Radical Reformation

Radical Reformation
   The Reformation of the church in western and central Europe in the 16th century was dominated by Lutherans (based in Germany), Calvinists (based in Switzerland), and Anglicans (based in England). Although most Protestants everywhere in Europe were associated with one of these three communions, those who thought that these movements had not gone far enough created a host of smaller churches and communities that often had a disproportionate influence on the wider movement. Many of these movements have survived in some form to the present day. The term Radical Reformation has come to designate this diverse group of new religious communities, especially since historian George H. Williams's (1914-2000) 1962 book of the same name.
   The early groups, including the swiss Brethren, the Anabaptists, the Mennonites, and the Amish, gave birth to the Free Church tradition in Europe; they argued for a Christian community made up not of all citizens, but only of regenerated or baptized adult believers, free of any ties to the secular state. (Most Protestants, like Roman Catholics, believed that church authority should be integrated with the state.) Radical reformers also experimented with communalism (Hut-terites), mysticism (schwenckfelders), apocalypticism (Melchiorites), and theological innovation (Socinianism).
   The established Protestant churches opposed the radical reformers from the start and attempted to suppress their movement; their leaders were often arrested and even executed. Two episodes in particular stoked popular fears: the violent, destructive armed rebellion that radical Thomas Münzer (c. 1490-1525) led against the German Lutheran princes in 1524-25; and the disastrous experiment in utopian communal living in Münster, Westphalia, in 1535-36, which included such measures as a massive book burning and the legalization of polygamy.
   In reaction to these events, the radical groups were severely repressed throughout Europe (even though most of them supported pacifism). Some movements such as the Swiss Brethren were completely destroyed or driven from their original homes. continued repression against Free Church groups in the 17th century led many to flee to Pennsylvania, the colony established by British Quaker William Penn. The Society of Friends appeared in England as the most radical wing of the British Puritan movement and in the 17th century held a position analogous to that of the earlier radical reformers on the Continent.
   Generally dismissed in earlier studies of Protestantism, the Radical Reformation has enjoyed new respect in the increasingly diverse world of Protestantism. Pioneering studies by Franklin H. Littell and George H. Williams have led to a reappraisal of its role in the development of Protestantism. The participation in the Ecumenical movement of Brethren, Mennonite, and Quaker historians (including Harold S. Bender [1897-1962], Robert Friedmann [1891-1970], and John C. Wenger) has also helped disseminate this new evaluation.
   Further reading:
   ■ William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1975)
   ■ Franklin H. Littell, The Anabaptist View of the Church (Boston: Starr King Press, 1958); , The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism. (New York: Macmil-lan, 1964)
   ■ George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation (Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal, 1999).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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