Who Should Attend Church?

I recollect a while back I had a discussion vis-à-vis the Lord’s Supper and who should partake of it. The majority in the conversation felt like communion should be open and I felt to the contrary. Now this post is not about the Lord’s Supper but it relates to my reply. My response was essentially that I believe the Lord’s Supper should not be open to all but exclusive—only baptized members of the assembly should observe. Yet there is more to the situation than just having the Lord’s Communion limited to only believers.

My entire contention consisted of not only should the Lord’s Supper be reserved for baptized adult members of the Gemeinde but also the meeting itself. Now as you might have guessed I received considerable pushback for saying that, after all it appears as if “church” has perpetually been open and free to all. Well that’s not case. “Church” or more appropriately the gathering of the ekklesia originally was only comprised of baptized believers and their offspring.

What’s also interesting about this matter is that the proto or radix Anabaptists viewed the situation from a parallel perspective. The Hutterite Peter Riedemann wrote in his Rechenschaft:

God did not wish to have heathens in his worship services, nor did he wish his people to learn the ceremonies of the heathen. In fact, he threatened that if they did that, he would do to them as he had intended to do to the heathen. For the same reason, at the time of the apostles, unbelievers were not permitted to join believers. Paul, too, separates the faithful from the unbelievers. Accordingly, we also wish in this matter and in all things, to be worthy to receive with him the promise of the inheritance. This is possible, insofar as it is in us to follow Christ is our Master. With his help we will keep his command and covenant, not turning aside from it to the right or to the left. May he give us and all others who wholeheartedly want it, his grace to do this, Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[1]

Riedemann alludes to many scriptural passages such as Exodus 12:43 and Numbers 33:55-56. Yet his remarks regarding the Apostle and Paul has the most relevance to this discussion. His mentioning of Paul’s separating of “the faithful from the unbelievers” points to 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1:

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Contextually Paul was speaking to the ekklesia established in Corinth and likewise Riedemann was speaking in respect to the Anabaptist Gemeinde. Only those baptized adult disciples was participants in the fellowship of Christ that routinely came together for edification and partook of the cup and ate of the loaf. All those that have not entered the ekklesia through repentance and rebirth evidenced by water baptism are outside the kingdom thus making their attendance at meetings unwarranted.

 

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[1] Peter Riedemann, Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith: Translation of the 1565 German Edition of Confession of Our Religion, Teaching, and Faith, by the Brothers Who Are Known as the Hutterites, ed. and trans. John J. Friesen, Classics of the Radical Reformation (Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 1999), 180.

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Scot McKnight and the Anabaptist Kingdom?

smkcThe more I run across Scot McKnight’s writings I see the primitive or radix spirit of the Anabaptists becoming more evident with time. I find it amusing that an Anglican thinks and behaves in a fashion more akin to Anabaptism than many today that choose to carry that designation.

I would like to initiate my return to blogging by addressing some thoughts contained in McKnight’s new book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. In it he first provides a critique of how a group he calls the “Pleated Pants” crowd predominantly comprised of “bible scholars and theologians”.[1] This group essentially reduces the kingdom to some theoretical, abstract, insubstantial concept that “is nowhere and everywhere at the same time”.[2] To McKnight “When this is what ‘kingdom’ means, ‘kingdom’ means nothing because it means everything”.[3]

Next McKnight talks to something that is a reality to me and I see almost on a daily basis. He calls the next group the “Skinny Jeans” people (most likely progressive Neo-anabaptists) that defines the Kingdom of God by way of activism and good deeds in the public sector by professed believers and nonbelievers alike. The activities of these individuals are qualified as kingdom work. McKnight writes regarding the Skinny Pants folk:

For many today, it is far easier to be committed to social justice in South Africa, to the restoration of communities on the Gulf Shore following Katrina, to cleaning up from the devastating tornadoes of the Plains, or to fighting sexual trafficking in any country than it is to be committed to building community and establishing fellowship in one’s local church. I hate to put it this way, but I must: it is easier to do the former because it feels good, it resolves some social shame for all that we have, it creates a bonded experience, it is a momentary and at times condescending invasion of resources and energy, and it is all ramped up into ultimate legitimation by calling it kingdom work. Not only that, it is good and right and noble and loving and compassionate and just. It is more glamorous to do social activism because building a local church is hard. It involves people who struggle with one another, it involves persuading others of the desires of your heart to help the homeless, it means caring for people where they are and not where you want them to be, it involves daily routines, and it only rare leads to the highs of “short-term mission” experiences. But local church is what Jesus came to build, so the local church’s mission shapes kingdom mission.[4]

I am in total agreement with Scot McKnight’s observations on both accounts for as mentioned above I see this line of thinking on both accounts daily and it is bothersome to say the least.

Now at this time I want to focus on the aspect of McKnight’s new work that has everyone upset especially in the Neo-anabaptist community. In the work Mcknight argues that the kingdom is one and the same as the church or ekklesia. He explicitly states “There is no kingdom now outside the church”.[5] Alternatively as McKnight states it elsewhere, “the kingdom is the church, and the church is the kingdom—that they are the same even if they are not identical. They are the same in that it is the same people under the same King Jesus even if each term—kingdom, church—gives off slightly different suggestions”.[6]

The above statements are authentic Anabaptist thought on the part of McKnight. I wrote on each of these subjects from the perspective of a radix comprehension of Anabaptism.  In the blog article Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus I addressed how one cannot acquire redemption in isolation:

The gospel that die Täufer preached was not a soterian gospel but one that focused outside of oneself. It did not concentrate on “my place” in the Kingdom but on welcoming others and making sure that, their fellow brothers and sisters maintained their place it in. In Anabaptist thought “[r]econciliation between individuals belongs as much to the essence of salvation as does reconciliation to God; the two dimensions are inseparable.” To them “man cannot come to God except together with his brother” but not just one’s spiritual sibling but also “the neighbor”, these “constitutes an essential element of one’s personal redemption.

In an earlier post I also talked to proto-Anabaptism’s thinking on this matter called The Core Message of 16th Century Anabaptism: The Gospel where I essentially argued that the Gemeinde (the preferred German term that was the equivalent in the minds of the Anabaptist of the Greek ekklesia) was the equivalent of the Kingdom on earth. Putting it in the words of Robert Freidman the Gemeinde or “brotherhood-church” to him was “a gathering of the reborn, an attempt to translate the kingdom idea into practical forms of everyday living—if not in terms of the fullness of the kingdom itself, then at least in what it foreshadows.”[7]

As was mentioned in the opening Scot McKnight is looking at the matter from the perspective of radix or primitive Anabaptism and even though he is Anglican now I appreciate that at least someone on the internet and in academia that defines Anabaptism properly.

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[1] Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014), 9.

[2] Ibid., 13.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] Ibid., 96-7.

[5] Ibid., 87.

[6] Ibid., 206.

[7] Robert Friedmann, The Theology of Anabaptism: An Interpretation (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 1998), 43.

Anabaptism: Two Kinds of Obedience

A dualistic view of the world permeated Swiss Brethren thought. The things of God and Christ in contrast to those of Satan, spirit versus flesh and light versus dark. In their estimation there was a correct way to do something and an inaccurate way.  How one demonstrated obedience was posited by the Brethren, as in other areas there was a wrong and right way to not only show but view obedience.[1] This is seen in a tract of Swiss Brethren origin entitled Two Kinds of Obedience believed to have been written by Michael Sattler.

No time is wasted by Sattler he begins the tract by stating the whole premise which is where the title originates. Sattler writes:

Obedience is of two kinds, servile and filial. The filial has its source in the love of the Father, even though no other reward should follow, yea even if the Father should wish to damn His child; the servile has its source in a love of reward or of oneself. The filial ever does as much as possible, apart from any command; the servile does as little as possible, yea nothing except by command. The filial is never able to do enough for Him; but he who renders servile obedience thinks he is constantly doing too much for Him. The filial rejoices in the chastisement of the Father although he may not have transgressed in anything; the servile wishes to be without chastisement although he may do nothing right. The filial has its treasure and righteousness in the Father whom it obeys only to manifest His righteousness; the servile person’s treasure and piety are the works which he does in order to be pious. The filial remains in the house and inherits all the Father has; the servile wishes to reject this and receive his lawful (gesatzten) reward. The servile looks to the external and to the prescribed command of his Lord;-the filial is concerned about the inner witness and the Spirit. The servile is imperfect and therefore his Lord finds no pleasure in him; the filial strives for and attains perfection, and for that reason the Father cannot reject him.

The filial is not contrary to the servile, as it might appear, but is better and higher. And therefore let him who is servile seek for the better, the filial; he dare not be servile at all.[2]

From the offset dual forms of obedience is posited, the “servile” and the “filial”. Sattler’s tract does not address what to do in its entirety but rather the attitude one is supposed to possess concerning obedience unto God and Christ. The opening form is an unquestioning slavish disposition, the individual does it because of fear, laziness and selfishness. They dread the consequences of disobedience and they will only do what is required of them by their master and nothing more. The other is has a familial attachment to God as a father and the individual is obedient out of love for their Creator. The filial wants to do the will of God because it brings him or her joy to do so. They desire nothing out of it but the satisfaction of knowing they have been obedient to their Lord and their Father.

Also the servile variety of obedience is not favored by God because He knows the reasons for the servile’s compliance. That is the servile only seeks what he or she desires and to look virtuous in the eyes of onlookers and nothing else thus it is imperfect. The actions may be appropriate but the longing that perpetuates the actions fall short in the eyes of God. It should be the aim of the servile to transcend their current state of mind in order to acquire the mindset of the filial or not attempt to serve in any fashion whatsoever.

The servile is Moses and produces Pharisees and scribes; the filial is Christ and makes children of God. The servile is either occupied with the ceremonies which Moses commanded or with those which people themselves have invented; the filial is active (sehefftig) in the love of God and one’s neighbor; yet he also submits himself (unterwindet er sich) to the ceremonies for the sake of the servants that he may instruct them in that which is better and lead them to sonship (kindschafft). The servile produces self-willed and vindictive people; the filial creates peaceable and mild-natured persons; the servile is severe (schwer) and gladly arrives quickly at the end of the work; the filial is light and directs its gaze to that which endures (die were). The servile is malevolent (ungünstig) and wishes no one well but himself; the filial would gladly have all men to be as himself. The servile is the Old Covenant, and had the promise of temporal happiness (seligkeit); the filial is the New Covenant, and has the promise of eternal happiness, namely, the Creator Himself. The servile is a beginning and preparation for happiness; the filial is the end and completion (volkomenheit) itself. The servile endured for a time; the filial will last forever. The servile was a figure and shadow; the filial is the body and truth.[3]

Here Sattler likens the mental disposition of the servile with Moses who represents the behavior found in the Old in contrast with filial that parallels Christ and the conduct found in the New. A servile mindset only creates legalists while the filial manifests Spirit filled heirs of God. The servile’s focus is on the minutest details of traditions and liturgies while the filial’s motivation is loving God and their neighbor. The filial will submit him or herself to “ceremonies” not for the reasons that the servile would do so. The filial does so in order to show the sevile the path to what is better. A servile mentality only produces egotistical and vengeful individuals in contrast to the peaceable filial. One may start with a servile outlook but they should not remain in that state perpetually. Their view should not be happiness that only exist in the present but happiness with eternity in view. Sattler continues with his “familiar Anabaptist distinction between the lower ethical standards of the Old Testament and the higher law of the New.”[4]

According to the Old Testament only he who murdered was guilty of judgment; but in the New, he also who is angry with his brother. The Old gave permission for a man to separate from his wife for every reason; but not at all in the New, except for adultery. The Old permitted swearing if one swore truly, but the New will know of no swearing. The Old has its stipulated punishment (roach), but the New does not resist the evil.

The Old permitted hatred for the enemy; the New loves him who hates, blesses him who curses, prays for those who wish one evil; gives alms in this manner that the left hand does not know what the right has done; says his prayer secretly without evident and excessive babbling of mouth; judges and condemns no one; takes (zeuget) the mote out of the eye of one’s brother after having first cast the beam out of one’s own eye; fasts without any outward pomp and show (misszierung) ; is like a light which is set on a candlestick and lightens everyone in the house; is like a city built on a hill, being everywhere visible ; is like good salt that does not become tasteless, being pleasing not to man but to God alone; is like a good eye which illuminates the whole body; takes no anxious thought about clothing or food, but performs his daily and upright tasks ; does not cast pearls before swine (sewe)y nor that which is holy before dogs; seeks, asks and knocks; finding, receiving and having the door opened for him ; enters through the narrow way and the small gate; guards himself from the Pharisees and scribes as from false prophets ; is a good tree and brings forth good fruit ; does the will of his Father, hearing what he should do, and then doing it.[5]

The Swiss Brethren’s above “description of Christian faith and life” is comprised of “Biblical phrases taken from the words of Christ”.[6] The reason being that to the Anabaptists Christ was the center of their faith. He was the exemplar in which they were to strive after and emulate. His words illustrate the filial form of obedience. The filial does not just seek the barest minimum in what is required of him or her but they go above and beyond. It is not enough not to physically commit a homicide but a person with a filial disposition will endeavor to rid their hearts and minds of any negatives feelings and thoughts that could compel them to murder.

 

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[1] The tract is also a condemnation on soterianism.

[2] John Christian Wenger, “Two Kinds of Obedience: An Anabaptist Tract On Christian Freedom,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 21, no. 1 (1947): 20.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 19.

[5] Ibid., 21.

[6] Ibid., 19.

Interrogating an Anabaptist: Gerald J. Mast

gerjmastThe third installment of the series Interrogating an Anabaptist I will be focusing on someone exceptional, that person is Gerald J. Mast (Also known as Gerald Biesecker-Mast). I met Gerald in the official MennoNerds Face Book group I was once a member of during a very interesting thread related to Anabaptism, Original Sin and Total Depravity. I enjoyed his comments and as time went on as future threads popped up in the group I would see him more and felt he was very insightful.

During this time I was digging deeper into Anabaptistica (more so than in the past) and I was engaged in one of my book hunts on Amazon.com. I was looking for books on the Swiss Brethren, the Hutterites and Anabaptism in general and I ran across a name that was familiar. Then when I went to the author’s bio and list of books written on Amazon I was taken aback. I could not believe that I had been dialoguing with an Anabaptist scholar the whole time and did not even know it. Also I could not recall one instance where he worked into any of the conversations that he has written on the subject of Anabaptism or that he was some sort of an expert. I found that really refreshing in light of the contemporary “celebrity pastor” that seems to popup every month.

I also recollect when I realized it was Gerald that I was looking at on Amazon I did something I do not really like to do. I posted “Are you that Gerald J. Mast?” on his Face Book page. His reply was something to the effect of “It depends on what “that” Gerald J. Mast did.” After I explained that I was asking in reference to the Anabaptist author Gerald J. Mast we arranged to have a phone conversation. That phone exchange was eye-opening, he assisted me in putting Anabaptism in context and finding direction in my studies. Subsequent conversations assisted me in outlining the book I am currently writing and identify other texts on Anabaptism for study.  Last but not least Gerald is great company (even if it is over the phone) and I look at him as a mentor in the area of Anabaptism. The following is a Q&A I had with Gerald so that you can become familiar with a good friend of mine.

g_mast

Gerald J. Mast is Professor of Communication at Bluffton University and author of a number of books and articles. His speaking and writing has addressed a variety of topics related to Anabaptist persuasion, including peace rhetoric, the Amish in American culture, martyrdom, and Christian vocation.

What was it like growing up as a Mennonite?

I grew up among plain Mennonites, so the main experience I associate with my Mennonite childhood is being part of a “peculiar people” who look and act differently than the rest of the world. Sometimes I would be embarrassed when our family travelled and people stared at us because of our distinctive clothing. But being part of a nonconformist community also encouraged habits of resistance to popular or mainstream culture—habits that I still value. The other thing I remember is that our church was full of conflict about these practices of nonconformity (such as whether our church’s ban on radios included CB radios or not).  But I always understood that the conflicts happened because people loved each other and were concerned about one another’s spiritual well being.  So conflict included both suffering and love.

How did you first get into studying Anabaptism?

In the Mennonite grade school I attended, we had a church history course when I was in seventh grade that included the study of Anabaptism, including sources like the Schleitheim Brotherly Union. We also had a Martyrs Mirror and a Mennonite Encyclopedia in our classroom that I would often read when I was done with my class work. I took a Mennonite history class when I attended Maranatha Bible School in Minnesota before I went to college.  And then during my undergraduate years at Malone College, I took a course in War, Peace, and Nonresistance, for which I wrote a paper exploring historic Anabaptist arguments for pacifism. Before I went to graduate school full time at the University of Pittsburgh, I took a graduate seminar in the communication department at the University of Akron on persuasion in social movements.  For that class I wrote a paper describing the rhetorical practices of early Swiss Anabaptism as a social movement. My PhD dissertation at Pitt was essentially an expansion of this paper.  I’ve been studying Anabaptism for a long time!

What benefits have you gained from studying the lives of these men and women from a period of time different from our own?

People from a different time and place often say and do things that challenge our own conventions of thinking and acting, and they also often do it in another language. So, immersing myself in the various European worlds of sixteenth century men and women who were called Anabaptists can be a cross-cultural experience, at least when I am not just looking for proof of what I already think they are doing or saying. So, careful historical research can cultivate habits of curiosity and listening that are beneficial for all kinds of cross-cultural communication.  But also, studying Anabaptist sources serves as a spiritual practice that helps me become better acquainted with one cluster of faithful brothers and sisters in the “cloud of witnesses” encouraging us to “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,” as the writer to the Hebrews puts it in chapter twelve. 

In your opinion do you think that Mennonites should regularly read and study the writings of say Menno Simons for instance in the same fashion that Calvinists read the writings of John Calvin and his Institutes?

I have been inspired and challenged by reading Menno and Marpeck and other early Anabaptist writers; however, I know that most Mennonites do not find these writings to be accessible or inspiring.  I do think that those who presume to write Anabaptist or Mennonite theology for the church today should be conversant with these sources, not because they are infallible repositories of Reformation truth but because they offer practical wisdom for being disciples of Jesus Christ that is often neglected by the more systematic or abstract theologies of Protestant reformers like Calvin. Another way to put this is that Mennonites should not read Anabaptist sources to look for some kind of definitive doctrinal core—which is how Calvinists read Calvin.  Early Anabaptists were divided about doctrine and, in any event, did not think it was the most important thing. But there is a spiritual savvy about the difficulties of discipleship in those early Anabaptist writings from which we can learn and which could help us be more faithful followers of Jesus Christ today. If we are going to write theology (or preach and teach about theology), Menno and Marpeck and other early Anabaptist writers show us how to do so in a way that makes faithful discipleship to Jesus Christ the primary test of theological truthfulness—rather than some other, more abstract, criterion such as “orthodoxy.”

In a conversation we once had you mentioned the “age of Confessionalism”; could you explain what that is and how this period affected Anabaptism in light of its beginnings?

Historians identify an era of “confessionalization” that begins in the middle of the sixteenth century and continues well into the seventeenth. During this time, Protestants developed official doctrinal statements such as the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession that served to define the religious identities of their congregations and to secure regional loyalties to those princes or magistrates who were identified with a Protestant faction, such as Lutheran or Calvinist. Mennonites who lived in these environments, especially in the Low Countries, were influenced to develop their own official doctrinal statements as a way to achieve unity among their divided fellowships and also to explain their convictions in terms that made sense to their Protestant and Catholic neighbors. The result was that Mennonites began to frame their beliefs in increasingly conservative terms, becoming what Michael Driedger has called “obedient heretics.” In my view, the Dordrecht Confession of Faith, which is the most influential of all Mennonite confessions, is a good example of such a conservative framing of Mennonite beliefs, at least when compared with the more radical orientation of the earlier Schleitheim Brotherly Union. For example, article thirteen of Dordrecht offers a much more affirming view of civil government than does article six of Schleitheim.

In my experience I have run into Mennonites that feel that the proto-Anabaptists were way off in their approach to the Bible and ecclesiology. They would rather look to Protestantism or Rome because they have a fully developed theology. What are your thoughts on this? 

Early Anabaptist theology developed in dialogue/debate with Catholic and various Protestant convictions, so there is nothing wrong with being fully engaged in ecumenical discussion about our understandings of the Bible and the church.  In fact, like the early Anabaptists, we should always be open to correction of our convictions in response to light that dawns when we read the Bible together with brothers and sisters in Christ, including brothers and sisters from across the centuries. However, while we should participate in such conversations with humility, I see no reason to assume that early Anabaptist leaders and writers were somehow deficient in their doctrines of the church and of Christ, just because they began with the biblical text, rather than with the “fully developed” creedal or doctrinal frameworks that their Protestant and Catholic interlocutors tried to impose on them. In fact, when we begin, as the Reformers were often inclined to do, with propositional litmus tests, such as those involving the relationships in the Trinity or the nature of Jesus Christ, our attention is distracted from the challenging and transformative and reconciling teachings of Jesus Christ as found in the gospels and we become more concerned with saying the right words than with doing the right things.

You have written, co-wrote and even edited a number of books and articles on Anabaptism, peace, the church and communication. In your opinion what was your greatest contribution to the study of these areas and why? download

The work most often cited in academic literature on Anabaptism is the essay on “Anabaptist Separation and Arguments Against the Sword in the Schleitheim Brotherly Union” published in Mennonite Quarterly Review in July 2000. But I hope in the long run, more people will pay attention to the argument that J. Denny Weaver and I develop in Defenseless Christianity: Anabaptism for a Nonviolent Church. That book explains Anabaptism as an innovative spiritual movement with distinctive theological perspectives; in particular, the book shows how Anabaptism defines the good news that the faithful church offers the world as intrinsically “defenseless” and thus as a gift that cannot be properly appropriated to the political agendas of the world’s imperial and colonial systems. 

My favorite work written by you is Separation And The Sword In Anabaptist Persuasion: Radical Confessional Rhetoric From Schleitheim To Dordrecht. It touches on the whole polygenesis origin of Anabaptism vs a monogenetic one. Even today I will see people appeal to a polygenesis origin for whatever reason. Can you briefly address this debate and how your research contributed to finally settling the matter? bk.gbm.03.cov

The polygenesis argument emphasized that Anabaptism had numerous independent contexts of origin, rather than one single proper beginning in Zurich, Switzerland in January of 1525.  I hardly think that my research settled the debate about polygenesis. By the time that my book came out, the more excessive claims associated with the polygenesis model were being qualified and corrected by the polygenesis historians themselves. If anything, my book was just making clear what the polygenesis historians were already beginning to admit—which is that the peaceful and separated form of Anabaptism that endured in a variety of settings and for the long haul can be understood to have been hammered out on the anvil of the Swiss Reformation at first among Zwingli’s students and then in the discussions that led to union at Schleitheim. Certainly Dutch Anabaptism emerged under very different circumstances but even there, when Menno and likeminded Anabaptists provided a peaceful alternative to the violence at Münster, the possibility of a defenseless form of Anabaptism in the Netherlands was influenced by the existence of such communities in Switzerland, Germany, and Moravia—all of them shaped to some extent by Anabaptist convictions that first took shape in Zurich and then at Schleitheim. The more important argument in my book is not so much about polygenesis but about the strategic ambiguity concerning the sword articulated in the Schleitheim Brotherly Union, which says (at least in my view!) both that the sword is an instrument of Satan that Christians should reject and also a tool of God’s providence to which Christians are subject. My argument was that all forms of defenseless Anabaptism struggled with the tension between these two positions, while gradually leaning toward emphasizing the second statement about God’s providential use of the sword—which can be seen in the Dordrecht Confession, article thirteen. The historical guild in North America that is concerned with Anabaptist studies has largely rejected my argument that Schleitheim articulates a strategic ambiguity about the sword, although James Stayer has acknowledged that I’m correct about Dordrecht containing a more conservative view of civil government than does Schleitheim. Anabaptist scholars in Europe at least seem to have taken my argument seriously, even when they disagree with it. I was glad to see this argument from my book cited approvingly in a recently published collection of Anabaptist biblical studies essays.  I think perhaps biblical studies scholars are less troubled than historians by the idea that a text can have contradictory or ambiguous meanings.

You teach rhetoric and communication from a Christian perspective, can you explain exactly what that is and how it is applied?

Rhetoric as defined by Aristotle is the study of the available means of persuasion; communication as a modern discipline is focused on the practices and technologies by which human beings share meaning with one another. In the Hebrew scriptures, speech is first of all neither a means of persuasion nor a tool for information transfer, but rather a ground of creation—words that organize reality by description, storytelling, and lawgiving. In the context of a world that has become violent and disordered, Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the Word sent by God to redeem, restore, and reconcile the world and that as members of Jesus Christ through baptism our lives also become reconciling words and deeds given by God for the healing of the nations. That is what I try to teach my students.

In light of your years in teaching and your writing career can you pass on any advice to aspiring teachers and writers?

Be thankful for good mentors and demanding editors. And when you have the opportunity—pass those gifts forward.

Is there anything that individuals can look forward to coming from the pen of Gerald Mast in the near future?

I have several essays coming out this fall in a book edited by J. Denny Weaver on the theology of John Howard Yoder. I’m currently co-editing with Trevor Bechtel a volume of essays on the political theology of Pilgram Marpeck, which should be out within the year. And I’m hard at work on a book that documents how old order and conservative Anabaptist communities are working around the Internet.

 

Historic Anabaptism and the Orthodox God: Follow Up

Found an interesting comment today that encapsulates the heart of the Anabaptist position regarding orthodoxy.  The Dutch Mennonite elder Tieleman Jansz van Braght (1625-1664) in his work the Martyrs Mirror: The Story of Seventeen Centuries of Christian Martyrdom From the Time of Christ to A.D. 1660 during the course of his analysis of the Council of Nicea he presented the epitome of the Anabaptist’s position on the historic orthodox creed.

This is the great Council which is extolled as orthodox and Christian by nearly all so-called Christians. Be this as it may, we see no reason to praise it so highly, seeing that we must honor the precepts of God’s holy Word alone, whereas the rules of that council were made by fallible men. Yet, so far as these men have laid down precepts that accord with the precepts of God’s holy Word, or, at least, do not militate against them, so far we accept, or, at least, do not oppose them.[1]

Scripture was the Anabaptist’s standard for determining those in the Body of Christ. Scripture was the means for defining the nature of God. The Christological narrative that they found in scripture was the foundations for their principal teachings and praxis. The above principal would apply across the board to include Niceno–Constantinopolitan, Chalcedon and Athanasian or any other historic ecumenical statement of belief that originated leading to or during the “Constantinian shift” or “reversal”.

 

 

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[1] Thieleman J. van Braght, Martyrs Mirror (Scottdale, PA and Waterloo: Herald Press, n.d.), 156, accessed June 30, 2014, http://www.homecomers.org/mirror/martyrs019.htm.

Historic Anabaptism and the Orthodox God

At present many profess to adhere to some form of Anabaptism, they will attempt to mix and match all forms of (in my opinion incompatible) forms of Protestant and Roman Catholic practices and teachings and contriving a plethora of fantastical names to differentiate their supposed unique form of Anabaptism. Yet probably the one common thing a person can claim about these Neo-anabaptists is that they make a profession of orthodox belief regarding the nature of God and Christ. That is they claim to hold to the Trinity. It’s also more than likely that they would say that this is one of the earmarks of authentic Christianity. While Nicea and Chalcedon may have been the measuring rod for Protestantism and Roman Catholicism but what about Anabaptism or rather looking back was it a precondition for identifying Anabaptists?

My answer is no based on the fact that (1):

 The Anabaptists never attached the weight to creeds or confessions given to them by the remainder of Christendom; they were biblicists who produced a large number of confessions, not as instruments to which the laity or ministry subscribed ex anima, but as instructional tools for the indoctrination of their young people and as witnesses to their faith for distribution in society or as a means of better understanding between differing groups.[1]

Yes it is true that they produced their own confessions but that is the main point. Their beliefs and definition of Christianity come about through their study of scripture. They did not let the activities of others during a problematic time in Church history establish the rule for who qualifies as a Christian and who does not. Take the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, it had very little to do with orthodoxy if at all. It’s focus was on the process of coming to faith, establishing oneself as a member of the Body of Christ and Kingdom living. If the first generation Swiss Brethren had ever thought differently regarding any of the seven articles of the confession they would have altered them. The confessions was not considered inspired of God, they were just an outline of their beliefs at that time in history.

(2) When attempting:

to understand 16th-century Anabaptist notions of God it is most important to note that what distinguished Anabaptism from its Reformation counterparts—the Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican traditions—was the extent of its theological and sociological diversity. It was not one homogeneous mass but a collection of diverse movements spread throughout Europe, defined by local differences which affected each group’s theology. Consequently, one cannot assume that there was one Anabaptist doctrine of God. Here as in other theological doctrines there was a dynamic plurality of views, cross-fertilizing each other and undergoing evolution especially during the early period.[2]

This point is evident by the content of Anabaptist writings, in some instances you will find statements that at the least on the surface appear Trinitarian in nature but then later in another document authored by another Anabaptist writer you might find something that appears to be less Trinitarian or does not even address God’s nature at all. One will not find a detailed nuanced theological treatise in the fashion of Chalcedon or Nicea on the part of the Anabaptists. Some had different priorities when writing and speaking on the subject of God. And if anything that was written resembled orthodoxy it was done for the sake of argument.

(3) The initial generation did not concern themselves with systematic doctrinal articulations. Their focus was more on the practical aspects of the Christian life and doctrine. The early material from Swiss Brethren does not touch on God’s nature at all because their concern was on the affects that a relationship with the biblical God should have on the believer’s life.

(4) Some full-fledged Anabaptists did not believe in the Trinity at all.

The Polish Brethren

The Polish Brethren (a.k.a. the Minor Church) rejected the Trinity or in some instances Trinitarian language. Yet they are still Anabaptists in the truest sense. Thomas N. Finger explains that in the mid-late 16th century:

Although an enduring church body from each of Anabaptism’s original branches has attained distinctive form by now, believers’ baptism still spreads eastward. Eventually, the groups who are now adopting this rite will cease practicing it or die out altogether. Yet various threads connect these groups to other strands of our story. The Polish Brethren, who will endure for about a century, constitute a branch of historic Anabaptism.[3]

George H. Williams corroborates this by stating “the Polish-speaking Anabaptism emergent within the context of the Antitrinitarian Minor Church of Poland and Lithuania was, both by analogy and by genetic succession, a regional variant of the Radical Reformation which swept over Central Europe in the sixteenth century.”[4] The reason for the Polish Brethren’s questioning of orthodoxy was for the very thing people accused them of in the past and reason why contemporary individuals will not acknowledge the Polish Brethren as genuine Anabaptists or acknowledge them as being a part of their spiritual lineage. The Polish Brethren in the same fashion as those that proceeded them desired an ekklesia that was purely biblical in nature. They desired to do away with language that did not originate in the Bible and to not force “belief in anything beyond the minimum contained in Holy Scripture and the Apostles’ Creed, generally acknowledged for centuries, the Church removes the possibility of the propagation of heresy.”[5]

Qualification as Authentic Anabaptists

According to C. Arnold Snyder “the Anabaptist movement’ included all the ‘adult baptizers’ of the sixteenth century.”[6]  Thus in his estimation the group had to be engage in adult baptism which during the 16th century was a unique and dangerous practice. Not too many would even fathom participating so the Anabaptists could stand out in this area.

Before moving forward it must be noted that there have been attempts at presenting an outline of specific doctrines that all Anabaptists had in common because of the emphasis and recurrence of certain themes in their writings but orthodox Trinitarianism could hardly be considered one of them. Articulating orthodoxy was not on their list of priorities as mentioned. So now the question is does the Polish Brethren meet the qualifications?

The Polish Brethren that made up “the historic core of the later anti-Trinitarian Socinians, held to adult baptism”.[7] Not only that the “Polish Anabaptists, at the beginning at any rate, accepted nonresistance, too, as part of their religion. They rejected war and the magistracy as unchristian functions, just as the Swiss Brethren and the German and Dutch Mennonites did.”[8] An item of note is that the Polish Brethren held to nonresistance to such a degree that they “produced perhaps the most interesting writings on nonresistance that have come down to us from the sixteenth century.”[9]

Conclusion

When it relates to orthodoxy Anabaptists did not always blend with it, there has always been beliefs in play that many would call aberrant. A more notable example is the “celestial flesh” or “heavenly flesh” Christology of the Melchiorite Anabaptists and later the Mennonites. Much effort has been put forth to distance the Anabaptists from the Polish Brethren because of their beliefs and how Protestants and Roman Catholics would react to them. But Anabaptism was never about pleasing those bodies, it was about seeking truth found in God’s Word the Bible and applying what is learned to please God. To the Anabaptists no ecclesiastical authority could determine for them whether they was in the will of God. Therefore orthodoxy was never a determining factor when defining Anabaptism from a historical perspective.

 

___________________________________________________

[1] Christian Neff et al., Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 1989), s.v. “Confessions, Doctrinal,” accessed June 24, 2014, http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Confessions,_Doctrinal#1955_Article.

[2] A. James Reimer, Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 1989), s.v. “God (Trinity), Doctrine Of.,” accessed June 24, 2014, http://gameo.org/index.php?title=God_(Trinity),_Doctrine_of#Sixteenth-Century_Anabaptists.

[3] Thomas N. Finger, A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology: Biblical, Historical, Constructive (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 41.

[4] George H. Williams, “Anabaptism and Spiritualism in the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: An Obscure Phase in the Pre-History of Socininianism”, in Ludwik Chmaj, ed., Studia nadarianizmem (Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1959), 221.

[5] Stanislas Kot, Socinianism in Poland: The Social and Political Ideas of the Polish Antitrinitarians in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, trans. Earl Morse Wilbur (Boston: Starr king press, 1957), 192-93.

[6] C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 1995), 6.

[7] George Huntston Williams and Angel M. Mergal, eds., Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, The Library of Christian Classics (1957; repr., Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 20.

[8] Peter Brock, ed. “A Polish Anabaptist Against War: The Question of Conscientious Objection in Marcin Czechowic’s Christian Dialogues of 1575”, Mennonite Quarterly Review 52, no. 4 (1978): 279.

[9] Ibid., 280.

Another Look at the SBC

In the past I have been very critical of the Southern Baptist Convention and their relatively newfound fascination with Anabaptism. Recently I have been rethinking my stance on the matter and the SBC in general when it relates to this subject. And I realized that I have a lot in common with them, and in light of some recent events this has become even clearer to me. Take for instance many of my beliefs that I attained from my study of the proto-Anabaptists would be considered conservative or as my progressive critics would most likely call “Fundamentalist” a point which I would vehemently disagree.

My belief model originates with the 16th century Anabaptists and therefore if it is “fundie” in nature then the designation applies to those men and women from the past as well. Wearing pejoratives goes with the Anabaptist territory. Another area that I share with this particular segment of the SBC is a passionate dislike of Calvinism and Reformed thought, which is inherent in Anabaptist thought. My last point I would like to bring attention to is a shared appreciation for the source material (whether it be in the original German or English translations). Who better to define Anabaptism than the Anabaptists themselves?

Now with that being said, I still have issues with the SBC when it relates to implying a historical connection with Anabaptism that can barely be made to begin with. And naturally I have issues with traditional views that the SBC held to for many years and some even today regarding war, military service, political involvement and issues relating to “race”. Now I know all SBC members do not approach those matters in the same fashion but those are still relevant issues that need addressing.

Last night I went ahead and purchased The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists: Restoring New Testament Christianity edited by Malcolm B. Yarnell III.

PPATanabapt

Not too long ago I was granted limited access to the work and from what I looked at it was a good effort. The authors actually went to the sources i.e. the original Anabaptists and took what they believed and tried to demonstrate how we can apply those teachings at present. I do not see that much today, in its place I see political and social ideology passed off as Anabaptism.

Going forward I think I am going to reach out to some of these Baptists and see what comes of it.

MennoNerd’s Contemporary Anabaptist Convictions

As MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism.

My fellow MennoNerd Tyler Tully devised criteria for determining contemporary anabaptism. These present-day identifiers consist of:

  • Jesus Centered- Jesus stands as the lens by which we read the entire Bible, and the exemplary by which we engage all theology. Jesus takes all precedence in matters of faith and life for us. He is the exact representation of God and the King of our Kingdom. His example, teaching, and identity matter more than anything. His values, example, and commandments often put us at odds with the laws, values, and expectations of Christendom and State. Responding to the ways of this world in a Jesus-like manner, Anabaptist communities operate as alternatives to the systems around them. Its is the centrality of Jesus above all things that defines every other particularity within Anabaptism.
  • Free Church of Confessing, Baptized Disciples- For the Anabaptist, community is essential to follow Jesus–and this practice often places us at odds with the Church-State. Although individuals choose to respond to this calling, or not, we enter into community with others through baptism. Salvation is realized in community, but so is sin.  As a matter of intersection, some Anabaptist groups draw from the Wesleyan and Liberationist wells that are also aimed at communal and economic reform in light of the Kingdom of God. Although not unique among (mostly white) post-liberal groups, post-colonial theologies continue to influence this new wave of Anabaptist expression as historically rooted Anabaptist theology has influenced them. Building upon the movement of the God through the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt, the Jews occupied in the time of Jesus, the religious, cultural, political, and social identity of Jesus in the Gospels, and the history of persecution of Anabaptists during the Reformation period and beyond–Anabaptists choose to minister in, of, and amongst the marginalized. We see this as a natural expression of our commitment to discipleship in the Kingdom which stands against Christendom and the State.
  • Agents of God’s Shalom– More than merely being non-violent on a personal level (a measure that all Anabaptists will not flinch from) we are dedicated to producing God’s Shalom in our communities, and standing against violence in all of its forms (Empire, oppression, poverty, war, etc.). Shalom is more than the absence of conflict (Pax Christi), it is the peace that surpasses all understanding, as God’s Reign fosters wholeness through reconciling the hierarchies of class, race, ethnicity, age, sex, gender, sexuality, and ableism. Although there are tensions within the Anabaptist movement as to the Church’s relationship to possible political responsibilities, Anabaptists reject Dominionism in favor of persuasion. Thus Anabaptists can responsibly engage the Powers and Principalities through prophetic and non-violent witness.

It is my goal to take these distinctives and demonstrate their appearance from the perspective of Radix-Anabaptism.

Jesus Centered

Many proclaim to be Christ centered or “Christocentric” but there are distinctions and realities that must be recognized when dealing with this matter. What many define as a Christocentric approach is in reality an “Christological” perspective. Stuart Murray explains the historical origins of the positions regarding Anabaptism in relative to their Protestant contemporaries in addition to the nuances involved in owning a Christocentric or Christological model.

When we compare the Christocentric Anabaptist approach with the Reformers’ methodology, we can appreciate the distinctive nature of the Anabaptists’ approach. The Reformers’ hermeneutics can fairly be described, explicitly or implicitly, as Christological. Jesus Christ is the supreme revelation of God to humankind, and his death, resurrection, and ascension are God’s central acts in history. The biblical message was that through these events salvation was available to those who would believe. The whole of Scripture testified to this central truth. With this Anabaptists heartily agreed. However, the Reformers’ emphasis was less on Jesus himself and more on his salvific acts and the doctrine of justification by faith. In this sense, we might describe the Reformers’ hermeneutics as soteriological: their understanding of salvation provided the hermeneutical key to Scripture.[1]

In the Anabaptist mindset, the focus is on Jesus life and teachings thus making their position Christocentric or Christ centered whereas the Reformers put more emphasis on the soteriological aspects of Jesus’ life. All of these things factor into the hermeneutic or interpretative methods employed when looking at the Bible, which is the source of any post resurrection information one can acquire, related to Christ.  However, the Anabaptists added a second aspect by to their paradigm. Murray goes on to explain:

Anabaptist hermeneutics, however, were not only Christological but Christocentric in the sense of focusing on Jesus himself instead of on a doctrine describing the effects of his redeeming work. For Anabaptists, he was not only their redeemer but also the example they were to imitate and the teacher they were to learn from. Their Christocentrism was tied more firmly to the human Jesus than was the Reformers’ Christological approach, and their interpretations of the rest of Scripture were significantly different as a result, making their hermeneutics distinctive in the Reformation context.[2]

The Anabaptists applied an Christological perspective to their Christocentric position thus not losing any type of recognition for the acts and benefits wrought by Christ on their behalf.  However, once one has recognized the works of Christ as a Christian emulating his life and obeying his teachings was required of his followers. Thus in a genuine sense the Anabaptist community “was a community whose discernment was measured by the person and the words of Christ.” [3]  For believers then and now Jesus’ life and teachings are to be viewed as the “primary way to understand the circle-of-expression that is God, we have a living human example upon which to model our human living.”[4]  To be Christocentric begins with looking at the four detailed and intimate portraits of Jesus and his life known as the Gospels. These four accounts are consistent “in the nature of Jesus’ teaching, pronouncements and attitudes to all.”[5] When one wants to be Christocentric, they should be inclined “to adopt his attitudes and example as well as heeding his teaching directly.”[6]

Yet when one embraces a Christocentric faith the life and teachings of Jesus must stand over all others as far as ordering of priorities. The Christian should start with Jesus while not neglecting the remainder of God’s special revelation. While Protestants in general regardless of place in history, emphasize the writings of Paul to an abnormal degree some professed, Anabaptists appears to emphasize the Gospels to the point where other portions of the Bible in general seem to be neglect or deemphasized. This should not be the case; all later New Testament writers should be contemplated. All the biblical writers  was Spirit inspired by the Father to document His will in the same fashion as Christ came to declare and live out the Father’s will. Authors such as Paul and Peter did not stray from the words of Jesus but explained them or interpreted them. They took the commands, teachings and principles established by the Messiah and demonstrated the application of those things for Christian consumption.

There is no such thing as a Paul vs Jesus rivalry, Paul was a servant of Christ and he did not teach anything that would contradict his Master’s wishes. The initial point naturally leads into the second.

Free Church of Confessing, Baptized Disciples

Loosely defined the “term ‘free church’ suggests a community which arises from the voluntary association of the faithful and which on principle administers its own affairs without the aid or the interference of the temporal government.”[7] It has an emphasis on the “free will of the individual and liberty from the constraints of the authorities were thus the distinct marks of the free church, as it first appeared among the Anabaptists.”[8]The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online expands on this issue by stating:

The church (Gemeinde) . . . is a voluntary and exclusive fellowship of truly converted believers in Christ, committed to follow Him in full obedience as Lord; it is a brotherhood, not an institution. It is completely separated from the state, which is to have no power over the church; and the members of the church in turn do not hold office in the magistracy. There is to be complete freedom of conscience, no use of force or compulsion by state or church; faith must be free. In these principles the Anabaptists were pioneers and forerunners of modern religious liberty and the free church. This church concept was held in sharp distinction from the prevailing inclusive concept of both Catholic and Protestant state-churchism, namely, that of the mass church (Volkskirche) coterminous with the population of a state, into which all citizens are in effect born and are to be formally incorporated by universal and compulsory infant baptism and in which they remain until death . . . . the Anabaptist conception of the church is ultimately derivative from its concept of Christianity as discipleship, i.e., complete obedience by the individual to Christ and the living of a holy life patterned after His example and teachings, an essential idea in it is that the church must be holy, composed exclusively of practicing disciples, and kept pure. It is a church of order, in which the body determines the pattern of life for its members, and therefore has authority over the individual’s behavior. It controls admission of new members, requiring evidence of repentance, the new birth, and a holy life, and maintains the purity of the church through discipline using the ban or excommunication. Adopting the program of Christ for the church . . . as their aim, the Anabaptists sincerely sought to achieve a church “not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” They cannot however rightly be charged on this account with perfectionism, for their position expressly provided for discipline for sinning church members.[9]

Another essential aspect of the free church originally and is essential to Radix-Anabaptism is “a denial of both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant teachings about salvation and the Christian life.”[10] The reason for this being that the Anabaptists held to a dualistic worldview. There are only two realms or “Kingdoms” in which one can reside. The first being the Kingdom of the World and the other is the Kingdom of God or Heaven. Only the free church can reside in the realm of the Kingdom indicated by the visible manifestation of the Spirit’s presence in their midst. The Schleitheim Brotherly Union states:

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 . . . 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 . . . . 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.[11]

To be a free church within the context of prototypical Anabaptism meant detachment from the State and unscriptural and burdensome practices and teachings. This two is another identifier of Radix-Anabaptism.

Agents of God’s Shalom

To the ancient Hebrews the word for peace is the term שָׁלוֹם. Transliterated it is shalom; it has the lexical significance of “completeness”, “soundness” (as in mental or physical), “welfare”, “contentment” and “peace”. It denotes a full-orbed state; it “is iridescent in meaning, connoting well-being. Shalom may denote (material) prosperity . . . . ethical relations among humans . . . or eschatological (messianic) hope that brings peace among nations”.[12] The Anabaptist approached this form of peace through what is known as nonresistance, in “German, the mother tongue of most early Anabaptists, the teaching was called Wehrlosigkeit, or defenselessness. It indicated the unwillingness of the peaceful Anabaptists to carry weapons or to defend themselves. To distinguish themselves from other Christians, they called themselves die wehrlosen Christen, of defenseless Christians.”[13] This was the method sanctioned by Christ, he said:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.[14]

This is identified as biblical nonresistance; this is the proper means to acquire shalom.

It attempts to make peace, or perhaps better, it attempts to offer peace in place of the natural response that man makes when thwarted or attacked. It does not have a backup position that allows it to support violent action or warfare in cases when all else fails to bring peace . . . Nor does it allow taking of human life to defend another human life in cases where that life is being threatened. It is not peace itself that is being honored, but the image of God in the other human being, as well as the commandments of Jesus. It is not earthly peace that is being sought as it was the highest possible good.[15]

Being advocates of peace requires more than talking or speaking. Agents of peace speak through their actions. The Anabaptist emphasis on obedience and works held to nonresistance of a biblical nature. When speaking they do not “speak truth to power”, for Christians was not commanded to engage any government or authoritative civil or political entity. Their message is to be shared with each other and those common ordinary people and if only the opportunity presents itself to those in power. No intentional interaction should be sought with those in power.

Concluding Remarks

While Radix-Anabaptism would not have an issue with the above, the criteria established by the MennoNerds in general, some features must be nuanced.  Personally, I feel that it is the first step in a very positive direction.

___________________________________________________

[1] Stuart Murray, Studies in the Believers Church Tradition, vol. 3, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 1999), 84.

[2] Ibid.

[3] C. Arnold Snyder, From Anabaptist Seed: Exploring the Historical Center of Anabaptist Teachings and Practices (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2007), 17.

[4] Andrew Francis, Anabaptism: Radical Christianity (Bristol: Imagier Publishing, 2010), 15.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hans Jürgen-Goertz, The Anabaptists, trans. Trevor Johnson (London: Routledge, 1996), 86.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Harold S. Bender and Cornelius J. Dyck, Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 1955), s.v. “Church, Doctrine Of,” accessed May 3, 2014,http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Church,_Doctrine_of#1955_Article.

[10] James Edward McGoldrick, Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History, Atla Monograph Series (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 2000), 32:88.

[11] Micheal Sattler and John Howard Yoder, “The Schleitheim Brotherly Union,” Mennonite Church USA Archives, February 11, 2002, accessed May 4, 2014, http://mcusa-archives.org/library/resolutions/schleithiem/separation.html.

[12] Donald E. Gowan, ed., The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 354.

[13] Stephen Russell, Overcoming Evil God’s Way: The Biblical and Historical Case for Nonresistance (Guys Mills, Pennsylvania: Faithbuilders Resource Group, 2008), 6.

[14] Matthew 5:38-42.

[15] Ibid., 6-7.

Liberation from Burdensome Liturgy and Practices

The following is Radix-Anabaptism’s contribution to a blog tour surrounding this year’s Wild Goose Festival theme ‘Living Liberation.’

 wildgoosefest

Galatians 5:1 admonishes believers to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”[1] In another place when denouncing the Sadducees and Pharisees Jesus said regarding them. “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46). Jesus likened the unscriptural meticulous traditions and customs of the Jewish religious community to a load of goods that one is not easily able to carry, something that taxes a person physically and harmonizing with the thought of the analogy spiritually. However, Jesus offered something different he said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

For centuries, the historic church has adopted liturgies and practices that do not communicate the words of Jesus and Paul but in its place, it has reinstated arduous formularies for public worship. During the sixteenth century when the Protestant Reformation surfaced many things was retained and even at present it has become widespread to reach back and replant those things that was castoff. Out of the Reformation, another reformation occurred, known as the Radical Reformation and while there were, many participants in this reformation one group stood out in particular. That group was the Anabaptists.

Within Anabaptism, they adopted a simplified means of gathering for mutual edification.  While there is not that much data regarding their day to day gatherings for edification (or worship services), the extant material present reveal a simplicity that liberates one from the traditions assimilated during the post first century Church. The Anabaptists saw that Christianity is supposed to be simple in nature, it should be where it is a way of life; it should function as a part of a person’s daily routine. We are called to be obedient and produce goods works, not to put forth effort attempting observe liturgies or alien practices that did not originate from God’s Word the Bible. When one compares what we see at present to what the Anabaptists practiced, it would be hard to determine which aligns with the words of Christ and the apostolic ekklesia. Take their meetings for edification as an instance.

The Anabaptists “worshipped in forests . . . caves, barns, or mills . . . the only Anabaptist meetinghouse was built in the 16th century . . . [a] few groups bought and refurbished the interiors of buildings like warehouses, but they were forbidden to make the exteriors look like conventional churches”.[2] They also employed their personal homes for such meetings more often than the above settings.  Even when they had meetings houses in later generations, they forewent “symbols or sculptures or stained glass windows . . . [m]ost of them didn’t even have meetinghouses, and they got used to the simplicity of natural surroundings.”[3]

In larger settings, “the central element was preaching to explain the Scripture. The services included prayers and hymns, and participants also had opportunity to comment on the sermon.”[4] Contemporaneously one is almost never allowed to inquire about the sermon in a public setting. The people’s participation level is zero they are solely spectators. The minister or pastor is the sole arbiter of truth and no freedom of expression is permitted. The Anabaptists also “ate a light meal together, sometimes baptized candidates, and discussed major issues such as who among the ministers or readers would be the presiding elder.”[5] Unlike in many instances today, communal meals are not shared nor are the inner workings of the congregation decided by its members. All of these things encapsulate the sizable Anabaptists’ meeting, in other words this is more than one congregation come together on special occasions for various reasons.

Normally when they would meet in smaller groups at a more frequent basis, there was very little variation. These meetings possibly consisted of “five to 10 people”.[6] While many pastors complain about not having a sizable congregation, the Anabaptists knew that smaller was advantageous.  Low cost to maintain and in place of everyone being united at one geographical location numerous smaller communities was established over a wide geographical area for effective evangelism and missions. Their normative local or smaller meetings also parallel the larger assemblies in that they “included Scripture readings, interpretation, and prayer, but perhaps less singing than at larger, more secluded gatherings.” [7]

Oppression played a part in the Anabaptist primitive meeting style however; this did not indicate they would have emulated Protestant and Roman Catholic models for gathering if those very same groups did not persecute them. The persecution did not determine the nature and structure of their meetings instead persecution “which made meetings difficult and often dangerous, gave added support to this basic attitude.”[8] The cruelty they underwent only reinforced an attitude that was present since the inauguration of the movement.

Much more could be related but the above snapshot should model true liberty in practice if only in one area. When we take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ in order to experience the freedom found in him it is essential that we remain in him and obey. Jesus comforted his disciples by saying:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”[9]

One aspect of minding Jesus’ instructions is following those that followed Christ, Paul encouraged the Corinthians by saying “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). While the New Testament authors did not pen any direct mandates concerning all aspects of ecclesial polity they did in fact teach through their actions. They modeled authentic Christian meetings and praxis. I will conclude with the words of J. L. Dagg, he wrote in 1859:

It was made the duty of the apostles to teach their converts whatsoever Christ had commanded, and to set the churches in order. If, instead of leaving dry precepts to serve for our guidance, they have taught us, by example, how to organize and govern churches. We have no right to reject their instruction and captiously insist that nothing but positive command shall bind us. Instead of choosing to walk in a way of our own devising, we should take pleasure to walk in the footsteps of those holy men from whom we have received the word of life . . . respect for the Spirit by which they were led should induce us to prefer their modes of organization and government to such as our inferior wisdom might suggest.[10]

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[1] Authorized (King James) Version

[2] John Oyer and Keith Graber Miller, “In Forests, Caves, and Barns: Worshipping with the Early Anabaptists,” Gospel Herald, September 2, 1997, 2.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Harold S. Bender et al., eds., Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 1989), s.v. “Worship, Public,” accessed March 13, 2014, http://www.gameo.org/index.php?title=Worship,_Public#1959_Article.

[9] John 15:5-11

[10] J.L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (Charleston, SC: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1859), 84.