the weblog of Alan Knox

Anabaptists and Christendom

Posted by on Jul 28, 2007 in blog links, church history | Comments Off on Anabaptists and Christendom

Dave Black has published his third article about Anabaptists: “What I Have Learned from the Anabaptists (Part 3)“. At the beginning of his article, Dave says, “One of the greatest threats to Christianity is Christendom.” This statement may trouble many people. In fact, the return to Christendom is sometimes purported as the goal of the modern church. But, how does the idea of Christendom correspond to what we know about the relationship between the people of God and the world in Scripture?

His second paragraph lays the groundwork for the remainder of the article:

Now at the same time and in a corresponding manner, the sixteenth century Anabaptists, led not by Protestant or Reformed thought but by the Scriptures themselves, radically challenged the entrenchment of Christendom in European culture. A major difference between the Anabaptists and the Protestants was their view that the Scriptures provided models both for theology as well as for church organization. The Anabaptists were interested in restitutio, not reformatio. They considered themselves neither Protestant nor Catholic but a third way. The Bible, not tradition, provided the patterns for church organization just as plainly as it revealed the basic theological content of the faith.

I have attempted to build my understanding of the church of God on a reliance on Scripture – what is actually revealed in Scripture – instead of on tradition. This is difficult when so many prefer to walk the well-trod and comfortable paths of tradition. Certainly, everything traditional is not bad. Neither is everything traditional good. Some things traditional are simply unnecessary or unimportant. However, what God has chosen to reveal in Scripture is always necessary and important. When we must choose between the two, we should always choose scriptural revelation over tradition.

He ends with this paragraph:

In a similar way, the sixteenth century Anabaptists challenged the Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed establishments. Centuries later Barth and Brunner would question the church-state system from within. Why, then, should it surprise us today when churchmen engage in responsible criticism of their own denominations? The goal of the Anabaptists, as has often been said, was to cut the tree back to the root and thus free the church of the suffocating growth of ecclesiastical tradition. That this goal is being revived in our day should be the cause of great rejoicing.

I hope you take the time to read all of Dave Black’s article. He raises some great questions from the perspective of the Anabaptists. Then, we all need to ask ourselves on what we base our understanding of the church. Do we base our understanding of the church on tradition or on Scripture? Then, when we recognize that some of our understandings about the church are based on tradition instead of Scripture, are we willing to change even if no one else changes with us?