We really need a Neo-Anabaptist Confession

Chris —  August 20, 2013 — 7 Comments

The last few decades have seen the decline of a lot of organized parts of our society, from bowling to religion. In many ways, this is welcome, like a brush fire clearing the ground. The downside is that it leaves us with questions of identity. We know that we don’t want to be like those old things, but we don’t know what we are.

In the American church, this has led to about 30 years of confusion. Traditional denominations struggled to reach boomers, which led to the seeker churches and their wild step-children, the emergents. However, with declining institutions, our culture struggles to provide a sense of identity, and so do these new churches.


Many turned to a movement claiming heritage in the 16th century reformers. This provided black and white theology, gender roles and political stances. In a world without identity, this movement provided a name, community and instructions. It also left many of us scratching our heads. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a part of something bigger. Those of us who disagree must respond by working harder to articulate we believe God is calling us to be.

Increasingly, many, including myself, have been using the term “neo-anabaptist“. While I see this as a welcome alternative, there are two major problems.

1. Historically, the Anabaptists are known for withdrawing from society. I do not believe that modern-day missional thinkers can fully embrace this side of the heritage.

2. When I read others toying with this phrase, I often think “I’m not sure we mean the same thing when we say anabaptist.”

So here’s my challenge to us who are embracing this term: Let’s create a new confession.

As the early Anabaptists gathered in Schleitheim in 1527 to figure out what they had in common, we who find this approach to life together, theology and mission important, should find a way to state what we agree on.

The Schleitheim Confession addressed seven topics valid to the 16th century. Here are seven issues a 21st Century missional neo-anabaptist must to address:

The Centrality of Jesus

Who do we believe Jesus is? What does it mean to read the Bible through our understanding of Jesus? What does it mean to be a church that looks like Jesus?

The Mission of God

What is God up to in the world? Where does the church fit in to that mission?

The Believer’s Baptism

What does it mean to become a follower of Jesus? What should be the consequences of baptism? What does the church call the unbeliever to do?

A Contrast Community

What is the church? What is it’s relationship to God’s mission? How does it relate to a globalized, pluralistic world?

The Image of God

What are the consequences in believing that all are made in the image of God? How does this inform our approach to gender, race, economics, pregnancy, leadership, etc.?

A Commitment to Peace

How does the church practice peaceful relations internally? How do we model peace to outside parties with whom we disagree? Does the church have a responsibility to make peace in the broader world?

From Here to Eternity

What is the church’s role in stewarding the earth? To what extent do we embrace trends, opportunities and technology? How do we best anticipate the God’s new creation?

My hope is that others will respond to this, in blogs, conferences and their own churches. Let’s have a conversation about who God is calling us to be.


What do you think? Do you see a need for a new confession? What would you take away or add?

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I think we also need to speak about who and what the Holy Spirit is. Without jumping into a Trinitarian debate, there seems to either be strong associations with the Holy Spirit, or a total ignoring of it. I also wish to see the language for the Church go broader than any denominational manifestation, and as a result of Christendom, I'd also like to see a conversation about the empowerment of all believers rather than simply doing what everyone else does in demarcating have's and have-nots when it comes to ordination, licensing, etc. I like the emphasis of the last point you made, and would also like to see it embrace more than just Creation care, but also the timelessness of the Church, where we are bound together past, present, and future in Christ.


I wonder, perhaps, if Neo-Anabaptists should look to Harold Bender (Anabaptist Vision) or Stuart Murray (Naked Anabaptist) and start synthesis there.  The former book presents the Anabaptist vision from an insider view, the latter gives a similar vision from an "outsider become insider" view.  I think if we synthesize the two, we'll and up with something that will work well for today.


These are great questions! I really like the focal points of the new confession.

One thing I have been seeing in my own community, and also in some others, is a loss of what the gospel is. What is this good news? It used to be more clearly centered on repentance and salvation, Christ saving us from our sin, transforming our nature, so that we can walk as he walked in this world. Now, many redefinitions of sin are afoot, and many churches are afraid of even taking a stand on sin, so, by necessity, the good news of the gospel is redirected into peripheral issues of social justice, poverty, etc. 

I struggle with how to respond to this movement and would love clarity on what Christ's church's role in sanctification is as He makes us his Bride.

ChrisMorton82 moderator

@tristaanogre I've read and appreciate Murray, and only skimmed Bender. Do you agree that there is a missing "missional" element? There seems to be a lack of emphasis on how to engage with the broader world. I think we need a fair share skepticism about culture, but total withdraw (ie-Amish) fails to reach the world Jesus sends us into. 

Could you introduce me to resources/thinking on mission from an Anabaptist perspective?


@ChrisMorton82 @tristaanogre Well, to be honest, your first point is not necessarily true of Anabaptists... it may be true of the more radical sects like Amish and conservative Mennonites, but it is not true of Anabaptists in general.  "Love your neighbor" does not lead a people to separatism... it sends people to do God's work.  This has been the case from day 1.

Consider Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Missions Board, Mennonite Disaster Service, Mennonite Voluntary Service.  Google those resources and you'll see how the Mennonite Church in USA and Canada (and those are just a few "official" examples) has been all about engaging the world and society around us in "real" ways, not just preaching on a street corner.

Consider 1-W service during the 20th century wars... there is a former mental hospital in Connecticut... right around the Sandy Hook area, actually... that during the wars was almost exclusively personelled by Mennonites seeking alternative service to the military... and it was through their work, really, that changes in practices for the mentally ill (more humane treatment, etc) came about.

I can't necessarily hand you a book and say "Here, read this..."  But I do know, as a Mennonite growing up in the Mennonite church, steeped in Anabaptism, Anabaptism has always been about leading lives that impact the world around us.  So, to accuse historical Anabaptism of missing a "missional" element I think is a bit false... perhaps, as mentioned, some sects are that way, but when diving into what Anabaptism teaches... that radical following of Jesus' way... it's hard to see how one can be an Anabaptist and NOT have a feeling of being "sent".

ChrisMorton82 moderator

@tristaanogre Good admonishment, Tristan ;) Thanks for the examples. I look forward to researching and learning more about this approach to being sent!

What I want to avoid is the kind of unnecessary moral codes that lead to separatism. This isn't an anabaptist problem. You have conservative Pentecostals that don't allow make-up, baptists that don't allow dancing, churches of Christ that don't allow instruments and conservative anabaptist who eschew technology. 

IMHO, such moral codes work are the work of Christendom, where denominations try to contrast from each other. A missional stance always holds in tension the need to be an incarnated, indigenous cultural movement with the need to be a contrast community.

I'd like to share your comments with the interesting convo we're having about this on FB.