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.