Anabaptism on the rise and decline

Anabaptism on the rise and decline

One of my friends just returned from Prague.  He is doing a Ph.D. through a seminary out there.  One of the observations he made was about how popular anabaptist thought was out there.  It is weird because most of the Mennonites of Canada have been absorbed in to conservative evangelicalism.  If they have changed in any direction they have become more pragmatic.  In Saskatoon two of four of my denomination’s churches are hard core Saddleback.  So much so that their logos have diamonds in them. I was looking for some design inspiration so I visited every church website in my denomination and found a number of churches advertising for the 40 days of purpose.

It is sad that my faith tradition has forgotten it’s tradition even as it is gaining interest from unlikely places.  I wear the lable Postmodern/Emerging but the label I’m the most comfortable with is Anabaptist.  I imagine there are a lot of people that could find incredible richness in the traditions and theology of their denominations.  Would Wesley recognize the Methodists?  Would Luther recognize the Lutherans?

  1. #1 by graham on September 23, 2004 - 3:00 am

    Unfortunately, Leighton, you are spot on.

    It is such a tragedy that there is a rise of interest in anabaptism (which may just be a fad sparked of by people being into whatever, e.g., Brian McLaren is into) but such a lack of distinctiveness amongst the actual anabaptists.

    I can imagine someone falling in love with anabaptist theology/spirituality and then going along to a mennonite church and not actually being able to spot anything different about it.

    So much for neither Catholic not Protestant! It’s time we gave up the pointless task of trying to be mainstream and began recovering who we really are.

  2. #2 by Kevin Powell on September 23, 2004 - 2:49 pm

    “Would Luther recognize the Lutherans?” is a question that hit me (since I am a Lutheran pastor). If by which you mean, would he recognize 16th century German liturgy, then (in most cases) “no,” our worship would be foreign to him. If you mean the centre of our tradition (justification by faith) then “yes” since, as our traditional also says, it’s the “article on which our church stands or falls.”

    But I also think you’re on to something when you lament the loss of particular faith traditions to the more “successful” models of being church (Saddleback, Willow Creek, etc). We also have some temptation to trade our inheritance for a bowl of soup, as we worry about declining attendance and revenues. But the question that I think we all struggle with is: How do we communicate the gospel in ways that are both effective and faithful to our received tradition? Or even, what parts of our tradition should we sacrifice to make God’s promises more intelligible to an increasingly biblically illiterate age?

  3. #3 by Paul Johnston on September 24, 2004 - 5:48 pm

    Hi Leighton. It’s the Catholic menace again.

    From my perspective, it doesn’t surprise me that Protestant churches continually divide and dissolve. I never thought of the initial reformation as divinely inspired, anyway. It seems to me it was more a case of legitimate criticism of papal abuse and subsequent political opportunism on both sides, then an expression of the will of God.

    The Catholic church is seeing significant declines in participation as well. Perhaps our only hope is for a reunification of the Christian churches. Maybe by drawing from the best of all our traditions and sincerely presenting our desires before the altar of God, he will answer us. God interceded with Abraham, he interceded with Moses, he sent us the the great intercessor in Jesus. If we go to him sincerely, in the true spirit of faith, he will come to us also.

    I beleive in miracles too, Leighton and I can’t help but wonder why we don’t see something of biblical preportion being manifest on earth in our time. The problem can’t be Gods, it has to be ours. And I don’t mean the unbeleivers, I mean us, the beleivers. If we are what we say we are where are our displays of power throught the spirit.

  4. #4 by Toni on September 27, 2004 - 1:45 am

    Just for a change, rather than leap in with both feet, I’ve been thinking about this post.

    I’ll lay my cards on the table first – my position is that as a ‘tradition’ none of them are of any value – from catholicism/EO through to whatever was the last denomination to emerge. Each represents something that God said that was fresh to the church. The problem was that when God next spoke, a significant number stayed behind instead of moving forward.

    The important thing is not to hold on to any one tradition, but to learn the truth that God revealed to each generation, building on that and moving forward to wherever He is now. The question should not be “would Wesley recognise the Methodist church” so much as “would he recognise the same life within what we’re doing now that he saw in his own work”. To borrow a phrase from the bible “all these were looking for a heavenly city” and they knew they hadn’t found the ‘bride of Christ, made perfect’ in their own day. They were stages on the route, in just the same way that we can be.

    There is a higher call on our lives than regenerating things past.

    Paul – you’re quite right in your last passage about the problem not being with God, but with us. This makes me think of that passage in Rev 3 where God talks to the church at Laodicea. It is interesting that the symbology used is Christ standing and knocking on the door of the church. Not people’s hearts (as in the famous painting) but the church. Every so often in history the door has been opened and the displays of power that you desire have been seen.

    I think that God is much less worried about our church structures than we are, but if we insist on doing things our way then the door stays firmly shut.

  5. #5 by Leighton Tebay on September 27, 2004 - 8:25 am


    I think you might have an inherent bias against the word tradition. In your comment you say that you see no value in holding to any tradition, yet you say you want to move forward taking what God has taught each generation. Isn’t what God has taught each generation tradition?

    I believe that God did inspire a lot great stuff in many different movements and it is sad that these movements have completely lost what their founders have. I agree that people shouldn’t stay isolated and listen only to the voices in their own faith tradition.

    I believe we need the tradition of the church help serve as an anchor. Each generation is tempted by the world to adopt its values and these values begin to saturate the church. There was no health/wealth gospel 200 years ago. Nor was their a view of the end times anything like what we might see in popular christian fiction these days. If most of the church in 2000 years took a different approach then the one we are now that should give us an indication that we could be off base.

    Living in the evangelical world which includes charismatics I’d say we have a strong and unfounded bias against anything RC or EO. The reformation through out way too much stuff.

  6. #6 by Toni on September 27, 2004 - 3:16 pm

    This is turning ionto a VERY long post. I’m going to put it on my blog because it’ll be easier to read there, and also I think it’s actually relevant enough to warrant a wider audience.

  7. #7 by Paul Johnston on September 27, 2004 - 4:19 pm

    I agree with the entire substance of your last post Leighton, though it occurs to me that it suggests your are perhaps “renewal” minded and not deconstructionist. What up? Did you turn 30!!!

  8. #8 by Leighton Tebay on September 27, 2004 - 7:25 pm


    Actually I did just turn 30 last Christmas. 🙂

    There is something inherently flawed about protestant/evangelical division based on reason. One group decides they have fallen from the path, they start their own thing, 50-100 years later the cycle repeats itself. It is silly.

    So why am I not RC or EO? I’ve written a couple of posts about EO and I appreciate their depth and history, but I find them a tad dogmatic. I have trouble believing that the church councils should be put in the same league as scripture as far as authority goes.

    I find a lot of tension in my thoughts about the church. On one side I do wish we could all be one church, but at the same time I think there is merit in different faith traditions which approach Jesus from different angles. I do wish those traditions were a lot more cooperative and theologically porous.

  9. #9 by Marc Vandersluys on September 27, 2004 - 7:54 pm

    Hmmmm…Toni, perhaps you should define “tradition”, because I think you and LT are talking about two different things.

    I like G.K. Chesterton’s definition of tradition: “…tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record…Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about” (From “Orthodoxy”, pp. 77,78)

    Maybe I’ll comment more on Toni’s blog

  10. #10 by Toni on September 28, 2004 - 12:41 pm


    If you define tradition as the apostle’s creed then I’d agree with Chesterton. If tradition is the construction of a set of practices which are handed from generation to generation as the ‘way of salvation’ then, while the statement may be true, the concensus is just that – human voices whispering after wind.

    Maybe it’s my arrogance, but I don’t see great men building the kingdom. I see a great God using men that will submit to His will. That’s why I try to reject the things that appear to have been built by people for people, or in some cases have been established by God only to be hijacked later.

    I have a suspicion that actually both LTs and my stance are correct, and that provided we stay in unity, we balance each other. God is a great God, and he appears to like variety.

  11. #11 by Paul Johnston on September 28, 2004 - 8:27 pm

    Before commenting Leighton, I would just lke to thank you for sharing your perspectives. I am inspired by the spirit of faith and wisdom that you, and so many other bloggers, reflect in your posts. I feel that in the brief priod of time I have spent dialoging with you all, you have moved me a little closer to God’s light. Thank you.

    I think, Toni is on to something when he opines that unity is crucial. Likewise, your statement regarding Christian sects being more theologically porous is equally important. Personally I desire a better understanding of any Christian protocols that a group of believers are certain, through their experience, lead to a fuller, more intimate relationship with Jesus, through the Holy Spirit.

    It seems to me, if all sects would consider surrendering dogma that is primarily cultural and or legalistic in content and insist only upon retaining that which is/was responsible for the spiritual sustenance of their community, compromise, unity and diversity are attainable goals.

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