Anabaptism

What Does It Mean To Be Anabaptist?

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. (more…)

Justice & Unity: Reflections on Mennonite World Conference

“Will you forgive us?” they said from the platform at Global Youth Summit. “As North Americans, if, through pride or selfish independence, we have said, ‘I am not part of the body…’ Will you forgive us? If we have known that other parts of Christ’s body suffer, and have refused to share their pain… Will you forgive us? If in place of Christ, the head of the body, we have served our own theology, tradition, or prejudice, and loved only those who loved or looked like us… Will you forgive us?” As I reflect back on my experience at the 15th Assembly of Mennonite World Conference, this litany, shared by North American young people, remains at the forefront of my mind. It was an important reminder to me that true unity is not possible without a recognition of power inequalities in the church.

In order to bring about this unity based on reconciliation, power imbalances in the church must be named. In Mennonite Church USA we recognize that this means questioning our institutional structures and the ways in which they favor white, Euro-centric styles of leadership over the leadership styles of other groups of people. As a denomination we have committed ourselves to being anti-racist and we recognize that it will take much time and effort to overcome the oppression that is embedded in our structures. (more…)

New Wine/New Wineskins Follow-up

Since I last wrote, Allan has provided this info that completes the reporting from the Winnipeg meetings. (Thanks Allan)! A document entitled “Recommendations from September 2009 Inquiry Task Force Meeting” has been posted on MCC’s website that gives further context, and charts a path forward in addressing the concerns that were named. I would encourage each of you to read this.

MCC relates to what you are about as Young Anabaptist Radicals, and this process is significant for MCC and the broader church community.

MCC is a radical organization: it is about living out our basic values as Anabaptist Christians, rooted in the teachings of Jesus, Scripture, and in the Anabaptist church community. It is important for the broader Anabaptist community to be aware of and speak into this New Wine, New Wineskins process that is engaging MCC stakeholders in discerning God’s direction for the organization. This in-depth listening and evaluation has been guided by three core questions: (more…)

New Wine New Wineskins

The “final” meetings of the New Wine/New Wineskins Inquiry Task Force (ITF) committee were last weekend in Winnipeg. I thought some of you may want to know about it. MCC is trying to deepen existing bonds of connection and respond to world in a new way through modification of its vision, mission, priorities, values, and approaches…as well as its structure. The New Wine/New Wineskins process was a broad consultation to help think through how we do this.

A number of church leaders, former MCC directors, and others invested in this process have expressed concerns around:

· the fragmentation of international program into national entities. How can we maintain (and improve) MCC’s ability to carry out its mission if international program is given to national MCCs?

· denominations not having sufficient representation on the governance of the proposed national MCC entities, nor the central entity.

· The fact that MCCBN and MCCC tensions have not been adequately addressed in order to be able to move forward. (more…)

Have We Lost Our Way?

(This is a repost from my home blog at http://ballymennoniteblogger.blogspot.com/)

A new issue of the online version of “The Mennonite” church publication has been released.  I just got my e-mail today.  I enjoy getting this weekly dose of information from the primary publication of my denomination.  It keeps me informed as to what’s going on at the denominational level and gives me some different insights on modern issues from a Mennonite perspective.

However, I must say that this morning’s issue disappointed me.  Not because of the lack of content, nor because it somehow didn’t meet the professional standards of the publication.  It disappointed me because of the content itself.  The lead article in today’s e-mail found here discusses how the health-care reform bills currently being worked on by the US federal government coincide with Jesus’ inaugural sermon from Luke 4.

On one level, I agree with this article.  The Kingdom of God is a kingdom in which there is no more poverty, no more disadvantaged, no more illness, no more pain, where everyone can come to the table of the Lord with equal stature and be blessed by God.  Amen.  Preach it.  Come Lord Jesus.

What disappoints me about this article goes towards the roots of what the Anabaptist movement and the Mennonite denomination has been about for centuries.  (more…)

The Evangelical Anabaptist Revolution

Many Young Anabaptist Radicals might have a difficult time accepting evangelicals among our ranks. And for good reason. As a whole, evangelicalism and Anabaptism have some major differences. However, I submit that the boundaries of each group are porous enough to allow for some constructive dialogue and even overlap. (Think, for example, of Ron Sider.)

I grew up in the evangelical church. For better or worse, it is the church with which I still most identify, even given our many obvious flaws. With my recent “conversion” to Anabaptist theology and practice, I’m not yet sure that I would fully fit in with Mennonite culture. John Roth once gave me some good advice: Live your Anabaptist witness in your own church culture. I would give the same advice to others in my shoes.

I have been encouraged by the fact that even the most influential of Mennonites, John Howard Yoder, often interacted with the evangelical world, even making the cover of Christianity Today for a story on evangelical leaders! So, I’ve started a group for evangelical Anabaptists like me, who because of our Anabaptism are something of exiles from mainstream evangelicalism and because of our evangelicalism are not quite at home in mainstream Anabaptism. We call ourselves the Evangelical Anabaptist Revolution (EAR), and recently printed t-shirts with this design. (First printing of the t-shirts are all out, by the way. After you see the design, you’ll realize why. Maybe we can print more if people are interested.)

If the above describes you, drop me a note or contact me on facebook. We’d love to have some YAR representation in EAR. Or minimally, we’d love to have some fruitful dialogue.

Joining the community

To quote one of my favorite Sesame Street characters of my early years:

“Hello, Everybodeeeee!” (gotta love Grover).

I’ve just been given the privilege to be a contributor here on YAR and it was suggested that I give a bit of an intro so y’all know who it is writing this stuff.

For what it’s worth, concerning my denominational “pedigree”, I was born and raised in the Mennonite denomination.  At that time, the churches I went to were the MC churches (as opposed to GC).  My life started in Puerto Rico as the second son of two mission minded people.  My parents got their start in PR in Voluntary Service and spent 10 years there all told.  So, culturally speaking, while I’m German Mennonite by descent, my preferred flavor of church is a little less traditional.

I’m not sure how “young” I am.  I’m 36 years old.  But I guess I’m “young” in that I’m not stuck in the Mennonite/Anabaptist “church as usual” mentality.  We need to start thinking about what it means to BE the church and not just GO to church.  Life in the “church” is so much more than Sunday morning and the “church” is so much more than the institution that runs that Sunday morning service.  “Church” is who we are every day and should define what we then do every day.  If Sunday morning “go-to-meeting” should go away, the church will still be the church. (more…)

Global Anabaptist Wiki

The Global Anabaptist Wiki is an interactive community of Anabaptist-Mennonite groups from around the world. Initiated by the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College, the site is committed to helping individual groups: 1) tell their own story; 2) post and preserve electronic archives; and 3) become better informed about other groups in the global Anabaptist fellowship. Like all wiki-based projects, this is a collaborative venture that relies on the local expertise of many people.

This project is still in its early stages of construction. John Roth and others led a workshop at Mennonite World Conference Assembly Gathered (Paraguay 2009) about it…listening to perspectives and discerning whether or not it was a good idea. What do you think about the idea? Will you use it as a resource?

I think this is a good idea because everyone around the world can contribute to create collective knowledge. Some of the things written by people in their home churches about themselves may make North Americans (perhaps especially mission agencies) uncomfortable. This could be a good thing for dialogue. Wiki creates a space that is not owned by anyone. Following up on Alan’s initial post, this decentralization of “ownership of the story” could be a healthy thing. Since young people are more tech saavy, it can be a way that we connect to the background stories of our Anabaptist friends from around the world.

If you want to collaborate with the project in a substantial way, (it needs volunteers to help monitor it and encourage posting) feel free to contact John directly at johndr@goshen.edu

Shifting definition of “Ethnic”

First things first.  Being Mennonite has nothing, repeat NOTHING, to do with ethnicity.  Being Mennonite, or any other version of Anabaptism, has to do with a particular understanding of faith, religion and God.

That being said, I offer the following observation on the use of the term “ethnic” within the Mennonite Church.

One one hand: I am an “ethnic” Mennonite.

I grew up in central Kansas.  Within a 50 mile radius from the Hesston/Newton area there were over 100 different Mennonite settlements.  Each of these groups came from various parts of Europe during the 1860’s to 1890’s.  They could hardly be described as a homogeneous group, even though today they all happen to all be seen as white/european/Americans.  To be fair, the central Kansas Mennonites are also not the same as the northern Indiana Mennonites, which are not the same as the east coast Mennonites.  Nevertheless, I grew up knowing that I was part of a group known as “ethnic” Mennonites.  In my childhood consciousness that meant, primarily, that we ate weird food, had weird last names, kept track of genealogy to the 14th generation, had grandparents that spoke German and a variety of other things.  Above all, however, the term “ethnic Mennonite” referred specifically to a group of white people who emigrated from Europe to the United States.

On the other hand: I am not an “ethnic” Mennonite. (more…)

Does size really matter?

People have asked me if I grew up in the country or in town.  Well, kinda.  I technically lived within the city limits of Goessel but I could see a wheat field from my back yard.  In addition, while Goessel was an official town (signified by it’s own telephone prefix and a post office) the booming Mennonite metropolis of roughly 500 people isn’t exactly what I’d call “urban”.  Being the biggest football player, not only in my high school but my entire league, I followed the natural progression and went to Bethel College in North Newton, Ks to play ball.  Eventually I wound up with a Bible and Religion degree.  After college I worked for Buhler Mennonite Church as a youth pastor as I began studies at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary Great Plains Extension (AMBS).  After four years at Buhler I finished up my degree at the AMBS main campus in Elkhart, In.  This last spring my wonderful, and patient, wife and I moved to Harper, Ks where I now work at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church as the solo pastor.  Even though Harper is three times the size of my hometown (1,500 people) living here would still place us firmly in the rural category.  My wife works as a nurse at the local hospital which has a whopping 25 beds and an emergency room that is literally has a sign “ring bell for service”.  We’re not quite in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from where we live.

That being said, if you have never been to the prairies to witness the great expansive and dynamic sky, then you are really missing out.  One can hardly question the awesome power of God watching a massive thunderhead develop in the hot summer evening.  With beauty comes power.  These storms that give life through their rain and are so beautiful to watch from a distance are also the same ones that have been known to destroy entire towns. (more…)

Jesus Radicals! Anarchism and Christianity

New Heaven, New Earth: Anarchism and Christianity Beyond Empire
August 14 & 15, 2009

Location
Caritas Village
2509 Harvard Avenue,
Memphis, TN 38112

This year’s anarchism and Christianity conference, hosted by Jesus Radicals, will look squarely at the economic and ecological crisis facing the globe, and point to signs of hope for creativity, for alternative living, for radical sharing, for faithfulness, for a new way of being. We are living in a karios moment that will either break us or compel us to finally strive for a new, sane way of life. The question we face at this pivotal time is not if our empires will fall apart, but when they will fall–and how will we face it? We hope you will join the conversation. (more…)

NT Wright and Mennonite Theologizing

InterVarsity Press
WTSbooks
Amazon

A high church Reformed Anglican bishop, NT Wright, has just written a book called Justification, which (as you can guess) is a summary of his thought on this much-debated issue within the Western Christian world.

His impetus for the book is a book published in 2007 by Dr. John Piper called The Future of Justification which probes the underpinnings of Wright’s understanding of Paul and if this is a helpful or harmful understanding.

Leaving aside the problems that Piper has elucidated (some of which Wright has not fully answered), Wright does proivde a vision of justification that – perhaps not surprisingly – is more in touch with the understanding of the 17th century Mennonite church than it is with Reformed theology. Perhaps it is a bridge between the two on this issue? Certainly, though, the doctrine of justification is not the strongest the Mennonite church has proclaimed, but it is nonetheless important and present in its confession. (more…)

What an Anabaptist aproach to the Bible means for me

Jesus Bible icon

A few weeks ago, in a discussion thread over here, folknotions asked the question (seconded by Tim Baer): “What do radical anabaptists believe about the Bible?”. I’ve been pondering this question for a few weeks and I haven’t come up with anything definitive, but I do have a few thoughts to share. It just so happens that DenverS posted a piece two weeks ago that very much speaks to this question as well. I’d love to hear what others of you (especially women) think as well. We’ve already got a quite active The Bible so if you add your piece to that category, we could even have ourselves a “YAR on the Bible” series.

My awareness of how I read the bible has been strongly shaped by my experience of British Anabaptism through working Anabaptist Network. The second of the Anabaptist Network’s seven core convictions is:

Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.(read more from the AN)

(more…)

Love and Smoke

So I am really in love for the first time in a while. He’s a radical activist. He’s Mennonite. He’s brilliant. He would probably read and write on this blog if he was from the USA. But there is a big problem, he smokes tobacco (a lot). Or is that not a problem? I need your help, my radical friends…to help me think through the issues of smoking and tobacco usage. I can only really take love advice seriously from people who are in the movement for positive social change…people who understand a deep commitment to values that call us to put our “personal” love lives in perspective with the greater struggle of promotion of love and justice all over the world. I listen to others who I feel are be people of integrity on all levels of life.

What follows is what I think about smoking/what I’m struggling with/the questions I have. Please, if you have any wisdom to share…SHARE IT. As a feminist I am willing to put this out in the public because I do believe the personal is political. And I know that the relationships that individuals have also effect the collective.

I realized again that I’m a “God-geek” when I wanted to know something marriage a few weeks ago and so I looked at C. Arnold Snyder’s chapter titled “Anabaptist Marriage” in Anabaptist History and Theology textbook. My point was to see how these young activists handled marriage in the context of an intense social movement. (more…)

Some Thoughts About Reforming the Church

This is in response to a discussion on “A Platform for MCUSA”. https://young.anabaptistradicals.org/2009/04/09/a-platform-for-mcusa/
I got to thinking about something there and it got so long, I decided to post it seperately.

I suppose pretty much everyone on this forum is interested in reforming the church. Perhaps we don’t all agree at exactly what this reform looks like, but we agree that it must be done. There is a lot of talk here, but little action. It is time to make some changes. (more…)