Ten years ago today…

Ten years ago today I started my first (and, so far, only) sabbatical leave. I spent three months in England resting and reconnecting with friends and family, as well a spending time with the good folks from the Anabaptist Network in the UK. It was certainly a transformative time for me and I look back on it as one of the best experiences of my life. I left Edmonton on the evening of Tuesday April 15th 2007 and arrived in London the next day. Here’s the post I wrote after arriving at the London Mennonite Centre:

Hello from the London Mennonite Centre in Highgate, London, England.

Nick and I flew over on Monday night and arrived at Heathrow airport about 11.00 a.m. on Tuesday morning. After clearing customs we traveled by Underground and got here to the LMC early afternoon. We were warmly welcomed by Ed and Phyllis, the hosts, and the other staff and volunteers here. A lot of the people who work here seem to be from Canada or the United States – in fact, English accents are a distinct minority! The director, Vic Thiessen, and his wife Kathy are actually members of Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton, a congregation which is very familiar to Marci and me.

My time so far has been made up of (a) getting started on my study and (b) doing little housekeeping jobs to help my stay in London and in the UK in general run more smoothly. The latter include things like: getting an ‘Oystercard’ to make travel on the Underground and the bus system more reasonable; getting a ‘mobile phone’ (i.e. cell phone) (haven’t successfully done that yet, although there have been a couple of false starts); and negotiating the mysteries of cyberspace to get my Canadian laptop hooked up to the wireless network here at LMC.

As far as study goes there is plenty of material in the library here and a wonderful book service from which I can buy the stuff I need to continue when I leave here on the 30th. I will be spending my mornings reading Anabaptist history and source material from the 16th century, and then another study period each day (afternoons or evenings) on contemporary stuff, especially the issue of the end of Christendon and the insights Anabaptism has to offer about Christian mission in the new situation we find ourselves in today. My first study book is C. Arnold Snyder’s Anabaptist History and Theology, and although I’ve only just begun he’s already helped me make sense of the mass of tenuously connected movements that make up 16th century Anabaptism. I didn’t have a second study period today (owing to a little adventure I had on the Underground – a long delay when the Northern Line was closed for two hours), but when I begin that period tomorrow I’m going to be working with Stuart Murray Williams’ book ‘Post-Christendom’. I’m also really looking forward to Stuart’s book ‘Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition’. All Christian traditions have interpretive grids to help them make sense of the Bible; we all tend to assume that ours is the ‘correct’ grid, and I think it’s really good to check out someone else’s grid and see what we can learn from them.

It was good to spend a day with Nick; he and I sat out in the yard (or the ‘garden’ as they call it here) last night and said Evening Prayer together, and today we had tea out there. We took some pictures too, which I’ll post below. I put him on the train this afternoon, and he is now up in Manchester spending a week with my brother.

That’s it from me at the London Mennonite Centre; here are a few pictures for you.

Nick in the ‘garden’ at the London Mennonite Centre.


Me having a cup of tea in the ‘garden’ behind the LMC. The house used to belong to a doctor and incorporated his surgery; it was built in the 1850’s and is four stories high.


Getting down to work in the library here at LMC. 
 

Sabbatical Report #14: You Get to Meet Some Interesting People…

 

This past week I have met two very interesting people in the context of my Anabaptist pilgrimage through England.
 
Professor Chris Rowland has the exalted title of ‘Dean Ireland’s Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture’ at Oxford University. A recent description of Chris’ interests reads as follows:

Professor Rowland, a gifted and engaging teacher, specializes in research on the Interpretation of the New Testament; the apocalyptic tradition in ancient Judaism and Christianity; the reception history of the Apocalypse; the biblical hermeneutics of William Blake; the theology of liberation; the radical tradition in Christianity; methods in grassroots readings of Scripture; group work and biblical study; and the interpretation of the Bible and developments in adult education.

 
Despite this formidable sounding list, I was interested in meeting Chris because he has participated in Anabaptist Network activities. He has told his own story of his discovery of the Anabaptist tradition here, and was one of the first people I contacted a few years ago when I became interested in Anabaptism. I decided to visit Oxford and emailed Chris (after having no contact for a couple of years) on the spur of the moment about getting together; to my delight he was available for a short meeting in his lair at Queen’s College. I found him to be a wonderfully welcoming person and a very provocative thinker; I was particularly interested in the connections he has made between Anabaptist thinking and radical movements in England in the 17th century, and also with contemporary liberation theology. I tend to practice Anglicanism ‘from the edge’ and I discovered that Chris does too – perhaps a slightly different edge than me, but nonetheless I found our conversation very affirming. Today I bought a book he has edited, a collection of Radical Christian Writings from the earliest times to the present day, and am looking forward to reading it.
 
I first met Dr. Ruth Gouldbourne at the Anabaptist Network Theology forum

 

at Launde Abbey a couple of weeks ago, and today I went down to her patch for a cup of coffee and a conversation. Ruth is the senior minister (not sure what your official title is, Ruth!) at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London. The life of their congregation is well described on their excellent website; suffice it so say that this is a congregation which is serious and intentional about reaching out to the neighbourhood around them and is finding all sorts of creative ways to do it. 

 
Ruth has been a pastor, a college lecturer in history and doctrine, and also a ‘what?’ (you have to read her CV!), and she has also been involved in the Anabaptist Network for some years (she’s written about that here). Her interests are wide-ranging, from Church History to Gender studies to counseling to… – well, ‘Following Jesus’ sums it all up, I think! Today, after showing me around the church, she took me over to the British Museum coffee shop for a cup of coffee, and we had a delightful conversation about all sorts of subjects, with Anabaptism and its implications for life and ministry as a sort of controlling theme (although control was far from either of our minds!).

 


 
Talking with both of these disciples of Jesus brought home to me once again what a privilege it is for me to be having this sabbatical leave. It’s great to build relationships with people whose views are often very different from mine, but who are obviously grappling with the serious issues of following Jesus in the modern world and have found some inspiration for that in Anabaptism.

Sabbatical Report #13: Book Review

Guy F. Hershberger, Ed.: The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision

 

 

 

This is an old book, published in 1957, the year before I was born, and now out of print (my link above leads to some second hand copies on ‘Abebooks’). I read it on the recommendation of Ed Shirk, one of the hosts here at the London Mennonite Centre, and I’m very glad I did. I found much to admire, and also learned a lot about Mennonite history and Mennonite self-understanding.

 

 

 

 

This is a collection of essays to celebrate the 60th birthday of Harold S. Bender. Bender was a Mennonite historian and scholar who had an enormous influence on Mennonite Christianity in the middle of the 20th century. In 1943 he delivered a presidential address to the American Society of Church History entitled ‘The Anabaptist Vision’. Briefly put, Bender identified three elements as key to the Anabaptist view:

 

 

‘First, a new conception of the essence of Christianity as discipleship; second, a new conception of the church as a brotherhood; and third, a new ethic of love and non-resistance’.

 

This crystalising of the key elements of Anabaptism apparently had an enormous impact on Mennonites at the time, galvanizing them into a re-appropriation of their heritage which in a very real sense had been in danger of being lost altogether.

 

 

 

 

This book of essays (which includes Bender’s original address, ‘The Anabaptist Vision’) was written at an interesting time; fourteen years on, Mennonites were still apparently excited about Bender’s vision and had not yet begun to ask critical questions about it (which came a few years later). So here in this collection we have twenty-four essays from a group of scholars, most of whom I’m unfamiliar with, although one of the pieces is by a very young John Howard Yoder (in my view, by far the best essay in the book), and other writers include Roland Bainton and Ernest Payne. We have historical essays on the rise of Anabaptism, a group of essays on Anabaptist theology (including Yoder’s ‘The Prophetic Dissent of the Anabaptists’ which examines the dialogues between the Anabaptists and the Reformed Christians in Zurich in 1523-5), and then a collection on continuing Anabaptist history.

 

 

 

 

Allow me to give a lengthy quote from Yoder:

 

 

‘If the starting point of the pre-Anabaptist movement in 1523 was a view of Scriptural authority, the end point, which enabled the movement to become a force in history, was a view of the church. Negatively expressed, the product of the development from October 1523 to January 1525 was the Anabaptists’ rejection of the Corpus Christianum. Following the revolutionary changes in the relation of church and world which we associate with the names of Constantine, Theodosius, and Augustine, medieval Christendom had no room for the concept of ‘the world’. The consequences for ethics, for the doctrine of the church, for evangelism, and for eschatology, were revolutionary and yet were hardly noticed. So unconscious and so all-pervading was the acceptance of the identity of church and society that the Reformers, each working closely with the local magistracy and seeking to reform medieval Catholicism with as little commotion as possible, were not even aware of a problem and were able to pass off as political revolutionaries anyone who raised the question…

 

 

 

Only among the Zurich Anabaptists and those who learned from them was a new answer to the problem reached. Led by their simple Biblicism, abetted by the opposition of both civil and ecclesiastical authorities, they learned that the ‘world’ was just as significant a theological quantity in the sixteenth century as it had been in the first, and that the church is not simply an administrative subdivision of a monolithic society, charged with giving that society moral sanction and psychological stability, nor an invisible mystic communion of true believers, but a new kind of disciplined fellowship, taking shape within history by the gathering of confessing believers… Thereby evangelism, which for the ‘Constantinian’ reformers was by definition inconceivable, became a real possibility; alone of all the churches of the Reformation, the Anabaptists considered evangelism as belonging to the essential being of the church. Church discipline; a level of ethical requirements distinct from the average behaviour of the average citizen; economic fellowship within the local congregation, whether through common ownership of goods or through the deacon’s office; baptism upon confession of faith; refusal of the oath and of civil office; all the foci of disagreement with the Reformers fell into place as parts of a consistent whole once one dared, at the price of scandal and persecution, call into question the Constantianian synthesis, and to conceive of the church as being distinct from the world.

 

 

 

 

This is a truly rich quote from Yoder, and I plan to unpack it in a future post as I think some of the references will be unclear to some of my readers. But I was struck by his identification of evangelism as a key concern of the Anabaptists. History bears him out; the early Anabaptists were deeply committed to evangelism and the (largely lay and illiterate) evangelists traveled up and down western Europe making thousands of converts.

 

 

 

Lawrence Burkholder’s essay in this book, entitled ‘The Anabaptist Vision of Discipleship’, underlines this point; he identifies ‘obedience to the Great Commission’ as the first outstanding feature of the Anabaptist view of discipleship (the others are ‘love and nonresistance’, ‘suffering in the spirit of cross-bearing’, and ‘the separated life of holiness’). He says:

 

 

Franklin H. Littell has given us a most illuminating account of the missionary enterprise of the Anabaptists in his volume entitled The Anabaptist View of the Church. He says that “no words of the Master were given more serious attention by his Anabaptist followers than his final command: ‘Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…’”. The evangelical Taufer became effective evangelists who went into the highways and along the ‘hedges’, preaching. Most significant were their assumptions that a great Christendom culture after a thousand years of Christian teaching, needed to hear the Gospel and that the responsibility of witnessing was not the professional task of a particular class of Christians. According to the Anabaptists, the Great Commission followed baptism and therefore it became the task of every believer. This was a revolutionary idea which if practiced generally would soon change the face of Christendom.

 

 

 

Evangelism belongs to the essential being of the church; evangelism (understood as obedience to the Great Commission) is the responsibility of every Christian, not just a professional class. How startling to read, then, in this book, that before very long the Anabaptists – or, as they had then become, the Mennonites and Hutterites – ceased to practice evangelism at all!

 

 

 

 

How did this happen? In a nutshell, it was a result of years of persecution. Anabaptists were pacifists in an age when it was perilous to refuse military service. Many times in their long history they had to negotiate safe living space in new territories because the places where they were currently living were becoming very unsympathetic to their pacifism. Many times new rulers were glad to let them move in, because of their reputation as honest hardworking farmers who would go into new territory and open it up for agriculture. But over and over again, the agreements which the Mennonite leaders negotiated with these new rulers included their acceptance of a strict moratorium on attempting to make new converts. Abandoning evangelism was the price they paid for safety and survival. And what a price! Blaurock, Grebel, Sattler and the other martyrs of Zurich would have been flabbergasted to hear that their spiritual descendants would even conceive of such a thing! And yet, who can fail to understand the pressure these people felt to buy safety for their families in this way?

 

 

 

 

And so a movement which began with a burning desire to change the world, eventually, as a result (if I may reverently and respectfully say so) of ‘having the shit kicked out of it’ for years, came to find a different way of relating to the world – or, to be more accurate, two different ways. Broadly speaking, according to the authors of this book, Mennonites in later years did one of two things.

 

 

 

 

Some of them withdrew physically from the world, living in isolated communities protected from the world by geography and by their distinct language and culture. In effect (as Yoder has pointed out in another place), a movement which began as a protest against Christendom ended up forming many little Christendoms, in which the supposedly free choice to become a disciple of Jesus (on which Anabaptism had been founded) was replaced by all the pressure a distinct community can bring upon its members (especially its young members) to conform. And (as Rudy Wiebe portrayed it so graphically, a few years after this book was written, in his brilliant novel Peace Shall Destroy Many) keeping one’s distinctiveness from the world (which meant preserving the German language and culture as a hedge to keep out the world) effectively meant that evangelism of non-German-speaking peoples could not take place; after all, where would new converts go to church?

 

 

 

 

The other solution, which apparently happened in the seventeenth century in the Netherlands and later in Germany, was for Mennonites to conform to society, to gradually dull the edge of simple living, nonviolence, the refusal of the oath etc., and to become simply another pietistic form of Christianity like many others, which gave no challenge to the world around them except by pointing toward a faith in Jesus which had very little bite to it. This solution to the problem has a contemporary ring to it, and I suspect that Mennonites are far from being the only ones who have been tempted by it.

 

 

 

 

Hence the need to recover a distinctive Anabaptist vision – neither living like the world, nor withdrawing from it, but engaging it as committed followers of Jesus. Undoubtedly Harold Bender’s challenge to the Anabaptist world in 1943 had a hugely positive effect and went along way toward helping them recover their sense of mission and purpose.

 

 

 

 

However, later generations have noticed a few holes in Bender’s argument. Bender saw the pure Anabaptism as flowing from the Swiss Brethren in the early 1520s; he saw it as having been adopted by Menno Simons in his work of reshaping the Dutch Mennonite communities after the disaster of Münster and hence becoming the defining character of the Anabaptist movement as a whole. This has become known as the theory of ‘Monogenesis’ – in other words, Anabaptism had one pure source: Zurich, 1525.

 

 

 

 

The problem with this theory is that it leaves out many people who would have been thought of as Anabaptists in the 16th century, for no other reason than that they represent emphases which Mennonites later abandoned. And so Arnold Snyder and other Mennonite historians in the last thirty years have proposed a new theory, polygenesis. As Snyder outlines it in his book Anabaptist History and Theology’, it recognizes at least three emphases in sixteenth century Anabaptism:

 

  • Literal/biblical, oriented toward discipleship (mainly the Swiss Brethren)
  • Spiritual/mystical, oriented toward the inner work and voice of the Spirit (mainly the south German and Austrian Anabaptists).
  • Apocalyptic, oriented toward speculations about the end of the world (mainly the north German and Dutch until Münster – after that, Menno led them slowly into the more Swiss style).

 

 

 

The problem with Bender’s analysis is that it leaves out or marginalises great Anabaptist thinkers like Balthazar Hubmaier (who was not a pacifist) and Hans Denck (who was a mystic). It is neat and tidy, but real church history is rarely neat and tidy. And the fact is that the later Mennonites, who sometimes lapsed into legalism, could have used a bigger dose of the gentler mysticism of a Denck. Again, it is better and more honest to accept that the Münster people were Anabaptists who went off the rails than to pretend that they were never really Anabaptists at all.

 

 

 

 

I must stop here, but I must confess that I am thinking about the application of this principle to the UK Anabaptist Network as well. Sometimes I see some romantic idealizing going on. People talk about ‘Anabaptist values’, but it isn’t always easy to see how those values connect with the real Anabaptist groups – Mennonite, Brethren in Christ, Hutterite, Amish – who have lived their brave and flawed church lives in the nearly five hundred years since 1525. A ‘generic’ tradition can be a lot easier to romanticize than a real and imperfect denomination.

 

 

 

 

So – more to come on the Yoder quote, and more to come on the advantages and disadvantages of ‘generic Anabaptism’!

 

 

Sabbatical Report #12: Book Review

 
John Howard Yoder: The Politics of Jesus


For the last three weeks, in between various conferences, seeing my family off back to Canada, and doing a bit of tourism, I have been pondering John Howard Yoder’s seminal book The Politics of Jesus. I must be the last Anabaptist in England to read this book; Stuart Murray Williams told me that it (along with The More-With-Less Cookbook!) is one of the two books most frequently cited as influential in moving people toward Anabaptism in England, and it was first mentioned to me by my old friend Richard Avery as far back as 1983! Furthermore – even more shameful – it has actually been on my bookshelf for at least a decade! But I’ve finally caught up with the rest of the Anabaptist world (and a good portion of the non-Anabaptist world as well); I’ve read the book twice through, and am now ready to pronounce it brilliant.Not that I caught the significance of it right away. For about the first quarter of the book I found myself thinking, “What’s all the fuss about? Shouldn’t it be a bit more revolutionary than this?” I think this is because Yoder has largely carried his case, at least to a sizeable enough portion of the Christian world that a good number of subsequent authors have simply assumed the truth of what he has to say – in other words, I’ve been reading Yoderian truth for years without actually reading Yoder, and have already been persuaded by it!Yoder has a basic point he wants to make in this book. He is determined to refute the view that the life and teaching of Jesus has no relevance for social ethics, and that Christians looking for ethical guidance on social issues need to look elsewhere. His method is to consider biblical (and especially New Testament) texts, doing careful exegesis in order to investigate whether, in fact, Jesus might have something to say about social and political reality after all. Not surprisingly, his conclusion is that the message of Jesus is in fact all about social and political reality; hence the title of the book.He begins by describing the reasons mainstream Christendom has developed for not using Jesus as the norm for Christian ethics: Jesus thought that the time between his ministry and the end of the world would be brief, so his ethic has no relevance for the continuation of history; he was a simple rural figure and his ethic is difficult to apply to town life; he lived in a world in which he and his followers had no control, so his teaching can’t help us much in our modern democratic political realities; he came to die for us, not teach us proper behaviour, etc. Because it is assumed that we can’t be guided by Jesus’ teaching on social ethics, Christians have turned to common sense and ‘the nature of things’ for guidance instead.Having sketched out this background, Yoder then sets out what he wants to do in the rest of the book:

  1. ‘I will attempt to sketch an understanding of Jesus and his ministry of which it might be said that such a Jesus would be of direct significance for social ethics…
  2. I will secondly state the case for considering Jesus, when thus understood, to be not only relevant but also normative for a contemporary Christian social ethic’.


He then proceeds to take us on a hop, skip and a jump through the Gospel according to Luke, pointing out passages which are relevant to his thesis. He particularly highlights the fact that the ‘Zealot option’ (violent rebellion against the oppressors) must have been a continual temptation to Jesus, and points out moments in the story when Jesus was specifically rejecting it. His conclusion is:

Jesus was not just a moralist whose teachings had some political implications; he was not primarily a teacher of spirituality whose public ministry unfortunately was seen in a political light; he was not just a sacrificial lamb preparing for his immolation, or a God-Man whose divine status calls us to disregard his humanity. Jesus was, in his divinely mandated (i.e. promised, anointed, messianic) prophethood, priesthood, and kingship, the bearer of a new possibility of human, social, and therefore political relationships…No slicing can avoid his call to an ethic marked by the cross, a cross identified as the punishment of a man who threatens society by creating a new kind of community leading a radically new kind of life.

 

Yoder goes on to examine the idea of the Year of Jubilee, which included (1) leaving the soil fallow, (2) the remission of debts, (3) the liberation of slaves, and (4) the return to each individual of his family’s property. He traces elements of these ideas in the teaching of Jesus – particularly the remission of debt, which is resent in the Lord’s Prayer and in several of the parables.

In his next chapter Yoder looks at the violence of the Old Testament. He points out that the question of whether or not it is legitimate to use violence would not have occurred to the Old Testament authors, so it is not appropriate to use ‘the wars of Yahweh’ as an argument for the legitimacy of war, as this was not the issue being addressed. The real issue, he argues, is the number of times in which Israel is promised that ‘God will fight for you’ – sometimes without their participation at all – and the times in which they are rebuked for trusting in their own military prowess (or that of others) rather than in God’s defence.

And so Yoder’s argument goes on. He leads us through passages in the epistles which show that concern for Jesus’ social ethic continued in the early church. He asserts (overstating his case somewhat, in my opinion) that the concept of ‘following the example of Jesus’ in the New Testament is never applied as a general principle, but only in the context of following his nonviolent acceptance of the cross rather than resistance and retaliation.

In a particularly brilliant chapter he considers the subject of ‘Christ and Power’, examining the language of ‘Principalities and Powers’ in the New Testament and applying it to the powers and structures of society – structures which were created by God for our blessing, but which have rebelled and tried to become autonomous absolute rulers. Jesus’ Cross has ‘made a public example of them’ (i.e unmasked the evil that they do), ‘triumphed over them’, and ‘disarmed’ them of their weapon of illusion, the illusion that they are in control. The work of the Church, Yoder says, is not to attempt a frontal assault on the Powers (Jesus has already done that), but to live in joyful freedom from them, proclaiming that they have been defeated at the Cross.

In an especially controversial chapter entitled ‘Revolutionary Subordination’, Yoder examines the ‘house tables’ of Ephesians, Colossians and elsewhere, which are often asserted to show the essential social conservatism of the time, and shows that they are radically different from similar tables in the writings of the Stoic and others. He points out that if women and slaves were tempted to rebel against their accepted social position, it can only be because the preaching of Paul had taught essential equality. He notes that Paul takes the revolutionary step of addressing both sides of the structure (the Stoics only addressed the men in power, not those under their authority), and that Paul addresses women and slaves as free moral agents making the choice to accept a certain order ‘out of reverence for Christ’. Paul’s directions to those in power (husbands, fathers, masters) also point in the direction of equality, not dominance. In all of this Paul is moving in a completely different direction from the social conservatism of which he is often accused.

In a brilliant chapter on Romans 13 (which has often been used to show that Christians should submit to the State when it calls on them to serve in war), Yoder points out that this chapter is only one of the places in the New Testament in which the subject of the state is considered, and that if we hold it in balance with the others (places in which the state is seen as the province of the sovereignty of the devil, for intance, or as one of the Powers, or even as a Beast) we might get a very different view. He shows how Romans 13 should be interpreted in the context of the whole letter to the Romans, and concludes:

Romans 12-13 and Matthew 5-7 are not in contradiction or in tension. Theyboth instruct Christians to be nonresistant in all their relationships, including the social. They both call the disciples of Jesus to renounce participation in the interplay of egoisms which this world calls vengeance’ and ‘justice’. They both call Christians to respect and be subject to the historical process in which the sword continues to be wielded and to bring about a kind of order under fire, but not to perceive in the wielding of the sword their own reconciling ministry.


Yoder’s chapter on Justification is perhaps the least controversial in the book; the work of many fine scholars since The Politics of Jesus was written (notably N.T. Wright) have underscored the social dimensions of justification, which was not just about the curing of the neurotic consciences of troubled individuals but the restoration of right relationships, the ‘removal of the dividing wall’ between Jews and Gentiles and the making of one new humanity (Ephesians 3).

In his final chapter Yoder examines the liturgical passages embedded in the Book of Revelation and discovers there that the Lamb who freely offers himself in suffering love – who submits to death at the hand of Power and thereby triumphs over it – turns out to have the key to history. ‘Our Lamb has conquered; him let us follow’.

And so Yoder sets out his case for a Christianity which is social relevant, without being comfortably integrated by and into society as a whole. His vision of the Christian community is of a countercultural movement which challenges the Powers, neither by direct revolution nor by collusion in the unjust structures, but by being true to its own identity as the new people of God. He traces this pattern of thought directly back to Jesus, who announced the Kingdom of God in all its revolutionary distinctiveness, and who refused both the path of cooperation and the path of violent revolution. The community that follows this Jesus will be marked by social justice, radical equality (extending to the forgiveness of debt), nonviolence and love for enemies, revolutionary subordination, and a visible unity in which people groups which have traditionally been at each others’ throats are seen to be reconciled through the cross of Christ. This is a high calling, but Yoder has shown that faithfulness to it is essential if (to use the title of one of his other essays), the church is truly to be the church.

Sabbatical Report #11: Disciples Who Pray and Sing

This past weekend I attended a ‘Cross-Currents’ seminar at the London Mennonite Centre. These are seminars the Centre hosts from time to time on various issues; the one I attended was presented by Alan and Eleanor Kreider and was entitled ‘Anabaptist Spirituality: Disciples Who Pray and Sing’. Alan and Ellie’s teaching was rooted in the past, in the prayers and hymns of the 16th century Anabaptists, but also reached into the present with a desire to help this tradition live in the spiritual experience of modern Christian disciples.

 

 

 

Disciples who pray.

 

 

Alan and Ellie began by reminding us of what 16th century Anabaptism was: a radical renewal movement which was given its name by its enemies (‘re-baptizers’). The Anabaptists lived at a time of turbulent change, a time when troublemakers got called before the magistrates; much of what we know about the early Anabaptists comes from the court records of their testimony on trial. Many of them were tortured and a good number executed for their beliefs. The authorities saw them as destroying good civil order; the Anabaptists would have said that they were concerned with following Jesus faithfully and building churches committed to peace.

 

 

 

 

How did they survive? What sort of prayer life sustained them in their suffering? Scholars who write about 16th century Anabaptism don’t tend to address this question, although in recent years C.J. Dyck and C. Arnold Snyder have investigated it.

 

 

 

 

One of the great Anabaptist books is the Martyrs’ Mirror, a record of Christian martyrdom from New Testament times down to the 16th century Anabaptists. It includes some prayers taken from letters sent by Anabaptists in prison awaiting possible execution. Here are a couple of examples:

 

 

Loving God, you have baptized us into one body, and made us to drink the one Spirit. Now grant us pure and faithful hearts that we may serve one another diligently in love and find no cause to separate or divide. Call each of us to esteem others better than ourselves so we may remain together in peace and joy. Grant these mercies to us and all your people. Amen. (Tijs Jeuriaenss, 1569)

 

 

 

O God of heaven, watch over your sheep, who are such a little flock, that we may not depart from you or be led astray. Keep us under your protection and sustain us in your will. Grant that those who teach false doctrine may amend their steps and do your will. Fill us with your divine power, O God, for we have no other Lord in heaven and earth but you. Amen. (Eighteen Martyrs, 1528)

 

 

 

 

Lord God, I will praise you now and until my end because you have given me faith, by which I have learned to know you. When I felt the heavy load of sin in me, you came to me with the Word of your divine grace. For this I will now praise and magnify your glorious name forever. Strengthen my faith, O Lord. Do not forget me, but be with me always. Protect me and teach me with your Holy Spirit that in all my sufferings I may receive your consolation. Dear Lord, help me to bear the cross to the destined place, and turn yourself to me with all grace, that I may commend my spirit into your hands. I sincerely pray for all my enemies, O Lord, however many there may be. Do not lay their sins to their charge. Lord, I entreat this according to your will. May God finish his holy work and give strength to the end. Amen. (George Blaurock and Hans van der Reve, 1529).

 

 

 

Common themes in these and the other prayers Alan and Ellie showed us include: unity, service, faithfulness, God’s grace, the ministry of all Christians, a desire to obey God, prayer for God’s comfort, a sense of danger, a fear of falling away, and prayer for strength to love one’s enemies.

 

 

Where did these prayers come from?

 

 

 

 

Recent scholarship has rediscovered the ‘Biblical Concordance of the Swiss Brethren’, a topical concordance first published in 1540 and reprinted fourteen times over the next 150 years – the second most printed Anabaptist text. The theological angle taken by the compilers makes a huge diffrence in topical concordances (‘Nave’s’ has three whole columns on ‘Dishonesty’ and only seven lines on ‘Discipleship’!). The topical concordance of the Swiss Brethren is an aid to scripture memorization with a practical slant – its themes form a journey through Christian discipleship. It begins with the Fear of God, them moves through Repentance, Discipleship, Rebirth, Service of God, Faith, Baptism, Spirit, Persecution, Bearing Witness and so on. Later we see themes like Pride, Treasure, No one can serve two Masters, Do Not Depend on the Great Crowd, Brotherly Rebuke, and so on. Some verses are printed in full, for others references are simply given. The idea was to aid a largely illiterate people in memorizing the key biblical texts for Christian discipleship.

 

 

 

 

These texts informed the prayer lives of the Anabaptists; many of the verses keep showing up in the written prayers found in Martyrs’ Mirror and other places. Arnold Snyder calls their spirituality ‘A piety of the remembered word’. These texts also show up again and again in the court testimonies of Anabaptists who were on trial for their beliefs. This topical concordance is not a leisurely document for people who want to study erudite theology; it is a Christian survival guide for a persecuted people, and it helped them become a Bible people and a praying people.

 

 

 

 

Disciples who sing.

 

 

After coffee Alan and Ellie introduced us to the ‘Ausbund’, the oldest hymnal in continual use in any Christian tradition, a sixteenth century book still used today by the Amish.

 

 

 

 

In the 1530s sixty people were brought into a crowded prison in Passau, Moravia. They were held for years, and some of them died there. Among them were some excellent hymnists, and they wiled away their time composing hymns together. This group produced the original fifty-one hymns of the ‘Ausbund’, and the themes reveal the tone of Anabaptism at the time. One dominant theme is ‘confidence’ – ‘God will not abandon us’. Twenty years later eighty additional hymns were added.

 

 

 

 

Here is a sample hymn (translated from German into English):

 

 

I cry to you from deepest need

 

O God, hear my call

 

 

Send your Holy Spirit to us

 

 

To comfort our deepest despair

 

 

As you have done to now, O Christ

 

 

We rely on your command

 

 

but now they want to kill us.

 

 

 

 

The flesh is weak, as you know

 

 

It fears the smallest pain

 

 

So fill us with your Spirit

 

 

We pray from our hearts

 

 

So that we may remain until the end

 

 

And go bravely into suffering

 

 

And not fear the pain.

 

 

 

 

The spirit is surely willing

 

 

to undergo suffering

 

 

Hear us, O Lord,

 

 

Through Jesus Christ your beloved Son!

 

 

We pray also for our enemies

 

 

Who know not what they do

 

 

and think not of your wrath.

 

 

 

 

We ask you, Father and Lord

 

 

As your loving children

 

 

Kindle the light through Jesus Christ

 

 

Even more in your little flock

 

 

That would be our hearts’ desire

 

 

That for which we hunger and thirst

 

 

And would bring us greatest joy.

 

 

 

 

You have received us in grace

 

 

And made us your servants

 

 

This we have all done willingly

 

 

And fulfilled with your help

 

 

Keep us pure in your word

 

 

We want to be obedient to you

 

 

Give us aid and comfort

 

 

 

 

You, Lord God, are our protection

 

 

We lift ourselves up to you

 

 

So it is but a small pain

 

 

If our lives be taken from us

 

 

You have prepared for us in eternity

 

 

So if here we suffer insult and blows

 

 

It will not be for nothing.

 

 

 

 

Body, soul, life, and limbs

 

 

We have received from you

 

 

These we offer up to you

 

 

To praise and glorify your name

 

 

It is nothing but dust and ashes

 

 

We commend to you our spirit, O God,

 

 

Take it into your hands. Amen.

 

 

(Seven Prisoners in Gmund).

 

 

 

Common themes in the hymns include: grace, discomfort, desperation, prayer that God will keep them faithful, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the church as a ‘little flock’. Context is obviously vitally important; these are the hymns of a persecuted people who feel themselves to be in a precarious position in the world. Their desire is to be faithful to God, and the hymns they wrote have great value to us today. If a Christian community sings only triumphant hymns, how will that help the members when they fall into trouble? And also these hymns link us to Christians who suffer today around the world.

 

 

Bringing the tradition alive today.

 

 

In the afternoon Alan and Ellie reflected on the fact that Christians of all traditions seem to be praying and reading the Bible far less than our forebears did. There is less scripture memorization and Christians feel less confident in praying.

 

 

 

 

This led them to tell the story of the Anabaptist Daily Office which has been under development for some years. I will not repeat the story as there is a wealth of information about it at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary website here.

 

 

 

 

This was another great day with Alan and Ellie. for myself, it led me to consider a number of questions:

 

    • Why don’t I memorise scriptures? I did at one time, but haven’t for many years. The plethora of different translations is obviously a problem here, but they way in which the texts from the topical concordance shaped the prayer life of the early Anabaptists is a real challenge to me.
    • How important is context in the writing of hymns and songs? Today many contemporary worship songs have little sense of context or story at all. If we really wrote hymns and songs that come out of our present experience and are informed by the biblical story, what would they look like?
    • How can we help people who feel little confidence in Bible reading and prayer? In Anglicanism we have along tradition of the daily office, but it is not very accessible to most church people. How can we provide resource for people to help them pray with confidence?
 

Sabbatical Report #10: Residential Conference

Over the long weekend (May 26th – 28th) Marci and I attended the residential conference of the Anabaptist Network. The conference was held at Barnes Close, a conference centre which is also the headquarters of the Community for Reconciliation. The building used to be the country home of the Cadbury family, makers of famous chocolate; it is set in idyllic countryside, with the rather glaring exception that a very busy motorway runs about half a mile from the back garden, in full view down the slope of the hill, its noise always in the background whenever you are wandering the grounds!

 

 

 

The speakers at the conference were Alan and Ellie Kreider from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. Alan was the director of the London Mennonite Centre for many years, and he and Ellie were instrumental in the journeys of many people in England toward an Anabaptist view of Christianity. They are obviously well-loved; many people at the conference knew them and there were lots of hugs and ‘catching up’ type conversations going on all through the weekend. Alan and Ellie have a wonderful teaching style; most of their talks are given jointly, with each of them chipping in, and Alan also explained to us how they develop the content together.

 

 

 

 

This conference had a sensible schedule: breakfast at 8.30 a.m., first activities at 10.00 a.m., lots of time for breaks and conversations. This was important, as someone told me that they saw the residential conference as ‘more of a family get-together than a conference, really!’ It was good for me too, as I had the opportunity to get to know some of the people who make up the Anabaptist Network around the country. This included the opportunity to have some serious conversation with Stuart Murray Williams on the subject of interactive preaching, and (as I mentioned in my last post) the opportunity to meet fellow-bloggers Graham Old and Richard Gillingham.

 

 

 

 

Worship at this conference was a great joy. For the most part it was not liturgical (with the exception of one Evening Prayer using the new Anabaptist daily office materials), but neither was it the usual ‘contemporary’ mass of emotional choruses repeated ten times over (all about how I feel about Jesus). It had real content – readings, thoughtful contemporary songs, broad intercessions – and was capably led by Sian Murray Williams.

 

 

 

 

The theme of the ‘conference’ part of the weekend was ‘Worship and Mission after Christendom’. Stuart Murray Williams explained to us that Alan and Ellie are writing a book on this subject for the ‘After Christendom’ series, and were using this conference as an opportunity to test out some of the material. Some of their main emphases were:

 

 

 

 

Mission and Worship are locked together. It isn’t that church services are intended to be evangelistic events (they aren’t – they are primarily intended to worship God and build up believers). Rather, genuine worship transforms the worshippers so that we go out to take our place in God’s mission in the world. Also, God’s mission has as its goal cosmic reconciliation and universal worship – the whole creation joining together to worship the one true God – and so worship leads to mission which leads back into worship.

 

 

 

 

Mission in post-Christendom is changing its focus. In the ‘classical missionary tradition’ the church sent full-time, trained, specialist missionaries from Christendom to far-away places – heathendom – with the intention of saving souls and building up the church. In post-Christendom we are recovering the sense that we all participate in God’s mission, which is not just about saving souls but restored relationships – with God, with one another, and with the creation. This goal is portrayed in Isaiah 11:1-9. In this ‘Missio Dei’ (‘Mission of God’) approach, God is the one who sends, and he sends all his people – not just full-time, trained specialists – to every place where brokenness exists. Every Christian is involved in this and most of us will participate in it in our place of work. This involves learning to ask the question ‘Where is what I am doing leading? How is it contributing to the peaceable kingdom of Isaiah 11:1-9?’

 

 

 

 

Story is tremendously important. God’s story is a big story in five acts. Act 1 is the Creation, Act 2 the rebellion, Act 3 the story of Israel, and Act 4 the story of Jesus. Act 5 is divided into four scenes: Scene 1 is the rest of the New Testament, scene 2 the story of the church, and Scene 4 is the future. We are in this story; we are helping to shape scene 3!

 

 

 

 

Biblical worship takes story seriously. Stories of worship in the Bible are full of narrative: the worship service on the shores of the Red Sea in Exodus 15, the Passover story in Exodus 12, the historical psalms, the gospel stories which were probably told and retold in New Testament worship before being written down, sermons which consist largely in telling stories, and rites like Holy Communion and footwashing which also tell stories.

 

 

 

 

The biblical story seems ‘odd’ to modern people, firstly because its values seem upside down (God works through marginal people), and secondly because it assumes that God exists and does things. So we need to be socialized into a society which is shaped by God’s story. God’s story also has a hook in it – the ‘motive clause’: ‘As God has treated you, so you are to treat others’. We tell God’s story preeminently in worship – in sermons, in stories, in pictures, in drama, and through the church year – and in this way worship shapes the community.

 

 

 

 

God also calls us to tell stories of our immediate past – to ‘give testimony’, which Alan and Ellie described as ‘Christians giving reports from the front’. ‘The Church’s task is to collect evidence that God is alive and share it with others’.

 

 

 

 

Biblical worship is multi-voiced. In a study of 1 Corinthians 14 we examined the ‘pot-luck supper’ style of worship in the early Christian communities, where it seems that everyone was expected to contribute, bringing a psalm, a song, a revelation, a word of prophecy etc. All contributions were weighed and tested, and leaders (if they were there) would need to be skilled in enabling the participation of all. The result is a strong sense of the presence of God (‘Surely God is among you’ – verse 25).

 

 

 

 

Why do outsiders come to join in worship services that are not designed with them in mind? Three reasons. First, because they are coming with a friend they have learned to know and trust. Second, because the Christians appear to be interesting (the church needs to be a mysterious place where surprising things happen!). Third, because as a result of these first two reasons, people sense that God exists. To sum up: friendship, intrigue, and the rumour that God is there.

 

 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed Alan and Ellie’s presentations and found them very thought-provoking. The idea of ‘Missio Dei’ – the mission of God, in which all Christians take part, whether they are ‘professional’ or not, is one I’ve believed and taught for a long time. Members of St. Margaret’s, I hope, will recognize it! Success in church life comes, not when the pews are full to bursting, but when we all go to work on Monday morning, not just to make a living, but to make a difference for Christ and his Kingdom. This means thinking of so-called ‘ordinary’ Christians as the front line of Christian mission. Clergy, pastors, priests – we’re the support workers, equipping God’s people for their mission in the world. And that gives us an enormous responsibility to make sure that the equipping we do does actually help them live as faithful followers of Jesus in the world in which they live.

 

 

 

 

Not that this means we never mention anything but professional ethics. As Alan and Ellie said, one of the most important things we do as we worship week by week is immerse ourselves in the big story of God’s love as it has been at work from the beginning of creation until the last day comes. In the Anglican church, I think in some ways we do quite well here. Because we follow the Christian year, we tell the story of Jesus regularly, going over and over the big events of his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Where we fall down, I think, is helping people to connect the little stories they hear in the weekly lectionary readings to the big story, the grand narrative of the Bible. As I’ve presented ‘Christian Basics’ and ‘Growing and Living as a Christian’ courses to people, over and over again they’ve told me that one of the most helpful things has been the overview of the whole story of the Bible, which gives them the sense of where the individual parts fit in.

 

 

 

 

I love the idea of testimony as ‘stories from the front’, and the idea that the church is in the business of collecting evidence that God is alive and then sharing it with people. We don’t do enough of that in our church. Lately we’ve decided to try to give people more opportunities for sharing their stories, as a way not only of raising our level of expectation in the gospel but also of getting to know one another better. Alan and Ellie also emphasized that we aren’t only sharing personal stories here but also big stories of how God has done the seemingly impossible, such as the ending of apartheid in South Africa without the blood bath that was expected.

 

 

 

 

I’m comforted by the idea of outsiders coming to worship because they come with a trusted friend, and because the Christians are interesting, and because they suspect that God is real – but a little nagging doubt inside is saying, “Is this based on empirical evidence? Can we actually point to non-churchgoing people who have been attracted to the Christian faith in this way? Or is it just a nice theological idea?’ I’d like to know the answer to that one. I do know of people who were lapsed churchgoers who have joined our church family at St. Margaret’s, despite the fact that we use a liturgy and don’t specialise in seeker-sensitive churches. But I’m not sure if it would work as well for people who have no church memory at all. I just don’t know.

 

 

 

 

The aspect of Alan and Ellie’s vision that was the mot challenging was the multi-voiced worship as found in 1 Corinthians 14. Our system in the Anglican church is so clerical, even today, even though we have people doing readings and intercessions, lay readers helping to lead the service, and so on. We don’t have the sense that Paul had, that every member is free and expected to contribute a hymn, a prayer, a word from God, etc. I’m not even sure how we would build that into our way of doing Sunday worship – or if people would accept it if we tried to do it. Personally I find it tremendously attractive, and am moving a little in that direction as I experiment with preaching that is more interactive rather than exclusively monologues from the front of the building.

 

 

 

 

All in all, a great weekend, and much to ponder and be thankful for.

 

 

 

 

The conference at Scargill, which I was supposed to be attending from May 30th – June 3rd, was cancelled, so I have the opportunity to join Alan and Ellie at the London Mennonite Centre this weekend where they are presenting a Cross-Currents seminar on Spirituality in the Anabaptist tradition. I’m looking forward to that one in a big way!

 

 

 

 

Sabbatical Report #9: Book Report

 

John D. Roth, Editor: Engaging Anabaptism


In this fine book John Roth, an American Mennonite scholar, author, and editor of the Mennonite Quarterly Review, has invited thirteen scholars who have been influenced by Anabaptism to share their reflections on the Anabaptist tradition. Most of the essays include autobiography and tribute; some of them also offer friendly criticism. The authors include names that were familiar to me (Stanley Hauerwas, Glen Stassen, Samuel Escobar, Christopher Rowland, Stuart Murray, Richard Hays, Rodney Clapp) and others with whom I was not familiar (James McClendon Jr., Christopher Marshall, Nancey Murphy, Eoin de Bhaldraithe, Richard Mouw, Michael Cartwright).

 


I will point out right from the start that this is a book written by scholars, and so it cannot help but have a scholarly flavour to it. The editor acknowledges from the beginning that this is problematic: ‘Does the growing impulse to frame Anabaptist-Mennonite theology in the systematic, highly self-conscious language of the academy inevitably attenuate a faith that is best expressed in daily discipleship and the living experience of the community?’ (p.13). Anabaptism has a theological tradition, but at heart it is a way if living; I suspect that most of the authors represented in this volume would acknowledge that fact (Hauerwas is particularly eloquent on the issue!)..

 


What has drawn these thirteen scholars (none of whom are Mennonites and very few of whom belong to Anabaptist denominations) toward Anabaptism? One name appears over and over again in the pages of this book: the late John Howard Yoder. Perhaps the greatest of all twentieth century Mennonite theologians (and not one with whom all Mennonites are happy, I might add!), his magisterial 1972 volume The Politics of Jesus is mentioned in almost every essay in this book as having had an enormous impact on the thinking of these scholars. Some of them (Hauerwas, Escobar, Cartwright) knew Yoder personally; most knew him only through his writings. Yoder’s ideas about the call of the Church, about Constantinianism and its corrupting influences, about pacifism as integral to the gospel, and (above all) about Jesus and the Kingdom of God, have obviously been formational for these scholars.

 


What attracts them about the Anabaptist way? Christopher Marshall’s essay is perhaps one of the clearest on this question; he talks about the impact of Yoder’s Politics of Jesus and, delightfully, The More With Less Cookbook, and writes about how both books emphasized ‘the same fundamental Anabaptist conviction: that to be a Christian means following Jesus; that following Jesus means taking Jesus’ ethical teaching seriously; and that taking Jesus seriously means a lifestyle of simplicity, service, and peacemaking’ (p.41). Listing the things he has gained from Anabaptism, he mentions first ‘its integrative Christocentrism. From Anabaptism I have learned that the essential mark of Christian identity is not simply a correct theological evaluation of the person and work of Christ but a conformity to the way of life taught and demonstrated by Jesus in the gospel records’. On this subject he mentions an issue that I have also seen highlighted by other Anabaptist writers:

 

‘…in the mainstream traditions, doctrinal Christocentrism has tended to eclipse ethical Christocentrism. In other words, what one believes about Christ has been more important than whether one actually obeys him in action…Tellingly, the church’s historic creeds are all but silent on ethics in general and the strenuous demands of Jesus in particular. This has allowed the church historically to bear the name of Christ but to do the work of the devil at the same time. In the interests of doctrinal orthodoxy the church has raised armies and waged war, tortured heretics and burned witches, persecuted dissenters and compelled conversions’.

 


Marshall goes on to mention how the ethical Christocentrism of Anabaptism has furnished him with a framework for interpreting the scriptures: the three principles he lists are (1) that the proper setting for the interpretation of the scriptures is the gathered community of believers, not the academic ivory tower, (2) that whatever in scripture agrees with Jesus’ teaching and example conveys God’s word for today, and whatever contradicts the way of Jesus is no longer God’s intention for the new covenant community, and (3) that in order to understand correctly what is written about Christ in scripture and what is consistent with his life and teaching, one must also walk with Christ the path of costly obedience. I suspect that all the contributors to this book would echo Marshall’s words here.

 


Stanley Hauerwas lists some of the things he has learned from the Anabaptism tradition.

 

  • The obligation of Christians to tell one another the truth requires us to develop skilful modes of speech in order to say no more than needs to be said.
  • Lack of money can be a resource that enriches a community as it makes cooperation and agreements necessary for survival.
  • Theology is not a thought that can be abstracted from the practices of a people. Theology has to be understood as just one more practice of a people who have learned that their lives depend on learning how to share their lives.

 

Other authors add to the list.

 

  • Glen Stassen mentions his conviction that Christendom has developed a tradition of evading the way of Jesus. He points out that very few textbooks on Christian ethics actually learn anything constructive from the Sermon on the Mount, and pays tribute to the way that the Anabaptist tradition has made the Sermon central in its understanding of discipleship.
  • Samuel Escobar mentions John Howard Yoder’s influence in Latin America, where marginalized evangelical Christian groups made ready connections with his teaching, coming as it did from the heart of another marginalized tradition, Anabaptism.
  • Chris Rowland, who has written extensively about liberation theology, also draws parallels between the 16th century Anabaptist congregations and the contemporary Latin American Base Ecclesial Communities (Chris, like other British contributors to the book, mentions the influence of Alan and Ellie Kreider in his own journey toward the Anabaptist way).
  • Stuart Murray mentions the clear understanding in Anabaptism of the negative impact of Constantinianism and Christendom on the mission of the church. He also points out that today, in a culture in which ‘fewer and fewer people are looking for a ticket to heaven’ but are more interesting in learning to live authentically, Anabaptism’s emphasis ‘on the person and life of Jesus and on the call to follow him in life (is)…helpful and challenging’ (p.100). Another feature he mentions is Anabaptism’s ‘insistence that spirituality and economics belong together’ (p.101).

 

 

 

It would be easy to go on, but I don’t want to write a lengthy review, and I do want to mention the criticism that comes up most frequently in the pages of the book. As I said, none of the authors come from Anabaptist traditions and most of them do not belong to denominations which identify themselves as Anabaptist. The editor, John Roth, mentions in his preface how, for those authors who belong to more liturgical traditions, ‘the absence of a sacramental theology within Anabaptism leaves its adherents susceptible to a works-righteousness that allows the divine initiative to be overshadowed by human efforts’ (p.13). As Roth says, this is particularly noticeable in those authors coming from more liturgical and sacramental traditions, such as Hauerwas, Cartwright and Hays (Methodists), and Clapp (Anglican).

 

 

 

Stanley Hauerwas admits that the aspect of Mennonite life he finds most problematic is the way Mennonites worship; ‘Zwingli’s rationalistic tendencies have won’. Mennonites, he says, ‘need to consider, in a way faithful to Mennonite life, why Word and Table cannot be separated’. Rodney Clapp testifies that, indebted as he is to Anabaptism, he remains an Episcopalian because of ‘the sacraments and sacramental theology…Zwinglian memorialistic understandings of baptism and the Lord’s Supper all too readily play into individualistic, subjectivistic tendencies’. He also points out that, in the modern age in which the word is becoming less important than the image, traditions which emphasise the visual as well as the verbal may be better placed to engage in mission. Michael Cartwright, a friend of John Howard Yoder who helped edit one of his collections of essays, also engages with him vigorously on this same point of sacramental theology and practice, offering perhaps the most negative assessment of a point of Anabaptist thought to be found in this collection. Understandably, those authors who come from more Baptist or evangelical traditions do not share this view, and in fact do not mention the issue at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has been very enjoyable book and has helped me to understand both my attraction to Anabaptism and the weaknesses I see in it, which (for the moment at least) cause me to remain an Anglican. Like the authors of this volume, I love the clear Christocentrism of Anabaptism: its commitment not just to believing in Jesus and worshipping Jesus, but actually practicing the things Jesus taught and demonstrated. I love historic Anabaptism’s emphasis on the ministry of all Christians, its understanding of the church as a gathered community of believers, its connection of baptism with discipleship and church discipline, its unapologetic commitment to peace and nonviolence, to truth-telling, to simplicity of life and mutual aid. I also love and admire the way that its best-known contemporary practitioners, the Mennonites, are so committed to mission and service (Glen Stassen writes of how almost all of the faculty of Goshen College ‘had worked or taught in service or mission projects somewhere abroad’, and how most of the students ‘spend a semester in service among needy people in Latin America or elsewhere’).

 

 

 

But I have to admit that when I worship with Mennonites, I miss the liturgy and the sacraments. I’m not a nitpicky liturgist; my tradition is evangelical, which means I love simplicity and informality. But I also love the way traditional liturgies combine all the essential elements of worship: praise and thanksgiving, reading and exposition of scripture, penitence, thanksgiving, intercession, and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Especially the last one. For better or for worse, the Anglican Church of Canada has moved toward a weekly celebration of the Eucharist, and I have come to really appreciate this. Once every three months just won’t cut it for me.

 

 

 

 

One more thing this book has done for me is to give me a direction for my continuing sabbatical reading. I have already read a couple of Yoder’s books, but am now determined that The Politics of Jesus will be my next sabbatical book (I bought it when I was in London). Also, when I go back to London Mennonite Centre next month I plan to buy some more of his books, and to read as much of his writing as I can lay my hands on. I suspect that coming to grips with Yoder will be one of the best ways of coming to grips with the significance of contemporary Anabaptism.