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The following text was delivered to a gathering at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando on July 5, 2017. A hard copy of this text may be downloaded at this link.

 

The goal of this presentation is to provide a description and definition of Christian formation that reflects an Anabaptist perspective. Corresponding to common usage, the term “spiritual formation” is used here synonymously with “Christian formation.” In addition, and in accord with common usage, “spiritual formation” is the primary term used, until conclusions are drawn at the end of the presentation.

There is a compelling need for the treatment of this topic. Models deriving from two streams dominate literature on spiritual formation emanating from authors identifying with the Western Church. One stream is medieval pietism, which focuses on the believer’s relationship with God. Examples found in this stream include the works of Roman Catholic moral theologians as well as the writings of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and A.W. Tozer. The other stream is Reformed theology, which focuses on one’s behavior toward God. Flowing within this stream are writings from Calvinist authors like J. I. Packer and John Piper. However, this stream also includes works by authors who retain the “two-step” paradigm introduced by John Wesley. This approach to spiritual formation stems from the teaching of Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, and has been propagated by his students with dogged effort. This presentation proposes that spiritual formation from an Anabaptist perspective is not so much a third stream, but a coherent theological and historical bridge between the two prevalent streams of thought. In other words, it provides a more than satisfactory option for one to consider.

The presentation proceeds along the following path: First, following a brief recitation of Anabaptism’s origin and significance, the author explains what he means by an Anabaptist Perspective. Second, from a position within that perspective, the author gives the features of an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation. In so doing, it will be necessary to consider the topic of discipleship, and the place of disciplines in this scheme. Finally, the author will propose a definition of spiritual formation based on the contributions coming from an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANABAPTISM’S ORIGIN AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Contemporary Anabaptists trace their origin to the 16th century Reformation movement distinguished by its insistence on believer’s baptism, hence the moniker Anabaptists or re-baptizers. In addition, these reformers advocated a radical imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, with special attention given to the Sermon on the Mount. They based this conclusion on the conviction that Jesus had inaugurated the promised messianic kingdom during his earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and session.

The Anabaptist insistence on a “believer’s church,” though, put its adherents in direct conflict, not only with Roman Catholics, but also with Protestants, both Lutheran and Reformed. This conflict, in turn, boiled over into opposition from these three groups’ governmental protectors, with whom, in practice, they were effectively merged.[1] When this opposition came to a head in the form of persecution, Anabaptists’ radical adherence to the teaching and example of Jesus prohibited them from active resistance, resulting in widespread deaths.[2]

This brief account of the origin of the Anabaptist movement reveals in seed-form the two most apparent ways in which the practices of its members differ from that of members of contemporary Protestant faith traditions: Anabaptists maintain that the New Testament requires of disciples a level of commitment to Christ’s Kingdom mandating (1) strict separation of church and state and (2) non-resistance or pacifism.

Contemporary Anabaptists are represented primarily by Mennonites and by most groups with the word Brethren in their name.[3] However, their influence can be seen among Baptists and most free-church groups.[4] Evidence for this influence exists not only in the widespread practice of believer’s baptism and in various expressions of the separation of church and state, but also in the adherence to Anabaptism’s teaching on the symbolic nature of the ordinances and the visible nature and autonomy of the local church.

AN ANABAPTIST PERSPECTIVE

The preceding account identified two Anabaptist distinctives: separation of church and state, and pacifism. These, and other, distinctives arise from a particular theological perspective.

The perspective, or story, an interpreter inhabits and, therefore, from which the interpreter reads a text profoundly influences one’s interpretation.[5] Put another way, (more…)

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The following text was delivered to a gathering at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando on July 5, 2017. A hard copy of this text may be downloaded at this link.

 

This presentation provides an interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 that reflects an Anabaptist perspective toward the text. In achieving this goal, the author also demonstrates that an Anabaptist reading of Romans 13:1-7 is a more than satisfactory exegetical option. Therefore, rather than being problematic for Anabaptists, as some interpreters may suppose, Romans 13:1-7 actually reinforces their convictions.

The presentation proceeds along the following path: First, following a brief recitation of Anabaptism’s origin and significance, the author explains what he means by an Anabaptist Perspective. Second, from a position within that perspective, the author comments on the meaning of the Romans text within its broader historical and literary context.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANABAPTISM’S ORIGIN AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Contemporary Anabaptists trace their origin to the 16th century Reformation movement distinguished by its insistence on believer’s baptism, hence the moniker Anabaptists or re-baptizers. In addition, these reformers advocated a radical imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, with special attention given to the Sermon on the Mount. They based this conclusion on the conviction that Jesus had inaugurated the promised messianic kingdom during his earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and session.

The Anabaptist insistence on a “believer’s church,” though, put its adherents in direct conflict, not only with Roman Catholics, but also with Protestants, both Lutheran and Reformed. This conflict, in turn, boiled over into opposition from these three groups’ governmental protectors, with whom, in practice, they were effectively merged.[1] When this opposition came to a head in the form of persecution, Anabaptists’ radical adherence to the teaching and example of Jesus prohibited them from active resistance, resulting in widespread deaths.[2]

This brief account of the origin of the Anabaptist movement reveals in seed-form the two most apparent ways in which the practices of its members differ from that of members of contemporary Protestant faith traditions: Anabaptists maintain that the New Testament requires of disciples a level of commitment to Christ’s Kingdom mandating (1) strict separation of church and state and (2) non-resistance or pacifism.

These contemporary Anabaptists are represented primarily by Mennonites and by most groups with the word Brethren in their name.[3] However, their influence can be seen among Baptists and most free-church groups.[4] Evidence for this influence exists not only in the widespread practice of believer’s baptism and in various expressions of the separation of church and state, but also in the adherence to Anabaptism’s teaching on the symbolic nature of the ordinances and the visible nature and autonomy of the local church.

AN ANABAPTIST PERSPECTIVE

The preceding account identified two prominent Anabaptist distinctives: separation of church and state, and pacifism. One frequently hears that a plain reading of Romans 13:1-7 contradicts these positions. Anabaptists, however, approach these verses from a perspective that finds them compatible with these convictions.

The perspective, or story, an interpreter inhabits and, therefore, from which the interpreter reads a text profoundly influences one’s interpretation.[5] Put another way, two interpreters who use the same interpretive strategies, and yet come to different conclusions, are not necessarily guilty of sloppy exegesis or some nefarious sleight-of-hand. Rather, their disagreement may be due to the fact that each one possesses different presuppositions and preunderstandings. They possess different interpretive perspectives.

What this author is calling the Anabaptist perspective consists of the preunderstandings just visited, but also significant presuppositions. Taken together, these preunderstandings and presuppositions contribute to the development of a salvation-historical story, a story that, in turn, influences the interpretation of Romans 13:1-7.

A significant presupposition among those to which Anabaptists cling concerns the relationship of the parts of the Canon to one another.[6] First, they see a wide discontinuity between the Testaments. The Old Testament, including the Law, testifies of Christ and is fulfilled by him. Second, the Gospel is the Gospels, both in event and in the proclamation they contain. As such they are discipleship manuals. The epistles, on the other hand, explain, interpret, and apply the Gospel to particular people, places, times, and situations. Therefore, the New Testament, specifically the Gospels, containing accounts of the life, teaching—summarized in the Sermon on the Mount—, and work of Jesus is the starting point for ethical instruction. Implications of these presuppositions are embodied in the following salvation-historical story, an Anabaptist account of the scriptural metanarrative. (more…)

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The following list condenses “A Brief Description of Anabaptist Spiritual Formation Salvation History, Cosmic and Personal” into a series of doctrinal positions held by Anabaptists that distinguish them from other groups arising out of the Reformation.

Rule of Christ. Jesus, the Christ, has inaugurated God’s promised messianic kingdom or reign, a reign marked by perpetual Jubilee. Through this inauguration, he has initiated the restoration of shalōm that characterized the original creation.

Voluntary faith. Individuals must exercise faith consciously and freely in order to enter the Kingdom of God. This faith is placed in God on the basis of the Gospel.

Faith and works. Works and faith are inseparable. Faith includes both repentance and discipleship. A good synonym for faith, then, is “allegiance.”

Undivided allegiance to the King. Believers reject all thoughts, words, and actions that would compromise their allegiance to Christ. For example, they do not share this allegiance with any worldly entity, such as a political body like a nation-state.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Signs reserved for believers. They represent and commemorate the Gospel as well as the unity of the body. Therefore, baptism, the rite of initiation into discipleship and into the assembly of believers or disciples, as well as the Lord’s Supper, is reserved for believers.

Social responsibility. Disciples help and comfort the weak, needy, and helpless, both spiritually and materially. Therefore, they live simply. They also instruct, encourage, correct, discipline, and restore one another.

Peace, nonresistance, and non-retaliation. Disciples make peace: They neither resist violence nor retaliate against it, even at the cost of personal suffering. Disciples, then, do not participate in the military of any political body such as a nation-state.

Truth-telling. Disciples tell the truth and do not take oaths.

 

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Final installment in a series of brief, succinct summaries of common, distinctive Anabaptist affirmations followed by notes that clarify, expand, and interpret them

See Part One for “Introductory Remarks on Anabaptism.”

Tenth Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmation

Truth-telling: Disciples tell the truth and do not take oaths.

Notes

Personal integrity is the correspondence of one’s words and deeds. In other words, it is the embodiment of truth. In addition to being the Way and the Life, Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6). He most perfectly embodies integrity. Therefore, one who worships and follows Jesus, the Truth, practices and tells the truth. In fact, truth-telling may be the paramount example of the necessary integration of faith and works in a believer.

In accordance with Christ’s character and the believer’s commitment to Him, Christ commands believers never to take oaths, but simply to affirm “yes” or “no” (Matt 5:34 – 37). An oath affirms that one does not ordinarily tell the truth, an action contrary to existence as a disciple. Furthermore, one blasphemes God through the action of taking an oath. Only God can guarantee future actions. The oath, then, is actually an attempt to manipulate God into guaranteeing an action which the oath-taker, in fact, cannot guarantee.

You may download a document combining all ten parts of the series,  “Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmations,” here.

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Part eight in a series of brief, succinct summaries of common, distinctive Anabaptist affirmations followed by notes that clarify, expand, and interpret them

See Part One for “Introductory Remarks on Anabaptism.”

Eighth Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmation

Social responsibility: Disciples help and comfort the weak, needy, and helpless, especially other disciples. They also instruct, encourage, correct, discipline, and restore one another.

Notes

The believer’s social responsibilities derive from two sets of obligations: (1) Obligations as a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom and, therefore, as Christ’s servant and subject. These obligations correspond to the values and principles of Christ’s Kingdom, including perpetual Jubilee. See part one notes. (2) Obligations as a member of the household or family of God, i.e., the body of Christ, the local church. See part six notes.

The obligations one has to fellow members of the local church may be summarized as a debt to love one another (John 15:12; Rom 13:8) in the context of unity and peace (Eph 4:1 – 3). One specific example of this debt of love is the obligation to share resources, both material and spiritual. Effective sharing requires a commitment to hospitality and simple living, practices which also demonstrate and strengthen the disciple’s faith. Another example of this debt of love is the obligation of mutual spiritual accountability. This accountability includes mutual interpretation of Scripture, discernment, and instruction. It also includes mutual encouragement, correction, and discipline, with the goal of confession, forgiveness, and restoration. When repentance is not forthcoming in these cases, however, the body must suspend fellowship with the erring member for the sake of the church’s purity and integrity before God and before the larger community. Nevertheless, even after suspending fellowship, the church prays for and holds out hope for the restoration of the erring person.

The obligation to make disciples from all nations is implied by what has already been written here, and is explicitly commanded by Christ (Matt 28:19).

The Bible gives specific examples of the weak, needy, and helpless whom the believer is obligated to help and comfort. These people include the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the poor, the grieving, the orphan, the widow, the displaced, the dispossessed, the alien, the ill—both physically and mentally, the disabled, the addicted, the abused, the oppressed, the persecuted, the imprisoned, the enslaved, and the victim of injustice.

You may download a document combining all ten parts of the series,  “Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmations,” here.

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Part seven in a series of brief, succinct summaries of common, distinctive Anabaptist affirmations followed by notes that clarify, expand, and interpret them

See Part One for “Introductory Remarks on Anabaptism.”

Seventh Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmation

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are signs: They represent and commemorate the Gospel.

Notes

Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper provide powerful ways to nourish the faith of participants and witnesses through the physical and personal acting out of the Gospel. In this way one recollects the Gospel and one’s commitment to it. However, in and of themselves, baptism and the Lord’s Supper do not impart grace; the simple act of participation has no spiritual efficacy. In addition, the Lord is not present in or around the elements of the Supper in any way.

As an initiatory rite, baptism symbolizes and recalls the baptism of the Spirit experienced by the believer at conversion, as well as the believer’s pledge made to Christ at conversion. It does so by picturing death, birth, resurrection, and cleansing. The Lord’s Supper symbolizes and recalls the establishment of the New Covenant and its promise of the forgiveness of sins achieved through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. Therefore, only those who have placed faith in Christ, demonstrated by baptism, may participate in the Supper. In addition, both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper signify the believer’s identity with and consequent commitment to the unified local body of believers (1 Cor 12:13; 1 Cor 10:17).

In addition to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, footwashing is an additional way in which the local church acts out and recalls the Gospel. Footwashing was practiced and commanded by Jesus (John 13:2 – 17; cf. Phil 2:6 – 8). It symbolizes cleansing from sin as well as the obligation of humble servanthood that members of the unified body have toward one another.

You may download a document combining all ten parts of the series,  “Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmations,” here.

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Part six in a series of brief, succinct summaries of common, distinctive Anabaptist affirmations followed by notes that clarify, expand, and interpret them

See Part One for “Introductory Remarks on Anabaptism.”

Sixth Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmation

Believers church: Only believers may be covenant members of a local assembly.

Notes

Since faith is inseparable from works and discipleship, only disciples, i.e., baptized believers, may be covenant members of a local assembly.

The New Testament generally identifies local groups of believers with the Greek word ekklēsia, a non-technical term meaning “assembly.” The word evolved through several languages to the English word “church.” The church is a visible assembly of disciples, i.e., baptized believers.

There are two noteworthy New Testament pictures for the local church: “body,” and “household” or “family.” Both pictures connote the unity of the church’s members in the midst of their functional diversity. The words “body,” and “household” or “family” also imply the biblical commitments assembly members have toward one another. See part eight notes.

As a “body,” believers necessarily exist in community: each member requires and complements the functions of the other members. In addition, as the “body of Christ,” the assembly of believers represents Christ to the world in word and deed (1 Cor 12:12 – 31; Eph 4:1 – 16).

As a “family,” believers share a genetic relationship (i.e., a common “genesis” or beginning, a new birth resulting from faith) and mutual responsibility toward one another. The figure of the “family” or “household” is particularly prominent in the Pastoral Epistles. Take note, for example, of the criteria for selecting leaders of the household of God written in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These leaders must be the good deed par excellence. In other words, they demonstrate faith through the consistent exhibition of good works, primarily the traits of an excellent family leader. The author’s argument corresponds to the biblical teaching that individual progress in existential righteousness most effectively occurs through living in the company of virtuous people. In other words, we will follow the examples of our family members and, especially, our family leaders; therefore, these leaders must be people possessing exemplary family virtues. That is, they must be people of unquestionable faith.

You may download a document combining all ten parts of the series,  “Distinctive Anabaptist Affirmations,” here.

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