Bodies of men were found here and there who maintained that the true Church ought to be composed only of true believers, and so that the sign of admission to its community should be reserved for those who had given evidence of the reality of their faith.
To such opinions the religious ferment of the sixteenth century gave unexpected force. Luther was dismayed to find that there were many who were not willing to submit to the limits which his teaching prescribed. Luther wished to spiritualise the old Church in the light of a more intimate and personal relationship between God and man. But older tendencies, which had long been suppressed, used the occasion offered by his revolt and the consequent loosening of the bonds of authority. Fanatical prophets arose who claimed an immediate revelation, and proposed to form a new society of the regenerate, which owed no allegiance to civil rulers, but framed itself according to the dictates of the Spirit. Their followers were known as Anabaptists, or Rebaptisers, because the sacrament of baptism was ministered afresh to those who were moved to join the new society. Amongst these bodies were included many different forms of doctrine and many different views of the Christian life. Some were orderly and devout; others carried the sense of their spiritual election to an antinomianism which led to the most revolting excesses, and was put down by force as subversive of all order and morality. Such was the horror which they excited, that, for a long while, the name of Anabaptist was synonymous with wild fanaticism, and they were persecuted in all lands.