We find five different positions on the church/state relationship in 16th-century Anabaptism.
Medieval: The church and society are the same thing. This is the view of all groups in 1500 and the view even of the Swiss Brethren prior to January 1525.
Radical dualism, as represented by the Schleitheim Confession of 1527: This is the view that there are two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil, and believers should not participate in the kingdom of the devil.
Provisional pacifism, represented by Hut and Hoffman: These men believed that Christ would destroy his enemies upon His return and that believers would participate in this defeat of the wicked. In the meantime, believers should wait patiently and obey civil government.
Full Participation – Hubmaier, whose position was much like early Grebel/Zurich and Luther or Zwingli. Hubmaier’s goal was to make Anabaptism the official religion. He believed that the Christian cause should be sanctioned and supported by an evangelical or regenerate magistracy. The true Christian must support the state for his own good and the good of others. Because of this view, Hubmaier allowed the use of the sword by Christians as an act of obedience to the state. He also talked about “just government” and suggested that only a just government deserved obedience. He also said that a person should disobey the government when asked to do evil. He thought a Christian could hold government office.
Thomas Müntzer, more than any other person, is the reason Martin Luther became completely opposed to the Anabaptist movement. In the spring of 1525, he led the peasants in an armed revolt against well-armed nobles in what became known as The Great Peasant’s War (1524-1525). Thousands of peasants were killed, and Müntzer was captured, tortured, and executed.
Münster (1531-1535): Münster is a city where Anabaptist-type people tried to establish a city composed only of Anabaptists. The leaders killed internal opposition and practiced polygamy. They ran out of food and were defeated by Catholic forces after betrayal by someone inside the city.
Cautious involvement: The government has been ordained by God to control the evil in the world. If the government could carry out this function with Christian love, then the government could truly be considered Christian. However, most Anabaptists concluded that governmental authority could not be exercised in love and should, therefore, be avoided. People in this camp include Hans Denck, Marpeck, and Menno Simons. The Dordrecht Confession also fits this category.
Summary: The Anabaptist movement in the 16th century moved from a variety of positions to what we now refer to as a non-resistant and non-participation in government position, which has been the general Anabaptist/Mennonite position of more conservative groups.