The Anabaptist Story, Part 4 (Nelson)
From Within the Anabaptist Story emerged Fellowship Practices. In becoming radical reformers the Anabaptists started anew. This involved several practices which for that time were startling and different. We are the inheritor of these practices in much the same way as we are the inheritor of Luther's rediscovered concept of "Justification by Faith," that is, that the believer is to live by the faithfulness of God. It was on the profession of faith that the Anabaptists began again. Normally infant baptism would never call for the need of a confession of faith. Confirmation, when it occurred, and in this time confirmation was far from being universal, was a ratification of infant baptism which had removed original sin. For the Anabaptists there was the profession of faith and following the profession would be baptism. Baptism was the beginning of the Christian walk. So it is these three experiences--profession of faith, baptism, and the Christian living--to which we turn to now.
There are two traditional ingredients considered in the initial experience of the believer--faith and repentance. The order of treatment normally indicated much about one's theological commitment. In this class I will treat faith and repentance together, or attempt to do so. Until there is an experience with Christ there can be no human response. This is a major thesis of all reformed theology, including the Anabaptists.
I see faith and repentance as being the same experience viewed differently.
While I do not like to see conversion reduced a series of stereotypical steps, I am comfortable describing the initial experience as having three components.
What happens if church membership is based on Constantinian Christianity rather than decision? When the catechism is added, you have a reformed Constantinianism. This what was prevalent in the Reformation times.
Decision can never be based on an act of choosing. This is the problem with apologetics--when we use reason to clarify what God is doing, it is good apologetics, but when we attempt to win a convert by "convincing" him or her to choose Christ, we have left God's grace out of the picture and have accomplished nothing. The same might be said for revival sermons; the preacher can bring awareness, and can even press for decision, but only the Holy Spirit can provide insight. It is essential that a candidate manifest all three of the above components--awareness, insight, and decision--before being baptized. Otherwise, the result may well be "non-believers' baptism." The human part in religious experience can be seen in having services with warmth which nourishes and fosters the decision when the insight comes. However, one must wait for insight. When the individual and God have a work to do, then the community has a work to do. The community helps ratify the relationship and honors the decision by receiving the professing believer as a new Christian and as part of the community.
Traditionally, several biblical metaphors have been interpreted in a narrow manner. We will need to work through these with care, as the biblical writers use of metaphor was based on Hebrew thinking, not Western thinking.39 Hebrew thinking tends to be holistic, while Western through tends to be linear. I will want to suggest that the concepts of faith and repentance are both found in the metaphors that follow.
There is a faith recognition of Christ and a decision to choose obedience. It is faith that has the illumination to see God present in Jesus, but in choosing an obedient life rather than a self-centered life, there is repentance. Both faith and repentance can be seen in the call and decision to follow him.
This is a change of direction, which is repentance, and a walk after Christ, which is faith. Both faith and repentance are present.
This is saying that the life now being lived in not adequate and you surrender that life. So faith and repentance are both present in the metaphor.
This presupposes that you are an adult. One turns back to childlikeness. Is that turning back not an act of repentance? So, taking life as a child is a call for faith.
"Crucified with Christ." Gal. 2:19-20, "For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ."
Something must die and something must be let go. Faith and repentance are involved in the call to be crucified with Christ, and yet to live, and the life that is lived is lived by faith in the Son of God. Faith and repentance are both present.
The Western mind makes these ideas linear and attempts to prioritize them and give them an order to produce the initial experience. The plan of salvation is linear thinking. Any one of the concepts of repenting, believing and confessing, have the salvation experience within it.
Let me review once more what to me is one of the more remarkable, yet little known, events in Church History. The evening of Jan 21, 1525, when the council had forbade the opponents of infant baptism from meeting, the group gathered together, probably in the home of Felix Manz. They sensed that they were at the crossroads and realized that they must either turn back and abandon their position or go forward to translate their biblical study and learning into practice.
They entered into a time of group prayer. Following that prayer, George Blaurock stood up and asked Conrad Grebel to baptize him on his profession of faith. After that Blaurock baptized all the others in that company. This was the moment that the Evangelical Anabaptist Movement was born.
Reformed theology appropriates circumcision as its model for infant baptism. A few words in passing are appropriate.
We can gain insights into believers' baptism from Jewish antecedents.40
The major question is, "when did proselyte baptism begin?" Some say AD 65. That is the date of the Jewish synod where Jews stated that all Gentiles were unclean. But did the synod originate the concept or did they formulate an existing practice?
Here is a practical solution. A Gentile, because he did not observe Levitical regulations concerning purity, was unclean as a matter of course, and therefore could not be admitted into the Jewish communion. Therefore, proselyte baptism is as old as the Levitical code. Also, according to Jn. 1:19f and Mk. 11:29-30, The Sanhedrin's inquiry concerning John's baptism centered not upon its form or meaning, but only upon John's authority to perform it. The practice itself appears to be accepted as familiar. Had John's baptizing been an innovation, we would expect their question to be, "why baptize?"
The type of preparation required of proselytes before baptism is described in the Babylonian Talmud.
The rabbis say: If anyone comes nowadays, and desires to become a proselyte, they say unto him: "Why do you want to become a proselyte? Do you not know that the Israelites nowadays are harried, driven about, persecuted and harassed, and that sufferings befalls them?" If he says, "I know it, and I am not worthy," they receive him at once, and they explain to him some of the lighter and some of the heavier commandments, and they tell him the sins connected with the laws of gleaning, the forgotten sheaf, the corner of the field, and the tithe for the poor; and they tell him the punishments for the transgressions of the commandments, and they say to him "Know that up to now you could eat forbidden fat without being liable to the punishment of being 'cut off'; you could violate the Sabbath without being liable to the punishment of death by stoning; but from now on you will be liable.... If he assents to all, then circumcise him at once, and when he is healed they baptize him, and two scholars stand by and tell him of some of the light and some of the heavy laws. When he has been baptized, he is regarded in all respects as an Israelite.41
Every part of the body reaches water. Nothing is kept back from the water and so nothing is kept back from God.
With this a Gentile became a Jew. This is the baptism background which would have been familiar to the people of Jesus' and John's day.
In Mt. 3:13-17, Jesus comes with a purpose to his baptism. If He had walked from Nazareth, then it had been a long and purposeful walk.
Consider the conversation, "I need to be baptized by you." What was troubling John was status, authority, lesser to the greater, and the pupil to the teacher. So he says that he is not worthy to bear Jesus' sandals.
To "fulfill all righteousness" retains the subordination of John. Jesus' submission to John is a clear approval of John's ministry and message.
This theophany serves as a summons to Jesus. It is a manifestation and an equipping for the task of ministry.
The rending of the heavens, Mk. 1:10, cf. Isa. 64:1, "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down."
There is a question concerning the experience--is it an outward or inward experience? That is,
Cf. John 12:28-30. Was the voice thunder, or angel? To Jesus, it was the voice of God.
Cf. Acts 9:7, "heard the voice but saw no one," and Acts 22:9, "behold a light but did not understand the voice."
The most likely answer is that the manifestation was not seen but that there was an awareness of something significant taking place.
Matt. 3:16, cf. John 3:34. The Holy Spirit is permanent and measureless with Jesus.
The purpose of the Spirit here was to equip the Messiah and to mark the beginning of the Messianic Age. Cf., Isa. 11:2, "The Spirit of the LORD will rest upon Him--the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD," and Joel 2.
There is no reasonable doubt that early Christians thought of Isa. 42:1f and Isa. 53 as the anointing of the Messiah with the Spirit. This was fused in a composite concept of Jesus. These passages were understood as reveling that a suffering servant would be the manner of God's redemptive work.
There was a blending of Ps. 2:7 and Isa. 42:1. The psalm is messianic; when God appointed a king over Israel, an anointing with oil (Ps. 2:2) was always performed. The blending of the two passages in Mt. 3:16 shows that the New Testament community understood that Jesus is King. See Table 1.
The humanity of Jesus meant that he learned. He contemplated the meaning of Messiah. That he was the Messiah was not in doubt, but its meaning was. There is no truer index of Jesus' life than the combination of Ps. 2:7 and Isa. 42:1, the Son of God as King and the Servant of the LORD. The going of Jesus into the wilderness was to integrate the meaning of the suffering servant/King into his life.
|Ps. 2:7||I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father."|
|Isa. 42:1||"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight"|
|Mt. 3:17||And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."|
|Table 1. The blending of Messianic passages in Mt. 3:17.|
For you who want authority in your office, who revel in the status (read "authority") passages from corporate America instead of the synagogue, please meditate on this baptismal scene.
Three terms for baptism have been used.
As soldiers took the oath of allegiance to fight under the banner of the Emperor, so a Christian takes baptism as an oath of allegiance to serve Jesus Christ.
Later, ex opere operato, it became an assertion that the sacrament itself is the instrument of God. Baptism is seen as valid irrespective of the qualities or merits of persons administering or receiving it. It is understood as grace conveyed primarily through sacraments as if it were a metaphysical substance. God's saving activity was seen as being administrated without consent of the individual (and even at the point of a sword)--let alone the consent of God!
Zwingli took this position at the Marburg Colloquy. It is usually interpreted as obedience to Jesus' command. So the word "ordinance" is used. Ordinance means that Christ ordained these acts for the well-being of the church, cf. 1 Cor. 11:24f and Matt. 28:19, "This do in remembrance of me."
More than once we have seen that the prophets of Israel resorted to symbolic, dramatic actions when they felt that words were not enough. That is what Ahijah did when he rent the robe into twelve pieces and gave ten to Jeroboam as a token that ten of the tribes would make him king (1 Kings 11:29-32). That is what Jeremiah did when he made bonds and yokes and wore them in token of the coming servitude (Jer. 27). That is what the prophet Hananiah did when he broke the yokes that Jeremiah wore (Jer. 28:10-11). That is the kind of thing that Ezekiel was continually doing (Ezek. 4:1-8; 5:1-4). It was as if words were easily forgotten, but a dramatic action would print itself on the memory. Consider also Isa. 20 and Jer. 18-19.
John's baptism would have this kind of symbolism in the background of his thinking, and his hearers would be thinking in such a context.
So the prophet has done what God said, and it will be as God wills. In a certain sense, then, the act brings will of God nearer to completion.
To Jesus and the Jewish nation, a symbol was not regarded with the modern sense of "mere symbolism," but as an act which clarified God's message and make prior convictions more real.
I define believers' baptism as follows:
Baptism is a biblical symbol to portray, adequately present, and make more real the New Testament experience of salvation based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and to initiate one into a fellowship of believers.
This definition has both individual and corporate aspects. When George Blaurock was baptized by Grebel and in turn baptized the others, there was understanding of baptism as an act of initiation into a believers church. This was the moment in the Reformation time that the believers' church was reborn. Baptism was the initiation into the new covenant Believers' baptism was the door to the regenerate, or believers', church.
The Anabaptists were interested in Christian living. Grebel had written that "the church is of the few who believe and live right." Please note "Christian living," not "Christian life." What is the difference? Constantinianism would have a static concept--you are a Christian and you live your life, therefore, the way you live is the Christian life. The Anabaptist would seek a dynamic interpretation. Christian living is a dynamic, and one is seeking to pattern after the Sermon on the Mount. The Christian life is, therefore, "everything you do is Christian." Christian living, similarly, is attempting to live a life worthy of Christ.
In this section I want to deal with biblical metaphors of Christian living. These metaphors will deal with the experience of being related to Christ and the implications. A comprehensive listing of the metaphors would be take more time than we have, but I will list several and mention others. These will underscore what the Anabaptists were saying--being a Christian is a way of living and not a status. Behavior and beliefs are related. In each of the metaphors I will attempt to project the background of the metaphor. With each metaphor I will deal with the human predicament, will speak of God's activity, and will set forth a benefit to be received. The metaphors, however, all stand for a single reality--the believers relationship to God. No one metaphor covers all the aspects and ramifications of the believers relationship to God and relationship with the community of faith. They are all speaking of one reality. The metaphors represent the Hebrew way of thinking which is encompassing and holistic, compared to Western thinking which is linear.
The initial experience and the continuing result are tied together. New life comes and then their is a life is to be lived. The initial experience and the continuing experience are united. The term has to do with a changed outlook and a direction. It is a radical term designed to highlight the difference between those who are born of God and those who are dead, in that they have now emerged into new life.
This is not valid, however. You still need to be put in right relationship with God, even after your conversion. When you professed faith you were set apart. Sanctification also marks the beginning and the end of Christian living. At the beginning of the Christian life there is a glorification of the believer. Both the gospel of John and 2 Cor. 4 speak of the glory that comes to a believer when they have believed. The Reformation delineation which casts the three terms as descriptions of three stages in Christian living is linear thinking. Be holistic!
The tenses of sanctification as an act, then as a process, and finally as a culmination:
Can a person live above sin? Yes and no; it depends on the definition of sin.
Redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation, and union with Christ are examples of other metaphors that could receive similar treatment.
Particular metaphors have been emphasized by various leaders or movements in our history:
It is better not to limit oneself to just one metaphor as has been the tendency in the above list. Instead, bear these three observations in mind:
Let me take you now to a Swiss-Austrian border town, in February 1527, some two years after the birth of the Evangelical Anabaptists in Felix Manz home in Zurich.
Religious and theological waves had flowed over Europe. Luther at Wittenberg, Zwingli at Zurich, and a host of others across the continent had led out in Reformation. In the wider upheaval there were some--Grebel, Blaurock, Manz, Hübmaier, Sattler, Denck, Hätzer, and others--who realized that the old European foundations were undermined. The return to believers' baptism was only a symptom of the new vision they hoped and prayed would replace the old, doomed Constantinian patterns of Europe. By 1527, with the banishment of Michael Sattler from Strassburg and the execution by drowning of Felix Manz in Zurich, the radical Reformers knew that the magisterial Reformers such as Luther and Zwingli would not go beyond the partial Reformation they were now endorsing.
Michael Sattler and others adopted a method that was to have historic consequences--a dialogue of those concerned. They called a meeting for dialogue and decision, beginning on a day in February, near a centrally located but quiet border town of Schleitheim.
We have no first-hand report of that meeting, but we do have the resulting documents--the constitution of seven articles, the disciple, and the covering letter that summarized their work.44
Here is how the radical believers' church worked:
The participants met as equals. As a security measure, no names appear on the documents, so the references are only to "brothers and sisters," to "sons and daughters of God," and to "members of God."
The participants engaged in dialogue. Those who had favored the state-church compromise in one area or another gave way to those who reluctantly favored a separate, radical church. Yoder remarks that, perhaps uniquely in Reformation history, minds were changed in the course of the discussion! The believers' church movement acquired at Schleitheim had a free church ecclesiology and thereby survived to the present time. (Michael Sattler had come out of the Benedictine order and there is some influence of that here).
The Articles were the setting forth of a simple but effective structure for church life. It focused on just those points that the old Constan- tinianism of the Roman South and the New Constantinianism of the Reformed, Lutheran North had made impossible. The structure of Schleitheim set the conditions for the free church.45
We are agreed as follows on pastors in the church of God. The pastor in the church of God shall, as Paul has prescribed, be one who out-and-out has a good report of those who are outside the faith. This office shall be to read, to admonish and teach, to warn, to discipline, to ban in the church, to lead out in prayer for the advance-ment of all the brethren and sisters, to lift up the bread when it is to be broken, and in all things to see to the care of the body of Christ, in order that it may be built up and developed, and the mouth of the slanderer be stopped.
This one moreover shall be supported by the church which has chosen him, wherein he may be in need, so that he who serves the Gospel may live of the Gospel as the Lord has ordained. But if a pastor should do something requiring discipline, he shall not be dealt with except on the testimony of two or three witnesses. And when they sin they shall be disciplined before all in order that the others may fear.
But should it happen that through the cross this pastor should be banished or led to the Lord [through martyrdom] another shall be ordained in his place in the same hour so that God's little flock and people may not be destroyed.46
Zwingli would latter complain that no Anabaptist could be found who did not have a copy of this Schleitheim document. It was one of the great documents of religious history in how it shaped a people.47
Now I want to put together decision making out of this context of Schleitheim and contrast it to decision making in our present church context.
Decision making was seen as a concerned community of acting in dialogue. The community may divide itself into separate roles, and to constrain individuals into those roles, but authority was not centered in one man or woman. They recognized that community could still be fallible, but that fallibility was regarded as being less likely in a corporate context.
No one over me and no one under me!
Congregational government shaped discipleship. They were not conscripted into the service of Christ, but had been invited to be friends with God. In Jn. 15:12-15, Jesus makes it clear that we are not to just be servants, but also friends; that we can think, not just do as we are told. The way to govern a church is a way to be friends with Jesus.
There is a remarkable Old Testament reference to friendship in Ex. 24:11.48
This concept of fellowship with God is unique to Judaism and Christianity.
Decision making enhances maturity. The emphasis in this approach is upon community. It calls for trust in God to be present in all of life and a belief that God is active in all of life working for maturity. According to Eph. 4:11 16, maturity is the goal of Christian living.
All human activities are secondary to the relating to God and others in a mature way. How does one foster maturity? Let me attempt to answer by reflecting on the parent-child relationship as a possible analogy.
Feelings are God-given, and you want your child to respond appropriately.
Gen. 2:19, the naming of the animals, shows God's desire for us to make decisions. Adam did not beg God to help him name the animals; God wanted him to be a decision maker. To make decisions is a sign of maturity; when you can't make decisions, you can't be successful.
To mature is to develop all one's capacities to the best that one can. Recognize both strengths and weaknesses, turn to God for further wisdom, understanding, and power, 2 Tim. 1:7.
Mt. 16:19 and Mt. 18:18 are models for decision making the tough "gray area" decisions that can't be easily be resolved by clear biblical teachings. In rabbinic thought, decision making was a matter of morals. There are clear commands, but where there are no clear commands their is to be "binding and the loosing."
For the gathered people bind and loose implied:
The community's decision then stands in heaven. In summary, the method for decision making required
The process could be impeded, however, by a failure of all members of the community to abandon personal agendas. The desire to win an argument quenches the Spirit, cf., 1 Thess. 5:19. Compare this process with Robert's Rules of Order, which provides a mechanism for a majority to overcome the objections of a minority. Robert's Rules have the potential of corrupting the church by making the church a democracy. The church is not a democracy, but a theocracy; we are to discern and follow the will of God.49
When evaluative listening and openness for forgiveness are included, the will of God may be claimed for decisions made by a gathered community in dialogue. This is the community decision making process of Schleitheim, a rich heritage passed on to us. The promise of the presence of Christ to actualize a definition of his will in a given future circumstance was given not to professional exegetes but to the community which would be gathered in his name with the specific purpose of "binding and loosing." Classical Protestantism tended to deny the place of this conversational process in favor of its insistence on the perspicuity and objectivity of the words of Scripture. The free church alternative recognizes the inadequacies of the text, Scripture standing alone uninterpreted, and appropriates the promise of the guidance of the Spirit throughout the ages, but it locates the fulfillment of that promise in the assembly of those who gather around Scripture in the face of a given real moral challenge.50 A hermeneutic of "community" may be seen in 1 Cor 14:25ff. The way God leads is that the Spirit gathers believers around Scripture. The Spirit, the gathering, and the Scripture are indispensable elements of the process. A technical exegete alone could not replace the actual conversational process in empirical communities where the working of the Spirit is discerned in the fact that believers are brought to unity around this Scripture.51
The church, after Constantine, reversed the New Testament attitude towards war/violence, money, and social stratification; it thereby changed the very nature of what it means to be a church. The official Reformation of Luther and Zwingli had made significant changes, but did not fundamentally reverse the structural decisions of the age of Constantine. The radical reformers restored the New Testament standards as their goal. The radical reformers differed with their mainstream contemporaries not so much about what Jesus said but about whether it was to be taken simply and seriously as moral guidance.52