Everyone has heard of “The Reformation”. Far fewer know that there were two Reformations; the well-known one, normally called simply “The Reformation” but also called the Magisterial Reformation by historians, and a lesser-known one called the Radical Reformation.
The Magisterial Reformation gets it’s name from the word “magistrate”, since churches that follow this Reformation are likely to approve or accept a connection between Church and State. They are also likely to espouse violence in various forms, to espouse materialism, to accept Infant Baptism, and to be church-building and church-hierarchy centred. Some key figures in the Magisterial Reformation were Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli. The similarities between this reformation and Catholicism mean that it was really no reformation at all.
Radical Reformation followers do not believe in a Christian connection to Government, repudiate any use of violence, do not accept Infant Baptism, specifically avoid both materialism and pride, and are likely to completely reject the standard concept of “Church”. Some key figures in the Radical movement are John Wycliffe, Menno Simons and Jakob Ammann. The term Anabaptist is also used to describe them, referring to the practice of only Baptising adults.
This is an extremely simplified view of the two Reformations. Much more can be read on this site and elsewhere. The key point is that Radical Christianity is closer to the Christianity of the Bible, and also of the Early Church, which grew extremely rapidly after the Crucifixion. Conversely, today’s Churches almost exclusively follow the Magisterial stream of thought, and are in rapid decline. The relationship with violence is a fundamental difference between the two streams. There is strong public awareness of Catholic violence during the Crusades and the Inquisitions, but far less awareness, or even an acceptance, of the wars of Zwingli or Oliver Cromwell, or the executions of “heretics” by Calvin.
The Radical Reformers were virtually wiped out in Europe, crushed between the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the Magisterial Reformation, both of which used violent persecution. The result is that people today, having little example of real Christianity, use the term “Christian” interchangeably with “Church” or “Catholic” or “Protestant”. This gives a totally false idea of what constitutes genuine Christianity.
Some of the Radical Reformers escaped to America, where their most visible descendants today are the Amish. An Amish lifestyle is not a requirement for Christians, but much of what the Amish do or refuse to do exemplifies the approach of Radical Christianity.