AT 01: Anabaptism Today: Introductory Editorial

By Stuart Murray
Originally published in Anabaptism Today, Issue 1, November 1992

Welcome to the inauguaral issue of Anabaptism Today,the magazine of a recently formed Anabaptist Network in the UK! For a number of years a small study group has met in London to explore Anabaptism and its contemporary significance. Drawn from several denominational backgrounds, members of this group have become convinced that the Anabaptist legacy is attractive and has much to teach Christians today. In December 1991 we wrote to eighty people asking whether they would welcome the formation of an Anabaptist Network and the production of a magazine. By autumn 1992, more than two hundred people had asked to join the Network, and most endorsed the idea of a magazine.

Steps toward a new magazine

Because of this level of interest, an ad hoc committee of people involved in the original study group met to make plans for a new magazine. The committee asked the following individuals to serve as an editorial board for the publication:

Eleanor and Alan Kreider - Mennonite authors who live in Manchester, where they are Theologians in Residence" at Northern Baptist College.

Nigel Wright - A Baptist minister, author, and tutor in theology at Spurgeon's College in London. He chairs the Baptist Mainstream group.

Judith Gardiner - A Mennonite specialist in church history who lives in East London and teaches at London Bible College.

Noel Moules - The Director of Workshop, a discipleship and leadership training programme. He lives in Clapham in South London.

Trisha Dale - A free-lance editor and National Secretary of Men Women and God. She is Baptist and lives in Surrey.

David Nussbaum - A director of a packaging company who holds two degrees in theology. He is from Bucks and is a non-executive director of Traidcraft.

The committee asked the following to serve as editors:

Stuart Murray, former church planter in the East End of London and member of Team Spirit (a House Church network). He recently completed a doctorate in Anabaptist hermeneutics and is now Oasis Director of Evangelism and Church Planting at Spurgeon's College in London.

Nelson Kraybill, a Mennonite minister from the United States who recently completed a doctorate in biblical studies. In 1991 he moved to London to become Programme Director of the London Mennonite Centre.

Many people in the traditions to which the editorial board belong recognize in Anabaptism a source of inspiration and instruction. For Mennonites, this means rediscovering their own historical roots. For Baptists, this means acknowledging the influence of Anabaptist ideas even if the historical connection between Anabaptism and early Baptists is unclear. For House Church people, this means discovering significant parallels with Anabaptism and learning from an earlier restoration movement.

The Anabaptist Network is already broader than these three traditions, however, and our intention is that it be as ecumenical as possible. Some people in other traditions are interested in Anabaptism as a historical movement; others are concerned about its contemporary relevance. Some are attracted by Anabaptist emphases on community, consensus and economic sharing; others value the commitment to nonviolence and enemy-loving. Some find the Anabaptist approach to Scripture refreshing; others find challenge in a radical Jesus-centred tradition. Our aim is to reflect this range of interests in magazine articles, and to draw on insights of members of the network.

A way of being church and following Jesus

We struggled over terminology for the network and the magazine. We considered "Radical Reformation" or 'believers' church", but decided in the end to stay with "Anabaptist". Of course this label was originally an insult, and Anabaptist ("re-baptizer") is an inaccurate term: Anabaptists regarded infant baptism as invalid, and thus insisted they were baptizing believers, not re-baptizing. Although using the term "Anabaptist" today could suggest our interest is mainly in a sixteenth-century movement, we have found it to be the most recognizable and helpful label. We are interested in the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, but see them as representatives of a way of being church and following Jesus that has had other expressions throughout history. We want to draw on this broader tradition and to explore what it means to follow Jesus at the end of the twentieth century.

This first issue of Anabaptism Today introduces themes that the magazine will address regularly: "The Search for Roots" locates Anabaptism in a broad "alternative church history" tradition; later issues will explore other groups from this stream of church history. "Zurich: Seedbed of Radical Change" introduces the Swiss Anabaptists; subsequent issues will contain similar articles on other sixteenth-century expressions of the Radical Reformation. "Catching the Bell Rope" considers ways in which the contemporary church is rediscovering and endorsing convictions held by Anabaptists; future articles will explore other contemporary topics. Other regular features will be book reviews and samplings of original Anabaptist documents or illustrations. We welcome letters and offers to write articles.

A stimulus to action and reflection

In addition to the magazine, the Anabaptist Network includes study groups in several parts of the UK. Already there are groups meeting in London and Sheffield, and during the winter more groups may begin. Details of these groups appear in this issue. Anabaptism Today will act as a resource for these study groups, together with other material we will suggest.

Further ahead lies development of an Anabaptist Institute to enable research into topics dealt with in this magazine. Whilst there is no facility for this at present in the UK, there is growing interest in such research. We are eager to provide resources, facilities and supervision for those who want to undertake study on Anabaptist topics. As a step towards this, we hope to set up resource centres in several parts of the UK, with books and other materials available for those who want to explore Anabaptism. At present the main resource is the London Mennonite Centre with its Metanoia Book Service, library and Cross-Currents seminars. The Anabaptist Network is independent of the Mennonite Centre but is working closely with it.

Sixteenth-century Anabaptism was largely a movement of the poor, powerless and uneducated; it was not a scholarly elite. Anabaptists had their heart in discipleship and mission rather than in doctrinal discussion or historical research. Whilst we recognize the need today for research to rediscover this legacy, we want the network to be earthed in local church life, mission and practical social concern. We hope this magazine will be a stimulus to reflection as well as action.