Categorizing Anabaptistica

A short time ago, I ran across two of the most stimulating blog posts that relate to the purpose of this blog and my examination of Anabaptistica. Anyone that knows me and have come across my reflections here and elsewhere well know that I somewhat have adverse feelings towards lumping groups from various faith traditions with Anabaptism solely for the reason that these groups have adopted selected distinguishing beliefs that defined the original Anabaptists. I am the minority (for now) in this discussion but it seems to my astonishment that some have begun to make categorical distinctions already. The two articles are titled “Neo-Anabaptists” and wineskins for God’s new world written by Jarrod McKenna. The other is authored by Wess Daniels designated Open Anabaptism and a Community of (in)outsiders.

Now it is true that there are denominations that trace their roots to Anabaptism largely in some consanguineous fashion. The following is a chart listing the contemporary denominations that claim material heritage with Anabaptism.


This is not what I am speaking of because personally I do not see much difference other than perhaps dress and customs than any other Evangelical Protestant denomination. That is another discussion reserved for another time.  What I am talking about is the categorization of individuals such as myself, in addition to those groups and individuals that lack any physical descent with Anabaptism whether it is through blood relations or denominational ties. One will see the title Neo-Anabaptist brandished (even I refer to myself by this name at times) but that term is more fitting for the likes of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, James William McClendon Jr. and Nancey Murphy.

At this time, I am going to present the various groupings highlighted in the blog posts and then award the overall classification all the mentioned assemblies would fall under technically speaking. This will function as an alternative to employing, a name that was used for several groups that held specific beliefs in common and undoubtedly felt that, they should not be massed in with others indiscriminately.

  • Anglican-Anabaptists
  • Charismatic-Anabaptists
  • Emerging church-Anabaptists
  • Baptist-Anabaptists
  • Mennonite-Anabaptists
  • Restorationist Anabaptists
  • Methodist Anabaptists

Jarrod McKenna classifies these groups into what he deems the “Emerging Peace Church Movement” or “Open Anabaptism.” According to McKenna this:

doesn’t signify a switching of denominations. Rather it signifies a conversion within their own tradition to a Christianity that rejects all domination. This ‘conversion’ is not based upon modernist liberal or fundamentalist assumptions but rather seeking a deeper immersion into this story which expresses the alternative nonviolent paradigm that is found in discipleship. A desire to see God’s love flood all areas of life; spirituality, sexuality, economics, ecology, personal transformation, political transformation… everything! A movement that longs to walk in the ways of Jesus Christ, rejecting the sword of violence and accepting the towel of service.

Today this ‘kingdom movement’ of justice, peace and joy is often referred to as the “Emerging Peace Church movement” or the “Anabaptist impulse.

Wess Daniels on the other hand feels that all of the individuals and groups are a “continued embodiment of the Radical Reformation.”  To me this is more succinct and an accurate descriptor for what is taking place. This movement is technically classed as Radical Christianity instead of Anabaptist proper.

Now I know many will ask why do you feel that you have to paint labels on these groups or deny them the use of the Anabaptist name? The answer to this question is found in the writings of the original Anabaptists.

The fundamental inheritors of the pejorative ἀναβαπτισμός (anabaptista) such as the Swiss Brethren would not accept an all-encompassing attitude on this matter. Scholars document that they strived to be distinct to the point where they  would even make it known that they had no connection to other groups that are presently classified as Anabaptists if they held to doctrines or too stringent praxis that did not coincide with their (the Swiss Brethren among others) view of holy scripture. Furthermore as indicated in article IV of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, they felt that any fellowship with:

everything which has not been united with our God in Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. By this are meant all popish and repopish works and idolatry, gatherings, church attendance, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world. From all this we shall be separated and have no part with such, for they are nothing but abominations, which cause us to be hated before our Christ Jesus, who has freed us from the servitude of the flesh and fitted us for the service of God and the Spirit whom He has given us.

The mention of all things “popish” and “repopish” are allusions to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, which for the most part represent Constantine and Empire at least here in the West currently. The majority of the Protestant denominations and Rome maintain their historic positions and practices that the Anabaptists found seriously lacking and not fit for Christian recognition. I know this is not a popular way of thinking especially within the context of this subject but that is the reality of how these people that everyone wants to call themselves believed. I think putting all of these groups into the “Radical Christian” category in place of Anabaptist or Anabaptism are more accurate than what we have at present and it needs to be encouraged. If not we will have history repeating itself in that anything that was different was called Anabaptism by the Magisterial Reformers and the Papacy thus confusing and in some cases demonizing a group that solely desired to serve God in spirit and truth.

5 thoughts on “Categorizing Anabaptistica

  1. Many important movements of Christianity has taken place within a denomination or have been cross-denominational. The Franciscans and Waldensians were formed within the Catholic church as reform movements. The Methodists and Quakers popped up within the Anglican churches. But all of these movements lost their momentum when someone said “Well, this isn’t for everyone.” The Franciscans lost their teeth even before Francis died and the appeal was limited to those who were “full time” radicals. The Waldensians and Methodists were limited and de-radicalized once they became their own denominations. The Quakers were formed as a radical sect, and kept their radical nature for a long time until they were considered to be a threat to the status quo, after which they too were de-fanged.

    But if a movement isn’t considered to be denominational, then it has the opportunity to grow. If you allow any group of any denomination to accept the “anabaptist” name as long as they follow the principles of anabaptism, then it becomes a movement that cannot be stopped by a false border.

    Stuart Murray had this philosophy in England. His idea was that instead of planting anabaptist churches, he would encourage anabaptist cells within existing churches (following the pattern of John Wesley). This caused anabaptism to flourish in a country where it never had before.

    Why limit the growth of radical biblicism by denying denominational groups a name which we didn’t invent in the first place?

    • Steve

      But that is being historically and theologically inaccurate, it would be the equivalent of me running around calling myself a Calvinist but only holding to the “T” or the “L” in T.U.L.I.P. Also the Anabaptists specifically the Swiss Brethren strove to make themselves distinct (See John D. Roth and James M. Stayer, A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700 (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 348-9).

      This very same thing happened in the 16th century except it was the enemies of the Anabaptism that labeled all who did not agree with Rome and Protestantism as Anabaptists. Because of this they were associated with a lot of negative things (Cf.

      Also what’s the point of having “Anabaptist” cells in those denominations if they are not doing anything to change them? Apparently the person felt that Anabaptists taught the truth at least in regards to one to two things which is generally pacifism and helping the poor. But their denomination endorses war and politics.

      There is a apparent problem there and a conflict. At least Greg Boyd is thinking about switching denominations because he must see the problem that it causes if he remains with the Baptists or whatever denomination he is a member. Also out of respect for those originals why take on a name but do things opposite of what they believed?

  2. One other thing. Schlietheim held to a separation from denominations because the early anabaptists held to view of the “visible church” or a holy group that can be seen by it’s distinct, visible nature. However, I don’t find that in the New Testament. Jesus associated with sinners, and the early churches were open to all, as long as they didn’t persecute the believers. The churches had a variety of opinions, and, it is true, needed correction, but separate from all others wasn’t what they were about.

    I wonder if the idea that the church must be separate and pure is a “popish” way in and of itself, and must be let go. We must call all to Jesus’ grace, wherever they are, and set up radical cells of Jesus followers wherever they can remain.

    • Steve

      It is not about association in an effort to assist them in establishing a relationship with God and Christ through faith. All through the New Testament we see statements encouraging “sanctification”, “holiness”, and the Ekklesia being depicted as a chaste bride. The Anabaptists took these things seriously and they felt that they faith should be evidenced by obedience. As I mentioned these are all biblical notions.

      True the early Ekklesia was open to all because there was only one in existence, there was no such thing as denominations with conflicting beliefs and in some cases worshiping different gods.

      Also the post century church had varying opinions because during the first the Apostles and early leaders corrected false notions. Once they were gone things started to get screwy which was prophesied ahead of time. To the Anabaptists they did not see genuine Christians as being divided but the real from the fake which is based on scripture as well.

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