Tag Archives: anabaptist network

Q&A with Stuart Murray

Stuart Murray is the chair of the Anabaptist Network and has a PhD in Anabaptist hermeneutics from The Open University.

He is the founder of Urban Expression, a pioneering urban church-planting agency. He has spent the last fourteen years as an urban church planter in the UK. He is also an associate lecturer at the Baptist College in Bristol.

His recent publications include: Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (2004), Church after Christendom (2005), Changing Mission (2006), and The Naked Anabaptist (2010).

Last month I introduced Stuart and his book The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith. I discussed both historic and Neo-Anabaptism in Finding the Naked Anabaptist and in Anabaptist Core Convictions.

Stuart was gracious enough to answer a few questions for those interested in Anabaptism and the Neo-Anabaptist movement.

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What is Anabaptism? How and why did you become an Anabaptist?

Anabaptism is a marginalized Christian tradition that arose in the early sixteenth century, survived vicious and sustained persecution and has become a global movement.

The Anabaptist tradition emphasizes the centrality of the life and teaching of Jesus as well as his death and resurrection, radical discipleship, the church as community, baptism for believers, peace at the heart of the gospel, truth-telling and a link between spirituality and economics. It is coming into its own as western societies transition into post-Christendom.

Post Christendom: “the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence.” (Post-Christendom, p.19) 

I discovered the Anabaptist tradition as a young urban church planter in the 1980s and felt as though I had ‘come home’ to a way of understanding the Christian faith that was integrated, challenging and relevant.

What kind of feedback have you received from The Naked Anabaptist since publication?

The book has been well received, especially in North America by Mennonites, ex-Mennonites and others interested in the Anabaptist tradition. Some ex-Mennonite young adults have told me that it has revived their interest in and commitment to the tradition in which they were raised.

The Naked Anabaptist has been or is being translated into Spanish, Swedish, Indonesian, Korean, Japanese, German, French and possibly Portuguese.

This level of interest has surprised me, given that the book was written for a UK readership. There have also been helpful and constructive criticisms.

What is Urban Expression? What sort of work is UE doing in North America?

Urban Expression is an urban mission agency that since 1997 has been recruiting, deploying, equipping and networking self-funding teams to incarnate the gospel and plant churches in poor urban communities.

There are teams in several British cities and in The Netherlands, with new work developing in Sweden. In North America Jeff Wright, who is based in Riverside, CA, is coaching and training church planters and starting also to deploy teams. For further information: www.urbanexpression.org

Do you think there is a resurgence of Anabaptism today? If so, where do you see things going?

I think there is a resurgence of interest in the Anabaptist tradition, although for many people this does not mean forming new churches or organizations but integrating Anabaptist perspectives into their current activities and communities. This resurgence will continue as post-Christendom advances and Anabaptist perspectives become more evidently relevant and helpful.

“The Anabaptists are beginning to make more and more sense to a world that is increasingly aware of the emptiness of materialism and the ugliness of militarism. Anabaptist logic is rooted in the wisdom of the cross of Jesus, which Scripture confounds the wisdom of this world. It seems the world is poised for a new Anabaptist movement…”  —Shane Claiborne

What would you say to those who are skeptical, even critical, of the relevancy of Anabaptism in the 21st century?

Anabaptism has weaknesses as well as strengths, as The Naked Anabaptist makes clear. We will need the insights and resources of many traditions as we grapple with the challenges we face.

Our primary commitment must be to following Jesus, not to any particular tradition, but for many of us the Anabaptist tradition has pointed us back to Jesus in helpful ways.

If different traditions have the same impact on other people, that is great.

Anabaptism has had its critics throughout the past five centuries, but many of its convictions are now widely endorsed by those whose ecclesial fore-bearers persecuted Anabaptists for just these convictions.

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How do you feel about Anabaptism? Do you think a resurgence of Anabaptist ideas is due to the failure of institutional Christianity? What other historical traditions have you found helpful?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


Finding the Naked Anabaptist

Most of my readers know that I grew up a Southern Baptist. I went to a Baptist university for my undergrad, and served in two SBC churches. Seven years later, I can say that I no longer think of myself as a Southern Baptist, for several reasons.

Primarily, it’s because I have found that I’m more closely aligned with another historical tradition in theology and church practice—Anabaptism.

I first encountered Anabaptism in college. I learned that the Baptists actually have historical roots going back to the 16th century Anabaptist movement.

John Smyth was an English separatist who planted the first Baptist church in Amsterdam. Before his death he had moved to receive believer’s baptism by the Mennonites, an Anabaptist group named after Menno Simons.

Smyth’s friends, Thomas Helwys and John Murton would return to their homes to form the first Baptist church in England. For my Baptist friends, the Baptist church was a mix of Protestant and Anabaptist ideas. It was Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Menno Simons all under one roof.

Roger Williams was responsible for planting the first Baptist church on American soil. He rejected the theocratic view of the Calvinistic pilgrims, detested the idea of a Christian nation, and argued for religious liberty and separation of church and state––an idea that the Anabaptists had been ruthlessly persecuted for a century earlier.

So who were the Anabaptists? And what is Anabaptism? 

The Anabaptists were a scattered and diverse group of 16th century separatists who first originated in Switzerland. The self-identified “Swiss Brethren” called for a “radical reformation” of the church that went far beyond the reform movements known as Protestantism.

The early Anabaptists rejected infant baptism as a civil rite, which denied the church’s relationship to the state, and called for strict adherence to the teachings of Jesus following a believer’s baptism.

Since it appeared they were being baptized a second time, their opponents called them Ana-baptists (re-baptizers).

These radicals claimed that Protestants only wanted a “half-way” reform because they refused to put down the sword and follow Christ in non-violence. They posited that the Reformers only rested in grace, but did not walk in resurrection life. Obeying Christ is the evidence of a changed life.

The Anabaptists denounced the emperor Constantine as “the great dragon” for fusing the cross and the sword in the 4th century. They called for a restoration of NT church life. This undermined the very foundations of Christendom (church militant and triumphant), and made them enemies of both Protestants and Catholics who held to the power of the sword.

Many Anabaptists were martyred during the 16th century. Their ideas would live on in the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Brethren in Christ.

The Naked Anabaptist

Enter Stuart Murray, chair of the Anabaptist Network and PhD in Anabaptist hermeneutics. Stuart is the founder of Urban Expression, a pioneering urban church-planting agency, and has spent the last fourteen years as an urban church planter in East London.

His recent publications include: Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (2004), Church after Christendom (2005), Changing Mission (2006), and The Naked Anabaptist (2010).

In his book, The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith, Stuart sets forth a fresh vision of the core convictions held by Anabaptists today.

Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills in St. Paul, has written the forward to The Naked Anabaptist. [It’s worth mentioning that his church is presently considering aligning themselves with an Anabaptist denomination.]

Stuart says that Anabaptism is being (re)discovered by folks from many different traditions. In fact, you might be an Anabaptist and just not know it.

“We believe that the Christendom era has bequeathed a form of Christianity that has marginalized, spiritualized, domesticated, and emasculated Jesus. The teaching of Jesus is watered down, privatized, and explained away. Jesus is worshipped as a remote kingly figure or a romanticized personal savior. In many churches (especially those emerging from the Reformation), Paul’s writings are prioritized over the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. And in many Christian traditions, ethical guidelines derived from the Old Testament or pagan philosophy trump Jesus’ call to discipleship.” The Naked Anabaptist p. 55-56

What does Anabaptism look like stripped down to to the bare essentials? Listen to Stuart discuss the core convictions of the Anabaptist Network.

Stay tuned for a Q&A with Stuart Murray next month on Anabaptism.

Suggested Anabaptist Reading:

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


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