Monday and Tuesday of last week, I attended a conference on the Anabaptist Movement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Forth Worth (audio can be found here). I went because I love the Anabaptists. I had very little exposure to them in seminary, but began reading from them and about them after graduation. I have only dipped in, but deeply resonate with their values and practices.
The conference was a good time, though I could have used a little less criticism of the Reformers. For example, at the conclusion of Dr. Malcolm Yarnell's paper, he said, "Baptists have before them two worldviews. Two different hermeneutical systems. Two different theological methods, vying for allegiance. Will there be a clear choice? Will we adopt a foundation characterized by specialist speculative language through which Scripture is read? Or will we recognize a foundation derived from a Christ-centered, Trinitarian reading of Scripture tightly integreating the faith believed and the faith lived?" Not the fairest statement in my opinion. I went to hear the strengths of the Anabaptists - not the weaknesses of the Magisterial Reformers. Thankfully, this only came through in a minority of the papers (really only sections of 2). I found Rick Warren's talk on Anabaptist and the Great Commission and Paige Patterson's talk on their legacy for contemporary baptists most helpful.
I came away appreciating the radical reformers all the more. In particular, here are several of the values that make them distinct:
Jesus is Lord. They believed this most consistently in my opinion. They deeply understood the cost of discipleship and took the call of Christ with utmost seriousness. In the midst of persecution, many of them had undaunted courage.
Jesus centered Discipleship
The Evangelical Anabaptists emphasized the imitation of Jesus. This is a huge theme in the New Testament, but I rarely hear it expounded in my circles. We, like Jesus, are called to give of self for the good of others (I have a book that I hope will be ready this summer on this theme). They also emphasized the pattern of Christ as the paradigm for the pattern of our lives - namely, suffering then glory.
Unlike the Magisterial Reformers, the Anabaptist got the church/state relationship right. Paul in particular uses imperial language to subvert its reality and significance. Anytime the church lays with the empire, citizenship confusion occurs.
Tied to the last one is simplicity. Because we see the empire in a negative light, we are skeptical of its values. Our reading of the New Testament doesn't mesh with the American dream - to say the least. Jesus was quite clear that life does not consist in the abundance of stuff.
Anabaptists sought to interpret all of Scripture in light of Jesus Christ. They were some of the first to interpret Scripture progressively (the old in light of the new). They also saw a clear distinction between the old covenant and the new.
The Authority of Scripture
They truly practiced sola scriptura, even when it cost them. The Bible alone must inform all we as Christians say and do.
The New Testament is silent regarding infant baptism, so for the, it had to go. Only believers are to be baptized.
Related to baptism, the Anabaptist believed that the church consists of believers only. The new covenant is radically new. In the new covenant, every member of the covenant community is indwelt by the Spirit and is fully forgiven.
Because the Anabaptist believed the church should consist of believers only, they saw the need to exercise church discipline in order to protect the purity of the church.
Because the teaching of Jesus was actually authoritative for the Anabaptists, there were committed to non-violence and enemy love.
Anabaptist Core Convictions