Stuart, Murray. The Naked Anabaptist. The bare essentials of a radical faith. Herald Press. 2010.
S.M.- chair of Anabaptist Network, founded in the early 1990s. A trainer and consultant in church planting. Has a PhD in Anabaptist hermeneutics. Lives in Bristol, England.
My heritage is Anabaptist. I have memories of Anabaptist traditions as they were practiced in the Mennonite church where I grew up. My older brother was a ‘conscientious objector’ and did his non-military service in government approved, home projects. This reflected the pacifist position of the church. Having said all that, if I was on trial in a court of law for being an Anabaptist, I am not sure that I would be proven guilty. This is the first book I have read on the topic. I found it most interesting, especially since it was written by a ‘Brit”. I will be watching for other resources on the topic.
“The church militant and triumphant has become an artifact of history.” George A. Boyd (foreword). This book is written for those who have Anabaptist traditions that are in conflict with their Anabaptist heritage.
In recent years there has been an increasing interest in the uncovering of Anabaptist beliefs. “Emergent represents a rediscovery of the Anabaptist spirit.” Brian McLaren. Church history refers to the Anabaptists as a “third way” (27), neither Catholic nor Protestant. Anabaptists were pioneers of “restorative justice” (28) and victim-offender reconciliation programs. The “story of Munster” (32) is an example of extreme Anabaptism. Some describe Anabaptism as a sixteenth century movement that is equivalent to today’s emergent church movement. The label, Anabaptist (rebaptizer), was given to the group by those who claimed that rebaptism violated an ancient law and this violation demanded the death penalty. Anabaptists did not accept infant baptism since it was not, in their view, a biblical teaching. Believer’s baptism was their view. There were further significant implications (interpretations). “Believers baptism meant believers church, not a territorial church, entered by choice, not birth; requiring active participation, not just attendance. Discipleship was expected of all believers.” (37) These were radical ideas in the church environment of the sixteenth century. Becoming ‘separatists’, was one option for Anabaptists who wanted to escape persecution. These were labelled “the quiet in the land”. (39) This explains why some Anabaptist groups are still pursuing that life style in North America, e.g. Amish and Hutterites. One of the distinguishing characteristics of some of the Anabaptists was their pacifism.
Some members of the Anabaptist Network in Britain and Ireland have come up with “seven core convictions” (45-46) that explain the essence of Anabaptism. Summarized briefly they focus on “Jesus as our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord. He is the focal point of God’s revelation. Christendom seriously distorted the gospel and marginalized Jesus. Church has too often been associated with status, wealth, and force (authority), rather than good news to the needy. Churches should be committed communities of discipleship and mission. Spirituality and economics are interconnected, i.e. live simply, share generously, care for creation, work for justice. Peace is at the heart of the gospel.” (45-46) these ‘convictions’ become chapter topics in the rest of the book.
When Christendom was established (Constantine), following Jesus took on an institutional direction. “His teaching, which had been challenging enough for a powerless, marginal community, seemed utterly inapplicable for Christians assuming responsibility for an empire.” (53) Teachings of Jesus such as the Sermon on the Mount were “reappraised, neutered, and domesticated”. (54) His teachings were being honoured but ignored. (Sounds familiar?) Romans made the cross into a military standard.
When Christendom began to crumble, even the Reformers had what Anabaptists considered an unbalanced view regarding the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ compared to his life and teaching. Their Christocentric position placed them in conflict with Catholics and Reformers alike. Following Christ was a matter of the practice of authentic discipleship. “Evangelism is- telling the story of Jesus and letting Him speak for Himself.” (60) Then hearers will become followers. Biblical interpretation should happen within the congregations of the community of faith and be accommodated by “interactive preaching and dwelling in the Word”. (67) This interpretation should always be Jesus-centered.
For Christians in our Post-Christendom culture, the dissident Anabaptist movement of Christendom has become a valuable resource. It is a help in the transitioning into Post-Christendom and knowing what needs to change and what needs to stay the same. This requires an understanding of Christendom and how missions was accomplished. At times it was propagated by missionaries and military might under the banner of the cross. E.g. the Crusades. As the song says, “Tis a royal banner – Marching on. To shift from Christendom to Post-Christendom involves “seven transitions”. (78) The Anabaptist movement could serve as a blueprint for this shift.
Some of the inner workings of the Anabaptist churches are examined. They had a handle on “belonging, believing and behaving”. (101) they practiced “mutual accountability”. (103) Their leadership was multi-voiced, “consultative leadership”. (105) The church community should be enriched by the diversity of young and old, men and women, etc. They had a radical view on the ownership of private property. Not many were able to conform to common ownership but rather they practised “mutual aid”. (121) Creation care was more implied than practiced. Pacifism and the Anabaptist interpretation of non-violence were not tolerated by church and civil authorities. It was Augustine that developed the doctrine of ‘just war’ which gave rise to such things as the Crusades, etc. and out of this thinking came “the myth of redemptive violence”. (131)
Anabaptism has been interpreted in many different ways. E.g. Mennonite, Hutterite, and Amish communities. It was a by-product of the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent Counter Reformation. Various forms of Anabaptism developed in Switzerland, South Germany, Austria, North Germany, and the Netherlands. Persecution drove the Anabaptists to Eastern Europe and eventually to North and South America.
Some of the ‘short-comings’ of Anabaptism are presented. They exist at differing levels and include things such as, “legalism, selectivity, intellectualism/anti-intellectualism, divisiveness, separatism, quietism, and inertia”. (162-165) Nevertheless, Anabaptism has been a source of great inspiration in recent years being affirmed by the likes of Brian McLaren, Tom Sine, and Gregory Boyd. “Discipleship is at the heart of Anabaptism.” (169) It remains a developing radical faith.