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.
- Emerging church-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.