Anabaptism for the Baptists
Anabaptism didn’t directly give birth to the Baptists, but some today want to claim it as their own. And why not? Mennonites will be glad to share.
A Baptist revival of the Anabaptist vision is happening at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. One of America’s leading evangelical pastors, Rick Warren, is cheering the movement on.
Enthusiasm for Anabaptism at a Southern Baptist seminary affirms the faith tradition’s wide appeal. Direct spiritual descendants of 16th-century Anabaptism may be relatively few, but the movement’s impact on Christianity is broad and growing. Its power to inspire believers to follow Christ more faithfully extends beyond Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites and Brethren.
At a conference on “Anabaptism and Contemporary Baptists” last month, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson spoke of his hope that Baptists would “discover their theological roots in the Radical Reformation.”
The extent of Anabaptist influence on the first Baptists is a matter of some debate. When one of the Baptist founders, John Smythe, and his congregation fled persecution in England in 1608, the Mennonites of Amsterdam took them in. Secure in this Dutch haven for religious nonconformists, Smythe baptized himself and rest of his group. In 1611 or 1612 some of the members of the Amsterdam congregation returned to London and established a Baptist church there.
This much is certain: By practicing believers baptism and insisting on church-state separation, these emerging Baptists followed the principles Anabaptists had pioneered 85 years earlier.
Today, Patterson believes, Baptists should continue to uphold Anabaptist convictions. At the conference he cited the authority of Scripture; meaningful church membership and church discipline; courage amid persecution; the Lordship of Christ; religious liberty and rejection of the sword — although he admits that he and other Southern Baptist admirers of Anabaptism aren’t pacifists.
Warren, best known as the author of The Purpose Driven Life, praised the Anabaptists’ commitment to the Great Commission. “The Radical Reformers will increase your zeal for evangelism and world missions,” he said at the conference.
Warren said the Anabaptists expected a lot from their members, and churches today should do the same. North Americans tend to set the bar low. Mennonites have noticed this problem too. Mennonite Church USA’s “Purposeful Plan,” adopted last year, critiques the trend to emphasize church members’ rights rather than responsibilities. The most vibrant churches around the world today expect members to give generously of their time, talent and treasure. We need to be more like them.
In his famous “Anabaptist Vision” speech of 1943, Mennonite leader Harold S. Bender described Anabaptism as “the culmination of the Reformation, the fulfillment of the original vision of Luther and Zwingli.” Now Baptists are saying essentially the same thing. The Anabaptist vision doesn’t belong just to those of us who thought we owned it.
Comment on the article Anabaptism for the Baptists
Please keep comments civil. MWR editors reserve the right to remove any comment. When posting a comment, you agree to the MWR Comments Policy. Name and comment will be posted; commenters are strongly encouraged to give their full name. Email address is for follow-up only and will not be made public.