Journeying with the Anabaptists

I am currently participating in an online course through the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary called “Exploring Anabaptist History and Theology.”  Because I attended a Methodist seminary, this is a chance for me to gain more formal training in the history of the tradition in which I am now ministering. 

Like many of you at Columbus Mennonite, I came to identify with the Mennonite tradition later in life; thus, much of the history of the Anabaptists movement that eventually brought forth the Mennonites is new to me.  (Those of you raised Mennonite just know this stuff, right?)  At the risk of making sophomoric declarations based on my limited understanding from one week worth of class assignments, I thought I’d take you all along with me in this journey of learning more about this tradition we share. 

A few observations from the first week’s readings on the context and background of the early Anabaptist movement:

  • The early Anabaptists were much more diverse in their thinking than I anticipated.  In fact, they were kind of all over the board.  This is probably always the case with studying history where you get a simplified version of something in a way that can be neatly categorized but the more you learn the muddier the waters get.  I find myself wondering if they ever reach points of unity or if the history of the Church is always a bit of a holy theological mess.
  • The difference between the majority of the Reformation movement (Lutherans, Calvinists, etc.) and the Anabaptists seems to be much more about ecclesiology than theology.  Or perhaps it is more appropriate to say that important theological differences certainly existed but the approaches to the way the Church functioned and related with political authorities was what ultimately separated them. 
  • To that end, one author asserts that the mainline reformers tended to separate social reforms from theological reforms while the Anabaptists tended to address social concerns as an outgrowth of their religious concerns.  This feels like an oversimplification, but I am left wondering if this is part of a core Anabaptist identity.  This certainly feels similar to my experience of Mennonite congregations today.   
  • The early Anabaptist theologians were very focused on the Spirit.  For example, where they often agreed with Luther about the idea of “scripture alone,” many of them wanted to refocus on the role of the Spirit in allowing Christians to interpret the scriptures.  I’ve heard it said that the Spirit is the part of trinitarian theology that Mennonites are least comfortable with, so I think it is interesting that there seems to be such a strong focus on it in the early stages of Anabaptism.

For those of you more learned than I am in these matters, feel free to let me know what I’ve missed or gotten wrong.  I am looking forward to this journey and glad to take as many of you as I can along with me.