Guest Post: Confessions of a Neo-Anabaptist

Dave connected with me via Mike Beidler around my collaborative effort. He said I could share it. Here it is:

I believe I fall somewhere along the more conservative end of the broad spectrum of Neo-Anabaptism, with an eye on the Ante Nicene period of the Church. To me, a Neo-Anabaptist is someone who holds broadly to the core fundamentals of historic Anabaptism1, while rejecting many of the apparent problems with the original movement and the accretions of later centuries.2It is someone who seeks to carry on the spirit of the original Anabaptist movement, which was to do away with unhelpful traditions of men, and get back to an emphasis not just on faith in Jesus which the Reformers did; but like the Ante Nicene Church, that of obeying Jesus. This may mean that in some instances a return to what may be perceived as something closer to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy is called for.Or for something unknown and unpracticed in any of the churches since the days of the Apostles. But of course it may mean remaining as we are if things are as they should be.

For me an emphasis on the Ante Nicene writers is helpful in this regard as they knew the Apostles personally or were only one or two generations removed, and thus in a much better position to ascertain the  faith once delivered to the saints. Of course this does not exclude the possibility of error creeping in even at that early date, and so discretion is used and a reminder is given that final authority (not sole) is given to the Bible starting with the words of Jesus. To say that sole authority is not given to the Bible is simply a recognition of the many ways in which we may be instructed regarding the faith. This may include but is not limited to Apostolic traditions, the later Church writings, modern Church writings and commentaries, early and modern scholarship, the individual’s conscience and so on. Of course none of these methods are infallible, while by faith we believe the Bible is. Each believer is ultimately held responsible before God for what he does with Jesus and the written word, while not stripping the Church of its God-given right to judge.4

A Neo-Anabaptist is someone who takes seriously the teachings of the NT especially the words of Jesus, while not getting bogged down in theology and wrangling over words. This does not mean a rejection of theology, but rather an awareness that an overemphasis can lead to division rather than unity. It means putting non-essentials where they belong: in the non-essentials category of the Statement of Faith. It is recognizing that what makes a Christian is a minimum of theology (nicely summed up in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed for example) and a whole lot of Jesus. It is someone who is not afraid of the hard questions, but does not ask them just for the sake of contention. It is someone who seeks for unity in diversity rather than unity in blind submission to human opinions or traditions. While saying that, it is also someone who recognizes that there is value in human traditions and thus seeks to maintain and honour them in their own right whenever the Bible and/or circumstances permit. Above all it is someone who seeks to be like Jesus.

It is someone who is willing to leave unresolved or difficult issues as they are: unresolved; rather than come down hard on something that simply has not been revealed to us or is still open to further inquiry or to a number of positions. This means a rejection of the infallibility of the Church or the Pope and of Fundamentalism as developed in the early 20th century and still carried on today. This means in practice a rejection of the infallibility of our own opinions (even if we say, along with those who hold opposite views, that those opinions are simply what the Bible clearly teaches). It means an acceptance of other Christians who may have differences of opinion of issues we feel strongly about, but which are unclear or silent in Scripture and which the Church historically (especially the very early period) was either silent about or divided over. It is an acceptance that you will be called a liberal unbeliever by some, and a closed minded, bigoted Fundamentalist by others.5

A Neo-Anabaptist is someone who uses their head as well as their heart when sifting through the issues of faith and life.It is someone who is devoted to faith in Jesus but not given to emotionalism or irrationalism, thus it is also someone who is devoted to empirical reality, while not lifting this above faith. This is a difficult balance to keep and therefore much leeway is given to those who differ with one another on issues touching this.6  This means an acknowledgement that faith in Christ is just that: faith. Faith is not built on facts and figures. Facts and figures can and should be used to substantiate the claims of the Bible, but a Christian does not rest on that.7Abraham is the prime example of this.

It is someone who seeks to answer the difficult questions of faith and practice in this generation as posed to us by a sin-sick world, modern skepticism and scholarship, and by fellow believers seeking real answers that are not sugar coated or tampered with by Christians who are scared to face reality. This means not being afraid to come up with answers that seem liberal, and at the same time not being forced into positions that seem conservative. It means not being scared of being misunderstood and rejected by those whom you thought would understand and support you.

It is someone who seeks to live the faith, rather than explain it first and foremost. I am still a long way off this ideal and there are many brothers and sisters in the faith, past and present, who have done far better than me at living the faith out in daily life. There is also much else to say regarding what a Neo-Anabaptist is such as social action, evangelism, finances, morality. But these are issues I feel less equipped to speak of, so I will leave that for someone else more capable than me to deal with.

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Many excellent introductions exist describing the Anabaptist movement, but I will suggest only three. First is “The Anabaptist Vision” by Harold S. Bender, who was himself an historic Anabaptist. Second is the scholarly but very readable “The Anabaptist Story” by William R. Estep who was not an Anabaptist but was sympathetic. Third is “Conservative Anabaptist Theology” by William R. McGrath, which is very hard to find, but written by a 20th century convert to Anabaptism.

2 Some of these issues would include the strict dress codes for women, closed communion, beards, permissible articles of clothing, permissible forms of activity and employment, never ending splits over secondary or tertiary issues etc. These and other issues all stem from the various statements of faith and practice, which a “proving member” must agree to before full membership is granted. All of the various rules and regulations of the Old Order Amish stem from such documents, which are heralded as being Biblical in nature, but which very often make null and void many of the teachings of the NT.

An example of this in earlier times would be the Plymouth Brethren movement. Most Evangelical churches today do not practice weekly communion services, and they certainly do not make such meetings the central point for which they gather. This is very often perceived as a Catholic thing to do, yet enter any assembly hall on any given Sunday and that is what you will see. A solemn gathering of men, women and children all seated around the bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus. Read Justin Martyr’s description of a church gathering in 160 AD and it will seem very similar.

4 Matthew 18:15-35

Matthew 11:16-19

6Examples would include creation vs. evolution, conspiracy theories and KJV Onlyism. The first touches on science. The second touches on history and politics, and the last touches on history, faith and textual criticism. All of these position require a faith position even if proponents deny it. Creationism starts with faith and seeks to interpret the evidence that way. Most conspiracy theories are lacking in solid evidence and thus never seem to be able to show anything conclusive. KJV Onlyism starts and ends with faith and has no footing in historical fact whatsoever.

7 Matthew 11:25-27 & 16:13-17

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8 thoughts on Guest Post: Confessions of a Neo-Anabaptist

  1. I think you are describing Radical Christianity but many use the designation Neo-Anabaptism. That name seems more fitting for the likes of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, James William McClendon Jr. and Nancey Murphy.

    You wrote: “To me, a Neo-Anabaptist is someone who holds broadly to the core fundamentals of historic Anabaptism, while rejecting many of the apparent problems with the original movement and the accretions of later centuries.”

    Many of the things you mention in the notes is of Mennonite origin not historic Anabaptism. People generally get the groups mixed up but they are not the same.

    • Hey A.O. Green. Nice to see you here too. No, I am specifically speaking in general terms of Neo-Anabaptism! as far as I am concerned Radical Christianity also encompasses many who are in what may be termed Fundamentalism. I was in that group for many years, while claiming to be a radical Christian. Many times a self-professed radical Christian can be very close minded and judgmental of those who do not fit their mold.

      I do consider myself a radical Christian, but a post-modern, post-evangelical, post-Anabaptist one. Dave Tomlinson, author of The Post Evangelical says in his book that post- does not denote a rejection of the past, but a moving beyond it. Perhaps a sort of growing up, but certainly an understanding of trying to reinterpret eternal truths while absorbgin all that is good in one’s traditions into the current climate one finds oneself in.

      • I was speaking in terms of a continuation of the spirit that manifested itself during the Radical Reformation. Wess Daniels touched on this matter here: http://tinyurl.com/nlzdvnv

        I can see where you are coming from and at the end of the day I agree with much of what you said, and do you have a blog that you personally write so that I can see what you produce in the future?

        • I may have missed the thrust of you comment then. Excuse me if I did.

          No, I don’t. I used to blog many moons ago when I was into evangelism in a big way. But i deleted that along with my YouTube channel which had over a million hits at the time, and over 1000 subscribers. I was very proud of it, but felt it was a snare and an idol, so I deleted it. Sometimes I regret it as I lost many personal moments I can never regain, but I did what I had to at the time. I may start blogging again.

  2. I would be interested in more information about connecting with Neo-Anabaptist groups.
    Is there a resource or some direction you may be able to point me to?

    • Hmmm… Neo-Anabaptist groups? My impression is it is more of an interdenominational movement. There may be a few groups out there that are actively Neo-Anabaptist, without necessarily calling themselves that. They are very similar to Neo-Orthodox or Post-Evangelical only the emphasis is on the core doctrines of Classical Anabaptism. Of course there are many out there who may hold to those ethical and/or doctrinal standards who do not see themselves as Anabaptist per se. Someone who comes to mind instantly is Shaine Claiborne. I attended an Amish-Mennonite fellowship here in Ireland for over 3 years, and there were many of the younger generation who I would definitely have called Neo-Anabaptist, even though they would not have called themselves that name. They were cultural Amish and Mennonite people, trying to interpret and live out their faith in the modern world. While they went along with some the system, they had grave concerns about some it and a lot of frustration with the old ways, and the blind dogmatism that pervaded certain sectors.

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