the weblog of Alan Knox

Anabaptists and Consistency

Posted by on Aug 19, 2007 in blog links, church history | 1 comment

Alas… Dave Black as posted his final essay in his series on Anabaptists: “What I Have Learned from the Anabaptists (Conclusion)“. In this wrap-up, Dave discusses many attributes of 16th century Christianity, including the inconsistencies of the Magesterial Reformers compared to the consistencies of the Anabaptists. He says:

I must insist that I did not produce these essays because I am in favor of belittling the work of the Magisterial Reformers. For clarity’s sake I must repeat that I am thus indicting the Reformers only because they were inconsistent with their own principles of reformation…

On one thing I think even the severest critics of Anabaptism would agree, however. They practiced what they preached…

How did the consistency of the Anabaptists display itself in their practices? Dave says:

They were truly a family. Decision-making was based on consensus, not popular vote. Issues were discussed until the brethren agreed and could say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” What a far cry from our enslavement to Robert’s Rules of Order. They developed a true mutuality and sense of brotherhood.

If we are honest with ourselves, all of us are guilty of living from time to time in ways that are inconsistent with our stated beliefs. Whether these inconsistencies come from tradition, misunderstanding, or sin, we need the Holy Spirit to correct our way of life.

If you do not read anything else in this series on the Anabaptists, please read these next three paragraphs:

Above all, the Anabaptists taught that the church must follow the guidelines of the New Testament as to its confession of faith and its organizational patterns. For them the Bible was as ambiguous as to the doctrine of the church as it was to the doctrine of salvation. Their ecclesiology called for non-conformity to the world, the separation of church and state, and serving others in meekness in the spirit of Christ. The church is neither Catholic nor Protestant but simply Christian, they argued. Christ the King is the only Head of the church. An authoritative ministry by the elders was therefore out of keeping with the spirit as well as the letter of the New Testament.

I am well aware that I could go on and on in this vein. Instead, I want to return to the question: will anything in our churches change? How can it? The very fact that the strongest arguments, the most rigorous exegesis, the most time-tested values are of no avail is proof that we are faced with a conscious decision made in the light of thorough knowledge. Obedience, not knowledge, is our problem. As I have stated before, the church in America has reached a Rubicon, and it will either cross it or it won’t. Even though a good many thinking people regard the “system” as fatally flawed, as utterly frightful, they feel caught by an inescapable dilemma. They reject Christendom in principle, but a renewal is no longer desirable, at least in the current state of the church. Whether we call ourselves conventional, emergent, or “convergent” (which appears to be the new “in” expression), the church is rushing nowhere at an incredible rate of speed. We know the dangers of our faddish programs but we go on building them anyway. What frightful hypocrites I fear we have become, and I suppose I am the worst hypocrite of them all.

I know I am swimming against the stream, but there is no need to dwell on it any longer. I love the church. Why else would I have chosen to teach churchmen if I didn’t? I have simply tried to remind myself (and anyone who will join me in thinking through the issues) that the way forward is backward – back to the sixteenth century, and back even further to the radicals of the first century, the original generation of Christians that turned the world right side up. I believe that the old values are still worth pursuing. And – thank God! – they have not been completely forgotten. They continue to speak to believers today, hearkening back to a time when the church was Spirit-led, simple, and solidly evangelistic. If the church of today decides it knows better than the New Testament how to conduct itself, then so be it. The fact is that the modern church has sought greatness and attained power instead. And therein lies its ultimate tragedy. The astonishingly deep and balanced view of ecclesiology that Anabaptism represented and that I have tried to bring before the reader is now at its end.

These paragraphs are filled with admonitions to stick to the teaching of the New Testament. If Scripture does not teach it, then we would do well to stay away. If Scripture does teach something, then we should make sure that we are walking in obedience. If something that we do hinders or distracts us from obeying Scripture, then we should seriously question that which is hindering or distracting.

The church is too important to leave to opinions, good ideas, leadership tactics, organizational skills, and methodologies. Only the Holy Spirit can guide the church effectively.


One Comment

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  1. 8-19-2007

    Alan,

    AMEN!!!

    The brothers and sisters known to us by the name “Anabaptists” were a light in this world in a time of extreme darkness. While what they were doing was not new, but consistent with what Jesus and the bible teach.

    Mat 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
    Mat 5:15 nor does {anyone} light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
    Mat 5:16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

    It’s high time the roof be peeled off this light once again.

    Jeff