The Emerging Church and Anabaptists

A few weeks ago, Dave over at the Mindful Mission posted out a number of blog posts by members of the Emerging movement looking at the similarities between the Emerging church and Anabaptists. Dave attends Living Water Community Church, an energetic urban Mennonite congregation that Charletta and I have been attending since January.

Since reading Dave’s post I’ve become more and more aware of some of the connections between the emerging church movement. Two weeks ago, Encounter, a program on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National did an extensive radio interview with Jarrod McKenna, an emerging church leader and Anabaptist leaders in Australia. It’s well worth a listen. At one point Jarrod says:

Discipleship for the early Christians and discipleship I think for this emerging church movement, which is drawing on Anabaptism, is about what it is to follow Jesus in ways that are empowering and life-giving, ways that speak of a world transformed, where we see in our lives as communities, what a world would look like turned upside down, what would a world look like where instead of power being understood as something which we lorded over them, as Jesus put it, but again, I think the spirit is speaking a word to the church, in the world that this time in history that says, ‘Not so with you”, not so in terms of power being simply about oppressing others in terms of manipulating others, in terms of coercion, but this power that we see revealed in the resurrection of Jesus, this non-violent power that this new world has actually, this new creation has begun.

In his blog post (linked above) Dave expresses his excitement about seeing the mixing between the Emerging and Anabaptist communities and makes some interesting observations about Mennonites and the Emerging Church:

The largest difference I see is that the Emergent philosophy makes for of an effort to be “cool” or trendy, while Mennonite churches typically could care less. Because of this, you tend to see a greater sense of age diversity in Mennonite churches (which I love!).

It is funny to me when you hear people talk about the new ideas of the Emergent churches. What they really tend to be are trendy Anabaptist churches with less stringent theological stances on things like violence and homosexuality, which definitely has its pros and cons.

Lora Steiner wrote a report on the gathering for the Canadian Mennonite Church website. Her report includes this segment about one emergent church:

Van Steenwyk’s church, Missio Dei, began nearly two-and-a-half years ago in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis, an ethnically diverse area with a high level of poverty. A year after the church began, members began to explore how they could be more hospitable and present in the community around them. They also realized they wanted to be a part of a larger Anabaptist-minded community, and approached the Central Plains Conference about joining MC USA.

“We are very Anabaptistic at Missio Dei,” says Van Steenwyk. “We feel that we need to submit to some larger community so that we don’t get it into our heads that we’re doing this alone, or that we can simply pick and choose what we want to do as a group of ‘consumers.'”

So what do you all think? The comments on this post at TallSkinny are a fascinating look at what a lot of non-Anabaptists think of Anabaptism and what a few Anabaptists think of the Emerging Church movement.

Comments (13)

  1. dave


    Ha… awesome word.

    I am Anabaptistic.

    And thanks for the link.

  2. Michael Westmoreland-White

    It’s impossible to tell if the “emerging church” is Anabaptistic (others claim it is more Catholic or Orthodox), because the “definitions” or descriptions of emerging church–given by their own proponents–are too vague. Almost ANYTHING not firmly connected to a denomination could be called “emerging.”

  3. Skylark

    ^^^ Then am I not alone in having absolutely no idea what “emerging church” means?

  4. Clare Snyder

    The “emergent” church appears at first glance to be “anabaptist” in outlook. However, looking beneath the veneer, is it a “church” at all? What is the rock, the foundation, on which the church is built? Christ, the son of the living god. Christ crucified and reurrected. Christ, THE way to eternal life. Christ First, Foremost, and ONLY. If that must be watered down, it is not the Church of Christ, and it is NOT Anabaptist.Social conscience does not equal anabaptist Christianity (or any other kind of Christianity) The social conscience SPRINGS FROM the truth of Christ – not the other way around.

    I was raised in the (then) Old Conference Mennonite church, (now the MCEC) then shifted to the Mennonite Brethren in the seventies and after a time in the AGC returned to the MB Church

    Through the swings in how we “do church” the Mennonites, even when sometimes weighted heavily towards the “social gospel”, and with the “Missional” emphasis, have not totally lost sight of that basic foundation – Christ First, Foremost, and ONLY.
    The Emergent movement as a whole has not yet discovered that truth.

    It is perhaps good to accept some of the chastisement they heap on the established church, but be VERY carefull about accepting their solutions. A little bit of truth can be extremely dangerous when it hides falsehood behind it’s veneer.

  5. Julie Perry

    Concerning the emergent church as a whole, be very careful! Beneath the surface veeer of trendy or “vintage” Christianity,this movement has dangerous and far reaching implications.
    In a nutshell, although there are probably many well intentioned and sincere Christians, the group as a whole denies Jesus as the only way to heaven, and denies the innerancy of the bible. I believe their goal is to bring all religions together as one. This is NOT compatible with Christianity.

  6. Matt Stone

    A couple of problems here.

    Firstly, you are apparently confusing emergent and with the wider emerging church and are obviously not clear where Jerrod and TallSkinnyKiwi fit into the picture. As someone closer to the action I can tell you that most of the concerns raised by evangelicals like Don Carson have to do with Emergent Village, which is indeed quite liberal, and not the wider emerging church conversation, which can be quite evangelical in some quarters. In fact, some who have been associated with the conversation, like Mark Driscoll, are very much in the Reformed tradition. Given the confusion people like yourselves often have over the similar labels, TallSkinnyKiwi recently dropped using “emerging church” language all together, just to avoid being confused with other groups which are not representative of where he is at. Many others are in the same boat.

    Secondly, before casting the first stone I suggest you actually talk to people. You’ll find there are plenty committed to Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. Beware of bearing false witness.

    Thirdly, while I know plent of folk in the conversation who are anabaptist influenced, few claim to be Anabaptist in a Capital A sense. They tend to draw influence from various quarters and that’s just one of them. You need to listen deeper to find out what its about.

  7. spooky

    I am amused at how the “emerging” movement refers to itself as a “conversation”. Diction can’t get any more “emergent” than that =)

  8. Dave

    The emerging church is an apostate social network of un-regenerate people. While Anabaptist Christians died for their total faith in Christ and His Truths, emergents seek to consolidate Christian denominations into a trendy, 21st century spiritual journey. Sadly, foundational Truths such as the need to be Born again, repenting of sins, and living a holy and cross-bearing life, are totally absent from the emerging church movement. The love of the world, the flesh, and the pride of life are evils that true Anabaptists of today and yester-year resolutely renounce in the name of the only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

  9. dave (different dave)

    Umm… can I just say that it appears that Dave (with a Big D) doesn’t appear to know much about the emerging church movement?

  10. somasoul

    dave (different dave),

    Some people do not quite understand the emergent movement because a lot has been said of it that does not understand it. You can go into a non-emergent church and hear things about it that are not quite true.

    Still, I don’t think emergent is anything. It can be anything, though perhaps not so, though maybe. Emergent doesn’t know what it is, even if it knows what it wants to be. There are too many voices to pin it down. I’d be hesitant to say anything about emergent in a concrete way.

  11. Pingback: Anabaptists - dwight j. friesen

  12. Bruce L. Thiessen, Ph.D.

    I don’t share the fear of some of those who have commented here concerning the emerging church. Why should we, as Anabaptists, be threatened when somebody appreciates core values of yore that represent our identity and our history? It is likely Paul McCartney criticizing a new artist who is influenced by the Beatles. It doesn’t mean that new artist is trying to fake being the Beatles, it just means that that new artist appreciates the magic of the Beatles and allows the Beatles to be a source of inspiration.

    I don’t think the emerging church is a trend. I think it stems from a genuine hunger for acceptance and a generous application of God’s grace. Now of course, some will want to capitalize upon that hunger and will want to commercialize it, but I don’t think that means we need to pile on the movement as a whole. Without such movements, the church would become a stagnant pond. It’s refresshing that some want to rid the church of pretenses and get back to what is authentic. Is it a perfect movement? Of course not, but I think if we are going to be afraid of something, it’s more realistic to fear growing stagnant, ambiguity intolerant, legalistic and addicted to structure.

  13. Robert

    Whew, where to begin…First, let me out myself here: I am a Mennonite Universalist (salvation for all, God loves all, Hans Denk type anabaptist). I don’t think christianity, let alone my particular brand is the only way to God. I understand Jesus’ dictum “No one comes to God but through me” to mean that we all must approach God through actions that are Christ-Like (meaning loving, working for justice, sharing resources etc). I agree with Jesus emphatically when he said “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” He didn’t say ye shall know them by their declarations, denominations, or creeds.

    This is my understanding and I hold no ill will to those who disagree. I think the emergent conversation (I like that word because it implies dialogue amongst equals rather than hierarchy or domination of an elite class) is about looking at the christian tradition as a whole, seeing it as a spectrum of ideas and practices rather than as a set of distinctives which cannot cross paths. Its the difference between a TV tray microwave meal in box (where you get only the options in that one box and each piece is delicately sorted into a separate compartment) and a potluck where everyone brings something to the table and together it makes a whole (and sometimes unique) meal.

    It’s a synthesis of theological ideas across the spectrum…a broad experiment to really dig into the roots of our faith and apply those ideas or practices in our contemporary milieu both Christologically and socio-politically.

    I for one am all for it. Emergent at its best is radical, feminist, empowering, and inclusive of those who may be marginalized in more fundamentalist oriented congregations.

    Ya Basta!

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