We are all familiar with that guy—the high water mark of his life being his senior year of high school—who is always looking back on that one moment when he was actually relevant and longing for those glory days to return, right?
It is the tendency of some to romanticize the past and something very easy to do when things aren’t going as well as we’d like in the present. Occasionally this sentimentalism about the past is useful reflection, but oftentimes it is no more than our fear of a future that seems uncertain and keeps us from the greater fulfillment of our potential as an individual or together as a group.
We read about those who rejected what would have brought them into the promised land who “in their hearts turned back to Egypt” and “worship the symbols of their former greatness rather than understand” (Acts 7:39) in Scripture. Because of this idolatrous preference for things past-tense a generation of Israelites escaped the bondage of Egypt only to wander aimlessly in the wilderness because they did not trust God to overcome the giants of their time.
It is fashionable nowadays in some conservative Mennonite or somehow otherwise related circles to use the word “Anabaptist” as a means to distinguish themselves. This resurrection of Anabaptist identity seems to both be a response to a perceived lukewarmness in the established tradition and also a rejection of what is often labeled Evangelicalism. But what it often amounts to is no more than a change of window dressing and nothing more.
In many cases it seems these new Anabaptists are simply another hybrid/remix version of conservative Mennonite standards with Biblical fundamentalism, Revivalism, Pietism, along with many other more recent innovations and influences. These self-proclaimed Anabaptists may actually be more at odds with their ancestors than their Old Order cousins whom they consider to be their spiritual inferiors. There is no new life, only rewarmed leftovers of yesterday’s meals and a new distraction.
Early Anabaptists did not spend their days in obsessive omphaloskepsis or in preserving a religious cultural identity. They were men emboldened by the Spirit to question the authority of their own human teachers and break from tradition passed to them. They were rebels, branded as troublemakers and thought to be dangerous heretics.
If your primary goal in life is raising your quiverful and maintaining a respectable image in church or society in general, then you, my friend, are no George Blaurock.
Are modern day Anabaptist wannabes doomed to wander a spiritual wilderness?
The short answer is, no.
We all have choices to make in the present that will shape our future and the choice is still in front of us all.
Here’s your choice: Will you be like those who stubbornly clung to the past for security and missed out on the promised land because of their lack of faith? Or, will you this day choose to stop burying your talents in fear, invest fully in trust of God’s grace and rest completely in the Spirit’s ability to lead you as it did Jesus?
Jesus, when his authority was questioned, pointed to John’s Baptism (Mathew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8) and a moment of special spiritual anointing recorded in all of the Gospels.
We are told the sky was “torn open” (Mark 1:9-11) then the Spirit of God descended upon him “in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:21-23) “and alighted on him” (Matthew 3:13-17) and immediately after this: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…” (Luke 4:1) I believe those writers wanted us to know what gave Jesus authority and direction—what say you?
This is what I read: Jesus appealed to an authority greater than the experts on Scripture and theology back then could duplicate. He points to something spiritually significant that accompanied his physical water Baptism. An anointing by God that immediately leads him to the wilderness where he is tempted and then emerges to read from Isaiah “the Spirit of God is upon me” claiming it to be fulfilled that day in him to a stunned and incredulous audience.
But, besides that, there is another Biblical accounting of the Baptism of Jesus with an added detail of great importance, the testimony of John:
“I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is Godʼs Chosen One.” (John 1:32-34)
Jesus did not only live as an example and die as a sacrifice for our sins. No, according to the passage above, he came to deliver on a promise. That promise was a spiritual anointing like his available to all who believe.
That promise being “the Spirit of truth” that the world (including many who falsely claim to believe Jesus) cannot accept as real (John 14-17) and is only known to those who have been anointed or “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and is what was experienced on the day of Pentecost in an event Peter claims was foretold by the prophet Joel before preaching a message of repentance:
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
What is the first step out of the wilderness?
#1) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15) Which means turning away from our sinful attitudes and behaviors—be Baptized, then live in obedience to the teachings of Jesus as we know them. The Baptism of repentance is something we do as both a symbolic gesture and also as part of sincere effort to put to practice the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.
This is the most difficult step for those raised in a Christian religious tradition. We know how to follow the rules or behave ourselves and act right. However, this is often a commitment without sacrifice and an occasion to stumble over our own pride. We become like the prodigal son who never left home yet was far from repentance.
Keep repenting as need be.
#2) “Ye must be born again.” (John 3:1-21) This was something perplexing to Nicodemus and still mysterious to us. Jesus says “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” then adds that only the Spirit gives birth to the spirit. As surely as you didn’t give birth to yourself the first time you will not give birth to yourself spiritually. For man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
There are many spiritual infants in the church today or those who rely on their own human reasoning and not the power of God. There was recently a man, ordained in the Mennonite church, who confessed to his not being spiritually born when he started as a preacher. We send missionaries out full of themselves or a religious indoctrination and youthful ambition rather than tell them to wait on the fullness of Spirit to come to them as Jesus urged his disciples.
#3) “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.” (1 John 2:20) Do you have that confidence? Or are you like those Paul encountered who were Baptized in water of repentance and yet…
“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘Johnʼs baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘Johnʼs baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:1-6)
There are many who have been Baptized with water of repentance who are still not quickened in Spirit. There are two Baptisms, one physical and the other spiritual, one is to show our repentance and another is of God clothing us. I pray God sends the willing of this generation to lay hands on those who are Baptized yet still spiritual powerless and that through prayer they are anointed in the name of the Lord Jesus.
#4) “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint…” (Proverbs 29:18) The word revelation (also translated as vision) is about spiritual foresight and leadership. When there is no spiritual vision people cast off restraint, run wild, perish, etc.
Vision is not about looking backwards for answers. This is not medieval Switzerland, you are not George Blaurock, I am not Conrad Grebel, and we can’t recreate the 1500’s today nor should we want to. Tent meetings, Sunday schools, VBS (or any of the other innovations of a prior era) do not need to be preserved ad infinitum either. We have work to do, work God has given us to do in this present moment using the advantages we are given.
Yes, the witness of faithfulness past-tense should not be forgotten and is a great encouragement. Take these translated words of “Gott, dich will ich loben” (God, You I Will Praise) a hymn written by Blaurock before his martyrs death have great value:
“Lord God, how do I praise Thee From hence and evermore, That Thou real faith didst give me By which I Thee may know. Forget me not, O Father, Be near me evermore; Thy Spirit shield and teach me, That in afflictions great Thy comfort I may ever prove, And valiantly may obtain The victory in this fight.”
But putting those words to actual practice does not mean we should be consummate historians, full of knowledge of the past and light on vision for the future. We should not be like those obsessed with their former glory, trying to be great again by looking backwards, rather we should be full of the Spirit and a vision for today.
The real Anabaptist is the one who does as they did and recklessly pursues the truth regardless of personal cost. We need a radical faith, one that uses the technological means and media of today, that reaches the world with authentic self-sacrificial love. We have tools at our disposal that give of us capabilities that our ancestors could hardly even imagine.
Ultimately, however, for any of our tools, technology and historical knowledge to be useful, we need a spiritual awakening. Real Christian vision is not a product of human ability or effort, it comes from the Spirit of God—For any of our advantages to matter we must be born again.
Those who walk in the Spirit look forward with a positive vision and a great hope for the future.
6 thoughts on “Will the Real Anabaptists Please Stand Up…”
Joel, you have another great article here. One of the amusing things about the adoption of the term “Anabaptist” by the conservatives is that the liberals also picked it up, maybe even before they did. When my dad went to Eastern Mennonite College (very liberal) in the 80’s, they were busy talking about being Anabaptists. Now the conservatives are joining with the liberals in proudly bearing the title. Like the word “Mennonite”, it means essentially nothing anymore.
You had a great point about looking backward and basing our lives on the past. How can we follow the Spirit and go forward when we are follow those who went before and are now dead?
I also thought you made a good statement when you wrote, “Ultimately, however, for any of our tools, technology and historical knowledge to be useful, we need a spiritual awakening. Real Christian vision is not a product of human ability or effort, it comes from the Spirit of God—For any of our advantages to matter we must be born again.” This is what is missing from the non-Mennonite churches that are putting on the flashy shows. They are not following the Spirit and using technology to further God’s kingdom. They are using technology to put on a great show and replace the Holy Spirit.
But that doesn’t mean that technology is bad in itself. It just means that we need to be first filled with the Holy Spirit and then led by Him in how to use it.
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Thank you, Joel. I was at one of those ‘flashy’ churches this morning and tend to agree with you. The Holy Spirit is not a conjuring of our emotions and worship should be about God rather than our need to be entertained. I actually am thinking to do a blog about different churches I’ve visited, explore the good, the bad and the ugly of each. Anyhow, I believe both you and I were rightly named Joel…what do you think? 🙂
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(First off, good article!)
“You say, This is what I read: Jesus appealed to an authority greater than the experts on Scripture and theology back then could duplicate.”
True, yet Jesus frequents the same scriptures as the “experts” with a simple and clear authenticity.
Modern Biblicism is often a repeat of the first century Jewish style of exegesis. Jesus reintroduced an authentic Christological interpretation of scripture. When walking with the crestfallen disciples on the way to Emmaus Jesus opened to them all the Scriptures concerning Himself.
Jesus was neither supernatural, miracle rejecting modernist, (Saducee) nor a fundamentalist biblicist. (Pharisee) He beautifully aligned Gods written testimony with the authentic, (physically) unseen Reality.
I’m arguing for a new examination of Scripture through Christological lenses. The Scriptures when rightly understood and used are spiritual. “The words that I speak unto you are spirit and they are life”. (John 6:63)
A focus on Spirit that in anway devalues or trivializes the God-breathed Scriptures is equally as perilous as Fundamentalist bible thumping or Mennonite doctrine wrangling.
(Notice I intentionally avoid the common usage of “Word of God”. This belongs to Jesus, at least first and primarily.)
The Spirit of God can only lead to proper understanding of Scripture. Without God’s word in us the Scripture will only be a stumbling block to us like it was for those who studied it diligently and yet rejected Jesus (the word made flesh) standing right in front of them. Many today have the Bible without the authority that inspired it. They study the book in vain like those Jesus spoke to in this account:
“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:36-40)
They “study Scripture diligently” but “[God’s] word did not dwell” in them and thus they rejected Jesus. Many today profess Jesus, but rely in their book knowledge rather than God’s word or Spirit, and are lost despite their religion. We need to stand apart, walk in the Spirit and have the same authority within us that gave Jesus authority.
“Early Anabaptists did not spend their days in obsessive omphaloskepsis or in preserving a religious cultural identity.”
I don’t care who you are, that’s funny stuff right there!
I think your third point is one of the keys to why our people are left gazing backward and hanging on to our past culture for our security. There is a real fear of Holy Spirit teaching and without the Spirit we are spiritually powerless. We have to have many extra-biblical rules to preserve our heritage because we lack the power that only the quickening of the Spirit can bring.
“The real Anabaptist is the one who does as they did and recklessly pursues the truth regardless of personal cost.”
Amen. And it will cost you. And the most religious among us are still the ones doing the persecuting.
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I believe the problem is that many confuse their feelings and/or opinions with the work of the Holy Spirit. There is good reason to be concerned too, one only needs to consider the abuses of the Münsterite Anabaptists and the spiritualizing of partisan politics today to see the danger. When there’s no good spiritual fruit (as described in Scripture) it is safe to assume that there is another spirit involved.
Agreed on your last point.
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