Now, to what end have I burdened you with all this history and theology? For three reasons. First, I want to make it clear that no contemporary expression of Anabaptism should be viewed as the only interpretation that is true to the spirit of the historic movement. Second, I want to suggest that proponents of the Anabaptist vision who reinterpret this movement in a way that weakens its ties to evangelical, orthodox Christianity are not true Anabaptists at all. Henceforth I will refer to them as "neo-Anabaptists." And third, I want to dispel the myth that those of us who come to Anabaptism by way of mainstream Evangelicalism do not understand the historical movement and are not qualified to speak for Anabaptism today or to represent ourselves as heirs of the spirit of Anabaptism.
There is a sense in which none of us can claim the designation "Anabaptist." That term has significance for a particular moment in history, a time when the Christian establishment expressed its disapproval for a small group of radical believers by demeaning their convictions and calling them "rebaptizers." Apart from that specific historical context, the name really has no meaning. Anabaptism was an important phenomenon at an unusually significant moment in church history, and the contributions of these courageous souls can hardly be overstated. With the passing of that moment and that generation, however, only the spirit and influence of the historical phenomenon continues from age to age. The spirit of Anabaptism is always a first generation experience. Every new generation of believers must assess the character of its age and determine if they are willing to stand for biblical truth and holy living whatever the cost. The courage to live faithfully despite opposition and persecution is the lasting legacy of our Anabaptist forebears.
A Message From The "Founders"
I have often wondered what kind of message Conrad Grebel or Michael Sattler or Menno Simons would bring if they were to address a gathering of American "Anabaptists" at the turn of the twenty-first century. I imagine they would begin by expressing amazement that the "movement" spawned by nothing more than their efforts to live as faithful Christians had been institutionalized in a dozen or more denominations or fellowship groups. I think they would chide us for codifying their feeble and imperfect attempts to verbalize their faith in academic disciplines such as "Anabaptist history" and "Anabaptist theology."
Then I feel sure they would remind us to keep our eyes on the things that really matter. Love God. Worship, adore and serve His only Son, Jesus Christ the Lord, Who loved us and gave Himself for us. Believe and obey His holy Word. Walk in the power of His Holy Spirit. Promote peace in all relationships. Never be held hostage by the spirit of the age or the character of any particular culture. Preach the gospel of grace and forgiveness, the only source of hope in a lost and dying world.
Work in harmony with other Christians who cherish similar beliefs and pursue similar goals. And never, never tolerate even the tiniest germ of institutional pride or ecclesiastical arrogance.
A few weeks ago I preached in a non-denominational, evangelical congregation in Connecticut. During the adult Sunday school hour I recounted some of my own spiritual pilgrimage along with a brief survey of the Anabaptist movement, from its birth in the Protestant Reformation to its continuing influence on the contemporary Christian community. I came away from that experience with two thoughts burning in my mind. First, I realized anew how the spirit of Anabaptism can enrich all of Christianity, especially American evangelicalism. Second, I had to admit how far short we contemporary "Anabaptists" fall when compared to the standard of holiness and faithfulness set by our Anabaptist forebears. I committed myself to pray ever more fervently for a touch of God upon our communion in renewing, reviving power. And I was encouraged to believe that the Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship might be one channel through which that touch of God might be felt.