Anabaptism, to me, is one of the few beacons of hope that Christianity can still be relevant and authentic. Anabaptism is one of the few strains of Christianity that has not been completely co-opted. However, I still find myself in an awkward place that makes it somewhat problematic for me to call myself an Anabaptist openly.
First of all, I think that I am more than just an Anabaptist. Yes, I believe in the priesthood of all believers, voluntary believers baptism, the centrality of Christ, and I love the first few generations of Anabaptists, but I also love the Diggers, Unitarians, Universalists, Congregationalists, modern progressives, and so many other groups. I could be defined as an Anabaptist, but then there is also a lot more to it that I love. The fundamental difference between these other radical groups and the generic Anabaptist today seems to be one of theology.
The Anabaptist tradition has always been critical of how church is done in both established Protestant and Catholic churches, but the other traditions that I list are also critical of how theology is done in established churches. In the other traditions that I draw from, some “fundamental” of traditional Christian theology is called into question (hell, the trinity, patriarchy, etc.).
My major issue with Anabaptism is that I do not see this. There is a proud critique of imperial ways or practicing Christianity, but I have not seen very much criticism of the imperial theology that produced the Christendom paradigm. I have seen Anabaptists who will gladly reject the partnership of church and state, but then go on using the Nicene Creed, which is the product of a state-church partnership. In many expressions of Anabaptism that I have seen, the prophetic reviving of the gospel just does not go far enough.
My Anabaptist Christianity then seems to be a mix of two strains of radical Christianity: the first is an Anabaptist praxis that is critical of traditional ways of doing church, and the second is a Unitarian and Universalist Christianity that is critical of traditional ways of thinking about God. In many ways, this puts me into the same place as the first generation of Anabaptists. Some, such as Hans Denck, were both Anabaptist and Universalist.
I wholeheartedly feel called to the Anabaptist tradition. However, I am also cautious of it because I identify with other radical traditions too, and because I see a lot of the same Christendom theology present within some expressions of Anabaptism. On the other hand, many theological radicals then went on to have the Christendom state-church paradigm when it came to church (e.g. the Puritans). Perhaps what is needed is a mix of the two, a revival of Hans Denck’s kind of Anabaptism — one that is both radical in church structure and theology.
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