Tag Archives: william estep

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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Monumental Myth

Have you heard? Kirk Cameron is starring in the upcoming documentary “Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure” which opens in select theaters March 27th.

I truly like Kirk Cameron, even though I disagree with many of his positions. I recognize that the Lord is able to use all of us, despite our sappy Left Behind performances and our support of some really terrible theology. But really, I do like Kirk Cameron.

As a teacher, I know the great responsibility I have to teach the truth. I know that I have got it wrong before. I know that somewhere I’m getting it wrong now. And odds are that I will get it wrong in the future. I think that describes us all. Regardless, we must do our best to pursue truth and walk in it as best we understand it. I believe that Kirk is doing that.

It’s clear to me that Kirk loves the Lord and is passionate about others coming to faith in Christ. I don’t doubt that at all. I rejoice in his testimony. I don’t have to agree with his evangelism style or his decision to play Buck Williams in a movie that propagates an idea foreign to the NT. The Lord has used him to build the kingdom.

For that I’m thankful. He’s a brother in Christ.

Having said that, I’m convinced that he sincerely believes what he is promoting in his upcoming pseudo-documentary. I suspect that it is one more revisionist plug from Christian fundamentalists during an election year.

I hope I’m wrong, but by the looks of things, it’s more of the same.

I wish Kirk would come and sit in on my Christian History class. I would love to introduce him to the historical context of the 17th and 18th century British movements leading up to the early colonial period, and subsequent American Revolution. I would like to present my case that the founding fathers were not seeking to establish a Christian nation. This is most clearly evidenced by an absence of any reference to Jesus in the founding documents, and the Treaty of Tripoli, which sets forth that the U.S. was not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.

Were some of the early leaders Christian? Well, sure. They were white weren’t they? There wasn’t much else those days for white Westerners. It can hardly be denied that some of them were simply nominal Christians—carrying on their religion like a family tradition. Thanks to Constantine in the 4th century, Europe had considered itself “Christian” for about 1400 hundred years—even during the Crusades, Inquisitions, and the drowning of Anabaptists. [Insert sarcasm now] So yeah, they were “Christian” alright… every single one of them.

Deism was the new way to be fashionable as a Westerner during the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries. Deism holds a belief in a “Creator” or “nature’s God” who rarely intervenes in human affairs, though he might show up to bless nationalistic endeavors. Deism was a growing religious philosophy that believed that miracles would violate nature (hence, “supernatural”). Therefore, deists believed that miracles are not possible. They also rejected divine revelation. Deists believed that the Bible should merely be used to further lawful societies and to encourage some level of morality within the culture.

I’m not going to discuss each founding father here, but I should mention a few key fathers. George Washington was a freemason and a deist. He wouldn’t take communion with his wife. We have no correspondence of him mentioning Jesus or faith in Christ. John Adams spoke harshly at times about Christianity and religion in general in his private correspondence. He was a Christian Unitarian that believed the church service was good for everyone because it promoted morals and values among the masses.

Yes, there’s ample evidence that John Jay was an evangelical Christian. He actually tried to keep Catholics from holding office. And Patrick Henry was indeed vocal about his Christian faith as the leader of independence in Virginia. Nevertheless, we should not be so quick to conclude what we hope or wish to be true because of a few that were more vocal about their faith. Politicians do this all the time today. Do you still believe that Bill Clinton is a Southern Baptist?

Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were deists. Franklin admits it in his writings, when he wasn’t drunk or inventing something. Jefferson went so far to deny the divinity of Christ. He even created his own compilation of Jesus’ life from the gospels, which he entitled, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” He removed all evidence of the “supernatural” for a presentation of Jesus as a good moral teacher who is only to be admired, not worshipped. Rationalism at its finest!

Let’s be clear about this. The founding fathers sought to establish a nation free from big government, burdensome taxes, and state-sponsored religion. Religious nation? I’ll grant that much. Christian nation? Huh, what’s that? The major shapers of America concluded that it’s not even possible.

What about the pilgrims you say? Oh, you mean the glorified stories of the Puritan fundamentalists? Well, you see, they wanted to enforce OT laws and create model theocratic cities. They are the ones who first hijacked the “city on a hill” language that Jesus used to describe the church. Instead, they used it to describe their new theocratic societies in America (e.g. Massachusetts Bay Colony led by William Bradford).

The Puritans claimed that America was the new Israel, the Indians were the savage Canaanites, and that God had given them the command to kill in his name. Many politicians throughout the years have used this sort of religious rhetoric to pander to fundamentalist evangelicals who still embrace the Christian nation myth. It’s also great for demonizing your enemies and gaining support for the expansion of empire when “God is on our side!”

Except for the fundamentalist Puritans, the rest of the colonialists acknowledged that the “Christian” state had been a total disaster in Europe. Roger Williams, who began the first Baptist church on American soil, 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. It finally caught on!

What you have here are Christian revisionists trying to build a case for an American Christian heritage based off of a glorified retelling of the pilgrim landing and the Puritan idea, singling out a few lone patriots who said some things about Jesus, the vague deistic references to God in founding documents, and the celebration of biblical virtues that even the atheists in that day advocated.

A person has to ignore the larger social, economic, political, and religious climate of early North American colonialism to advance the Christian nation myth.

So, if you want to “go back to the beginning” and find a nation embracing biblical morals and values, you will find some of that for sure. But if your eyes are wide open, you’re also going to find war, lies, greed, genocide, slavery, witch trials, and manifest destiny.

If you’re honest, you will, much like Pliny the Roman historian, seek to dig up the glorious past of Rome in order to inspire the citizens of the day to embrace moral reform, only to discover that the history of empire is a bloody shame. There is no glorious past.

Where are the likes of Roger Williams today? Where are those Baptists? It’s hard to find them in 2012. For many Baptists today, and plenty other evangelical groups, will likely support the monumental myth that is promoted in this film. Kirk’s new movie will be more fodder for the Christian fundamentalists among us who refuse to listen to the real historians telling them it just ain’t so, and to Jesus’ words that still read “my kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36).

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Suggested Reading:

“Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” by James W. Loewen; “Was America Founded As a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction” by John Fea; “Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty” by Steven Waldman; “Revolution Within the Revolution: The First Amendment in Historical Context 1612-1789” by William Estep; “A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present” by Howard Zinn; “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Politics is Destroying the Church” by Gregory Boyd; “Resident Aliens” by Stanley Hauerwas


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