Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wondering about Anabaptists

I’m working through some personal theology. Our church is part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) even though we would be very non-traditional and quite unique among the PAOC churches in Canada. Although I have a very strong sense of the power and sovereignty of God I think I am fairly firmly planted in the Anabaptist tradition (as most Pentecostals would be – at least if they gave it some thought. I realize that I have heard very little conversation or teaching offered up in my 30-year history within the PAOC that actually clearly describes this area of distinctiveness.) So, I’ve been trying to settle in on where I really am. Although I think theology is somewhat flexible and I tend to resist firm “Statements of Faith” (because Jesus didn’t come preaching statements of faith, he came telling parables and inviting us into relationship with him and his Father) I would still consider myself an orthodox Evangelical. But as I’ve been reading some material on the Reformation, Pietism and the emerging church movements, I feel quite a bit of affinity with the Anabaptists. The following paragraphs were quoted from a small brochure on Anabaptism that can be found here.

The Anabaptist movement had its genesis as the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation. It began in Zurich in 1525 when a small group of men and women gathered to baptize one another. This group and those that followed them became known as Anabaptists because they believed that Christians must choose baptism as consenting adults rather than as infants. The concept of believer's baptism was rejected by more moderate reformers who still believed in the Christendom model in which baptism of infants served as entry into both the church and the state. The Anabaptists were hunted down and persecuted by both the Catholic and Protestant authorities for their baptism of adults as well as their rejection of the sword, swearing oaths and their focus on evangelism.

The Anabaptists were convinced that the church was ‘fallen’ and beyond mere reform. A thorough restoration of New Testament Christianity was necessary. This would require the church to be free from state control and from ecclesiastical traditions. Anabaptists urged separation of church and society rather than the confusion of these two that had characterized Europe since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine early in the fourth century. They asserted that for over a thousand years the church had been in error, not only in certain doctrines, but on the fundamental issue of its identity and its relationship with society.

The Reformers feared that Anabaptists were reverting to salvation by works, because of their stress on repentance and the importance of discipleship. The Anabaptists feared that the Reformers were preaching ‘cheap grace’ and accused them of failing to address moral issues and tolerating unchristian behaviour in their churches. Balthasar Hubmaier insisted: ‘We must not be merely mouth-Christians, we must live our faith.’ The Anabaptists gave a much larger role in practice to the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, and they emphasized that Jesus was to be followed as well as trusted, obeyed as well as relied upon. He was not only Saviour but Captain, Leader and Lord.

One Anabaptist, asked under interrogation what Anabaptist meetings were like, explained: ‘They have no special gathering places. When there is peace and unity and when none of those who have been baptized are scattered they come together wherever the people are. When they have come together they teach one another the divine Word and one asks the other: how do you understand this saying? Thus there is among them a diligent living according to the divine Word.’

Anabaptists rejected the Reformers interpretation of evangelism whereby people were coerced to come to church and participate based on the parish model (i.e. everyone who lived in a certain district was a Christian and belonged to the church and must be convinced to live a good life and coerced to come to church). Instead, they embarked on a spontaneous and explosive missionary enterprise to evangelize Europe. They traveled widely, preached in homes and fields, baptized converts and planted churches. Some, such as George Blaurock, even interrupted state church services! Such evangelism, which ignored national and parish boundaries, by untrained men and women (such as Margaret Hellwart, who had to be repeatedly chained to her kitchen floor to stop her evangelizing.) The Reformers relied on pastors; Anabaptists sent out apostles and evangelists.

Anabaptist Network Core Convictions
In light of our understanding of the Anabaptist tradition and of the contemporary challenges Christians face today in western culture, the Anabaptist Network (found on this website) has developed a statement of convictions and commitments, which are listed below. This has seven sections and (in typical Anabaptist style) is subject to revision as our understanding of Jesus and his kingdom grows:

1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith andlifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.

2. 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 faithas the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.

3. Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalised Jesus and has left the churches ill-equipped for mission in a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to vulnerability and to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.

5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multivoiced worship. As we eat together, sharing bread and wine, we sustain hope as we seek God’s kingdom together. We are committed to nurturing and developing such churches, in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender and baptism is for believers.

6. Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation and working for justice.

7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society and between nations.

Much of this stuff is what I have been thinking through in my DMin coursework and in our process of developing a house church. Who knew that these thoughts have been written down for hundreds of years and give some guidelines for how to proceed after the end of the world as we know it.

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