The Appeal of Anabaptism Today

When I was a small child, I had my exposures to Christianity. At the time, my family forced me to attend a Presbyterian church, and I was even forced to be baptized in that church. Eventually, my family stopped attending church altogether, and I was left with a perception of Christianity that was seriously flawed, and very negative. When I stopped going to church in my early childhood, I did not understand the Bible, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the Apostles Creed, and so many other parts of the Christian faith. For my family and I, Christianity was essentially a cultural gathering rather than the Way. For much of my childhood after this, I stayed away from Christianity, especially the Mainline churches that I had negatively experienced as a child. It was not until a few years later that I would begin going to church again.

Not long after my older brother had converted to Christianity through the Pentecostals, he had persuaded me to go to church with him. I did not believe in it, but I respected the teachings of Jesus and the community, so I gave it a try. The church that we attended was an Evangelical Free church (which really appealed to me since they only baptized those who voluntarily chose Christ). Despite the wonderful, lively way of doing church, the Evangelical faith that I was being exposed to was only a facade. On the surface, they appeared to be non-hierarchical and modern, but just beneath the surface was Christendom. Behind the rock bands and charisma was the backing of coercive missionaries, Republican politicians, and war. I had to leave.

Despite having only negative experiences with church growing up, the Bible — especially the gospels — made a profound impact one me, and still wanted to find a way of expressing a Christian faith. I traveled all over the place at this point. I tried out various churches: Methodist, Catholic, Acts 29 (think Mark Driscoll), and even Gnostic!  Eventually, I even felt a very strong pull to be a pastor (and I still do). Also, I came back to my family’s old denomination — the Presbyterian Church (USA).

My return to the Mainline Protestants was, as before, met with failure. My individual congregation was hijacked by fundamentalists, which made it a hostile environment, but I also felt something missing in the Mainline churches in general. The Evangelicals had a post-Christendom facade with a Christendom faith. Basically, they had this nice contemporary and voluntary way of worship on the surface, but they went on supporting state institutions, war, and so much other evil. What I have found in my personal experience with Mainline Protestant churches is something similar.

Where the Evangelicals are currently fusing themselves into the United States government and military, the Mainline churches are direct descendants of the colonial European governments, and still have institutions and big church buildings that reflect this. Mainline churches do not seem to have the activity, the charisma, of the Evangelicals. There is a kind of assumption that people will just regularly attend church by default. Basically, I have found the Evangelicals with bad theology and good practice, and I have found Mainline churches with good (or better) theology and bad practice. (Of course, this is only based upon my personal experience.)

I was (and am) stuck. I could not fit into either dominant expression of Protestantism. Both of them just felt empty and co-opted in some way. Then, over the last couple of years, I have found pockets of Christianity that were in a similar situation. The first such example that I found was the emerging church, but the one worth mentioning here is Anabaptism.

While I do have my criticisms of Anabaptism (as I do with all things), it is something that I think really has potential, and it could be very appealing today if it was more familiar to the general population. We have the Evangelicals being rejected by many in this generation and future generations, and then we have the Mainline churches which are in horrible crisis. Today, as with the Reformation, Anabaptism acts as a “third way” — one between the historical-institutional behemoths and the evangelical reformers. I have certainly found Anabaptism appealing to me for this reason.

Kevin Daugherty

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3 Responses to “The Appeal of Anabaptism Today”

  1. Bob Says:

    Jesus Christ is the Way the Truth and the Life. Search for a church that accepts Him as the Way. If you love me you will obey my commandments. Also, any effort of reformation or revolution must be to ‘get back to’ the roots of Christ and his church and not to make a new way.

  2. TimN Says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for sharing your story. You’ve been remarkably persistent despite a lot of really bad experiences.

    What are some ways that you think Anabaptism might become (or make itself) more accessible to the general population in the U.S.?

  3. KevinD Says:

    TimN,

    People I talk to think that Anabaptist = Amish. Being in Pennsylvania, where we have a lot of Amish and Buderhof, this is expected. I tried to get my brother into Anabaptism, and he just cringed because he thought Amish.

    From my experiences, there is just ignorance of what Anabaptism is, and who Anabaptists are. People do not seem to understand that Anabaptism is a broad category like Catholic or Evangelical. Instead, they seem to think that Anabaptism is a particular church, which they then associate with the Amish. Now, I live in a state with a lot of Amish and Bruderhof, so this may just be a Pennsylvanian issue.

    As for how to solve the problem, I think we can learn from the Evangelicals and use media to be loud about who we are. The Liberal, Mainline Protestants made the mistake of not using media, and now Evangelicalism is almost synonymous with Protestantism. What we need are some good prophetic Anabaptists like the first generation, or people like Greg Boyd who bring the Anabaptist vision into mainstream Christianity.

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