Following Jesus: The Anabaptist Tradition

“I’ve never quite been persuaded that the Anabaptist way of following Jesus is the right one,” I wrote in my response to this month’s lead essay in the Following Jesus conversation, “but it always leaves me feeling like my own way is to follow the path of compromise and safety.” So I’m grateful to Michael King, president of Cascadia Publishing and former dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, for his summary of five core values of Anabaptist-Mennonite Christians — all of which posed questions that should challenge and convict Pietists like me.

November’s Tradition: “Amid Complexities, Five Things Many Anabaptist-Mennonites Emphasize

“The first involves ‘No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 3:11).  That introduces value 1: The starting point for Anabaptist-Mennonite understandings of God, the church, and all life is the New Testament and the Jesus Christ revealed in it. If we find understandings in Scripture, church, world, or our lives that conflict with New Testament teachings about Jesus’ Way, we give Jesus priority.

“This is why the Sermon on the Mount is key to daily living. Jesus repeats, again and again, ‘You have heard that it was said…. But I say to you….’ Here Jesus reshapes the lives of followers—including Anabaptists—by teaching radical understandings of how God works and what God expects of us.”

– Michael King

My Response: “The Anabaptist-Pietist Dialectic”

Do Pietists truly put God’s kingdom first? I fear that we tend to interpret the Sermon on the Mount in spiritual terms, as a promise of the world to come rather than a revolutionary charter for how to live in this world as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom….

Are we truly committed to what King calls ‘wholistic mission’? My pietistic home denomination affirms ‘the whole mission of the church,’ but I suspect that most Evangelical Covenanters and other Pietists have found it easier to evangelize victims of ‘injustice, racism, poverty, hunger, [and] nakedness’ than to strive, whatever the personal cost, to transform such a world by peacefully, steadfastly resisting its evils.”

Additional Responses

“…Value 1 encourages me to think about the centrality of Jesus in Black churches and where these institutions might be falling short in their adherence to our Savior. However, I am struggling to reconcile Value 4 with the historical trajectory of the Black Church. While I believe in a commitment to love and nonviolence, Black churches have often been subjected to violence and forced to fight back just to survive. I wonder how we might consider the Anabaptist dedication to peace in light of the experiences of a Black Church tradition that is partially defined by the violence it has endured.”

– Farris Blount, “Jesus, Love, & Nonviolence in the Black Church Tradition

“The Anabaptist tradition arose in historical situations of persecution by civil authorities. Allegiance to God’s kingdom translated readily into disobedience to earthly kingdoms. In the centuries since, this tradition has stressed the primacy of drawing clear lines of distinction between our loyalty to Christ in concrete areas of public life and the requirements of the state. In an era when Christendom has crumbled, the Anabaptist model of the church as a radical alterative community has much to teach the wider church.”

– Wes Granberg-Michaelson, “Not Quite So Simple…Or is it?” (Reformed Tradition)

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