A few days ago, the Anabaptist blogging network MennoNerds, which this blog is a part of, arranged a webinar called Race, Mutuality and Anabaptist community. It was all recorded via Google Hangouts and can be watched in the video above. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join the discussion live since time here was around 2 AM, but we MennoNerds now have a chance to contribute to the conversion via our blogs, which is what I’m doing right now.
Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion and for the first 300 years, most of the important theologians (the so called “church fathers”) came from the Middle East, Northern Africa and what is now Turkey. The present churches in for example Egypt, Syria and Ethiopia have survived since the time of the apostles. But since the Western Catholic church distanced itself from and condemned the eastern and oriental churches, the experiences, stories and theology of non-white Christians became peripheral. To this very day, it is common among Western Christians to identify themselves with and be inspired by Christian streams from Western Europe: Catholicism, Anglicanism, Calvinism, Lutherism, Anabaptism, Quakerism, Methodism, Salvationism, Baptism, and so on.
It gets increasingly problematic when people of European descent expect other people to submit to these European interpretations of the teachings of Jesus when they are born again, i.e. asking them to become “Lutherans” or “Anabaptists”. Don’t get me wrong, I love Anabaptism and identify myself with the movement, and I think that people like Drew Hart does an excellent job in outlining “Anablacktivism” and interpreting the Anabaptist message about justice and peace from an African-American perspective. Truth is that all of the church streams I mentioned above are global today – Catholicism is biggest in Latin America which their Argentinian pope signifies, Anglicanism is bigger outside England and the biggest Lutheran denomination in the world is Mekane Yesus in Ethiopia.
These voices need to be recognized and influential within these church streams. Yet, we cannot get away from the fact that if you want to get to the roots of the movement, as A.O. Green likes to do, you’ll have to read what a bunch of white, European men wrote. And that’s a bit boring, isn’t it?
I think we need more inspiration from eastern and oriental churches, as well as the independent churches in Africa, China, Nepal etc. that has grown and developed with hardly any Western influence. And most of all, we need inspiration from our Middle Eastern Jewish Bible. But I would also like to emphasize a church stream that is the most international one I can think of: Pentecostalism.
The Pentecostal revival is normally viewed as originating among a group of African Americans, Latino Americans and actually some Swedish immigrants in Los Angeles 1906. The church on Azusa Street, The Apostolic Faith Mission, was one of the first inter-racial churches in the United States, and it was led by William Seymour whose father had been a slave in the American South. The Mission quickly sent out missionaries to all continents with the Pentecostal “Full Gospel”; reports from all over the world were published in the Mission’s magazine The Apostolic Faith, and soon it was revealed that the Pentecostal revival actually did not originate in the United States!
Missionary Albert Norton visited the Mutki Mission in India which had been founded by Pandita Ramabai. He was amazed when he saw an uneducated woman that only knew Marathi and Hindi, suddenly speak fluent English when the Spirit came upon her. There was a strong outpouring of the Holy Spirit there, and it had started when Pandita Ramabai prayed for her school students in 1905 – one year before the Azusa Street revival! Other missionaries also witnessed that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was already known among several Christians in the majority world, and thus the restoration of the Pentecostal baptism was a global phenomenon, rather than an American one.
As I’ve written before, early Pentecostalism was also pacifist, which is why I often argue that theologically early Anabaptism and early Pentecostalism are basically the same movement. I think Anabaptists would benefit a lot from seeking inspiration in the Pentecostal movement, especially its early roots. But again, the most important inspiration should be the Bible, which both Anabaptism and Pentecostalism try to restore.