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So What Is an Anabaptist?

Click to learn about Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight (from Jesus Creed)

I have clearly identified myself as an Anabaptist on this blog, most recently on Monday as I posted a blog in the MennoNerds Synchro-blog series on Missional Spirituality in the Anabaptist tradition. That might lead some to ask what an Anabaptist is. I found an interesting answer today from Scot McKnight at his Jesus Creed blog. He gives some background on the development of Anabaptism, and how the tradition has benefited even those outside this strand of Christianity. Then he gives three basic traits, which I’ll copy here in his words. He bases his work on Harold Bender’s The Anabaptist Vision.

1. The essence of Christianity, or the Christian life, is discipleship — a committed following of Christ in all areas of life. The word on the street in the 16th Century, and this word repeated often enough by bitter enemies of the Anabaptists, was that they were consistent and devout Christians. If Luther’s word was “faith,” the word for the Anabaptists was “follow.” The inner conversion was to lead to external transformation.

2. A new conception of the church as a brotherhood of fellowship. The ruling image of a church among the Catholics and Reformers was more national and institutional and sacramental, while the ruling image for the Anabaptists was fellowship or family. Joining was voluntary; the requirement was conversion; the commitment was to holy living and fellowship with one another. Thus, the Anabaptist separated from the “world” to form a society of the faithful. This view of the church led to economic availability and liability for one another.

3. A new ethic of love and peaceful nonresistance. Apart from rare exceptions like Balthasar Hubmaier and the nutcases around Thomas Müntzer, the Anabaptists lived a life shaped by love and nonviolence. They refused to coerce anyone.

Surely there are others who would define Anabaptism differently, or at least highlight different aspects of the tradition. I think that this, at least for me, well defines the main aspects of Anabaptism. I have increasingly realized the importance of these concepts in Scripture, and thus they have become crucial to my own walk with God.

Fellow Anabaptists, which do you think is most important to the tradition? What would you add to McKnight’s list? Do you think one of his three are not as important to the tradition as he claims? To those from outside the Anabaptist stream, what do you think of these? How are these represented in your faith tradition? For things that are not in your tradition, why do you think that your tradition doesn’t value these?

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2 comments on “So What Is an Anabaptist?

  1. Why does McKnight call two of these points “new”? Brotherhood and peaceful non-resistance are behaviors found in the first-century church. Maybe a new emphasis in contrast with orthodoxy of belief; maybe a new use of the term “Anabaptist” in contrast with Catholics & Reformers.

    McKnight states what Anabaptists are for rather than what they are against. I like that. He does not criticize Christians who baptize infants or who seem to put orthodoxy before orthopraxy, as if that were possible. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:18, continuing the thought of 1:21-25.)

    Anything I can think to add seems to follow from McKnight’s first point: following Jesus. For example, I learned from Anabaptists the value of a simple lifestyle, but that’s how Jesus lived.

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