The Anabaptist/Mennonite movement began in the 1500s during a grand reaction to the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. This reaction, called “the Reformation,” was rooted in the abuses and anti-Biblical practices that had developed both in society and in the Roman Catholic Church since 100 AD. Europe was going through deep intellectual, social, political, and religious turmoil.
All desires for reform in the 1500’s had their roots in this turmoil. The Reformation, including the Anabaptist movement, germinated in the seedbed of its era.
A major reason for the Anabaptist reaction not only to Catholicism but to other reform movements like Lutheran and Reformed in the 1500s was the common view that society would collapse if the political and religious aspects of society were not combined. There was no such thing as separation of church and state. The Anabaptists were the only people in the 16th century who believed in separation of church and state, and they believed this because they did not care about the maintenance of a stable society.
Other roots of the Reformation included the Great Schism of 1378-1417, resentment toward the Roman Catholic Church by national rulers who replaced the feudal system and by the common people because of the corruption of the clergy, the black death plague, social unrest because of war and famine, humanism that fostered an interest in the languages of the Bible and learning, the development of the printing press and movable type, and the inability of the Roman Catholic Church to redeem itself.
Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses on the church door in reaction to the abuses of Tetzel’s sale of indulgences was the immediate contributing factor to the Reformation.