Part I: Evangelize the Gemeinde?

Recently a book was released that I functioned as one of the general editors and contributed a chapter entitled A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World. Just recently I got into a discussion regarding the meaning of something I wrote. The passage in question related to how I defined evangelism. I said:

Evangelism simply put is the transmission of said gospel to those who have not heard it in order for them to accept the invitation to become citizens of God’s Kingdom, which results in them becoming members of the ekklesia.[1]

The pushback I received related to the portion that says “the transmission of said gospel to those who have not heard it”. In my interlocutors’ comprehension evangelism is not limited to only those that have not been espoused to it. Instead it is a perpetual activity that occurs in the context of the local congregation. It is evident in the sermons that is preached weekly and it is found in the context of discipling. Well I am at odds with the above for the following reasons. Initially I am approaching the matter from a non-Protestant or repopish perspective. I look at the issue from a primitive apostolic perspective as indicated in the New Testament and history. Also from the ecclesio-centric understanding of the prototypical Anabaptists.

New Testament

Evangelism is inseparably tied to the gospel, you can’t talk about one without mentioning the other. The terms employed in the Greek is εὐαγγέλιον (euaggelion) which denotes literally “good news” often translated as “gospel”, the verb form of euangelion, is εὐαγγελίζω (euangelizo) to “announce” or “herald” or “proclaim” the good news or in English evangelize. These terms is seen employed within the context of sharing with unbelievers. Evangelism is heralding the message—making the pronouncement that relates to the king and kingdom. Thus once a Christian has delivered the message or the recipient have heard it all other things that come after is designated as instruction, apologetics or mentoring (discipling). Evangelism cannot be considered as being an aspect of encouraging sanctification for the reason there is a vast distinction between evangelizing and living one’s faith as a testimony.

Also it is important to note that how one defines the gospel will determine its use in the context of the Body. If it is a soterian gospel it will be employed inside especially when one holds to the traditional thinking that majority of the evangelism occurs within the fabricated structure called a “church”. Whereas if the gospel is an invitation to the kingdom then once the invite is accepted you do not need to keep inviting individuals that’s already present.

An objection to this point was it is difficult to escape a gospel that has a soteriological focus after all the Apostle Paul delineated a soterian gospel at 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. There Paul writes:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

If a person looks at 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 as representing the Protestant soterian gospel then there is a problem. Paul did not start that pertinent section (verse 3) off with Χριστός (Christos) or “Christ” and its relation to γραφάς (graphas) the “Scriptures” for nothing. He was focusing on Jesus being the “Messiah” or “Anointed One”. Many treat the term Christ as if it has lost its titular force as a result it has virtually became a last name for Jesus instead of serving as a title to designate messiahship in the minds of professed believers. In ancient “Judaism, “messiah” came to refer to a divinely appointed redeemer who would rule over a restored kingdom of Israel where the dispersed Jews would be gathered at the end of days.”[2] Hence when Paul began with highlighting the gospel he has already in the offset established the kingdom as being the topic. His referencing the scriptures recalls all the messianic promises associated with the kingdom and it’s sovereign.

The Messiah’s death, burial and resurrection was the thing that verified Jesus’ position as the foretold Messiah who would be king. His resurrection validates Jesus being the means in which we individuals experience the new birth which functions as the admission into the kingdom. In the very same chapter that is utilized to communicate the Protestant soterian gospel speaks of the kingdom as the end goal.

But Christ really has been raised from death—the first one of all those who will be raised. Death comes to people because of what one man did. But now there is resurrection from death because of another man. I mean that in Adam all of us die. And in the same way, in Christ all of us will be made alive again. But everyone will be raised to life in the right order. Christ was first to be raised. Then, when Christ comes again, those who belong to him will be raised to life. Then the end will come. Christ will destroy all rulers, authorities, and powers. Then he will give the kingdom to God the Father. Christ must rule until God puts all enemies under his control. The last enemy to be destroyed will be death. As the Scriptures say, “God put everything under his control.” When it says that “everything” is put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself. God is the one putting everything under Christ’s control. After everything has been put under Christ, then the Son himself will be put under God. God is the one who put everything under Christ. And Christ will be put under God so that God will be the complete ruler over everything.[3]

Paul did not create a substitute gospel to replace the one Jesus demarcated all the Apostle did was provide the supplementary knowledge of how to enter the kingdom through faith in the Messiah.

The following is the initial reason why the Anabaptists did not evangelize when the Gemeinde gathered.

Anabaptist Reason I

The proto-Anabaptists known as the Swiss Brethren did not have the ekklesia organized in a fashion where evangelism would take place. The reason being that to them it is implied that the gospel was for all intents and purposes was an invitation in the fashion mentioned subsequently. Anabaptists viewed the gathering of the community (Gemeinde) as being something only the baptized member could participate in. They did not have it open for all.

Because a key aspect of their meetings was the Lord’s Supper and according to Article III of The Schleitheim Brotherly Union touching on the subject of “Bread” it states that only those who can partake of the Lord’s Supper must “be united in the one body of Christ, that is the congregation of God, whose head is Christ, and that by baptism.” This point is echoed by articulating that “whoever does not share the calling of the one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one spirit, to one body together with all the children of God, may not be made one loaf together with them, as must be true if one wishes truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.”[4] The entirety of the contents housed in the Brotherly Union articulate a separatist ideology and there would be no place for a nonbeliever in their presence nor would they try to evangelize someone at their conventicles since all present would be believers already.

The next installment of this article will cover the second Anabaptist reason why they did not evangelize in the Gemeinde.

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Joanna Harader and A.O. Green, eds., A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World (New York: Ettelloc Publishing, 2014), 5.

[2] Ronald L. Eisenberg, Jewish Traditions: JPS Guide, JPS Guide (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008), 619-20.

[3] 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 Easy-to-Read Version

[4] Michael Sattler, The Schleitheim Confession, trans. John Howard Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977), 11.

Missional Programing

This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality for the month of February. MennoNerds is exploring through this event Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what it means concerning participation in the mission of God.

 

“Missional” has become a buzzword, also many define it in a variety of fashions, you will have the term used numerous times by many people but still not quite sure what is meant. Benjamin T. Conner reiterates this by declaring, “The word “missional” is becoming ubiquitous. There is really no shared notion about what missional theology is—to this point there has been no substantive crosscurrent of conversation about the parameters and shape of missional theology.”[1]

 From appearances missional appears to be related to the terms missionary or missions which is interconnected with the Greek words ἀπόστολος (apostolos) and ἀποστέλλω (apostelló). Denoting an individual that is sent forth or an envoy or missionary that is invested with authority by their master, in other words an apostle.[2]

The tendency to subdivide points complicates matters, excessive theological terminology and subdivisions are unnecessary. There is no genuine distinction between “missional”, “missions” and evangelism except for minor nuances. The 16th century Anabaptists did not bother with all those extraneous categories. To them everything was summed up in the Great Commission and obedience to the one that issued it. Christians was to function as ambassadors of the king carrying the gospel to the world outside of the Kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 5:20).

The Anabaptists did not see evangelism, preaching and missionary work as existing as differing vocations some for clergy and some for laity. The Magisterial Reformers taught that the great Commission solely applied to the first century Ekklesia. In the festschrift honoring the lifetime work of Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary entitled The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists: Restoring New Testament Christianity we find the following. Regarding the Magisterial Reformers, they “had little theology of missions. Some of them had no theology of missions for the church. In stark contrast, the Anabaptists give evidence that the most quoted Scripture in all Anabaptist writings is the Great Commission.[3]

While this work accurately depicts the state of affairs at that period in history it portrays an inaccurate assessment in many respects of how the Anabaptists interpreted the Matthean passage.

The Anabaptists did not just believe in the purpose of the Great Commission, but they determined to follow the exact order of the Great Commission—first going; then, having gone, “making disciples”; then “baptizing” only those who choose to be disciples; and finally, “teaching them” to live in obedience to Christ. For the Anabaptists, these four phrases of the Great Commission, in this specific order, establish both a strategy and a structure for the church, both a purpose and a process for the church, both the objective of the church and order for churches.[4]

The above quote establishes the Anabaptist viewpoint well but there is one inaccurate aspect of their position. As established in the article prior to this one, the proto-Anabaptists held to an Erasmian interpretation of the passage. Thus, the “teaching” facet would follow “first going; then, having gone”.

It is during this area time of that programing is supposed to take place. The foundation for being missional is established during the learning, unlearning and relearning phase i.e. the instruction. In the first century, great efforts were sought in order to convey to those interested proper Christian understanding of things (Cf. Luke 1:4). The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology states that catechesis (religious instruction) “originated very early as the teaching given to converts before baptism and developed into the formalized catechumenate”.[5] Later catechisms become the mainstay regarding the proper education of baptismal candidates.

During the 16th century, the Swiss Anabaptist Balthasar Hübmaier felt compelled to write a catechism because he recognized its importance.[6] While this was not normative, it is evident that the Anabaptists regardless of the group had their summary of doctrine, which they taught their baptismal candidates. Therefore, it is possible to establish programs to inculcate an attitude toward being missional.

Aspects of  the catechesis not only taught biblical teachings but it also taught the idea of community, solidarity and seeking out the best for the whole will striving towards a specific goal. The community was the Gemeinde-Ekklesia, which were members of the Kingdom and those on the outside were portions of the World.

While this is accurate, the Ekklesia does not subsist as a group of believers that are content with their Kingdom fellowship and comprehension of scripture. Despite the fact that they do maintain a view of the Ekklesia as a sacred space, that is the Christian Gemeinden are outposts of the Kingdom thus no part of the World they do not isolate themselves from the World. They are supposed to proclaim universally a divine invitation for others to become citizens of the Kingdom. 

Even though those on the outside are citizens of the World, they should be viewed as neighbors. Members of the Gemeinde should seek the welfare of their neighbors as taught by their king. This level of compassion for their fellow human beings will propel new affiliates to proclaim the gospel which is the Kingdom resulting in those taking up the kingdom invitation through putting faith it its appointed king (Jesus Christ), living as citizens now and inviting others to become citizens. This is the core of the Great Commission and the key to instilling a missional spirit.


[1] Benjamin T. Conner, Practicing Witness: a Missional Vision of Christian Practices (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 11.

[2] R. Zarwulugbo Liberty, “The Missionary and His Message,” in Growing Missionaries Biblically: a Fresh Look at Missions in an African Context (iUniverse, 2012), 84-88.

[3] Rick Warren, “The Anabaptists and the Great Commission: The Effect of the Radical Reformers on Church Planting,” in The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists, Restoring New Testament Christianity: Essays in Honor of Paige Patterson (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 85-86.

[4] Ibid., 86.

[5] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 211.

[6] See: Balthasar Hubmaier, “A Christian Catechism,” in Balthasar Hubmaier, Theologian of Anabaptism, ed. and trans. H Wayne Pipkin and John Howard Yoder (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1989), 339-65.

Disciple Making

This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality for the month of February. MennoNerds is exploring through this event Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what it means concerning participation in the mission of God.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[1]

To the proto-Anabaptists, the passages of scripture that relate to the Great Commission (Matthew 28; Mark 16) were most significant verses, no “words of the master were given more serious attention by His Anabaptist followers than the Great Commission.”[2] The Anabaptists understand that faith should work and evidence in the individual’s lives thus “the Great Commission was fundamental to individual witness and to the ordered community of believers as well. The proof text appeared repeatedly in Anabaptist sermons and apologetic writing.”[3] No “texts appear more frequently than the above in the confessions of faith and court testimonies of the Anabaptists, and none show more clearly the degree to which Anabaptism was different in conviction and type from the intact and stable ways of magisterial Protestantism.”[4]

While Protestantism was “intact and stable” in the sense that that their missionary spirit was lacking because of their system of maintaining the population of the church through births and infant baptism the Anabaptists saw things differently regarding their origin and purpose.B

The Anabaptists saw their community as forming and taking shape by means of the Holy Spirit, this same Holy Spirit not only gathered them but also compelled them to go forth; the Spirit of God not only had fashioned new a being but also gave birth to the evangelical Täufer (Anabaptist).

They pretty much framed their evangelism and disciple making method on the words of the Great Commission. In their estimation, the emphasis was on teaching prior to baptism. This was very controversial at that time for the reason that the norm was pedobaptism. To Rome and Protestantism to teach an individual the aspects of the gospel and the rudimentary elements of the Christian faith was impossible simply for the reason that an infant lacked the intellectual capacity to comprehend not to mention obey which was something most adults could not do. However since the Anabaptists held to disciples’ baptism their interpretation of the passage was not difficult to fathom and apply.

It must be noted that this controversial interpretation did not originate with the Anabaptists; it actually became known with one of their foremost influences. That individual was Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 –1536), commonly known as Erasmus, the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online states:

German Anabaptism also shows no small degree of influence by Erasmus, especially among the leaders on the Lower Rhine . . . . Erasmus offered so much that was in accord with Anabaptist teaching, that he was suspected not only of promoting their cause, but even of being one of them . . . In designating the Bible as the sole source of Christian truth, in promoting the use of the Bible in the vernacular, in stressing that “Christianity is essentially a life of discipleship of Christ,” he expressed common Anabaptist demands.[5]

The emphasis was on “teaching”, it preceded baptism, and it was the means to make disciples. Prior to the inception of the first Anabaptist congregation, one of the co-founders of Anabaptism wrote in December of 1524 following his quotation of Mathew 28; Mark 16; and the 10th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:

From which words one can clearly see how the apostles understood the command of Christ from Matthew, as related above, namely, that as they went forth they should teach all nations, that to Christ is given all power in heaven and in earth, and that forgiveness of sins in his name should be given to everyone who, believing on his name, should do righteous works from a changed heart. After the receiving of this teaching and the descent of the Holy Spirit, which was evidenced to those who had heard the word of Peter by the speaking in tongues, they were thereafter poured over with water, meaning that just as they also were poured over with water externally to signify for the inner cleansing and dying to sin.[6]

This interpretation harmonizes with Erasmus’ famed paraphrases compiled from Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles. Erasmus wrote:

After you have taught them these things, and they believe what you have taught them, have repented their previous lives and are ready to embrace the doctrine of the gospel [in their life], then immerse them in water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, so that by this holy sign they may believe that they have been delivered freely through the benefit of my death from the filthiness of all their sins and now belong to the number of God’s children.[7]

While the mode of baptism differ, the overall thinking parallels, namely that teaching consisting of the fundamental elements of Christianity should precede baptism. Evidence of regeneration manifested in good works should already be present in the candidate’s life prior to baptism as well. One of those indicators of authentic faith is their desire to obey the Lord Jesus’ Great Commission. That being to make disciples in the same fashion that they were carried through the initiation. Obedience should be one of those elementary principles instilled in the candidate and to the Anabaptists going out preaching, teaching and making disciples was one of the foremost things communicated.

From all this we see that preparation and investment is the key to disciple making. The Christian must not feel that it is not their place to evangelize or at the very most invite an unbeliever to their church so the pastor can evangelize the person from the pulpit. This was the folly of the Magisterial Reformers.[8] Every Christian is a minister and has an obligation to make disciples. Jesus said that the two most essential commandments were ““The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these”” (Mark 12:28-31NIV).

Therefore, if we are to love our neighbor to such an extremely personal degree then a genuine believer will invest the time in personally proclaiming to them the gospel, if they show interest the believer will teach them the finer rudimentary points of the Christian faith. They will also prepare them for baptism and finally in listing but not importance emphasize obedience manifested in good works, the chief being making disciples.


[2] Franklin Hamlin Littell, The Anabaptist View of the Church: A Study in the Origins of Sectarian Protestantism, Dissent and Nonconformity 11 (Paris, Ark: Baptist Standard Bearer, 2001), 110.

[3] Ibid., 111.

[4] Ibid., 109.

[6] Felix Manz, Petition of Defense (1524), quoted in Abraham Friesen, “Acts 10: The Baptism of Cornelius as Interpreted by Thomas Müntzer and Felix Manz”, Mennonite Quarterly Review 64, no. 1 (January 1, 1990): 7.

[7] Desiderius Erasmus, “Paraphrases of the New Testament,” in Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami Opera Omnia (1706; repr. Hildesheim, Leiden: Brill, 1962), 7:146, quoted in Abraham Friesen, Erasmus, the Anabaptists, and the Great Commission (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1998), 50-51.

[8] Rick Warren, “The Anabaptists and the Great Commission: The Effect of the Radical Reformers on Church Planting,” in The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists, Restoring New Testament Christianity: Essays in Honor of Paige Patterson (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013), 85-86.

 

Hardly Anabaptist

Vectorized Southern Baptist Convention logo, d...

Southern Baptist Convention 

Recently I did some research on the issue of whether the SBC or Baptists in general were Anabaptists or had any historical connection with them. The following is what I uncovered on the matter.

Years ago, when I started investigating Anabaptistica the Anabaptists were still the pariahs of the Reformation. Church History texts relegated them to the inquisitional dungeons of Christendom in the form of an obscure sentence or paragraph generally accompanied by the terms “heretic” or “aberrant”.  Now everyone appears to taking on the Anabaptist moniker as mentioned previously principally the Baptists.

Not too long ago Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary held the Anabaptism and Contemporary Baptists Conference in which the speakers praised Anabaptism and they passionately made the claim that contemporary Baptists were descended from this group.

However, many scholars find very little connection between the two groups in any significant sense. Contemporary Baptists originated from two streams or individuals namely John Smyth (c. 1565 – 1612) and Thomas Helwys (c. 1570 – c. 1615) around the 17th century.

Just because the designation Baptist has “baptist” in it that does not signify that, they are associated or originated with Anabaptists. There is not definitive relationship to the “Anabaptists” but the Waterlander Mennonites briefly influenced John Smyth whereas Helwys (Smyth successor of sorts) had reservations about the Mennonites specifically their Christology thus he severed bonds with the group.

Yet, the biggest group of Baptists that influenced modern-day Baptists was a group called Particular Baptists that found their beginnings with Henry Jacob (1563-1624). This group diverged with General Baptists (Smyth and Helwys). In the work The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness states “General Baptists always represented a small part of Baptist life in England, and an even smaller part in America. Their influence upon the main currents of Baptist life in either country appears to have been slight” (40).

Interestingly enough, the Particular Baptists made it perfectly clear that they did not have any association with the Anabaptists.  The opening of the London Baptist Confession of 1644 asserts:

The CONFESSION OF FAITH, Of those CHURCHES which are commonly (though falsly) called ANABAPTISTS; Presented to the view of all that feare God, to examine by the touchstone of the Word of Truth: As likewise for the taking off those aspersions which are frequently both in Pulpit and Print, (although unjustly) cast upon them.

The Particular Baptists wrote their confession as an expression of their faith and beliefs. In addition, they wanted to make sure that others knew that they did not have any relationship with Anabaptists. By that time in history, Anabaptism was identified with the Mennonites. The Particular Baptists desired to be acknowledged with Protestantism and the Magisterial Reformers specifically John Calvin. They viewed Anabaptism as unorthodox.

The similarities of Anabaptists and Baptists are superficial at best, just because a group is non-Catholic and reject paedo-baptism does not make them one and the same. Even when it relates to baptism, their views differ in a significant fashion. Baptists believe in adult or credo-baptism that generally manifests itself as someone experiencing conversion in one service and submitting to baptism in the following one. The Anabaptists believed in disciples’ baptism that is a person was educated in the teachings of Christ then once obedience through faith was exhibited they were baptized in harmony with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). An early Anabaptist leading light named Hans Denck wrote in his work Concerning True Love in 1527:

The most important task of disciples of Jesus Christ is to teach and make disciples of the Lord, seeking above all else the kingdom of God. When you baptize before a person has become a disciple you are by that act saying, in effect, that baptism is more important than teaching and knowledge. In the eyes of God this is a terrible error. So if teaching is more important than baptism, let baptism wait until teaching has taken place. To baptize before teaching is saying that baptism is more important, but this is contrary to Christian doctrine. Now some say they give priority to teaching for those willing to listen. But in his commission, Christ did not say to go to the Jews and preach but go to the Gentiles and baptize! One does not baptize Isaac because his father Abraham is a disciple! The commission says clearly, “Go forth and teach, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them (those who have become disciples!) in the name of the Father (who draws them to him) and the Son (who now leads them) and the Holy Spirit (through whose power they are made firm in fulfillment of the Father’s will).” In short, just as Christ is Christ before anyone believes in him, so teaching is done before baptism. Where there is no Christ there is no faith. So baptism without teaching is not a true baptism.

A brief historical encounter, which was later denied, does not make an organic connection. The truth is current Baptist churches trace their history to the English Separatist movement. Now no one is saying that a Baptist cannot adopt some or all Anabaptist beliefs but if one did they could not continue to call themselves Baptists. Theologically and practically speaking there would be too much conflict.  Particularly on the issue of pacifism, Southern Baptists have not been known for their nonresistance.