Four Streams of Anabaptism Series

This is a series of articles looking at the four streams of Anabaptism as outlined by Rodney Sawatsky in his 1992 essay “The One and the Many: The Recovery of Mennonite Pluralism.” You can see a summary of the four streams here: Four Streams of Anabaptism

Transformationist Anabaptism: the missing fourth stream from the Mennonite Church USA imagination

Arbor Day 2012 tree planting in Camden, New Jersey with community members and Word and World participants

This post was originally published two years ago as MMMMs: Expanding our Churchly imagination in my blog for The Mennonite. Thanks to Hannah Heinzekehr for adding photos to illustrate this piece.

In the wake of this summer’s Mennonite Church USA convention and the pending departure of Lancaster Conference, I am reflecting on the role of “Moderate Mennonite Male Managers” (MMMM’s) in our institutions. This recent essay by John Rempel inspired me to look specifically at a blind spot common among the the “Moderate Mennonite Male Managers” (MMMM’s) of our institutions. For those of you who haven’t read it, this quote summarizes Rempel’s thesis well:

Each type of church brings different gifts to the table. Moderates bring the willingness and capacity for meaningful compromise. Liberals bring the capacity to live with ambiguity and with matters that are presently incapable of solution. Conservatives bring a deep trust in the Bible and the Holy Spirit as sources of clear positions in matters of faith and life.

I resonate with Rempel’s 1 Corinthians 12 inspired vision of the different gifts of the body of Christ that he outlines. However, Rempel’s paradigm, focused around liberals, moderates and conservatives, misses a whole swath of our community and Anabaptist tradition.

To understand more about this missing community, I turn to the model of four streams of Anabaptism that Rodney Sawatsky outlined in 1992. In summary, he traces four contemporary streams of Anabaptism back to our 15th century origins: Separationist, Establishment, Reformist and Transformationist. I will focus in this article on the transformationist, but you can see Sawatsky’s table with all four in my 2007 blog post. These streams do not map perfectly onto Rempel’s model of liberals, moderates and conservatives, but however you slice the cantaloupe, the transformationist stream is glaringly absent.

(more…)

Four Streams of Anabaptism

This is a cross-posting of a piece first posted eight years ago on my blog for The Mennonite. Since then we organized a series here on YAR looking at some of the historical groups that Sawatsky highlights. You can read the articles in that series here.

What if rather than one unified view of Anabaptist we instead looked at our tradition as containing many different streams, in the same way that Richard Foster finds different streams of Christian spiritual practice in Streams of Living Water?

Last week on Young Anabaptist Radicals I wrote about Gregory Boyd’s discovery of Mennonites as well as his dismay at our falling away from our roots. It provoked a lively discussion about percieved divisions in the Mennonite church and deviation by Mennonites from core Anabaptist values. One of the things that became clear in the discussion is that there are many different views of what the core Anabaptist values are and how they should be lived out.

Growing up as a Mennonite, I learned that the way we live our faith is tied to the experience of our predecessors in 16th Century Europe. Though I didn’t study it until college, Harold S. Bender’s Anabaptist Vision informed much of what I viewed as Mennonite. Writing in 1944, Bender defined the Swiss Brethren tradition as “the original evangelical and constructive Anabaptism” as opposed to the other streams of Anabaptism “which came and went like the flowers of the field.”

And so it was the story of the Swiss Brethren re-baptizing one another in 1525 in Zurich that I learned at the Mennonite high school I attended. Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel and George Blaurock were the founding fathers of our faith. As Mennonites today we should look to their example.

This summer at the Mennonite convention in San Jose, I heard an alternative to this model. At a workshop I attended, Dale Schrag introduced four different types of Anabaptism first proposed in 1992 by Rodney Sawatsky “The One and the Many: The Recovery of Mennonite Pluralism” published in Anabaptism Revisited; Essays on Anabaptist/Mennonite Studies in Honor of C. J. Dyck.

In the essay, Sawatsky acknowledges the dominance of Bender’s vision, but offers an alternative model for contemporary Anabaptism based on more than just the story of the Swiss Brethren. He identifies the emphasis of each stream and connects it with a different leader or group of 16th century Anabaptists.

Here’s what it looks like:

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

(more…)

“Unity is the Highest Adornment in Love”

This is the final installment of a three-part overview of the life of Pilgram Marpeck, Anabaptist radical and lover of Christ.

From 1532 to 1542 , Pilgram and Anna Marpeck wandered from German city to city, Pilgram getting an engineering job here and there, and trying to encourage local Anabaptists wherever he went. He wrote letters and held meetings in various places.

In Moravia, where there was the greatest freedom for Anabapists to thrive, Marpeck found the greatest level of dissension between the different groups of Anabaptist. It is there that Marpeck realized that the greatest enemy of the true Christian church is not persecution, but disunity.

“Unity is the highest adornment of love. This treasure, unity, brings with it all other virtues and treasures, namely peace, joy, comfort in the Holy Spirit, as well as humility, meekness… I do not write this to accuse you but to entice you to emulate the true and proper humility in Christ.” (Marpeck, p.216)

(more…)

Pilgram Marpeck: Bridging Two Kingdoms

1528 was a busy year for Pilgram Marpeck. He was married to Anna, he was baptized as an adult and accepted into the leadership of Anabaptist circles. His former liege, Archduke Ferdinand, heard about his full conversion to Anabaptism, and sought to arrest him. Pilgram and Anna decided to leave the area under Ferdinand, and so decided to move to Strasbourg.

Strasbourg had just become a Lutheran city, choosing as their preacher Martin Bucer, a former Dominican and now a strong advocate of the Reformation. However, Strasbourg was known as a city that was open to discussion and a variety of Christian thinking, so Marpeck and many other Anabaptists found their way to the city after being persecuted in other nearby cities.

Marpeck was one of the few immigrants of means, able to purchase a house and to provide for some of the other Anabaptist refugees. He also held a regular Anabaptist meeting in his house. He was welcomed by the Anabaptist community, to such a degree that Bucer later said he was seen as a “god” among them.

By 1530, after working in a variety of towns, Marpeck was hired by Strasbourg to work for the city. By this time, the city was actively persecuting Anabaptists, arresting whole churches and banishing them. Marpeck himself had not been given any official notice, nevertheless, his position as a civil engineer with the city must have been at best precarious. Certainly his Anabaptist fellows must have questioned his loyalty to his church when he was working for their persecutor, and having taken a vow of loyalty to the city.

However, Marpeck was actually furious at the Lutheran preachers and officials of the city, and many other German provinces. Their acts of persecution in the name of Christ was directly against Scripture, and Marpeck wrote a pamphlet in opposition to this action with the tame title of, An Expose of the Babylon Whore, written about the Lutheran persecution of other Christian beliefs. (more…)

Pilgram Marpeck: Living Christ

This multi-part post is the third in the Anabaptist Streams series here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, in which we’ll be looking at different streams of early Anabaptism and making connections with our own context. The series will feature different authors over the coming months and is loosely based on Rodney Sawatsky’s model of four streams of Anabaptism. It features different authors over the coming months, each looking at a different stream. In this post and in the next two weeks we will focus on Pilgram Marpeck.

In 1520, Pilgram Marpeck, trained in civil engineering, was welcomed to the brotherhood of miners in Austria . After doing some favors to the Archduke Ferdinand over the next five years, he was appointed by Ferdinand to be mining superintendent over Rattenberg. As normal in such a position, Marpeck gave an oath of loyalty to Ferdinand, vowing to obey all of Ferdinand’s commands and to obey all the laws of the land. In that charge he represented the Archduke in taking custody of rebels, and held the lives and deaths of the miners under his care in his hands.

In this time, the writings and controversies of Martin Luther enflamed Europe. Although his career and solid government connections would be effected by any strong religious conviction, he held conversations with young Lutherans and were convinced by their arguments. (more…)

The Swiss Brethren, Part 3: Contemporary Separatism

It is my desire in the closing segments of my contribution to this series to address an issue that is controversial in nature. That subject being Christian separatism. When the average person that shows interests in Anabaptistica surveys the writings and beliefs of the Swiss Brethren they will pause at article IV of the Schleitheim Confession and immediately find some difference of opinion with it’s content. It reads:

We have been united concerning the separation that shall take place from the evil and the wickedness which the devil has planted in the world, simply in this; that we have no fellowship with them, and do not run with them in the confusion of their abominations. So it is; since all who have not entered into the obedience of faith and have not united themselves with God so that they will to do His will, are a great abomination before God, therefore nothing else can or really will grow or spring forth from them than abominable things. Now there is nothing else in the world and all creation than good or evil, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who are [come] out of the world, God’s temple and idols. Christ and Belial, and none will have part with the other.

To us, then, the commandment of the Lord is also obvious, whereby He orders us to be and to become separated from the evil one, and thus He will be our God and we shall be His sons and daughters.

Further, He admonishes us therefore to go out from Babylon and from the earthly Egypt, that we may not be partakers in their torment and suffering, which the Lord will bring upon them.

From all this we should learn that everything which has not been united with our God in Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. By this are meant all popish and repopish works and idolatry, gatherings, church attendance, winehouses, guarantees and commitments of unbelief, and other things of the kind, which the world regards highly, and yet which are carnal or flatly counter to the command of God, after the pattern of all the iniquity which is in the world. From all this we shall be separated and have no part with such, for they are nothing but abominations, which cause us to be hated before our Christ Jesus, who has freed us from the servitude of the flesh and fitted us for the service of God and the Spirit whom He has given us.

Thereby shall also fall away from us the diabolical weapons of violence—such as sword, armor, and the like, and all of their use to protect friends or against enemies—by virtue of the word of Christ: “you shall not resist evil. (more…)

The Swiss Brethren, Part 2: Theological Distinctions

From its establishment, the Swiss Brethren separated themselves from Roman Catholics and Protestants. Their existential form of Christianity was something that the religious community as well as the general public could not fathom. While some aspects paralleled that of the Reformers concerning belief in other areas it was quite disturbing because of their otherness to outsiders.

The means in which they achieved their doctrinal and applied otherness was nothing new in and of itself. “They had come to their convictions like most other Protestants—through Scripture. Luther had taught that common people have a right to search the Bible for themselves” (Shelley 248). They reasoned if Luther arrived at his biblical and theological conclusions through a search of scripture there was nothing preventing them from doing the same. They began to gather and probe the Bible thoroughly trying their best not to let preconceived notions prevent them from discovering what the genuine will of God was for not just them but for every believer.

When venturing on their journey through Sacred Scripture the Swiss Brethren “discovered a different world in the pages of the New Testament. They found no state-church alliance, no Christendom. Instead they discovered that the apostolic churches were companies of committed believers, communities of men and women who had freely and personally chosen to follow Jesus. And for the sixteenth century, that was a revolutionary idea” (Ibid. 248-9).

These men and women did not seek Reformation for the Anabaptists saw the futility in trying to reform something that was beyond correction or change.

Their goal was the “restitution” of apostolic Christianity, a return to churches of true believers. In the early church, they said, men and women who had experienced personal spiritual regeneration were the only fit subjects for baptism.  The apostolic churches knew nothing of the practice of baptizing infants. That tradition was simply a convenient device for perpetuating Christendom, nominal but spiritually impotent society (Ibid. 249).

They considered the undisputable church was a community made of disciples that was pursuing holiness and embraced the reality that they were called out by God and set aside for His purpose. The Anabaptists desired to influence the world by their example of “radical discipleship” even if doing so meant martyrdom.

In due course, the group codified their beliefs in order to differentiate themselves from other groups that held to the Anabaptist designation. On February 24, 1527, a conference was held at Schleitheim (Switzerland) and the Swiss Anabaptists adopted unanimously what is known as the Schleitheim Articles or Confession. Originally, it was termed the Brüderlich Vereinigung etzlicher Kinder Gottes sieben Artikel betreffend when translated the Brotherly Union of a Number of Children of God Concerning Seven Articles with Michael Sattler presiding. These articles contained seven points that was eventually dispatched to the Swiss and South German Anabaptist collectives in the form of an epistle. The seven principles addressed the following topics: (more…)

The Swiss Brethren, Part 1: Laying the Foundation for Distinction

This multi-part post is the second in the Anabaptist Streams series here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, in which we’ll be looking at different streams of early Anabaptism and making connections with our own context. The series will feature different authors over the coming months and is loosely based on Rodney Sawatsky’s model of four streams of Anabaptism. It will feature different authors over the coming months, each looking at a different stream.

In this prefatory portion as a substitute for addressing each notable member of the group that is presently known as the Swiss Brethren, I will address the assembly as a whole for to do otherwise would exhaust the allotted time for this entire series of presentations. Each of those member were vivid distinctive characters that laid the foundation of a movement that no only altered the Ecclesiastical world but ironically impacted the country that epitomizes the empire they challenged via their indefatigable ministry.

In the beginning during their tenure in Zollikon and St. Gallen they went by the designation “Brothers in Christ”, it was not until later they became known as the “Swiss Brethren”. Their antagonists “both Protestant and Roman Catholic, used the label Anabaptist (“rebaptized”) for the radical reformers because they baptized adults who had already been baptized as infants” (Kraybill 10). However, as mentioned formerly from “the beginning in Zollikon and St Gallen they referred to themselves as “brothers in Christ.” Later, from some time in the 1540s, they were called the “Swiss Brethren,” the name being coined by two other Anabaptist groups that wanted to maintain an identity distinct from them – the Hutterites and the Marpeck brotherhood” (Ibid.).

History acknowledges the Brothers in Christ (hereafter Swiss Brethren) as the principal Anabaptists that engaged in the first disciples’ baptism of the movement “in Zurich in January 1525 in an effort to create immediately a complete, uncompromising and uncompromised reformed Church” (Stayer 95). The small group consisted of Felix Manz, Conrad Grebel, and George Blaurock among other like-minded believers. They severed ties from the Magisterial Reformer Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli for the reason that they felt reforms was not progressing in an expeditious fashion.

(more…)

David Joris, Part 2: Early Mennonites through an Anabaptist rival

This is the second in a two part series on David Joris and establishment Anabaptists here is the first: Establishment Anabaptists, part 1: David Joris’ authority and Menno Simons. This is also part of a broader series on the Four Streams of Anabaptism.

Today, we tend to think of Mennonites as descended from all early Anabaptists. However, the followers of Menno Simons had some distinctive practices that set them apart from other Anabaptists of their era. Looking at them through the eyes of David Joris and his disciples can help us to understand what set them apart more clearly.

Joris’ approach clashed dramatically with the leadership style of Menno Simons. As I discussed in part one of this series, Joris was charismatic; people were drawn to him.

He excelled at accommodation, diplomacy and mediation between different Anabaptist sects, "ranging from the peaceful followers of Obbe Philips to the marauding adherents of Jan van Batenburg." (Zijlstra 251). Simons, on the other hand, was a rural priest whose focus on the purity didn’t make any sense to Nikolaas Meyndertsz Blesdijk, the primary lieutenant of Joris:

Blesdijk pictures the Mennonite elders as hostile and closed-minded, both unwilling and unable to carry on a religious discussion with orderly marshalling of evidence and in the spirit of gentleness (sachtmoedicheyt) that distinguish a true teacher.

Instead of behaving civilly and honorably, argues Blesdijk, the Mennonites are hypocritically preoccupied with distinguishing and separating themselves, whether by manner of dress, appearance or words …

Since they shun their opponents, forbidding all moral human contact with them, in total disregard of the initiation of the ban in Matthew 18 and the New Testament examples of its use, it is not surprising that they are so fixed in their opinions: they seldom speak with anyone who thinks otherwise than they. (Stayer, "Davidite vs. Mennonite" 464)

(more…)

Establishment Anabaptists, part 1: David Joris’ authority and Menno Simons

This multi-part post is the first in the Anabaptist Streams series here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, in which we’ll be looking at different streams of early Anabaptism and making connections with our own context. The series will feature different authors over the coming months and is loosely based on Rodney Sawatsky’s model of four streams of Anabaptism. It will feature different authors over the coming months, each looking at a different stream.

In this article (and two following) I’ll focus on the Davidites, a little known Anabaptist sect that had a tremendous impact on Menno Simons and the group that became the Mennonites, what Sawatsky identifies as the establishment stream. The Davidites were the followers of David Joris, an urban prophet responding to massive disruption of the traditional social fabric, what Ferdinand Tönnies called Gemeinschaft (Graham and Haidt, 376). Understanding Joris can help us understand Mennonites and how they became who they are today. I’ll be drawing heavily on Gary Waite’s David Joris and Dutch Anabaptism, 1524-1543.

David JorisDavid Joris, painted between 1635 and 1665. From Wikipedia

We’ll start by looking at how Joris established his authority as a leader. Anabaptists as a movement rejected traditional sources of authority, so the question of how to organize their own communities was constantly evolving.

(more…)

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

(more…)