Friday, September 16, 2011

Religion Friday: Anabaptists

For some reason, when the term Anabaptist came up in high school history class, I thought Anabaptist meant Anti-Baptist, and I couldn’t figure out why Mennonites hated Baptists so much. But Anabaptist actually means “baptized again” because they rejected infant baptism and baptized believers as adults.

As part of the Radical Reformation, Anabaptists rejected a lot of established doctrine, thus making my “ana-”/ “anti-” snafu not that unreasonable. They believed in avoiding violent conflicts (pacifists), secular courts, and basically any avoidable dealings with non-believers. They were early, major proponents of a separation of church and state and of economic egalitarianism. They believed in the sole authority of the scriptures and that individuals could properly interpret scripture by guidance of the Holy Spirit. Many sought to return to a style of 1st-2nd century church as demonstrated in the New Testament.

This was also the first movement to really have an emotional style to their worship services. Those who felt led by the Spirit would yell, dance, or cry during services. The Anabaptists radical views led them to be persecuted by both Catholics and other Protestants of the time. That’s why so many moved to America, where various branches of the movement are still practiced: Brethren, Mennonite, and Amish. Obviously, the Amish are the most conservative Anabaptist group.

There are almost 250,000 Old Order Amish today. They’re the ones who look like time stopped 300 years ago. The Amish came to America from Alsace and the German Palatinate; today, they continue to speak Pennsylvania Dutch, read from the fifteenth century German Bible, and farm and dress in their traditional manners. There is a strict set of moral codes followers must abide to ensure the community does not slip to English/modern conveniences. Humility, submission, and hard work are valued. While I admire the Amish attitude of rejecting modern distractions and having simple lives to better focus on God, I find it both too extreme and too easy. It’s extreme because I don’t think modern inventions like electricity, planes, higher education, and jazz are sinful. Can they become distractions? Yes. But that is the fault of the individual, the human who is easily distracted by any new idol. In fact, modern medicine and faster communication are pretty awesome things. Rejecting anything and everything new just because it’s new and perhaps tempting is rejecting the God-given gifts of innovation and exploration. And it’s too easy because yes, the world does have distractions that lead to sin, but part of being faithful is facing sin and choosing virtue instead. To live in a secularized world and face differing opinions and the freedom to do what you want yet still remain faithful is a much bigger struggle than living in a small community of like-minded members holding one another accountable.

But most modern Anabaptists do live in the modern world, and their beliefs aren’t much different than any Baptist or Methodist group. In fact, it’s easy to see the “radical” Anabaptist influence all over the now-mainstream evangelical sphere today.

[I'm using the dove to represent the Anabaptists. They didn't believe in the use of icons or symbols. Today, the Mennonite Church USA uses a dove. The dove with the olive branch represents the pacifict stance of the Anabaptists.]

Next Friday: Pentecostalism

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