Anabaptists Rolling Over in their Graves

Just today, I came across a blog post in the newsfeed on someone’s Face Book page and it makes me stop and wonder do people actually take the time out to think about what they are saying? Is Anabaptism a joke now? Seriously, I see constantly people mix and matching things with Anabaptism and developing all these silly names. For instance, the article in question stated:

The truth is, I’m a misfit. Episcopanglican succinctly capturing the awkward dynamic of my being too traditional, i.e. paleo-orthodox, for The Episcopal Church and too untraditional, i.e. postfoundationalist, for the Anglican Church in North America. While I’m at it, however, I’ve decided to further complicate things by integrating my Anabaptist inclinations.

The new word?  Anapiscopanglican.

This is almost as bad as Brian McLaren describing himself as a “missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.”

To me this type of stuff is disrespectful, and if those that originally were branded with the pejorative “Anabaptist” was around at presents what would they think? Yeah it is a push by some to redefine Anabaptism as this all-embracing ecumenical chorus of “We are the World”. Nevertheless, it is not.

Calvinism does not even have to deal with such issues where people feel that they can just add or take away whatever they like. I think many people have reasons for doing this; some do it because it is fashionable to do so. Some grew up around it and rejected it because it made them appear to be outsiders. While in the end some out of sheer ignorance of what the Anabaptists taught. R.C. Sproul illustrates my last point when addressing those that call themselves “four-point Calvinists”. He wrote:

 There are a host of folks who call themselves four-point Calvinist because they can’t swallow the doctrine of limited atonement. Sometimes they say, “I’m not a Calvinist and I’m not an Arminian, I’m a Calminian.” I think that a four-point Calvinist is an Arminian. I say that for this reason: When I have talked to people who call themselves four-point Calvinists and have had the opportunity to discuss it with them, I have discovered that they were no-point Calvinists. They thought they believed in total depravity, in unconditional election, in irresistible grace, and in the perseverance of the saints, but they didn’t understand these points.

Only once have I encountered an exception to this general rule, one self-proclaimed four-point Calvinist who was not a no-point Calvinist. This person happened to be a teacher of theology. I was interested in his position, so I said to him: “I want to hear how you handle this, because I trust you. I know you’re knowledgeable in theology, and I want to hear ho you think this through.” I expected that he would not have an accurate understanding of the T, U, I, and P. But to my astonishment, when he went through them, I found that he had them down as clearly as an strict Calvinist ever articulated them. I was rejoicing, but also amazed. I said, “Now tell me about your understanding of limited atonement.” When he gave me his understanding of limited atonement, I discovered this man was not a four-point Calvinist, he was a five-point Calvinist. He believed in limited atonement and didn’t know it.

My point is that there is confusion about what the doctrine of limited atonement actually teaches. However, I think that if a person really understands the other four points and is thinking at all clearly, he mustbelieve in limited atonement because of what Martin Luther called a resistless logic. Still, there are people who live in a happy inconsistency. I believe it’s possible for a person to believe four points without believing the fifth, although I don’t think it’s possible to do it consistently or logically. However, it is certainly a possibility given our proclivity for inconsistency.

Consequently, I am going to refer to what  the Schleitheim Confession states to answer in the voice of the Anabaptists themselves.  Article IV reads:

We have been united concerning the separation that shall take place from the evil and the wickedness which the devil has planted in the world, simply in this; that we have no fellowship with them, and do not run with them in the confusion of their abominations. So it is; since all who have not entered into the obedience of faith and have not united themselves with God so that they will to do His will, are a great abomination before God, therefore nothing else can or really will grow or spring forth from them than abominable things. Now there is nothing else in the world and all creation than good or evil, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who are [come] out of the world, God’s temple and idols. Christ and Belial, and none will have part with the other.

To us, then, the commandment of the Lord is also obvious, whereby He orders us to be and to become separated from the evil one, and thus He will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters.

Further, He admonishes us therefore to go out from Babylon and from the earthly Egypt, that we may not be partakers in their torment and suffering, which the Lord will bring upon them.

From all this we should learn that 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.

Thereby shall also fall away from us the diabolical weapons of violence—such as sword, armor, and the like, and all of their use to protect friends or against enemies—by virtue of the word of Christ: “you shall not resist evil.”

I find the sentiments expressed in the comments section by a Paul Clutterbuck very interesting and on point. The comment states:

 [T]rying to combine Anabaptist radical evangelicalism with a tradition that stands squarely within Christendom introduces a level of cognitive dissonance that for most people is difficult to resolve. Sure, you can attend a Mennonite church on Sunday morning, an Anglican church on Sunday night and an Episcopalian service during the week; the problem for many people is that the radical Reformation was intended as a critique of Christendom, and in my experience the Mennonite inheritors of the radical Reformation remain highly critical of not only the status quo but also the churches that they say have always supported it. That doesn’t mean they’re out waving placards against injustices and environmental degradation (although some may do that), but their eschatology does tend to be more pessimistic (most often dispensational-premillennial), and so is their view of the ability and role of the Church to do anything about the state of the world. So although you might be able to find a balance in your own life, you’ll end up disagreeing with just about everybody else.

One way of resolving the cognitive dissonance would be to remain in a more traditional context, but one that supports both evangelical faith and Christian Anarchism. Christian Anarchism, to my knowledge, is a more recent and postmodern movement across the whole Church that works to critique and (where necessary) subvert the status quo.

Even though the commenter resigns Anabaptism to Mennonitism he does recognize that “the radical Reformation was intended as a critique of Christendom”. You are doing a disservice to the Anabaptist movement by combining it with the very entity that it was in opposition. If you are an Anglican, Pentecostal or Lutheran remain there just attempt to find a church that allows its members to express themselves slightly beyond the parameters of said faith group. If one looks, at initial Anabaptist teachings and practices from a systematic perspective, everything they taught and did was interconnected and when you discard or replace one aspect the entire belief system loses its power.

In light of that if any traditional concepts of death was actually true, I would think it would be safe to say that the original first generation Anabaptists would be “rolling over in their graves” at the stuff that is carried on in their names. Much disfavor would be shown towards what’s been going on.

I think that from time to time I may write more spontaneous, less formal posts regarding the above type of treatment Anabaptism receives at present.


17 thoughts on “Anabaptists Rolling Over in their Graves

  1. I think, Allen, you’re selling Carson short. Anabaptist thought is not incompatible with the liturgical church. There’s going to come a time when even the “Christendom” based churches are going to find themselves on the margins in US culture and society and those groups will find great benefit in the teachings that were born in the Anabaptist movement.

    I think, also, your article here presupposes that Anabaptism, as a “pure” movement is somehow the best and most awesome expression of Christianity without flaws. I think Carson is doing an EXCELLENT job of being an intelligent Christian in looking at a variety of Christian traditional backgrounds and finding the best in them all and incorporating them together. To state “Anabaptism must remain pure” implies that Anabaptism has nothing to correct… and I think that is a big problem and leaves a wide margin for a lot of error, a lot of “fundamentalist style” teaching, and a legalistic view that is ungracious, prideful, and subject to human error and corruption.

    • Robert

      You hit the major point on the head, how many actually look to determine its quality? A lot of people run around screaming Anabaptist but only know the popular aspects that people like to integrate into the Progressive means of thinking. Progressives want to wear the name Anabaptist but the reality is they were a lot more closer to the dreaded Fundamentalists that they hate so much.

      Its called respecting one’s faith tradition or other faith traditions. When people treat Anabaptism like a Vegas buffet you distort people’s comprehension of the historical group and that is disrespectful to those that came before.

      Regarding the whole “pure” issue, no one is claiming purity in the sense of lacking faults. One is talking about purity when it comes to historical and if I may “theological” facts. A image is put forth that is false when one employs the name recklessly. If someone is a Mennonite cool then say a Mennonite, if someone is a Methodist cool say Methodist and so on.

      That way it will be known that within those parameters there is room for moving away from historic beliefs and practices of those groups. But when people say “Anabaptists” you are working with a ancient faith tradition to an extent set within certain parameters.

      There was enough confusion regarding the nature of the group for hundreds of years. Now all this inclination to to syncretize Anabaptism with other groups repeats history.

      • Two things: First, as I said, I think you’re selling Carson short… Carson is not disrespecting a faith tradition or anything… he has been in dialog with me, with Kurt Willems, and with a number of other folks for years and what he has found is that no “current” categorization of Christian fits him at his place in the journey. So, he’s not looking at Anabaptism from a “popularist” standpoint but because he has found a deep meaning theologically and philosophically within the tradition.

        Secondly, I think your accusation of “syncretizing” Anabaptism is a false accusation in general. Yes, there are some folks adopting the title simply because it is popular to do so… but there are quite a few others who have discovered an Anabaptist path but never actually had a name to apply to it until they met folks who self-identified as “historically connected” Anabaptists. Greg Boyd comes to mind… he had a lot of Anabaptist theology already before he found out it had a specific name. So, “syncretize” is a bad word to use for a movement that is finding rebirth, not out of popularism, but because people are discovering a lot of the Jesus centered faith that Anabaptism has known for centuries…

  2. Robert

    What does his dialog with you and Kurt have to do with me and my opinion? He was not in dialog with me nor was I included in the conversation so that is irrelevant.

    Like I said, how does one know that they are on or have taken an “Anabaptist path”? Is there a big push to look into what they actually taught? That’s why I concur with Sproul regarding the attitude he takes regarding his faith tradition. Through comparison one will see that much of Progressivism does not meld and is incompatible.

    Many of the points Progressives accept concerning Anabaptism applies to other groups besides them as well. Many of the key beliefs is rejected because hmmm it is too Fundie which is a no, no.

    Heck I hardly ever see anything coming from the Progressive camp regarding baptism and its true significance,

    Regarding “syncretize” I think the proto-Anabaptist response would be that it is a appropriate word. They did not see everyone as the same and when someone looks into the heart of what they believed and taught that person would see that the similarities are shallow.

    By the way before it is even comes up I am not a Fundamentalist nor a Progressive. Depending on the subject I might agree either way.

    • 1) The dialog has to do with your apparent criticism that Carson is grabbing hold of Anabaptism as a “popular” thing. I mention it to indicate that Carson’s adoption of the Anabaptist portions of his faith journey were not things that he attached on a whim but that he is actually communicating and dialoging and wrestling with things with folks who can speak to Anabaptism from a non-popularist position. So, it’s meant to let you know that your criticism may need to be re-examined in the light of relationship… you don’t have relationship with Carson so your critique of him may need to be moderated.

      2) As for the “how do you know”? see number 1… I know because I’m in relationship with Carson, as is Kurt, so we are giving witness to his journey.

      3) As for “syncretize”, I think the proto-Anabaptists were wrong in some senses in that they chose a radical separation from communication and dialog with the other church groups… mostly out of survival tactics. But since survival is less about “stay away from other churches” and more about “watch out for the state”, I think it’s a good thing for Anabaptist groups, liturgical groups, Protestant groups, Catholic groups, etc., to be in dialog. Again, it will do the Church no good for us to remain siloed in our own little traditions as the society around us moves more and more towards post-Christendom.

      • Robert

        Just because you two talked with him that does make it okay in my opinion. I did not know you and Kurt are authorized to give the Anabaptist approval. I am offering my opinion on the matter as a whole just like you and Kurt offer you opinion that it is okay to mix and match.

        If I am breaking some rule where my opinion cannot not be stated please let me know so I can do what I need to do.

        I am not invested in getting along to make it somewhere I worked to hard not to put myself in that position. I am not questioning anyone’s salvation just stating what the facts seem to point to.

        Regarding the proto-Anabaptists it was more than survival it was about standing for truth. It was the second generation that began to compromise. I mentioned it on a number of occasions, the age of orthodoxy or confessionalism that brought about this “We are not so different” thinking just to make life easier for themselves which is hardly taking up their stauros (cross).

        And it was most certainly about staying away from other churches in addition to the State. Yes they were one and same at the time but the “theological” reasons are still in play whether one has the freedom to worship freely or not.

        If someone reduces Article IV of the Confession to just the State then they are missing the point and Anabaptist belief loses its power.

      • No, Kurt and I don’t have any temporal authority to say, “Boom! He’s an Anabaptist”. However, again (and I think you’re missing the point here), Anabaptism being about community, communal discernment, “priesthood of believers”, etc, and even taking the Biblical example of being vouched for by other folks “in” the church (as Paul was vouched for by other believers). So, we are vouching for Carson… yes, he has found and is working through some very genuine Anabaptist belief structures.

        As for the early Anabaptists, again, just because it’s “historical” doesn’t mean they are right 100%. There’s a lot about the way those early Anabaptists handled themselves that is laudable… and much that we should examine. The extreme seperatist is one that was good for a time… but we might want to re-examine today. Yes, they were about truth.. but again, the seperatism was about survival while they were proclaiming the truth… In our society today with other churches around us who are also seeking how to live in an increasingly hostile culture, the separatism that served well in the 16th century is, perhaps, detrimental to the overall mission of the church.

        So, as to “staying away from the churches”, that is only true if remembered in the light that church = state in that time frame. Such is not the case any more. As much as the Anglican church is still tied to the state of England, that emphasis is no longer put forward and no longer expected… especially for Anglican and Episcopalian churches in the US.

        So, reducing Article IV to just the state is perfectly rational and reasonable since, as stated above, at the time, church = state. You couldn’t talk about the state without considering the state church and you couldn’t talk about the state church without considering the pure state. Today, in post-Christian USA, that assumption is no longer valid. I can talk about churches and church groups without always including the state in those assumptions. The Schlietheim was written in a particular place and a particular time that no longer exists… it needs to be examined in light of the contemporary place and time and we need to understand that certain things may need to be revisited.

  3. Robert

    You addressed the heart or core of 16th century Anabaptism. Who or what is the ekklesia? The State issue only came into play because of the above question. Either it is a religious entity that compromise and engage in all manner of unscriptural beliefs and practices or it is a extension of God’s Kingdom now within the confines of a group of believers as defined by the Anabaptists at that time and in my opinion that should be the case at present.

    All the articles of the confession and all the polemics and so forth was towards defining the Ekklesia and settings it parameters. This applied across the board with the exception of Denck (I believe it was). Even the Munsterites was trying to define the Ekklesia though in a erroneous manner but that was their intent.

    The real dialog should involve defining the Ekklesia, and whether it has a visible manifestation (Anabaptist) or an invisible one (Protestantism and Catholicism). I know it is not popular to say who was in or out or what is acceptable belief or practice nowadays but if this does not occur then the Ekklesia will never be that city on a hill. Everything cannot be blamed on the Fundamentalists.

    • Again, you seem to have an assumption that Protestantism and Catholicism are to be avoided as anathema. This is how, at least, it comes across. “They can’t POSSIBLY have it right.”

      And yet, I know of many “Protestants” and “Catholics” would would agree that the Ekklesia should be visible and not invisible… the difference is in how that manifestation plays out. I would say that Catholics and Protestants in mainland China are probably pretty good at understanding what it means to be visibly the Ekklesia.

      I think there is an unscriptural belief and practice that any grouping of Christians engages in and never realizes it. That belief that somehow “we” are better than “they”. The Jewish Christians thought so of the Gentiles… and Paul had a lot to say about that… and vice versa. I think ANYTHING that says, “This group of Jesus followers is BETTER than that group” ignores the primary scriptural truth that NO group of Jesus followers has a monopoly on righteousness, proper manifestation of church, proper church practices, etc… Any statement that makes such an assertion is unscriptural… including the 16th century Anabaptist assertion.

      • Robert

        You continue to raise points the proto-Anabaptists raised. Who qualifies as Jesus followers? If they are then why are they associated with institutions or beliefs that is either unbiblical or unnecessary. What are they teaching others by being associated with these things? Are they saying whatever these groups decide to do is okay?

        If said group or denomination decide to start a campaign supporting war and the person is tied to it then are their claiming Anabaptism sending a distorted message. Then you have the historical baggage associated with some denomination’s teachings and practices. It’s more than saying “Ooh this sounds cool I will grab that and use it!”

  4. It is often very common that institutions and powers co-opt movements of opposition. Its unfortunate, disrespectful, but the aim is to redefine the opposition as somehow supportive of the thing it stood in opposition against. Dorthy Day comes to mind, as does Francis of Assisi, as do the Wesleys, and the Anabaptists. Unless the opposition becomes an institution in and of itself (Luther, Calvin, etc) then it is absorbable by bigger powers. Still, their legacy and identity call out to those of us who stand in opposition to those institutions.

  5. Tyler

    I agree with you for the most part but the question is why do something that the group people claim they honor would not even think of doing (at the least the first generation would not have)?

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