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]

______________________________________________________________

[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.

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A Much Anticipated Purchase

bk.cas.01.cov

Just yesterday, I ordered a work that I had my eye on for some time. Its name is Anabaptist History & Theology: An Introduction written by one of  my favorite scholars C. Arnold Snyder. Pandora Press publishes it (1995) and it is 434 pages of Anabaptist scholarship, it also contains historical maps and illustrations. The blurb for this volume reads:

Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction brings together the latest scholarship in telling the story of Anabaptist origins and development. Thoroughly researched and documented, the book is nevertheless written in an accessible and lively style. This is a book that should be read by all who have an interest in Reformation history and theology. It is absolutely required reading for any and all who have an interest in Reformation radicalism.

Pandora also publishes a student edition the description for this state:

The unabridged version of Anabaptist History and Theology, published in 1995, received high praise from reviewers. One called the book “a masterful survey,” while another concluded that the book “tells the Anabaptist story with impressive synthetic power.” Anabaptist History and Theology: Revised Student Edition follows the same narrative format and story line as the unabridged book. But the text has been completely rewritten and redesigned to meet the needs of the non-specialist reader. This second, revised edition features larger print and numerous sidebars and text boxes.

I passed on the student edition in light of it being designed for the “non-specialist reader” nor would I look forward to the distracting sidebars. It almost sounds like a ‘For Dummies’ book. I love technical works with plenty of footnotes. I ordered directly from Pandora Press but I did manage to find a few reviews on Amazon.com. The following are reproductions of the reviews.

Jeremy Garber on February 28, 2002

Snyder outlines a readable and informative introduction to the 16th century Anabaptist movement and its major players. Anabaptism branched off from Luther’s reformation because the early Anabaptist leaders felt Luther had not gone far enough in applying Scripture to everyday life. They stressed the importance of only being baptized upon truly understanding and accepting the Christian call, and of living out their faith rather than just professing it.

Snyder traces the various branches of Anabaptism, rejecting the notion that there was just one Anabaptist church. He compares the various leaders and their theologies, but never in a condescending or overly technical way. The final chapter crowns the book, asking what Anabaptists have to offer the various faith traditions of today, and what they can learn. I recommend this to Anabaptists seeking to learn more about their history, and other people of faith wanting to understand where the modern Amish, Mennonites and Brethren gained their faith.

J. D. Martinez on October 18, 2013

This book is one of the best introductions to Anabaptist history available. While it pushes over 400 pages, the 27 brief chapters make it exceptionally easily to digest and reflect on. The author finds that balance between a detailed analysis and drowning his reader with superfluous content. Anyone who is studying the Reformation era should read this book for a strong summary of all the major (and many minor) Anabaptist groups of the 16th century. It is well worth the investment.

The above reviews has me salivating I can’t wait for it to arrive, one of the main reasons why I want this work is that it calls into question the popular polygenetic origin of the Anabaptists. While not endorsing the monogenetic theory of the Bender School it instead argues for an eventual convergence of thought as the Swiss Brethren’s influence spread throughout the various regions thus demonstrating more interaction than the material evidence presents.

Now it is that long wait until my purchase arrives….

Anabaptists: Inerrantists and Biblicists

 In the offset, we need to define a few terms and establish some well-known notions (in the context of Anabaptistica), the first term being ‘biblicism’ or ‘biblicist’. Christian Smith wrote on the topic of Biblicism and he defines it as “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.”[1] The second being inerrancy. Kenton L. Sparks equates biblicism with inerrancy which entails “that there are no human errors at all—not even one—in the entirety of scripture”.[2]  According to Sparks, this is “because its adherents believe that an inerrant Bible gives them foolproof access to the fundamentals of Christian doctrine and Christian living”.[3] While these delineations are not becoming, they are the ones that individuals straightaway call to mind when the term is exercised. Phrased unlike the above John Sailhamer posits:

The term biblicism came into use in the mid-nineteenth century, used negatively to characterize approaches to the Bible that were, to one degree or another, uncritical or unhistorical. Today the term refers to any approach to theology in which the Bible itself is understood as divine revelation and the sole source in matters of faith and practice, not merely in its general concepts and teaching but in the very details of its words and letters.[4]

Regardless of the definition, one prefers they both convey similar sentiments. This term and its relationship to inerrancy are the key to comprehending the Anabaptists view regarding the function and form of the Bible. An additional area that requires attention is that the rows (disputes) between the Anabaptists and the Magisterial Reformers revolved around interpretation of scripture not the status of scripture except for a few exceptions.[5] Also it I important to take note that scholars articulate that much of what the Reformers taught the early Anabaptist believed in an identical  manner or close enough to it where there was no need for contention. Now we will turn our attention to see what exactly the Reformers taught regarding the Bible and its station.

Magisterial Reformers

Martin Luther said on the subject of scripture. The Bible is “perfect: it is precious and pure: it is truth itself. There is no falsehood in it.” And again, “Not only the words but also the expressions used by the Holy Spirit and Scripture are divine.” Luther contends, “One letter, even a single tittle of Scripture means more to us than heaven and earth. Therefore we cannot permit even the most minute change.”[6] In the concluding quote from Luther he stated “But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they [the fathers] have erred as men will; therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they prove their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred”[7]

John Calvin forgoes employing phrases that denote scripture lacking ‘error’ but it is not a doubt he held to inerrancy when he wrote, “The Spirit of God…appears purposely to have regulated their [the Gospel writers] style in such a manner, that they all wrote one and the same history, with the most perfect agreement, but in different ways”.[8] In his commentary when speaking to Paul’s words regarding 2 Timothy 3:16 Calvin notes:

First he commends the Scripture because of its authority, and then because of the profit that comes from it. To assert its authority he teaches that it is inspired of God, for, if that is so, it is beyond all question that men should receive it with reverence….This is the meaning of the first clause, that we owe to Scripture that same reverence as we owe God, since, it has its only source in Him and has nothing of human origin mixed with it.[9]

Finally, we come to the Reformer that had the most influence and participated in laying the foundation of the initial Anabaptists (The Swiss Brethren) Ulrich Zwingli. He in the eyes of many scholars is identified as holding to biblicism. It was his firm grasp of the scriptures that propelled him to seek after the restoration of biblical faith and praxis. This also led to the rejection of those things found in the Medieval Church that did not line up with scripture. It is without a doubt that he held to the infallibility of scripture.[10]

Anabaptists

At this time, we have finally arrived to where the Anabaptists line up on the matter of scripture. One of the seminal authorities on early Anabaptism and the Radical Reformation namely Werner O. Packull asserts:

Accordingly to scholarly consensus, the Swiss Anabaptists were radical biblicists who broke with Ulrich Zwingli because he reneged on the principle of sola scriptura when political push came to shove on practical reform issues. Harold Bender put it bluntly when he wrote that “the Anabaptists were biblicists and it was the biblical fountains alone that they drank.” Bender exaggerated…But the label biblicist was justified not only because of the unflinching appeal to the Scriptures as final authority, but also because the Swiss Anabaptists declared their loyalty to the principle that only what was explicitly commanded in Scripture or demonstrated by its examples should be normative for the Christian congregation.[11]

Fritz Blanke corroborates this in his work Brothers in Christ: the History of the Oldest Anabaptist Congregation Zollikon, Near Zurich, Switzerland. He writes “Both [Conrad Grebel and Ulrich Zwingli] were Biblicists, that is, defenders of the authority of the Bible, but Grebel in a narrower sense, Zwingli in a freer sense.”[12] Zwingli was mentioned above and Grebel was considered the ‘Father of Anabaptism’ he was the largest influence on the group during its formative years. He established the founding beliefs and practices with the other members of the core group.

In light of this, it is safe to say that the formative Anabaptists were in fact inerrantists. Now if someone is looking for a blunt articulation of inerrancy in quote form by one of the archetypal Anabaptists you will not find it. Just in the same manner you will not find them speaking to any number of subjects in the fashion of the Magisterial Reformers. The Anabaptists beliefs had to be grasped by ‘reading between the lines’ as it were. They had an implicit theology if one can even call it a theology to begin with. They did not have the leisure or desire to reflect and write volumes of works of a theological nature. They were more concerned with applying the scriptures. However, in light of current scholarship and universal concepts, in addition to history,  various accounts and the things they did in reality write about I believe that anyone can walk away with the assurance that they were in fact inerrantists or if you must biblicists.

In the end, I find it ironic that some of the very critics of inerrancy or alternatively biblicism embrace the very doctrines and practices that were formulated within the context of this ideology.


[1] Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids, Mich: Brazos Press, 2012), viii.

[2] Kenton L. Sparks, Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2012), 28.

[3] Ibid.

[4] John Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1995), 152.

[5] The Spiritualists (precursors of present-day Charismatics) in the Anabaptist camp emphasized subjective experiences over written scripture. In this regard, they were at odds with not only the Magisterial Reformers but also with the ‘evangelical’Anabaptist camps.

[6] William A. Dembski, Unapologetic Apologetics: Meeting the Challenges of Theological Studies (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 122.

[7] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic [u.a.], 2001), 158.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Jean Calvin, The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon / T.A. Smail ; Editors, David W. Torrance, Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids, Mi: Eerdmans, 1996), 329-30.

[10] Mark Ellingsen, Reclaiming Our Roots: an Inclusive Introduction to Church History, Volume II: from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King (Harrisburg, Pa: Trinity Press International, 1999), 74-5.

[11] Werner O. Packull, Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments During the Reformation (Baltimore, Md. ; London: Johns Hopkins University press, 1995), 15-6.

[12] Fritz Blanke, Brothers in Christ: the History of the Oldest Anabaptist Congregation Zollikon, Near Zurich, Switzerland (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2005), 10.

Schleitheim Series Introduction

It is my aspiration to begin a series addressing each of the Schleitheim Confession articles.[1] This very important document played an integral role in the life of the 16th century Anabaptists. It always astounds me that

Title page of the Schleitheimer Confession (15...

Schleitheim Confession (1527)

everyone likes to take the Anabaptist moniker upon him or herself but very few delve into those things that defined this group. Yes, pacifism is trendy especially when high profile pastors, speakers or even denominational conventions adopt it along with feeding and clothing the underprivileged or advocating equality towards marginalized groups.

However, what about what mattered to these men and women that originally bore this name? Does it even matter to these new arrivals what the progenitors even cared for or thought about while they were experiencing this movement at its commencement?

No because with all things considered what is viewed at present as Anabaptism is a modified version of evangelicalism, and the goal is to see what novel idea can be employed to make Anabaptism look all nice and shiny for the consumers who typically happens to be other professed Christians.

My goal in this series is not only do honor to 16th century Radical Reformers known as the Anabaptists but shed light from a core text and establish how it is still relevant for doctrine and praxis.


[1] The series Anabaptism New-Defined was originally planned but given the nature of it more research and time is required thus it will occur at a later date.

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.

Categorizing Anabaptistica

A short time ago, I ran across two of the most stimulating blog posts that relate to the purpose of this blog and my examination of Anabaptistica. Anyone that knows me and have come across my reflections here and elsewhere well know that I somewhat have adverse feelings towards lumping groups from various faith traditions with Anabaptism solely for the reason that these groups have adopted selected distinguishing beliefs that defined the original Anabaptists. I am the minority (for now) in this discussion but it seems to my astonishment that some have begun to make categorical distinctions already. The two articles are titled “Neo-Anabaptists” and wineskins for God’s new world written by Jarrod McKenna. The other is authored by Wess Daniels designated Open Anabaptism and a Community of (in)outsiders.

Now it is true that there are denominations that trace their roots to Anabaptism largely in some consanguineous fashion. The following is a chart listing the contemporary denominations that claim material heritage with Anabaptism.

Anabaptist_Denominations

This is not what I am speaking of because personally I do not see much difference other than perhaps dress and customs than any other Evangelical Protestant denomination. That is another discussion reserved for another time.  What I am talking about is the categorization of individuals such as myself, in addition to those groups and individuals that lack any physical descent with Anabaptism whether it is through blood relations or denominational ties. One will see the title Neo-Anabaptist brandished (even I refer to myself by this name at times) but that term is more fitting for the likes of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, James William McClendon Jr. and Nancey Murphy.

At this time, I am going to present the various groupings highlighted in the blog posts and then award the overall classification all the mentioned assemblies would fall under technically speaking. This will function as an alternative to employing, a name that was used for several groups that held specific beliefs in common and undoubtedly felt that, they should not be massed in with others indiscriminately.

  • Anglican-Anabaptists
  • Charismatic-Anabaptists
  • Emerging church-Anabaptists
  • Baptist-Anabaptists
  • Mennonite-Anabaptists
  • Restorationist Anabaptists
  • Methodist Anabaptists

Jarrod McKenna classifies these groups into what he deems the “Emerging Peace Church Movement” or “Open Anabaptism.” According to McKenna this:

doesn’t signify a switching of denominations. Rather it signifies a conversion within their own tradition to a Christianity that rejects all domination. This ‘conversion’ is not based upon modernist liberal or fundamentalist assumptions but rather seeking a deeper immersion into this story which expresses the alternative nonviolent paradigm that is found in discipleship. A desire to see God’s love flood all areas of life; spirituality, sexuality, economics, ecology, personal transformation, political transformation… everything! A movement that longs to walk in the ways of Jesus Christ, rejecting the sword of violence and accepting the towel of service.

Today this ‘kingdom movement’ of justice, peace and joy is often referred to as the “Emerging Peace Church movement” or the “Anabaptist impulse.

Wess Daniels on the other hand feels that all of the individuals and groups are a “continued embodiment of the Radical Reformation.”  To me this is more succinct and an accurate descriptor for what is taking place. This movement is technically classed as Radical Christianity instead of Anabaptist proper.

Now I know many will ask why do you feel that you have to paint labels on these groups or deny them the use of the Anabaptist name? The answer to this question is found in the writings of the original Anabaptists.

The fundamental inheritors of the pejorative ἀναβαπτισμός (anabaptista) such as the Swiss Brethren would not accept an all-encompassing attitude on this matter. Scholars document that they strived to be distinct to the point where they  would even make it known that they had no connection to other groups that are presently classified as Anabaptists if they held to doctrines or too stringent praxis that did not coincide with their (the Swiss Brethren among others) view of holy scripture. Furthermore as indicated in article IV of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, they felt that any fellowship with:

everything which has not been united with our God in Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. By this are meant all popish and repopish works and idolatry, gatherings, church attendance, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world. From all this we shall be separated and have no part with such, for they are nothing but abominations, which cause us to be hated before our Christ Jesus, who has freed us from the servitude of the flesh and fitted us for the service of God and the Spirit whom He has given us.

The mention of all things “popish” and “repopish” are allusions to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, which for the most part represent Constantine and Empire at least here in the West currently. The majority of the Protestant denominations and Rome maintain their historic positions and practices that the Anabaptists found seriously lacking and not fit for Christian recognition. I know this is not a popular way of thinking especially within the context of this subject but that is the reality of how these people that everyone wants to call themselves believed. I think putting all of these groups into the “Radical Christian” category in place of Anabaptist or Anabaptism are more accurate than what we have at present and it needs to be encouraged. If not we will have history repeating itself in that anything that was different was called Anabaptism by the Magisterial Reformers and the Papacy thus confusing and in some cases demonizing a group that solely desired to serve God in spirit and truth.

They Obtained Much Following

16th century German historiographer and reporter Sebastian Franck (1499-1543) wrote concerning the Anabaptists in his work Chronik (III, fol. 188):

Deutsch: Abbild, das vermutlich Sebastian Fran...

Sebastian Franck  (Photo credit: Wikipedia

The course of the Anabaptist was so swift, that their doctrines soon overspread the whole land and they obtained much following, baptized thousands and drew many good hearts to them; for they taught, as it seemed, naught but love, faith and endurance, showing themselves in much tribulation patient and humble. They brake bread with one another as a sign of the oneness and love, helped one another as a sign of oneness and love, helped one another truly with precept, lending, borrowing, giving; taught that all things should be in common and called each other ‘Brother.’ They increased so suddenly that the world did fear a tumult for reason of them. Though of this, as I hear, they have in all places been found innocent. They are persecuted in many parts with great tyranny, cast into bonds and tormented, with burning, with sword, with fire, with water, and with much imprisonment, so that in few years in many places a multitude of them have been undone, as is reported to the number of two thousand, who in divers places have been killed….they suffer as martyrs with patience and steadfastness.[1]


[1] Ernest Belfort Bax, Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co, 1903), 28

Reconstitution Not Reform

The original Anabaptists’ intention was to attend to their Lord and their God’s will in a manner that was satisfying. However, there was an accompanying goal that is seamlessly interconnected with the initial one. This objective was to reconstitute the ekklesia in the pattern of the archetypical first century apostolic assembly. To reconstitute something is “to constitute again or anew; especially…to restore to a former condition” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. According to The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology the Anabaptists “saw the church as “fallen” and therefore beyond mere reform, and called for its reconstitution along New Testament lines” (70).

Roger Olson goes into greater detail regarding this objective in The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform when he explains that the Anabaptists were more protestant than Protestants in the sense that the Anabaptists:

protested what they saw as halfway measures taken by Luther and the other magisterial Reformers in purifying the church of Roman Catholic elements. Their ideal was to restore the New Testament church as a persecuted remnant as it was in the Roman Empire before Constantine. To them, the magisterial Reformers were all stuck in Constantinianism and Augustinianism. These were the two main diseases of medieval Christianity that the radical Reformers wished to eradicate from their own independent and autonomous congregations, if not from Christianity itself (415).

The Protestant Reformers desired to reform the Church, according to the above-mentioned dictionary to reform means “to put or change into an improved form or condition”. It also means, “to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses” and finally “to put an end to (an evil) by enforcing or introducing a better method or course of action”.

When looking at the two terms highlighted one may wonder what the disparity between the two is since the overall goal is to return something to its proper state.

The divergence being that Martin Luther desired to reform the church, not divide it for to him the Roman Catholic Church was the actual Church but it had lost its way. He felt that some aspects of its practice and doctrine in the area of salvation for instance were incorrect as depicted in his 95 Thesis. Luther wanted to bring the corrupt Church at the time back into what he envisioned the Church to be. For Luther this was to be accomplished within, not through the establishment of another entity. In other words, he selected the aspects of the 16th century Church he preferred while doing away with those things he felt lacked scriptural and apostolic license. This did not solely apply to Luther but Calvin and Zwingli as well; the Magisterial Reformers in essence did not possess any yearning to forgo exhaustively every facet of the Roman system whether political, practical or theological.

The problem with this is that the Reformers was attempting to reform a contaminated and unethical institution whereas it is apparent that the Anabaptists saw the futility in trying to reform something that was far too large, powerful and unbearably unhealthy. Every facet of the Roman Catholic Church was tainted and beyond renovation. The Anabaptists recognized that the only solution was to begin afresh. Not that Christ’s ekklesia had perished from the earth but that the manifestation of it during that period was something other than what had begun in the first century and so the Anabaptists carried with them the essence and disposition of the unadulterated apostolic ekklesia, one that was detached from the Constantinian Church (Cf.  Matthew 16:18; 28:19-20).

Presently in Neo-Anabaptist circles, you encounter much talk on the subject of Anabaptists carrying the message of the group into Christendom as to enact some form of positive influence that in principle could be considered some sort of reform. But then again would this embody the spirit of Anabaptism? In many respects contemporary Protestantism and Roman Catholicism is a carryover of the exact same sullied Church that existed in the 16th century.  Reconstitution is needed not reform, the first Anabaptists saw this and modern-day followers of the movement needs to recognize this as well.