Best of both worlds
Evangelical, Anabaptist streams need each other
The Dutch Anabaptist leader Menno Simons issued a wake-up call in 1539. “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant,” he declared. He described what a wide-awake evangelist ought to do: feed the hungry, console the oppressed, teach the Word of God, repay evil with good, seek the lost.
Menno was an evangelical. Really, all Christians are. The word means “good news” or “gospel.” For Menno, true evangelical faith fed both body and soul.
So, Menno’s spiritual descendants are evangelical Anabaptists, right? Maybe, but the two words might not come as naturally for us as they did for him.
Today, “evangelical” may carry the weight of American fundamentalism — an image of being judgmental, rigid and narrow-minded. And “Anabaptist” doesn’t sound entirely positive to everyone either. Some associate it with liberal social activism that lacks a gospel foundation.
But both words are better than that. In fact, Mennonite Brethren leaders are promoting “evangelical Anabaptist” as their core identity. The February issue of Mennonite Brethren Herald, the Canadian MB magazine, devotes several articles to evangelical Anabaptism.
An evangelical, says Gil Dueck, a college professor in Saskatchewan, has “a high view of the Bible, an emphasis on conversion and individual piety, and a concern for mission and evangelism.” Anabaptism, he says, is “an approach to the Christian faith that has historically emphasized following Jesus, love of enemies, voluntary and disciplined church membership, and a tendency toward separation from the wider culture.” Today, he adds, it also tends to be associated with peace, social justice and environmental concerns.
Urging MBs to embrace this dual identity, Dueck sees a positive trend among young adults: They’re not distracted by a false tension between evangelism and social justice. “For them, Jesus was committed to both,” he says. “Perhaps those who find the separation of these things bizarre are demonstrating an evangelical Anabaptist approach without even knowing it.”
Bruce Guenther, interim president of MB Biblical Seminary Canada, observes that Canadian evangelicalism offers a better niche for Mennonites than the U.S. version does. MBs “have found evangelical Protestants in Canada to be less nationalistic and militaristic, more theologically diverse, and therefore more compatible compatriots.”
In the United States, the MB magazine Christian Leader carried an article in 2010 by Tabor College professor Richard Kyle encouraging MBs to follow an Anabaptist version of evangelicalism rather than an American one. The Conservative Mennonite Conference in the U.S. also embraces the evangelical Anabaptist label.
The MB discussion of evangelical Anabaptism is relevant to all Mennonites. The evangelical and Anabaptist perspectives need each other. Claiming the best of both worlds is a worthy goal for all of us. It will strengthen our self-awareness and propel our witness.
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