Anabaptist Core Convictions

In my last post (Finding the Naked Anabaptist) I confessed that Anabaptism resonates with me more than any other historical tradition of church history. The 16th century Anabaptists were seeking a restoration of NT church life and practice. And for the most part, they did just that—paying for it with their lives.

The Anabaptists sought to recover a radical discipleship that would bring about a Kingdom revolution, not by power-over others, but instead through humble service and loving obedience to the teachings of Jesus.

The first Anabaptists believed their ideas to be rooted in NT orthodoxy and orthoproxy. They re-envisioned the Christian faith as it was before the church’s acceptance of political power and the wielding of the sword.

It was the Kingdom vision of Anabaptist leaders like Balthasar Hubmaier, Hans Denck, Conrad Grebel, and Michael Sattler that began a movement, lived on in several traditions (e.g. Mennonites, Amish, Brethren in Christ, etc.), and is alive today among “Neo-Anabaptists”—folks who ascribe to Anabaptism, but have no historic or cultural links to them.

In fact, it appears that an increasing number of evangelicals are leaving what’s left of Christendom and embracing Anabaptist convictions.

Authentic Christians Follow Their Christ

Stuart Murray, author of The Naked Anabaptist (2010), says that Anabaptists accepted the basic ecumenical creeds of the early church, but they wanted to go beyond theological statements to a description of Christian behavior.

The following is a list of seven core convictions set forth by The Anabaptist Network, expounded upon in Murray’s book. These core convictions are aspirations of an Anabaptism creatively at work in the world today:

  1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church, and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.

  2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centered approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.

  3. Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era, when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalized Jesus, and has left the churches ill equipped for mission to a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

  4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth, and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless, and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.

  5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability, and multivoiced worship. As we eat together, sharing bread and wine, we sustain hope as we seek God’s kingdom together. We are committed to nurturing and developing such churches, in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender, and baptism is for believers.

  6. Spirituality and economics are interconnected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation, and working for justice.

  7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding nonviolent alternatives and to learning how to make a peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations.

How do you feel about these seven core convictions set forth by The Anabaptist Network? Which conviction(s) do you agree or disagree with? Is there a conviction that resonates with you more than the others?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David was in student ministry for 7 years, taught Biblical Studies & Latin at The Woodlands Christian Academy for 5 years, and now pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

25 responses to “Anabaptist Core Convictions

  • Bob

    Sounds good to me

  • bobbyjonewell

    Interesting article, I went last week after the article you wrote looking for who they were. I enjoy a type of Freedom in Christ where even if its just two of us sharing Christ one is not Lording over the other. The feeling that we have to be under authority to someone in the church other than Christ makes me cringe anymore. I know in the word Christ has said He wished not one person would lord over us but that we be subject one to another, that sounds more like Family, Christ like family, loving God and loving others as we have seen Christ love. Thanks for the article, sorry if I didn’t stay on topic, I did enjoy the sharing of who these people were. Blessings to you David

  • Quincy

    I know very little about Anabaptism, but after seeing these core convictions, all of which resonate with me, and after reading a little about their history, I definitely want to learn more about this tradition. As you said, it almost seems like I am Anabaptist and just didn’t know it. Thanks, David!

  • gioiamorris

    Hi David – over the years Adrian and I have spent our time serving in many different churches of various differing denominations.
    Adrian grew up in a an anabaptist environment and was baptized in the Mennonite Brethren Church. As you may know I am Swiss and grew up in Switzerland – I spent quite some time in an Anabaptist church.
    I was baptized in a Mennonite Brethren Church in my early 20ies.
    I love what the Anabaptist’s believe and stand for and the 7 core convictions you mention above are beautiful… having said that we as a family have come to understand that you can embrace the right theology and say all the right things but if you have not Love you have nothing…
    When the “rubber hits the road” what we embrace mentally and “on paper” means nothing unless we have been transformed internally by the Spirit.
    We left the Institutional System 4 years ago – we stumbled onto this path after “being ‘asked’ to leave” an Anabaptist church (I’ll spare you the details:)
    I’m on a journey of discovering who I am in Him now and how I/we as a family fit into this body of Christ practically in the here and now… “Labels” really bother me today especially denominational ones.
    How do you deal with the denominational divide? You said you left the Southern Baptist way of thinking – how is embracing a different denomination going to be beneficial for you – and how is it going to help you in your future church planting endeavours not to be exclusive of those who don’t embrace the same way of thinking? Would love to hear your thoughts… :)

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Gioia,
      Good to hear from you. I think you raise some good questions.

      I first want to say that an experience in any one church doesn’t necessarily speak for an entire denomination or tradition. Nevertheless, I appreciate how Stuart Murray (The Naked Anabaptist) is honest about the mistakes (“warts and all”) of Anabaptism in the past. There have been Anabaptist churches that have been exclusive, intolerant, legalistic, and anti-intellectual. I may write on this soon.

      So, I do think it’s important for us to be honest about these things, especially in how we recognize that we’re always dealing with people. And people can do great good or bad… regardless of affiliation.

      You’re right. What’s on paper means nothing without action, and any good Anabaptist thinker will understand that. The tradition is built on the idea of doctrine having implications for living. At its best it seeks to hold them together. You need what’s “on paper” to flow out of you. The challenge for many folks today is to hold those together. As you’ve noticed on social networking and my blog… there are lots of folks that position one against the other. Again, I think the heart of Anabaptism is to hold them together in grace and love.

      I do understand the resistance to labels today. I think it’s reflective of where we are as sincere seekers living in a post-Christendom era who are disgusted with the mistakes of our recent past. That’s fine. However, I do want to be careful not to discard something of great value.

      How is a person using a “label” or see a denominational affiliation? It really matters.

      We must be careful not to be upset at those judgmental folks that are comfortable in denominations, or see them differently than us, thus becoming judgmental ourselves. I saw this within “organic” church life: people becoming what they despise, and in the name of Christian unity.

      I’m sure I’ll be writing on this real soon. I see the label of “Anabaptism” as a way of drawing attention to a historical tradition that held to some radical distinctives well worth emulating today. I think roots are more important than what we’ve previously imagined. I want to say that I stand with the faithful Anabaptists on this side of Reformation, who themselves believed they were being faithful to Christ and his vision pre-Reformation. Thereby pointing to believers before us (Anabaptists) who had a grand vision of Christ.

      Since the fleshing out of Anabaptism is so broad in scope, being very diverse in church practice (e.g. Neo-Anabaptists can be found in multiple denominations), but are in agreement upon Christ and those distinctives which separate Christ-followers from the world, I have no problem accepting the label. I see Anabaptism as a fresh illumination of Christ, instead of a religious club, as some separatist Anabaptists groups have become. We’re all susceptible to it.

      In a nutshell, while denominations have been a way that some have elevated themselves above others, I think they should in turn be used to build each other up and spur us on to unity in Christ in spite of nuanced traditions. There is more beauty in unity amidst diversity, than a monolithic movement resulting from uniformity.

      More thoughts to come on all that. :-)

      • gioiamorris

        Thanks so much David – I like it! Will continue to ponder what you’ve shared and look forward to “more thoughts on that” :)

    • gregory

      Gioia

      Great thoughts! I’ve been on the porch looking into the doorway of anabaptism for years. Intellectually some great thoughts and practice. I’m of the opinion that the Holy Spirit changes the individual and matures the person in a community. When it is just organized communiy it can get pretty amish with code of ethic forming that is not necessarily the politics of JESUS. Fleshly religion creating a name for themselves.

      Just my experience.

      Grace and peace folks!

      Gregory

  • Stephen Bolin

    You write, “Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalized Jesus, and has left the churches ill equipped for mission to a post-Christendom culture.”

    I disagree. The cause of Christendom was rooted in the great commission. We are to make disciples of all people including those with power. What do we do if someone in power converts to Christianity? Should we bar Christian people from government? All Christians are flawed and they make mistakes and Christians in power are no different.

    And Christendom did not marginalize Jesus. After the collapse Western Civilization there was the dark ages where people were illiterate and uneducated. They did not travel and things were all around bad. It is true that the Church did not develop a modern educational system until the thirteenth century, but Christendom was committed to educating Christians though whatever means they had during the dark ages. Everything the Church did was pointing to Jesus.

    And how can you say Christendom left churches ill equipped for mission? The only missionaries in existence before American missionaries came around came as a result of Christendom. Not all missionaries were perfect, but they followed the call of their Shepard to evangelize to all nations.

    Christendom has been, on a whole good for the world, not bad. Christendom has shaped the world for the better, and not for the worse. We indeed are in a post-Christendom world, but all of the good things we have today— including the Bible— are a result of Christendom.

    • Paul Harlan

      I’m not certain whether or not Stephen Bolin is my brother, but if he is, I welcome him.

      Stephen, for a good stretch toward a view of the past, I highly recommend the late John W. Kennnedy’s book, The Torch of the Testimony. He wrote the first draft, while itinerating over a great deal of India, ministering to Christians in, dare I say it, “organic churches.” When he attempted to retire to his native Ayrshire, Scotland, the believers were so cold toward the Lord and toward Brother John, that he returned to India and shortly passed on to be with Jesus.

      You can secure, Torch of the Testimony, at Amazon and whatever they charge now, it cheap at the price (i.e., it is well worth it, hard hitting, but objective).

      May you find the love and grace of the Lord Jesus so wonderful that you can hardly keep your feet on the ground!

  • David D. Flowers

    Hey Stephen, the first quote wasn’t from me, but the Anabaptist Network.

    “Christendom” describes the Constantinian church, militant and triumphant. It was the merging of the two kingdoms (church & state), and used power-over, coercion, and threat of pain to advance its agenda. It doesn’t look like Jesus. Therefore, there is not much praiseworthy about Christendom. Though some good things have happened in spite of her gross misrepresentation of Christ.

    You make a good point. An organized church that cared for bringing the Kingdom Jesus-style… would have created an educational system instead of keeping people in the dark and unable to challenge their “religious” authority. “Everything the church did was pointing to Jesus” is something I would never say about any group.

    On the whole, “Christendom” is anti-Kingdom of God for it adopted the methods of the kingdoms of the world, which Jesus rejected. However, there have always been bright lights within every context—theologians, monks, and even inspired ordinary peasants.

    As I survey church history, it’s the meek, gentle, and humble Christ-followers that have made the deepest Kingdom impact on society and culture. It just depends on what lenses a person looks through. The meshing of church and state has made it difficult to discern.

  • pat

    Great Post David! I agree with all of the convictions. Looking forward to learning more about the Anabaptists.

  • Bob Demyanovich

    There is too much, “me” in us. As we walk on the bones of our ancestors we should consider what we are about. Jesus is the purpose for this world.
    Salvation was promised in Him before the foundation of the world. Human conceit has inverted the focus from our Creator to ourselves. Salvation is for the glory of God. This world was created to prove the pronouncements made “before” it was.

    Rom 11:36, Col 1:9-27

    The mystery of God is not understood by the people of this world.

    Jhn 18:36, Col 1:13, 1Th 4:17

    This world seeks a kingdom of its own not that which is of God.

    Jhn 17:24, Eph 1:4, 1Pe 1:20

    The sin of Adam remains the sin of this world

    Gen 3:4-5

    What is the purpose of your religion?
    Is the Creator within that which He is creating? Now does the created ask, “Who are You?”

    Jhn 6:63, Jhn 14

    Jesus is the purpose for this world. This world is for the glory of God not of human being.
    All of your thoughts are known by God; they are your prayers, every thought without exception.

  • Dwight Gingrich

    It would be interesting and informative to compare this list with Anabaptist primary sources from the 16th century. Much would be the same, but there would be some significant differences, too.

    Several examples:
    * The original sources probably wouldn’t spend much time on “caring for creation”–not that they would be against that, but probably it wasn’t on their radar.
    * The line “roles are related to gifts rather than gender” would, I am quite certain, represent a small minority of the first generation of Anabaptists.
    * Church governance and discipline (barely hinted at here) soon became important questions occupying much time and debate.
    * Some topics were the same as on this list, but received much more attention given the historical context of Roman Catholic Christendom (believer’s baptism, the nature of the Lord’s Supper, bearing the cross, etc.).
    * Evangelism was also a primary focus of the early Swiss Brethren, who formed plans toward reaching the whole world with the gospel and suffered extremely high rates of martyrdom among their missionaries who began that effort within Europe. (It was only much later that Anabaptists became known as “the quiet in the land.” Yes, many early Anabaptists were sacrificially non-resistant, but given the choice between promoting social justice and peace or actively confronting people with a radical gospel message, most early Anabaptists would have prioritized the latter.)

    Some good resources for examining original versions of Anabaptism:
    * Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources, ed. by Walter Klaassen, part of Classics of the Radical Reformation series.
    * Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, ed. by George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal, part of Library of Christian Classics series.
    * The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, by Leonard Verduin
    * The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, by William R. Estep

    (Disclosure: I write this as one who has lived all his life in the Mennonite world–in a slice of that world situated about midway between Old Order and Mennonite Church USA.)

    • David D. Flowers

      I agree with you, Dwight. Historical context has much to do with it. Stuart Murray takes all this into consideration. Thank you for sharing from your experience as an Anabaptist. That’s very helpful. BTW: I mentioned two of your recommended sources in my “suggested reading” in the previous post, “Finding the Naked Anabaptist.” Thanks for reading!

  • ounbbl

    As far as I have learned, the Anabaptist movement was one of the original belonging to the Apostolic Biblical Christianity. They were destroyed by the Constantine Catholic Church (in which most of the Protestant churches have rooted and are in same spirit aside from doctrinal differences). Like the Baptist churches they do not belong to the so-called Protestant Church. We should not be surprised that we should find the true spirit of ‘Christianity’ (Teaching of Christ)’ which is not easily found within the Christian religions.

    What the world is observing is a plethora of greatest shows on the earth played by various churches, denominations, and cults – with words embroidered on their shoulders such as ‘possibility-thinking’ ‘purpose-driven’ ‘Jabez prayer’ ‘prosperity’ ‘word of faith’ ‘charistma-tism’ ‘pentecostalism’ ‘tongue-speaker’ ‘(unlicensed) healing shows’ ‘sabbatarianism’ ‘end of the world prophecy games’, ‘hedonism’ ‘evolutionism’ ‘liberation movement’ ‘mammon-worship’, ‘inspirational ministries’ ‘power of vision for the best life now’, ‘gay churches’, etc.)

  • Josh Hoping

    As I read the seven convictions, all I could think about is that there are, and has always been, other groups and believers throughout history who have had these convictions. I know the term “Anabaptist” carries with it a sense of history and tradition, which is good! But as a lover of the entire Church and a student of history, I hate to see everyone else throw to the flames.

    Go for your tradition, run for it – just remember that Jesus never abandoned His Bride and there has always been folks rejecting the power/sword-over views of humanity.

  • Tom Johnson

    There is very little here that our small, mostly poor, mostly Hispanic Episcopal Church would not also affirm.

  • drcodger

    David, I appreciated your giving me, on Facebook, the link to this post. I found nothing objectionable to the convictions; indeed, what led me to inquire is my recent “conversion” to a pro-peace stand. I’m Southern Baptist by background and current membership, although I’ve worshiped with a number of different groups. What I find more and more intolerable is the military worship so prevalent in American churches. I would like to find an Anabaptist church to visit on the next Military Adoration Sunday, but here in rural North Georgia, I’m not hopeful of finding one.
    Lane Lester

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Lane, it’s good to hear from a Southern Baptist who doesn’t believe in the sort of idolatry and military-industrial complex that most American evangelicals have accepted without question. You can always move to Christiansburg, Va. :-)

      • drcodger

        Thanks for the welcome and the invitation, David. My granddaughters and great-grandsons are in Lynchburg, VA, but another move isn’t high on my bucket list. I think I would have to find the imperative in the NT somewhere.

    • Dwight Gingrich

      Lane Lester,

      Hello from another poster on this thread. :-)

      I know there are Anabaptist (Mennonite) churches in north Georgia. Though I don’t live there, I have a number of Anabaptist friends from Georgia. And I see the Anabaptist denomination I’ve been most closely affiliated with over the past 10 years (Biblical Mennonite Alliance) has a member church in Hartwell, Georgia. If you want more info about this church (or the BMA), you can contact someone on the Alliance website: http://www.biblicalmennonite.com/

      Blessings!

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