This past Saturday Jessie & I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop called “Engaging the Global History of Anabaptism”. It was a wonderful day with a group of people from all over the world, as we learned a bit more together of what Anabaptism even means. So what even is Anabaptism? Why does it even matter today? What does it have to do with PiE?
We came to discover together that Anabaptism could be best described as a movement. It’s a movement of which Mennonites make a large percentage of the people. But it moves beyond Mennonites. It’s like a tree: it has roots, a trunk, leaves and fruit.
Back in the 1520s (remember that decade?), the Catholics and the newly formed Protestants were fighting for control over Europe. The way to gain control of religion was to convince the government of a particular city to a certain theological viewpoint, so that they could offer military protection and residence for that theological group. The early Anabaptists (with one notable exception), sought freedom from state control through refusing to baptize infants. The baptism of infants was important for the state to track its citizens (for taxing & military purposes); the Anabaptist choice would be akin to refusing to allow your child to have a birth certificate (except the punishment was imprisonment and execution).
For the early Anabaptists, baptism according to the bible (which was being read for the first time for many) could only be given to a believer who chose it under no external co-ercion. The state had no right to interfere. For the Anabaptists, baptism symbolized the free choice to follow Jesus Christ and be faithful to scripture authentically with their whole lives. This also led to future Anabaptism beliefs like pacifism, separation of church and state, and freedom of choice which were profoundly influential in the history of Western Christianity. This protest of faith also led many Anabaptists to be thrown in prison, tortured, and executed by the church-sponsored state for their “heretical” and disruptive beliefs.
Through persecution, the Anabaptists fled across Europe, then into North America, and eventually spread all over the world. We talked as a group as well about those who suffered because of Anabaptist migration by being displaced themselves. When you’re running away from persecution to get to the land of freedom, whose freedom gets taken away in the process? This is an ongoing question for Anabaptist/Mennonite identity, particularly in relation to indigenous peoples.
So what is Anabaptism?
It’s important to distinguish between Anabaptists and Anabaptism. The Anabaptism of the 1520s doesn’t really exist anymore in quite the same way. Some say there are no Anabaptists anymore. There are some good reasons for that. I find it easier in thinking of Anabaptism as a movement, whereas Anabaptists are a semi-defined people group from hundreds of years ago.
But there are still many traditions that practice in the spirit of the early Anabaptists. Some of the common characteristics of these traditions continuing today include:
*Actively following the way of Jesus as Jesus himself taught in the bible
*Being at peace with God, the world, and others
*Pursuing peace and non-resistance in the face of violence
*Freedom of choice and belief in the separation of church and state
*Speaking truth to power
*Being a community of faith
*Living in simplicity
These are just a number of fruits that come out today and are lived in this movement around the world. As well, many Christians from a variety of different denominations are finding themselves gravitating to the values and tradition of Anabaptism. It’s a practical Christianity that intuitively makes sense for many in a crazy world. The work of PiE is inspired by many of these values and others that are part of the Anabaptism story.
What parts of Anabaptism do you gravitate towards? What parts do you struggle with? And what more would you want to learn?
Questions for the journey as we climb the tree together!