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The Secret of the Strength

Posted by on Jan 3, 2011 in books, church history | 15 comments

The Secret of the Strength

Last week (and apparently last year), Rod suggested that I read The Secret of the Strength (alternate url that stopped working) by Peter Hoover. After reading it, I wish that I had done so last year when he first suggested it.

The Secret of the Strength tells the story of the Anabaptists. The author is a descendant of the Anabaptists, and some of his stories revolve around his own family. Most chapters begin with the story of an Anabaptist, which is then followed by Anabaptist quotations intermixed with Hoover’s commentary.

Trust me, you will not agree with everything that you read. In fact, the Anabaptists did not agree with one another on many aspects of theology. However, they did agree on several basic teachings, primarily that Jesus was with them, and that their “strength” came from him alone.

By the way, if you number the “Reformers” among your heroes, this book may force you to question their status, especially when you read the reasons that many Anabaptists were killed.

The last few chapters are the most discouraging to me. The author begins the book by telling how the Anabaptists exploded, taking their faith with them and proclaiming the gospel wherever they went. At the end of the book, the author tells how the Anabaptists imploded, separating from one another over issues completely unrelated to the gospel.

If you decide to read this book – or if you’ve read it in the past – please add your comments here.


15 Comments

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  1. 1-3-2011

    alan, i am a little confused about your last sentence. is that indeed supposed to be a “who”, and not a “how”, when it speaks about the implosion of the anabaptists?

  2. 1-3-2011

    chas,

    Yes, that should have been “how” and not “who”. I’ve changed it. Thanks!

    -Alan

  3. 1-3-2011

    The sad truth is that the same can be said for the Plymouth Brethren and probably many other “reforming/restoring” groups through history.

  4. 1-3-2011

    Art,

    Have you ever read any explanations as to why this happened?

    -Alan

  5. 1-3-2011

    The lesson regarding the Reformers from this and other books is that they were sinful men who made horrible decisions. Should we read and study what they wrote? Certainly! Should we revere them as heroes or put them on a pedestal or hold them up as the paragons of Christian virtue? Not given the reality of their own sinful nature. Of course there were some pretty rotten characters that fall under the umbrella of Anabaptism as well. Good thing we follow a Savior and not men!

  6. 1-3-2011

    I am just now reading Becoming Anabaptist (a book I bought myself for Christmas). I had read the admirable things David Black said he learned from the anabaptists and wanted to learn more. Right now I am in the midst of a lot of their infighting, but still I find some challenging commitments they had and the terrible ordeals many of them went through.

    It does make one have some second thoughts, not just about those “evil” Catholics, but the reformers as well. It is hard not to judge them from our standards and experience.

    Sounds like I need to add another book to my Amazon wish list.

  7. 1-3-2011

    Hi Alan,

    “Family Matters” is a book that tried to address their divisions and problems fairly even-handedly (highlighting the best sides of all, admitting the mistakes and occasional ugliness).

    It seems no matter how earnestly we begin or how much fresh, restorative light we see, in the end we either lean toward a pharisaic rigidness or become mingled inseparably with the world. Personalities rise, people follow, and parties form.

    We all have our heroes and well-esteemed traditions. Personally, I have great respect for the Plymouth Brethren and the things that they once brought back to the church. But it seems that both open and exclusive (the two major divisions) erred towards a rigidity in a variety of ways.

    If it weren’t for all those in each generation that seek to recover biblical views and practices, renewed holiness and sacrifice, it would be disheartening to see how poorly we end.

  8. 1-3-2011

    Arthur,

    True. Very true.

    Noel,

    Maybe I need to add Becoming Anabaptist to my wish list.

    Art,

    Thanks for the info about the book. Did the book say anything about the change in focus from the beginning to the end of Anabaptism?

    -Alan

  9. 1-3-2011

    I was raised in a Mennonite family that became involved in the early Charismatic movement. Now I’ve been meeting in a homegroup/simple church since 1998 and refer to myself as simply Christian. It is interesting to read The Secret of the Strength and see the similarities between the Anabaptists and the simple church. I have literature that describes an early charismatic meeting that sounds very similar to simple church. I have read literature of Azusa Street and the Pentecostal movement that sounds similar to simple church. As well as Quakers, Plymouth Brethren etc. And yes, it seems they all move like Art says toward legalism or liberalism, toward formalism and higher organization and away from simplicity.

    How can we who are involved in this “restoration move of God” avoid this? I think the simple church “movement” is more aware of these dangers than the groups that I listed above were when they formed.

    What do you all think about the statement in the introduction of Secret of the Strength-

    “The secret to my new life was my passion to model my life after Christ, not my preoccupation with the text. For me, the text was not an end in itself, but a means to an end–learning to know the thoughts, feelings, and will of my Lord. But I saw well-meaning people get stuck in the text. And then the disagreements broke out all around me over what and who were “scriptural.”

    Do we in the simple church need to watch out for a textual legalism that turns the New Testament into law rather than the written expression of those living by the Spirit.

  10. 1-4-2011

    Alan said: “Have you ever read any explanations as to why this happened?”

    this is really a big big question !!

    because it’s not only anabaptists… it’s almost every post-reformation movements.

    and truly, that really has been an obsessing question to me for many years, and still is, because the other question, I think, come just after your question is: “how not to do that same mistake which happenned again and again through church history??”

    we can say that almost every denomination since the reformation was born out of a desire to reform or to fix “something” in the church they got out of, … but turned out to become as badly religious as the first denomination they were turning away from in order to begin another one. And all this occurs without having the intention of doing it.

    how not to repeat history ? that question haunts me. staying humble is probably a fundamental part of the answer. I guess. Not wanting to “start something new” also, I think. Not trying to “fix” the thruth, not trying to get a set of dogma, because everytime we “fix” the thruth, we in fact “choose” one particular thruth, and neglect another, forgetting the fact that there are tons of paradox in the Scriptures, and that the Word of God was not intended to be a legal, or constitutionnal, text, but a living text, for a living body of believers, under the direction of the living Spirit of God.

  11. 1-4-2011

    Rod, thank you very much

    I think also that we have today a perspective of history that most of our predecessors did not have. We have all those books, and litterature… It is litteraly warning us about what mistakes not to do.

    Every possible mistakes have been done in church history. If we do mistakes, could we please do new ones ?? ;)

  12. 1-4-2011

    Rod,

    Concerning the quote: I believe the Christ must always be the person of our affection, devotion, hope, etc. Scripture can tell us what Jesus Christ is like, but Scripture is not Christ.

    Tommy,

    Perhaps one part of the answer is in not trying to fix “doctrines” and not gathering together and accepting one another based on “doctrines”?

    -Alan

  13. 1-5-2011

    Thanks Alan for pointing out this book, and a free pdf at that. I started reading it yesterday.
    The timing was very interesting. I read about these renegade believers who refused to conform to the established church. They knew the cost, expected nothing less than suffering. They kept on writing what was on their hearts (imperfect as it was). But they didn’t shy away from what they felt God was calling them to do… and many were brutally killed for it.

    Then my evening turned to one where I was told by a good friend (a young elder) that the consensus seems to be my blog writings are doing more harm than good and should go. My wife agrees. At risk are relations with my closest friends, my wife’s closest friends, my kids closest friends.
    No threat of death, burnings, hanging from my thumbs. But still the risk of great loss.

    At the moment I don’t have anyone to ‘start a new church’ with, as if that was even possible. I still need fellowship, and don’t want to be the force of dis-unity.

    Is my blog worth it? I don’t know. There are many better writers out there, who are doing a great job asking many similar questions.

    Or maybe just the timing is off. I know I am a bit obsessive compulsive… no that’s not possible to be just a bit obsessive compulsive. So a break will do me good. Maybe I’ve said enough for awhile.

    But the timing of this book is noteworthy. Thanks. I’ll keep reading it… as I keep my non-conformist thoughts to myself for awhile.

    Thanks!

  14. 1-5-2011

    Jon,

    I’ll miss reading your posts, but I’m praying that your life communicates more than you writing ever has or ever will.

    -Alan

  15. 1-5-2011

    Thanks Alan.