Living in a world of Post-s, -ists, and –isms

[I have been invited to share this with you all and look forward to joining the conversations. Please note that this is NOT in edited form, that it is merely a spewing of thoughts. I look forward to further feedback and discussions. Please note also that I'm eager to find a different phrase to encapsulate what I love about the movement of the post-Christendom church ... perhaps "grassroots christianity" or "grassroots Christ-living" ...]

Living in a world of Post-s, -ists, and –isms:
What the Emerging Church movement can teach Anabaptism

Mennonites in the United States are slowly realizing that we live in drastically different times and in drastically different ways than our Anabaptist leaders lived. Are we living in such a way due to evolving revelation or have we let go of our fundamental radical roots?

In the Western world, namely Western Europe and North America, areas of the world which are entering post-colonial, post-Christendom, and postmodern eras, there have been emerging movements for people of faith to reclaim the fundamentals of a vibrant faith story that radicalize our lifestyle standards. There are ecumenical voices pushing for justice and peace emphases as central to the Gospel; a widespread inter-religious acceptance of the need to take notice of the marginalized and oppressed peoples of the world, and a need to redefine Christianity as a welcoming religion whose message runs fundamentally contrary to society’s norms and therefore provides the missing piece that so many are noticing is missing in daily life. The exception for this renewal of faith, in contrary nature to earlier faith renewals is that the revitalization is taking place across all sectors and at its heart is a call to LIVE as one believes. Furthermore, the name of the religion, “Christianity”, is accepted as a potential dangerous framework to continue working within and thus has been pushed to the margins. Faith is now what is important, and the life of Jesus also emerges as a forerunner for the movement.

At the heart of this rediscovery of the basic ideals of Christianity is the emergence of traditional Anabaptist ideals. Re-emergence of centrality of peace and justice to the message of faith, a call to accompany the marginalized and oppressed on a journey out of integrity-taking and dignity-denying imprisonment, focus on the life and words of Christ as moral and lifestyle-defining, and a re-emphasis on intentional community and the breaking of bread with a realization of its economic effects have become the markers for this new movement.

During this same time, the Anabaptist-Mennonite church in North America has been slowly polarizing its members. Churches have either continued the fundamental radical roots of the church’s ancestors and found new and relevant ways of doing church among and with the marginalized or they have determined relevancy as agreeing with mainstream, popularized Christianity which unfortunately has disturbing counter-productive actions driven from unspoken philosophies which support the tradition. This is not a question about which side is correct. It is a question as to what is determined to be relevant and Christ-centred in our own societies.

In order to follow and fulfil the radical callings of Jesus Christ, the church must be willing to take a critical look at itself and be willing to say “we have not done well” and also be willing to change current patterns to more life-giving and God-revealing patterns of living. For the Mennonite Church in the United States, this means a hard look at the church’s acculturation in the last century. Unfortunately, the acculturation which has been occurring overall has not been an acculturation towards higher levels of relevancy, as was the initial purpose. Instead, the acculturation has led to a deterioration of understanding fundamentals of the faith which strive for harmonious and sustainable living with all creation because of the undeserved gift of life and grace from the Lord. We have forgotten the radical differences between need and desire and have accepted society’s individual-driven capitalistic and consumeristic call to maintain a credible level of normalcy in order to have the opportunity to achieve success.

For fear this may sound reactionary and a call to “go back” to our radical roots, it is more a call to be willing to take a compassionate-critical look at our tradition in light of the reigning cultural imperialism of our day. We need to be aware of the Emerging Church movement that is claiming Anabaptist ideals as crucial to relevant living and challenge ourselves to join up with this ecumenical and inter-religious faith movement in hopes to reclaim the worthy remnants of Anabaptist-Mennonite faith which have dulled in recent decades. We must be willing to go beyond our denominational and ethnic restraints to learn from others who have discovered what we had been attempting to live out for centuries and have only recently forgotten.

SK 1-Sept-06
From blog: http://sharonkniss.blogspot.com

Comments (8)

  1. Nathan Eanes

    This post is very interesting. I too have noticed definite Anabaptist ideas among the emergent church movement. Other people who are becoming better known, such as the new monastic movement and singer Derek Webb, are also trumpeting Anabaptist values. In some cases, they’re doing it better than us, since we’ve too often become acculturated and lost our edge. I am the first to stand condemned of this.

    But it’s exciting to see new enthusiasm among Anabaptist young people. Hopefully we can keep this going.

    Reply
  2. Sharon

    Thanks for the response, Nathan.

    So the next question for me is, how do Anabaptist churches respond to this growing movement? Surely we should join up, make connections, accept missionaries, share stories … or something. I think it rightly calls us on our growing acculturation and a loss of distinctiveness, and with this comes a call to action. And in acting we must keep an eye to cohesive movements and not movements which will further split and divide a faith tradition which has had far too much experience in splitting in my opinion. So…HOW?

    Reply
  3. graham

    You make some important points. Cheers.

    Reply
  4. TimN

    Some of these connections are already happening. I was talking with a friend the other day who is part of Reba Place Fellowship, a nearly 50 year old Anabaptist-related intentional community in Evanston, Illinois. They have been developing close ties with the Simple Way community in Philadelphia, which is one of the communities at the center of the New Monasticism movement and Emerging Church movement.

    My friend said that Reba Place has been receiving many new interns inspired by the New Monasticism movement and often referred to Reba Place by Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical and a member of the Simple Way community.

    An article on New Monastacism in Christianity today points out that Reba Place, along with the , also Anabaptist, represented older communities at a July 2004 conference that helped write a voluntary rule with 12 distinctives for communities that wanted to be a part of the New Monastacism.

    Reply
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  6. jdaniel

    Here is another group with Anabaptist ties and Emerging Church ideas: http://www.unionproject.org/Home

    Reply
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  8. Skylark

    I misread this post title at first, thinking it said, “Living in a world of Post-Its.”

    :-D

    Reply

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