Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The Original Third Way: Anabaptism

posted by Scot McKnight

AnabaptistChurch.jpgIn the Reformation, or after the Reformation, the Anabaptists said they were neither “Catholic nor Reformed” but where The Third Way. 


Why are there so few Anabaptists today? and yet why are so many attracted to anabaptism?

So, what is the Third Way? Where are you seeing anabaptism today? Is it a genuine third way? 
An excellent and highly-recommended new book by Stuart Murray, The Naked Anabaptist
, attempts — and succeeds in my view — to get to the core of Anabaptism by focusing on seven essential features. The elements are not unique to Anabaptism, but together they make up what Anabaptism is.
1. Jesus is example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. Anabaptism is Jesus-centric; he is to be followed and worshiped.
2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. Jesus-centered Bible reading and a community of followers is how the Bible is to be read.
3. Christendom, characterized by collusion and compromise, distorted the gospel and marginalized Jesus and left churches ill-equipped for mission.
4. Wealth and money have distorted the church; connection to the poor, helping the powerless and persecuted is part of the anabaptist approach. Such may lead to opposition and martyrdom.
5. Churches are to be committed communities of discipleship and mission and worship … gifts are for all and baptism is for believers.
6. Spirituality and economics are related.
7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel.


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Mick Porter

posted April 19, 2010 at 6:40 am


Wow, a big cheer for that list of seven elements!



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tscott

posted April 19, 2010 at 7:31 am


A manifesto for a whole new community of friends. An ecumenism of the trenches.



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Jim

posted April 19, 2010 at 8:10 am


I wonder if what is called “anabaptism” is not more of a mood and movement that crosses many denominations and groups than it is a church down on the corner of this street and that one?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 19, 2010 at 8:24 am


One of the defining features I think of with Anabaptists is a strong sense of community, as well as being a distinctive community that stands out as a beacon apart from the world. I think a lot of people who are weary of their church community taking up sides in the culture wars long for this.



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KrisAnne

posted April 19, 2010 at 8:37 am


As someone with deep Mennonite roots, I was curious about your question, Scot (why are there so few anabaptists today?)… here is a link to some worldwide stats for Mennonites alone (let alone Brethren, Brethren in Christ, etc., etc.)… would you still say there are “few”? Not being snarky, just curious what you think of these numbers.
http://www.thirdway.com/menno/FAQ.asp?F_ID=23
Third Way Cafe is a great place to learn about anabaptism/mennonites.



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phil

posted April 19, 2010 at 8:46 am


Hi,
Pastoring in a denom with mennonite roots. A strange mix actually, menno-methodist-evangelical roots. Unfortunately pacifism is disappearing, as is justice, on the rise is wealth management and materialism and in my neck of the woods, being more biblically correct, alla “John McArthur”? Who’d a figured. On a good note, some of the largest churches in Canada have these values, Centre Street Church in Calgary and The Meeting House in Oakville. Good things are happening!



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Samuel

posted April 19, 2010 at 9:00 am


Not sure if I am missing something, but these points seems to be orthodox and not specifically isolated to Anabaptists.?.?.?



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KrisAnne

posted April 19, 2010 at 9:11 am


Scot, to address your other questions… I do think it is a genuine “third way” to do Christianity. I know of no other stream of Christianity that consciously exists on the margins, walking away from worldly power, political power, physical power. But it is very difficult, which is why, perhaps, in more affluent areas of North America and Europe it is not as popular (or it gets watered down quite a bit). In my experience, even in “traditional” Mennonite circles here in the northeast and midwest USA adherents struggle with the pacifist and simplicity values.
Having had some deep, honest conversations with some friends in the military, I myself have even spent time questioning pacifism. I also enjoy a comfortable home in the suburbs, which some would say does not fit with a simple life, a life of radical stewardship. I think living in and with the tension is important. I always come back to the life of Christ, union with Christ, identifying with Christ in everything… and then I lean heavily on grace.



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Drew Strait

posted April 19, 2010 at 9:47 am


@KrisAnne–I am an interim pastor at an urban Mennonite Church in N. Chicago. Your estimation that Mennonites are on the margins and walking away from worldly power is incorrect. I am sure there are a few churches like that out there, but the Mennonite Church as a whole is constantly finding creative ways to engage the nation-state e.g., they have a policy office in Washington D.C. and an office with the U.N. in New York (also cf., Yoder’s “The Xtn Witness to the State”). Internationally, Mennonites are often consulted in conflict situations because of their expertise with regard to peace-making. After all, they have been practicing the politics of Jesus for nearly 500 years. Furthermore, Christian Peace Maker Teams (a Mennonite non-profit) trains people to go into intense conflict situations (war, etc.) and mediate between parties. CPT is doing amazing work in Columbia and Iran right now.
As a convert to the Mennonite Church from Evangelicalism I think the Mennonite Church needs to be more vocal about their story. Shayne Claiborne says that “every time I come up with a new idea for ministry, I realize that the Mennonites have already been doing it for 50 years.” The problem is that not enough people have a clue who Mennonites are or what they do. In other words, there is a lot of bad information out there–ie., they are “passive” people who don’t engage the powers that be. I pray that the Mennonite Church will step up and share their stories in new and fresh ways. They need to be heard!
I also want to challenge your notion that Anabaptism is not as popular among more affluent folks. In my congregation some of the most successful entrepreneurs in Chicago attend weekly and are sold out for Jesus’ Kingdom ethics.



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mike swalm

posted April 19, 2010 at 9:57 am


I believe I used to belong to phil’s group (evangelical missionary church of canada) but pastor a baptist church now. that said, a friend of mine called me the most mennonite baptist he’d ever met. i took it as a compliment!
I believe we’re seeing a huge resurgence in Anabaptist thought and belief, a return to the pacifist roots and communal emphasis of the mennonites and others, and it’s encouraging.
as to your question about a third way, i’ve seen anabaptism used to support Niebuhr’s Christ against Culture type too many times, and caricatures made too often that diminish it’s “third-way”-ness. I believe that anabaptism at its heart is third-way, but has been co-opted for certain agendas too often.
on another note, can’t wait to read murray’s book!



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Robin

posted April 19, 2010 at 10:00 am


Drew Strait,
Could you please address the differences in “Mennonitism”. Where I am from, rural Kentucky, Mennonites are simply an “Amish Lite” group. They ride around in buggies most of the time, but have their black vans when they need to travel. They, generally, cloister themselves from the rest of the community and earn incomes building houses and selling vegetables. These are the mennonites I have known for 30 years. It is a novel thing to me that “mennonite” might simply refer to a “denomination” of Christians that live otherwise “normal” lives – I always thought they were people who wanted to be Amish, but liked some of the conveniences of electricity.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted April 19, 2010 at 10:03 am


I am so glad that you are highlighting this topic (and the book), Scot. I believe Stuart is calling Christians (including Mennonites and other Anabaptists) back to these distinctions. Our church plant, which is a partnership between a missions organization and a Mennonite denomination, has been intentionally seeking to embody these dynamics. It is tremendously difficult, but rewarding. Murray doesn’t present them as values to simply be affirmed, but virtues to be practiced.
Not a week goes by where I do not have a conversation with a young Mennonite Christian who, having rejected the highly culturalized expression of their faith, are now returning with passion to this kind of Anabaptism.
For those interested, we have created an Facebook group around the book:
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=322343761902
Peace,
Jamie



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KrisAnne

posted April 19, 2010 at 10:12 am


@Drew (#9)– Yes, forgive me, I am well aware of all those things you mentioned. One of my former profs from Eastern Mennonite University, Lisa Shirch, is heavily involved in consultations in D.C.
How can I clarify what I was trying to say…. the distinction lies in HOW we engage in these things, not so much in whether or not we do engage in the issues. CMTeams and other activist organizations work in a very grassroots way, not that they don’t “engage the powers” at all, but their focus is on the ground, among the people, rather than using a top-down approach. Does that make sense? And when we engage the powers, it is always in a way that follows Jesus’ approach– dialogical, peaceful, loving our enemies. We never use power over others… it’s power WITH others.
So when I say that we focus on the margins in a way that is very unique to Christianity, I mean that our approach is grassroots and with a preference for the powerless/poor/voiceless/suffering.
I do recognize that there are wealthy anabaptists, many Mennonites are, from my extended family circles, and they give generously to charity…. but I do think that can lead to a watering down of the original anabaptist value of simplicity and radical stewardship. I think we struggle with that in North America, especially.
Blessings in your minsitry, Drew! I appreciate the push-back.



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Drew Strait

posted April 19, 2010 at 10:15 am


Robin:
Your are absolutely right–the Mennonite Church is incredibly diverse. In some rural areas Mennonites tend to be closer to the Amish. This lifestyle, however, is not indicative of the whole church. In Chicago the largest Mennonite Churches are Latino and charismatic. My own church uses up to 6 languages in our Sunday services for our refugee community. I am also aware of several rural Mennonite congregations that do not look anything like what you describe. The other factor is that the Mennonite Church does not exist in N. America alone. It is actually quite big in developing countries–especially in Ethiopia and Latin America. I hope this answers your question!



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Drew Strait

posted April 19, 2010 at 10:18 am


Kris Anne:
Yep. That makes sense. Blessings to you as well!



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Tim Hallman

posted April 19, 2010 at 10:31 am


Thanks for the post Scot. You’ve been so helpful to me as I have searched out my “way”, which I discovered to be what so many have called the “Third Way.” It wasn’t “my way” after all!



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derek leman

posted April 19, 2010 at 10:33 am


Scot:
Awesome tradition. The Mennonites I have met working in Israel have fit this description to a T.
What denominations today besides Mennonite would fit in this mold?



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AHH

posted April 19, 2010 at 10:38 am


Funny, as I read through your list of 7 things the name that came to my mind was Karl Barth.
Except for the believers’ baptism bit, I guess.



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Michael Pahl

posted April 19, 2010 at 10:59 am


Thanks for this, Scot. Your post caught my eye because I’m to review Murray’s book for our denominational periodical in the next few weeks. I’m (still fairly newly) pastoring a Mennonite church here in Edmonton, Canada, and I can attest to the richness of the Anabaptist tradition. If you’re interested you can read my own story of Anabaptism on my blog under “the accidental anabaptist.”



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brandontmilan

posted April 19, 2010 at 11:26 am


I lived in an apartment in a Mennonite Brethren church in northern Manitoba while I was the youth pastor at the neighboring Canadian Baptist church… One thing that I noticed about this church, as well as a few other Mennonite Brethren Congregations in Manitoba, is that there is still a strong ethnic/cultural thing about the church. In other words, most of the members and adherents grew up in Mennonite communities, (traditional or modern), and so to them, being a Mennonite has less to do with being Anabaptist, and more to do with being German (even though most of them are actually Ukrainian). One of the symptoms of this is that their “community” ends up being, to a large part, exclusive. Those who don’t come from a Mennonite background have a hard time fitting in to the community, or are even alienated because they come from a different culture.
Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great church, and I know that other denominations suffer from the same issues, specifically many Southern Baptist churches are made up entirely of middle class white people… but, from my experience, this is not much of an issue in Canada, except with Mennonite churches… and it may only be a small town thing, but I never quite felt at home.
The people of the Mennonite church would often ask my wife and I about our own background (we are both from the Carolinas), and when we tried to explain it to them, we were often given “thats the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard) looks. I think that cultural diversity is one of the things to be celebrated in a church, but we felt as if we were expected to assimilate.



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Anon

posted April 19, 2010 at 11:30 am


Phil #6… if I were looking for a job doing church communications (esp. social networking and web ‘stuff’) in Canada, where would be some good places to prospect? I am in the southern US and looking to make a move. Thanks so much for any tips you could provide!



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John W Frye

posted April 19, 2010 at 11:52 am


Scot,
In the History of the Covenant class I took for ordination, I learned about the huge influence of pietism on and a non-creedal ethic of the ECC. Is there any significant (historical) influence of anabaptism on the Evangelical Covenant Church?



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Bill McLellan

posted April 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm


Oh, no! Now in addition to “emergent” my Reformed brethren are going to call me “Anabaptist” because I fit all seven (so long as you add “and their children” to “baptism is for believers”). Why hasn’t the Reformed tradition put as much of an emphasis on following Jesus as the Anabaptist tradition has? It’s a real shame.



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DRT

posted April 19, 2010 at 1:39 pm


Count me in…..I particularly liked the comment about it being the way they interact, not whether they interact.
Dave



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E.G.

posted April 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm


As I suspected, I fit all of the criteria here. I sort of see myself as a “crypto-Mennonite.” That is, I attend a Baptist church that adheres to most of these principles (except an explicit peace principle), and feel comfortable there.
There is a Mennonite church in town. But, it’s a huge church (in comparison to other churches in our city), and I’m not really sure how Anabaptist they are in terms of (for instance) #s 4, 6, and 7. In fact, I think that my smaller Baptist church works towards those items in a more intentional manner.
Funny thing, too… the specific Baptist denomination that I belong to (North American Baptist) comes out of a German heritage and is filled with members with names like Reimer, Toewes, Wiebe, etc. In fact, my mother and her family were also Mennonites.
So, from personal experience, I believe that it is possible to live out an Anabaptist orthodoxy and orthopraxy within some denominations that aren’t explicitly Anabaptist. And, since Anabaptist churches are often hard to locate (particularly ones like The Meeting House in Toronto that are relevant and not culturally closed) in most cities, I think that there are many, many more people like me that belong to Baptist, Evangelical Free, Covenant, etc. churches but who maintain Anabaptist beliefs and values.



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Phil

posted April 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm


#21, not quite sure what you’re asking. As to networking, we use the same tools and sites that you do.



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted April 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm


E.G. (#25),
Your point about living these dynamics out from outside of an Anabaptist denomination is central to the theme of this book. Stuart (and most of the UK Anabaptist Network folks) do just that, as there are very, very few Mennonite churches in the UK. I appreciated that he was never trying to “convert” anyone to a denomination in the book, but rather offered it as a gift to all Christian communities.
Peace,
Jamie



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GBMiller

posted April 19, 2010 at 6:24 pm


As a leader in a Mennonite middle judicatory, we are all too aware that our congregations have fallen short of pure Anabaptist theology. We were delighted when Stuart Murray inquired about forming a partnership with us. I think it’s been a win-win … we get to see Anabaptist theology developing in a way that is untainted by some of the cultural trappings Mennos in the US often have difficulty sorting apart from our theology, and Stuart and the Anabaptist Network say they have appreciated connection with a group (however flawed) that gives them some roots–connections to a people who have been trying to live this theology out for 500 years.
We have also been excited to learn from a group of people experimenting with many ways to make the church more culturally relevant in a place that is even deeper into Post Christendom realities than here.
I’m so delighted to see Stuart’s book connecting so broadly!



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Michael Spencer Harmon

posted April 19, 2010 at 9:44 pm


I have many Anabaptist friends, and I would say this is fairly comprehensive. But I wonder where the focus is on some traditional things about the group: Everything is symbolic, but not effectual for faith; there are no “sacraments.” The internal work of the Spirit is absolutely necessary. I’ll have to ask some people to weigh in on this…



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E.G.

posted April 20, 2010 at 1:08 am


Jamie:
Thanks for that!!



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Thomas B. Grosh IV

posted April 20, 2010 at 9:31 am


Scot,
How does the “The Jesus Creed” overlap with Stuart Murray’s “seven essential features of Anabaptism”? A friend, who is very encouraged to see thinkers such as yourself, Brian McLaren, & others have a fresh admiration and attraction to anabaptist convictions, pointed out to me that Murray fails to mention “love.” He suggested “‘love’ more than ‘peace’ is ‘at the heart of the gospel’ ? with peace being a large bi-product of love. To ‘love’ is fully in our control under Christ ? to have ‘peace’ is not (‘for as much as it depends on you’). To include peace in this list makes sense, of course. Perhaps I?m just reacting to the absence of the word ‘love’ in the list.”
Looking forward to your thoughts.
In Christ, Tom



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted April 20, 2010 at 10:10 am


Thomas (#31),
I know you didn’t ask me the question, but I thought I would weigh in. First, Murray does mention love throughout the book. In fact, most references to peace clearly state that peace flows out of love (i.e. love for neighbour, love for enemy, etc.).
As for the list itself, the absence of love might be concerning to me if Stuart was suggesting this list as a stand alone, comprehensive list. Rather, these represent distinctives in the Anabaptist tradition that are to be taken alongside the wider Christian tradition, thus assuming a foundational emphasis on love (especially the “Jesus Creed”).
Finally, the emphasis on living obediently to the teachings and example of Jesus that is represented results in active, visible expressions of love that are often lost to abstraction in other theological articulations.
Peace,
Jamie



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Thomas B. Grosh IV

posted May 5, 2010 at 9:34 am


Thank-you Jamie. I’m placing the book on my summer reading list.



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