the weblog of Alan Knox

Which Distinctive Practices and Beliefs of Anabaptists are Important for the Church Today?

Posted by on Apr 27, 2012 in blog links, church history | 31 comments

Which Distinctive Practices and Beliefs of Anabaptists are Important for the Church Today?

Thanks to Dave Black, I read an article summarizing the history, practices, and beliefs of the Anabaptists in sixteenth century Europe. Interestingly, I was talking with my son recently about the Anabaptists. He’s taking a World Civilizations class at a local community college, and they recently started talking about sixteenth century Europe, the Reformation, and even Anabaptists. It’s amazing how much people are now learning about the Anabaptists by reading what THEY wrote instead of reading what others wrote about them.

The article that I’m referring to is called “Anabaptism: Re-monking the Church After Christendom.” The article is two years old, and primarily studies the connection between Anabaptism and monasticism. However, it begins with a great list of general practices and beliefs that were distinctive to Anabaptists:

  1. The need for conversion – challenging the notion of a Christian culture
  2. Baptism is for believers and implies accountability to the community
  3. Multi-voiced church life – challenging the dependence on the clergy
  4. Economic sharing – simple living and responsibility for others
  5. Non-violence and an active commitment to peaceful living
  6. Truth-telling and a rejection of oath-swearing
  7. The centrality of Jesus and his call to serious discipleship
  8. Acceptance that suffering and persecution were normal for Christians
  9. The freedom of churches from state control or interference
  10. A wholehearted rejection of the Christendom system

By the way, it seems it was primarily that last distinctive (“a wholehearted rejection of the Christendom system”) that earned Anabaptists the ire and condemnation of others who sought to continue Christendom and the church-state connection. (In the eyes of those who held to the church-state connection, many of the other “distinctives” indicated a rejection of Christendom.)

Interestingly, while “Anabaptism” seems to have “failed,” many of these distinctives (especially the rejection of the church-state connection) are now accepted broadly among Jesus’ followers.

Just wondering, among my readers, which of the distinctive practices and beliefs of Anabaptists mentioned above do you think are important for the church today? Which ones are not important? Feel free to give your reasoning if you’d like. (You can use the numbers if you don’t want to type it all out.)

(HT: Dave Black)


31 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-27-2012

    Thanks, Alan. Reading through the list it’s easy to see the influence this “failed” movement has had (and is having) on the wider church.

  2. 4-27-2012

    Are you so certain Anabaptism has failed? :-)

    Read “Naked Anabaptist” by Stuart Murray to hear what Anabaptism is doing for post-modern and post-Christendom culture in England.

    Or how about the general adoption of all 10 points described above about Anabaptism by guys like Scot McKnight, David Fitch, and Brian McClaren.

    Of course, then there is the general presence of Mennonite churches on every global continent entertaining some of the best church “growth” in an era where other Christian groups are in decline.

    As an Anabaptist (born and bred), I’ll refrain from.answering the question as it would seem the answer is obvious. Just challenging the “failed” perspective. :-)

  3. 4-27-2012

    Kevin,

    Yeah, I agree completely. It’s a huge influence, even among groups of believers that once condemned them.

    Robert,

    I changed my post to put the word ‘failed’ in quotations. I was not intending to suggest that the Anabaptists failed. Instead, I was trying to point out that many people believe the Anabaptists failed because they can’t identify a growing and consistent Anabaptist system (Anabaptism). (I hope that’s not more confusing…)

    -Alan

  4. 4-27-2012

    Point 3, bove, Alan, is probably why there is no “system” to Anabaptism. Traditionally speaking, Anabaptists reject systematizing the faith and prefer to live and wrestle with it rather than apply concrete answers. Check out my FB page for a link ‘Tis a gift to be complex” posted by one of the staff members of Franconia Mennonite Conference for an interesting discussion of this point.

    So, if you are looking for a system of specific answers and a directed theology, don’t look to Anabaptism. Perhaps Mennonites as a denomination have systematized a bit, but “pure” Anabaptism suspects such systems.

  5. 4-27-2012

    Robert,

    I agree. There are a few groups descended from the Anabaptists who have formed various systems. But, in general, the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century did not.

    -Alan

  6. 4-27-2012

    I am new to the Anabaptist teachings and practices. Have only been studying them for the last 2 years. But over those 2 years I have found the 16th century teachings to be solid and Biblically based. In fact, I am currently reading through the complete works of Menno Simons and am fascinated by them. Was very nervous to start because all I know of him is his name is taken on by a group of people who I would not agree with on the outward practice of their views concerning dress and women.

    Of the things listed above, I would agree that all of them are still applicable to our lives as the Church. I have been greatly encouraged by studying the lives of Conrad Grebel, Michael and Margaretha Sattler, Hans Denck, Felix Manz, Menno Simons and many of the other leaders from the Anabaptist line. I am most convicted by the focus on the teachings of Jesus, especially the teachings from Matthew 5-7.

  7. 4-27-2012

    Tim,

    There is as much variety in the “official” Mennonite Church regarding issues of dress and women as there are global Christian denominations. As example: I drive a little red car and work in the field of computers and regularly wear cool –shirts, listen to rock music (even non-Christian rock) and have a brother with tattos and piercings and we’re considered “good” Mennonites. My mothr was a conference minister for the Atlantic Coast Conference and ministered to NYC churches. My current home congregation has a pastor namee Klaudia as our lead pastor and, over our cluster of churches, we have a conference minister named Jenifer.

    Some of my relatives still drive the black cars and wear the covering…others do not. But we’re all still “Mennonite” :-)

  8. 4-27-2012

    As I agree with the points listed, and stand along side of my Anabaptist brothers & sisters.

    I thank them for their pursuit and diligence to make Christ central/essential in their lives. The body of Christ is richer due to their impact upon our lives.

    Great post Allan.

  9. 4-27-2012

    I was just saying to a new friend yesterday, who grew up in the Anabaptist stream, that while I appreciate my charismatic upbringing, I’m secretly jealous of those with Anabaptist roots. :)

    It was only after I attended an evangelical university for my studies that I was properly exposed to the rich history and continued influence of the Anabaptists. Here in Seattle, those churches who I most respect with regard to their deep work in the neighborhoods tend to run in the Anabaptist stream. The 10 distinctives you list have remarkable implications for the shared life of the church when taken seriously.

    Thanks Alan!

  10. 4-27-2012

    I love all of them;just not sure about the validity of part B of #2. And at least in my own life,#7 should be #1.

  11. 4-27-2012

    Which are important for the Church (Body of Christ) today?

    Answer via Holy Spirit: All of them

  12. 4-27-2012

    I read an online book on the history of the Moravian church (http://allgodsword.com/Btl/) which was (is?) similar or related to the Anabaptist. I found them to come closer to the ideal church under Count Zinzendorf than any other church I know of. I don’t agree with all the details of their practice, but I think those differences are minor.

    On the 10-point list of Anabaptist practices, I would have some reservations on points 5 and 6.

    I think that as both an individual and a member of the body of Christ, I am to live peacefully and non-violently. But I might be called to use violent means if I were acting under the authority of a government (i.e. if I were a soldier or policeman)(Romans 13:1,4, 1 Peter 2:14). The difference is acting under God-given authority versus presuming to take authority on myself.

    Similarly, I would reject any self-serving oath-swearing, but I believe being called on to swear to tell the truth in a court of law is acceptable (again Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13).

  13. 4-27-2012

    I agree with esther.

    I’ll share this link to a free book called ‘Secret of the Strength’ here in-case you or others haven’t come across it:
    http://www.allgodsword.com/Sos/

    Look for free pdf link, or read the book online.

    Lots of great stories and writings of these Anabaptist translated fairly recently.

    Not only did it give me a greater appreciation for the Anabaptist movement of that day, but it gave me hope in the movement I believe God is doing today.

  14. 4-27-2012

    Alan,

    I’ll take #1 “The need for conversion – challenging the notion of a Christian culture.” Without conversion none of the rest can occur in a person’s life. That said, #7 (The centrality of Jesus and his call to serious discipleship) is critical to the walk of sanctification.

  15. 4-28-2012

    Robert,

    I guess I was referring to the more conservative branches of the Mennonites. I worked for a Mennonite farmer for 8 months, and they were of the conservative type. I have recently come across some more “liberal” Mennonites as you have described. There is no doubt that I have learned so much from the Anabaptists, and even would consider myself a follower of their teachings, but I am doing my best to stay away from naming myself as a follower of any man or denomination. Trying to follow Jesus is hard enough ;-D

  16. 4-28-2012

    I like all the answers here. It looks as if everyone is really trying hard to do what is right and follow God. My hat off to you all, for you will find truth in not giving up the race.
    I personally do not find anywhere in the new covenant, Hebrews 9:16,17 that anyone is called to be an anababtist, a babtist, a catholic, a mormon, a jehovah witness, a church of christ, or any other denomiination, as well as non-denomination. All I see is once you believe is you are a living child of the living God via Christ Jesus and his finished work John 19:30. receiving the Holy Ghost upon you asking, receiving the ressurection through you asking.

    All religions are based on what it is you are doing or not doing to get God to be pleased with you, more like your place of worship. It is and has become an intellectual acrobating. All religions are a commitment of some sort and to no satisfying of the flesh. What has happened to surrender instead of commitment. Waht do you all think. Does God want SURRENDER or COMMITMENT?
    God is the initiator and we are the responders. Yet religion has become the intitiator making God the responder. God will respond to me and bless me if I am good enough and or committed enough. We are the creation God is the creator. So what is real we trying to get God to respond to us the creation? or is it real that God is the creator and we in reality see we are the creation and we respond to God and what God has already done for us. thanking God constantly
    Howard

  17. 4-28-2012

    i would say theyre all important, though some more or less than others.
    Some such as 4 and 6 are powerful if contextualized to our present society. 4 has profound implications which if lived out put us in direct confrontation with world and church systems… well actually all points can have that effect.
    Imagine if christians for the most part had the moral backbone and insight to reject debt and usury/interest, we would find we stand out and actually contribute something positive to shifting economic systems and injustice.
    #6 not sure on the accountability part though I think that has something todo with the time in which anabaptist stream emerged.
    #10 is tricky, as although that generalisation holds weight most of the time, jesus is at work in all sorts of places, even places that seem locked in tradition and systemic thinking/practice. That said probably too few believers critically examine whether systems are serving us and god or us being slaves of them, especially when the few lord over the many.
    I like the wording of #9. As believers i do not believe isolationist thinking is the answer to the extent that we separate from ‘wordly’ systems and let them do as they please. We can still get our hands dirty and engage in grey areas trying to bring change from within. An over focus on separation of church and state actually helps to create a church system. When we have kingdom mindedness and church structures are more fluid and harder to lay hold of, the church can transcend the systems of man. It takes all types though.

  18. 4-28-2012

    Andrew

    “I think that as both an individual and a member of the body of Christ, I am to live peacefully and non-violently. But I might be called to use violent means if I were acting under the authority of a government (i.e. if I were a soldier or policeman)(Romans 13:1,4, 1 Peter 2:14).”

    Isn’t that all the more reason to avoid being in a situation where we would be called upon to do that? That is the precise reason that the Anabaptists avoided serving as magistrates because that would require the use of coercive violence on behalf of the state

  19. 4-28-2012

    #5: Applying also to ideological violence and militancy, such as the culture war.

    #7: Meaning that Jesus trumps the doctrinal foxholes that we dig and hid out in.

    #9: A two-edged sword that also rejects the idea of the church effecting social change through governmental systems.

    #10: Returning once again to the self-identity of strangers, pilgrims, outcasts, servants, and vagabonds.

  20. 4-28-2012

    Great discussion everyone. I love learning from different groups of Jesus’ followers throughout history. But, I’m continually drawn to the example of these brothers and sisters.

    -Alan

  21. 4-28-2012

    The list is pretty much fully a part of who my local congregation are except to say regarding point #4 we help support an fairly impressive number of missionaries and hold to the spread of the Gospel as job 1 in God’s kingdom, where there is need for help (financial or otherwise) for members or others we mostly do that as individuals but sometimes coming together as a group and voting for a special need and then giving a love offering. It is a good list. I am uncertain as to the original intent of #5 but for us it is excepted that military (and police) service is a legitimate exception to that rule.

  22. 4-28-2012

    Point 10 in the early days of this movement brought a great deal of persecution, from both the RCC and some of the early protestant movement (Martin Luther in particular). My understanding is that this movement was not necessarily unified in that time and had some elements that were either very bad in themselves or just not very practical in particular their economic ideas. Please don’t flame over this as my grasp of the facts of that time are weak at best. This I know that over 100,000 peasants were killed about that time in Germany in what was called the peasant rebellion (name from the winners of that fight) and a big part of that was the Anabaptist movement.

  23. 4-29-2012

    Non-violence and an active commitment to peaceful living.

    This is what I believe SHOULD be a highly distinctive practice amongst Evangelicals today. Sadly, quite the opposite is true. Today’s American Evangelicals are yesterday’s Constantinian church. I’ve had many conversations with Christians today who are reluctant to give up their 2nd Ammendment right to bear arms. They are married to their guns. These same Christians are usually the first to promote and encourage armed conflict in the form of war and battles. They are highly supportive of our troops, almost in an idolatrous way. And are usually the first to cry out, “Let’s go to war!”

    If today’s American Evangelicals turned away from their idols of patriotism, nationalism, and violence; only then do I believe God will hear their prayers. Until then, violence will reign in the streets of America.

  24. 4-29-2012

    Great book concerning AnaBaptists is “The REformers and their stepchildren” by Leonard Verduin.

    http://www.amazon.com/Reformers-Their-Stepchildren-Dissent-Nonconformity/dp/1579789358

    very well researched. An interesting side note to this is that a lot of information was not available to us from either side until after WW2. Many personal letters, archives, etc were locked away by the state church or monarchy system. Verduin wrote this after long research in Europe after WW2.

    I have a ton of respect for Ana Baptists and what they stood against during the Reformation. I often think of Felix Mann’s wife who after he was killed had a tombstone tied around her neck and was drowned as a “third” baptism.

    Unfortuantly, many in the Reformed movement bring up Munster which was one small group out of many. The Ana Baptists were not monolithic. I have also read through Martyrs Mirror. What a legacy of faithfulness.

  25. 4-30-2012

    Greg D says:

    Non-violence and an active commitment to peaceful living.

    AS THE SONG goes, WAR what is it good for; Absolutely NOTHING

  26. 4-30-2012

    I’m surprised that so many people are interested in this post and topic. Thanks for the links, by the way. I highly recommend both The Reformers and their Stepchildren and The Secret of the Strength.

    -Alan

  27. 5-3-2012

    Ana (against) baptists were against infant baptism, hence the name despite their being in some ways predecsssors of Baptists. Their legacy may be vague partly because they did not favor organization. Of course, being executed in large numbers must have reduced their numbers too. Still, I like to think their influence was like a prick in the side of the established churches–too connected to Scripture to be totally dismissed, but loathed nevertheless. Probably they were like the early Methodists without the organization.

  28. 5-3-2012

    Tom,

    I think the term “Anabaptist” comes from the Latin for “one who baptizes again” and was assigned to them by their detractors, along with many other derogatory terms. They didn’t take them name for themselves but simply called one another brother and sister. Interestingly, more and more of their writings are being discovered, and we’re learning much more about them than we originally knew. I think that’s because we originally knew about them primarily through the writings of the same ones who called them “Anabaptists.” But, you are correct about organization; they tended away from any kind of formal organization. Later generations started adopting more formal methods of organizing themselves though.

    -Alan

  29. 5-5-2012

    Alan, your post is important, partly because so many of those distinctives offer a Post-Christendom litmus test. I’m positive about aspects of the Emerging Church and the Fresh Expressions movement here in the UK, but I’m also also critical of the failure of Emerging Churches to break with a Christendom mindset (see http://radref.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/emerging-from-where-and-expressing-what.html). Old habits die hard, especially where clerical livelhoods are at stake. Historic Peace Churches still find ourselves a critical, marginal remnant.

    Perhaps, this is a sign that we aren’t yet very far into this Post-Christendom shift. We still need the hyphen! What will follow Christendom isn’t yet clear.

  30. 5-5-2012

    Phil,

    Groups who associate with and identify with the emerging church are quite varied. I do appreciate their willingness of question various practices and beliefs though.

    -Alan

  31. 4-24-2013

    It funny, that it took me almost 40 years to realize that, one tenet at a time, I became an Anabaptist. I’ve never been to one of their churches, and didnt know they had them until Twitter introduced some of their writers to me last year. I’d read of them of course, admired them and their tenets certainly swallow easily, but until I read your list above Alan, I didnt have a full picture.
    But of course, having never subscribed to a label, Im not going to start now.
    I told one of my daughters that it appears that we have been unwitting Anabaptists, and she was surprised as well, and pleased.
    All around, this day of revelation is a sunbeam in the midst of some tough times.
    Blessings
    Greg