Felix Manz’s View of Death—No Soul or Hell

Felix-Manz-WebFelix Manz (ca. 1498-1527) is credited with penning the hymn I Will Stay With Christ (Mit Lust so will ich singen) found in the Ausbund the oldest hymnbook of the Swiss Brethren. While Manz did not live very long to write much material depicting his views the things that remains shed light on his beliefs. The canticle mentioned above reiterates something that I addressed previously regarding the Swiss Brethren branch of the Anabaptists views regarding death and the soul. The first two stanzas of Mit Lust so will ich singen (I Will Stay With Christ) says:

I will sing with gladness! My heart rejoices in God who made me wise enough to escape eternal death! And I praise you Christ from heaven who turns away my grief—you whom God sent for my example and light, to call me into your kingdom before my end.

There [in the Kingdom of Christ] I will be joyful with him forever, and love him from the heart. I love his righteousness that guides all who seek life—here as well as there. Righteousness lets itself be scorned as well as praised. But without it nothing survives.

Felix Manz unmistakably tells us how he views death. According to him God provided him with the wisdom to avoid “eternal death” with no qualification.  In the second stanza he speaks to being joyful with Christ “forever” in the “Kingdom of Christ” which contrasts with the eternal death outside of relationship and the kingdom. Also in this section he posits the idea that without embracing Jesus’ righteousness “nothing survives”.

In the seventh section Manz speaks of how servants of Christ does not bring harm to their enemies and those who do are hypocrites lacking the type of love Christ displayed yet they want to be “shepherds and teachers” because they do not comprehend his words. Other than being an indictment on the religious powers that was persecuting the Anabaptists Manz shows that disobedience earns “eternal death”.

The hymn I Will Stay With Christ (Mit Lust so will ich singen) is rich with Swiss Brethren teaching or if one must Swiss Brethren “theology”. Just from the few lines we see that in order to attain salvation an impartation of wisdom, a relationship with Christ and a life of righteousness is required. But that is not the purpose of this post. I can revisit this hymn on another occasion for that what I am lecturing to at present is the fact that we see what many  would call an “unorthodox” view of the soul was not just present in the teachings of Michael Sattler but also with Felix Manz. In Manz’s opinion death was an eternal state save from an intervention of God who gives everlasting life (Romans 1:161 John 5:10-11). At preset we would call this “conditional immortality” or annihilationism. This also renders the concept of Hell nonexistent in first generational Anabaptist understanding at the very least on the part of some of its original members.

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.

 

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[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.

A Beautiful Nuance of Anabaptist Thought: Open Theism

The more I study Anabaptistica the more I embrace their beliefs and practices as my own concerning faith and practice at present. Yet I do not hold to everything they taught 100% more like 98½%. Regarding those things, I have problems with in my opinion just needs to be nuanced or tweaked. Now this leads me to what I am want to present but first the reasons.

It is no secret that Anabaptists did not accept as true foreordination and other aspects of that line of thinking where it is would make God the author of evil. Regarding His sovereignty and foreknowledge, many tried to address them while others did not even bother. For those that did they put forth a valiant effort to present a theodicy that did not mar God’s character. In essence, they were in opposition to Reformed or Calvinistic thought on the issue.[1]

No one can or will argue with the fact that the Anabaptists held to free will or their concern for God’s character when a lack of free will is present, and they contended against Reformed theology from the very commencement of the movement.[2] What I desire to focus on is that what would slightly modify and create a well-reasoned fully-orbed theodicy based on Anabaptist thinking. Open Theism (a belief that I personally hold to) would be just the thing to accomplish this.  In my opinion, it harmonizes with the Anabaptists’ primitive non-Reformed Arminianism.[3]

The following is some useful links that will provide more information on this form of belief regarding the nature and character of God.

Open Theism Information Site
Open Theism Facebook Group
Open Theism Simplified
On Heffalumps and Heresies: Responses to Accusations Against Open Theism

For those that desire something more in-depth I recommend the following books.[4]

 

godofthepossible
opnnessofgod

The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God 
by Clark H. Pinnock (Author) , Richard Rice (Author) , John Sanders (Author) , William Hasker (Author) , David Basinger (Author)

thegodwhorisks

The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence 
by John Sanders


[1] In the future, I will most likely write a post that provides a little more detail.

[2] Some areas they held in common but those were nuanced from an Anabaptist perspective.

[3] The Five articles of Remonstrance was not drawn up until 1610, thus Anabaptism (1525) preceded a full presentation of Arminianism by some 85 years.

[4] If an individual would sticks with these books they will attain a pure unadulterated form of Open Theism.

Scot McKnight on Anabaptism, Bender, Confusion and How People See It

One of the most respectful popular writers on Anabaptistica is Scot McKnight. Just this morning he reposted a revised blog post on Anabaptism. In it, he had some very interesting words that lean heavily towards one of the things I have been trying to communicate for some time now, not just here but in other places as well.

The article is simply titled “The Anabaptists”. There he addresses what many call the Bender School of Anabaptist thought. The Bender in question is Harold S. Bender (1897-1962) a prominent Mennonite voice that assisted in the resurgence of interest in Anabaptistica thanks to his monumental essay he wrote in 1944 called “The Anabaptist Vision”. He inspired many towards a sincere and beneficial study of 16th century Anabaptism. In addition to how it is beneficial for contemporary service to God. Bender was the one that influenced arguably the father of Neo-Anabaptism John Howard Yoder and the Concern group to begin their life-long study of Anabaptistica.

McKnight writes regarding Bender’s views:

 In Bender’s view, there are three major dimensions of the Reformation: Luther and the Lutherans in Germany, Calvin and the Reformed in Switzerland, and Zwingli-generated and then finished later by others Anabaptism. Anabaptism spread through Switzerland, South Germany, Moravia and then into the Netherlands. An alternative view is that Anabaptism emerged in different places in different ways and that it can’t all be traced back to Zwingli and then the early Swiss Anabaptists.

Here McKnight briefly touches on the Monogenetic vs Polygenetic view of Anabaptist origins. While Bender’s “Anabaptist Vision” has a slant, the same could be said of those that champion the polygenetic view. Scholars such as Gerald J. Mast (aka Gerald Biesecker-Mast) have for the most part demonstrated that the polygenetic origin position does not disqualify Bender’s Anabaptist Vision as being valid.[1]

Returning to McKnight’s sketch of Bender’s vision he provides three areas that one could argue defines The Anabaptist Vision, they are:

1. The essence of Christianity, or the Christian life, is discipleship — a committed following of Christ in all areas of life. The word on the street in the 16th Century, and this word repeated often enough by bitter enemies of the Anabaptists, was that they were consistent and devout Christians. If Luther’s word was “faith,” the word for the Anabaptists was “follow.” The inner conversion was to lead to external transformation.

2. A new conception of the church as a brotherhood of fellowship. The ruling image of a church among the Catholics and Reformers was more national and institutional and sacramental, while the ruling image for the Anabaptists was fellowship or family. Joining was voluntary; the requirement was conversion; the commitment was to holy living and fellowship with one another. Thus, the Anabaptist separated from the “world” to form a society of the faithful. This view of the church led to economic availability and liability for one another.

3. A new ethic of love and peaceful nonresistance. Apart from rare exceptions like Balthasar Hubmaier and the nutcases around Thomas Müntzer, the Anabaptists lived a life shaped by love and nonviolence. They refused to coerce anyone.

Thus, for Bender, the focus was on discipleship not sacraments or the inner enjoyment of justification. The church was not an institution or a place for Word-proclamation in emphasis but instead a brotherhood of love. In addition, against Catholics and Calvinists who believed in social reform, like the Lutherans the Anabaptists were less optimistic about social transformation. But, unlike the Lutherans who split life into the secular and sacred, the Anabaptists wanted a radical commitment that meant the creation of an alternative Christian society.

Confusion and Anabaptism

However, the area of most interest to me is his initial words found in the article. There McKnight articulates:

I am often asked “What is an Anabaptist?” and “Who are the Anabaptists?” If one listened to everyone who claimed an anabaptist connection, it would be easy to be confused. For many today a progressive politics is Anabaptist; for others it means being either Yoderian (John Howard Yoder) or Hauerwasian (Stanley Hauerwas); for others it refers to more conservative living and believing communitarian sorts!

The rise of Anabaptist thinking in contemporary evangelicalism — like David Fitch and Greg Boyd and others — needs to be set into context of Anabaptism itself.

There are a number of things to take note of in the above quote from McKnight. (1) People are in search for an authentic definition of Anabaptism. (2) They want to know who qualifies as Anabaptists. (3) Confusion can come from everyone claiming to be Anabaptist. (4) Progressives are generally held to be Anabaptists at this time, and it is wise of McKnight to qualify their theology by the term “politics” because at the end of the day Progressive theology is actually “political theology”. (5) Originally 20th and 21st century expressions of some form of Anabaptism stem from the original Neo-Anabaptists such as John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. As a side note, this is somewhat ironic because contemporary Progressive Neo-anabaptists have serious difficulties with the key players of the Neo-Anabaptist Movement. (6) Many define Anabaptism within the context of Mennonites and associated groups and finally (7) Anabaptism is being defined by the actions and teachings of Christian celebrities such as Greg Boyd.

I am happy that there is someone that sees the issues I have with this ill defining of Anabaptism. While many choose to ignore me or think, I am off base maybe Scott McKnight will fare better than I have.


[1] See: Gerald J. Mast, “The Anabaptist Vision and Polygenesis Historiography,” in The C. Henry Smith Series, vol. v. 6, Separation and the Sword in Anabaptist Persuasion: Radical Confessional Rhetoric from Schleitheim to Dordrecht (Telford, PA: Cascadia Pub. House, 2006), 35-67.

Self-Imposed Descriptor

I was sitting here thinking and in my preceding blog post, I essentially cut myself off as well from using the Anabaptist and Neo-Anabaptist designations (if my words are valid in any fashion). Therefore, I am from this point on coining an already coined name (I have a Facebook group that utilizes this name) to use to communicate my theology and praxis.  I shall forever be known as a:

Radix_Anabaptist

What is a Radix-Anabaptist?

First let us look the name, the prefix radix in the classification Radix-Anabaptism is the Latin term for “root” and we also get the English word “radical” which is  radicalis meaning “of or having roots”. Both of these terms are linked to Anabaptism. The era and movement as it relates to them is known as the Radical Reformation.  The Anabaptists is also known by the moniker Radical Reformers. Stephen J. Nichols testifies in The Reformation How a Monk and Mallet Changed the World, “Our instinct is to see it as meaning extreme, and indeed some in this broad movement were extreme. But the word radical is from the Latin word radix, meaning “root.” These Radical Reformers differed from the Magisterial Reformers, such as Luther and Zwingli and others. The Radical Reformers thought their counterparts had failed to get at the root of the problem in their reforms of Roman Catholicism” (56-7). Conversely, Stephen J. Nichols gets to the important aspect in The Reformation: A Brief History where he writes, “The term “radical,” derived from the Latin term for “root” (radix), also describes the Anabaptists’ desire to return to the “roots” of Christian society” or a return to the doctrines and practices of the first-century Ekklesia (131).

The meaning of Anabaptist or Anabaptism should be familiar with the reader so there is no point in addressing that at this time. Nevertheless, in light of this a Radix-Anabaptist is someone that is not concerned with acquiring a few choice doctrines and adding it to the Protestant Evangelical paradigm. They are interested in going to the root or source of Anabaptism namely those that begun the movement during the 16th century Reformation.

A Radix-Anabaptist is someone that esteems the beliefs and praxis of the 16th century Anabaptists to the degree that they will apply their doctrinal formation as a grid in which to set the parameters of one’s own as long as they coincide with scriptural testimony. This does not mean rigidly sticking to what the originals taught; one can be selective and nuance certain areas. Take for instance I am an Open Theist, which in the opinion of Dr. Roger E. Olson it is a form of Arminianism. From all that I have read on Anabaptistica they were Arminians and they held to libertarian free will. I have a nuanced belief but I am still within the context of Anabaptist thought. That does not necessitate that someone has to be  an Open Theist it just means that a person has the room to work within soteriological models that harmonize with Arminianism.

An additional instance is Ecclesiology; it is well known that the Anabaptists held conventicles, viz. they met in small inconspicuous groups for worship, study and fellowship. While these assemblies were illegitimate in the eyes of the religious and civil authorities at the time, regardless of the cause, this allows a Radix-Anabaptist to pursue various forms of house or organic ecclesiastical expressions.

The demurral may arise addressing how many feel that there were no early Anabaptists set doctrines or practices in which to follow. I would have to dispute this notion.  When you look at any survey of Anabaptist doctrine touching on each branch throughout Europe during the 16th century, there are core themes or distinctives that arise frequently. Yes, some may have added things here in there as they evolved into the initial Mennonites (among other groups) and became more settled in the land and began their de-evolution towards Protestant Evangelicalism.

Some works written by historians and scholars affirm the above and erect a framework of the entirety of Reformation era Anabaptist thought. They are:

Others could be included in this list but these should suffice for delineation purposes.

I am glad I gave some thought to this concern because it has firmly established the direction of my studies and writings from this point going forward.

Rant Regarding Anabaptist Scholars

One of the things that infuriate me about my study of Anabaptistica is the ridiculous price points of scholarly works. I am not engaged in a shallow reading of the material where I can get a brief idea of where this group came from and a cursory knowledge of the hot issues like pacifism at present then throw them in an Evangelical Protestant package. I am deeply in invested in this group in order to see how their original belief and praxis can be translated into the present effectively.  Not because of human admiration or worship but for the reason that I genuinely believe the Anabaptists was the 16th century expression of New Testament first century Christianity. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV). It is in the sense referred to here that I “follow” the original historical Anabaptists. Hence, it should be obvious why not getting access to materials well within my budget can be seriously frustrating. There is one culprit in particular that I want to highlight that exemplifies what I am addressing. The book in question is A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700 authored and edited by John D. Roth and James M. Stayer, published by Brill Academic Publishers.

Ana_Comp_HB

The hardback edition of this work is €140.00, which is $181.00 in US dollars

Ana_Comp_PB

The paperback version is €37.00 in USD it is still a lot for a book at $48.00

This is not even the easily accessible Anabaptist/Mennonite works regardless of where you look. The price points on much of that stuff are still considerably high. When you look at the historical and scholarly works of other groups, you can find the majority at reasonable prices. If the Anabaptist scholars want, people to familiarize themselves on the topic they need to make it cost-effective. If they are, looking for money then charging outrageous prices will not do it because not everyone is fascinated by this topic as I am. At the end of the day, it looks as if I am going to have to shell out the $48.00 for the paperback edition.

From Anabaptist Seed

Anabaptist_Seed CoverNot too long ago I was searching on Amazon.com for a book to procure which is generally something related to Anabaptistica. I stumbled across a title that I had never noticed prior called From Anabaptist Seed: Exploring the Historical Center of Anabaptist Teachings and Practices by C. Arnold Snyder (2008). I almost did not purchase it because many of the Anabaptist or Mennonite works lack the “Look Inside” option or reviews for that matter. Another thing that put me off is that I have found that many an Anabaptist or Mennonite volume possess a high price in relation to other writings of a similar nature.

This particular book was listed at $8.95 in addition to it spanning the extent of a whopping 51 pages. I was terribly put off by these two facts. That was a lot of money for a diminutive booklet.   At that point, I desired to pass it by and search for something else but for some peculiar reason I stopped and purchased it nevertheless. Sometime later when it arrived I must be frank in saying that at the outset I felt as if I was fleeced. I knew my purchase was lacking on page count but what arrived was exceptionally thin. I could not believe I paid $8.95 plus shipping and handling for what I had just obtained in the mail.

However, I eventually got over my anger and realized how futile it would be to attempt sending the booklet back and try to get a refund. So I sat down and began to look over the table of contents. The subjects it covered impressed me. Since it seized my interest on just contents, alone I started to read it. This is when I realized what a gem of a booklet From Anabaptist Seed truly is, the feelings of being cheated was an afterthought (even though $8.95 is still a lot of money for it).

Now you would think that a 51-page booklet would take no time at all to read but it did not. Rather it took a while to get through it. Every time I read a section, it compelled me to pause and reflect. True enough it was subjects I was conversant from studying Anabaptistica. Nevertheless, I guess it was just how Snyder framed and articulated the book’s subject matter that revitalized my attraction. Not that Anabaptism became uninteresting or dull it’s just that the detail put into it compelled me to pursue my passion even more. I must admit the work clarified some areas for me that was not too clear at first and it induced me to examine other aspects of Anabaptism belief and praxis that I did not feel was pending earlier on. It is not a scholarly work but more of a premier on Anabaptism and by extension Mennonites even though I do not see that much of a correlation between the two groups formally at present.

Since this book captivated me so, I will devote a series of blog articles that will address each section of the booklet and articulate whether I think its contents are relevant and how it would look in a contemporary setting. This will be a part of my Anabaptism New-Defined Series.

Twenty-five Misconceived Anabaptist Tenets?

R_andFallI have been perusing the work by the British philosopher and journalist Ernest Belfort Bax entitled The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists. In there he quotes the principal pastor of the Reformation era Church in Zürich, Switzerland Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) who presents some charges against the Anabaptists in the work that he had written Der Wiedertaüfferen Ursprung, Furgang, Secten, Wesen (Loosely translated: The Anabaptists origin, process, Sectarianism), that “enumerates thirteen distinct sects, as he terms them, within the Anabaptist body.” He also details the “general tenets of the organization…in the form of twenty-five propositions”.[1]

They regard themselves as the true Church of Christ well pleasing to God; they believe that by rebaptism a man is received into the Church; they refuse to hold intercourse with other Churches or to recognize their ministers; they say that the preachings of these are different from their works, that no man is the better for their preaching, that their ministers follow not the teaching of Paul, that they take payment from their benifices, but do not work by their hands; that the Sacraments are improperly served, and that every man who feels the call, has the right to preach; they maintain that the literal text of the Scriptures shall be accepted without comment or the additions of theologians; they protest against the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone; they maintain that true Christian love makes it inconsistent for any Christian to be rich, but that among the Brethren all things should be in common, or at least all available for the assistance of needy Brethren and for the common Cause; the preachers of the official Reformation, they maintain, mix up the Old Testament with the New, unmindful of the fact that for the Christian the New Testament has superseded and abolished the Old;they declare it untrue, as the Lutheran and Zwinglian preachers allege, that the soul flies from the body straight to heaven, for it sleeps until the Last Day; they maintain that the preachers rely too much on the secular arm ; that the attitude of the Christian towards authority should be that of submission and endurance only; that no Christian ought to take office of any kind; that secular authority has no concern with religious belief; that the Christian resists no evil; and therefore needs no law-courts nor should ever make use of the tribunals; that Christians do not kill or punish with imprisonment or the sword, but only with exclusion from the body of believers; that no man should be compelled by force to believe, nor should any be slain on account of his faith; that Christians do not resist, and hence, do not go to war; that Christians may not swear; that all oaths are sinful; that infant baptism is of the Pope and the Devil; that rebaptism, or, better, adult-baptism, is the only true Christian baptism; that the Lutheran and Zwinglian preachers make no distinction of persons, allowing sinners, as well as others, to receive the Sacrament, which should be reserved for the elect, that is, for such as by being re-baptized are received into the community of the saints.[2]

At this point in history, proponents of the Magisterial Reformers tended to lump all those that disagreed with them together. The above list of teachings may not properly apply to those that are classified as Anabaptist proper. However much of what is compiled does in fact align with is known definitively regarding Anabaptist opinions. Bax substantiates this by writing “We may fairly take the above doctrines given by Bullinger as representing, on the whole, what we may term the common ground of Anabaptism. There were, however, numerous variations within the body.”[3] According to Bax the reformer Bullinger essentially groups the Apostolic Baptists, Separate Spiritual Baptists, Holy and Sinless Baptists, Praying Baptists, Ecstatic Brothers (enthusiasti, ecstatici) and the Free Brothers among others in with Anabaptism proper. Even in light of this, I am taken aback how the catalog of doctrines corresponds with Anabaptism and there are some listed that I in my view feel should be incorporated into contemporary Anabaptistica.


[1] Ernest Belfort Bax, Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co, 1903), 30

[2] Ibid., 30-2

[3] Ibid.