means by which God the Lord seals adoption and works regeneration.

32] 4. That bread and wine in the Holy Supper are not means by which Christ distributes His body and blood.

33] 5. That a Christian man who is truly regenerated by God's Spirit can in this life keep and fulfil the Law of God perfectly.

34] 6. That a congregation in which no public excommunication or regular process of the ban is observed, is no true Christian congregation [church].

35] 7. That the minister of the Church who is not on his part truly renewed, righteous, and godly cannot teach other men with profit or administer real, true sacraments.

Erroneous Articles of the New Arians.

36] Also, when the New Arians teach that Christ is not a true, essential, natural God, of one eternal divine essence with God the Father, but is only adorned with divine majesty inferior to, and beside, God the Father.

Erroneous Articles of the New Anti-Trinitarians.

37] 1. Also, when some Anti-Trinitarians reject and condemn the ancient approved symbola, Nicaenum et Athanasianum (the Nicene and Athanasian creeds), as regards both their sense and words, and teach that there is not only one eternal divine essence of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but as there are three distinct persons, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, so each person has also its essence distinct and separate from the other persons; yet that all three are either as otherwise three men, distinct and separate in their essence, of the same power, wisdom, majesty, and glory [as some imagine], or in essence and properties unequal [as others think].

38] 2. That the Father alone is true God.




39] These and like articles, one and all, with what pertains to them and follows from them, we reject and condemn as wrong, false, heretical, and contrary to the Word of God, the three Creeds, the Augsburg, Confession and Apology, the Smalcald Articles, and the Catechisms of Luther. Of these articles all godly Christians should and ought to beware, as much as the welfare and salvation of their souls is dear to them.

40] Since now, in the sight of God and of all Christendom [the entire Church of Christ], we wish to testify to those now living and those who shall come after us that this declaration herewith presented concerning all the controverted articles aforementioned and explained, and no other, is our faith, doctrine, and confession, in which we are also willing, by God's grace, to appear with intrepid hearts before the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ, and give an account of it; and that we will neither privately nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to it, but, by the help of God's grace, intend to abide thereby: therefore, after mature deliberation, we have, in God's fear and with the invocation of His name, attached our signatures with our own hands.

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Weren't there some anabaptists who were held to Biblical doctrines, and were only distinguished from the Reformers by their holding to believer's baptism as opposed to infant baptism?
Yeah, they took over some southern German provinces and basically went on a Jihad against anyone not Anabaptist and tried to usher in the millennium.
Well...no Jason. Their doctrines were not that similar to those of the magisterial reformers. The more doctrinally similar baptists actually came out of the English reformed tradition, kind of a marriage of the two. Bunyan is considered a prototype, and Owen shaped many of their views. Radical Reformation was about actions even more than doctrine.(I am going to offend more people here I am sure...but here I go).

The radical Reformation was however variegated. Simmons for example was stable and I think his passivism and lack of anarchistic craziness is why his sects survived as well as they did. Wikipedia does have a chart of the groups (I would quibble with it however as for example Presbyterianism is not considered an offshoot of puritanism-while congregationalism is-Methodism should be closer to the top of the chart also IMO).

They were called by the Reformers "enthusiasts", those who looked for God within (much misunderstanding has gone into that term I think) instead of outside-extra nos. They were generally anti-authoritarian, and did not recognize the reformation distinction of church visible and church invisible-saying one showed he was a "true" Christian by his piety and his inner experience of God. I think they mostly all shared at least those characteristics. Pietism for example was the taking over of Lutheranism by some of their ideals.

It was in the Radical reformation that the search for the "pure church" began. The small coterie of "true" christians, practicing like the NT Church. The Bo4CRE view of church history began with the radical Reformation, and many began violent insurrections rejecting all authority, considering the punishment that came their persecution like that of the first century church. It thereby validated their beliefs that they were indeed the pure church. Many of them in early days felt they had reached the end of the age and the violent battles they engaged in were proof that the return of Christ was imminent.

A number of weird heresies came from this wing of the Reformation (though of course Rome would say they were all heretics at Trent) Luther was horrified by them. There was Andreas Karlstadt who wanted a return to the law and caused the destruction of churches, Muntzer who started the peasant revolt and connected to him were the zwickau prophets, John of Leiden who wanted to go back to polygamy. The Socinians with whom Owen contended could also be said to come out of the radical reformation. It was chaos they wanted, not order. As I said earlier, Menno Simmons is a notable exception (eta; though I should say for his part Karlstadt was not given to violence like Muntzer was). For this type of Anabaptist, separation was key to purification rather than violence. And of course he was resolutely passivist.

Do look up the work of George Hunston Williams. Luther's Against the Heavenly Prophets will give you an idea of what he thought of the Zwickau prophets and their authenticity based on beer from heaven. For Luther the greatest error of the radicals was that they wished to divorce the work of the Spirit from the Word. That is the Spirit could work independently and do whatever he wished. He saw this as biblically incorrect and anarchistic.

One might also say that the Reformers wanted a return to what they saw as correct doctrine, while the radicals wanted a restructuring of the Christian's life. That is a reformation in practice. Protestant Christian perfectionism can also trace it's roots back to the radical reformation.

Otsuka's comment about the radical reformation as Jihad is relatively insightful I think.

Luther realized early on the risk he had taken for it was he who opened the door to the radicals. But I think he felt it worth it.
Hmm. What to say, what to say, what to say?
Not that. Not that. Not that.
Oh, here’s this.
Seems to be a sad reality that people, as they become more committed to their doctrines, become more willing to do radical thing to “defend” them. Crusades. Burning of “heretics.” Anabaptist violence. Bombing of abortion clinics.

The Munsterites were totally whacked. I see them as very different beasts than … say … the Mennonites. I find the attempt (pretty successful attempt) by contemporaneous reformers to paint all Anabaptists with the Muntzer brush to be pretty cynical (unless they REALLY couldn’t see the difference).

Char. You have managed to offend me again. (HA!)
The great vast majority of Roman Catholics did not participate, or generally even know about, the Inquisition at the time, but they all sure as hell get blamed for it.

James Gibbons said:
Hmm. What to say, what to say, what to say?
Not that. Not that. Not that. Oh, here’s this. Seems to be a sad reality that people, as they become more committed to their doctrines, become more willing to do radical thing to “defend” them. Crusades. Burning of “heretics.” Anabaptist violence. Bombing of abortion clinics.

The Munsterites were totally whacked. I see them as very different beasts than … say … the Mennonites. I find the attempt (pretty successful attempt) by contemporaneous reformers to paint all Anabaptists with the Muntzer brush to be pretty cynical (unless they REALLY couldn’t see the difference).

Char. You have managed to offend me again. (HA!)
Yes, of course brother. Same can be said of most evangelicals and abortion clinics, most Muslims and the twin towers, most …

I doubt you can find very many examples of the extremes of the Munsterites among, say, the Mennonites. A lot of evil is done by a lot of people…which ends up being blamed on even more people—sometimes by those who have a vested interest in defaming them.
See the Magisterial Reformers looked at things doctrinally. I noted what those in the radical Reformation did tend to have in common, and the Reformers recognized them as doctrinal problems first and foremost. Muntzer and John of Leiden just happened to be very extreme in their actions, but they pitted actions against doctrine in general.
D'Aubigne in his 'History of the Reformation' depicted how some were so radical that they marched down the street butt-naked proclaiming that they were the naked truth. Considering the temperature of that particular climate, they must have been men of faith (that is, not being laughed at for matters of shrivelry - not chivalry)...or they were truly dead to this world and alive to God. Either way, whether their doctrine was pure or not, they were better men than me. My hat goes off to them (if only to cover their modesty). Isaiah 20:1 does come to mind!

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