As many of you know, I am glad to be a part of the MennoNerds network, an international blogging community made up by people who are nerdy about Mennonite and Anabaptist theology. The Anabaptists were the central figures in the radical reformation during the 16th century. While Luther and Calvin opposed Catholic teaching they still wanted to kill people and were opposed to freedom of religion. Anabaptists however both criticized Catholic teaching and the Catholic church model when one baptizes entire countries, gather people in cathedrals and kill those who don’t agree with you.
The Anabaptists were of course persecuted and killed both by Catholics and Protestants. However, some survived and can today be found in three main groups: the Amish who dress funny and live environmentally friendly, the Hutterites who dress funny and have everything in common, and the Mennonites who dress boringly and write blogs about Anabaptism.
My fellow MennoNerd Tyler M. Tully has written an excellent introduction to Anabaptism, where he also defines three core distinctives that define Anabaptist theology. These three are, in short:
- Jesus Centered– Jesus stands as the lens by which Anabaptists read the entire Bible, and the exemplary by which we engage all theology.
- Free Church of Confessing, Baptized Disciples – the Anabaptists were opposed to infant baptism partly because it wasn’t Biblical, and partly because it created a society where your nationality, not your faith, defined you church membership, and that was opposed to freedom of religion
- Agents of God’s Shalom – Anabaptists are pacifists committed to non-violence, but not only do we want an absence of war but also a presence of Shalom, justice and harmony.
These three points do not include everything Anabaptists stand for, but they mark our distinctives from many other church traditions. As someone who is very interested in early church history, I am pleased to say that the early church were committed ot these principles as well. If one reads the early church fathers, it is clear that their theology was centered around Jesus and that the Gospels had higher authority than the Old Testament. The early church was a persecuted house church movement that emphasized discipleship and faith, without any plans of ruling an earthly kingdom. And they were pacifists, refusing to wage war and join the army – not only because there was a risk of idolatry but also because they didn’t want to kill people.
Another distinctive that I want to add to Tyler’s list is the Anabaptists depencence on the Holy Spirit. While many Lutheran and Calvinist protestants were cessationists, arguing that the gifts of the Holy Spirit had ceased with the apostles, the Anabaptists were charismatics and expected signs and wonders to occur. They believed strongly in Scripture but argued that the Holy Spirit is needed as well since, you know, He’s God. So He’s pretty important. The early Anabaptists prayed for healing, prophesied, spoke in tongues and some even raised the dead.
As I have pointed out previously, the early Pentecostals were much like Anabaptists. They were pacifists, they focused on Jesus and the church in Acts in their theology, they were baptists who opposed the idea of a state church and of course they were charismatic. Likewise, there are many other church movements throughour history that share these Anabaptist distinctives: the Jesus movement, the Chinese hous church movements, Iris Global, and more.
For me, Anabaptism is simply a resurrection of the Biblical church. Just like Pentecostalism, it’s a restorationist church movement that seeks to revive the New Testament. I love to call myself Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Vineyarder and whatever, but in the end it’s all about one thing: being a disciple of Jesus.
This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism. To find all the other articles in the Mennonerds on Anabaptism synchro blog click here.
The issue of Christians and pacifism is something that I seldom see discussed in depth.
In this website someone asked if a Christian could join the Army.
I’ll try to read more about anabaptists
I think it is imoral to say that fighting in a just war is off limits. There is a diffrens of defending one self and defending weak groups in society. Persenaly I would turn the other “kind” but I cannot expect the jews, for example, to do the same. One must be ready to protect the weak even if it means war? (Like the second World war)
I am not sure if I understood your point.
What do you mean by mentioning the second World War?
Great post Micael. I too see a lot of comparisons between Anabaptists & the Early Pentecostals. In many ways I think early Pentecostalism is a 20th century Spirit breathed Anabaptism. Here are a few examples:
Both movements have a history of Holy Spirit outpourings. The Swiss Brethren were in the extreme and even strongly expected the end of the world, They had experiences of speaking in tongues and more. (THE ANABAPTIST VIEW OF THE CHURCH, Franklin Hamlin Littell, Star King Press, Boston, 1958. p19)
Both movements are egalitarian.
Both movements had strong convictions about pacifism. (Albeit Pentecostals shifted this position later)
Both movement practiced full immersion baptism.
Both movements have a wider soteriology.
Both movements have a strong emphasis on the priesthood of all believers.
Both movements were persecuted by the established church.
Both movements have a strong emphasis on formation in prayer. (Many meetings at Azusa could be compared to Quaker practices of tarry-ing)
So where would you fit members of the church of Christ. Each congregation is autonomous whose leadership is elders.