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October 16, 2010

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Wayne Northey

I'm a former non-ethnic Anabaptist/Mennonite convert who still fellowships at a Mennonite Church. But my wife and I decidedly dropped the "Anabaptist/Mennonite" label and our church membership as final straw after a sermon earlier this year by Vic Thiessen, former Director of the London Mennonite Centre, who presented an Anabaptist/Mennonite triumphalism as distasteful as all others, along the lines of this conference last year: http://www.menno.org.uk/LMTF2009, where the claim was made after citations from Gregory Boyd, Brian McLaren and Tim Sine (repeated by Thiessen in his sermon):
"From all parts of the globe, church leaders (evangelical, mainline, emerging church) are calling for Anabaptists to lead the way in the development of a holistic theology with integrity that addresses the world of the 21st century. The influence of Anabaptists in the UK during the past thirty years is an example of this."

Thiessen in his sermon continued (for us) ad nauseum in according Anabaptist Mennonites absolute pride of place in this renewal "conspiracy" whose time had come in the 21st century. This contemporary Anabaptist/Mennonite hagiography is found repeatedly in Thiessen's work, reflected for instance here: http://www.mennonitechurch.ca/news/releases/2009/01/Release06.htm.

I would encourage Pastor Thacker to consider how blind one tends to be to one's own "idols closer to home". Not one ethnic Anabaptist/Mennonite in our fellowship heard the scapegoating "nauseum" (à la René Girard) in that sermon. Astounding claims were made for instance that no other church tradition but Anabaptist/Mennonite ever got/gets it about the faith/works dichotomy, etc. Thiessen's sermon, others heard by us in fellowship at our Mennonite Church the last 20 years, continued claims of this sort by fellow church-members (one in full praise of Thiessen's sermon at that same church service by a professor of church history, another awarding uncritical accolades at the same service by a university professor, our church pastor with a repeated preferential commitment to Anabaptist/Mennonite theological/ecclesiological uniqueness, many claims by fellow MCCers over my 12 years of work with Mennonite Central Committee Ontario and Canada, etc.), indicate one thing:
Anabaptist/Mennonite "snipe" are real.

We remain in fellowship at our Mennonite Church, but are nurtured by many other traditions, ancient and modern.

John David Thacker

Your critique of the Anabaptists is based on an inaccurate portrayal of their beliefs. You have misrepresented the Anabaptists and then smugly dismissed your own creation. Consider these quotes: "Anabaptists argued that it was they and they alone that understood and lived the nonviolent life of Jesus and the apostles," and "Ideological Anabaptists tend to pride themselves on being the real bearers of the Christian peace tradition as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount."

Those statements are simply false and you offer no research or citation of Anabaptist writings to support them. Unless you can provide some support for these statements, I suggest you retract your article. The 16th century Anabaptists never claimed that they were pioneers and innovators. If anything, I think they saw themselves as being faithful to an ancient tradition that had survived, albeit largely ignored by the masses, for centuries. They did not claim that they were the first or the only Christians to embrace nonviolence. They did not claim that they were the first or the only Christians to question the cozy relationship between the Church and State. Perhaps you refer to contemporary Anabaptists? I have been a Mennonite pastor for nine years; I spent seven years in Mennonite higher education. Never have I heard any of the claims that you attribute to Anabaptists. You are on a theological snipe hunt.

The fact that some Christian theologians and leaders in the 3rd to 6th centuries were critical of the "Eusebian-Constantinian compromise" does nothing to refute what you call the "Constantinian Fall Theory." In fact it supports it rather well. If the brightest minds of the Patristic Era were prophetically critical of this compromise, then the Anabaptists are to be commended for echoing their critiques in the 16th century. Despite the efforts of the Patristic writers, the witness of the church largely suffered from the Christendom that had its genesis in Constantine.

Of course, I am not aware of any 16th century Anabaptists who were particularly interested in 6th century Patristic theology. They were concerned with the state of the church in the 16th century. The "Anabaptists seriously lacked the exegetical, theological and ecclesial depth of Erasmus"? I can well imagine that they did since Erasmus was a highly educated scholar and many of the Anabaptists were common people with little or no formal education. The movement was not especially concerned with intellectual and scholastic "depth." Is that the goal of the Christian life? Should I, as a seminary-trained pastor, mock the theological understanding of a youth in my congregation? Does my relative theological astuteness make me a more faithful follower of Jesus?

You claim that "There is, therefore, a serious Anabaptist inaccuracy in interpreting the Patristic Era." I counter that there is a serious Ron Dart inaccuracy in interpreting the Anabaptist interpretation of the Patristic Era.


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