Open Anabaptism and a Community of (in)outsiders

I’ve been meaning to comment on Jarrod McKenna’s thought worthy post which looks at the “Emerging Peace Church Movement” or what he likes to call “Open Anabaptism.”

Through his various travels and meeting with all kinds of Christians McKenna writes,

What people might not be aware of is that I continue to encounter a growing movement of young people (not just young people!) who are deeply seeking to follow Jesus in ways that witness to God’s Reign. A spirituality of “justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” in the midst of a world where injustice, war and misery seem to reign.
green door

McKenna traces a number of trends he’s seen pointing to a growing desire to engage Jesus in our contemporary cultures in radical ways.  Some of these communities he names are Christian Activist Network, Waiters Union, Pine Gap 6, Convergent Friends, and Peace Convergence.  He’s using terms like “Emerging Peace Church Movement” and “Open Anabaptism” to delineate a new impulse among a really broad range of Christians.  A stirring of the Spirit we may think of as continued embodiment of the Radical Reformation.

I too have witnessed in my interactions with people from various traditions that many Evangelicals, Liberals, and everyone in between, are looking for some kind of new (or different) lens from which to understand our faith, Jesus, Scripture, Culture and the Church within the world.  Anabaptism as a tradition is all encompassing and contains within the intellectual framework to bear the weight of an influx of many traditions into it’s vision.

He says,

“The enduring legacy of this important 16th century multifaceted movement which, “insisted that any “spiritual” reformation that needed the backing of a military knew nothing of the power of Spirit”, (Ray Gingerich) is not monopolized by any one tradition.”

The larger Radical Reformation tradition of which Anabaptism is a part, and also includes the Friends and Brethren, I would also argue now contains some of the radical Catholic groups as well as the Emerging Church.  Placing these sub-traditions within the Radical Reformation tradition is the most helpful way of ordering these churches because it gives us a variety of models of Church and resistance which stress nonviolence, allegiance to Jesus (not institutional church), a prophetic emphasis, and witness against Constantinianism.  This anti-Christendom position to culture works well with the postmodern assumptions of many of these emerging communities.  Thus it will be important to have these “newer” communities draw on these older ones as Jarrod states,

In a post-Christendom setting their may be no more important stories to draw on than this ‘Open Anabaptist impulse’ and other similar traditions such as the Early Friends. A witness to the reality of the early churches “power” not being found in positions of prestige but with those in a position of need. The “power” of the early Church did not come from the Empire’s domination but the Spirit’s nonviolent power of resurrection.

Further, it is clear from what McKenna says that one of the key characteristics of Anabaptism is resistance to worldly powers.

The strength of this resistance was found in their claim of allegiance to Jesus and not the Rulers of the (so-called) “Christian Empires,” with their oppressive economics and politics of violence.

The question, who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ then can also seen as a question motivated by the powers of the world.

Rather, this Anabaptist

“‘impulse’ as ‘open’ because it is invitational, ie. “Come join us in seeking.” This ‘open impulse’ necessitates a listening and humility that can’t exist where coercion is present. Open also in it’s stance toward those who might even be described as ‘enemies’.”

In this sense then we are a community of (in)outsiders, there is always an instability to our identity, we know we don’t belong and yet we are here in the midst of the world together.  What keeps us together is our conviction that we are to follow Jesus into resisting the world, and paradoxically this resistence means welcoming and opening our communities even to our enemies.  There is no use asking the question wether one can join this movement or not, because the movement of the Spirit is around us whether we know it or not.  The question gets turned around to the individual, “are you ready to join in our seeking?”

As a body of Christians we are always looking to learn what it means to be a people seeking Jesus in our culture today, this seeking is always provisional and precarious, what we have is given as a gift by God – it’s not something we can take by force.  In this way resistance to the world is a resistance to the desire and impulse to become stable, securing power, and building our own Christian ghettos and empires.

I appreciate Jarrod and the work him and his community are doing in Australia, they are embodying this kind of “precarious” existence as an example for the rest of us.  One of the things I like most about the stuff he’s doing is that he’s trying to pull together Jesus, Emerging Churches, Anabaptists and Quakers and make friends out of all of them!  He’s been very creative in his approach a very subversive work indeed.

Emergent Church Movement: The Younger Evangelicals and Quaker Renewal
Jesus Radicals
Sharing the ‘Anabaptist impulse’ with the next generation
Peace Convergence
Anabaptism and the Emerging Church
A Precarious Peace

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