Anabaptism and the Emerging Church

Anabaptists and the emerging church. Horse and carriage? Chicken and egg? Chalk and cheese? It has been suggested by some (Don Carson, Scot McKnight) that the emerging church in USA gravitates towards and resembles the early Anabaptist movement. I have mentioned this before. I generally agree with this and my own spiritual history contains strong Brethren (NZ) and Baptist leanings so it works out in practice for me.

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Anabapist connections around the globe take different forms.

Canada? From my observations on the Canadian scene last month, I see a lot of impulses that can and should inform (and probably are informing) the emerging church from Canadian Mennonite history. They have a wonderful history of effective wholistic ministry that includes hospitality, financial sharing, intentional community, ecumenical partnership, fair trade practices (Ten Thousand Villages) right living and diet, and a whole lot more.

As for Australia, Jarrod McKenna, who was interviewed yesterday on Australian radio, sees a strong historical precedent in Anabaptism. Check out this article on his blog called Emerging Peace Church Movement and the “Open Anabaptist Impulse”

NZ? Prodigal Kiwi reviews “Anabaptist Theology in the Face of Postmodernity.

Germany/Switzerland? My friend in Berlin Kerstin Hack is republishing a book by Peter Hoover that should also shed some more light on anabaptist connections with the German speaking emerging church.

What about Britain? A little disagreement on Anabaptist traits from Jonny Baker (Jason Clark agrees) who sees its influence as far stronger in North American more than UK. But Stuart Murray Williams, chair of the Anabaptist Network in UK and involved with the Incarnate church planting network, finds a strong connection. His latest book “Changing Mission: Learning from the Newer Churches” is worth reading. Graham at Organic Church also tackles the subject. And London’s Luke Bretherton sees a strong Anabaptist theology at work in the emerging church, drawing from John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. [“Beyond the Emerging Church” in Remembering Our Future: Explorations in Deep Church.]

Sorry for that Link Tornado. Who’s carrying this conversation right now? Ummmmmm . .. aaaahhhhhhh . . . . that would be Jarrod in Australia.

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Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

25 Comments

  • My work is starting to draw links with Methodism too.
    Which makes me think: actually does the EC fit our particular worldviews?
    Alternatively, do emerging churches take the best of all traditions, spiritualities and practices? A Christian version of Ba’Hai in some crude way?

  • If the emerging church tries to ‘take the best of all traditions’ I’m afraid it will end up like the modern, traditionless cut-off-from-the past mega-church evangelicalism it doesn’t like. It is an enormous undertaking to forge a new Christian tradition. (It took the Pentacostals 100 years and 2-400 million people.) I think it would be best if the emerging church settled happily into one tradition but with appreciation for others. I think it is indeed an Anabaptist approach. Its approach to community and witness, its relationship to culture, its view of the atonement, salvation, and revelation–all of these are far more like the Anabaptist tradition than any other.

  • wow interesting stuff, my background is “strong brethren” also so we have something in common there. Though maybe that means different things in NZ as it does in N.ireland?

  • Tim, I understand the practical difficulty of taking the best of all traditions, but shouldn’t we anyway? It seems a dangerous and formidable undertaking, but it also seems right. Does it necessarily descend into cut-off-from-the-past mega-church evangelicalism? Can it not emerge (sorry) as something much higher?
    I’m trying to sort all of this out. I may be a bit naive, but the ideal seems to be that we cling to the good and reject the bad, regardless the tradition from which it comes.
    (BTW: I’m in that large and growing number that are being greatly helped by your teaching.)

  • This stands true in my own journey. Raised in an Evangelical church, I attended a Pentecostal youth group, but went to a Christian school for 12 year that was primarily Anabaptist. It had a significant impact on my spiritual formation. I later attended an highly evangelical Anabaptist church in my early years with YWAM and now live in Manitoba, Canada’s Mennonite Mecca. Thanks for the links!
    Peace,
    Jamie

  • I haven’t looked too much into the emerging/Anabaptist connection yet…let me state that right off. Even without looking substantially into the Anabaptist movement, I too can see how at many points the movements are similar.
    Yet, I am having a hard time seeing the similarities when it comes to their relationship with culture; are we talking about the modern Anabaptist movement or the 16th century one? On first glance, to me it seems like the modern Anabaptist movement lends itself more to cultural isolation rather than, as the emerging church has, cultural synchronism. Where the early Anabaptists were willing to be slaughtered over points of their theology, many (though not all) of the emerging movement seem to find points of theology as a chance to “converse” and show “tolerance”. Where the Anabaptist movement seems to strictly maintain discipline within their community, it seems that emerging finds it too difficult, epistemologically and perhaps emotionally, to decisively deal with sin in the community.
    Feel free to point out where these observations are wrong.

  • paul, sounds like you ran into a terrible example of emerging church – one that did not deal with sin in their community . .. hope you do not paint the whole global movement with what you saw.
    those characteristics i mentioned of modern day mennonites in canada are also reflected in the early anabaptists
    as for cultural isolation, the anabaptist groups that are planting churches in the emerging culture (i mentioned “Incarnate”) are certainly not hiding from life in the 21st century urban jungles.
    but i am sure there are other anabaptist groups that show another side – it really is a broad term and covers a wide range of church/mission practices . .. . as is the emerging church.
    if that hat doesnt fit, lets not force it on. but apparently, some of us with anabaptist backgrounds find common ground and familiar hearth with some parts of the emerging-missional church.

  • paul – I’m having the same difficulties esp. in relation to gender and cultural interaction. but maybe that’s just because of my limited exposure to the tradition or maybe because i’m american? I “get” the peace thing and some theology but other than that I’m not seeing it.

  • push it too far and it wont work for everything but there is enough similarity to warrant the existing amount of research and publishing and perhaps no good reason for those in the emerging church to turn their backs on their anabaptist heritage.
    i certainly dont feel like i am, despite wearing a wedding ring (the anabaptists often didnt in the 16th century)
    gender? no
    intentional residential communities as church? yes
    sabbath? yes
    military? hmmmmm.
    food and spirituality? yes
    cultural interaction? again – the mennonites in canada are involved in politics, art, justice, hospitality, missions, finance, cooking . . . .

  • Andrew,
    Maybe I’m forcing too much of what I’m seeing of “Emergent” onto what is “emerging”. And, though I haven’t seen much to convince me otherwise, I leave it open whether or not I judge what I’ve seen of “Emergent” too severely.
    I see the earlier Anabaptists being a mixed-theology group dedicated to a singular attempt at a very literal interpretation of scriptures out of which comes a close knit society. I see emerging, in response to post-modernism, as focusing on community first and then an interpretation of scriptures that flows for the communal experience.
    Andrew, I admit to not knowing exactly what emerging is…that’s not all my fault since a lack of solid definitions is endemic to the very post-modernism to which it belongs. But in some ways, it seems that the early Anabaptist movement is similar in properties, though not at all in priorities.
    As for what Makeesha said, I think she may be right. It seems to me that the major Anabaptist movements in the U.S. tend to live in segregated societies divorced from current mass culture, much in line with their heritage.
    This is an interesting subject…I’m learning a lot! Thanks all for an good discussion.

  • Hi Andrew. Thanks for the mention. I think the best source for things anabaptist in Australia / New Zealand is the “Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand Inc”
    http://aaanz.mennonite.net/
    They publish a regular (and substantial) newsletter – ON THE ROAD. Well worth subscribing to.
    In NZ, the most useful theologian writing out of an appreciative Anabaptist context if Chris Marshall (Victoria University, Wellington). You’ll find an article by him online on the REALITY magazine site. The article is titled: “Following Christ in Life:The Anabaptist-Mennonite Tradition”. It’s a very useful introduction. The link is:
    http://www.reality.org.nz/articles/37/37-marshall.php
    I’m sure I’ve linked to it somehwere on my blog.
    I hope that’s useful.
    Paul a.k.a “Prodigal Kiwi”

  • Hi Andrew,
    I should be up-front and say that I wrote the old piece at Organic Church questionning Scot’s linkage of anabaptism and the emerging church. There are certainly similarities, but I don’t think that there are enough shared core convictions to push the point.
    I’m not aware of where Stuart has said that the emerging church in USA gravitates towards and resembles the early Anabaptist movement. Did you hear him say this? (Oh, I’m pretty sure that Stuart’s not the President of the Incarnate Network)

  • hi Graham
    thanks for the corrections. I saw how it could be read wrongly regarding Stuart and have added “is involved” with Incarnate.
    as for your article, i will reword it so it does not carry that strong an emphasis.
    thanks

  • I’m in the Restoration movement (Independent Christian) after having grown up Mennonite Brethren, and I’m generally happy anywhere that holds up scripture as the rule for faith and practice. Anabaptists generally focus on the Sermon on the Mount, Restorationists on the book of Acts, many others on the Pauline letters. We need it all.
    “Emergent” and “emerging” can easily (in our culture) become beholden to a “coolness” factor, because they’re reacting to the previous generation’s faults. If they can maintain, and even celebrate, fellowship with the church as a whole, there can be a gorgeous renewal in the body of Christ.

  • i hear that “coolness” thing a lot. sometimes it might be true but other times, when new believers start a church in their own culture, its coolness is simply the lack of culture gap that older churches experience.

  • I come from a Baptist rather than Anabaptist background. I am currently debating whether to call my self emergent or not.
    I think the similarity being discussed is not one that can be called a lineage or roots but rather a pragmatic similarity. And yes the coolness factor is a big issue, and why I hesitate to call myself emergent. I dont want to be cool. Poor people, and base sinners are not cool. This is who I desire to reach, this is where staying power in a Christian movement is because these are the people Christ reaches out to most. These are the people not desired in the established church all too often. So maybe Im emergent, maybe not, but I defineately see similarities in my thinking to the anabaptists, but not towards cultural isolation.

  • matt – not really important whether you choose the word emergent or not. more important to keep serving God in the emerging culture and let jesus build his church.
    thanks for your comment.

  • Glad you found the post interesting Andrew.
    I think Anabaptism offers a very deep pool to drink from while on the exodus journey out of Christendom’s spirituality of Empire in Christian drag. I’ve written in the past about “what’s emerging out of the emerging church movement”. While I think it is way to early to tell, I do think there is a significant strand that represents an “emerging peace church movement”, or an “emerging kingdom movement” that realise that the future of evangelism is tied up in faithful discipleship that seeks first Jesus’ nonviolent transformation of all things (the kingdom of God). Thinkers and practitioners like Ryan Bolger, Lee C. Camp, Steve Chalke, Brian McLaren, Dave Andrews, Rob Bell Wess Daniels, Greg Boyd and Shane Claiborne all could be considered popular leaders of this “strand”. And I don’t think John H. Yoder’s influence can be down played. Asking all of us: “is our practice and preaching of the gospel, of the kingdom, of atonement, of mission, of discipleship, of Jesus(!) good news for a world at war and on the brink of an ecological crisis.” Put another way, is our practice and preaching faithful to the fullness of the gospel.
    What exciting times to be alive and responding to the Spirit’s movement. And for the comming together of such exciting links like N.T. Wright scholarship with the peace church witness, with the emerging church. If the “Emerging Church” is the reformation of the 21st century maybe the “emerging peace church/emerging kingdom movement” is the 21st century’s radical reformation.

  • For me, as an emerging Quaker, or convergent Friend, as C. Wess Daniels and I might put it, the Religious Society of Friends offers a long history of a less hierarchical authority structure, a radical dependence on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in worship, and an explicit commitment to (even though not perfect practice of) gender and racial equality. The emerging church offers me an alternative example of Christianity. I’m interested in how to be a follower of the Way of Jesus, in simplicity and integrity, with harmony and equality, and forcefully pacifist.
    As I wrote yesterday, in More Possibilities are Emerging, when I look at the emergent folks, some of the things they are searching for are elements we Quakers take for granted. And some of the things they take for granted are hard for us (Quakers) to articulate and agree on. I think we have much to learn from each other.

  • I believe emergents can ‘roost’ many denominational hosts. I myself am Anglican and our churches do much work for justice all over the world and in global relief and developement as deep priorities. Things like the ‘u2charist ‘liturgies raise huge amounts of funds for world peace, to fight disease, to promote justice and work for environmental sustainablity.
    The MDGs are something most Episcopalians almost know by heart as they are ways to express our love of Jesus in helping and taking part in his calling for us to ‘love one another’ not love as a feeling but an act of will to cafre for the well being of to others, to help renew creation and promote just human relationships.

  • Re. Similarities between anabaptist movement in 16th century and the emerging church.
    Can anyone tell me where in the emergent church I can find authors or contributions and church life, where emergents are propagating AND living the anabaptist principle of costly descipleship (eg. in terms of willing to suffer to the utmost, even death, for the sake of the gospel)? Seems to me, that there are huge differences here that few are willing to address honestly.
    wallbanger in Germany

  • true, dear wallbanger, that most of us in western countries do not face death on a daily basis for our faith. good point. probably the same in Germany, even for anabaptists.
    for an author that fits your description, check out Stuart Murray Williams in UK, who is chair of the Anabaptist Network and teaches on emerging church. He has a number of good books. He taught recently on the emerging church from an anabaptist perspective link
    And since you are a German speaker, check out Kerstin Hack’s book on the Bruderhof community and ties with today’s movements. It is available only in German so you are in luck. you might find a link to it on mike bishoff’s german blog link
    Peace.

  • I can well understand why people take different views on Anabaptist influence in Britain. With two Mennonite congregations in London and Eastbourne, a few Hutterites and a bevy of left wing Baptists there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that Anabaptists were here in the 16th Century. The Tradition was cut short by persecution though, and by the end of beginning of the 17th Century ‘Anabaptist’ was largely a term of abuse applied very loosely. The influence of the Tradition is traceable through the Baptists and the Quakers and politically via the Levellers and others. Mennonites and the Hutterian Society of Brothers returned in the 20th Century but we should still assess the infuence of Anabaptism substantially in terms of ideas and a particular ecclesiology rather than congregational presence. Whether the emerging churches will show Anabaptist traits is too early to tell. Anabaptism is pacifist and most emerging churches aren’t. Still, roll on the emerging ‘peace church’! There’s a growing number of British Anabaptists getting into church planting at the moment.

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