I’ve got some new friends who had never heard of anabaptism. So I wrote a summary of what I understand Anabaptism to be. Look it over. What would you add or subtract? What would you nuance differently?
And if you aren’t anabaptist, what questions would you have?
The Anabaptist tradition
In 1525 the reformation of the church in the West was just beginning. There was a lot of excitement about Luther’s reforms, not least of all in Zurich, Switzerland. Zwingli was leading the city leaders into a reform there based on Scripture alone, but many of the reformation’s supporters there didn’t think that Zwingli was going far enough. They noticed that when he spoke about certain issues, that he was more interested in his theological point, rather than actually brining the church back into obedience to Jesus. So they baptized themselves in the name of Jesus, making each other citizens of Jesus’ kingdom instead of any kingdom on earth. This movement grew, and they were called ana-baptists by their enemies, because it was claimed that they would re-baptize their members. But in reality, the Anabaptists affirmed that they were spreading the one true baptism—an entrance into God’s kingdom through true understanding and not just assent to the society of the church. This movement has continued to this day.
What Anabaptists Believe:
1. Jesus only
“No one knows the Father except the Son”
Anabaptists hold to no theology except that stated by Jesus himself. Even as Jesus supersedes the Old Testament law, Jesus also rules over all theology that the church itself created, whether that by Paul or by Calvin or by N.T. Wright. And the focus of our belief is not a Jesus we create—such as a glorified, theological Jesus or a model of a historical Jesus or a cultural Jesus—but the Jesus of the gospels. Thus, the four gospels lead us to interpret all things through the words and life of Jesus.
Since Anabaptists affirm the superiority of Jesus, we also recognize the weakness of all things human to achieve truth or justice. Thus, any particular denomination or creed is only in a process of getting closer to or further from Jesus, but no church could ever be complete in and of itself. Various governments may attempt to achieve justice, but they all fail. Schools attempt to teach truth, but no matter how precise they are, they fail to achieve the full truth that Jesus gives us.
“Have salt in yourselves and be at peace.”
Anabaptists are a peaceful people. We wish to make changes in the world, but not through violence or hate speech. Rather, we believe that we need to display the actions we want in others. If we want peace in the world, we cannot create peace through violence. Yes, dramatic change must happen for the world to have peace, but God can create the dramatic change—it is our responsibility to be the ideal community the world must become.
“Love one another”
Following Jesus cannot be done separated from others. Jesus, again and again, commands us to “love” and love cannot be done in isolation. We must support each other in communities and our communities must reach out to others outside of our community to display our love. We must also support and provide hospitality so that no one within our community has need.
4. Believer’s Baptism
“Those who believe and are baptized are saved.”
Today, it may not seem as important as an issue, but the Anabaptist communities originally began as groups who baptized only those who could understand and be faithful to Jesus. Thus, Anabaptists don’t baptize infants or assume that everyone within a particular social group is a follower of Jesus. That is a personal commitment that each person must determine individually, and lives out in their own lives.
5. Love of Enemies
“Do good to those who despitefully use you.”
Because we will not cause others to be afraid of us, that makes us vulnerable to others. Jesus showed us that even if people do disrespectful, hateful or even violent acts, that does not mean that we should return such acts in kind. Rather, we are to display God’s love even—nay, especially—to those who do terrible things to us. In order to have security, we do not depend on our strength, but on God’s.
6. Communion with the outcast
“The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”
Anabaptists know what it means to be outcast, because they have been rejected. But we are also to reach out to those who have been rejected by society. Rather than create another outcast group, the Anabaptists connect with those who are hated, and welcome them as Jesus would.
7. Assistance to the poor
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
Jesus helped the poor with what resources he had, so also do Anabaptists. We see the needs of the poor, and rather than simply ignoring their basic needs, we meet them with love in relationship. We understand that it isn’t enough just to give to the poor, but to connect with them as well, because without relationship we cannot love.
What is the difference between Anabaptist and Mennonite?
Both Anabaptists and Mennonites have the same historical foundation, and much of their understanding of Jesus and life is similar. Historically, the Mennonites have a more complex life than Anabaptists, relating to particular ethnic groups, particular nationalities, forming denominations and mission groups and going through serious cultural changes over the last fifty years. Mennonites have often tried to follow Anabaptist ideals, but as a conglomerate of human institutions, they have often gotten caught up in the concerns of the cultures around them.
Anabaptists, however, are found not just in certain denominations or ethnic groups, nor are they limited to a certain historic line. Anabaptists are people who choose Jesus over any human institution, and choose to follow Jesus’ ethical pattern as a personal choice. They may gather in any denomination or create their own, separate communities. They aren’t bound to a particular theology or ideology, but are separate from them all. There are many Anabaptists within Mennonite groups, but they usually are a minority of them. There are also many Anabaptists outside of Mennonite groups, but count all people who follow Jesus, no matter what group they are a part of, as a part of their global family.
If you want to know more about Anabaptism, then please check out the following blogs or podcasts that give different perspectives on what it means to be Anabaptist:
Featured Photo by Tim Nafziger of ceramic pieces by Dennis Maust. See full size on Flickr