Anabaptism is cool. There’s no denying it. In this ultra-exciting age of the emerging movement, post-modern transition, and a change of scenery in the American church, buzzwords such as “reformation”, “contemporary”, and “social justice” have crept into the church’s vocabulary. Is Anabaptism just another one of these words that sounds cool but is hard to define or flesh out in every day living?
I wondered these things since early childhood—and I was a child raised in an “Anabaptist” environment. I soon found out that Anabaptism means different things to different people—and not only that, but their view of Anabaptism often influences their view on church and Christianity.
To the “old-orders”, who proudly trace their roots to the first Anabaptist reformers, Anabaptism is a way of life, a frozen set of traditions and doctrines. They sincerely hold on to certain traditions simply “that’s how the early Anabaptists did it”. Only they don’t say it in quite that way. It usually comes across as “that’s how we’ve always done it” to people who may be disgruntled with the traditionalism and culture of the still relatively strict and conservative groups of Amish, Mennonites, Brethren and Hutterites.
It was in this setting I was raised. It was with interest that I read Tim’s last post concerning coverings, conservatives, and traditions. I grew up in a strict church that was independent of both the old-order Amish and the Mennonite conferences. As a result, they managed to keep some consistency in dress (cape dresses, coverings, etc), yet they walked a fine line doctrinally between fundamentalism and historical Anabaptist thought.
Progressive Mennonites have decided that Anabaptism is not just about a historical faith. They believe that there are defining attributes of the Anabaptist movement that any group calling themselves “Anabaptist” should hold to. The big, mega, huge one is peace. Fortunately, peace and peacemaking have a firm basis in scripture and are a practical way of life for a committed disciple. However, was Anabaptism really all about peace? Unfortunately, a little town called Münster changed that view. More unfortunately, most Mennonites have never heard of the scourge of Münster.
Was Anabaptism about doctrine, about lifestyle, about traditions? Was it all about a new way of doing church? Was it any of those?
The defining trait of historical Anabaptism was really not any of those. Anabaptism was not about a new system, a new institution. Rather, Anabaptism was a label given to those radicals, those people who couldn’t get along with any system. Anabaptism described those who didn’t give a damn about what the government said or did, no matter if it was civil government or church government.
So just what was it that made Anabaptism great? What made it a powerful movement? It was its willingness to be a third voice in a previous dual-faceted shouting contest. It was its bold call for reform and its ability to adapt and learn from its enemies.
What should Anabaptism look like in a 21st century setting? It should be bold and adventurous, always excited about being a missional faith in a doubting culture. It should be training committed disciples, learning from the dubious recruiting techniques of its Reformed neighbor and the harsh initiation of its Catholic neighbor. It should be ready and willing to listen, learn, and work with other denominations, faiths, and religions. It should learn from culture and never hesitate to stoop to a poverty stricken people’s economic level or station in life in order to show Jesus to them in every day life.
How are conservative Mennonites exemplifying Anabaptism better than progressives? How are progressive showing the conservatives that its not just about a frozen canon of works?
We (the conservatives and the progressives) need to learn from each other. We need to work together if we are going to make the Anabaptist vision compelling enough to infiltrate the masses. The conversation begins here. What’s your idea, confession, or concern?