Archives For anabaptist

Let’s Admit We Have a Problem

For hundreds of years, common wisdom assumed that the countries of the West were Christian nations.

This concept began when Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of his empire. It was reinforced with the advent of Protestant National churches. Then, beginning with John Winthrop’s famous “City on a Hill” sermon in 1630, civic religion and cultural Christianity became intertwined in the institutions of the United States.

The result was that Westerners were generally considered “Christian”. Individuals often had a normative level of Biblical literacy. Institutions, government, and leaders were assumed to espouse “Christian values”. In this “Christendom” system, conversion often meant claiming membership in a specific denomination and church attendance. Politicians were expected to attend Church and govern in “Christian” ways. There was little discernible difference between being a good citizen and a follower of Christ.

For decades now, these institutional structures have been breaking down. Most countries in Europe are predominantly secular and often skeptical of religion. The U.S. does not seem to be far behind. Stuart Murray defines this “post-Christendom” as:

the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence (Stuart Murray, The Naked Anabaptist, 78).

This means that forms of churches that might have thrived under Christendom are either showing diminishing returns or have failed altogether.

Followers of Christ in the west now have the opportunity to define themselves apart from the expectations of their culture. Conversations are thriving around the word “missional,” as churches and Christian organizations seek to understand what it means to be missionaries in this new post-Christendom context.

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This post was written before the tragedy that happened on the night of 3.12. Jesus would definitely be present in such a place of mourning.

300,000 people from around the world have descended on a few miles of my home city for the sprawling series of parties, conferences and concerts known as South by Southwest. For two weeks, our once sleepy hippy town hosts the elite of software, film and, of course, music.

Careers are made or destroyed. Bands set up in alleys. Beer flows like water. A torrential downpour of water. It is the kind of place to see and be seen.

Which begs the question, is there room for Jesus at SXSW?

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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. Continue Reading…

The transformation that Paul’s vision calls for would not be to let a few more especially gifted women share with a few men the rare roles of domination; it would be to reorient the notion of ministry so that there would be no one ungifted, no one not called, no one not empowered, and no one dominated. Only that would live up to Paul’s call to “lead a life worthy of our calling.”

John Howard Yoder, Body Politics

Feminism is not enough

The days when the West was filled with Christian institutions and one could assume everyone was (at least a nominal) Christian days are coming to an end. Now, the Church has to figure out who it is when the culture isn’t “Christian”.

The Anabaptist tradition helps a lot with this, perhaps because they were formed as a rejection of 16th century Christendom. Unfortunately, much of the tradition is “separatist”, avoiding engagement with the outside. This is where the growing missional conversation is so important: it gives the church a theology and approach for loving, serving and proclaiming in a culture where they are minorities.

Authors Fitch and Holsclaw call this missional-anabaptist approach “Prodigal”. This is drawn from Karl Barth’s interpretation of Jesus as the ideal “prodigal son”, a “radical missionary… that the Father has sent the Son into the far country to redeem the world”. Their book Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier suggests seven practices should shape the life of the church today.

1. The Hospitality of the Table
In instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is creating a practice of humility, egalitarianism and hospitality. The act of serving and eating with people who are different brings the reality of the kingdom into the present, and spills into other opportunities for service throughout the week.

2. Proclamation of the Gospel
“Proclamation is the act of declaring a reality (or truth) that others have yet to see (the kingdom has come!)” They give the example of responding to others by reminding them “Jesus is Lord of your situation,” or asking the question “what do you think God is asking of you?”

3. Reconciliation
They suggest practicing the method of reconciliation provided by Jesus in Matthew 18. “As we practice this reconciliation in our lives together, we are then able to practice it in the neighborhood, bringing Christ’s in-breaking authority to broken relationships and structures where we live.”

4. Being with People on the Fringes
“Jesus says that when you are truly present with ‘the least of these,’ you are also in his presence and this is a sign of what the kingdom looks like (Matthew 25: 31– 46)”. This means creating opportunities to connect with different types of people often across racial or economic lines, where “we relax, take all agendas off the table, listen, and pay attention in order to listen for God and discover where God is working”.

5. Being with the Children
Jesus taught “when we welcome children, when we are present with them in love and hospitality, Jesus becomes present with us… Only by welcoming and becoming like children can we enter the kingdom of God (18:3)… When we refuse to make children into a separate program or ministry… We find ourselves being transformed by the love of children and the things they teach us.”

6. Fivefold Ministry and Gifts
Jesus is not distant but instead is present through his offer of “gifts for equipping the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers….these gifts are not only for the internal organization of the church…rather, they are necessary for forming the kingdom in each neighborhood.”

7. Kingdom Prayer
Following the model of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches that Kingdom Prayer is “first and foremost about submitting our lives, circumstances, needs, wants, and struggles into God’s coming kingdom…” Such prayer creates space for Christ’s power and healing, removes ego and interacts with tangible issues in one’s life and community.

What do you think of these seven practices? Do they fit the reality of your situation? What would you add?