Friday, 23 May 2014

I'm An Anabaptist... (Okay, let me explain)

My name is Paul Walker and I am an Anabaptist. 

An Ana-what? 

Anabaptist. Okay, let me explain… 

A History Lesson

In the 16th century, the Western Church as a whole was undergoing a “Re-formation”. There was a sense of unrest and discontent around the practice of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and others sought to “re-form” and “re-shape” the Western church away from a dominate Catholic view. These Reformers began to spread their ideas for change through a fascinating new invention: the printing press. The printing press enabled information to be communicated rapidly and on mass. For example, Luther’s sermons were often circulated throughout Germany. The most important change in Sixteenth century that I believe partly led to Anabaptism was the mass production printing of the Bible in the common language of the people. 

The various groups of people who would become the Anabaptists,  began to read Scripture for the first time and discover the radical teachings of Jesus and his Kingdom. The Anabaptists are sometimes called the 'Radical Reformers’. This “radical-ness” was due to their commitment to put into practice the teachings of Jesus. The Radical Reformers were not content to stop at Luther or Calvin's reformation. They wanted to continue radicalizing the church back to the early church revealed in Scripture. Soon they began to baptize by full immersion and as a result received the title 'Ana-baptist', meaning 'again' and 'baptize'. 

The Anabaptists would be greatly persecuted for their beliefs by both Catholics and Protestants who killed, burned, and slaughtered the Anabaptists. The preferred way of execution was by 'third baptism', in which the unrepentant victim would be drown to death. How did this odd sixteenth century movement respond to persecution? Well, in true radical Jesus like fashion, Anabaptists overwhelming chose to follow the teaching and example of Jesus and lay down their lives rather than take up the sword. 

So… What are some of the distinctive traits of Anabaptists?

It can be difficult to generalize across a movement- that being said- there are some who have made considerable progress in defining the distinctiveness of Anabaptism. Scot McKnight provides a helpful summation of Harold S. Bender’s three features of the Anabaptist Vision:

1. The essence of Christianity, or the Christian life, is discipleship — a committed following of Christ in all areas of life. The word on the street in the 16th Century, and this word repeated often enough by bitter enemies of the Anabaptists, was that they were consistent and devout Christians. If Luther’s word was “faith,” the word for the Anabaptists was “follow.” The inner conversion was to lead to external transformation.
2. A new conception of the church as a brotherhood of fellowship. The ruling image of a church among the Catholics and Reformers was more national and institutional and sacramental, while the ruling image for the Anabaptists was fellowship or family. Joining was voluntary; the requirement was conversion; the commitment was to holy living and fellowship with one another. Thus, the Anabaptist separated from the “world” to form a society of the faithful. This view of the church led to economic availability and liability for one another.
3. A new ethic of love and peaceful nonresistance. Apart from rare exceptions like Balthasar Hubmaier and the nutcases around Thomas Müntzer, the Anabaptists lived a life shaped by love and nonviolence. They refused to coerce anyone. [1]
The MennoNerd Network via Tyler Tully has provided the following similar framing of Anabaptism:

1. Jesus Centred
2. Free Church of Confessing, Baptized Disciples 
3. Agents of God’s Shalom

I am going to add one more distinctive to the list. 

4. Simplicity. 

Okay here we go: 

Jesus Centred.  

What does it mean to be Jesus centred? Well for starters, it is the confession that Jesus is the fullest revelation, the Final Word, and the precedence of understanding the nature of God. Anabaptists believe that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God.  Jesus is the true nature and character (homoousios) of God. I love the way Brian Zahnd explains this:

God is like Jesus.

God has always been like Jesus.

There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.

We have not always known what God is like
But now we do.

To be Jesus-centred is to follow Jesus’ teachings even above the Bible. We do not try to synthesize contrasting differences. I know that might sound shocking. But it’s not like I am trying to divorce Jesus from the Scriptures. I am not saying that Scripture does not matter, OR that Scripture is not inspired. All Scripture is inspired! (2 Tim 3:16) But Scripture is inspired insofar that it points to Jesus. Jesus says as much to the Pharisees,  “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”(John 5:39-40) Jesus' own address to the Pharisees is a sober reminder to us all that it is possible to be a person of Scripture and yet miss out on Jesus, the Word made flesh. Christian Smith summarizes:
“For many believers the Bible [not Jesus] is actually the most real and holy authority there is. They would never say this, but how things really function is not always how they are admitted and professed. I suspect that for many Christians despite what they say, God actually seems far off, Christ is a great idea and person and saviour, but what seems most real, most accessible, most reliable and, unfortunately, most controllable is the Bible.”[2]

The Old Testament may allow for certificates of divorce. 
Jesus does not. 
The Old Testament may allow for retributive violence. 
Jesus does not.
The Old Testament may stone adulterers to death. 
Jesus does not.
The Old Testament may command capital punishment. Jesus does not.
The Old Testament may execute Sabbath breakers. 
Jesus does not. 

Am I am Marcionite? -that is: someone who rejects the Old Testament scriptures of Israel believing that they portrayed a God other than that known in Jesus Christ. NO! Never!  I do not reject the Old Testament! BUT… I am inclined to follow Jesus as the fulfillment and culmination of what the Old Testament has hoped for and pointed too! 

From what I can see... 

Jesus is deliberately viewing the Old Testament as "an incomplete revelation". Jesus said of his own revelation, “"I have testimony weightier than that of John the Baptist” (John 5:36). John the Baptist was the foremost of the Old Testament prophetic tradition. Jesus weighs more than the greatest revelation of the Old Testament! When Jesus declares that "no one knows the Father except the Son” OR “ “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”... should that not at least challenge a flat reading of Scripture? I think so. 

2. Free Church of Confessing, Baptized Disciples 

“Free Church: Separation of Church & State.” 

Christians are called to no other Kingdom primary allegiance except the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus makes this claim when he declares "My Kingdom is not of this world, if it were my servants would fight."(Jn 18:36) Paul asserts this in his teaching of a Christian’s citizenship being in heaven (Phil 3:20) as well as his bold declaration that we are Ambassadors in this world. (2 Cor 5:20) The ultimate modus operandi of a follower of Christ is not found in functioning as citizens of the kingdoms of this word but as living as strangers in a strange land. The kingdom of the world is in essence a “power over” kingdom. There have been democratic, socialist, communist, fascist, and totalitarian versions of the kingdom of the world, but they all share this distinctive characteristic: they exercise power over people.  Where did followers of Jesus ever get the idea that we need to take our nations back for God? Where did we ever get the idea that any version of the kingdoms of this world could be representative of the Kingdom of God? Where did we get the idea that the way to establish the Kingdom of heaven was to pass laws and force everyone to think and act the way we do? It's worth noting that Jesus and the early church's approach to establishing the Kingdom of Heaven was never "let's pass a bunch of laws in Rome". It may seem attractive to impose Christian morality on national level, but ultimately it is an act of using the State as a "power over" people. Jesus never came to establish a Christian nation, but the Kingdom within all the nations of the world.  Followers of Jesus must realize that the hope of the world lies not in any particular version of the kingdom of the world. We do not put our hope in Democrats or the Republicans. The hope of the world lies in a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom that operates with a completely different understanding of power. It is the kingdom of God. This is a Kingdom that grows slowly, organically, and even serves enemies (Luke 13:18-19; John 12:24-26) a Kingdom is that is peace making and peace-living. (John 18:36; 1 Peter 2:9), a Kingdom is non-institutional and non-territorial the Kingdom is within us. (Luke 17:20-21), a kingdom in which serving others is foundational (Matthew 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-27; John 13:12-17).

Although immersed in this world, the church by her way of being represents the promise of another world, which is not somewhere else but which is to come here. - John H Yoder ( The Politics of Jesus) 

Baptized & Confessing

Baptism literally means ‘to immerse’ or plunge people into the water. The practice originated in the wider Jewish tradition of ritual washings and bathings. When people went to the Temple to receive forgiveness for their sin, they not only sacrificed animals, but also cleansed themselves ritually with water. They would baptize themselves in basins of water designed to help them wash away any spiritual impurities they had come in contact with during their daily lives. John the Baptist undertook a vocation of baptizing people in the Jordan, not as one ritual among others but as a unique moment of repentance, preparing them for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus himself was baptized by John, identifying himself with this renewal movement and developing it in his own way. Jesus adopts the symbol of baptism as a once and for all symbol of God’s acceptance, repentance, and welcome into God’s family. 

Jesus commands his followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...” Notice that baptism is a response to discipleship, which is the decision to pattern our lives after our Teacher (Rabbi) Jesus. Baptism is a physical response to the faith decisions we make. It is a response of obedience to the Lord Jesus. Baptism, in Scripture follows immediately after conversion. Every baptism in the Acts of the Apostles is preceded by repentance of sin and faith in Jesus. (Acts 2:38–41; 8:12; 9:18–19; 10:44–48; 16:14–15, 29–36; 18:8; 19:1–7; 22:16) Once a person has responded in faith (pistis) to confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour they are admonished by our Lord to follow him into the waters of baptism. 

The New Testament reflects on baptism in the following ways: 
I) Symbol of cleansing from sin – Acts 22:16
II) Symbol of identification with Christ’s death and resurrection – Col. 2:12
III) Symbolic of our death to sin—Romans 6:4
IV) Symbol of our obedience to Christ - Matthew 28:19

Baptism is the biblical way in which we show that by the power of the Spirit, we died to our old way of life through the death of Jesus, and live a new life through the resurrection of Jesus, cleansed from our sin in the same way that water cleanses us from filth and dirt.


A disciple, in the Christian context, is someone who is: With Jesus, To learn from Jesus, How to be like Jesus. The call of discipleship is to live according to the new age, even while the old age is yet languishing but sure to be defeated. To rightly make sense of the New Testament, we must continually hold before ourselves the fundamental claim of the New Testament: namely that the new aeon had broken in. Aeon is the Greek word often translated into English as either “age” or “world,” and the New Testament speaks often of this “present aeon.” But the Good News is that the new aeon, the Kingdom of God, has broken into the midst of human history. The “present aeon” has not yet passed away, and it is as if the two are now overlapping. Jesus in his death set us “free from the present evil aeon” (Gal 1:4). Holiness then is call to live a Jesus centred life, as Christ is the first-fruits of the new creation. Jesus is the embodiment of Christian ethics and the new humanity/age. Jesus is our telos; our end destination for living. As 1 John 2.6 says, “ Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” Disciples should seek to re-present the risen Lord in everything we do! Our entire lives bear witness (martureo) to the truth of the Gospel. (A sobering thought) Insofar that we remain faithful to imitation of Christ, is the exact measure we participate in this present age. 

3. Agents of God’s Shalom

A theology of peace, or shalom, is fundamental to the Anabaptist distinctive. We believe that God in Christ has called us to the ministry of reconciliation that is fully revealed in Christ’s teaching and example. To be agent of shalom is to bring healing to the wounds of this world. 

For more on Peace Theology you can check out my Ten Part series on “Loving Your Enemy” here


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

Simplicity is about not being driven by our egos or consumer culture, and instead caring for and loving our families, communities, and other people above all else. We live simply in order to give more of our time, energy, and resources to the establishment of the Kingdom. Jesus directs us not to worry about or pursue the accumulation of money and stuff, because pursuing it distracts us from our real reason for existence – caring for others and for what God has given us.

Anabaptists, from the beginning of the movement, have long been people of simplicity and humility. Johannes Kessler, a reformer and chronicler of the early Switzerland Anabaptist’s wrote of the movement,  “They shun costly clothing, they shun expensive food and drink, clothe themselves with coarse cloth, cover their heads with broad felt hats. Their entire manner of life is completely humble.” [3]  In the same vein, Menno Simons wrote, ”We acknowledge, teach and seek no other kingdom than that of Christ, which shall endure forever, in which there is no pomp, splendour, gold, silver." [4] There are even some within the stream of Anabaptism, such as the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonites and Amish, that expressed a simplicity as a form of isolationism or anti-urbanism. Not all Anabaptists believed that anti-urbanism was the only option for expressing simplicity. There were many Anabaptists who lived in the urban context and built places of worship. As Bender comments, “The traditional simplicity of Mennonite meetinghouse architecture in Europe and America has been due in part to sincere insistence upon a modest, functional, and economical character of the meetinghouse.”[5] 

In living out simplicity we must ask an important question: how do we live this principle out in our time and our space? Simplicity, I believe, is something that must be worked out individually through prayer, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the challenge of community. My version of simplicity may differ dramatically from my neighbours. We should refrain from passing judgement on others (Rom 14.4) on how they put into practice living simply. Simplicity can easily become a new legalism if we try legislate specific practices in to a monochromatic vision of community. This is all to say that we should call others to the principal of simplicity and not demand a strict set of precepts. 

Creative Examples of Simplicity:

I believe that we cannot follow Jesus without being creative people. Am I telling you that you need to do the following things?... NOPE! It's just food for thought. Something to think about... Enjoy.

Creative Space Utilization:

This is a great example of a person who has taken a 420ft apartment and transformed it into a multi-use space. I really admire the effort and planning taken to make the most of the space available. I wonder if "transforming-rooms" could help some to live comfortably, yet affordably? Or what if re-structuring our homes could allow us provide shelter and accommodation to the less fortunate? Certainly, the number one contributing factor to household debt is carrying expensive mortgages over thirty plus years. What if we could cut back on that? 

Creative Housing Options.

They build a whole home with appliances for $33,089.72 ! That is simply amazing. Imagine owning a house that is worth roughly the average yearly income. Now compare that price to the average home cost in the U.S.A. which as of 2010 was: $272,900 [6] How would not paying an extra $239,081 (not including interest) change your lifestyle? Would you be able to give more to church & charities? Could you take more time off work? Would you be able to re-prioritize your life?

A Minimalist Wardrobe 

Britney Taylor shares her thoughts on only owning the clothes you will wear in week. She is able to travel more, save money, and only buy what she will wear. 

How to become a Minimalist

Danny Dover shares his thoughts on only owning around a 150 items total in his life. He talks about steps he has taken to live as a minimalist and why someone might consider this course of action. 

Sell Your Crap: Pay Your Debt
A Ted Talk on Minimalism. In 2008, after the birth of his first child, Baker and his wife decided to sell everything they owned, pay off their consumer debt, and spend a year traveling abroad as a family. They began sharing their journey in early 2009 on the blog Man vs. Debt, now 15000 subscribers strong. In sharing their ups and downs in the areas of personal finance, consumerism, clutter, travel, minimalism, and passionate entrepreneurship, they realized they aren't alone in a desire to explore and grow.

Thanks for reading...

Works Cited

2. Christian Smith. The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is not a truly evangelical reading of scripture. (Grand Rapids:Brazo Publishing, 2011) 42.
3. Bender, Harold S., Nanne van der Zijpp and Cornelius Krahn. "Simplicity (1958)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1958. Web. 14 Jan 2014.

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