Transformationist Anabaptist?

In a number of posts in the last few months it has been quite clear that some of us have very different visions of what Anabaptism is than others. I wrote about this phenomenom two months ago on my blog on the Mennonite in a post on the four streams of Anabaptism. I thought that YAR folks might be interested the table I posted based on an article by Rodney Sawatsky (see the post above for more)

Streams of Anabaptism

Anabaptist Stream
16th Century Corollary
Social/cultural non-comformity to the world
Swiss Brethren with Schleitheim Confession
Biblical nonresistance/personal holiness
Menno Simons
Discipleship of Christ/service to the world
Pilgram Marpeck
Political/ideological nonconformity to the political powers
Hans Hut and apocalyptic Anabaptists

Personally, I identify with the transformationist stream most strongly. I suspect that many of us here on YAR would find the most commonality with that stream. Even if we aren’t apocalyptic, many of us do believe that things like peak oil and climate change are going to be making things very difficult here on earth in the near future. We also may feel that part of are call as Christians is to make a

However, as with my last post about labels, I find indentifying these streams useful not because it divides me from others, but because it helps me understand where they are coming from. By understanding their stream, I can better find common ground for conversation.

Anabaptists have a long history of splits. Our strength of conviction and our sectarianism has sometimes been our weakness. But when I look at this graph, I see a strength in diversity. I’m coming to believe that a healthy Anabaptist church needs people from all of these streams. It won’t be easy and we’re going to disagree deeply, but I think we’ll also find that when we allow our streams to mingle and even run together, we will find God’s healing and hope freely flowing through us to the world.

Comments (9)

  1. Sean F

    I think this is a useful model. I’ve seen a similar classification system suggested by Craig Carter, in his book “Rethinking Christ and Culture,” which is a critique of Niebuhr’s types in “Christ and Culture.” Carter’s three streams of pacifism/nonviolence were Christ separating from culture, Christ humanizing culture and Christ transforming culture, which seem to match up with Sawatsky pretty well. As recent examples of each stream, he offers the Amish, MCC, and MLK, Jr. respectively. I guess the one he left out is the Establishment stream, but I’m kind of fuzzy on what exactly that means, or how it would be different from Separationist. Clarification?

    I agree that there are positive and negative elements in each way of thinking/living. I find myself embracing nonconformity in the cultural and political realms, but I still want to be engaged in practical service to individuals and transformation of the Church if not society, and I feel like the basis for all of this is grounded in personal holiness and obedience to Christ. It doesn’t seem like things divide very neatly at all. I really do think these models are useful, but if Christianity is more than a political statement or a community or a personal commitment or a social program, then it seems healthy to always affirm the necessity of each and learn from each other, even as we affirm our differences.

    Good post, I say.

  2. SteveK

    Great post.

    I find myself somewhere in the Establishist and/or Reformist streams, although I find that Michael Sattler’s use of the Bible to be excellent.

    Steve K

  3. j alan meyer

    Thanks, Tim. I’d lean toward the Reformist stream, but that’s heavily influenced by a general love of Marpeck’s writings and an aversion to Schleitheim and Menno. But I affirm what others have said — that, as in most things, a balance is necessary among the various streams.

  4. Amy

    It’s interesting that you posted this. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the very early Anabaptist movement (like, around the time of Zwingli), but haven’t gotten far enough into the history yet to realize the varying ways Anabaptism diverged.

    In fact, I just wrote some reflections on this on my blog:

    I also find that I’ve been referring to myself more as Anabaptist than Mennonite lately. Because I’m finding that “Mennonite” doesn’t say it fully.

  5. folknotions


    Thanks for finally posting this; It was great to sit with you in this session at the San Jose Conference that discussed these streams. I agree with you as well, that it makes it easier to identify where others are coming from.

    I would, however, like you to respond to why you would place yourself in the “transformationist” category. Also, if anyone identifies with the “separationist” category, if they could explain why as well.

    I point these two out specfically, because I feel most comfortable in the establishment/reformist streams and have an idea of why I would place myself there (I also echo SteveK on this one, especially on the Michael Sattler affinity). But I’m not sure if I understand how the transformationist or separationist streams are more than political postures and if it is fair to separate these streams from “establishment” or “reformist” streams.

    Any comments would be appreciated.

  6. SRudy

    Thanks Tim for that. I think I find myself an Establishment/Transformationist/Reformist blend, and I think that a lot of Anabaptists find some of the things they believe in between the lines of those four.

    Going to what you said about peak oil and climate change, today in our Sunday school class a member of our congregation shared about the climate, and resource change that is going on. He is a geologist with USGS and he shared how so much of our resources are being depleted and just how we as Christians are called to be good stewards of Gods earth. So that presentation really opened my eyes to that subject and I guess because I care about those issues that would fall into the Transformationist category.

  7. Brian Hamilton

    folknotions: I take quite a bit of guidance from Schleitheim, and I don’t too much mind being called ‘separationist.’ Surely one can’t drive too thick a wedge between the different streams, since in my mind personal holiness (~Menno) is part of what constitute the church’s nonconformity, and the church is separate precisely as a witness to Christ and a service to the world (~Marpeck). Yet I find it especially important to emphasize separation because I find repentance to be an especially important dimension of the church’s existence. Repentance, theologically speaking, is our renunciation of the powers of this world and our oath of loyalty to Christ. In re-orienting us towards the heavenly kingdom by the way and truth of Christ, the constant posture of repentance constitutes the church’s fundamental uniqueness with respect to the world.

    All that said, I have some questions about the entire schema. Tim, care to elaborate how it was formed? On first glance, it seems to me more ‘Christ and Culture’ stamped onto Anabaptism than anything organic to the movement. And I don’t really understand the transformationist model, or at least what it has to do with Hut, Hoffman, etc.

  8. Brian Hamilton

    Ah, I wasn’t reading closely enough. I found the reference to the Sawatsky article on the other blog; I’ll have to get my hands on it sometime soon.

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