Saturday, November 19, 2011

Four Points of Anabaptist Theology: Part 6 Conclusion

Conclusion

There is much that the Anabaptists have contributed to the Free Church movement over the years. As a Southern Baptist, the author clearly sees much in common with these Anabaptist cousins and, of course, there are distinct differences. Concerning the ordinance of baptism, rejecting paedobaptism wholesale is a direct result of simply reading the Scriptures. There can be no doubt that baptism follows coming to an understanding that one is in need of Christ and making a profession of belief in Him. The Believer’s Baptism is common in most Baptist churches today.

While the accepted mode of baptism was initially by immersion, many Mennonite congregations today perform baptism by effusion.[1] Though this seminarian believes that the preferred mode of baptism should be by immersion, it is doubtful that there was a large amount of water on hand when Cornelius and his family were saved in Acts 10 yet Peter commanded they be baptized. Perhaps this was by effusion or aspersion. There is no way to be certain but perhaps immersion was not the only way the Apostles baptized but clearly a profession of faith preceded baptism.

Anabaptists rightly understand the nature of the Lord’s Supper as a memorial for the risen Savior. Anabaptists believe that the spirit of Christ is present in a special way during the Lord’s Supper but reject the notion that the bread transforms in the Christ’s flesh and the wine transforms into the blood. Transubstantiation taught by the Roman Catholic Church and consubstantiation taught by Martin Luther both insist in the actual presence of the flesh and blood of Christ though Luther advocated for a view of the body and bread and blood and wine respectively occupying the same space at the same time. Sacerdotalism results from the former view and confusion from the later.

A closer reading of Scripture is in order on this point. When Christ breaks the bread and gave it to them he said “This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” It is clear that Christ was using symbolism in Luke 22:19-20. Jesus knew that the bread he had broken symbolically would be a powerful symbol for the church to retain and likewise the blood. To arrive at the conclusions that Luther and the Roman church did from this passage of Scripture, frankly, reads more into the text than is present.

Economic sharing or the community of goods approach to living worked well for persecuted peasants living in poverty. This pooling of resources benefits this group during a time when day to day survival was challenging. However, this would come to be abused in some Anabaptist communities as previously discussed. Wealthy Mennonite landowners would grow to be more comfortable with the aristocracy than with members of their own faith community leading to a separation between the two.

More closely resembling the practice of modern churches is the evolution of the community of goods into a mutual aid approach to helping neighbors in times of need. Yes, everything one owned belonged to God but the people remained in the land and in their homes. One can imagine the hospitality demonstrated by these Anabaptists one towards another if each practiced this doctrine. Such economic sharing coupled with the collection of voluntary offerings for those in need is not foreign to most Baptist churches today.

Perhaps the doctrine Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Quakers are best known for is that of pacifism. Unlike most of the rest of Christendom, the Anabaptists adopted a strong opposition to violence and the use of force. Even the notion of a just war is unacceptable given the Scriptures that teach love and peace. One must admire, if for no other reason than the idealism embodied in the practice of this belief, a group of people who have consistently adhered to the practice of nonviolence for such a long period of time refusing to be swayed by popular opinion or world events. When the rest of Christianity embraced the idea that some wars are just because of their cause, the Anabaptists endured persecution in the face of their refusal to compromise this belief.

Arising from the same angst that gave birth to the Reformation yet finding themselves persecuted by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers, the Anabaptists endured and have continued to this day. From outward appearances one can easily conclude that they continue to grow and reach their communities much the same as other Christian denominations in the United States and around the world. There is much to admire about the theology of the Anabaptists as well as their practical approach to living out their Christian faith.

Of these four points, the author is able to enthusiastically embrace the first three. On the point of pacifism, perhaps reconsideration is in order though at the present time there seems to be merit in the concept of the just war. This may be more a result of sociology than theology. Still, a brief survey of current world event can easily lead one to conclude that there is surely evil in the world though that may simply be in the eyes and mind of the author.



[1] Mead, Frank S., Samuel S. Hill, and Craig D. Atwood. Handbook of Denominations in the United States (12th ed.). (Nashville: Abington Press, 2005), 149.

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