Resources

The Anabaptist tradition has many resources to offer the contemporary church. This section offers a selection of such resources. Some are helpful for those exploring the Anabaptist tradition itself. Others are Anabaptist contributions to important (and sometimes contentious) issues facing Christians in a post-Christendom culture.

For several years the Anabaptist Network published a journal called Anabaptism Today. You can find an archive of articles here. Since 2002 we have produced three times a year newsletters with articles and reviews. The current newsletter and an archive of newsletters can be found at www.anabaptistnetwork.com/newsletters.

Books Etc.

Books about Anabaptism

Most books on Anabaptism and related subjects are published in North America. Most of these can be consulted in the library of the London Mennonite Centre. Books in print can be ordered from the Metanoia Book Service. We recommend the following for those looking for an introduction to Anabaptism:

William Estep: The Anabaptist Story (Eerdmans, 1996)

Walter Klaassen: Anabaptism in Outline (Herald Press, 1981)

Meic Pearse: The Great Restoration: The Religious Radicals of the 16th and 17th Centuries (Paternoster, 1998)

C Arnold Snyder: Anabaptist History and Theology (Pandora Press, 1995)

C Arnold Snyder: From Anabaptist Seed (Pandora Press, 1999)

C Arnold Snyder: Reading the Anabaptist Bible (Pandora/Herald, 2002)

C Arnold Snyder: Following in the Footsteps of Christ (Darton, Longman & Todd, 2004)

J Denny Weaver: Becoming Anabaptist (Herald Press,
1987)


The following are more detailed or offer studies of particular aspects of Anabaptism

Claus-Peter Clasen: Anabaptism – A Social History 1525-1618 (Cornell University Press, 1972)

Hans-Jurgen Goertz: The Anabaptists (Routledge, 1996)

Stuart Murray: Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition (Pandora Press, 2000)

Wilbert Shenk (ed.): Anabaptism and Mission (Herald Press, 1984)

George H Williams: The Radical Reformation (Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992)


Anabaptist-flavoured Books

Several books written by members of the Anabaptist Network in recent years draw on Anabaptist perspectives. These include:

Alan Kreider: Journey Towards Holiness (Marshalls, 1986)

Nigel Wright: The Radical Kingdom (Kingsway, 1986)

Nigel Wright: The Radical Evangelical (SPCK, 1996)

Keith Jones: A Believing Church (Baptist Union, 1998)

Eleanor Kreider: Given for You: A Fresh Look at Communion (IVP, 1998)

Stuart Murray: Church Planting: Laying Foundations (Paternoster, 1998)

Nelson Kraybill: On the Pilgrim’s Way (Herald Press, 1999)

Stuart Murray: Beyond Tithing (Paternoster, 2000)

Nigel Wright: Disavowing Constantine (Paternoster, 2000)

Jonathan Bartley: The Subversive Manifesto (Bible Reading Fellowship, 2003)

Stuart Murray: Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (Paternoster, 2004)

Stuart Murray: Church After Christendom (Paternoster, 2005)

Stuart Murray: Changing Mission (CTBI, 2006)

Jonathan Bartley: Faith and Politics after Christendom (Paternoster, 2006)

Jo Pimlott & Nigel Pimlott: Youth Work after Christendom (Paternoster, 2008)

Alan & Eleanor Kreider: Worship and Mission after Christendom (Paternoster, 2010)

Lloyd Pietersen: Reading the Bible after Christendom (Paternoster, 2011)

Stuart Murray: The Naked Anabaptist (Paternoster, 2011)

James Krabill & Stuart Murray: Forming Christian Habits in Post-Christendom (Herald Press, 2011)


'On the Road' On-Line Journal

The Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand produce an on-line journal called On The Road, with articles, comments on news and book reviews.


An Anabaptist Prayer Book

Take Our Moments and Our Days Volume One Ordinary Time is a collection of morning and evening prayer services. The services constitute a repeating four-week cycle, prepared for the period between Pentecost and Advent. The services focus on the teaching and ministry of Jesus: the Lord's Prayer (week one), the Beatitudes (week two), Jesus' parables (week three), and Jesus' miracles (week four). The prayer services are designed for use by small groups or families, although they are suitable for individuals as well.

Take Our Moments and Our Days Volume Two Advent through Pentecost is also available.

Editors: Arthur Paul Boers, Eleanor Kreider, John Rempel, Mary H. Schertz, Barbara Nelson Gingerich

Coming Home: Stories of British and Irish Anabaptists

The story of the Anabaptist Network is told in this book edited by Alan Kreider and Stuart Murray: Coming Home: Stories of Anabaptists in Britain and Ireland (Pandora Press, 2000). At the heart of the book are nearly 60 stories written by individuals, who have been impacted in various ways by the Anabaptist tradition. Many contributors have used the phrase “coming home” to describe their encounter with Anabaptism and their sense of belonging within this tradition. The rest of the book contains reflections on what happened the last time Anabaptists were in England (in the late sixteenth century), on the emergence of the Network, and on the challenges that lie ahead. Available from Metanoia Book Service. Here are some excerpts from the book:

From the Introduction

Alan Kreider
Stuart Murray


By Stuart Murray Williams (near right) and Alan Kreider (far right)

Anabaptism and the British Isles today – for most people these simply do not go together. The historically conscious may think of Anabaptism as a radical part of the European Reformation; but that was 450 years ago, on the continent. Others who are visually aware, or who have been tourists, may think of Anabaptism as alive in the late twentieth century, but in North America where communities of photogenic Amish, Mennonites and Hutterians live. But Anabaptism in Britain and Ireland today? That seems difficult to imagine.

It’s not hard to explain this silence. From the 1530s onwards in England, Anabaptism was a word of shame and abuse. It became the great pejorative, the A-word of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which could categorise and discredit anyone who was more radical religiously than oneself. Repeatedly Anabaptists who strayed onto British soil were persecuted. Even the Baptists, the tradition which has been most closely associated with Anabaptism, have been of two minds about the association. As Baptist theologian Nigel Wright has put it, “When Baptists want to appear respectable they talk about their Puritan roots; when they want to appear radical they talk about their Anabaptist heritage.” And most of the time most Baptists have wanted to appear respectable! As a result, since the sixteenth century, Anabaptism has largely been absent from the British Isles, and its ideas, to which some radicals have now and then paid homage, have lacked embodiment in individuals and communities.

But things are changing. In the past two decades individual Christians – and even a few communities – throughout the British Isles have been discovering Anabaptism as a source of ideas, identity and a living heritage. This book is a product of that change. It grew out of something that would have been unthinkable until recently – an Anabaptist Theological Circle. This group twice a year brings together a dozen Baptist, Anglican, New Church and Mennonite theologians. To its October 1997 meeting came a request from church leaders, especially Baptists in England, for guidelines to present to congregations who are exploring Anabaptist-flavoured church renewal. What does Anabaptism have to contribute to the future of the church in England, and specifically to congregations involved in mission?

The Theological Circle was grinding away, trying to distil Anabaptist insights into a few pithy statements. Suddenly someone said: “I don’t think we’re doing this in a very helpful way. It doesn’t feel very Anabaptist to me; it feels more like the mainstream Reformers. How about if, instead of stating normative characteristics, we decided to collect our stories? If we did, the picture of Anabaptism in the British Isles that would emerge might be less coherent; but it would be a lot more concrete – and certainly more interesting.” This led to some uncomfortable hours. It seemed to divert us from the request that responsible people who care about the future of the church had made to the group. Could we instead try something very different, which might result in something unpredictably creative?

The group decided to go for the stories. An invitation to write “Anabaptist stories” was inserted in the Anabaptist Network journal, Anabaptism Today. The brief was simple: to tell in story form how they discovered Anabaptist thinking and how it shaped their lives and thinking. What ideas, what books, what communities were important to them in their discovery of Anabaptism? Over twenty stories arrived, some of which were from people whom we editors had not met before but who obviously are deeply affected by Anabaptism. Alan and Eleanor Kreider then wrote to other people whom they knew had been involved in the Anabaptist Network, and the collection of stories more than doubled in size.

It quickly emerged that many of the stories had a common theme – coming home – a phrase that cropped up so frequently in conversations that we have chosen it as the title for this book. People from an astonishing range of denominational and theological backgrounds felt that in discovering Anabaptism they were finding their home. Something clicked, something made sense, “the penny dropped”, to enable people in the fluid cultural and religious situations around the turn of the millennium to sense that here, in Anabaptism, they belong.

Many things have no doubt led to this, but one stands out – the collapse of Christendom. For 1,500 years after the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine I in the early fourth century, Christians in the West sensed that they were a part of an all-embracing Christian civilisation. In theory, and to a considerable extent in practice, everyone belonged to this – they were baptised into the established churches as infants; everyone believed the doctrine that orthodox Christianity prescribed; and everyone knew how Christians were supposed to behave. Of course, things were never as neat as this; the court records of Christian Europe are full of all manner of deviance. But the point is that it is the court records that inform us of this. People who dissented from Christendom patterns of belonging, belief and behaviour got in trouble. Christendom was powerful, but it was always questionable whether its power was rooted as much in the freely given consent of the people as it was in inducement and compulsion. By the post-World War II period it was clear that, in many European countries, Christendom was in crisis. Social and legal sanctions were disappearing, and people were behaving in ways that by Christendom standards were quite unacceptable. Parents were not having their babies christened; teenagers were not being confirmed; on television people began to use bad language and to despise religion. The sense of religious “at-homeness” that Christendom had provided for many people for over a millennium was now disappearing.

Christian people have responded to this in many ways. Some have sought to fight the changes in the courts, invoking “blasphemy” laws. Others have sought comfort in the spirit of the Christendom heritage – it is impressive that repeatedly in recent years records of Gregorian chant have topped the charts. Still others have prayed for “revival” or “renewal” – words which indicate a restoration of the Christendom era in which Christians could set the moral tone for the nation. Many Christians have with great energy founded new churches, experimented with new forms of worship and organised new initiatives for evangelism. As a new millennium begins, there are many who are perplexed, and who wonder about the way forward.

It is in this post-Christendom world that people have begun to “come home”. They have begun to discover Anabaptism as a means of charting a distinctive way of being Christian in the British Isles. The stories of what drew some of these people to Anabaptism are the heart of this book. But central to them all is the sense that there can be a radicalism in the present through a rediscovery of a living past. Roots, actually as well as etymologically, can be radical! In many and various ways, for these people Anabaptist ideas have come as a relief, a tonic, a new way of thinking about and living the Christian mission which has special relevance for a post-Christendom world. As the stories will indicate, the result can be one of relief and gratitude. “Once no people, now God’s people.” This old biblical theme resounds through these stories. People who have been rootless have found roots; people who have been homeless have found a home.

For most of these people “home” is not a new denomination. There are two explicitly Anabaptist traditions represented in the UK. The Bruderhof, who have two flourishing communities in the south-east of England, have influenced many through their hospitality, the solid wooden toys which they manufacture, and their journal, The Plough. There are also the Mennonites, whose Wood
Green Mennonite Church
and London Mennonite Centre, both in North London, have provided teaching and resources. These have influenced many, and some British people have joined the Bruderhof or the Mennonites.

But many people who are drawn to Anabaptism do not want to join a new community or denomination; instead they want to graft Anabaptist understandings on to their existing church commitments. These people may well be participants in the Anabaptist Network, readers of Anabaptism Today or members of one of the several Anabaptist Network Study Groups meeting in different parts of the country. Most will seek to incorporate Anabaptist concerns into the lives of their Anglican parishes or New Church congregations. A few will be in a position to go further. They may be in churches which are interested in espousing Anabaptism explicitly, becoming “hyphenated-Anabaptist” congregations. Newly-planted churches may also espouse an Anabaptist identity. In the years to come, congregations that call themselves “Anabaptist-Baptist” or “Anabaptist-Wesleyan” may not seem a total oddity. But for all of these people, there is a deep expectation that the church that will survive in the post-Christendom British Isles will be a church that embodies many Anabaptist themes.
‹ Coming Home: Stories of British and Irish AnabaptistsupFrom "Anabaptism Tomorrow" ›

From "Anabaptism Tomorrow"

By Noel MoulesNoel Moules

I have taught Christians across Britain for many years and there is one question I am frequently asked, “Which period of church history would you most like to have lived in?” There is never any need to pause or stop to think, the answer for me is quite simple and very clear – “today and tomorrow”. Of course there are so many periods and events from the last 2,000 years that entice and lure me, but it is the present and the future that are the supreme challenge and opportunity. While we build upon the incredible heritage of the past, now is always the time to discover God in fresh ways and to make a major impact. This is our kairos moment!

Like a ship in a storm

As we look to the future, the challenge to the church in this country is enormous. Society and culture are involved in fundamental change – energised by individualism and consumerism, enabled by the most astonishing advances in technology, manipulated by the exploitative power of the media. Values are transient, the human story unimportant, the certainties and promises of the past an illusion. The terms “post-modern” and “post-Christian” affirm a break with what has gone before, but take us nowhere. There is existential questioning and spiritual searching everywhere; yet at the same time the majority of the population are not only unchurched but probably culturally “unchurchable”.

Added to this, within the church itself there is a watershed. Much of the church has been washed by the wake of the charismatic movement; however, its immediate impact is all but spent. In many sectors of the church little has been left untouched with its passing; there has been a serious shaking of foundations as well as superstructure, but to what end? Churches in historical denominations along with independent congregations have become less inhibited in worship and more spontaneous in spiritual self-expression, but now that charismatic characteristics have become part of the popular Christian ethos and the acrimonious conflicts of the early days have passed, many people are looking for something more. This fact alone reveals the shallowness of its legacy.

Across the country there has been increased networking between a whole variety of churches and groups, and there are some remarkable examples of church planting and church growth. However, rather than a growing hunger for “deepening”, I believe many people have become caught up in a cycle of “happening”. A taste has developed for “receiving” in preference to “being”. As a result, many people are always looking for the next wave – whatever that may be, whatever that may bring. This makes them vulnerable to focusing on short-term experiences, with their fragmented theology and spiritual naivete leaving them wide open to false teaching. The hopes of many are also increasingly pinned on God sovereignly sending a revival which, with little human effort, will fill the churches and change the face of the nation. What will be the spiritual fallout if this scenario fails to unfold? For all this emphasis on experience, I nevertheless meet very few Christians with a raw excitement for God.

In contrast, there are those who are disillusioned; who feel that the spiritual promises of previous years have never been fulfilled; and their disappointment has given way to a deep sadness. For them an early freedom, joy and sense of discovery appear to have been substituted by top-down structures; where strategy is replacing spontaneity and effort has often supplanted excitement and enthusiasm. As a result, across the country, there are growing numbers of mature, experienced Christians who are no longer actively part of a local church; or only touch its fringes. They still have a deep faith and living experience of God, but have become disenfranchised disciples. To describe some of them as “post-evangelical” may perhaps define their past, but it does not connect them to a future. For them, the organised structures of the Christian community are no longer nurturing their spirituality, nor creating an environment in which their gifts can be expressed. Neither do they feel that the church is seriously engaging with modern culture in a way that honestly grapples with the searching questions of their own hearts and of our times. It is not without significance that Christians like these are the fastest growing section of the church in Britain today.

Nevertheless, I personally believe that the greatest weakness in the church in Britain is with leadership. In struggling to relate living faith to changing culture, many leaders display little real sense of direction. Their lack of orientation can at times compromise their integrity. Many have become isolated, struggling to maintain both church systems and people’s expectations. Others, having succumbed to the popular Christian notion that successful local church means becoming big prosperous centres of spiritual power, come under intense unspoken pressure from their congregations to be part of this experience. They are urged to become networked with other groups that are sharing in this “success syndrome”. Many leaders are not leading but being driven. Along with all this comes insecurity, from which often spring authoritarian attitudes.

There is also the subtle seduction of power and the desire to be in control, which maintains hierarchical structures and fails properly to enable the community of faith to function with maturity. Most experiments with “cell-church” will fail because the cells are not genuinely empowered; authority remains centralised and they become little more than revamped house groups. Leadership weakness is also seen in superficial biblical teaching and the expectation that people will follow “party lines” in thinking. There is virtually no encouragement for individuals to reason, question and experiment for themselves and so enrich the body as a whole with divine diversity. The situation is compounded by the fact that few leaders seem aware, or prepared to admit, that anything is other than completely satisfactory. The role of leadership is vital, but the old mould of both style and thinking have got to be broken.

As the twentieth century falls behind us the challenge to the church is serious. Apart from the concerns I have outlined above, pre-millennial tension has also exacted its toll. Few will admit to the level of expectation there has actually been. At one extreme there have been the minority, fairly certain that Jesus would return. Far greater numbers have been part of widely publicised schemes for world evangelisation or massive national church growth; all of which have fallen dramatically short of their original widely publicised objectives. Many more people just had a sense that the year 2000 should have been spiritually significant; the fact that it wasn’t leaves them with the question, “Where do we go from here?” Like a ship in a storm, these are days of disappointment and often unspoken struggle with faith for many Christians.

Grasping the moment

This is where the doors open to so many wonderful possibilities! In spite of the sobering picture I have painted, many exciting things are also happening in the Church in Britain, and often in the most unexpected places. This book is an important glimpse into part of that story and promise for the future. The remarkable growth of interest in Anabaptism and the influence of its ideas are not accidental. I believe God’s hand is behind it all. So many spiritual journeys, from every direction and background, are converging on an approach to the Christian faith that draws us towards the truth.

As we have seen, the term “Anabaptism” means different things to different people, yet it connects together in a common bond those touched by it. It has always held within itself a diversity of contrasting views. For me, it defines a unique ethos rather than a specific agenda. It is not so much what was experienced and experimented with in the sixteenth century, inspiring though this is, that is of primary importance. Rather it is the way in which those radical reformers rediscovered the Christian faith and approached Scripture, their ability to reach past the barriers thrown up by Christendom and to tap into the original source and character of our faith. To me, the quintessence of Anabaptism is the vision and values it confronts us with and the direction in which they call us to follow.

At its most focused, this is an encounter with the person and life of the historical Jesus, who came preaching peace. He is our model; his example, death, resurrection and the sending of the Spirit enable us to follow in his steps. Everything else flows from this irreducible central core. The word “Christocentric” recurs throughout the text of this book and that is because it is the key. It means, first and foremost, that each one of us must personally come to a place of being convinced that the new covenant experience flows from a clear commitment in discipleship to Jesus; which takes seriously his pattern of life for our own; which is prepared to practise and experiment with his hard sayings in the power of the Spirit.

Such a seemingly obvious decision for a Christian will, in reality, set us at odds with much historic – and alas contemporary – Christian thinking which has marginalised Jesus to a theological principle, rather than embracing him as the person who is our model and example. However, I dare to believe that in God’s economy one of the purposes of the charismatic movement – as of other forms of spiritual re-energising – has been to prepare the church for a liberated radical discipleship that is ignited, empowered and characterised by the presence of God and the work of the Spirit. In a Christian ethos that is looking for the next “experience,” this is a cold sober choice [metanoia]. For the vision and values of Anabaptism to truly impact churches and secular communities, the first step must be made by individuals who are inspired by a deep joy and spontaneous freedom in Jesus.

Early Anabaptists have been described as being “neither Protestant nor Catholic”. While these words make an important historical point, they also express a vital truth; the fact that there is only one Church. The original Anabaptists were rejected by both sides in the Reformation; our aim today is to be a catalyst in reconciliation and ecumenism. We wish to affirm the indivisible unity of the community of faith, bringing the body of Christ together. Our desire is to bridge-build and embrace everyone who names the name of Jesus, has been touched by the fire of his love and is following him. Several contributors have expressed how it is also our desire to draw deeply from the diverse streams of Christian spirituality – Celtic, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, ancient, modern and global – and so create a confluence of richness and reality to the glory of God. This was not possible in the historical circumstances of the sixteenth century, but I believe it is nevertheless true to the spirit of the Anabaptists. It is also essential if we are to be the one united church God wants us to be, bold witnesses to Jesus into the future.

However, a word of warning. The increasing interest in Anabaptism across Britain itself presents a challenge. In some Christian circles people respond to new manifestations of Anabaptism with alarm, fearing that there will be new attacks on cherished Christian practices, leading to new divisions. In other Christian circles Anabaptism has positive connotations and is in danger of becoming a buzz-word. In order to sound radical, the language of some groups and individuals is merely being decorated with “Anabaptist-speak”, without seriously changing their thinking or behaviour. For example, the themes of community and nonconformity appear attractive, while the subjects of non-violence and justice are ignored. The challenge to each of us is to grapple with all the issues with which the radical reformers wrestled and work out their implications in our own times. Likewise, to attempt simply to “pick ’n’ mix” or try to “bolt on” certain Anabaptist ideas to existing frameworks of thought is to fail to do justice to them. They must be recognised as a unique culture that ferments and changes the whole.

Closer to the centre of the Network I believe there is another danger. Most of us were initially drawn towards the movement by the ideas, individuals and events of the Radical Reformation. The challenge is to be able to turn our encounter with these into tangible life-changing experiences for individuals and churches today. Solid and sustained research into all aspects of Anabaptism will always be a central task, but we must equally be conscious of the danger of the Network becoming simply a historical and theological society. If the fruits of our reflection do not practically and radically change the lives of individuals, churches and secular communities across this country, then we will have missed the most incredible opportunity.

The challenges within both the church and our culture are enormous, but I believe that the inherent Anabaptist values of thinking creatively and acting radically in the power of the Spirit can produce phenomenal results. This is not based upon some romantic view, but hard-headed experience over many years. Individuals and small groups working both within and outside existing structures can have an influence far beyond their number or their status. We must never underestimate the influence of a person whose demeanour, responses and attitudes are provocative by their unique truthfulness. Most social revolutions have spread by deeds observed or conversations shared. The power of the right word or action impacting an individual or group at exactly the right moment simply cannot be exaggerated. We should be working to change the current environment and culture of our churches and society; stimulating creative thinking, encouraging debate, provoking discussion. At every step we need to be learning from each other, sharing experiences, being humble enough to admit mistakes and childlike enough to rejoice over even small successes.

We have the chance significantly to influence the life of the church in this land for years ahead. It will almost certainly be “grass-roots-up” in its method, it will be gentle in its character, but it will not happen by some passive process of osmosis. If we are to grasp the moment, it will take a determined commitment on the part of each one to act boldly and single-mindedly. The question is: do we think that the themes of Anabaptism should simply be fashionable for a time, or are we convinced they point us clearly towards truth in its fundamental form?

An Anabaptist from Constantine's Garrison

by Jonathan Blakeborough, York

Jonathan BlakeboroughMy wife and I grew up, and continue to live, in the city of York. York was founded as a military garrison by the Romans in AD 71, the city where Constantine was proclaimed Tetrarch as a prelude to becoming Christendom’s first emperor, notorious among the Jews as the site of England’s worst medieval pogrom, and a city that remains host to both the British Army’s N.E. Command and the northern primate of the Established church. Nevertheless, it also has a strong Quaker tradition and is perhaps not quite so inauspicious a place in which to be a peace church Christian.

I am also an Anglican by origin. Bedtime prayers with my mother, Sunday school, Cub Scouts, singing in the church choir and evangelistic summer camps, during one of which I committed my life to the Lord, were the major features of the landscape of my childhood and early adolescence.

To some it may seem a little fanciful to try to make too strong a connection between scouting and the military, except to note that both are uniformed organisations. However, as a youngster, I have to confess that I found all uniforms and their paraphernalia utterly fascinating, and by the age of 18 I was visiting army bases as a candidate for officer training.

Nevertheless, all was to change on a memorably cloudless afternoon during my final school holidays. As a “potential officer”, I was part of an Anglo-West German patrol collecting routine information along the border of the now defunct DDR. Having walked through a village literally cut in half by electric fences and razor wire, we came across a place in open country where a section of the Iron Curtain had been taken down for repairs! Teenage conscripts were digging holes for new fence posts, but nearby were heavily-armed sentries to prevent anyone defecting. It occurred to me that if one of the Easterners decided to make a run for it across no man’s land, it would take only a few seconds for the shooting to start. All of us, West and East, would be caught out in the open, so it would not be our weapons that would keep us alive, but everyone’s restraint – now there’s a thought!! I wasn’t afraid, but on that beautiful July day felt profoundly shabby, an apprentice to a dirty trade. It was the beginning of the end of my military career.

Years later, as medical students, my wife and I decided to broaden our ecclesiastical horizons and began to attend a Baptist church. Like many before us, we opted to be “rebaptised” as believers, but subsequently seldom came across other Christians who combined Baptist-style beliefs (believers’ baptism, separation of church and state, and priesthood of all believers) with a radical social vision and non-violence, until a theological friend suggested that I get in contact with the London Mennonite Centre, who in turn put me in touch with the nascent Anabaptist Network. At long last, I could put a name to what I had become, an Anabaptist from Constantine’s garrison. Maybe now is the time for me to recruit a few more and establish an outpost of the Prince of Peace.

 Jonathan Blakeborough is a psychiatrist working in Ilkley.

What Makes Anabaptists so Annoying?

by Ruth Gouldbourne, Bristol

I think I was ten or eleven, and the family was on our annual holiday. This year we were travelling in northern Germany, dividing our time between finding swimming pools and looking at sites of historical interest. On this day, which was unbearably hot, I was standing with my father in the middle of the town square waiting for my mother and sister to return from some shopping. “Look up at that spire,” said my father. “Do you see those cages? That was where the captured Anabaptists were hung on display.” We were spending a few days in Münster, and it was the first time I had heard of the Anabaptists as a group of real people rather than a name for my sister (Ann). My father told me as much of the story as a ten-year-old could pay attention to, and I started to wonder just what kind of people these could be that everybody hated and feared so much.

Fifteen years later, I started a course in Reformation history as part of my theological degree, and the Anabaptists recurred to my consciousness, and I found in them a welcome antidote to the very high Anglicanism of the college, always a little uncomfortable to a Baptist. And again, I found myself puzzled about why a group, which seemed so innocuous, was so hated and feared. This time the puzzlement became so insistent that it became part of the desire to do further academic research, and led to my current PhD work.

However, I found that an interest in the Anabaptists could not be limited to an antiquarian one, especially as I was serving in a local pastorate and beginning to find that reflection on the meaning and practice of the nature of the church was an immediate issue. It was about this time that the Anabaptist Network was formed and I was able to join a group. Here I found a space where my historical interest and my pastoral and personal concern in the nature of discipleship and church came together.

Since then I have found my interest in and drawing from the Anabaptist tradition has become both more focused and more frustrating. As I have become more shaped by the tradition, and found that the ideas have become more and more important to me, partly through the discussions with others in the Network, so I have found my discontent with my present experience of church life and my own level of commitment has grown. In that way, I would not say that my involvement with Anabaptist ideas and people has been an unmixed comfort; in fact, my original impression has stayed with me. What is it about these people that makes them so annoying? But I have made some progress – what makes them so annoying is that they challenge, undermine and de-centre so much of what I and others take for granted about the way of being Christian at this time and in my place. To be involved with Anabaptist ideas does not make for a comfortable life – thank God.

Ruth Gouldbourne is the minister of Bloomsbury Baptist Church, London.

Taking the Bible Seriously and Practising Equality

by Ed Sirett, London

Ed SirettI was brought up by parents who were members of a Christadelphian church. I was baptised when I was about fifteen years old. To a large extent Christadelphians believe much the same as many Evangelicals, but since they are (even more) preoccupied with smallest details of doctrine they tend to view all other Christians as very misguided at best. The worship was unvaried in the extreme.

When I was at university, I began to meet other people to whom the Bible was significant; a strange fact since I had been brought up with the idea that no other Christians took the Bible seriously! Well, after many years, I drifted through much apathy and eventually found myself converted to mainstream Christianity by the people who ran the Greenbelt festival. When I got married and moved to North London, my wife suggested that we could go to the Mennonites – but I was reluctant since I had spent many years escaping from a “cranky little sect”.

However, after a few years of attending an evangelical Anglican parish church we were ready for a change; this was due to some problems we were having “fitting in”. Both of us like to explore new ideas, not immediately rejecting them but holding them up to the yardstick of Jesus and our own and others’ experience. Both of us had significant problems with the clergy/male-dominated leadership that seemed not to acknowledge the talents of many in the congregation. I became somewhat bored with the same choruses being sung repetitively. My wife had significant bouts of depression which made people wary of her and her talents, rather than accepting her as another broken person in the image of God. Finally, we became disenchanted with much of the teaching, which was often simplistic (instead of simply explained) and in a spirit that left one feeling that we were being encouraged to follow Paul rather than Jesus.

On my first visit to the Mennonites I was in tears of relief and joy for most of the service. Here were followers of Jesus, who took the Bible seriously, who visibly practised equality among themselves. The equality was such that it was not something that this community was self-consciously doing, rather it was something so integral to their ways that anyone not doing it would have stood out simply as wrong. This equality was not just between men and women, it was between the young and old, the well and ill (in whatever way), adults and children, and most amazingly between the leadership and the led, those who had been there a long time and newcomers like ourselves.

After I began regularly attending the Mennonite church, I found that many aspects of the gospel that I had suspected were undervalued elsewhere were now held up as central to the teaching of Jesus (such as peace and justice, radical lifestyle changes, mutual submission, the communal nature of decision-making and discerning God, to name a few). Perhaps the most surprising thing that I discovered among the Mennonites was the best aspects of community life that I had experienced in my childhood – but with the merciless god of Sinai replaced with Jesus “full of grace and truth”.

Ed Sirett is manager of Make, Do and Mend, a property maintenance business in North London.

A Pattern of Christian Discipleship Shared by Thousands

by Chris Rowland, Oxford

Chris RowlandIt was the early part of 1987, and I was in the middle of doing the preparatory reading for a book entitled Radical Christianity. It was a chance conversation with a Baptist friend of mine, who was then training for the ministry at Spurgeon’s College. I was telling her about my interest in sixteenth-century Anabaptism and she said, “You ought to meet two friends of mine in London.” To cut a long story short, later that year I journeyed to the London Mennonite Centre and met twentieth-century Anabaptists, discovering (I have to admit) that this was not a phenomenon confined to the pages of church history books but a real living Christian practice. It was a great discovery, both for my own research and writing (I found myself making links between Latin American liberation theology and Anabaptism), but, more importantly, for myself as I grew as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Before writing the book, my knowledge of Anabaptism had been the rather dismissive references in the Church of England’s Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, and such slight references as might be included in the standard books on the Reformation. That year, I made friends who have sustained me and guided me, and discovered that a pattern of Christian discipleship, which for such a long time I had thought no one shared with me, was in fact shared by thousands of others around the world too. I realised that my inchoate commitment to pacifism, an egalitarian church structure and approach to biblical wisdom were part of other Christians’ vision of discipleship then and now. Here were people who thought that the aphorisms of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount were meant to inform and influence life in the contemporary world (I recall being reprimanded in my student Bible study group for entertaining such views), who were not only committed to peace but to the means whereby it could be implemented, who had a healthy suspicion of the State and its ideology, and who gave a high priority to practical discipleship in the understanding of the Christian faith. Theologically and spiritually, I had found a home in the twentieth century. I no longer had to be a spiritual exile who could only look back to the ideas of Diggers and Anabaptists of yesteryear but as I could find them today, informing theology and contemporary commitments to justice and peace.

Although I have always been an Anglican, I find myself on the edges of contemporary Anglicanism, uneasy with its Erastianism, unhappy about its antipathy to enthusiasm, particularly when it comes to matters of justice and peace. I have found my spiritual home in the Anabaptist traditions. I think it is a spirituality, a way of being Christian, which may (just about!) be practised as part of any church; that is not to say that it is easy to do outside a Mennonite environment. Of course, we cannot put the clock back and get back to the pre-Constantinian situation. What we can do is to recover that sense of Christianity being an alternative culture which characterised the early Christians’ understanding of the relationship between the City of God and the human city. I thank God for contemporary Anabaptist churches whose members down the centuries, often in difficult and costly and situations, have kept that vision and practice alive.

Christopher Rowland is Dean Ireland’s Professor of New Testament Exegesis, Oxford University, and an Anglican priest.

Resource Houses

Looking for resources on any of these?

  • Anabaptist history and theology
  • Anabaptist values and practices
  • Community and lifestyle issues
  • Peace and justice issues
  • Worship and discipleship

Previously such resources have been quite difficult to locate. There is an excellent library at the London Mennonite Centre and some books can be found in theological libraries. But these are not always accessible to people within the Anabaptist Network or others interested in exploring the Anabaptist tradition.

Beginning in February 2004 resources drawing on the Anabaptist tradition have been available on loan from 16 resource houses in different parts of the UK. Complete sets of Anabaptism Today will be available, together with a selection of books and resources from various Anabaptist-oriented organizations. The resources will grow over the months and years ahead, depending on the level of interest these resource houses generate.Each red marker on the map below represents a resource library. Click on a marker to see the address of the library and a link to a page with contact info of the host and a smaller map.

Beccles, Suffolk: Chris Walton

Chris Walton, Ringsfield Hall, Ringsfield, Beccles, Suffolk NR34 8JR (01502 713020) info@ringsfield-hall.freeserve.co.uk Ringsfield Hall is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse.Click on the map for an interactive version and driving directions at mapquest.com. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

 

Cardiff: John Weaver

John Weaver: South Wales Baptist College, 54-58 Richmond Road, Cardiff CF24 3UR (029 2025 6060) johnweaver@the-baptists4.ndo.co.uk

54 Richmond Road is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Chesham: Colin Cartwright

Colin Cartwright: The Forelands, Red Lion Street, Chesham HP5 1EZ colcris@dircon.co.uk

The Forelands is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Cumbria: Andrew & Kath Dodd

Andrew & Kath Dodd: Chapel Cottage, Hawkshead Hill, Cumbria LA22 0PW; (015394 36451) andrew.dodd1@btinternet.com

Chapel Cottage is is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

East London: Karen Stallard

Karen Stallard: 20 Garnet Street, London E1W 3QT (020 7265 1727) karenstallard@boltblue.com

20 Garnet Street is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Exeter: Simon Barrow

Simon Barrow: 8 Lower Avenue, Exeter EX1 2PR simon_barrowuk@yahoo.co.uk

8 Lower Avenue is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Glasgow: Ian Milligan

Ian Milligan: 230 Kenmure Street, Pollockshields, Glasgow G41 2JF (0141 423 0883) ian@milldyer.freeserve.co.uk

230 Kenmure Street is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Inverkeithing, Fife: Harry Sprange

Harry Sprange: Moffat Cottage, Heriot Street, Inverkeithing Fife KY11 1ND (01383 413925 – but contact by letter preferable)

Moffat Cottage is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Keighley: Glennis Attwood

Glennis Attwood: Brantthorpe House, Ryecroft Way, Glusburn, Keighley BD20 8PT (01535 632880) royattwood@lineone.net

Brantthorpe House is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Leyland: Joan & Barry Williamson

Joan & Barry Williamson: 74 Albert Road, Leyland PR25 4YJ (01772 455158) postmaster@joanbaz.demon.co.uk

74 Albert Road is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Mexborough: John Woffenden

John Woffenden: 148 Highthorn Road, Kilnhurst, Mexborough, S. Yorks S64 5TX (01709 585034) woffendenjohn@aol.com

148 Highthorn Road is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

North London: Bob Allaway and London Mennonite Centre

Bob Allaway: 9 Forfar Road, Wood Green, London N22 5QE. Tel 020 8888 7896, r.allaway@bigfoot.com The London Mennonite Centre Library is also in North London and includes an extensive collection of Anabaptist resources and books, however the books are not available for borrowing. For more information see http://www.menno.org.uk/library 9 Forfar Road is is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Portadown, Co. Armagh: Tim Foley

Tim Foley: 2 Market Lane, Portadown, Craigavon, Co. Armagh BT63 3JY (07966 391729) timf@clara.co.uk2 Market Lane is marked by a green marker on the map below. Note that Tim lives in a new estate whose streets are not shown on the map. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

 

Skipton: Duncan Johnstone

Duncan Johnstone: 14 Springfields (Off Otley Road), Skipton, BD23 1HF Tel: 01756 709680, Jhnst2@aol.com 14 Springfields is marked by a red marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Swindon: Andrew Francis

Andrew Francis: Haydon Wick, Swindon, Wilts SN25 1HU Email: anmchara@sky.com

Haydon Wick is marked by a red marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Taunton: Len Schofield

Len Schofield: 1 Parmin Way, Taunton, Somerset TA1 2JU (01823 277573) 1 Parmin Way is marked by a red marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Wolverhampton: Chris and Catherine Horton

Chris & Catherine Horton: 81 Compton Road, Wolverhampton WV3 9QH (01902 424214) chris@chorton.co.uk 81 Compton Road is marked by a red marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the left and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

York: Jonathan Blakeborough

Jonathan Blakeborough: 20 Arundel Grove, Woodthorpe, York YO24 2RZ (01904 703710) blakeboroughjdr@hotmail.com. 20 Arundel Grove is marked by a green marker on the map below. You can zoom in or out on the map using the sliding zoom scale on the right and move around the map using the arrows or by clicking and holding with your mouse. If you would like driving directions, click on the Google icon in the lower left hand corner of the image to see this map area on Google maps.

Study Courses

In the UK and many other nations Christians are facing the challenges and opportunities of following Jesus in a changing culture, and churches are coming to terms with being on the margins rather than at the centre. Things look different from the margins!

In Europe the church has been at the centre of society for so long that we need help to look at things differently. One source of inspiration and guidance for churches on the margins are earlier marginal Christian groups, such as the Anabaptist movement, which for nearly 500 years has been exploring discipleship, lifestyle, mission and church life from the margins.

Growing numbers of Christians and churches (from many denominations) are drawing on the Anabaptist tradition and looking to the Anabaptist Network for resources. As well as running conferences and study groups and publishing Anabaptism Today, the network has now developed some short courses for local churches.

Click on the study courses below for excerpts and download links:

After Christendom: Following Jesus on the Margins

The After Christendom Study Course examines the current trend away from a chuch-dominated society towards one in which the church finds itself again on the margins of society. Is this a disaster? Has the church lost its way? Or is this perhaps where the church was meant to be all along? In order to understand the challenges and opportunities the church faces at the start of the 21st century, we need to travel back in time to the 4th century and trace the story of how the church came in from the margins to the centre of society. We need to examine the system known as “Christendom” by which the church became powerful, wealthy and able to impose its beliefs on almost everyone in Europe.

Was what happened in the 4th century the problem? The Anabaptists and many other radical movements were sure the church took a wrong turning at that point. In this course we will look at the Christendom years and the impact this system had on the church and its mission. Then we will be in a better position to think about how we respond to the end of Christendom.

The course also explores the more practical aspects of a post-christendom congregation. How might a church on the margins operate? This course looks mission, preaching, church discipline and bible study in the Christendom context and explores what they might look like after christendom

The full text of this study course is available in Adobe pdf format.

Download here: After Christendom: Following Jesus on the Margins (90pp, 315KB)

Some Excerpts:

From Session 1.1:The Christendom Shift

The Anabaptist tradition has been deeply suspicious of the Christendom shift and its impact on many matters of discipleship, mission and church life. Here are two examples:

  • Pilgram Marpeck (important Anabaptist leader/writer in Strasburg and Augsburg until 1556): “The early Christians to the time of Constantine exercised no temporal rule or sword among themselves. The command of their master did not allow it. He granted them only the sword of the Word. Whoever, after sufficient admonition would not listen, was regarded as a Gentile and unbeliever [Matt. 18:17]. But when at that time, the pope, as a servant of the church was married to Leviathan, that is, temporal power, but in the disguise of Christ, the Antichrist was conceived and born and has now been revealed.”
  • The Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren (c1580):“At that time, however, the thirtyfourth pope, Sylvester, testified to Constantine the Great, the forty-third emperor, and won him over with many flattering words, accepting him as a Christian through baptism. With the good intention of doing God a service, the emperor obtained peace throughout his kingdom for the pope, as the bishop of Rome, and for all those who called themselves Christians. Here the pestilence of deceit that stalks in darkness and the plague that destroys at midday swept in with force, abolished the cross, and forged it onto the sword. All this happened through the old serpent’s deceit.

    “In the course of time the Roman bishops took over. They gained full power over emperors and kings, becoming the Babylonian harlot, seated in power on the sevenheaded beast, daring to rule over all peoples, giving them drink out of her cup, and daring to alter time and law. Anyone who ventured to speak against the Roman bishop or pope was soon judged a heretic and condemned to die by the sword, fire, or other cruel means. In this way the sheep took on a thoroughly wolfish nature.

    “These ungodly dealings were promoted by the emperor Charlemagne (who was chivalrous and pious in the world’s eyes) and by his son Louis and their descendants. They swore fealty to the popes to the point that they willingly did whatever the popes wished. They gave the papacy power, wealth, cities, islands, and kingdoms, with their people. In addition they endowed religious foundations, universities and monasteries, to spread the papal religion. In fact, whatever His Holiness the Pope wished for, these emperors were willing to grant, promising all kinds of privileges.

    “And so the new ‘Christ’ in Rome, supported by the emperor, sent out his apostles into all lands with his ‘gospel’” of violence. He wanted to convert mighty kingdoms and strong nations by means of war and bloodshed. His realm increased so enormously as a gathering of the wicked that hardly anyone dared oppose it. So God the Almighty left these supposed Christians to their error of serving the creature rather than the Creator.”

From Session 1.2: The Fall of Christendom:

What is the legacy of Christendom? How is the story of Constantine and the Christendom shift relevant to us today? However we evaluate Christendom, two things are becoming increasingly clear.

First, the long era of Christendom is coming to and end. There is plenty of evidence now of a second shift, the transition from Christendom to post-Christendom:

  • The percentage of the population attending churches in most European nations is now very small.
  • Frequent calls are heard, even within state churches, for separating church from state, for changes to the parish system and the practice of infant baptism, and for recognition that a new era is dawning.
  • Few now divide the world into Christian and pagan nations, and the growth of non-Christian religions in Europe is forcing us to explore the implications of witness in a pluralistic society.

Given its long history in Europe and its all-pervasive nature, the fall of Christendom is unlikely to be sudden or total. There are still many areas of life where the legacy of Christendom can be seen: bishops in the House of Lords, prayers at the start of each day in Parliament, the blasphemy laws, a favoured place for Christianity in the schools, the inscriptions on our coins, etc. And even when the official relationship between church and state is dissolved, many vestiges of this system will remain.

Some Christians long for the way things used to be, but there is no way back. Our task is to rise to the challenges of Christian discipleship in a different kind of culture. There are real difficulties in this situation, but there are also great opportunities.

Second, it is a way of thinking rather than a political arrangement that is at the heart of Christendom. For fully three-quarters of its history the church in Western Europe has operated within a Christendom framework. Only in the first three centuries, in various persecuted dissident movements between the 4th and 16th centuries, and increasingly in the last five centuries, has this way of thinking been challenged.

This way of thinking has deeply affected the way European Christians have interpreted the Bible, thought about mission and the church, made ethical decisions and understood discipleship. Among other things the Christendom mindset operates as though the church is at the centre of culture, responsible for the way history turns out, exercising a top-down influence. This was how the Christendom churches worked and how they saw the world. But in post-Christendom, the churches are not at the centre but on the margins; any influence we have is likely to be bottom-up; and perhaps we can now learn once more to trust God to make sure history turns out right while we concentrate on being faithful disciples and seeking first his kingdom.

Being on the margins rather than in the centre will require a change of perspective. It will mean re-thinking many issues, discovering the ways in which the Christendom legacy continues to influence us. It will require creativity and courage as we engage with our changing culture and wrestle in fresh ways with what the gospel means in this culture.

From Session 2: Reading the Bible After Christendom:

For three-quarters of its history, as we have seen, the European church has operated within Christendom, a system challenged until recently only by various persecuted movements, including the Anabaptists.

Those who dared to challenge Christendom usually did so because they had begun to interpret the Bible in different and (to their opponents) socially dangerous ways. This was how such movements typically developed:

  • Their protest might start because they refused to accept the traditional interpretation of the Bible on some issue.
  • As they read further, they began to ask whether it was the Christendom system itself that was the root of the problem, rather than a particular issue.
  • And once they reached the decision that the Christendom system was suspect, they became deeply suspicious that the Bible was being misinterpreted to justify this system. It was as if they were now looking at the Bible through a different lens from the Christendom churches.
  • This led to them thinking deeply about how to read and apply the Bible and to all kinds of interpretations and applications that threatened the Christendom system still further.
  • These things reinforced each other. Their different view of the Bible energised their protest against Christendom, and their protest against Christendom energised their different view of the Bible.

So there were alternatives to the official line on biblical interpretation. But these were minority voices that were quickly and often brutally silenced.

Becoming a Peace Church

What are the implications for a church that decides to take seriously its calling to be a peaceful community? How does this impact its worship, its relationships, the way it equips its members for life and work, the way it responds to global issues?

Alan and Eleanor Kreider wrote a series of articles for Anabaptism Today (you can find all three in the Anabaptism Today archives), in which they explored these issues. The response was so enthusiastic that these articles were revised and turned into a booklet published by the Anabaptist Network, entitled Becoming a Peace Church. Alan and Eleanor Kreider subsequently produced (with an Indonesian colleague, Paulus Widjaja) a further and expanded revision, which incorporates resources and perspectives from around the world. A Culture of Peace: God's Vision for the Church

The ‘Becoming a Peace Church’ course builds on the earlier booklet, offering extensive additional material and questions for reflection.

There are five short sessions and a large appendix that contains the following sections:

• Early Church Fathers on Peace
• Stories of 'God Making Peace'
• Excerpt from Walter Wink's Engaging the Powers
Why Did Dirk Willems Turn Back? by Joseph Liechty
• 'Peacemaking Imagination' Stories
• 'Peacemaking Worship' Resources
• The Just War criteria
• 'Action for Peace' Stories

You can download below both Becoming a Peace Church and the study guide.

Reading the Bible After Christendom. A Study Guide

Download a study guide for Reading the Bible after Christendom here

Study guide courtesy of Herald Press. Used with permission.

Reident But Alien

Alan Kreider presents a series of teaching sessions, exploring the life and witness of the Early Church through interaction with a range of primary sources. This series is available at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbOAx84ri7g2OzXCKZwSU5x8GQwv8mAet.

Taking Jesus Seriously

Surely all Christians take Jesus seriously? To question this seems unnecessary, even offensive. But for many centuries the church has struggled with the radical teaching and example of Jesus.

The fourth-century shift of the church from the social margins to the centre made it increasingly difficult to hear and obey what he had taught. Christians had so much invested in the new status quo (which was supposedly Christian) that it was often easier to marginalise his teaching or to interpret it in ways that were quite bland and did not threaten those in authority or their own new status.

The Sermon on the Mount was especially problematic and various devices were used to evade its disruptive and costly teaching. Through the centuries, it was marginalised groups like the Anabaptists, with far less invested in the status quo, which provoked the church to look again at this passage and many others, to take Jesus seriously.

As Christendom comes to an end and churches in western culture become accustomed to being once more on the margins, there is a fresh opportunity to rediscover the radical teaching of Jesus and to explore ways of taking him seriously in many aspects of Christian discipleship.

This study course wrestles with many practical issues and focuses on the Sermon on the Mount. The full text is available here in Adobe PDF format. Excerpts follow.

Download Course: Taking Jesus Seriously (53pp, 257KB)
An Anabaptist Network Study Course

Here are a few excerpts:

From Section 1.2: Starting with Jesus:
One of the distinctive things about the Anabaptist movement is that it has chosen to begin with Jesus' teaching and example on all kinds of issues and then to interpret other Bible passages on these issues in ways that do not conflict with what Jesus said and did. Here are four examples from the early years of the movement:

  1. Leonard Schiemer (former Franciscan, who became an Anabaptist in 1527 and
    was executed in 1528 in the Tyrol): ‘You must know that God spoke to the Jews
    through Moses and the prophets in a hidden manner. But when Christ himself came,
    he and his apostles illuminated all things with a much clearer understanding.’
  2. Hans Pfistermeyer (Swiss Anabaptist leader in the late 1520s): ‘What Christ has
    explained and helped us to understand, I will adhere to, since it is the will of his
    heavenly Father. I accept the Old Testament wherever it points to Christ. However,
    Christ came with a more exalted and perfect teaching.’
  3. Menno Simons (major Anabaptist leader and writer in the Netherlands from 1536)
    urged that both Testaments should be ‘rightly explained according to the intent of
    Jesus Christ and His holy apostles’. In his major work, Foundation of Christian
    Doctrine, Menno explained that the ‘intent of Jesus Christ’ meant the ‘Spirit, Word,
    counsel, admonition, and usage of Christ. What these allow we are free to do, but
    what He forbids we are not free to do. To this all true Christians should conform, and
    not to doubtful histories and obscure passages from which we can draw nothing
    certain and which teach the very opposite of what the Lord's apostles publicly taught.’
  4. Dirk Phillips (colleague of Menno in the Netherlands and North Germany until
    1568): ‘Jesus with his doctrine, life and example is our Teacher, Leader and Guide;
    him we must hear and follow.’

From 1.4 Jesus at the centre
Read Matthew 4:18-20.
The first disciples responded to a call to follow Jesus, and this meant that he became central to their lives. Anabaptists have consistently taught that the Christian life is all about ‘following’ Jesus and that Jesus is central to a life of discipleship. Many other Christians have realised this too, of course, but all too often Jesus has been pushed to the margins. The Anabaptist movement has helped many to recognise this and rediscover what it means for Jesus to be central.
‘Jesus at the centre’ does not mean that we focus on God the Son at the expense of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The Anabaptists spoke often of their experience of the Holy Spirit and acknowledged their need of God’s grace if they were to follow Jesus and serve God faithfully.
But Jesus-centredness means that:

  • Jesus
    is at the centre of Christianity.
  • The human life of Jesus is vital and cannot be ignored.
  • Jesus is our model, our pioneer, our leader, our teacher, our example –
    as well as our redeemer.
  • Jesus was truly human and his humanity matters.
  • Jesus promised the gift of the Spirit to empower us to follow him.
  • The awkward teachings of Jesus are relevant and authoritative in every
    area of life – in politics as much as in family life, in social policy as
    well as church life, in economics as well as personal morality.
  • The Sermon on the Mount is meant to be lived, not just admired.
  • Christians are to take Jesus seriously.

From 3.1 Responding to Opression

The Anabaptist movement has offered an alternative perspective on conflict, warfare
and responding to oppression. Arguing that peace is at the heart of the gospel and that
Jesus calls his followers to non-violent discipleship, Anabaptists (like the Quakers
later) have taught pacifism and have attempted to develop a Peace Church tradition.
Whatever Jesus may have meant in Matthew 5, they argued, he certainly outlawed the
‘fight’ option and this applies to public and well as private conflicts.
Here are some explanations of this passage in Matthew 5 from early Anabaptist
writers:

  1. Schleitheim Confession, 1527 (Article 4): ‘Therefore there will also unquestionably
    fall from us the unchristian, devilish weapons of force – such as sword, armour, and
    the like, and all their use [either] for friends or against one’s enemies – by virtue of
    the word of Christ [Matt. 5:39]: Resist not [him that is] evil.’
  2. Menno Simons (major Anabaptist leader and writer in the Netherlands from
    1536): ‘Peter was commanded to sheathe his sword. All Christians are commanded to
    love their enemies; to do good unto those who abuse and persecute them; to give the
    mantle when the cloak is taken, the other cheek when one is struck. Tell me, how can
    a Christian defend scripturally retaliation, rebellion, war, striking, slaying, torturing,
    stealing, robbing and plundering and burning cities, and conquering countries?’
  3. Pilgram Marpeck (important Anabaptist leader/writer in Strasburg and Augsburg
    until 1556): ‘Throughout the whole of the Sermon on the Mount, there is a joyful
    witness to, and fulfilment of, the power of the Spirit in the heart which freely gives
    love in Christ; we behave toward others in love and patience, and are ready to
    surrender our own rights in favour of the neighbour and to suffer injustice. If anyone
    wants to sue us for our cloak, we are to give him the coat as well. All sin is done
    outside of the love of God and the neighbour. Love is the New Testament command
    of Christ. All law, in both the Old and New Testaments, consists in love from a pure
    heart.’
  4. Peter Riedeman (important Hutterite leader in Moravia until 1556): ‘Now,
    therefore, Christ desires that we should act even as he did, so he commands us,
    saying, “It hath been said to the men of old, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a
    tooth,’ but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy
    right cheek, turn and offer to him the other also.” Here it is clearly to be seen that one
    ought neither to avenge oneself nor to go to war, but rather offer his back to the
    strikers and his cheeks to them that pluck off the hair – that is, suffer with patience
    and wait upon God, who is righteous, and who will repay it.’

From 3.2 Dealing with finance
Read Matthew 6:19-34
Jesus spoke frequently about economic issues – wealth and poverty, paying taxes, giving support to those in need, unjust business practices, hoarding resources and much else. In his encounters with Zacchaeus and the unnamed rich young ruler he challenged these men to change the way they dealt with their finances – one responded enthusiastically, the other negatively. In his encounters with the religious leaders he challenged their economic practices and oppression of the poor.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus invites his followers to a way of living that
involves a basic choice between serving God and serving Mammon (the power of
money). For many years the churches that sprang up on the margins of the Roman
Empire, as they explored life together in Christian communities, pondered his
teaching and found creative and radical ways to challenge the influence of Mammon
in their lives and to demonstrate a new way of living that depended on the provision of God.
The early chapters of Acts describe a community where resources were shared freely and generously, and where the needs of the poor were met. This example inspired generations of Christians to find similar and fresh ways of putting into practice Jesus’ teaching on the handling of their finances. Rather than adopting a rule-based approach like tithing, these early Christians responded imaginatively and sacrificially to the needs around them.

The Appendix includes the following sections

  • Anabaptist Non-violent initiatives
  • "Can Love Save the World?" by Walter Wink
  • Extract from "True Yieldedness and the Christian Community of Goods" (1577) by Peter Walpot

The Practice of Church Discipline

The practice of church discipline, though firmly rooted in the New Testament, has fallen into disuse in many churches. There are various reasons for the unpopularity of this practice, but it remains an important component of discipleship and community building. It may have even greater significance in post-Christendom churches if we are to be distinctive communities in a world we no longer control.

Church discipline has been a distinctive practice within the Anabaptist tradition through the centuries, though the way it has sometimes been practised has been problematic.

There is not much written on the subject for churches to consult who want to explore church discipline. The following books are all out of print but may be helpful if you can obtain any of them:

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich: The Cost of Discipleship (SCM, 1959)
Bridge, Donald: Spare the Rod and Spoil the Church (MARC,
1985)

Coffey, David: Build That Bridge (Kingsway, 1986)

Jeschke, Martin: Discipling in the Church (Herald Press, 1988)

Lindsell,
Stuart: Relationships – Jesus Style (Word, 1992)

White, John & Ken Blue: Healing the Wounded (IVP, 1985)

Wray, Daniel: Biblical Church Discipline (Banner of Truth, 1978)

The Practice of Church Discipline (19pp, 157KB)

This study guide is based on Explaining Church Discipline, a short book by Stuart Murray. This was published in 1995 by Sovereign World but has been out of print for some years. Since there is very little on this neglected subject currently in print, we have decided to make this book available on this website. You can download the full text of the book below:


Explaining Church Discipline (Sovereign World, 1995).

Drawn to Anabaptism: A Series of Articles

Specially commissioned for this website, a series of articles invites Christians from different traditions and denominations to tell their own story and explain why they have been drawn to the Anabaptist tradition.

If you belong to or identify with one of these denominations, you may be interested to see how others from your own tradition have encountered Anabaptism and what impact it has made on them. This has not generally meant them leaving their own denomination (after all we are a Network, not an institution), nor do they all necessarily affirm everything they have found in Anabaptism. But all of them have found inspiration and challenge in the Anabaptist tradition and points of contact with their own context.

Seven articles are now published on the website and can be accessed below.

If you are from a denomination that is not yet represented here and might be willing to write such an article, please let us know via the contact page.

A Baptist drawn to Anabaptism

Questions from and to the Anabaptists

by Ruth Gouldbourne

When I was teaching a class at Bristol Baptist College on the outline of reformation theology and history, we came to the session on the Radicals, and in particular on the Anabaptists. One of the students, who comes from another college, commented ‘you sound like a closet Anabaptist’. One of the students from our own college, knowing me well, responded: ‘There’s nothing closet about it!’ Cue much laughter. But it was a comment which has a great deal of truth.

My involvement with, commitment and debt to Anabaptist theology is evident to anybody who spends any time with me. Their commitment to discipleship as a way of life, religious freedom from state constraint, and its concomitant commitment to religious toleration of the broadest kind, added to a robust evangelistic sense, their lifestyle peace-building and their radical image of Lordship of Christ and the centrality of the Jesus stories in making and maintaining identity, their commitment to a church as a community of mutual discipleship and loving responsibility – all of this and so much more has held, challenged, enabled, frustrated and delighted me over the years that I have been making the acquaintance of Anabaptists, both sixteenth century and contemporary.

At the heart of what draws me to this theology and way of life is the hard questioning. There are no easy answers, there is no achieved discipleship, there is only the way to walk in, and some delightful companions – and some deeply infuriating ones – to walk it with. An authenticity of life, a struggling to speak truth in all its facets, and a refusal to accept having arrived mean that, for me, Anabaptist thinking remains a constant challenge and possibility.

I was drawn to the 16th-century Anabaptists first on the basis that if everybody hated and feared them so much, they must have something going for them – not the best reason for adopting a theological position, I admit, but I was only 9 or 10 at the time. Over the years, their questioning of me on the issues of disciple life, reality of bible reading, openness to other voices and not just those of the ‘leaders’ (especially when I have become one of those leaders), peace as a way of life and following Christ in order to know him have held me and led me back over and over again to a deep well-spring of refreshment and possibility.

I have grown up in, and remain committed to, the Baptist tradition within the UK. I have been ordained as a minister within this community, and have served both as a pastor and as a teacher within a denominational college. This is my home. As a tradition, there are significant overlaps in thinking and assumption with the Anabaptist tradition; gathered church, shared leadership, separation of church and civic community. There are also some significant differences; there is little in the Baptist tradition about peace making, while Baptists have at various points in their history been deeply involved in social and political work. They have also identified more closely with the so-called ‘mainstream’ Christian communities, while maintaining distinctive theological positions which have had practical consequences.

The Anabaptists have challenged me to take seriously the identity of a Christian community as an alternative society, in particular around issues of peace and of living in true relationship. My Baptist identity has held me in part because it is an on-going and existing tradition, with structures and a history of which (on the whole) I am very proud. Also, on a more mundane level, I have been around Baptist congregations, and not around Anabaptist ones – this is my home.

Several months ago, I was invited to lead a day with a congregation, reflecting on what Anabaptist thinking could offer us as we work out the process of being a Christian community. It was a good day. People engaged with the material, and explored the ideas with great enthusiasm and willingness to look at new possibilities. During the day, one member of the group was talking with me about a new position I am shortly to take up, as pastor of a congregation in the centre of a city, with a congregation very widespread and meeting only, if at all, on Sunday mornings. ‘You’ve spoken with great enthusiasm about community, about mutual support and accountability, about making visible an alternative way of living as a witness to the wider world” he said. “So why are you going to X? It’s not exactly the most obvious place to live and work with this theology.’

And he’s right. What is the relationship between this theology and these stories which have been so important to me and this new part of my own story – a congregation which is unseen to pastor and to each other for the most part for six and half days every week; a congregation which combines a significant long-term component, people who have been members for years, with a powerful transient group – present for three months while they are in this country, or two weeks, while they holiday here? What kind of community can this ‘church’ build when the geographical spread – and therefore the daily working out of Christian living – ranges over a couple of hundred miles?

How can there be a community of voices in worship, and in bible reading and reflection, when the closest communication that most folk have with each other is over the phone, and therefore is one to one, rather than in a group? How can a model of ‘new community’ life be built and expressed when those with whom the majority of the congregation spend the majority of their loves have no idea about the context in which these people worship, or the nature of the relationships that are explored and expressed on Sundays when the being of the church happens?

It is certainly true that there is intentionality about this congregation, and that that is something significant in Anabaptist thinking; nobody (or hardly anybody) is a part of this church by accident, or simply because of geographical contiguity. The sense of being gathered, of being committed to the community and to its continuing life is deep; it has to be if you are going to travel for an hour or so to get there each Sunday.

There is also the challenge of the history of that particular church itself, a history I honour and want to be part of. This is a church with a deep commitment to speaking with and to the voices of power; of being involved in and challenging the political and economic life of the community. What does a tradition of separation and ‘pure community’ have to offer me as I try to work out what such a history and such an identity might mean in the early 21st century?

Opting out is not an option. Ignoring the political processes is not possible. Far from the oppressed and feared minority who first explored these theological ideas and tried to embody them, this community I am to live as part of has been and continues to be made up of powerful people, involved in some of the significant economic and political (both narrowly and broadly) aspects of our community’s life. From where in the tradition do I find the tools, the questions and even perhaps some of the answers to reflect with them on how to be followers of Jesus?

My answer to my friend on the study day was unconsidered, and yet remains after consideration the only answer I can give. Anabaptist theology and identity has been so deeply part of how I have been formed that I cannot leave it to one side when I move to another context. And I know, even as the 16th-century and the contemporary Anabaptists know, that this is always and only provisional. As I move to this new place, the context itself becomes a challenge to the theology.

If it only ‘works’ in a limited context, or set of contexts, then it is not sufficient. If Anabaptist theology is what it hopes to be – a way of thinking about and opening the possibility of following Jesus in an authentic and continually challenging way, then it must be able to work even in this new place. And if it doesn’t, then just as the Anabaptists have always asked me hard questions, then it will be my turn to ask some of them. Please pray for me.

A Jesus Army leader drawn to Anabaptism

By James Stacey

My first dilemma in writing this piece was simply this: what to call it. I’ve certainly been drawn to Anabaptism, but who (or what) am I? A Jesus Armyite? A sort of charismatic Baptist? An evangelical Christian communist?

Brotherhood

The fact is that for me, as for many of my brothers and sisters in the Jesus Army, becoming a member was not so much affiliating myself to a denomination or joining a stream, as entering a people, a family. It meant coming into the family heritage – which includes a great deal of inspiration drawn from Anabaptist sources. This is why I find myself instinctively thinking corporately. Asked who I am, I instinctively reply ‘We’re the Jesus Army!’

Not (as some of our detractors have tried to maintain) that this means loss of my own mind or my personal relationship with Christ. But there is a quality of ‘us-ness’ about the Jesus Army. So the story of my having been ‘drawn to Anabaptism’ will inevitably include the story of how the Jesus Army as a whole was so drawn.

I would venture to say there’s something very Anabaptist about this in itself. The first edition of Peter Riedemann’s famous Confession of Faith is described on its title page as ‘By us brothers who are known as the Hutterites’. Brotherhood, this belonging together in the call of Christ, was precious to them as it is to us. For them, this flew in the face of the individualistic soteriology of the magisterial reformers. For us it challenges an increasingly individualistic society (not to mention the individualism of much contemporary Christianity).

Background

But I run ahead of myself! I must give some background. Jesus Fellowship Church (more widely known by its ‘street’ name of Jesus Army) is an evangelical, charismatic church of the ‘new church’ type. Its roots are in the charismatic movement of the late 1960s.

Rural Bugbrooke Baptist Chapel entered a new lease of life when the pastor and a number of members were ‘baptised in the Holy Spirit’, an experience which, before the charismatic renewal, was largely confined to Pentecostal churches. Thus far is familiar territory. Many churches of various denominations ‘went charismatic’ in the sixties. What was different was that the move of the Spirit at Bugbrooke led to a mix of people-types, as many flocked to the water hole (hippies, students and villagers). This, combined with a thoroughgoing look at the New Testament and, yes, an encounter with Anabaptist writings, led to the establishment of a residential Christian community by the mid-seventies.

‘Community’ started in a very informal manner – money pooled and kept in a big old teapot – before growing into something more official. Such informal circumstances are reminiscent of the very beginnings of the Hutterite community in 1528: These men then spread out a cloak in front of the people, and each laid his possessions on it with a willing heart – without being forced – so that the needy might be supported in accordance with the teaching of the prophets and apostles. 1

For the Jesus Fellowship, a shared journey of faith, risk and at times controversy was to follow. It was a journey that led more than two thousand people to covenant themselves to radical discipleship; some seven hundred of them to living together with "all things in common”; and about three hundred to embark upon a life of celibacy in order to serve the Lord more freely. An "alternative society” was formed. The journey led to communities spreading across the UK, the launch of Jesus Army outreach in the eighties, increased networking with other Christians in the nineties. By the turn of the new millennium, Jesus Army had ‘come of age’ as a high-profile, colourful new church: a dramatic story charted more fully in the book, Fire in our Hearts.2

As for me, Christian faith had always been part of my worldview, but it wasn’t until I experienced being baptised in the Holy Spirit when I was sixteen that my life began truly to centre on Christ. I longed for full time, ‘24/7’, Christianity, and considered various options from missionary to minister.

It was around this time that some of my friends and I met a bunch of Jesus Army people. I was struck by their warmth and humility, and by the reality of their brotherhood. That day was a new beginning for me. I was left with a curious feeling of having discovered something. I started to write about brotherhood in my journal.

Was I called to belong to the Jesus Army? I stayed a couple of weekends in a community house and started to give the whole idea serious thought. On one level, the whole idea was terrifying. Yet here it was: ‘24/7’ Christianity.

It was when I went to University in the Midlands and struck up a deep friendship with the main Jesus Army leader in Coventry that the whole thing came together. I found in him a spiritual father, a mentor. Eagerly, I devoured all he shared with me about the church as a distinctive ‘city on a hill’; about brotherhood covenant; about community of goods – all as thoroughly Anabaptist as they are New Testament, as I now realise. And so, I joined the Jesus Army, moving into community three years later, after graduation. I now head up the leadership team in a community house in which I live with my wife, two children and eight others (plus the hordes that stay at weekends!).

Baptism

For the Jesus Fellowship, as for me, it all started with baptism in the Holy Spirit. At first glance, such an experience may seem to have much more to do with Pentecostals than Anabaptists. Yet if the ‘discovery’ of experiential Spirit-baptism is traced back along its historical roots via the ‘holiness’ tradition and the Wesleys, through Pietism and the Quakers and George Fox, we find ourselves back at the Radical Reformation and certain Anabaptists. Over and against the largely academic approach favoured by both Thomist Catholicism and the magisterial reformers, they promulgated direct spiritual experience of God. ‘Love is a spiritual power’ wrote Hans Denck, a mystic among the Anabaptists: ‘the lover desires to be united with the beloved.’3Yet, it wasn’t just the so-called ‘spiritual’ wing of Anabaptism that emphasised experience: ‘We experience the Holy Spirit’s work within us in truth and power in the renewing of our hearts’ wrote the evangelical Peter Riedemann.4

Whatever may be said about the historical sources of charismatic pneumatology, it is certainly the case that Spirit baptism brought a fresh sense of spiritual reality to the congregation at Bugbrooke Baptist Chapel in 1969 (just as it did to me twenty-two years later). This quickly led to a deeper appreciation of the import and power of water baptism – and here we can safely say we are in Anabaptist territory!

When I was baptised in the sea by my friends – whom I then baptised – it was, essentially, in simple obedience to what were reading in the Bible. I had been christened as a baby and had to ride some upset misunderstanding from family members at my decision to be ‘re-baptised’. On the scale of persecution this was hardly what faced Grebel, Mantz and Blaurock5, but it did cost something – and I would like to think it was a step undertaken in the same spirit of obedience as those early Anabaptist pioneers.

I became aware that believer’s baptism set me apart for God; I had died with Christ and was raised with Him to newness of life. At Bugbrooke Baptist chapel, ‘baptised in water’ was nothing new. But ‘baptised with the Holy Spirit’ certainly was. It was a departure from ‘the world’, in Him, and an entry into a new order, a new creation. Baptism was transition into peoplehood, into the new brotherhood. It was this new understanding of baptism – in water and Spirit – that led directly to community.

Others have described those early days to me and how the Anabaptist influence became explicit at that time. By 1976, there was a sense of destiny and pioneering in the pursuit of radical community. The leadership wanted to find out who had trodden a similar path in times past, and how it went with them. They read of the martyrdom of Michael Sattler and others. Someone got hold of Peter Riedemann’s Confession, extracts of which were read in elders’ meetings and taught on in the congregation.

Battle

Identification with such Radical Reformers was not all theoretical. The other element was that 1977-78 saw the start of opposition to the Jesus Fellowship from the press and the anti-cult lobby. There was a sense of affinity with those ordinary yet dedicated Anabaptists in their rejection and sufferings – simply because they wanted to live New Testament Christianity.

The Jesus Fellowship became controversial and this only increased as the alternative seventies gave way to the materialistic eighties. Much as the Münster debacle was made to fit all early Anabaptists, so the Jesus Fellowship became mixed up in some people’s minds with the various sects and cults in the headlines. Yes, we were somewhat isolationist at that time; it gave us time to work out the Kingdom lifestyle we were exploring and to ‘go deep’. We learnt a few Anabaptist lessons about ‘turning the other cheek’ in those times – and it wasn’t always easy!

Aspects of our kinship with early Anabaptists were:

* being a church of the working classes,

* zeal for evangelism,

* covenantal relationships,

* believers' baptism as initiation into a life of discipleship,

* separation from the world's spirit and systems,

* real spirituality and brotherhood.

All of these became part of our ‘flavour’ as a church. For a while it seemed as though our community life was going to ‘go Hutterite’ (there was a proliferation of headscarves!) Yet in the end, we incorporated these things into our Spirit-led explorations whilst still remaining open to other influences and relationships with a range of other churches.

Breadth

And so, in the mid-90s, it was a multi-faceted Jesus Army that I came to join. We had broadened out significantly since those early years. (Notice how I instinctively use ‘we’- Jesus Fellowship history is my history – even before I was there!) Yet, breadth notwithstanding, it was those core radical values, drawn from Anabaptism, which made me fall in love with our church. And it really was falling in love: discovering the beauty of the church or ‘seeing Zion’, as we call it, was as powerful for me as my initial baptism in the Spirit. Indeed, the two were inseparably linked.

During those heady years I devoured works such as the astonishingly provocative clarion call to community of goods by the Hutterite, Andreas Ehrenpreis.6 I still find its arguments for full sharing amongst Christians absolutely compelling. In addition to such Anabaptist provocations, I was introduced to other Jesus Fellowship favourites – Watchman Nee, Francis of Assisi, Smith Wigglesworth and the Celtic saints. (The diversity of that quartet alone speaks volumes!)

Despite this eclectic approach, wise prophetic leadership has kept us from being ‘blown here and there by every wind of teaching’ and we’ve been able to chart a fairly steady course. The New Testament has been our primary guide, and it has frequently been the New Testament as viewed though an Anabaptist lens. For all the activity and busyness of the last decade or so (our latest venture is to open ‘Jesus Centres’ – centres for worship and care – in cities across the UK7),we remain at heart a brotherhood church, a Kingdom demonstrating church, a people called to lay down our lives for each other and to display the gospel – in proclamation and in lifestyle.




1 From Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren

2 To read Fire in our Hearts and find out more about the Jesus Fellowship in general, visit www.jesus.org.uk.

3 From Hans Denck's 1527 Treatise, Concerning True Love

4 From Peter Riedemann’s 1545 Confession of Faith

5 Generally regarded as the first Anabaptists to be ‘re-baptised’ in 1525. Grebel died of plague, but the other two were martyred.

6 Now published by Plough Publishers as Brotherly Community, the Highest Command of Love

A New Church leader drawn to Anabaptism

By Linda Wilson

Becoming Involved

I can’t quite remember when I first encountered Anabaptists and the Anabaptist network. Possibly it was through hearing Stuart Murray speak at the New Churches Theology Forum, a regular conference which brought together people from across all the New Church Streams to ponder and discuss theological issues of common interest. Perhaps it was because Lloyd Pietersen, a good friend, was already involved. Wherever it was, I found it intriguing, and soon became part of a local study group in Bristol and of the Anabaptist Theology Forum, where I was privileged to get to know several people who became friends, such as Stuart Murray, Alan & Ellie Krieder, Chris Burch, and others. This also gave me the opportunity to explore issues around what it means to be church in today’s world, through the helpful prism of Anabaptism.

The previous, introductory paragraph highlights what is to me an attractive element in the current Anabaptist network – its relational basis, and the fact that it gives an opportunity to wrestle with issues about contemporary church in a secure and at times devotional context. I am grateful for that opportunity, which came at a useful time for me.

Anabaptism and New Churches

I had been involved with a New Church (house church), Bristol Christian Fellowship, since student days in the mid 1970s, and there seemed a lot of resonances between that early excitement and Anabaptism. Foundational to us as church are elements such as relationship-based church; discipleship, every member ministry; informal worship, small groups and overseas connections. (We have since added others, including being intergenerational, encouraging the ministry of women, exploring social justice, being a place to doubt, and having a sense of humour). Born out of the late 1960s and early 1970s, New Churches were at the same time a reaction to and an expression of the counter-culture of the time, and yet also expressed truths about church that are embedded in Scripture. At the time I engaged with Anabaptism, some years down the line, we were at the stage of re-evaluating who we were, and what our identity was now that many of our core values were finding their way into other churches. Anabaptism, which re-emphasised, it seems to me, some of those core values, as well as challenging others, was a helpful catalyst to me in this process. I appreciated the honesty of others in these groups, and it was healthy to meet with people from different traditions, who had a passion for the gospel and a longing to see real church and true disciples living out that gospel. At the same time, I was embarking on post-graduate research, and although a historian rather than a theologian, I appreciated discussions which at the same time stretched the brain and challenged my personal response to God.

As a church historian I realise that it is easy to be too simplistic about finding parallels with past groups and movements. We romanticise the past: seeing a few familiar characteristics, we invest a movement with our own agenda and priorities: so the Montanists become charismatics, for instance, a sort of second-century Toronto movement. Not exactly accurate! Just as everyone from twelfth-century monks to Baptists to the cell church movement believes that they are living out the ‘New Testament Church’, whatever that was, so we find in church history a reflection of our own times. Some of that is appropriate: history, like the gospel, has to be re-contextualised for every generation, but, like the gospel, there is genuine truth out there, not just in the minds of the readers. Having said that, there are many contemporary resonances within Anabaptism.

Working out Church as Community Today

For instance, I’ve lost count of the number of local Bristol study groups in which, whatever the supposed topic, we always ended up discussing what it meant for church to be community in our society. For most people this was a dream, an aspiration, and for some they weren’t sure they really wanted it. I was always left feeling, whatever the weaknesses of my own church, at least we were aiming in the right direction and had some limited experience! Community, however, is where the particular historical context of Anabaptism led to a development in quite a different direction than I would want to encourage today. The boundaries were drawn very tight, of necessity, round beleaguered and persecuted groups: tight because their understanding of church, defining themselves over against Christendom, demanded it; tight because anyone could potentially be a spy who would betray them. They taught separation from the world, which in their context was completely logical and appropriate, but today would be an inadequate response to the gospel. In time, it led for them to the greater isolation of Amish and other communities, a retreat from the world at large.

Gathered churches have to a greater or lesser extent followed this pattern, and drawn their boundaries tight, in later centuries – in terms of church membership and from time to time also in terms of engagement with society. As New Churches started, we also drew our membership boundaries tightly, as indeed do most new movements in their ‘sect’ stage. We live in a completely different culture, however, from the early Anabaptists. We have the opportunity, which they did not, to engage creatively with culture, through involvement at many levels of society, from politics to art. That complete separation of church and world is now unhelpful, although the question of what does it mean to be ‘in the world and not of it’ becomes a more pressing one, with no one easy answer. Christendom is fading as the context within which churches exist. Stuart Murray has helpfully analysed and provoked us over the issue of post-Christendom, and we need to ask what aspects of Anabaptism are still helpful in this new culture. I believe that there is still a challenge to discipleship that we would do well to listen to, that I need to be reminded of. For this coming season, our church has decided that we need to focus on discipleship again. Perhaps Anabaptists can help us discover what it means to live as disciples in the twenty-first century.

Furthermore, over the last few years, as ‘belonging before believing’ has become more widespread, our own church has relaxed its boundaries, seeing a fringe as a sign of a healthy church, and made it easier for people to come and go. If you like, the centred set has become our practice, rather than the bounded set of Anabaptism. But questions remain. How do we live out genuine relationships, real 24-hours-a-day church, when many people aren’t in geographical proximity? Are networks as much real church as living near to each other? In this busier and more independent age – Mrs Thatcher isn’t entirely to blame but she didn’t help – we are constantly swimming against the tide to make friendships a priority. I feel the tension in my own life – especially when trying to write a book and do pastoral work and encourage community in the church at the same time!

Anabaptist Stories – A Useful Catalyst

Whilst we can no longer look to the Anabaptists for our boundaries, however, there are aspects of their belief that still challenge me and help to draw me make to the core values of our church. I see myself as New Church first and Anabaptist second, (well, just a disciple first, but that’s getting too pedantic) but there are enough similarities for the latter to provide insight into the former. There are also stories that can inspire us to be disciples. I have used the story of Dirk Willems rescuing his pursuer from the icy water of a Dutch canal with teenage gap-year teams in our church, with adults here, and with church leaders in India and in the depths of the Transvaal, and this story always provokes a response, although in South Africa I had to explain what a canal was! Many of the Anabaptist stories of persecution, or on a lighter note, others such as Menno on top of the coach (Menno was asked whether Menno Simons was inside the coach: he looked inside and said no; was this truth-telling?), are helpful stories in any society to make people think about the nature of faith and discipleship.

I find the stories of the Anabaptist women inspiring too. This is another case where it is easy to read back modern agendas into the past, but it is encouraging to see women taking initiatives, standing up for their faith, and discipling others in the faith. The comment of the woman who refused to convert because now she was over 50 – ‘she was too old to learn anything new’ is often quoted in our house, although I hope it isn’t true for us! The wonderful if rather pricy book, Profiles of Anabaptist Women (Linda A Huebert Hecht & C Arnold Snyder (Eds): Profiles of Anabaptist Women (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1996), is based on lots of stories, often in court records, of Anabaptist women who took a stand for their faith, or who lived as fugitives. We need role models of feisty Christian women who stood up for what they believed in, but also of ordinary female believers who found themselves caught up in dramatic times (you can tell at this point that I like fantasy novels!). Seriously, an important part of contemporary history is recovering the history of ordinary women, and there is a rich heritage here in Anabaptism, which women as well as men can identify with. One nineteenth century Baptist women (she was called Marianne Farningham, and I’m currently writing on a book about her) commented that as a child she read a magazine which had heroes of the faith, and every month ‘I hoped to find the story of some poor ignorant girl, who, beginning life as handicapped as I, had yet been able… to live a life of usefulness if not of greatness. But I believe there was not a woman in the whole series.’ With Anabaptist women, there is a history that women can relate to – although personally I can also draw inspiration from stories about men.

Concluding Thoughts

So it is both the similarities and the differences between the church that I am involved in, as part of its leadership team, and Anabaptism, that makes the latter an intriguing ‘conversation partner’ (as Stuart would say). There are others: the early church, the other radical groups, individuals throughout the ages who have sought to be disciples, all of whom we can learn from. We need to set ourselves both in the context of the kaleidoscopic variety of the world-wide church, and in the stream of history, and find our place in both. But the Anabaptists have been especially challenging and inspiring for me in my personal journey of faith – a cliché now, but one that I still think is helpful. Any resources I can draw on as I seek, however inadequately, to live out faith as a disciple, to encourage others and to reach out in mission, are valuable, and Anabaptism is especially so as it has a way of continually challenging my thinking and my practice. New Churches still have a lot more to learn by engaging with the Anabaptist tradition, and my life has been enriched both by the history and by the friends I have made along the way who are also seeking to work out the meaning of church and discipleship in our complex culture.

A Pentecostal drawn to Anabaptism

by Richard Gillingham

Introduction

The invitation was to write as ‘a Pentecostal drawn to Anabaptism’. Although I no longer fellowship within a Pentecostal setting, Pentecostalism has been extremely important in informing my Christian life. I think my first encounter with something like Anabaptism was reading (as a 16 year old) Christopher Hill’s survey of 17th-century English religious radicalism, The World Turned Upside Down. However, in retrospect I think it was less intellectual than that. My church was an outgrowth of a House Church and it was during this time that I was re-baptised (I had been baptised previously as a child in the Methodist Church) and ever since that point I have been something of an advocate of the Believers’ Church tradition.

There were undoubted strengths in my church community, but the strong vein of anti-intellectualism was not one of them; I was in a place of having an experience but lacking a (conscious) theology in which to situate it and eventually enrolled in a Classical Pentecostal theological college, despite reservations from some of the church leadership – because the college had the label ‘theological’ in the title!

Why I was drawn to Anabaptism

In the history of Classical Pentecostalism, particularly through reading the late Walter Hollenweger’s excellent book Pentecostalism, I found a narrative in which my experience could be placed, interpreted and one of which I could be proud. What then of my relationship with Anabaptism? In conversations with others it is clear that the primary means of attraction to the Anabaptist Network is relational, but in my case this was not so. My interest in Anabaptism was as a consequence of re-reading John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus after researching the theology of Stanley Hauerwas in my postgraduate work.

In my reading it was clear that Anabaptism, like Pentecostalism, is strongly apocalyptic. I think this similarity is a key reason for my attraction to the Anabaptist vision (more on that later). Reading their respective histories some of the similarities between Pentecostalism and Anabaptism are striking. For example:

A Charismatic view of the Church

Pentecostalism is well known for its emphasis on the spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of tongues. While Anabaptism, especially in its early history, certainly had similar manifestations this is not what I mean by calling both churches charismatic. Rather, both have a very strong emphasis on every-member ministry in the Church. Early Pentecostals regularly claimed that Pentecostalism had no earthly leaders. Both traditions assert that every member of the Church has been gifted for a unique ministry. The historian Augustus Cerillo writes that the ‘central element in Pentecostal ideology was its belief in the church as a Holy Spirit-created egalitarian community in which all the walls of separation produced by racial, ethnic, gender, and class differences would be washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ’ (Pentecostal Currents, 237-238).

A Peace Church

Pentecostalism’s approach to violence has demonstrated a monumental U-turn of which many a politician could be proud. In 1917 Stanley Frodsham, General Secretary of the Assemblies of God in the USA, could write: ‘From the very beginning, the movement has been characterized by Quaker principles. The laws of the Kingdom, laid down by our elder brother, Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, have been unqualifiedly adopted, consequently the movement has found itself opposed to the spilling of blood of any man … Every branch of the movement, whether in the United States, Canada, Great Britain or Germany, has held to this principle’ (cited in Blumhofer, Restoring the Vision, 147).

The reason for their pacifism was sometimes a negative one; the argument going something like this: the imminent (pre-millennial) return of Christ is to be preceded by ‘wars and rumours of war’; to oppose violence with violence would paradoxically be to oppose the purposes of God. However, this is hardly any different to the early Anabaptist Melchior Hoffman’s pacifism or the view of some recent Old Order Anabaptists. Like Anabaptists, there were also more sophisticated pacifists, such as the British Pentecostal Donald Gee.

Pacifism in Pentecostalism has (to my knowledge) all but disappeared. The status of dynamic ecclesiology is a slightly more ambiguous but there is a tendency to deem successful Pentecostal Churches that inhibit the idea (in practice) and present a slick production in which attendees are passive customers of a professional production.

Historic and Contemporary Pentecostalism

In his book A Generous Orthodoxy Brian McLaren describes as one of seven different understanding of Jesus his encounter with the ‘Pentecostal Jesus’. He writes that ‘the Pentecostal Jesus [is] up close, present, and dramatically involved in daily life…the Pentecostal Jesus also saves by his powerful presence in this present moment’ (50). Without doubt this emphasis on the living presence of the resurrected Jesus is a strength of the movement. However, it also bears with it problems. The Pentecostal Jesus’ relationship can have an excessively individualistic feel, in which the worshipper is engaged in an intense relationship with the divine but the worshipping community is peripheral. One Pentecostal scholar (Jean-Daniel Pluss) has recently suggested that the rapid growth of Pentecostalism is in fact a globalization of individualism. More accurately it is a globalization of a wholly vertical relationship with God, which is often divorced from the wider social context. Rather than offering a witness to the unseen reign of God in what is a predominately individualistic and consumerist society, Pentecostalism can have tend to baptise such trends in Christian vocabulary – thereby acting as a disincentive to social change. Tragically, this is probably why the Reagan administration (via the CIA) invested heavily in Chilean Pentecostalism – to try to undercut the ‘dangerous’ challenge of Liberation Theology; with Pentecostalism’s apocalyptic theology and emphasis on the imminent return of Jesus. From this perspective, any time spent on social transformation is, in the words of Robert Beckford, ‘a waste of precious prayer time’.

Such an approach is not representative of some of Pentecostalism’s own history. Elsewhere Beckford, a British Black Pentecostal, has suggested that the glossolalia (gift of tongues) of Asuza Street was not just a signifier of Holy Spirit baptism but also a signifier of a commitment to ‘radical social transformation’. In claiming continuity with the early Church (as evidenced in Acts 2) the Pentecostals were also confirming their continuity with the egalitarianism the apostolic Acts church exhibited. Following William Seymour’s lead, Pentecostals affirmed that ‘one could not have tongues and continue with forms of social discrimination’. The subsequent history of Pentecostalism makes it painfully clear that this is inaccurate (the movement has been plagued by racism). However, as Beckford (6) says in concluding his argument: ‘If every…Pentecostal Church in Britain viewed tongues as a language of social engagement rather than just a supra-rational ecstatic experience, what spiritual power would be unleashed in Britain‘s urban centres!

I do not want this article to be read as an attack on Pentecostals. Whilst I certainly think there are failings, they are outnumbered by its strengths. Instead I suggest that Pentecostalism has a revolutionary and liberating history that in many ways has significant congruence with the Anabaptist vision. I view Anabaptism and Pentecostalism as co-heirs of the same radical tradition.

What can Pentecostals learn from Anabaptism?

Part of my remit was to suggest what Pentecostalism could learn from Anabaptism. My main suggestion is a relatively easy one, although one with wide-ranging implications. Although Pentecostalism and Anabaptism share a thoroughgoing apocalyptic theology, they differ in how the idea of apocalypse is understood.

In his excellent introduction to central themes (the core) of Anabaptism, From Anabaptist Seed, C.A. Snyder never once (explicitly) discusses the idea of apocalypse. If one were to read a similar book on Pentecostalism (I am not aware of one) this would play an important role. One of the pillars of the so-called ‘foursquare gospel’ (as Pentecostalism was often called) was the understanding of Jesus as ‘the coming King’, which was universally understood in a pre-millennial way (though not quite so universally now). The apocalyptic in Pentecostalism is discourse about a future event and it is extremely determinative for Pentecostal faith. Into this category comes the hope of the great End Time Revival which was central to early Pentecostalism (especially Charles Parham), regularly returns in movements of (alleged) renewal such as the Latter Rain revival of the late 1940s and the Toronto and Pensacola revivals of the 1990s, and was in effect the primary goal for the church in which I grew up.

Although less prominent in Anabaptism, the apocalyptic seems to be no less determinative for Anabaptist witness. After some infamous false starts in Anabaptist history (most notably Munster), contemporary versions (with which I am familiar) focus less on God’s timetable for the world’s eventual demise and more on the invasive self-revelation of God in Jesus as determinative for the way things should be, and therefore a model of the Church’s vision. In the words of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder: ‘The point that apocalyptic makes is not only that people who wear crowns and who claim to foster justice by the sword are not as strong as they think…It is that people who wear crosses are working with the grain of the universe. One comes to that belief by…sharing the life of those who sing about the resurrection of the slain Lamb.’

Anabaptism, like Pentecostalism, understands the notion of apocalyptic to be determinative for faith, but it understands apocalyptic as the unveiling of the way of Jesus. The apocalyptic is shorthand for Jesus Christ (Harink). Walter Hollenweger wrote in his Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (397): ‘The problem and promise of Pentecostalism are two sides of the same coin. Both are rooted in its identity and in its history. It would be bad advice to recommend to Pentecostals that they become Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, or Catholics of a sort. They must discover instead what it means to be genuinely Pentecostal. Genuine Pentecostalism is distinguished by faithfulness to its roots.’

Pentecostalism has in many ways, although not I suspect consciously, disowned its own radical history and become assimilated into its social surroundings and therefore lost its critical voice (not a uniquely Pentecostal error!) This is in large part responsible for a recurrent aversion to the idea of a Pentecostal tradition.

In 1659 the Dutch Mennonite Thieleman J van Braght wrote the Martyrs’ Mirror. It retold the faithfulness of early Anabaptists in laying down their lives for their faith, because van Braght felt that the Mennonites of his own time had lost some of their vibrancy. By remembering the faithful witness of the early witnesses contemporary Mennonites could be re-invigorated. I believe that after a similar hiatus since Pentecostalism’s origins it may be time for the ‘martyrs’ of Pentecostalism to be remembered and used as a source of critical self-reflection. These martyrs may be literal martyrs, like the Iranian Houssein Moodman, or those imprisoned for their faith, such as the early British Pentecostal leader Howard Carter. Pentecostals might also listen more attentively to those on its own margins who are voicing many of the same concerns about the contemporary version of respectable Pentecostalism. For all the extreme doctrines and personalities of Early Pentecostalism, this is the tradition and story that set me on the path to the vision that sees the church as witness to God’s restorative justice and peace in the world. Such a view is a decidedly Anabaptist one, and is one for which I am indebted to Pentecostalism.

A Quaker drawn to Anabaptism

A Journey from Atheism to Anabaptism

by Graham Paley

I am a recent, and still at times reluctant, ‘convert’ to Christianity. Having spent about 35 years being a self-professed Atheist I now find myself in the position of being able to describe myself, if I wanted to, as a Bible-believing Christian. At the moment, I generally choose not to describe myself in this way and still struggle at times to understand how I have ended up in this curious position in my life. I do know that stumbling across Anabaptism has been the one single most important event that has moved me to becoming a Christian.

I was born into a white, working-class, low-income family, something that has always influenced my perspective on life. Although money was tight when I was a child, this did not seem to matter much as I was fortunate to grow up in a loving and supportive family. This has always left me knowing that, although money is important, it is not the most important thing in life. I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s when Britain was still nominally a ‘Christian culture’. I attended Christian assemblies at school and sang Christian hymns. However, my family life was not Christian.

My Dad had grown up in a catholic sub-culture that seemed mainly to consist of Catholic teachers hitting him daily throughout his childhood. His World War II experiences, when he had volunteered to serve on submarines, had also left him with little time for religion. Both he and my Granddad, whom I spent a lot of time with as a child, were ‘lapsed Catholics’ and anti-religious. They told me various horror stories about the hypocrisy or dogmatism of priests and Christians. Further childhood experiences with dogmatic Christians, and adult reading of contradictory beliefs such as a God of love who is also willing deliberately to torture most of humanity for eternity in ‘Hell’ alienated me from mainstream Christianity and my ethnic Christian culture.

I have always been an avid reader and interested in politics and history. As a teenager I soon read about the blood-stained history of Christianity and the numerous times it had contributed to violence and injustice in the world. I left school at 16 and spent 6 years in the Merchant Navy. I travelled the world and saw poverty and injustice at first hand. I saw no evidence that religion was doing anything to alleviate this and some evidence that it was contributing to it.

I subsequently became involved in left-wing politics. I spent about 15 years in all as a party and trade union activist. At that time I believed that people could solve injustice (if only they would work together). As the years progressed, I did not see things changing much and became jaded with the ethics of some of those on the left wing. Their view that ‘the ends justifies the means’ was never one I subscribed to and I ended my active involvement in politics.

There is not the space here to describe how, but at the age of 30 I became involved in a Buddhist group. I gained a great deal from the practice of meditation and the people were a good bunch. I enjoyed the teachings, especially around non violence. Buddhism offered me a spiritual path without the need for a belief in God. My understanding of God at this time was still based on my earlier perceptions of associating Christianity with dogma, hypocrisy and intolerance. Throughout my 10 year involvement with the Buddhists I maintained an Atheist perspective. My time with the Buddhists has given me a supportive outlook on other faiths. Despite having had a very positive 10 year experience, I eventually felt an urge to move away from Buddhism. This was partly related to what I perceived to be aspects of spiritual immaturity in the group I was in and also something cultural. For me, Buddhism did not fully fit my own cultural heritage.

I subsequently had a brief encounter with the Unitarians who, for the first time ever in my life, offered me a glimpse that Christianity could be non-dogmatic and have something relevant to offer the modern world.

Following this I began reading the Bible for the first time about three years ago. I remember reading the Sermon on the Mount and swearing out loud in surprise and excitement. I really had no idea that that was what Christianity was supposed to be about. I had, in genuine ignorance, believed that the Bible actually taught bigotry and intolerance. I have continued to read the Bible since. In many ways I still feel that trying to understand it is like wrestling with an elephant. In other ways though, coming to the Bible without any previous Christian conditioning, a lot of it, especially the teachings of Jesus, seems absolutely crystal clear and unambiguous. I am still genuinely surprised as to how some Christians have managed to misunderstand, or even reverse, some of these teachings.

By this time I had joined the Quakers. I liked their non-dogmatic approach and felt affinity with their testimonies of peace, equality, simplicity, and truthfulness. Peace has always been important to me. The Quaker pacifist tradition chimed with my previous Buddhist experiences of non-violence. My own reading of the Bible has convinced me utterly that this is also the teachings of Jesus. I easily moved over from Buddhist meditation into the silent meeting of Quaker worship. During this time I have continued to read widely around Christianity.

The key event for me was stumbling across the Anabaptist Network website one evening, although I still cannot remember how I first found this website. I simply could not work these people out. They were interested in social justice which chimed with my previous involvement with politics. They voiced many of the same criticisms of Christianity that I had always had. They were overtly committed to pacifism that was so important to me and which I had thought only the Quakers were. The puzzling thing was that they proposed all of this from an overtly Bible-based and Christian perspective. I struggled to work it out were they ‘left wing’ or ‘right wing’.

I lurked around their websites and read their literature before eventually joining my local AN study group. The stories of current Anabaptists that I read in the book Coming Home were inspiring. Their views on Christendom, living in a ‘post-Christian’ and pluralist society, and taking a Jesus-centred perspective to faith, the Bible, and to Christianity have helped me to overcome a lot of my previous animosity to Christianity. I recently completed the Anabaptist inspired Workshop course. The impact of this course has been immense. It has helped me to be able to base my own faith in a Christian context that matches my own cultural heritage and background. It embraces my lifelong struggles for a fairer world as well as my previous positive experiences of spiritual practice that I gained from my 10 years with the Buddhists. My contact with the Network has enabled me to re-engage with Christianity in a way that adds to rather than contradicts other stages on my spiritual journey. The Anabaptist approach to Christianity makes sense to me and feels rooted. I now feel that my Quakerism – and especially my peace testimony – is firmly grounded in the Christianity that originally inspired George Fox. I also feel re-engaged with my own spiritual culture but in a way that is directly relevant for how I live my life now in 2005 based on religious and spiritual rather than secular values.

However, I still have a long way to go in working through the impact of my faith on my own life. One impact is on me being a Quaker. My membership of the Quakers has given me a space over the last few years to explore my own faith. I was initially attracted to the Quakers because they were willing to offer me a spiritual home without having to first sign up to any creed. I soon became aware, though, that apart from sharing a common method of worship, there seems to be little else that we Quakers hold in common as a shared theology. I feel that diversity is welcoming but that Quakerism has become too disengaged from its roots.

I am fascinated how George Fox had formed a radical religious society that has lasted for 350 years, when so many others have simply disappeared. George Fox’s journal makes it clear that the Quakers were firmly rooted in a radical interpretation of Christianity. My sense is that now he would be very much on the charismatic end of Christianity. For me, the diversity of the Quakers means that we no longer have a shared theology that I can draw on. Most of my spiritual growth over the last few years has come outside of the Quakers and especially from the AN and Workshop. I feel that I am moving in the opposite direction to most of my fellow Quakers. Quakers have for some time now been a post-Christian Society of Friends. There are many Quakers who would not describe themselves as Christians at all and many of those that would are turned off by formal Christian language. I feel that the Anabaptist take on Christianity is very close to George Fox’s. I recently wrote an article about the AN for the biggest circulation Quaker publication, thinking that other Quakers would be interested. It only got 2 responses. I now find myself in the position that, having first joined the Quakers because they were not overtly Christian, I am now probably leaving them for the same reason.

I do not know where the next stage of my journey will be. I have a lot of work still to do on the direction and outworking of my own faith. Not least in the light of Anabaptist perspectives around wealth. This has implications for my work and lifestyle. For now I am sticking around the AN for future direction. I have completed Workshop and have volunteered to help out on this year’s Workshop as a learning mentor. My plan is to enrol on Advanced Workshop when it runs again 2006. I am also involved in setting up a North of England support group for Christian Peacemaker Teams with friends from the AN and Workshop. Apart from this I do not know. It has been a strange and at times puzzling journey from Atheism to Anabaptism. If someone had told me even three years ago that I would be doing what I am now doing I would not have believed them.

A United Reformed Church minister drawn to Anabaptism

Living with struggle…..an Anabaptist in the URC

by Andrew Francis

What does URC mean to you? Perhaps nothing……particularly if you are a non-British reader of this website.

The URC is the United Reformed Church – a brave coming together of different Protestant traditions in Britain. First, in 1972, of the English Presbyterians with both English and Welsh Congregationalists. Nine years later, most of the British Churches of Christ joined them, to be followed by the majority of Scots Congregationalists in 2000. Each tradition had its own history and particular emphases.

Many of us arrived in the URC like driftwood and choose to remain in its struggle by choice.

Together, as one denomination, the URC developed a hybrid reputation, despite being an orthodox commitedly Trinitarian people, declaring the Bible to be the ‘the highest authority for what we believe and do’ (URC Statement of its Nature, Faith and Order). To many, we are a Christian denomination that leads the way in 21st-century political activism and campaigning for justice; the great majority of our congregations have declared ‘fair trade’ status. To others, we can seem too liberal, yet we were one of the first Christian denominations to acknowledge the need for our own ‘Group for Evangelism and Renewal’ (GEAR). We believe the congregation to be the primary focus and locus for Christian discipleship and mission.

It could all sound too good to be true for any budding Anabaptist……

There is more to the story and it is rooted in our history:

You may know that Presbyterians in Scotland form the established Church of Scotland and English Presbyterians have many tendencies to favour strong church-and-state links. I trust that God blesses the English monarch just as much as the poorest alternative world peasant, but I do not need the National Anthem in either our worship or hymnbook to encourage others to think there might be a difference. Yet it is only in my present congregation that I have not needed to witness this discussion.

The Congregationalists have roots in the Independency surrounding the English Civil War. Then the important thing was that you belonged to ‘their’ kind of chapel and not to the other lot. Since then, Congregationalism has joined Methodism on the ‘social escalator’ (John Vincent: OK, Let’s be Methodists, London: Epworth, 1984), gradually losing touch with its roots amongst the poor, whilst becoming institutionalised with large buildings, installing pews and organs, finally moving from being a ‘Union’ of congregations to a ‘Church’ in 1965. The streak of independency often remained, meaning that the co-operation and mission shared between several congregations seemed to be at the whim of local church meetings, rather than a matter of discipleship and strategic mission. My experiences either side of the Pennines taught me to anticipate “How much will it cost….?” as one of the first questions in any discussion; sadly this was financial rather than working out what sacrificial discipleship might mean.

I had grown up in the Churches of Christ where my father was a pastor. We were very Anabaptist – accepting only those baptised as believers until the late 1960s. We were a tiny association of (less than 200) congregations, being more like a nationwide family, making us often tremendously insular. I remember the relieved smiles of other church members when my grandparents invited any stranger in Sunday worship to lunch – one of many lessons in Christian hospitality. In the 1870s, we had been one of the fastest-growing denominations in Victorian England, yet by the 1960s our Restorationist ideas were being better practised by the growing New Church Movement.

My rediscovery of Anabaptism has been told elsewhere (in Alan Kreider & Stuart Murray (Eds.): Coming Home: Stories of Anabaptists in Britain and Ireland, Waterloo: Pandora Press, 2000); it was like ‘coming home’. Here are people:

- who share my beliefs in a marked out missionary community of disciples
- who believe Jesus and his teachings are the supreme pattern for daily life
- who have a daily commitment to justice and peace, prayer and Bible study
- who know that the church must be separate from the State

I find many of these ‘marks’ in my fellow-pilgrims within the URC but even more beyond such denominational boundaries.

Like driftwood, I arrived on the tide of ecumenical enthusiasm that swept the Churches of Christ into the URC, believing that we could bridge baptismal divides. It has not been true. Increasingly many congregations and even more ministers accept that believers’ baptism is a New Testament norm and should be our practice in the face of rising secularity and this new missionary age. Yet so often congregations are riven apart when some traditionalist says that his or her grandchild should be baptised as an infant when their own children, and now parents, are non-believers. We are continually engaging with the struggle to reassert obedient discipleship.

But following Jesus is about the way of the Cross. I was training to be a (paid) minister – a not very Anabaptist concept – when I landed on the URC’s shoreline. In each congregation where I have had the privilege of serving alongside some vibrant and unpaid elders, the struggles have been different and, as the years have gone by, have become more radical – now that is Anabaptist.

Now we live on the fringe of fast-growing Swindon, working alongside two (and sometimes more) congregations, each with their own struggles to follow the way of Jesus. We strive every week to create multi-voiced and relevant worship. We work with many agencies to create ‘sacred space’ and dialogue, in order that those searching for God can enter into friendships then faith. We run a ‘fair trade’ Saturday café, themed children’s days (the latest in December 2005 was Narnia), events with our local pub as well as the more usual churchy-type stuff; yet in the midst of folk’s busyness, we struggle to do all that we feel called to. Our study programme increasingly finds the writings of contemporary Anabaptists, such as John Howard Yoder, Alan & Ellie Kreider and Stuart Murray, inform our use of the Bible and our congregational life. At the heart of it all, we find our sense of community in meals together and not just bread and wine.

But nothing is complete – there is always the voice of Jesus inviting us to take yet another step in faith! The struggle goes on….and perhaps the URC’s present internal yet radical review will ensure more Anabaptist-style questions approach us from the horizons of our vision.

An Anglican drawn to Anabaptism

by Chris Burch

Like most others I had hardly heard of Anabaptists, except as a glancing reference, a footnote in school history books. But when I first encountered Anabaptist ideas as an adult, at a life-enhancing day conference in Leeds in 1983 on “It all fits together”, the ideas fell on fertile soil. As I began to get to know Anabaptist people and ideas better, they helped me to articulate feelings I’d had for a long time –

• That the Church of England was rather wedded to the Establishment, whereas Jesus had founded an originally subversive movement;
• That the unconventional is not always wrong, despite some Anglicans’ horror at the unusual. By temperament I like to look for different ways to do things. I was attracted to the Anabaptists’ habit and teaching of “confounding people’s expectations” as a Gospel way of doing things;
• That peace is more Christian than war – a conviction that was growing in me through the 1980s;
• That the Holy Spirit having come on all flesh (Acts 2:17), the gospel and its ministries must be open to “ordinary people”. The C of E has always been rather elitist, and recently seems to be getting worse. But the gospel, it seems to me, opens the way to all Christian disciples to offer their gifts for the common good – even if they have no educational qualifications, like many of my parishioners in Urban Priority Areas.

For most of my ordained ministry (yes, I’m a vicar) I’ve been in inner city or outer estate parishes – what the Church of England calls “Urban Priority Areas” or UPAs – but in 1995 I confounded my own and everyone else’s expectations by becoming Canon Precentor at Coventry Cathedral. Being at the heart of the establishment took some getting used to, and I was glad to be invited to join an Anabaptist Theological Study Circle that was just coming into existence at that time. Almost at once I sensed that here was a way of doing theology that engaged the heart as well as the analytical part of the mind, that involved our relationships with God and each other, instead of splitting them off in the interests of academic rigour and objectivity. Indeed, our sessions began (and still begin) with a time of personal sharing and mutual prayer. At times we have been privileged to hear deep things being shared, leading to a sense (for me) of being on “holy ground”.

But what do I hear, and how do they impact on my continuing Anglican membership and convictions?

• The thing that grabbed me back in 1983 was the integration of evangelism and social justice, spirituality and action in the world, which had been opposites for a long time, in the church and in my mind. As a young vicar struggling to make sense of a new ministry in a small church in a deprived inner-city parish, this was a breath of life to me.

• A few years later, when I was still in my Leeds parish, I was aware of Anabaptist influence in resolving a dispute in the parish over the annual observance of Remembrance Sunday. We brought a group together, and the process of listening to and respecting each other became more important than the outcome. I was amused when Alan Kreider told me he was using this story as a case study – but I guess it’s no surprise that I’m now involved with Bridgebuilders, the mediation and reconciliation arm of the London Mennonite Centre.

• I was beginning to be uncomfortable with the evangelistic techniques of my evangelical background, which seemed often to verge on the manipulative, and yet could not turn my back on our Lord’s command to “make disciples of all nations...” (Matt. 28:19). So the Anabaptist insistence on demonstration, living the gospel in a way that authenticated its proclamation, was attractive. Now I’m more confident in proclamation as well as demonstration, but do not feel bound to any one method or ideology.

• In 1993 I was invited to a conversation between Anabaptist and Anglican representatives, hosted by the London Mennonite Centre and under the auspices of the (Anglican) Council for Christian Unity. Having thought of Anabaptism as more a set of ideas than a tradition of people, I was taken aback by the living sense of hurt communicated by some Anabaptists – the last time the two traditions had been in conversation (in 1575), it had led to torture and burning of the Anabaptists by the Anglicans, and the memory was far from dead. I think this was when I began to see the early Anabaptists as real people, in their strangeness as well as their commonality with my own outlook. And I realised that I was in some way sharing in this tradition, however strange some of its stories are. From then on, I began to see aspects of my own tradition through different eyes – both accepting that some of my antecedents were also strange, and having a different perspective with which to view my tradition, allowing me a more objective critique.

• At the Theological Study Circle we looked at Anabaptist ways of interpreting the Bible – still a multi-faceted and sometimes confusing subject, as the early Anabaptists were no more monochrome than any other tradition – and tried to make sense of the homosexuality debate in that light. We had a fascinating conversation with the American theologian Jim McClendon (now sadly died) who started his systematic theology with a volume on ethics (yes, demonstration comes before theory!) and taught me something about Christian believing in a post-modern age. We looked at art and spirituality, and at war and peace in the aftermath of the latest invasion of Iraq. I’ve learned to examine Anglican presuppositions with an Anabaptist lens, and was glad to review (for Anabaptism Today) a booklet by Anglican authors arguing passionately for the disestablishment of the Church of England, a position I’ve always held, though instinctively rather than articulately. Having originally been the only Anglican in the Study Circle, I’m now intrigued that many of its most committed and articulate theologians are Anglicans.

• This is where some points of tension come in. I’ve never thought the Church of England has any theological right to be the established church, and the booklet made me realise how the Church has always given the State a much better deal than it has received in turn. A few years ago I visited South Africa, where the Anglican Church manages to be an effective witness to God’s justice and his love, without any of the trappings of political power or constitutional establishment. But I am able to do things for my marginalised parishioners that they cannot do for themselves, by virtue of enjoying an unspoken trust because of my position. I can indeed be the “parson” – the persona – for my parish, representing them not only before God in prayer, but in at least some of the corridors of power. How much has this to do with my being vicar of an established church? I could argue “nothing”, and point you to equally eloquent and effective Christian ministers in South Africa – but I know that the work I did in Coventry for the Anti-Poverty Forum, or for the Tackling Poverty group in the Local Strategic Partnership, derived straight from my position in the heart of the establishment, in Coventry Cathedral. (Not that such a “top-down” position could penetrate deeply to the grass-roots – but I could and did influence the conditions under which grass-roots community groups were able to work.)

• It’s unfashionable at the moment, but I believe in the parish – that our Anglican bit of the church takes on some sort of responsibility for every person in the land, even those who do not believe our gospel and will never darken the doors of our churches. When my time came to leave Coventry, I was appointed to a large outer council estate parish in Leicester, where my remit was primarily to engage in Christ’s name with the New Deal for Communities, a government investment of £50 million into one estate that had brought expectations but also confusion and conflict. With a population of 13,000 and a church membership roll of less than 40, my job could hardly be justified by the congregation alone! As it’s turned out, my involvement in the NDC is indirect and not at the seat of power, but over the last three years I’ve got to know most of those who try to make the programme work – and the church congregation has become more involved in the community, and more aware that this is part of their Christian ministry. (They are more confident about their faith too, and even beginning to grow in numbers – why am I sounding so surprised??)

• Although it’s easy to think of the Church of England as primarily an arm of the Establishment, my experience of it for most of my life has been in a small and committed but beleaguered group on the edge of society – often on the edge of the church as well. We have had plenty of opportunities to confound expectations by unconventional, even risky ways of doing things. Sometimes our initiatives have been squashed or threatened by those in power, in church or society. Sometimes, of course, they were right and we needed to let go our immaturity. But on one occasion we persisted against what we saw as an unjust abuse of power, and finally won through against the might of the City Council. Local creativity (and a deep-rooted faith in God) can enable us to outmanoeuvre the big battalions – “We can’t outgun them (the City Council or whoever it is...) but we can outthink them, outpray them, outwit them, outlast them and out-suffer them.” That’s a profoundly Anabaptist insight, but it’s Anglican too. (If you think of a City Council as a dinosaur – and most of them are so large that they need a brain at each end! – then small churches and community groups are like the primitive mammals that scurry around under their feet, keeping out of the way but surviving by their wits and adaptability.)

• But how are these little groups going to hand the tradition down? Even the Church of England can no longer afford to place a paid minister in every parish – will the congregations survive? Many have been used to being babies – spoon-fed the gospel by priestly parent-figures – or passengers, travelling in the Gospel-train without expecting to have to get their hands dirty. The Anabaptist tradition, by contrast, expects to discern the presence of God in the meeting of the gathered congregation, as they bring their different contributions together and arrive at a consensus. Having stayed in UPAs when many other churches closed down or pulled out to the suburbs, the Church of England must now give up its elitist habits of training and ministry, and expect the Holy Spirit to come upon its most ordinary members. Then it must resource and train these, in a way appropriate to their own culture, not expecting to squeeze them into its own mould. There is hope – we started a UPA Training Project, which we hope to pilot among the UPAs and Ethnic Minority Christians in Leicester. To our surprise, it has received warm support so far from the diocesan leadership – now we must see how many ordinary Christians want to take it up.

Anabaptist Leanings of a ‘Kinda’ Methodist

by Philip R Meadows, Cliff College, March 2006

I am a pagan convert and a theological mongrel! I was evangelized by Pentecostals, brought to faith by evangelical Anglicans, taught the mysteries by high-church priests, encouraged by para-church ministries, befriended by independent church leaders, filled with the Spirit in charismatic worship, learned to preach under the tutelage of Methodists, married into a Baptist family, trained at a British Methodist theological college, worked at a United Methodist Seminary in the USA, participated in a Free Methodist church and an American Baptist church, started a house fellowship, and finished up at Cliff College.

I became a Methodist because they recognized my call to preach and encouraged me to follow it. This was the first step towards ordination in a Church that I didn’t know much about except that, for the most part, it seemed to be anti-evangelical and could clearly use my help! I have continued as a Methodist, however, because over the years I have found the evangelical roots of this tradition to be a constant source of inspiration. Being rooted in the life of John Wesley and the early Methodists is not merely about establishing a theological continuity with them, but discovering that I share a common spiritual journey that spans the ages.

Wesley was set upon becoming a real and ‘altogether’ Christian: holy in heart and life; perfected in love of God and neighbour. This vision was cultivated and pursued through his encounters with, and appropriation of, many different streams of Christian thought and practice: patristic sources from East and West, Anglican divines, Puritans and Pietists, Moravians, and even heretics! In short, he ‘poached’ anything that could help illumine the nature of holiness and Christian perfection. One might say that he was also a theological mongrel, and if that’s what it takes to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, then I’m with Wesley.

Thinking of Wesley this way, it would be consistently ‘Wesleyan’ of me to ‘poach’ upon the Anabaptist tradition insofar as it might illumine and advance the end of evangelical discipleship and biblical Christianity. What follows are some Anabaptist leanings of this kinda Methodist. I don’t pretend to have interpreted the tradition with any kind of historical exactitude or systematic precision. I offer what I think I have learned from some Anabaptists (and others sympathetic to the tradition) in the form of cumulative intuitions, for better or worse, and what I think might be suggestive as directions for dialogue with the Wesleyan tradition.

Baptism as Initiation into a Life of Discipleship

Most students of church history first learn that the Anabaptists were those made infamous for rejecting the practice of infant baptism. Some of the reasons for their stance are very familiar to the broad evangelical tradition: the absence of clear scriptural warrant; an emphasis on personal conversion, the experience of new birth and forgiveness of sins; and the need for an intentional decision to become a follower of Jesus. What I have been fascinated to learn, however, is how the Anabaptists themselves understood believer’s baptism to be an initiation into a life of radical discipleship and into a community of discipline that would help them make good on their decision, namely, the church. At the heart of this community was a commitment to certain New Testament practices such as the ministry of reconciliation or ‘binding and loosing’ (i.e. the discipline that binds one another to the teaching of Jesus while loosing one another from the bondage to sin); ‘the ban’ (i.e. excluding people from the Eucharist who persistently refused the discipline of community and its ministry of reconciliation); the refusal to swear oaths, and a commitment to truth-telling. This tradition has constantly pressed me to think of the church as a community of moral discourse, deliberation and discernment; a place where Christian discipleship is made possible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit among those willing to be held accountable for a common way of life in Christ.

I believe that the connection between baptism, Christian discipleship and a community of discipline lay at the heart of early Methodist theology and practice. No one could evade their summons to be born-again; especially those nominal Christians who sought to rest on their baptism as infants. Apart from a life of disciplined discipleship, argued Wesley, the regenerative effects of infant baptism simply withered away leaving one in need of evangelical conversion. Those ‘awakened’ by evangelistic preaching, who made a decision to seek after the new birth, were incorporated into ‘class meetings’ (or cell groups) whose members would hold each another accountable for learning to walk in the way of Christ, according to a common rule of life. Whether as a ‘seeker’ in need of conversion, or as a believer pursuing holiness of heart and life, each practiced the confession of sin, the ministry of healing prayer, speaking the truth in love, and exhorting one another to grow in grace. It is interesting to note that Wesley himself likened the class meeting to the early church catechumenate. The early Methodists were certainly not committed to re-baptism, but they were committed to re-generation and radical discipleship. The Anabaptist tradition reminds me of the great practical-theological treasure Methodists have in their practices of disciple-making, not least the class meeting (plagiarized in large part from the Moravians) and how we have been slow to find inspiration in it.

Radical Discipleship as Civil Disobedience

The Anabaptists took a very different stance from the ‘magisterial’ Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli) when it came to the relationship between church and state. Whereas the Reformers looked to the conversion of Constantine as the highpoint of church history, the Anabaptists saw it as the fall of the church! For them, the ‘Christendom synthesis’ resulted in a fatal compromise of the gospel with worldly wealth and power that all but extinguished radical discipleship from the face of the earth. The failure of the magisterial reformation to complete its protest by dismantling the gospel from its captivity to Christendom left the practice of infant baptism a mark of good citizenship. Under these conditions, the Anabaptist refusal of infant baptism and the logic of radical discipleship appeared to be a form of civil disobedience: a witness against the principalities and powers of a merely re-ordered Christendom arrangement, a heresy punishable by death. Arguably, this logic connects Anabaptists to the early church’s understanding of baptism as initiation into a way of life that took the lordship of Christ over all creation (including the Emperor) to be a truth worth living and dying for. I find it interesting, however, that radical discipleship and civil disobedience was consistent with infant baptism in the early church: as a pledge of allegiance to Christ in the midst of the Empire, and a commitment to raising children in a faith that might well cost them their lives.

I am encouraged that Wesley sided with the Anabaptists over the magisterial Reformers on the question of Constantine, although this is not without its ambiguity. It is clear that Wesley’s commitments lie naturally with the Church of England as a state church. What he regrets, however, is how the ‘mystery of iniquity’ has persistently worked through the church’s collusion with the world: to subdue its passion for holiness, and impede the spread of the gospel. He does not reflect upon the propriety of Constantine’s conversion as such, or how things might have been different had it not occurred. But he does note how the ‘vineyard of the Lord’ has continued to bear the fruit of holiness throughout church history in different movements of the Spirit, of which Methodism was then the latest. And it is also true that early Methodist discipleship often amounted to a form of implicit ‘civil disobedience’ insofar as their commitment to holiness directly and indirectly challenged the taken-for-granted nature of contemporary social life: the political conditions of poverty, the practice of slave trading, the emergence of capitalist economics, the state of moral depravity, etc. Their witness against such things certainly brought them persecution from all sides. In a post-Christendom context, I find myself challenged by the Anabaptists and early Methodists alike to welcome my place on the margins of society as a new opportunity for holiness and witness.

The Church as Intentional Kingdom Community

I deeply appreciate the Anabaptist understanding of the church as a social reality (public, cultural and political) called to embody the gospel of Christ in a world of unbelief. Under the conditions of Christendom, it is argued, discipleship gets reduced to good ‘citizenship’; the radical demands of the gospel get reduced to abstract ‘values’; Christian faith is reduced to a private spirituality; and the ministry of the church is reduced to a form of ‘chaplaincy’. On the one hand, the church acts as a chaplain to the state by seeking to Christianize the dominant social reality; while, on the other hand, acting as chaplain to the private spiritual experience of individual Christians in the hope of shoring up the lives of good citizens. Ironically, it would seem that in accepting the conditions of Christendom, the church sowed the seeds of its own marginalization. As our dominant social reality becomes increasingly secularized, the church’s former privilege as purveyor of spiritual and moral direction to the nation is withdrawn; leaving it to languish in the realm of a privatized, sub-cultural and a-political religious plurality. Against this, some Anabaptists have insisted that the church must exist as a social reality in its own right. If politics is simply about how the common life of a people is ordered, then the church is ordered by the ‘politics’ of Jesus. If culture is simply the character of a community’s way of life, then the church is a ‘culture’ shaped by the gifts and fruit of the Spirit. And if being public is simply a political-cultural reality made visible, accountable and accessible, then the church is a ‘public’ viewing of the Kingdom of God made open to all. I find it interesting that the postmodern tendency to deconstruct singular and dominant accounts of social reality (thus allowing for different publics, cultures and politics) actually makes room for the life of the church to be considered a counter-culture and counter-politics, while at the same time requiring a more robust witness of us if the gospel is to be made plausible to the watching world.

This Anabaptist thinking tempts me to take liberty with the meaning of early Methodist ‘societies’. Each society, bound by a common rule and a set of common practices, could easily be thought of as a ‘social reality’ in its own right. Their public, cultural and political life was that of striving after scriptural holiness. The ‘General Rule’ (of doing no harm, doing all the good they can, and attending to the means of grace) had the effect of holding them to a form of Kingdom living that resisted selfish ambition and accumulation in favour of good stewardship. They included admonitions against buying and selling uncustomed goods, singing dubious songs, needless self-indulgence, and borrowing without the probability of paying! He also advises them to employ one another (especially the poor), to help each other in business, and to be frugal in all things. And he guides them in the use of money to earn all they can (i.e. without injury to self or neighbour), save all they can (i.e. not wasting what they have earned), and give all they can (i.e. of that which exceeds their own basic needs). Wesley aims to describe a way of life literally consistent with the language of the Ten Commandments and the teaching of Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount (a text much used by Anabaptists). I am again indebted to the Anabaptists for helping me see how a Christian community that embodies the gospel does not happen by accident, but requires an intentional commitment to a form of life capable of resisting the dominant social realities of the world.

A Witness that Challenges the ‘World’

Again, the Anabaptists have helped me to learn what it means to speak of the church’s mission in ‘the world’. I have been taught how to make the distinction between the world as created in and through and for Christ, and the present condition of the ‘world’ as a fallen and rebellious creation in need of redemption (as used in John’s gospel). It is the task of the church to bear witness to the difference between a creation designed to flourish under the lordship of Christ, and a ‘world’ distorted by human projects (or principalities and powers) that usurp his universal reign. By seeking to live as an intentional Kingdom community, the church throughout the world is called to reveal God’s project to redeem all of creation. The church is what happens when the Holy Spirit gathers and strives with communities of faith to bring their worldliness under the rule of Christ: both affirming those cultural distinctives that are consistent with the Kingdom of God, and confronting those idolatrous preoccupations which tend to deny it. Anabaptists argue that this witness gets submerged under the conditions of Christendom: when the ‘world’ is supposedly Christian. At the end of Christendom, however, it is possible for the church to remember its vocation to help the world know itself as a ‘world’ in need of redemption. As the postmodern turn encourages us to think of social reality in plural terms, we have become used to thinking of what it means for us to live in multiple social ‘worlds’ or cultures. On Anabaptists terms, I am tempted to argue that this diversity of worlds represents both the richness of the created order, and the many different ways that richness can be distorted by unbelief. In terms of mission and witness, therefore, the church is called to exist in the kind of cultural and political diversity necessary to address the multiplicity of worlds in which people live today. My hunch is that there is something significant to be learned here for the (so-called) ‘emerging church’ in its attempt to give expression to cross-cultural forms of intentional community.

As a Wesleyan, the work of the Spirit to bring our lives under the rule of Christ would be another way of speaking about ‘holiness’ (which literally means being different or set apart) and sanctification. In my own research, I am trying to explain how the concept of holiness is intimately related to that of mission. The summons to holiness means understanding that our Christian lives, and that of the church, are meant to bear witness to the holy difference between the Kingdom of God and the ‘worldliness’ of the ‘world’. This is the meaning behind Wesley’s cautions against ‘friendship’ (i.e. flirting) with the world: not an attempt to preserve some kind of false purity, but to recognize that worldliness and holiness are two different ways of life with quite different ends. Under the tutelage of Anabaptist insights, I find myself concerned to go beyond the somewhat pietistic and legalistic interpretations often associated with holiness movements, to the importance of holiness as an intentional commitment to stake our hearts and lives on the truth of God as Author and End of all things, and Jesus Christ as the Lord of all creation. Such a people will necessarily be a challenge to every culture, in every time and place, until Jesus comes again.

Church Life as Orienting Concern in Mission

In recent years I have found Anabaptist ecclesiology to be increasingly influential in the fields of missiology and evangelism. The new emphasis on ‘missional’ communities has brought with it an orienting concern for the character of Christian community itself. There is a shift of emphasis away from thinking of mission in terms of what the church is doing in the world, to mission as constituting its very reason for being in the world. At least theologically, the being of the church precedes the doing of the church. To think of it another way, the church does not have a mission, it is on a mission, i.e. God’s own mission of redeeming the world. So, the church is not missional because it sends missionaries into the world, but because the church is itself sent into the world. What is sent is the social reality of a common life under the rule of Christ – a public, cultural and political embodiment of the gospel – for witness and service. This is the true meaning of our ‘apostolicity’. Put differently, to participate in the mission of God means becoming God’s social project in the world: to live as an hermeneutic of the gospel; to be a sign, foretaste and herald of the Kingdom. The church exists as ‘pulpit’ and ‘paradigm’: a prophetic word against those principalities and powers that turn creation against the rule of Christ; and a prototype or preview of creation made new in Christ.

John Wesley once said there was no holiness but ‘social holiness’. Some have mistakenly read him as advocating the kind of ‘social gospel’ which emerged in early 20th century. In fact, he simply meant that you cannot be holy on your own! On the one hand, because all the Christian virtues (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…) are relational in nature, they must be cultivated and expressed in Christian community. Social holiness means striving with others (in context of Methodist society, classes and bands) to become Christlike in heart and life. On the other hand, these same virtues, when exercised in the world, become the medium of authentic Christian witness. Social holiness means being salt and light in the world, such that the gospel can be tasted and seen through all our relationships. Again, in my own research and writing, Anabaptist thinking has pushed me to go beyond the usual connection between holiness and the witness of individuals (the point at which Wesley’s own reflections seem to end), to the importance of social holiness as the corporate witness of a church shaped by the fruit and gifts of the Kingdom in a rebellious world.

Non-Violence as Primary Witness to the Kingdom

As I understand it, the Anabaptist commitment to pacifism belongs to the logic of the church as pulpit, paradigm and pilot-project of the Kingdom in a culture of violence. It has been this way from the beginning, and it flows from a radical commitment to the peaceable rule of Christ. The goal of a world at ‘peace’ is not enough; for it depends what kind of peace we are seeking. On the one hand, the pax Romana was a vision of the world restrained from warring through the military might of the Empire. On the other hand, the pax Christi is the vision of a world renewed in love through the self-sacrificing grace of God. The Kingdom of God is not characterized by an absence of war but an abundance of love; and the church is called to prove how the death and resurrection of Christ overcomes the violent divisions of the world in the quality of its life together. The same Spirit that conquered the death-dealing principalities and powers through the cross of Christ is at work in the church to heal the divisions that persist in the vestiges of a fallen creation. It seems to me that this vision of a people who bear witness to the peaceable Kingdom of God has never been more important than in our contemporary world. I am not simply referring to the insidious spread of Western consumer technoculture; nor the violent imposition of liberal democracy with which it is twinned; or even the reign of terror that has ensued in its wake. Rather, I have in mind that therapy of postmodern deconstruction which (despite helping to unmask the imperialistic aspirations of Western civilization) has also turned the reality of everyday life into a battlefield of suspicious minds and power-plays; a generalized ‘terrorist’ society in which trust is a liability, and we are set against one another in an endless spiral of tyranny and victimization (old and young, parent and child, husband and wife, black and white, neighbour and stranger…). The Kingdom of God will certainly not come through the imperialistic violence of a Christendom church, nor the military superiority of a vaguely Christianized liberal-modern democracy, but through the witness of a peaceable community among whom the everyday ‘terrors’ of a post/modern culture have no place.

I don’t know exactly what this means for me as a Wesleyan theologian and a pacifist. Wesley has been read as a warrant for both pacifism and just war; and Methodists as a whole remain confused about it. Wesley was, of course, a state-churchman. There is no doubt, however, that Wesley’s own vision of the new creation is one in which the rule of peace is celebrated. He can vividly describe the new creation as a place where all carnivorous appetites are no more: where the alienation between predator and prey among humans and animals alike is completely healed. (Perhaps the most persuasive argument for vegetarianism?!) This kind of healing, prefigured in the ministry of reconciliation, could be interpreted as the intention of early Methodist fellowship in both its spiritual and economic dimensions. Perhaps most significant, however, would be the logic of holiness and the pursuit of ‘perfection’ in love. To be perfected in love of God and neighbour would seem entirely inconsistent with the habits of mind, heart and life necessary to be a person of violence. It is hard to imagine how one could simultaneously strive for such holiness and yet also be trained to kill, or even to approve of killing, or even to turn a blind eye to it. If we yield our lives to Jesus, which is the sine qua non of holiness, it is hard to imagine how we could even make room for anger on these terms.

The Pursuit of Christian Perfection

Thanks to some Anabaptists, I have become a big fan of sectarianism! Of course, this has meant unlearning what has come to be the fairly standard definition of ‘sect’ as a divisive faction: a religious group set against the mainstream of both church and society; or a close-knit and inward-looking group with perfectionist views; generally dismissive, resistant, or antagonistic towards wider social realities. The history of some religious communities, like the Amish perhaps, certainly lend credence to this view. On a global scale, however, it is not difficult to think how whole nation-states are capable of adopting such a ‘sectarian’ stance towards the rest of the world. Clearly size is not the issue when it comes to being sectarian! Rather, we might say that it is an intentional commitment to living a certain way in the world, or taking up with everyday life, in the midst of other competing accounts of reality. Nation-states secure it through domestic and international violence; whereas Christians look to the cultivation of disciplined fellowship. On these terms, the pursuit of Christian perfection is not first about policing the borders of a community (though it clearly can be reduced to this) but the importance of maintaining a truthful witness to the Kingdom of God in a world of unbelief. To be sectarian means knowing that there is a competition for our souls: that there are other ways of life (of thinking, speaking, feeling, acting) which are contrary to the Kingdom of God; which are in the air that we breathe; which will shape our lives apart from a community of resistance and counter-cultural practices. To be sectarian, therefore, does not necessarily entail ‘fleeing to the desert’, or being isolated from ‘the world’, but intentionally seeking the Kingdom amidst the ‘powers that be’ as a form of spiritual struggle. Examined this way, it is not surprising that those espousing forms of Christian perfection have, through the history of Christendom, been persecuted as heretics. Even when such persons and communities have sought to live a peaceable life, their very existence is experienced as a witness against a worldly church, and must be silenced.

Wesley joined the Anabaptists in attempting to rehabilitate those who had been branded heretics for what he considered to be a commitment to the pursuit of holiness (such as Pelagius and Montanus, for example). In my estimation, Wesley raised the ire of world and church not because he broke the rules of ecclesiastical order or made a nuisance of himself in political circles, but because he formed a movement, a People, whose from of life embodied a witness against the ‘powers that be’. This was dangerous indeed, and the powers were right to be worried! Wesley’s understanding of the People called Methodists was that they were providentially raised by God to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land; and that Christian perfection was the ‘grand depositum’ of the movement. The witness of this ‘sect’ to the Kingdom of God changed the lives of the poor and challenged the institutions of poverty in many deep and lasting ways.

© Copyright 2006 Philip R Meadows (email p.meadows@cliffcollege.ac.uk)

Rediscovering Anabaptism Video

Rediscovering Anabaptism Video

The Rediscovering Anabaptism video, produced in 1996, brings together interviews with members of the Anabaptist Network, who talk about central themes in Anabaptism and how these have been significant for them and their churches. Available in either PAL or NTSC format. Copies are available from the Metanoia Book Service.

The video comes with a discussion guide for groups watching it together. The main text of the guide can also be found at www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/395

We are also pleased to be able to offer segments of the video on-line for free. Follow the links below learn more about an Anabaptist perspective on various topics. You will need to install a free copy of Macromedia Flash Player to view the videos.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: A Heart for the Poor

Stuart Murray Williams, founder member and chair of the Anabaptist Network and director of Urban Expression, notes the resources offered by Anabaptism for reflecting on issues of peace and justice.

Judith Gardner, member of Wood Green Mennonite Church, founder member of the Anabaptist Network and local councillor, explains that the Anabaptist tradition integrates evangelism and social justice and encourages us to go beyond protesting against militarism to actively promoting peace.

Brian Haymes, Baptist minister and former principal of two Baptist colleges, gives examples of a church that is committed to serving the powerless and voiceless and traces this concern to the Anabaptist tradition.

Graham Watkins, Baptist minister in West London, says that his commitment to peace transforms the way he responds to those on the margins.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: Building Peace and Justice

Nelson Kraybill, former director of the London Mennonite Centre and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, reflects on a day conference with Muslim friends exploring peace and justice in Christianity and Islam.

Judith Gardner, member of Wood Green Mennonite Church, founder member of the Anabaptist Network and local councillor, talks about her involvement in setting up a conflict mediation group at the London Mennonite Centre and about involvement in politics for the sake of shalom.

Graham Watkins, Baptist minister in West London, argues for seeing shalom at the heart of the Bible and for understanding this as implying non-violent direct action rather than a passive stance.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: Church after Christendom

Judith Gardner, member of Wood Green Mennonite Church, founder member of the Anabaptist Network and local councillor, notes that Christendom is waning and the church has lost power; the Anabaptist tradition offers insights from its experience of powerlessness.

Nigel Wright, Baptist minister and principal of Spurgeon’s College, London, and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, construes this loss of power as an opportunity for the church.

Alan Kreider, former Mennonite missionary in England and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, argues that in a society where Christianity is associated with being English and church membership is by birth, rather than rebirth, it is difficult to attract people to church. He explains that the Anabaptists pioneered a different understanding of church membership by choice and argues that it is advantageous for the church to be powerless and to rely on the strength of Jesus.

Adrian Chatfield, Anglican minister and tutor at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, says that the separation experienced by persecuted Anabaptists sharpened their sense of having an identity and citizenship rooted in Jesus rather than their culture. He recognises that some churches, especially stale and non-missional churches, are declining but sees signs of hope in growing churches and people coming to faith.

Nelson Kraybill, former director of the London Mennonite Centre and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, agrees that most people in England are not Christian and suggests Anabaptism is a repressed memory for the churches, pioneering a different way of being Christian.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: Church and Power

Nigel Wright, Baptist minister and principal of Spurgeon’s College, London, and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, interprets Anabaptism as seizing an opportunity to do church differently, avoiding hierarchical pitfalls and emphasising participation and service.

Adrian Chatfield, Anglican minister and tutor at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, expresses concern at the power-mongering and exercise of control in churches and wants to recover the scandal of the cross as he trains Christian leaders. He regards Anabaptism as a model in their imitation of Christ and glad acceptance of suffering.

Wally Fahrer, former Mennonite pastor and now a counsellor, comments on the way in which, forced to meet outside holy buildings, the early Anabaptists discovered a new way of being church with an emphasis on community.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: Community

Brian Haymes, Baptist minister and former principal of two Baptist colleges, expresses his appreciation of ethical reflection done in the Anabaptist tradition and notes that contemporary culture has proximity without community.

Phil Wood, member of the Anabaptist Network, reflects on a culture of affluence and apathy, and talks about his work offering accommodation in homes to homeless people as an expression of hospitality, and about his involvement in an Anabaptist community in Leeds.

Alan Kreider, former Mennonite missionary in England and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, describes an individualistic and competitive culture, addicted to privacy.

Philip Astwood, member of Mexborough Wesleyan Reformed Church, talks about his business and its role within his family and community.

Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, Baptist minister currently working in Australia, enthuses about churches that are small enough to work creatively with the surrounding community and willing to live out radically alternative values.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: Discipleship

Adrian Chatfield, Anglican minister and tutor at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, explores the Anabaptist understanding of faith and discipleship.

Graham Watkins, Baptist minister in West London, reflects on the iconic Anabaptist story of Dirk Willems and wonders why we find it hard to follow Jesus when faced with less costly decisions.

Noel Moules, founder member of the Anabaptist Network and Director of Workshop, examines the life of Jesus and insists that his life and teaching is crucial for discipleship.

Alan Kreider, former Mennonite missionary in England and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, suggests that openness to the Holy Spirit is essential if we are to follow Jesus in offering good news to a society accustomed to old news.

Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, Baptist minister currently working in Australia, recognises that people with busy lives face a real struggle to reorient their lives in discipleship, but insists that community lifestyle is increasingly important in a society that wants to know if the Christian faith works in practice.

Eleanor Kreider, former Mennonite missionary in England and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, reflects on people’s individualistic evaluation of corporate worship and argues that worship should shape our lives as disciples and communities. She says that this is a distinctive Anabaptist perspective on worship.

John Woffenden, member of Mexborough Wesleyan Reformed Church, talks about the place of admonishment, dealing with conflict and mutual discipleship in church life.

Philip Astwood, member of Mexborough Wesleyan Reformed Church, reflects on his experience of discipling a younger leader.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: First Anabaptist Church in England

Alan Kreider, former Mennonite missionary in England and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, tells the story of Anabaptist refugees who came to England in 1575 and were ill-treated by the English authorities, who felt threatened by their pioneering understanding of a church free from state control.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: Mission

Wally Fahrer, former Mennonite pastor and now a counsellor, notes that Catholics and Protestants alike in the 16th century assumed Europe was Christian.

Stuart Murray Williams, founder member and chair of the Anabaptist Network and director of Urban Expression, explains that the Anabaptists dissented from this widely held view and said that Europe was not Christian. He talks about the evangelistic stance and priorities of the church he planted in East London and argues that post-Christendom requires a new perspective on evangelism. This will mean a ‘journey’ paradigm and a longer process of conversion.

Adrian Chatfield, Anglican minister and tutor at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, explains that Anabaptists did not have a worked-out theology of mission but were so in love with Jesus that they could not help talking about him.

Nelson Kraybill, former director of the London Mennonite Centre and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, reflects on the churches in England finds most hopeful those churches that evangelise as well as living good lives.

Alan Kreider, former Mennonite missionary in England and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, acknowledges why many people reject Christianity as passé and argues that words must be backed up by fascinating and attractive models of community.

Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, Baptist minister currently working in Australia, insists that in a culture of many alternative spiritualities, Christian spirituality must be experienced as fruitful and must be linked with peaceful and just daily living.

Graham Watkins, Baptist minister in West London, remembers the impact of distinctive lives on his own conversion.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: Reading the Bible

Stuart Murray Williams, founder member and chair of the Anabaptist Network and director of Urban Expression, talks about the ways in which the early Anabaptists read and interpreted the Bible and why they disagreed with the Reformers on interpretation. He notes their Christocentrism, the way in which they welcomed the involvement but precluded the domination of scholars, their emphasis on application and their trust in ordinary Christians as biblical interpreters. He also recognises some weaknesses in their approach.

Pippa, a member of the Anabaptist Network, concludes that the Anabaptist approaches to the Bible have considerable contemporary significance across different traditions.

Graham Watkins, Baptist minister in West London, reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of charismatic and Anabaptist approaches to Scripture.

Eleanor Kreider, former Mennonite missionary in England and founder member of the Anabaptist Network, explores Balthasar Humbaier’s ‘Pledge of Love’ and communion liturgy – a radical reworking of the Catholic Mass.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: Shalom and the End of Christendom

Wally Fahrer, former Mennonite pastor and now a counsellor, noting that Christendom has come to an end and with it coercive forms of mission, says that Anabaptism sowed the seeds of a believers’ church understanding of church.

Noel Moules, founder member of the Anabaptist Network and Director of Workshop, talks about the revolutionary impact of his discovery of shalom at the heart of Scripture and argues that non-violence was central to the message of Jesus.

Rediscovering Anabaptism: Urban Church Planting


Stuart Murray Williams, founder member and chair of the Anabaptist Network and director of Urban Expression, dreams of new urban churches with Anabaptist values and explores models of creative church planting and evangelism. These ideas have begun to be worked out through the ministry of Urban Expression.

Rediscovering Anabaptism Discussion guide

Session One

View the Introduction segment of the video, and mark on a flip chart (or large paper) the key ideas as they arise. Pause the video at the end of the Introduction to look at the key ideas and ask which of these reverberate with experience in your group.

Read the following sentences to the group before carrying on with the video:

Anabaptists spoke of following Jesus both in practical and in ecstatic ways. Just as in Jesus’ life, their life should have consistency between words, prayers, and deeds. Listening to Jesus, following in his steps – that was the simplicity of their calling. But it was a costly way.

Ask the group, as they see the next segment of the video, to listen for characteristics of Christian discipleship which Anabaptists emphasized.

Play the segment on Discipleship.

List the characteristics of Christian discipleship on a flip chart. (Ideas may include imitation of Christ; uncompromising terms of obedience; love of enemy; a belief that it is attainable and possible to follow the example of Christ; a desire to be wholly open to the Spirit; genuine good news; a desire to change; an emphasis on the corporate character of the church; a commitment to be answerable to one another; a belief that lifestyle not just ideas; an understanding that Christian discipleship is not easy, but it is our calling)

Discuss: If Jesus was divine, can we possibly live like he did? Are we supposed to try to live like Jesus? What does the New Testament say about this?

Read the following sentences to the group before carrying on with the video:

Sixteenth-century Anabaptists learned the hard way what it meant to be a small and powerless minority at a time when the church in Europe provided the ideology which undergirded the whole of society. Anabaptists believed that Christian identity came not through being born into a given nation or culture, but through being reborn in a faith commitment to Jesus Christ. Almost five hundred years later, European Christians, as a whole, need to learn this lesson as well.

Play the segment on Living in a Post-Christian Society.

Discuss: Are these ideas from the video helpful for Christians in the UK today?

As a group, argue for and against the following propositions:

• Our society is Christian.
• Christians do not need positions of power in society in order to make an impact. We can do our best things for society from positions of vulnerability or weakness, and by a distinctively Christian lifestyle.
• Christians’ first proper identity is within the transnational church. Being ‘Welsh Christians’ or ‘English Christians’ is not relevant.
• If the urban poor resist the Gospel, something is wrong with the message being offered.

Session Two

Read the following sentences to the group before starting the video:

All the Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth century agreed on a return to the Bible as the primary source for faith and life. They looked at similar issues but the Anabaptists came up with some distinctive perspectives.

Play the segment on The Bible.

Ask for responses to the segment. You then might discuss one or more of the four main ideas in this section. Write on a flip chart one word or phrase for each point:

1. All Bible interpretations must square with Jesus. Jesus is the key for understanding all of Scripture.
2. The Holy Spirit works to bring Scripture alive not only for specialist scholars, but for all Christian believers. A Bible scholar should serve as a resource, not as an independent arbiter.
3. The Bible is the church’s book. It should be read corporately as a guide and inspiration for communal life.
4. The Bible helps the church to interpret life, and to find the way to obedient discipleship.

Read the following sentences to the group before carrying on with the video:

Most people in our society live ‘in proximity, not community.’ For Anabaptists in the sixteenth century, mutual support and common life were essential for survival. Today many people are searching for practical forms of community, and often feel that these will be crucial to survival in the twenty-first-century western world.

Ask people to listen for points that answer the following two questions as they see the next segment of the video:

1. What makes community difficult to achieve?
2. What are steps toward Christian expressions of community?

Play the segment on The Church as Community.

Write responses to the questions on a flipchart. These may include:

What makes community difficult to achieve? Affluence, privacy, apathy, fragmentation of life, competitiveness, and greed.
What are steps toward Christian expressions of community? Simplicity and vulnerability in lifestyle. People desiring to live, corporately, in alternative ways to our individualistic society. The depth and quality of Christian relationships which can make a unique and tangible effect on a local area.

Read the following sentences to the group before carrying on with the video:

Anabaptists in the sixteenth century deplored how a hierarchy controlled the church. They longed for a way of being church which could avoid the pitfalls of power-wielding leadership. Compelled to meet in forests, caves, and barns, their forms of worship and decision-making gave responsibility and value to all participants. They understood that the church requires full participation and is the basis for service to the world

Play the segment on What or Who is the Church?

Discuss:

1. How can our ways of worship enable full participation?
2. How can we find new forms of Christian presence, less encumbered by our buildings, structures, or habits of thought?
3. How can our churches put into practice this definition: ‘The church is a community of people committed to following Christ in everyday life’?

Session Three

Read the following sentences to the group before starting the video:

In sixteenth-century European Christendom, faith was assumed, required, or compelled. Anabaptists, in contrast, shared with simplicity and courage their vision of church as a voluntary community of Jesus’ disciples. They loved Jesus, and they couldn’t help but evangelise, even though it might cost their very lives. Because of their focus on Jesus, their mission held together the themes of peace, community, and discipleship.

Play the segment on Doing Mission

Discuss: Can we imagine a church…

…that Jesus might want to join?
…which has not ‘olds’ to share, but ‘news’ having to do with peaceful and just lifestyle?
…which practices disciplined listening and extends genuine friendship to ordinary people?
…which develops simpler forms of meeting and serving the larger community around it?
…which models its life on a journey, not a fortress?

Read the following sentences to the group before carrying on with the video:

The Anabaptist tradition puts shalom at the heart of the Christian faith. Peace was the central message in Jesus’ ministry, in the cross, and in resurrection. Jesus integrated God’s passion and provision for reconciling all of creation. Biblical shalom encompasses the Gospel.

Play the segment on Peace.

Discuss: What do you make of these statements by people on the video:

‘Shalom sums up everything that I believe as a Christian. Peace is simply the heart of the Bible.’
‘They called me mad. They said shalom is laughable. It’s sheer idealism.’
‘Shalom? It means commitment to bringing justice to people at the margins.’
‘The recurring pattern of always looking for “the next experience” needs to give way. I long to see Christian discipleship brought into the centre as a movement in the power of the Holy Spirit.’
‘Truth is in our relationship with our living Lord. We need to keep going back to Scripture. We need to keep asking, “What would Jesus be saying to us today?”’

Discuss: What practical ideas from this video do you want to integrate into your personal walk with Jesus? What ideas for how to be church can you carry into your congregation?

After Christendom

The Anabaptist Network is working in partnership with Paternoster to produce a major series of books on the meaning and significance of the end of Christendom in western culture.

Many Christians have focused on the challenges and opportunities of the perceived shift from modernity to postmodernity in recent years, but fewer have appreciated the seismic shifts that have taken place with the disintegration of a nominally Christian society. Although the term 'post-Christendom' is used more often now, it is generally not used with great precision and is frequently confused with postmodernity.

The 'After Christendom' series will explore the implications of the demise of Christendom and the challenges facing a church now living on the margins of western society. The various authors all write from within the Anabaptist tradition and draw on this long-marginalised movement for inspiration and insights. They see the current challenges facing the church not as the loss of a golden age but as opportunities to recover a more biblical and more Christian way of being God’s people in God’s world. For a discussion of the rationale behind the series, see www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/609

The series will address a wide range of issues, such as social and political engagement, how we read Scripture, peace and violence, mission, worship and the shape and ethos of church after Christendom.

These books are not intended to be the last word on the subjects they address, but an invitation to discussion and further exploration.

Post-Christendom: church and mission in a strange new world by Stuart Murray

The first volume in the series was published in 2004. This investigated the coming of Christendom in the fourth century, identified the main components of the 'Christendom shift' and traced the development and subsequent decline of Christendom over the following centuries. After explaining why Christendom as a political entity disintegrated during the twentieth century, the book examines the Christendom legacy, which consists of vestiges in church and society and a mindset that may persist long after Christendom itself is defunct. Three final chapters suggest ways in which church and mission may be reconfigured in light of the end of Christendom. Post-Christendom raises numerous issues that will be further explored in the books that follow.

To read the first chapter of Post-Christendom go to www.anabaptistnetwork.com/endofchristendom

Church after Christendom by Stuart Murray

The second book was published in 2005. It explores various questions. How will the Western church negotiate the demise of Christendom? Can it rediscover its primary calling, recover its authentic ethos and regain its nerve? The author surveys the ‘emerging church’ scene that has disturbed, energised and intrigued many Christians. He also listens carefully to those who have been joining and leaving the ‘inherited church’. Interacting with several proposals for the shape the church should take as it charts a new course for its mission in post-Christendom, the author reflects in greater depth on some of the topics introduced in Post-Christendom and the practical implications of proposals made in that book. Church after Christendom offers a vision of a way of being church that is healthy, sustainable, liberating, peaceful and missional.

To read the first chapter of Church after Christendom go to www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/260

Faith and Politics after Christendom: the church as a movement for anarchy by Jonathan Bartley

For the best part of 1700 years, the institutional church has enjoyed a hand-in-hand relationship with government. Indeed, the church has often been seen as the glue that has stopped political systems from disintegrating into anarchy.

But now for the first time in centuries, the relationship has weakened to the point where the church in the UK can no longer claim to play a decisive part in government. Faith and Politics after Christendom, published in 2006, offers perspectives and resources for Christians and churches no longer at the centre of society but on the margins. It invites a realistic and hopeful response to challenges and opportunities awaiting the church in twenty-first century politics.

To read the first chapter of Faith and Politics after Christendom go to: http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/454

Youth Work after Christendom by Nigel & Jo Pimlott

This book, an unexpected but very welcome addition to the series, was published in July 2008. The authors had read Post-Christendom and had realised that this perspective on mission and culture had many implications for youth work, especially youth work on the margins of society. Youth work, in fact, was another lens through which to investigate the Christendom legacy; just as post-Christendom was a new lens through which to search for appropriate and creative forms of youth work in a changing culture. If youth culture represents the leading edge of cultural and societal change, or at least reflects the pressures and possibilities emerging in our society, this volume may be one of the most important in the ‘After Christendom’ series. For if we can re-imagine and re-shape youth work for a post-Christendom culture, perhaps other dimensions of ecclesial and missional transformation will follow.

You can read an extract from this book by going to http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/456

Worship and Mission after Christendom by Alan & Eleanor Kreider

Alan and Eleanor Kreider are American Mennonites who lived in England for thirty years and were at the heart of the emerging Anabaptist movement here. Their jointly authored book, due for publication in October 2009, explores the relationship between worship and mission and how this relationship is crucial in post-Christendom. In worship the followers of Jesus are equipped to participate in the mission of God. This book explores the dynamics of the kind of worship that will equip and inspire us to be missional disciples.

You can read an extract from this book by going to http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/523

Reading the Bible after Christendom by Lloyd Pietersen

Lloyd Pietersen is Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at the University of Gloucestershire. This book is in three parts: in the first section the author provides an historical overview covering biblical interpretation pre-Constantine, the effects of Constantine on reading the bible and the contribution of 16th century Anabaptists to biblical interpretation. The second section forms the heart of the book in which the author takes the reader book by book through the Bible, pointing out what can be seen when reading from the margin. In the final section two brief contemporary applications of such readings are explored: reading the Bible for spirituality and for mission. The book’s thesis is that reading the Bible should be a communal activity and so the author opens ways of reading to enable readers to explore the contents of scripture together.

You can read a sample chapter by going to http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/536

Hospitality and Community after Christendom by Andrew Francis

Shared meals can change lives. From the radical Anabaptist tradition, Andrew Francis grew up experiencing hospitality in many contexts. He applies this to Christian congregations: through the use of Communion and prayer breakfasts, house groups which always gathered for meals, self-catering church weekends and outreach events built around food, folk renew their interest in both discipleship and the ‘Jesus community’. Biblical narrative interwoven with contemporary examples explore shared food and lives. This book challenges traditional notions of religious community, offering models for today. ‘Table liturgies’ for congregations and home groups, and a bibliography (with cookery books) are included, too. Andrew Francis is a poet, community theologian and keen cook.

Atheism after Christendom by Simon Perry

To be atheist is to reject the gods of the age. Throughout Western history, those gods have included: the gods of Greece, whom Socrates opposed and was hence executed on the charge of ‘atheism’; Roman Emperors, gods whom Jews and Christians resisted and were hence persecuted as ‘atheists’; the pseudo-Christian god of Christendom, against whom Christian groups like Donatists and Waldensians, Lollards and Anabaptists rebelled and were outlawed as ‘atheists’. The god of Christendom was eventually pronounced dead by Friedrich Nietzsche. Since then, atheists have continued to rebel against this dated and defunct god. Now that we live in a post-Christendom era, the New Atheists boldly oppose the god of a bygone age whilst dutifully worshipping the gods of our own age. These new gods resemble very closely the old Roman gods, Mars (celebrating the visible, military supremacy of ‘us’) and Venus (worshipping the economic structures that defend our privilege at the expense of ‘them’). Atheism After Christendom is a call to both atheist and Christian, to be faithful to their atheistic heritage.

You can read an extract by going to www.anabaptistnetwork.com/atheismafterchristendom

Women and Men after Christendom by Fran Porter

This book argues for Christian understanding and practice that takes the hierarchy out of gender relationships. It demonstrates how the structures and mindsets of male dominance and female subordination have been and still are perpetuated, and offers alternative understanding rooted in biblical and theological reflection. From the gospel witness and the lives of the first Christians, through the patriarchal gender order of Christendom, to the challenges of equality movements, and the impact of our theological imagination on the social relations between women and men, this book traces how unequal gender power relations are both entangled and defied, inviting Christian communities to explore non-hierarchical ways of relating between women and men.

You can read an extract by going to http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/WMACIntroduction

God after Christendom? by Brian Haymes & Kyle Gingerich Hiebert

Whatever is happening in history, whatever deals are struck between Church and State, whether Christians are influential or vulnerable in society, marginal or in power, God remains God and that is good news. At least it is so long as God remains God and not some being, even a Supreme Being, made in our image. This book revisits the long tradition of Christian speech about God in the conviction that in Scripture and the story of Christian reflection there are resources to help keep the church in the way of faithful discipleship, even in the face of contemporary temptation to focus on who or what is less than God. Beginning with the Bible, the authors move to explore some classic Christian affirmations and why they remain crucial, to reflect on how we now speak of God, facing issues of evil and suffering and why faith in the true God must always lead to worship and peace.

To read an extract and commendations go to www.anabaptistnetwork.com/godafterchristendom

Further titles planned for the 'After Christendom' series:

There are further titles under discussion, but at this stage four more have been accepted for publication by Paternoster.

Relationships and Emotions after Christendom by Jeremy Thomson

Relationships and emotions are essential to all our lives, and yet loneliness appears to be rising in Westernised societies. Some people find their own feelings hard to recognise, difficult to express or impossible to handle; others are intimidated by emotions strongly expressed by people they live or work with. This book explores the small-scale interactions of our lives and the somewhat larger-scale dealings of our churches and local communities, often marred by low intensity antagonism. It begins with the relationships and emotions of Jesus and explores the interface between theology and psychology to illuminate social interaction and encourage personal reflection. As Christendom unravels, it appeals for followers of Jesus to live out a style of social relationships that is emotionally healthy, that handles conflict constructively, that challenges injustice creatively, and that forgives graciously.

Security after Christendom by John Heathershaw
Missional Discipleship after Christendom by Dan Yarnell and Andy Hardy
Theology after Christendom by Joshua Searle

Other books that explore post-Christendom themes:

There are various other books, not part of the 'After Christendom' series and not all written from the same perspective, which engage with the issues raised by the transition from Christendom to post-Christendom and explore related themes. These include:

Scott Bader-Saye: Church and Israel after Christendom (Westview Press, 1999)

Craig A Carter: Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective (Brazos Press, 2007)

Rodney Clapp: A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996)

Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch: The Shaping of Things to Come (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004)

Michael Frost: Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2006)

Vigen Guroian: Ethics after Christendom (Eerdmans, 1994)

Douglas Hall: The End of Christendom and the Future of Christianity (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1996)

Stanley Hauerwas: After Christendom? (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991)

Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon: Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991)

Philip Jenkins: The Next Christendom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

Harry Maier: Apocalypse Recalled: The Book of Revelation after Christendom (Westminster: Fortress Press, 2002)

Hugh McLeod (Ed.): The Decline of Christendom in Western Europe, 1750-2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Stuart Murray: Beyond Tithing (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2000)

David Smith: Mission after Christendom (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2003)

Bryan Stone: Evangelism after Christendom: the Theology and Practice of Christian Witness (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007) For a review, see http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/464

Nigel Wright: Disavowing Constantine (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000)

Ryan Bolger (Ed.): Gospel after Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012)

'After Christendom' study guide

If you are interested in accessing a study guide to the first two books in the 'After Christendom' series, go to www.anabaptistnetwork.com/book/view/293

Post-Christendom booklet

You can download here an illustrated summary of Christendom/post-Christendom in pdf format. The second version is formatted so as to enable you to print it off as a booklet.

What is Post-Christendom? - front page (18KB)
What is Post-Christendom? for on-line reading(207KB)
What is Post-Christendom?, for printing as booklet(223KB)

After Christendom articles

In this section we intend to publish various articles on the 'After Christendom' theme.

One article is attached and can be downloaded below: 'Reading the Deuteronomistic History after Christendom'. Others appear further down this page.

Gospel and Culture after Christendom

Books, Critics and Responses

In 2004 Post-Christendom was published, the first book in an ongoing series under the overall heading ‘After Christendom’. Various writers, all influenced by the Anabaptist tradition, have been exploring the ramifications of the transition within western societies from ‘Christendom’ to ‘post-Christendom’. These freighted terms are becoming familiar but are still quite often misunderstood or their significance minimised. The conviction of the authors is that this transition impacts church and society in many and profound ways, just as the much earlier ‘Christendom shift’ did in the fourth and fifth centuries. Then, the church came in from the margins to the centre at the invitation of the Roman emperor, Constantine I, and his successors; now, the church is being pushed out to the margins and needs to reflect deeply on this new context and make all kinds of adjustments.

Each author of books in the series poses questions about beliefs and practices that have been common, maybe simply taken for granted, in many churches for many years. In conferences, seminars, classes, conversations and correspondence we have repeated these questions. Sometimes we have spoken with conviction and have tried to persuade others to reconsider long-held beliefs and re-examine cherished practices. More often we have asked questions and invited dialogue to subject our convictions to scrutiny and to explore other ways of looking at issues. Some conversation partners have found these discussions invigorating, even liberating, but others have found them disturbing.

One response we often encounter is some variation on the question: ‘Aren’t you allowing cultural changes to dictate what you believe?’ This is not surprising. After all, our starting point is that post-Christendom is a very different cultural context than the Christendom era that is now drawing to a close. In light of this, we argue, we need to take a fresh look at how we read and interpret the Bible, how we understand and communicate the gospel, what we need to nurture and sustain discipleship, how we practise mission and respond to contemporary ethical questions, and what it means to be worshipping communities in this new environment. These are issues that go to the heart of our faith, so it is understandable that some find them uncomfortable, even threatening.

Do we really need to revisit these issues? Is the cultural upheaval all western societies are experiencing – however we describe and analyse this – really that significant? What if we hold our nerve instead and refuse to abandon or question beliefs and practices that have sustained us through many generations? What if we take the view that, despite initially struggling, the church has survived previous cultural shifts in western societies over the past twenty centuries and has eventually flourished in whatever new culture emerged? G. K. Chesterton famously commented on these culture shifts: ‘At least five times…the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died.’ Perhaps our calling is to hold true to familiar beliefs and practices, to retain confidence in the gospel and to wait for the emerging culture to discover its need for this once more.

Of course, as most of our critics acknowledge, we may need to make some adjustments. Indeed, one of the glories of the gospel is its translatability into all cultures. We have no sacred language and no privileged culture. Cross-cultural missionaries have not always been true to this insight, too often imposing their own culture and confusing this with gospel values, but lessons have been learned and we are all so much more aware now in a global church of the need to distinguish between gospel and culture. In the changing and increasingly plural culture of western societies we will also need to engage in this kind of translation and adaptation. But this kind of contextualisation need not mean questioning foundational doctrines and practices or reopening debates about gospel and culture that our forebears settled generation ago, need it?

What is at issue, then, it seems, is the scope of contextualising we should encourage, the depth of questioning we should allow, and the boundaries we should or should not draw around doctrines and practices that are beyond debate. And if we can agree on guidelines about what we should or should not investigate, there is the further issue – summarised in the question we have so often heard – of what influence contemporary culture has on the discussion.

We want to take seriously the concerns of our critics. We recognise in many of them their integrity, their commitment to the authority of Scripture, their confidence in the power of the gospel, their watchfulness against heresy and illegitimate collusion with alien cultural or philosophical ideas, and their pastoral concern for us, fearful lest we be led astray. We want to remain open to their critique and open to the possibility that we are getting things wrong. We struggle with the tone of some of the criticism, but we do not want to let this distract us from hearing whatever we need to hear.

We acknowledge also the very real dangers of being co-opted by prevailing ideologies, colluding with changing cultural values and expectations, succumbing to the temptation to water down the gospel to give less offence in a society that prides itself on ‘tolerance’ and imbibing uncritically the iconoclastic and relativistic spirit of post-modern culture. And we may be even more prone to fall into these traps at a time when the church is not only grappling with cultural changes but declining in numbers and in social influence. Desperation may prompt some to try to save the day by reinventing the Christian faith in the hope that they can present a more amenable version that will be congenial to more people.

This strategy will be familiar to those who have studied European church history during the past two centuries. While some churches set their faces against the technological and philosophical changes associated with the Enlightenment, reasserting familiar belief and practices and resisting ‘modernisation’, others chose to adjust and adapt their beliefs and practices so that they fitted more easily into the culture that was emerging. By the middle of the last century this latter strategy was widely discredited. What became known as ‘liberal’ Christianity seemed to have power neither to retain the allegiance of the faithful nor to convince others that the Christian faith had anything to offer. Lest this paints too polarised a picture, we should add that modernisation and secularisation impacted the more traditional churches (especially the Evangelicals) far more than most recognised at the time; and some of the perspectives adopted by more liberal churches have helpfully informed other traditions.

Questions, Suspicions and Assumptions

But the tradition out of which the ‘After Christendom’ authors write is not ‘liberal’ but ‘radical’. Our historical reference point is the Anabaptist movement that represented a more radical reformation than any other during the culture shift of the early sixteenth century. Not adequately categorised as Protestant or Catholic then or as Evangelical or Liberal now, this movement has generally been regarded as counter-cultural or hostile to contemporary cultural norms rather than tending to collude with or be unduly influenced by the surrounding culture. There are many examples of cultural non-conformity within the Anabaptist movement, some of which are much more unyielding to cultural changes and pressures than most of our critics would countenance. So it is a little disconcerting, and occasionally amusing, to be accused of allowing cultural changes to dictate what we believe. This is certainly not what we understand ourselves to be doing.

Rather, in continuity with the early Anabaptist communities, we welcome the opportunity that the end of Christendom affords to re-examine a range of theological, ecclesiological, ethical and missional issues. The early sixteenth century witnessed the fragmentation of the monolithic Christendom culture that had dominated Europe for a millennium. Across Europe Anabaptists and others had access to the Bible as never before and studied it with a passion. What they discovered was a huge discrepancy between what they read there – especially in the teaching of Jesus – and the beliefs and practices of the churches. And this discrepancy was much greater than the Protestant reformers recognised and affected many more aspects of discipleship, mission, social ethics and church practice than these state-supported theologians dared admit. The culture shift they were living through gave them the opportunity and incentive to revisit foundational beliefs and familiar practices – and to question how much of the mainline church’s theology, ethics and ecclesiology was actually the result of previous collusion with the prevailing culture.

Our motivation and concern is the same. Our suspicion is that there are many dimensions of theology, ethics, ecclesiology and missiology that owe much more to the culture, ethos and political arrangements of Christendom than to Scripture. We believe the Anabaptists identified quite a number of these in the sixteenth century but many more are coming to light as the Christendom era moves beyond fragmentation to disintegration. When we ask questions about the beliefs and practices of the churches, our purpose is not to advocate conformity to contemporary culture but to critically review the ways in which previous generations wittingly or unwittingly colluded with the norms of their cultures. The end of Christendom gives us a vantage point from which to see instances of this more clearly.

Some examples might be helpful at this point. We know these are all highly contentious issues (and not all the authors of the ‘After Christendom’ books necessarily hold identical positions on them), but our intention here is not to raise the stakes or assert our views, but to illustrate our approach.

• We question the ‘penal substitution’ interpretation of the atoning work of Christ – not primarily because contemporary culture finds this ethically offensive or even incomprehensible, but because we are unconvinced that biblical teaching supports this analysis and we believe it resulted from the influence of the medieval feudal context in which the ‘satisfaction’ theory was formulated and the juridical ideas of early modern Europe in which the ‘penal substitution’ theory gained prominence.
• We question the ‘just war’ approach to discussions about the legitimacy of church support for wars declared by the nation in which they are located – not primarily because of scepticism in contemporary culture about the motivation behind recent conflicts or the difficulty of applying principles formulated centuries ago to very different forms of warfare today, but because we cannot square this approach with the teaching of Jesus or the developing story the Bible tells, and we believe it was adapted from pagan philosophy in the fourth and fifth centuries so that the church could find a way of addressing issues of warfare as a partner of the empire.
• We question the central role and monologue style of preaching in many churches – not primarily because emerging culture reacts badly to this or because evidence suggests it is far less effective than most preachers believe, but because we do not believe there is biblical warrant for this over-emphasis and we believe it resulted from the church in the early years of the Christendom era adopting cultural norms as it adjusted to its newly favoured status in the empire.
• We question the advocacy of tithing as the biblically mandated mechanism for determining levels of giving and addressing issues of stewardship – not primarily because this distracts attention from deeper issues of lifestyle and discipleship or because it is good news to the rich and bad news to the poor, but because this was not the practice of Christians in the New Testament or the early centuries and we believe it was adopted on the basis of poor exegesis of Old Testament texts in the early Christendom era as a way of funding an increasingly expensive hierarchical church structure.

We are raising these and other questions, not primarily because of the culture shift which we are currently experiencing at the end of Christendom (although this opens up space for such reflection), but because we believe that the Christendom shift that ushered in the Christendom era resulted in multiple compromises with culture and serious distortions in how the gospel and its implications were understood.

We repeat: what we are engaged in and advocating is no different from the process of theological reflection on the relationship between gospel and culture that cross-cultural missionaries have practised over the centuries. As we experience a significant shift in our culture, this kind of theological reflection is vital. So why does this provoke suspicion? It seems that some Christians in western societies are much more reluctant to explore this relationship, maybe assuming that there is no need to open up questions about gospel and culture in our own societies, because these were satisfactorily resolved during the era in which Europe was a ‘Christian’ culture. This assumption, we suggest, is itself a legacy of the Christendom mindset and an expression of western arrogance (as theologians from other parts of the world point out).

Why should we assume the Christendom synthesis of gospel and culture is normative and beyond critique, rather than a way of contextualising the gospel into a particular social, political and cultural setting? This synthesis has been exported in imperialistic fashion to many other societies, so one of the crucial tasks of post-colonial theology is to break free of this imposition and develop indigenous approaches to the relationship between gospel and culture. The assumption that the Christendom synthesis is normative also discourages theological reflection on the relationship between gospel and culture in post-Christendom western societies, especially when this reflection probes too deeply into certain issues.

Perspectives, Principles and Conversation Partners

The perspective from which the ‘After Christendom’ series is written can be summarised as follows. We reject the assumption that the Christendom synthesis of gospel and culture should be regarded as normative and will resist any discouragement from critiquing this. We suspect that this synthesis between gospel and culture was a mixture of compromise and authentic contextualising. We note the persistence of alternative approaches to issues of gospel and culture in renewal movements and on the margins of Christendom and want to learn from these. We regard the demise of Christendom and the accompanying shifts in our culture as an opportunity to revisit decisions made in that era about the relationship between gospel and culture, and an opportunity to open up afresh a range of theological, ethical, missional and ecclesial questions. We will not discount the wisdom of the past or reject beliefs and practices just because they emerged during the Christendom era, and we will not uncritically embrace perspectives that may owe as much to collusion with post-Christendom and post-modern culture as earlier perspectives owed to collusion with the cultures of Christendom and modernity.

It might be helpful if we also identify the principles which guide us and the resources on which we draw. In common with the early Anabaptists, we are committed to the authority of Scripture and its interpretation within the Christian community. This means we expect to hear the interpretive voice of the Spirit through multi-voiced interaction between those who reflect together on the text. The books we write may have named authors but they all benefit from the input of others throughout the writing process. We are committed also to operating with a consistent hermeneutic that challenges our presuppositions, prejudices and preferences. Because of the culture shift we are currently experiencing and in light of our own limitations, we are further committed to provisionality in our understanding and openness to fresh insights (another historic Anabaptist trait).

And, as indicated above, we do not regard any subject, formulation of doctrine, ethical approach, ecclesial practice or missional perspective as off-limits or sacrosanct. This does not, of course, mean that we expect to reach new or different conclusions on every issue. We may find ourselves reaffirming established views and resisting challenges to these. But we want to do this after examining closely the arguments for and against such views, rather than retreating from such discussions or immediately labelling other perspectives as heretical. Consequently, we are unafraid of exploring controversial issues: two current examples are homosexuality and universalism, but there will be others.

We are grateful for several conversation partners. In addition to the Scriptures, we value also the witness of the early Christians. While we do not equate post-Christendom with pre-Christendom, we suspect that there are insights from the pre-Christendom churches and their literature that will help us engage critically with what we have inherited from the Christendom era. We want to learn from the experience of the Anabaptists and other movements that were critical of the Christendom system and developed alternative ways of interpreting Scripture, building Christian communities, engaging in mission, making ethical choices and understanding the relationship between gospel and culture. We are grateful also for opportunities to learn from the global church and from the experience of cross-cultural missionaries as we reconsider issues of gospel and culture, anticipating that insights from elsewhere will help us to critique our own presuppositions and conclusions. We appreciate the work of others who are also attempting to draw on the past in order to engage with contemporary challenges, although we are concerned that some of these (for instance the ‘deep church’ perspective) seem inadequately attuned to the influence of the Christendom shift. And we are open to the possibility, perhaps the likelihood, that there will be ways in which the emerging culture can help us recover dimensions of the gospel that have been obscured in the culture that is now fading. This we regard not as colluding with culture or uncritical co-option but confidence that the Spirit is at work beyond the churches as well as within them.

This article was written by Stuart Murray and is endorsed by Jonathan Bartley, Nigel Pimlott, Alan & Eleanor Kreider, Lloyd Pietersen and Glen Marshall.

Endnotes

1. Books published to date are Stuart Murray: Post-Christendom (2004), Stuart Murray: Church after Christendom (2005), Jonathan Bartley: Faith and Politics after Christendom (2006), Jo Pimlott & Nigel Pimlott: Youth Work after Christendom (2008), Alan Kreider & Eleanor Kreider: Worship and Mission after Christendom (2009) and Lloyd Pietersen: Reading the Bible after Christendom (2011). Several further books are being written. All are published by Paternoster in the UK and some also by Herald Press in North America.
2. In The Everlasting Man (1925), part II, chapter 6.
3. Who are these critics? Most are identified with the conservative wing of Evangelicalism and with a Reformed or Neo-Reformed theology; although on some issues our approach is questioned by a wider range of Evangelicals and others. Some regard our emphasis on the influence of the Christendom shift and the subsequent demise of Christendom as excessive; others argue for a return to Christendom in some form or other. A recent example is Peter Leithart: Defending Constantine (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010).

Post-Christendom, Post-Constantinian, Post-Christian…does the label matter?

by Stuart Murray

Post-Christendom

The term ‘post-Christendom’ has become increasingly familiar in conversations about church and mission in contemporary western societies. Some first encountered this term in the ‘After Christendom’ series, published by Paternoster and written by members of the Anabaptist Network since 2004.1 These books offer resources to help us understand and engage creatively with the challenges and opportunities of post-Christendom culture. But many others are also using this language, and have done so for many years, even if its significance has not been widely recognised until quite recently. ‘Post-Christendom’ appears to be a significant lens through which to view the emerging cultural landscape.

However, different people use the term ‘post-Christendom’ in different ways. Sometimes this helps us engage with the issues we face; but sometimes it simply causes confusion. In the emerging church conversation, for instance, ‘post-Christendom’ is often used as if it were a synonym for post-modernity. Understanding and engaging with post-modernity is undoubtedly important, but referring to this as ‘post-Christendom’ does not aid clarity of thinking. The transition from modernity to post-modernity and from Christendom to post-Christendom confronts us with a cultural and missional ‘double whammy’. These shifts overlap, complement and reinforce each other in various ways, so we do need to explore their inter-relationship and dual impact. But post-Christendom is not the same as post-modernity. Post-Christendom presents different challenges and opportunities.

The first book in the ‘After Christendom’ series offered a definition of post-Christendom: the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence.2 It also identified seven transitions that mark the shift from Christendom to post-Christendom, each of which has implications for how Christians understand their role within society:

  • From the centre to margins: in Christendom the Christian story and the churches were central, but in post-Christendom these are marginal.
  • From majority to minority: in Christendom Christians comprised the (often overwhelming) majority, but in post-Christendom we are a minority.
  • From settlers to sojourners: in Christendom Christians felt at home in a culture shaped by their story, but in post-Christendom we are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home.
  • From privilege to plurality: in Christendom Christians enjoyed many privileges, but in post-Christendom we are one community among many in a plural society.
  • From control to witness: in Christendom churches could exert control over society, but in post-Christendom we exercise influence only through witnessing to our story and its implications.
  • From maintenance to mission: in Christendom the emphasis was on maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo, but in post-Christendom it is on mission within a contested environment.
  • From institution to movement: in Christendom churches operated mainly in institutional mode, but in post-Christendom we must become again a Christian movement.3

This definition and these transitions appear to be gaining widespread acceptance, even if the significance of the transitions and how we respond to these continues to be debated.

It is within these debates that more helpful differences emerge in the ways the term ‘post-Christendom’ is used. Some, for example, use the term to signal the end of a historical era in western culture but apparently see no need to investigate the legitimacy or legacy of this era. Christendom is coming to an end. An emerging culture will require fresh ways of thinking, speaking and acting.4 The authors of the ‘After Christendom’ series propose that a more thoroughgoing disavowal of the Christendom mindset is necessary – both for the sake of the church’s integrity and to enable us to see clearly enough to envision new approaches. For some, the demise of Christendom represents a major cultural shift; others are less convinced that it is as significant as authors of the ‘After Christendom’ series are claiming.5

There is also some discussion about different kinds of Christendom. Using the same term to cover the diverse cultures and political arrangements in Europe between the fourth and twentieth centuries (and extending this to other western and non-western6 contexts) is undoubtedly problematic. In the eyes of some it is illegitimate. Christendom, they argue, degenerates into an all-purpose swear word, devoid of historical accuracy and focus. The perspective from which the ‘After Christendom’ series is written is that, underlying these diverse forms of Christendom (which are recognised and discussed in Post-Christendom), are fundamental assumptions, attitudes, theological and ecclesial commitments, missional priorities and expectations. For this reason, the term is meaningful and heuristic, even if distinctions and clarification may sometimes be needed.

An insightful and provocative contribution to this debate appears in Nigel Wright’s Free Church, Free State7. Developing recommendations for how the church (especially in the ‘free church’ tradition) might engage with the state, Wright agrees with other critics that Christendom ‘is often used in an undifferentiated way which overlooks the complexity of the phenomenon.’8 He proceeds to differentiate between three approaches.

The first approach is ‘theocracy’ or ‘Caesaro-papism’ in which any significant distinction between church and state disappears. The head of state is invested with divinely ordained authority over both church and state. For several centuries Byzantine emperors exercised this role over the church in the East.

The second approach is ‘Constantinian Christendom’, associated with the relationship in the West between the emperor, or national rulers, and the Catholic Church. Church and state are partners, the church legitimising the activities of the state and the state enforcing the decrees of the church. This partnership was not without its tensions, competition for supremacy and hesitations on both sides. But it was an enduring and effective partnership that enforced Christianity throughout Europe and suppressed dissent.

The third approach, which Wright calls ‘non-Constantinian Christendom’, is presented as a possibility, rather than an experienced historical reality, although he argues that the free church tradition has laid the foundation for this approach in its advocacy of freedom of conscience and religious liberty. State and church are decoupled; coercion in the sphere of religion is renounced; but ‘Christian truth’ is ‘determinative for the public realm’.9

Separating out these three approaches is helpful. Christendom was certainly constituted and experienced in different ways at different times and in different regions. But perhaps the distinction between the first and second approaches is one of degree rather than kind. The seven transitions from Christendom to post-Christendom noted above seem equally applicable to either form of Christendom. There were different kinds of Christendom – just as there are different expressions of post-Christendom (post-Protestant versions are rather different from post-Catholic versions) – but the generic term still serves to focus attention on fundamental, and deeply problematic, features of this system.

The third approach is intriguing. What if Europe had been converted through persuasion rather than imperial incitement, favours and pressure, followed by force of arms? What if a community or people embraces ‘Christian truth’ without coercion and enthusiastically?

Some might suggest that the United States is the prime example of ‘non-Constantinian Christendom’, with its constitutional separation of church and state but the persistent influence of Christian rhetoric in the public domain. If this is so, many would have very serious concerns about such an arrangement, wondering to what extent ‘Christian truth’ is always liable to be co-opted and domesticated rather than truly being determinative.10

My only personal experience of anything like what Wright posits was a few days among the Karen people in the hill country of North Thailand. Although I was well aware from reading mission history that in cultures that are less individualistic than the West ‘people groups’ (villages, clans, tribes) are converted, I had never before encountered a whole community that was Christian, indeed Baptist. Everyone belonged to the church as well as to the village, and there was no apparent sacred/secular divide. Although I was unable to probe deeply some of the questions I had about the depth and diversity of commitment to Christ in this community, I found these days exhilarating and hopeful. But for someone with deep-seated objections to the notion of Christendom, they were also disconcerting!

But is this Christendom in any of the senses Wright describes? The Karen are a marginal Christian community in an overwhelmingly non-Christian nation. They lack the power to coerce religious conformity or suppress dissent (hopefully their Baptist convictions also discourage any such instincts). There is no state, as such. Nor are there other religious or secular minorities, whose treatment would be the acid test for any ‘non-Constantinian’ expression of Christendom, and who might contest ‘Christian truth’ as determinative for the public realm.

The phrase ‘the gospel as public truth’ is associated especially with Lesslie Newbigin11, who insisted that he was not advocating a return to Christendom. Wright adopts a very similar turn of phrase, suggesting that Christian truth can be determinative for the public realm but, unlike Newbigin, he does not dissociate this from the notion of Christendom but proposes a ‘non-Constantinian’ version of Christendom.

I am attracted by Wright’s proposal and endorse his vision of a society where the state does not attempt to coerce conscience or favour any religion, and where the church does not attempt to bolster its witness by seeking state support. But I am not convinced that it is helpful to suggest that Christian truth should be ‘determinative’ for the public realm or that the language of ‘non-Constantinian Christendom’ is appropriate (any more than I am persuaded that Newbigin’s programme could lead anywhere else but to a reconstituted Christendom).

If at some point in the future the Christian community increases so substantially as to comprise a significant majority of any society, there will be crucial decisions to make about how that community proclaims the truth it professes, how it embodies this socially, politically and culturally, and how it copes with those who do not accept its convictions and norms. The separation of state and church, freedom of conscience and advocacy of ‘Christian truth’ in ways that do not disparage or disadvantage those who hold firm to other convictions (rather than calling for Christian truth to be determinative in the public realm) would be essential foundations for such decisions. But what emerges from this decision-making process should not be labelled ‘non-Constantinian Christendom’. It is simply not feasible after so many centuries of Christendom (however many expressions of this we identify) to rehabilitate this term. Nor is it possible to detach it from notions of imposition and the privileging of Christian faith over against other faiths (which is surely the implication of Christian truth being determinative for the public realm). We really do need to embrace post-Christendom now.

The term ‘post-Christendom’, contrary to the claims of some critics, does not imply the withdrawal of Christians or the church from the public realm.12 Rather, it suggests that the nature of our involvement in politics, culture and society needs to be renegotiated in light of changing circumstances and changing theological convictions. The ‘post’ aspect of the term invites us to leave behind the compromises of the past; the ‘Christendom’ aspect is a reminder of the legacy with which we must grapple and from which we must learn as we explore uncharted territory.

But Wright’s term ‘non-Constantinian Christendom’ does invite further reflection. What does ‘Constantinian’ mean, why do some writers use this term rather than ‘Christendom’ to refer to the era which is coming to an end, and is this helpful?

Post-Constantinian

The term ‘Constantinian’ points us back to the beginnings of the Christendom era in the fourth century and to the emperor Constantine I, who adopted Christianity and began the process of replacing paganism with Christianity as the imperial religion. Historians argue about Constantine’s motives and the depth of his commitment to Christ. They also make very different assessments of the effects of the so-called ‘Christendom shift’ on church and empire. These are not issues we can explore further here.13

Undoubtedly, Constantine’s ‘conversion’ and his invitation to the church to partner him in Christianising the empire set in motion a train of events that led inexorably to the full-blown Christendom system of succeeding centuries. Although Christendom would take shape over centuries, it was Constantine who initiated the process. To call what emerged ‘Constantinian’ acknowledges his foundational role. In other regions, especially beyond the empire in the East, the Christian community waxed and waned over the centuries but never had an equivalent political champion. There was no Asian Christendom.

But there are reasons to query whether ‘Constantinian’ is an appropriate synonym for the Christendom era.

First, although Constantine identified himself as a Christian, lavished favours and finance on the church, increased its influence to the disadvantage of paganism and made it clear that he wanted everyone in the empire to follow his lead, he did not impose Christianity on the empire. There were inducements to convert, but no coercion. These inducements were effective and the church experienced massive growth during the fourth century, to the consternation of those who advocated a return to the old imperial religion. But under Constantine and his immediate successors paganism and other religions were permitted to continue unmolested. At the end of the fourth century no more than half the population of the empire was Christian, and the Roman senate was still almost entirely pagan in 380.

Only under the emperor Theodosius I, at the very end of the fourth century, did imperial pressure begin to mount significantly, and not until Justinian in the sixth century was the full force of imperial law invoked to require all to be Christians. The totalitarian system, the full partnership of church and state, the imposition of compulsory tithing and the use of coercion to suppress dissent that characterised the Christendom era for many centuries was not operational until long after Constantine’s reign. It is arguable that Constantine set this process was in motion, that he refrained from using coercion for political rather than ideological or theological reasons, and that an imperial system will inevitably move to crush dissent sooner or later. But perhaps the term ‘Constantinian’ should be reserved for designating situations where the political authorities favour Christianity, but refrain from imposing it.14 Perhaps ‘Theodosian’ (or ‘Justinianian’ if it were pronounceable) would be a better term for the emerging Christendom system?

Second, although Constantine’s influence revolutionised the social context within which the fourth-century church operated, it was not the emperor who revised its theology and transformed its ecclesiology and missiology. Indeed, many early church practices, such as the baptism of believers rather than infants, persisted throughout the fourth century. It was Constantine who summoned the church leaders to great councils to debate theology and formulate creeds, and it was his patronage and that of his successors that influenced the outcomes of these, often rancorous, gatherings. But it was the theologians and bishops who adapted Christianity to its new imperial setting – not least the famous Augustine of Hippo. Augustine was more critical than Eusebius of Caesarea of some features of the new regime, insisting that this was not ‘the city of God’, but he introduced many novel theological, hermeneutical and ecclesial ideas that enabled the church to adjust to its new social and political context. Some of these flew in the face of three centuries of tradition but with little opposition they became the new orthodoxy. Maybe ‘Augustinian’ (if this term were not already used with a different meaning) would be a preferable alternative to ‘Constantinian’? For it was Augustine, not Constantine, who laid the philosophical and theological foundations for the Christendom era.

There are other, more mundane, reasons why the term ‘Constantinian’ is problematic. It does not exactly slip off the tongue and may suggest that the subject under discussion is primarily for academics. ‘Christendom’ is a much more accessible term. It also connotes a specific historical development and may not facilitate the wide-ranging conversations about church and mission that the term ‘Christendom’ often does.

However, ‘Constantinian’ and ‘post-Constantinian’ are labels favoured by many writers, especially those who discovered these concepts in the writings of Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder. Stanley Hauerwas, for example, reflecting on the political demise of Christendom but the persistence of Christendom ways of thinking and behaving, writes: ‘Constantinianism is a hard habit to break.’15 Liberation theologian, José Miguez Bonino, insists that Christians can no longer be primarily concerned with upholding the social order: ‘the question of the Constantinian church has to be turned completely around. The true question is not “what degree of justice...is compatible with the existing order?”, but “what kind of order, which order is compatible with the exercise of justice...?”’16 Lesslie Newbigin warns against the dual temptation of either trying to restore Christendom or of imagining ourselves back in the days of the early church, as if the Christendom shift had never occurred. He writes: ‘We are in a radically new situation and cannot dream either of a Constantinian authority or of a pre-Constantinian innocence.’17 And Yoder himself identifies ‘Constantinian reflexes’ in the areas of ethics (validating actions on the basis of calculating costs and benefits) and ecclesiology (the fear of separatism).18

Yoder also introduces the term ‘neo-Constantinian’ to describe a transmuted version of Christendom that may look quite different politically, but shares basic assumptions about the role of the church in society.19 In a consultation involving Latin American liberation theologians, Mennonites and radical Protestants in the late 1980s, Mennonites raised the issue of neo-Constantinianism. Noting an incident in early Anabaptist history in which an attempt was made to build a radical new Christendom, Willard Swartley warned of the danger of liberation theology taking the same course.20 Other participants rejected this concern but Yoder countered: ‘The respondents are not to blame for thus underestimating the weight of the Constantinian question. It is, after all, not their language. It is the code language of radical reformers at least since Waldo, and designates threats to a Gospel ethos more deep-seated than what our respondents assure us will not happen.’21

The danger of neo-Constantinianism is very real, especially if Christendom is interpreted merely as a historical era or political arrangement, rather than an ideology and ‘a hard habit to break’. Yoder even introduces categories such as ‘neo-neo-Constantinianism’ and ‘neo-neo-neo-Constantinianism’ to underline his concern about the capacity of this ideology to reproduce itself in new and more subtle forms. But if he is correct that this is actually ‘code language’ within the radical dissenting tradition (of which the Waldensians and Anabaptists are representatives), this is all the more reason to use terminology that is more readily understood than ‘post-Constantinian’.

Post-Christian

So, why not go further, abandon both ‘post-Constantinian’ and ‘post-Christendom’ and adopt an even simpler term, ‘post-Christian’?

This is certainly a term that many writers are using to describe an increasingly secular but also multi-religious western society. It picks up the common assumption that Britain and other western societies were once ‘Christian’ nations and acknowledges, generally with regret, that this is no longer the case. Some urge strategies that might help to restore the Christian foundation of our societies; but most recognise that there is no way to turn the clock back and that we need to develop new approaches in this emerging context.

‘Post-Christian’ may be simpler than the alternatives, but using this term involves serious risks of misinterpreting the past and misconstruing the opportunities and challenges of the present.

Just as those who are critical of the Christendom synthesis can easily fall into the trap of imagining that the pre-Christendom church was pristine and glorious, so those who hark back to when our society was ‘Christian’ can assume that most Europeans were church-going, God-fearing and steeped in Christianity. The reality is more complex. Secularism and other faiths were far less significant throughout the Christendom centuries; there was a widespread belief in the reality of God and the spiritual life; and the church was central to culture in a way that we now find hard to imagine. But church-going (in itself a term steeped in Christendom assumptions) was rarely as consistent as we might expect; many priests – let alone ordinary church members – were profoundly ignorant of the basics of the faith; moral standards were often really low; and pagan ideas and practices survived for centuries, either mixed with Christianity or existing in parallel. Christendom was not as Christian as we might assume.22

Furthermore, using ‘post-Christian’ language may cause us to ignore or avoid the issue of the Christendom system. However Christian or otherwise individuals and communities may have been, was Christendom itself Christian? Was any European nation ever truly ‘Christian’ – and what would this have meant? Particular emperors, popes, monarchs or princes may have been godly people, but were they enmeshed in a structural framework that was fundamentally non-Christian or even, as dissidents persistently claimed, ‘anti-Christian’? Is there any way of legitimately calling ‘Christian’ a system that persecuted these dissidents, oppressed the poor, justified crusades and wars of aggression, denigrated cultures and colluded in injustice?

But the term ‘post-Christian’ can too easily gloss over such concerns and prevent us from engaging at sufficient depth with the very mixed legacy of the Christendom era. There were, of course, remarkable and deeply Christian aspects of the Christendom era that we rightly celebrate and need to retain as we move into post-Christendom. However critical we may be of the malign features of Christendom, we will not write off the thought and experience of many centuries and a multitude of Christian people. But there was much that we equally rightly reject, grieve over, disavow and renounce as being fundamentally unchristian, even anti-christian. Using the term ‘post-Christian’ does not encourage us to discriminate carefully enough.

Another problem with this term is that referring to western societies as ‘post-Christian’ undervalues the persistence and quality of Christian faith in contemporary culture. The churches are shrinking and the influence of the Christian story is much less than it was previously, but there are still millions of Christians in these societies. Western culture may be post-Christendom, but it is not entirely devoid of Christians.

Differentiating ‘Christian’ from ‘Christendom’ is especially difficult in several European languages. Suggesting that we should celebrate the end of Christendom (as I have done in seminars in a number of European nations) results in confused and anxious glances: am I really suggesting we should celebrate the end of Christian faith in Europe? It is surely not insignificant that in these languages ‘Christianity’ is conflated with ‘Christendom’, as if this were the only way in which the Christian faith can be embodied in a culture! Clarity is essential here: post-Christendom is not necessarily post-Christian.

Indeed, the end of Christendom might open up space for the recovery of authentic forms of Christian faith. Post-Christendom could be more Christian than Christendom, not less. As imperial Christianity in its various guises disintegrates and we reflect on the impact of the Christendom shift on our theology, hermeneutics, ethics, ecclesiology and missiology, what emerges might not only be contextually more appropriate in a changing culture but more authentically Christian, more faithful to our true heritage, and more hopeful. For the foreseeable future, Christians will be a small minority in most western societies. These societies may legitimately be labelled ‘post-Christendom’, for the Christian story will no longer shape their culture, even if its memory does not entirely fade. But they need not be designated ‘post-Christian’ if the church rediscovers its capacity to form communities of resilient, counter-cultural disciples who will witness faithfully and creatively in a plural culture.

There are no guarantees. The western church may simply not survive the shock of post-Christendom. The necessary adjustments in thinking and practice may be too much. The churches may wither. There are historical precedents for the virtual disappearance of the church from regions of the world where it was once dominant. Missionaries from other parts of the world, handicapped by Christendom assumptions of their own that western Christians exported to them, may try in vain to call Europeans to faith in Christ. Europe and other western societies could then become truly ‘post-Christian’, believing another story or losing faith in all stories.

But there is more hopeful scenario. As post-Christendom advances and we discriminate carefully between the treasures, trinkets and treachery of the Christendom era, perhaps we can find the resources we need for this emerging culture. As we embrace the reality of post-Christendom and recognise the opportunities as well as the challenges, perhaps we can find the courage and creativity to re-imagine a church on the margins that is humble, faithful and winsome. As our imperial aspirations and attitudes gradually fade, and as the incoherence of our post-modern, secular, consumerist and increasingly nihilistic culture becomes more obvious, perhaps we can live out another story and invite others to join us. And perhaps our brothers and sisters from the global church can help us do so. For there are resources in the Gospel, in the dissenting tradition through the centuries, in the world church – and even in the Christendom era – that can enable us to testify persuasively to the way of Jesus.

So, does the label matter? Yes, I think it does. ‘Post-Constantinian’ and ‘post-Christian’ may allow unchallenged or even unrecognised assumptions to undermine our attempts to re-imagine mission, church and discipleship in contemporary culture. ‘Post-Christendom’ may have its own limitations, too, but it is probably the best way of signalling the nature of the challenge we face and encouraging creative responses.

Endnotes
1 Stuart Murray: Post-Christendom: church and mission in a strange new world (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004); Stuart Murray: Church after Christendom (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2005); Jonathan Bartley: Faith and Politics after Christendom (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2006); Jo & Nigel Pimlott: Youth Work after Christendom (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008); further books forthcoming.
2 Murray: Post-Christendom, 19.
3 Murray, Post-Christendom, 20.
4 This appears to be the approach of Loren Mead: The Once and Future Church (Washington: Alban Institute, 1991) and Bob Jackson: Hope for the Church (London: Church House, 2002).
5 A recent example is Martin Robinson: Planting Mission-shaped Churches Today (Oxford: Monarch, 2006).
6 As in Philip Jenkins: The Next Christendom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
7 Nigel Wright: Free Church, Free State (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2005), 272-274.
8 Wright, Free, 273.
9 Wright, Free, 274.
10 The extent to which the US is moving towards, or is already in the throes of, post-Christendom is widely debated. Some argue it will be an exception; others that it will follow the pattern of other western societies.
11 See, for example, Lesslie Newbigin: The Gospel as Public Truth (London: CEN Books, 1992) and Truth to Tell: the Gospel as public truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).
12 See Craig Carter: Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), which exposes the serious flaws in H. Richard Niebuhr’s famous typology of Christian social involvement and challenges the widespread perception that Anabaptism inevitably advocates or results in withdrawal from society.
13 See Murray, Post-Christendom, 23-46, 74-108.
14 Maybe, in fact, the situation Nigel Wright envisages and labels ‘non-Constantinian Christendom’!
15 Stanley Hauerwas: After Christendom? (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991), 18.
16 José Miguez Bonino: Towards a Christian Political Ethics (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 83.
17 Lesslie Newbigin: The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (London: SPCK, 1989), 224.
18 John Howard Yoder, ‘Orientation in Midstream: A Response to the Responses’, in Daniel Schipani (Ed.): Freedom and Discipleship (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989), 163.
19 John Howard Yoder: The Priestly Kingdom (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), 142-143
20 Willard Swartley, in Schipani, Freedom, 70.
21 Yoder, in Schipani, Freedom, 163.22 See further Anton Wessels: Was Europe Ever Christian? (London: SCM Press, 1994).

Translocal Ministry After Christendom

by Stuart Murray

Early in the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine I identified himself as a Christian and initiated the process of accommodating church and state that would result in the establishment of the sacral society known as Christendom.1 He quickly recognised that the support of the church’s translocal leaders – the bishops – was the key to achieving his aim of constructing a united empire-wide church, with the help of which he might confront the many social, political and cultural problems that were destabilising and fragmenting his realm.2

Constantine wooed these men through patronage of their interests, extensive financial support for their congregations and ambitious building projects, delegating to them social responsibilities and status beyond their congregations and frequent invitations to dine with him in imperial surroundings. In 325, he summoned them to Nicaea for an ecumenical council to determine a creedal basis for a united church – a church that would no longer be dependent for its cohesion primarily on friendship and mutual respect between churches within which divergent patterns, traditions and emphases flourished.

Translocal ministry, in both theory and practice, was significantly and permanently impacted by what historians call the Christendom shift. The changing focus and functions of fourth-century bishops were early indications of what lay ahead.

Christendom and translocal ministry
The role and authority of bishops had been developing during previous decades, especially during the second half of the third century, as churches expanded in size and influence in many parts of the empire. A gradual (though contested) movement towards hierarchy, clericalism and institutionalisation – detectable even in the New Testament – had gathered pace in the past half-century. But the Christendom shift exacerbated these tendencies and introduced new elements into the theory and practice of translocal ministry. Identifying and assessing these developments and their legacy will help us discern which remain appropriate as we negotiate the further shift from Christendom to post-Christendom, and which are problematic in this changing context.

Among the main effects of the Christendom shift on translocal ministry were the following:

  • As the centre of gravity in the church shifted away from local congregations towards a translocal institution, fewer decisions about faith and practice were taken locally. Doctrinal discussions took place in translocal gatherings and agreed formulae were imposed on local churches. Church discipline was exercised by translocal leaders and conferences without reference to the congregations to which those placed under discipline belonged. Missionary initiatives were undertaken by individuals or organisations commissioned by and accountable to translocal bodies rather than congregations.
  • The close and long-term relationship between congregations and those who exercised local leadership3 was transformed into a serial form of ministry. A clerical caste developed, who exercised local ministry for shorter periods in various contexts before transferring to another as servants of an institutional church. Local ministry, in fact, developed into local expressions of what was essentially now a translocal role. Church leaders owed primary allegiance to the translocal church and were deployed locally for periods of service before moving on (sometimes, it seems, mainly to enhance their career prospects).
  • The emergence of a territorial diocesan and, later, parish system within an increasingly bureaucratic church imposed severe restrictions on translocal ministry that was unauthorised by church authorities. Wandering preachers were perceived (sometimes rightly) as threats to good order, not welcomed as gifts from the wider church. Translocal ministry became institutional and restrictive, with bishops defending their territorial rights, excluding other expressions of translocal ministry.
  • Gradually, as the boundaries of Christendom were established, within which it was assumed all were Christians, translocal ministry lost all vestiges of its earlier missional focus and became thoroughly maintenance-oriented. Those who exercised translocal ministries were responsible for sustaining what was rather than bringing into being what was not yet. Only beyond the boundaries of Christendom were missional expressions of translocal ministry feasible or perceived as necessary.
  • Consequently, the gifts needed for translocal ministry were redefined. The creativity, flexibility and pioneering spirit required for missional forms of translocal ministry were supplanted by the organisational and institutional abilities of those responsible for managing a large, wealthy and socially influential organisation. What we might term ‘apostolic’ and ‘prophetic’ forms of translocal ministry were regarded as obsolete (both theologically and practically) in an era when translocal ministry had become essentially pastoral and administrative.

Translocal ministry, then, was both enhanced and restricted by the Christendom shift, as its focus and modus operandi were adapted to the changing context. The legacy of the Christendom era includes both structures and ways of thinking about translocal ministry that need to be reconsidered as this context changes again and churches from many traditions grapple with the challenges of post-Christendom. Understanding the Christendom era and discerning which elements of its ecclesiology are helpful or disabling in post-Christendom is crucial for developing appropriate expressions of translocal ministry today.

Translocal ministry on the margins

There are other models of translocal ministry from the Christendom era to help us work towards a contextually apt and ecclesiologically coherent expression of translocal ministry. On the margins (and subject to pressure from both secular and ecclesiastical authorities) were several dissident movements, whose rejection of the Christendom system was accompanied by creative thinking about many aspects of local church life and by experimentation with alternative models of translocal ministry.

These groups do not offer a fully-fledged theology of translocal ministry, immediately transferable structures or strategies for our very different context (any more than New Testament examples of translocal ministry provide a blueprint for contemporary practice). Furthermore, information about most of these movements is limited, since a primary responsibility of the more conventional state church translocal ministers who suppressed them was to eradicate their supposedly heretical writings.

But there are glimpses of principles and practices operating within medieval and early modern movements such as the Waldensians, Lollards and Anabaptists4 that might stimulate creative thinking about appropriate forms of translocal ministry today. There are also warnings within these movements about the tendency of innovative expressions of translocal ministry to revert to the default forms embodied so powerfully in the dominant Christendom system. Translocal ministry, it seems, is particularly vulnerable to institutional retrenchment and loss of mission dynamism.

What can we learn from models of translocal ministry on the margins?

Translocal ministry can be dynamic. Waldensians, Lollards and Anabaptists all recognised that their scattered congregations needed to be visited and resourced by those whose experience and gifts equipped them for this task. Some of this activity in the early years appears to have taken place with minimal coordination and without the processes of ordination, training and accreditation required in the state churches. As the movements aged, normal processes of institutionalisation become apparent, with accreditation and training mechanisms emerging to support those involved in translocal ministry – such as the Waldensian ‘schools’ and their mentoring system for new translocal ministers, or the strategic planning of missionary journeys by Hutterite communities in Moravia and their moving commissioning services for missionaries likely to become martyrs. But by comparison with translocal ministry in the state churches, organisation was light and flexible, able to respond to emerging needs and opportunities rather than being locked into rigid structures.

Translocal ministry can be relational. The Christendom understanding (which exacerbated developing pre-Christendom tendencies) of translocal ministry implied a hierarchy of ministry: local church leaders were inferior in stature and authority to those with translocal responsibility. Not only were the dissidents’ instincts against such hierarchical assumptions, but the terms they used to identify translocal ministers appear to be consciously challenging hierarchical notions. Waldensians commissioned to translocal ministry were called barbes – ‘uncles’ – in contradistinction from Catholic ‘fathers’, and Lollards employed the relational and non-hierarchical term ‘known men’ to designate those who travelled between their congregations. The dissidents were suspicious of honorific titles and favoured the simpler familial terminology of ‘brothers and sisters’ for translocal ministers and local leaders. A relational understanding of church, which respects congregational integrity and values contextual decision-making, need not be threatened by translocal ministry.

Translocal ministry can be mission-oriented. The dissident movements appeared threatening to those who were committed to the Christendom system, because they challenged the centuries-old assumption that Europe was Christian and so needed pastor-administrators in local and translocal ministry roles. Translocal ministry on the margins certainly included pastoral care and coordinating tasks, but it was primarily concerned with missional activities – evangelising communities, calling people to repentance, baptising and catechising new believers, planting churches, deploying missional resources and pioneering initiatives.

Transgressing parochial and diocesan boundaries to the dismay of the state churches’ translocal overseers, Waldensians, Lollards and Anabaptists offended the settled clergy and maintenance-oriented churches of Christendom. Justus Menius, for instance, expressed Lutheran irritation at translocal Anabaptist missioners, claiming biblical support for his insistence that ‘the Servant of the Gospel does not travel here and there in the land in one church today and another tomorrow, preaching one thing in one and another in the other. But one servant serves with true industry his assigned church and remains with it, leaving other churches to peace and tranquillity. Thereby each church has its own constituted servant and avoids and excludes strange, unlicensed landcombers.’5

But, for Anabaptists, the mission imperative (which was regarded as binding on all believers rather than applying only to specialists) took precedence over ecclesiastical sensibilities and produced a different understanding of translocal ministry. Hans Arbeiter, a Hutterian missionary captured in 1568, ‘asserted that no earthly magistrate had the right to forbid God’s missioners from setting foot on their land, for the earth was the Lord’s (Ps. 24:1), and the Lord had called the church to mission.’6

Translocal ministry can be pluriform. Within the dissident movements many church members (women and men) were involved in translocal ministry, as individuals or in teams. Nor was there an assumption that ordination was required. Anabaptists often sent out teams of three, with a preacher accompanied by an assistant and by someone else whose main responsibility was liaising with the churches. It is not always easy to differentiate clearly (in the dissident groups or contemporary church life) between those exercising itinerant ministry and those exercising translocal responsibility. It may be possible to distinguish these, at least in theory, by reference to their level of influence, continuing involvement or strategic oversight, but this is rather less helpful in practice. Many Lollard tradesmen, Waldensian merchants and Anabaptist artisans evangelised in the course of their daily work as they travelled the roads of Europe. Some devoted more and more time to ministry until their trade was secondary and were as influential among dissident congregations as any bishop in the state churches.

Translocal ministry can be exercised by apostles and prophets. The activities and roles of those involved in translocal ministry on the margins seem closer to New Testament descriptions of apostles and prophets than is apparent with state church models. Nor was there the same reticence about using these terms as in the state churches or, indeed, in many contemporary churches, where such language is assumed to imply enhanced status or authority. Anabaptists designated some of those who travelled between their congregations ‘apostles’ and recognised the ministry of ‘prophets’ who also moved among the churches. Their contemporaneous friendly critic, Sebastian Franck wrote about the Anabaptists: ‘They wish to imitate apostolic life…moving about from one place to another, preaching and claiming a great calling and mission.’ Some were so convinced of their calling, wrote Franck, that they felt ‘themselves responsible for the whole world.’7

Hans Kasdorf, comparing the Anabaptists with the earlier Celtic missionaries, writes: ‘Like the famous Irish peregrini almost a thousand years before them…Anabaptist preachers wandered from place to place and proclaimed the gospel. But unlike the peregrini, these Anabaptist missionaries baptized new converts, established Christians in their faith and gathered them into local congregations…The Anabaptist churches discerned and systematically sent out many apostles. The designation apostle was deliberately chosen for those who were sent out in apostolic teams.’8

The term ‘apostle’ appears also (though not frequently) in Waldensian writings to describe translocal ministers, and their contemporaries too compared Waldensian missionaries to New Testament apostles. Although Lollards did not use this term themselves, Anne Hudson (a leading historian of the Lollard movement) describes their preachers as ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets.’9 Historians of such movements (and many later missional movements) are often drawn to such terms to describe the phenomena they encounter.

Translocal ministry can easily revert to inherited models. The fluid, missional, relational and multi-faceted expression of translocal ministry we can see at least glimpses of in the early years of these dissident movements was susceptible to co-option back into traditional models of ministry. Pressure of persecution might discourage evangelisation and result in translocal ministry becoming more concerned with survival and maintenance than mission. The growing complexity of developing movements might load increasing administrative and pastoral responsibilities on the shoulders of those with translocal roles. Waldensian and Lollard communities (perhaps because they were too widely scattered for greater organisation) resisted such institutionalisation for many decades, but Anabaptist apostles rather quickly transmuted into Mennonite bishops once the movement began to settle down and a maintenance-oriented role superseded the earlier missional focus.

Translocal ministry after Christendom

The emerging culture of post-Christendom in western society10 is very different from the Christendom context within which traditional models of translocal ministry have been developed and marginal alternatives periodically flourished. Drawing on the experience of this era but refusing to be unduly restricted by it, what are the issues we should consider as we reflect on the development and renewal of models of translocal ministry today?

Mission-orientation

The most fundamental and pressing issue facing Christians in all traditions is the need for a decisive and thorough paradigm shift from the inherited maintenance-orientation that has shaped our churches to a mission-orientation that will enable us to recalibrate our structures and refine our strategies for a different world. No attempts to reorganise or re-brand translocal ministry will effect more than cosmetic changes unless this shift takes place. This mission-orientation does not denigrate vital maintenance activities or naively oppose ‘mission’ and ‘maintenance’, but it insists that maintenance fits within a mission framework, rather than vice versa. If those who exercise translocal ministry are burdened with maintenance-oriented responsibilities and expectations, they will be no more able than most of their predecessors to function as mission strategists.

Like other social organisations, denominations usually begin as movements around a shared vision and gradually develop into institutions. A popular description of this seemingly inevitable process – man, movement, machine, monument, mausoleum – uses non-inclusive language for the sake of alliteration but has a familiar feel for students of church history. But the normality and seeming inevitability of this process (regarded by some as maturing, by others as degeneration) does not preclude the possibility of re-imagining a denomination as a movement rather than an institution. Studies of organisational development have discovered models and processes whereby institutions can be revitalised rather than continuing along the anticipated path towards institutionalisation.

In a postmodern and post-Christendom context, in which institutions are culturally suspect and the marginalisation of the churches and discursive Christianity requires a radically different mindset and structure than was appropriate in an earlier era, such revitalisation is crucial. How could this be accomplished? We might ask what our churches would look like if they perceived themselves as participating in a movement rather than an institution. Or how would a denomination change were it to function as a truly missional movement?

Changing our terminology will certainly not, by itself, achieve this. The language of ‘missionary congregations’ or ‘missional church’ has become familiar over recent years and has impacted how denominations and congregations operate, but familiarity with this language can lull us into a false sense of security, imagining that talking in missional terms equates to developing a missionary movement. What is required is an exercise of corporate imagination that has very practical outcomes that can be costed and subject to ongoing monitoring. Nothing less than a radical shift from institutional mode to a movement for mission will suffice in post-Christendom. Translocal forms of ministry have a vital role to play in this imaginative and practical paradigm shift, for this cannot be accomplished at local level alone. But only mission-oriented forms of translocal ministry will be able to make this contribution.

Re-training

All of which suggests that those moving into translocal ministry need not only a process of induction and instruction about institutional issues and working practices in their new roles, but re-training. If men and women commissioned to local forms of ministry are deemed to require training and formation to enhance and reflect on their (often substantial) prior experience of congregational leadership, preaching, pastoral ministry and mission, surely those who move from this local sphere into translocal ministry need such training. Not only has the cultural context within which they were trained for local ministry changed dramatically over the intervening years, so that a refresher course might be useful; but new theological, missiological and pastoral perspectives that have informed the training of new local ministers (to whom they will have responsibilities and with whom they will soon be working) should also be on any re-training agenda. Post-Christendom requires a whole-heartedly missional approach and fresh thinking on a wide range of issues, for which many of those moving into translocal roles were not prepared by their initial training for ministry in institutions and contexts still deeply immersed in Christendom ways of thinking.

Furthermore, in their new translocal ministry many will encounter different issues and require new skills that were not part of their previous local experience. Some will now be working as members or leaders of staff teams, rather than guiding and coordinating the work of volunteers. Their priorities and the tasks that will occupy the majority of their time will be quite different from those with which they were familiar as local ministers. Strategic thinking, mentoring colleagues and local leaders, grappling with disciplinary issues and many other responsibilities require time for equipping and reflection.

Inadequate preparation of translocal ministers can result in disorientation, confusion, overwork, ill-health and unwise intervention in local contexts. Translocal ministers can do much harm as well as a great deal of good. My personal experience of those exercising translocal ministries has been very mixed. Some translocal ministers have been excellent, but on the whole I have been disappointed by the quality of translocal ministry I have encountered, and frankly some have been incompetent and operating in roles for which they were not gifted or for which they had not been equipped. Effective and sustainable translocal ministry requires an investment in induction training and the provision of ongoing opportunities for skills training, peer mentoring, supervision and theological reflection.

Partnership

One of the lessons emerging from the experience of church planting since the early 1990s has been the importance of partnership between local and translocal leaders in developing mission strategies. Denominations that have relied on local entrepreneurial leadership to initiate church planting have discovered that this will founder without translocal direction and support; it will also result in churches being planted in less strategic contexts. Denominations that have attempted to initiate all church planting centrally or regionally have not been able to galvanise local action effectively.11

What is true of church planting is probably equally true of other aspects of mission and ministry. Neither independently-minded congregations that eschew the wider perspective of translocal ministry nor models of translocal ministry that attempt to impose strategies or marginalise local congregational discernment and vision will do. Partnership in a non-hierarchical structure that recognises different spheres (rather than levels) of ministry and is rooted in friendship and mutual respect offers better prospects for developing and sustaining the missionary movement needed. It seems likely that many congregations will require as much retraining as those moving into translocal ministry if this kind of partnership is to reach its full potential. A clear and coherent understanding of the potential and purpose of translocal ministry is needed at local church level. In order to facilitate this re-education of local congregations, training for local ministry should also incorporate an understanding of the scope and contribution of translocal ministry.

Accountability

One important aspect of partnership, to which more attention may need to be given, is the accountability of translocal ministers – not just to their regional association or the denominational council, but to the local congregation of which they are members or from which they were commissioned to their translocal role. It seems from the New Testament writings that those involved in translocal ministry reported back regularly to their commissioning congregation, as well as conferring with others involved in translocal ministry. Paul certainly consulted with the Jerusalem apostles (Galatians 1:18-2:10), but he and Barnabas spent considerable time reporting to the church in Antioch from where they had been commissioned (Acts 14:26-28).

Missionaries in other cultures regularly return to their home churches for periods of rest, reflection and renewal, where they report on their activities and (at least in some cases) draw on the insights of their home congregation as they discuss issues they are facing. There are indications that Anabaptist apostles and Baptist messengers were accountable to their commissioning congregations in ways that those involved in translocal ministry today might also find beneficial. Such periods of reflection and consultation might further erode any hierarchical dimension of translocal ministry; it would hopefully also help to ensure that those involved in translocal ministry are less isolated than at present and less likely to suffer from burnout; and it would encourage them not to lose touch with grassroots congregational life in a way that can happen if their involvement in local churches is primarily as a visiting preacher or pastoral fire-fighter.

Trans-denominational ministry

If translocal ministry is to thrive in the post-denominational era that is emerging from the demise of Christendom, it will need to operate in a creatively and generously trans-denominational way. This is not the same as the development of ecumenical relationships and the signing of formal covenants between those with translocal responsibilities in different denominations. These honourable and helpful arrangements were aspects of the institutional kind of ecumenism that is fast giving way to grass-roots post-denominational networking in an era when relationships, exchange of ideas and resources and seizing opportunities will seem much more relevant than debating issues of ‘faith and order’ or forming representative and carefully balanced ecumenical committees.

In post-Christendom a messier and more mission-oriented ecumenical networking will be the order of the day. Territorial and denominational defence-mechanisms are anachronistic and rather silly when the churches are all on the cultural and spiritual margins. The primary emphasis will need to be on the challenges and opportunities for mission in a society where networks are as strategic as neighbourhoods and where co-operation will be vital for survival and any attempt at mission effectiveness. The old structures and sensitivities will have to give way to a new level of trust, mutual recognition of ministry and partnership. Appointing to translocal roles those unable or unwilling to adapt to and flourish in this broader and less circumscribed environment will not be wise. Networking skills will be much more valuable than understanding of institutional processes.

Appointment and terminology

A practical implication of all this is that the expectations, job-descriptions, skills and priorities of those called into translocal ministry need a thorough overhaul. Putting this fairly bluntly, denominations need to appoint people with pioneering and strategic gifts rather than administrative skills or successful local ministries, people who are mission-minded, oriented towards envisioning, change-management and risk-taking rather than supervising stability or managing decline. Having ‘a safe pair of hands’ or ‘knowing the right people’ will not be sufficient!

One term for the kind of role we are envisaging is ‘apostolic.’ Reflecting on models of church and mission in a changing world, Eddie Gibbs insists: ‘the church needs to move from the Constantinian model – which presumed a churched culture – to an apostolic model designed to penetrate the vast, unchurched segments of society.’12 This ‘apostolic model’ implies changes in the ways congregations operate, but the catalyst for such local changes may be ‘apostolic’ forms of translocal ministry.

This does not mean that all translocal ministers should be gifted as apostles, or that this terminology should necessarily be used to describe those who are. The question of terminology may be significant. It is worth asking whether the use of ‘apostolic’ terminology will help or hinder churches from embracing and benefiting from translocal ministry. If the term worries, confuses or offends local ministers and their churches, is it worth persisting with? On the other hand, if employing a generic term like ‘translocal’ locks churches into maintenance-oriented models and fails to help them engage with missional challenges or strategic and visionary leadership, maybe the term ‘apostolic’ will be vital to signal the changes of priority and ethos that are essential in a post-Christendom era.

Whether the term ‘apostolic’ is used or not, collapsing all expressions of ‘translocal ministry’ into ‘apostolic ministry’ will not be helpful: translocal pastors and teachers, administrators and evangelists can also play important roles. Indeed, the pastoral and organisational abilities that have traditionally been sought in translocal ministers will still be needed by those exercising ‘apostolic’ roles, but these abilities will need to be deployed in new ways and with different priorities in a mission context. A successful track record in successful suburban churches may be an inadequate, even unhelpful, qualification or preparation for those called to exercise a translocal missional ministry in the urban, postmodern and multicultural contexts that represent the main challenges facing the churches in post-Christendom.

But, if this is the case for translocal ministry in post-Christendom, there may also be implications for local ministry. Suitable candidates for translocal ministry are likely to be found primarily among those already experienced in local ministry, so what has been suggested regarding the appointment, skills and training of translocal ministers needs also to impact the appointment, skills and training of local ministers. Anne Wilkinson-Hayes questions whether ordination to a ministry of ‘word and sacrament’ is an accurate understanding of what translocal ministers are called to do. Perhaps we need to question whether this hallowed definition is any longer appropriate or helpful even for local ministers. The maintenance orientation that it can (though perhaps need not) carry may not encourage ministers to prioritise wisely the multiple challenges facing the churches in today’s mission environment. Maybe reflection on the nature of translocal ministry will stimulate renewed thinking about the calling of local ministers and how the churches might perceive their role.

These last reflections may seem to have strayed beyond the subject of this article, but it seems that reflection on any aspect of ecclesiology can disrupt accepted notions and priorities in other areas of church life. The fourth-century shift from pre-Christendom to Christendom deeply impacted many areas of church life, but the changes were felt first among translocal ministers. Perhaps the further shift from Christendom to post-Christendom, which will provoke profound changes in twenty-first century churches, will also be discerned as clearly as anywhere else in the sphere of translocal ministry. And perhaps a renewed expression of translocal ministry will be one of the critical factors in equipping the churches to engage effectively with this strange new world.

Endnotes
1 For further details, see the authoritative collection of essays in Alan Kreider (Ed.): The Origins of Christendom in the West (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2002).
2 See H.A. Drake: Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000).
3 See Everett Ferguson: ‘The Congregationalism of the Early Church’ in Daniel Williams: The Free Church and the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), pp130-135.
4 The Waldensians flourished especially in southern France and northern Italy between the 12th century and the Reformation era and also spread into German-speakers areas, despite sustained persecution. In 14th century England radical followers of John Wyclif were dubbed Lollards and established churches in many parts of the country, some of which survived until the Reformation. Anabaptist communities sprang up in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands in the 16th century and offered a more radical approach to reformation than their Protestant contemporaries. For a succinct summary of the history and convictions of these movements, see www.anabaptistnetwork.com. Other chapters in this book explore the relevance to contemporary discussions about translocal ministry of the history of English Baptists.
5 Justus Menius: (Von dem Geist der Widerteuffer, Wittemberg 1544), cited in Franklin Littell: ‘The Anabaptist Theology of Mission’, in Wilbert Shenk (Ed.): Anabaptism and Mission (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1984), p20.
6 Leonard Gross: ‘Sixteenth-Century Hutterian Mission’ in Shenk, Anabaptism, p111.
7 Cited in Hans Kasdorf: ‘The Anabaptist Approach to Mission’ in Shenk, Anabaptism, p64
8 Kasdorf: ‘The Anabaptist Approach to Mission’ in Shenk, Anabaptism, p59.
9 Anne Hudson: The Premature Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), p449.
10 For a detailed study, see Stuart Murray: Post-Christendom (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004).
11 See further George Lings & Stuart Murray: Church Planting: Past, Present and Future (Cambridge: Grove Books, 2003), pp17-19.
12 Eddie Gibbs: Church Next (Leicester: IVP, 2001).

After Christendom study days

he fourth book in the popular 'After Christendom' series was published in July 2008. This means that four are now available:

Post-Christendom by Stuart Murray
Church after Christendom by Stuart Murray
Faith and Politics after Christendom by Jonathan Bartley
Youth Work after Christendom by Jo & Nigel Pimlott

Two more are scheduled for publication in 2009:

Reading the Bible after Christendom by Lloyd Pietersen
Worship and Mission after Christendom by Alan & Eleanor Kreider

Stuart Murray, Jonathan Bartley, Jo & Nigel Pimlott and Lloyd Pietersen are available for 'After Christendom' study days. These can be organised and hosted by churches, colleges or other organisations and customised according to interest. Depending on what topics are required, the appropriate authors are willing to work together as a teaching team for the day.

For further information, contact stuart@murraywilliams.co.uk

After Christendom: A Study Guide

developed by Stuart Murray Williams

Note: You can find a downloadable version of this guide at the bottom of this page.

Introduction

Since Post-Christendom was published by Paternoster in March 2004 to launch the ‘After Christendom’ series of books, a number of people have suggested to me that a study guide would be useful to help them work their way through the many issues the book addresses. This might include:

• A timeline to show how Christendom developed and its relation to other historical events.
• A short chapter-by-chapter summary to help those who struggle with book-length arguments.
• Diagnostic exercises to help us identify Christendom-oriented thinking.
• Practical examples of how the Christendom legacy continues to influence us.
• Further questions to consider (beyond those at the end of several chapters).
• Bible studies to encourage us to reconsider interpretations unduly influenced by Christendom.

My initial response was that Post-Christendom is only the first of several books in the ‘After Christendom’ series. It contains much more historical material than the other books will and lays foundations on which others will build. Later books in the series will unpack its ideas and explore many issues in more detail. Maybe further resources are not necessary at this stage.

Early responses to Church after Christendom, since its publication in February 2005, indicate that many people have found this second book in the series more accessible. It seems to have addressed some of the issues a study guide might have covered. This may also be the case with books that have yet to be published, which will provide further insights and resources on issues that Post-Christendom mentioned only briefly.

However, as I have reflected on the responses to Post-Christendom, I have warmed to the idea of a study guide with at least some of the resources requested. The best way forward seems to be a web-based resource that is freely accessible and also available in a form that can be downloaded for personal or group use. So I hope what follows is helpful and meets the needs of those who have approached me over the past year or so. And I welcome suggestions for improving and developing this.

Timeline and Maps

The approach of the ‘After Christendom’ series is to divide the history of the church in Western Europe into three periods:

• Pre-Christendom (from the birth of the church until the first part of the 4th century)
• Christendom (from the 4th to the 20th centuries)
• Post-Christendom (from the 20th century onwards)

This is, of course, over-simplified (as all such schemes tend to be) and the shifts from pre-Christendom to Christendom and from Christendom to post-Christendom cannot be dated precisely. But the authors of the series argue that there are major differences between the approaches of Christians in these periods to the topics they cover – faith and politics, worship and mission, church and society, etc. We find it surprising that those who trace the history of the church and its mission do not more often comment on the significance of these shifts. See further on this, if you are interested, an article by Alan Kreider entitled ‘Beyond Bosch: the Early Church and the Christendom Shift’ at http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/articles

There are several websites with timelines, maps and other resources that illustrate the major incidents and characters in church history. Although these sites do not use the threefold division we are advocating, they provide very helpful background material that can easily be cross-referenced with the books in the series and the other resources we provide here. It does not seem necessary to try to duplicate here the resources of these websites, so we are simply listing some of the more interesting sites:

http://www.churchtimeline.com: an extensive collection of resources covering the whole era.

http://www.olivetree.com/history/: a timeline that covers the biblical period as well as an overview of significant figures in church history.

http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Pines/7224/Rick/chronindex.htm: a century-by-century timeline with commentary on significant events and people.

http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/bible/jc.html: a detailed timeline from Jesus to Constantine (313).

http://www.tredways.org/church_history/: timelines that provide a simple overview and (by clicking on the period of interest) more information as required.

http://www.cwo.com/~pentrack/catholic/chron.html: timeline of the whole of church history from a Roman Catholic perspective.

http://justus.anglican.org/resources/timeline/: various timelines grouped under subject areas and all from an Anglican perspective.

http://www.saintignatiuschurch.org/timeline.html: a timeline from the perspective of the Orthodox Church, which regards most of western Christendom as a deviation from the true church.

http://www3.la.psu.edu/courses/worldreligions/maps-christianity.htm: simple maps of the biblical era and the spread of Christianity.

http://www.culturalresources.com/Maps.html: an enormous set of links to maps of all kinds, including many that illustrate the context of church history in Western Europe.

http://historymedren.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.eu... a collection of maps showing Europe at the beginning of every century from 1 to 2000.

http://www.roman-emperors.org/Index.htm: a similar resource to the previous one, showing Europe (and North Africa and the Middle East) from 1 to 1500.

Post-Christendom: A thumbnail sketch

The basic argument of the book can be summed up in the following steps:

Chapter 1: The End of Christendom

• The church in western societies is experiencing a significant culture shift and is moving, slowly and unsteadily, into uncharted territory (the ‘strange new world’ of the book’s subtitle).
• Although this culture shift has many different components, including the shift from modernity to postmodernity, one key element is the end of Christendom.
• We experience this as a period of decline and discouragement as the church in western societies (but not in many other parts of the world) loses ground in terms of numbers and influence.
• We may be tempted to indulge in nostalgia, to bury our heads in the sand or to pin our hopes on revival, but it may be better to welcome post-Christendom as a new opportunity for faithful discipleship and creative mission.
• In order to understand the significance of post-Christendom, we need first to explore the Christendom era that is now fading and the legacy it has left us.

Chapter 2: The Coming of Christendom

• The beginning of the Christendom era can be traced to the 4th century and the decision of the emperor Constantine I to adopt and promote Christianity.
• Historians argue about the nature of Constantine’s conversion and his motives in championing Christianity, but his influence was profound, bringing the church in from the margins to the centre of society.
• The church had been growing very rapidly during the previous century, but Constantine’s decision took church leaders by surprise and they acclaimed him (almost unanimously) despite questions about his character and intentions.
• As a result of the patronage of the church by Constantine and his successors, including substantial financial support, the church grew in numbers and social status during the 4th century.
• Conversions were due to several factors: the intellectual appeal of Christianity, the church’s care for the poor, growing social pressure, better career prospects and some forms of coercion.
• At the end of the 4th century the emperor Theodosius I effectively outlawed all other religions so that Christianity became the official imperial religion.
• But was the church right to accept the patronage of Constantine and to allow itself to be co-opted as the imperial religion?

Chapter 3: The Expansion of Christendom

• At the start of the 5th century, Christians were at the centre of society but still as a privileged minority, rather than a majority.
• Over the next few centuries remarkable efforts were made to strengthen the hold of Christendom upon its heartlands and to extend its influence across the empire and beyond its boundaries.
• Gradually paganism and most other religions were eradicated (the Jews were allowed to continue but were often under pressure) and in 529 Justinian made conversion compulsory.
• As the Roman Empire collapsed and Europe entered the so-called Dark Ages, the church functioned as a unifying and civilising force, successfully making the transition into a new era.
• Christendom spread through various methods: gradual infiltration, missionary enterprises, inter-marriage, conquest and coercion. The conversion of Europe was finally completed late in the 14th century.
• In theory everyone believed, behaved and belonged within Christendom, but the catechesis (introductory teaching)of new Christians was now very limited.
• Christendom had triumphed and its achievements were wonderful, but how Christian was Christendom and its missionary methods?

Chapter 4: The Christendom Shift

• Before tracing the history of Christendom into the Middle Ages, we need to examine carefully the nature of the 4th-century shift from pre-Christendom to Christendom.
• The theological architect of Christendom was Augustine of Hippo. Although he was ambivalent about the empire, he accommodated the church’s theology and practices to the new situation, introducing numerous innovations.
• The Christendom shift was profound, involving in effect a re-engineering of the church’s DNA in the areas of faith and discipleship, church and society, church life, mission and ethics.
• Further details of this critical shift can be found here.
• Two potent illustrations of this shift are the dramatically changed meanings of both baptism and the cross.
• Despite the overwhelming support of the church for this shift, there were some who objected, including the monastic movement, the Donatists and Pelagius. Their concerns were dismissed at the time but resurfaced in later centuries.
• But what were the costs and benefits of the Christendom shift, and were there any alternatives in the 4th and 5th centuries?

Chapter 5: The Heart of Christendom

• The culture of Christendom that flourished during the Middle Ages was rich and remarkable, but it was also oppressive towards any who dissented.
• The outworkings of the Christendom shift became entrenched in society, as pre-Christendom approaches to issues such as truth-telling and violence were superseded by oath-taking and participation in warfare.
• Christendom required that people read the Bible in ways that supported the status quo, gave precedence to the Old Testament and marginalised Jesus.
• Church life also reflected the Christendom shift as large congregations were dominated by a clerical caste, who performed services and gave monologue sermons, and who operated in a hierarchical structure that imposed punitive church discipline.
• In the Christendom era the emphasis was on institutional maintenance rather than mission. Where evangelistic mission occurred it was generally delegated to specialist agencies and sometimes involved coercion. Other dimensions of mission involved offering counsel to the state and christianising culture.
• But throughout this era there were marginal movements that protested against the Christendom system, advocating and practising alternative approaches to the Bible, church and mission. These included the Waldensians and Lollards.
• How do we listen to both the mainstream and the margins from this era? What can we learn from each?

Chapter 6: The Disintegration of Christendom

• By the 16th century Christendom was in turmoil – economic, political, social and spiritual – and was starting to disintegrate.
• The Protestant Reformation offered one way forward, retaining most of the assumptions of the Christendom system, including state churches, but trying to reform this system.
• The reformers, however, made only limited changes on the issues of biblical interpretation, church life and the nature of mission.
• Catholicism also underwent a process of reform and reorganisation, with the result that different versions of Christendom – Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican – emerged. Christendom fragmented into competing and hostile mini-Christendoms.
• Another way forward was the Anabaptist movement, the heirs of the medieval marginal movements, which rejected the Christendom system as beyond mere reform and planted new churches free from state control.
• Anabaptists developed alternative approaches to biblical interpretation, church life and mission, but they were persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants.
• How do we respond when we perceive problems within the church – remain in the current structures and work for renewal, or come out and build anew on fresh foundations?

Chapter 7: The Christendom Legacy

• Between the 17th and 20th centuries the demise of Christendom took place, as various factors undermined its legitimacy.
• These included: the Enlightenment reliance on reason rather than revelation, the impact of industrialisation and urbanisation, the arrival of postmodernity, the persistence of dissent and the globalisation of the church and its mission.
• However, there are numerous vestiges of Christendom that have outlasted the political entity, both in the church and in society.
• Further details of these vestiges can be found here.
• As we identify these various vestiges, we need to consider their significance and decide whether to endorse, ignore or challenge them.
• More pervasive, though less obvious, is the Christendom mindset that guides our thinking and reactions on a range of issues.
• Further details of this mindset can be found here.
• There are different ways of responding to the Christendom legacy: denying it, defending it, dismissing it, dissociating ourselves from it, demonising it or disavowing it.
• Disavowing is the best option, which involves disentangling the many threads, deciding what to retain and what to reject.
• In what ways are we influenced by the Christendom mindset or enmeshed in Christendom vestiges, and how will we respond to these?

Chapter 8: Post-Christendom: Mission

• Although the Christendom era was characterised primarily by maintenance rather than mission, in the latter part of the era mission returned in various forms.
• Mission took place beyond the boundaries of Christendom as Catholic and then Protestant missionaries accompanied those who explored and conquered the New World.
• Despite noble exceptions, these missions were marred by cultural imposition and considerable violence.
• Mission also took place within Christendom as concern grew about the low level of morality and spirituality within an officially Christian society.
• Evangelism is problematic in post-Christendom, not least because of the very ambiguous legacy of mission within and beyond Christendom in the previous centuries.
• Despite the temptation to abandon it, we need to rehabilitate and reconfigure evangelism for post-Christendom.
• There are important challenges facing us as we engage in mission in a plural society and learn to engage creatively with other faith communities.
• We also will need to learn fresh ways of engaging in social transformation as a marginal community that no longer wields social power of the kind we were used to exercising.
• And we will need to renegotiate our relationship with the state, succumbing neither to delusions of past status nor temptations to disengage.
• What will it mean to be reconstituted as a marginal missionary movement in the strange new world of post-Christendom?

Chapter 9: Post-Christendom: Church

• Reconstituting ourselves for mission also involves rethinking what kind of church can incarnate the good news in post-Christendom.
• Across western culture, fresh expressions of church are emerging, energised by longings for more authentic forms of community, worship and mission.
• Examining these emerging churches through the post-Christendom lens both affirms their significance and poses significant questions for them.
• But the vast majority of Christians belong to inherited forms of church and the shift to post-Christendom offers opportunities to take a fresh look at practices that were rooted in the Christendom system and challenged by the dissidents.
• These include the clergy/laity divide, monologue sermons, church discipline and attitudes to war and economics.
• Church after Christendom will need to be relatively simple if it is to survive.
• But simplicity does not mean banality. We need to re-imagine church for post-Christendom.
• We might re-imagine the church as a community stirred by poets and story-tellers, a monastic missionary order and a safe place to take risks.
• Are the immediate prospects of the church in western societies best summed up as revival or survival?

Chapter 10: Post-Christendom: Resources

• There are many more questions than answers in the current transitional period between Christendom and post-Christendom.
• Our responses to contemporary challenges need to be provisional and we will need to appreciate many kinds of resources.
• We can draw on pre-Christendom, anti-Christendom (dissident), Christendom and extra-Christendom (global) movements.
• We will need to think carefully about how we interpret the Bible, recovering marginalised texts and questioning received interpretations, rejoicing in the new angle of vision available to a marginal community.
• We may need to reconsider important theological commitments and ethical stances, suspicious of the influence of Christendom on them.
• Some images may help us come to terms with our current situation, including marginality, liminality, exile, pilgrimage and church on the edge.
• And our terminology may need adjusting as we reflect on the language used in the Christendom era and its suitability (or lack of this) in post-Christendom.
• Most fundamentally, post-Christendom offers us an opportunity to recover the radical Jesus whom Christendom marginalised and follow him courageously onto the margins of this strange new world.

The Christendom Shift

Chapter 4 of Post-Christendom contains a long list of issues that were impacted by the 4th-century Christendom shift. It is not possible to summarise these, so here is the list in case it is useful in this form for further study:

The transformation in how the church understood itself and its role in society was not accomplished in one generation. Some developments had roots predating Constantine and would take centuries to develop fully. Over time, however, the Christendom shift involved:

• The adoption of Christianity as the official religion of city, state or empire.
• Movement of the church from the margins to the centre of society.
• The creation and progressive development of a Christian culture or civilisation.
• The assumption that all citizens (except Jews) were Christian by birth.
• The development of a ‘sacral society’, corpus Christianum, where there was no freedom of religion and political power was divinely authenticated.
• The definition of ‘orthodoxy’ as the belief all shared, determined by powerful church leaders with state support.
• Imposition, by legislation and custom, of a supposedly Christian morality on the entire society (though normally Old Testament morality was applied).
• Infant baptism as the symbol of obligatory incorporation into Christian society.
• The defence of Christianity by legal sanctions to restrain heresy, immorality and schism.
• A hierarchical ecclesiastical system, based on a diocesan and parish arrangement, analogous to the state hierarchy and buttressed by state support.
• A generic distinction between clergy and laity, and relegation of laity to a largely passive role.
• Two-tier ethics, with higher standards of discipleship (‘evangelical counsels’) expected of clergy and those in religious orders.
• Sunday as an official holiday and obligatory church attendance, with penalties for non-compliance.
• The requirement of oaths of allegiance and oaths in law courts to encourage truth-telling.
• The construction of massive and ornate church buildings and the formation of huge congregations.
• Increased wealth for the church and obligatory tithes to fund the system.
• Division of the globe into ‘Christendom’ and ‘heathendom’ and wars waged in the name of Christ and the church.
• Use of political and military force to impose Christianity, regardless of personal conviction.
• Reliance on the Old Testament, rather than the New, to justify these changes.

The foundation of Christendom was a theocratic understanding of society and a close, though sometimes fraught, partnership between church and state, the two main pillars of society. The nature of this partnership varied. Over the centuries, power struggles between popes and emperors resulted in one or other holding sway. Previous chapters have revealed one emperor presiding over a church council and another submitting to a bishop’s authority. But the system assumed the church was associated with a status quo understood as Christian and had vested interests in its maintenance. The church provided religious legitimation for state activities; the state provided secular support for ecclesiastical decisions.

Christendom excluded or reinterpreted elements of New Testament teaching that had been important in pre-Christendom:

Faith and discipleship

• Faith in Christ was no longer understood as the exercise of choice in a pluralistic environment where other choices were possible without penalty.
• The term ‘conversion’ mainly described, not the start of the Christian life, but entrance into a monastic community.
• Discipleship was interpreted as loyal citizenship, rather than commitment to the counter-cultural values of God’s kingdom.
• Preoccupation with individual eternal destiny replaced expectation of the coming of God’s kingdom.

Church and society

• There was no longer any significant distinction between ‘church’ and ‘world’.
• The state was no longer accorded a limited preservative function but had replaced the church as the bearer of the meaning of history.
• Church was defined territorially and membership was compulsory, with no room for believers’ churches comprised only of voluntary members.
• Such voluntary communities, called ‘churches’ in the New Testament, were now called ‘sects’ and condemned as schismatic.
• The church largely abandoned its prophetic role for a chaplaincy role, providing spiritual support, sanctifying social occasions and state policies.
• The idea of God’s kingdom was reduced to a historical entity, coterminous with the state church, or relegated to the future.

Church life

• Believers’ baptism as the means of incorporation into the church was regarded as appropriate only for first-generation converts from paganism.
• Church services became performance-oriented as multi-voiced participation and the exercise of charismatic gifts declined.
• A sacramental and penitential system developed that enabled the church hierarchy to control and dispense ‘salvation’, often at a price.
• Clerical power and the disappearance of the ‘world’ meant church discipline was punitive, even lethal, rather than expressing pastoral care and mutual admonition.

Mission

• The church’s orientation was now towards maintenance rather than mission, and mission was carried out by specialist agencies, not congregations.
• Pastors and teachers were honoured, while apostles, prophets and evangelists were marginalised or regarded as obsolete (cf. Ephesians 4.11).
• Mission within and beyond Christendom was accomplished by top-down methods, including coercion and offering inducements.
• The vision of a new Christian nation, corpus Christi, scattered through the nations was replaced by a vision of an earthly Christian empire.

Ethics

• The church became more concerned about maintaining social order than achieving social justice.
• Because the church exercised control, ethical choices were justified by anticipated outcomes or consequences rather than inherent morality.
• Pleas for religious liberty were forgotten and persecution was imposed by those claiming to be Christians rather than upon them.
• Enemy-loving and peacemaking were replaced by the formation of a Christian army and the ‘just war’ theory or ‘holy war’ ideology.
• The cross was less a reminder of the laying down of life than a symbol carried into battle by those who would take the lives of others.

Assessing the Christendom Shift

Look again at the above summary of the impact of the Christendom shift on church and society.

How are we to assess this shift and its consequences? Here is a simple exercise to help us consider the possibilities.

Work through the summary and place by each item a number representing one of the following assessments:

1. This was a positive development that evolved quite naturally from the traditional thinking and practice of the pre-Christendom churches.

2. This was a positive development that was a deviation from traditional theology and practice but was justified by the changing circumstances.

3. This was a necessary development in the changing circumstances that had neither particularly positive nor particularly negative consequences.

4. This was a necessary development in the changing circumstances that had negative and regrettable consequences.

5. This was an illegitimate development that contravened the theology and practice of the pre-Christendom church and is difficult to square with the spirit of the gospel.

6. This was an illegitimate development that compromised the church and its message and led to horrendous consequences in the coming centuries.

You might also want to construct further categories (7, 8, 9 etc.) if these do not give you all the options you want to work with.

Once you have completed this assessment of the Christendom shift, you may want to identify the issues that concern you most and consider how you or your church might grapple with these.

Alternatives to the Christendom Shift

Chapter 4 of Post-Christendom challenges the suggestion that the church in the fourth century had no option but to accept the invitation to becoming the imperial church. It suggests that there were other ways fourth-century Christians might have interpreted Constantine’s adoption of Christianity and responded to his invitation:

• They might have recognised that all Roman emperors had used religion to impose order on the empire: Constantine was acting in a typically Roman (not Christian) way.
• They might have questioned his continuing allegiance to the Unconquered Sun and the nature of his allegiance to Christ.
• They might have challenged him to become a catechumen (novice Christian) earlier and to have prepared for baptism before he became terminally ill.
• They might have encouraged him to behave as a true Christian, rather than a normal emperor, accepting this might have resulted in his reign being brief.
• They might have reflected on their survival and growth through 250 years of intermittent persecution and decided they did not need imperial protection or patronage.
• They might have differentiated between toleration and imperial endorsement, welcoming the former and courteously but firmly refusing the latter.
• They might have explained to Constantine that massive basilicas and lavish bequests were inappropriate for followers of Jesus.
• They might have insisted the cross symbolised sacrificial suffering and was inappropriate as a military standard, explaining that Jesus’ followers were a peaceful people, who would not fight to defend the empire.
• They might have recalled their own experience of persecution and historic commitment to religious liberty and refused to persecute or pressurise others.
• They might have listened to dissenting voices warning that the theological reinterpretations of Augustine and others were leading them away from their roots and core values.

Another exercise: rank these suggestions in order, according to your judgement as to how realistic they seem to be. Then, starting with what you consider to be the most realistic, assess what impact this might have had on the development of Christendom.

And some further questions:

1. Some claim that the phenomenal growth of Christianity in this period means that, if not under Constantine, under one of his successors Christianity would have become the numerically dominant religion. Do you agree?

2. If so, need a numerically dominant religion become a state religion?

3. Might Europe have been christianised from the bottom up rather than from the top down, and what difference might this have made?

4. If the continuing numerical growth of the church had not been turbo-charged by state endorsement, might effective catechesis have continued, and what effect might this have had on church and society?

5. What can we learn from the history of the church in the Persian Empire, which never had a Constantine figure (but was very viciously persecuted once Constantine declared the Roman Empire Christian)? After centuries of mission, during which it became more numerous and widespread than European Christianity, it was eventually eradicated from large areas of Asia. Is this inevitable for a non-state religion?

6. If in the future the church in Europe again becomes numerous, even numerically dominant, what are the alternatives to re-inventing Christendom? Is faithfulness only possible for marginal communities, or is there a truly Christian way to handle power?

Vestiges of Christendom

Chapter 7 of Post-Christendom contains a long list of Christendom vestiges. It is not possible to summarise these, so here is the list in case it is useful in this form for further study:

Ecclesiastical vestiges

• The Church of England is the established church, acknowledging the monarch as supreme governor and claiming official status by its very name, which by implication excludes other denominations.
• The self-identity of the non-established Church of Scotland is of a national church.
• The monarch appoints Anglican bishops, on the recommendation of the prime minister, from a shortlist of candidates the church prepares. The state can veto episcopal appointments.
• Church leaders participate in state ceremonies, during which they engage in acts of worship (although increasingly representatives of other faiths also participate).
• Some decisions of the Church of England’s General Synod require state endorsement (the requisite majority of the ‘three houses’ approved the decision to ordain women, but this needed ratification by both Houses of Parliament).
• The parish system symbolises and implements the ubiquity of the established church, regardless of the presence of other congregations.
• The Church of England is legally obliged to provide marriage and funeral services. Clergy of many denominations act as state registrars.
• The Church of England is a major landowner and, despite falling income and rising costs, a very wealthy institution.
• The Chi-Rho symbol, Constantine’s labarum, adorns many churches and chapels instead of the cross.
• The cross is associated in many communities with conquest and coercion, not suffering and self-giving love.
• Many church buildings contain military paraphernalia, including regimental flags, plaques commemorating war casualties and soldiers’ graves.
• Most denominations endorse the ‘just war’ theory.
• Though many denominations have more members elsewhere than in Europe, representatives of historic Christendom nations dominate their structures and culture.
• Many denominations and agencies maintain structures that perpetuate outdated ‘sending nations’ and ‘mission fields’ concepts.
• Infant baptism is still widely practised (not only in the state church), but there are concerns about indiscriminate christening.
• Leadership structures in many newer denominations mirrors Christendom arrangements (albeit with different titles).
• The dominance of monologue sermons is evident in all denominations (with longer sermons in newer churches).
• The popularity of tithing in newer churches is encouraging Anglicans and Catholics to return to an abandoned Christendom practice.
• Church discipline is not taught in theological colleges, congregations are not equipped to practise this and attempts to exercise discipline are frequently ineffective or authoritarian.
• Inherited or chosen architectural styles of church buildings maintain aspects of Christendom ecclesiology. Many resemble lecture halls or theatres, disabling multi-voiced worship.
• Special clothes continue to designate a clerical caste with special powers and privileges.

Social vestiges

• The monarch’s coronation takes place in Westminster Abbey and involves senior church leaders, who present a Bible as a ‘rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes’, anoint the monarch with oil with reference to Old Testament kings, present a sword for the monarch to ‘protect the holy Church of God’ and bestow a ring with a ruby cross, urging the monarch to be the ‘defender of Christ’s religion.’
• The monarch swears to ‘maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel’; ‘maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law’; ‘maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England’; and ‘preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them.’
• The National Anthem combines unquestioning support for the monarch with prayer for military success.
• Coins carry inscriptions committing the monarch to defend the (Anglican) faith (D.G.REG.F.D).
• The Union Flag comprises crosses of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick, the ‘patron saints’ of England, Scotland and Ireland.
• Remembrance Day ceremonies offer prayers of thanksgiving for military success.
• State-funded chaplains serve in the armed forces and accompany them to war, implicitly supporting their actions.
• Christian prayers take place daily in both Houses of Parliament.
• Two archbishops and twenty-four diocesan bishops are ‘Lords Spiritual’ sitting in the House of Lords.
• The English legal system includes ‘canon law’, which governs church affairs, and ecclesiastical courts.
• Anyone on the parish electoral role (whatever their religious views) may vote to elect church wardens.
• The launching of ships involves a ‘christening’ ceremony, invoking God’s blessing on the vessel.
• Blasphemy laws (though rarely invoked) protect only the Church of England, not other denominations or religions.
• Churches enjoy the presumption their activities are charitable and so receive significant tax benefits.
• Schools must provide daily acts of collective worship ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.’
• School, college and bank holidays are planned around or associated primarily with the Christmas and Easter festivals.
• Despite continuing erosion, there are still restrictions on economic and social activities on Sundays.
• Use of oaths in the courts and legal processes (although affirmation is now available) remains normal.
• Oaths of allegiance are sworn by people in various institutions. Members of the police force, for instance, swear oaths in an annual service.

Responding to the Vestiges of Christendom

Look again at the above summary of the vestiges of Christendom in both church and society.

Here is an exercise to help us consider how to regard these vestiges and engage with them. Work through the summary and place by each item a number representing one of the following assessments:

1. This is a practice derived from the Christendom era that is wholly welcome, despite the demise of Christendom, and worth defending and retaining.

2. This is a practice derived from the Christendom era that, despite being rooted in an outdated and flawed system, has become a valued part of our cultural heritage and is worth retaining (albeit for other than the reasons it was originally introduced).

3. This is a practice derived from the Christendom era that no longer makes sense in a post-Christendom society but has no harmful effects and is not worth challenging.

4. This is a practice derived from the Christendom era that is regrettable and damages the church and its witness but which there is yet no realistic prospect of eradicating.

5. This is a practice derived from the Christendom era that is regrettable and damages the church and its witness so seriously that we should take action to eradicate it.

6. This is a practice derived from the Christendom era that is unjust and inappropriate in post-Christendom and that church and society should take action to eradicate.

You might also want to construct further categories (7, 8, 9 etc.) if these do not give you all the options you want to work with.

The Christendom Mindset

Chapter 7 of Post-Christendom contains a list of aspects of the Christendom mindset. It is not possible to summarise these, so here is the list in case it is useful in this form for further study:

• Orientation towards maintaining (but perhaps tweaking) the status quo rather than advocating radical and disturbing change.
• Wanting to control history and bring in God’s kingdom (even coercively) rather than trusting the future to God.
• Assuming Christians would govern nations more justly and effectively than others or that having more Christians in influential positions (especially in politics) would be beneficial.
• Over-emphasising church and internal ecclesial issues at the expense of God’s mission and kingdom.
• A ‘moral majority’ stance on ethical issues, assuming the right of churches to instruct the behaviour of those beyond the church.
• A punitive rather than restorative approach to issues of justice and support for capital punishment as ‘biblical.’
• Disgruntlement that Christian festivals (particularly Christmas and Easter) are no longer accorded the spiritual significance they once enjoyed.
• When reading the Bible, identifying naturally with the perspective of the rich and powerful.
• Readily finding analogies between Old Testament Israel and Britain (or America) as a ‘Christian nation’, reapplying biblical prophecies.
• Confusion about the relationship between patriotism and ultimate loyalty to God’s kingdom and the transnational Christian community.
• A ‘mainstream’ interpretation of church history that marginalises the laity, dissident movements, women and the poor.
• Euro-centric theology that marginalises other perspectives on mission, church and biblical interpretation.
• Inattentiveness to the criticisms of those outraged by the historic association of Christianity with patriarchy, warfare, injustice and patronage.
• Using ‘spiritual warfare’ language without reflecting on issues of violence and insensitivity to its effect on users and observers.
• A latent persecution-mentality that lacks theological or ethical objections to imposing beliefs or behaviour on others.
• Partiality for respectability, top-down mission and hierarchical church government.
• Predilection for large congregations that support a ‘professional’ standard of ministry and exercise influence on local power structures.
• Approaches to evangelism that rely excessively on ‘come’ rather than ‘go’ initiatives.
• Thinking the Christian story is still known, understood and widely believed within society.
• Reluctance to conclude Christendom vestiges inoculate rather than evangelise.
• Celebrating survey evidence that 70% of the population claim to be Christian, as if such notional Christianity is significant.
• Assuming churchgoing is a normal social activity and that most people feel comfortable in church buildings and services.
• Attitudes towards church buildings that imply these are focal points of God’s presence.
• Orientation towards maintenance rather than mission in ministerial training, congregational focus and financial priorities.
• Proliferation of church activities that are inappropriate and exhausting for marginal communities in a mission context.
• Preferring authoritative pronouncements, preaching and monologue over dialogue, conversation and consensus.
• Pontificating and lecturing, often in a sanctimonious tone that understandably irritates others.
• Discomfort among church leaders if members ask questions or express doubts or disagreement.
• Performance-oriented services and the tendency of short-lived multi-voiced developments to revert to the default mono-voiced position.
• Solemnity, formality and even morbidity when breaking bread and sharing wine in contrast to the joyful and domestic informality of the early churches.
• Despite decades of decline and marginalisation, triumphalist theology and language (especially in our hymnody).
• Consequentialist and utilitarian approaches to ethics, more concerned with outcomes than right motives and means.
• Attitudes to other faith communities that vary from opposition to tolerance but assume Christianity should be accorded centrality and privileges.
• Expectations that imminent revival will restore the fortunes and influence of the churches in society.

Detecting Christendom Toxins

The language of Christendom ‘toxins’ is used in Church after Christendom, so you may want to consult that book too, but the toxic mindset of Christendom is illustrated by the above summary from Post-Christendom.

Here is an exercise to help us consider how to regard these attitudes and assumptions, and how to engage with them.

1. Work through the list. Are you convinced that each item represents the legacy of Christendom? Might some be authentically Christian, or unconnected with the issue of Christendom? Place ? beside any items you are not convinced about.

2. Work through the list again. How significant are these items? Place ! beside items you regard as particularly important.

3. Work through the list you have highlighted. Choose 5 of these and put together a proposal for how each of these might be addressed by an individual or a church.

4. Work through the hymnbook or song collection of your own church/denomination. Note down any Christendom toxins you discover.

5. Listen carefully to sermons, prayers and conversations during one month. Note also any books or magazines you read during this month. What Christendom toxins, if any, do you detect? How might you respond to what you discover?

Reading the Bible after Christendom

The sixth book in the ‘After Christendom’ series will be written by Lloyd Pietersen. This will investigate the influence of the Christendom shift on biblical interpretation and ask how we might read the Bible with fresh perspectives after Christendom.

However, earlier books have already indicated that familiar interpretations of various biblical passages may need to be reconsidered now that Christendom is coming to an end. The influence of power, wealth and status on the church during the Christendom era may have distorted its understanding of many texts. We face the disturbing but exciting challenge of looking afresh at the Bible from our post-Christendom position on the margins of society.

While we wait for Lloyd’s book, it might be helpful to ponder a few sample passages, asking whether we have allowed the Christendom mindset to impact the way we have interpreted these. We will concentrate on passages from the Gospels.

Matthew 5:13

1. What are the various ways in which you have heard the term ‘salt’ interpreted?
2. Which of these have you found most helpful or persuasive?
3. Do any of these interpretations make sense of the term ‘earth’ (soil, ground)?
4. Do any of these interpretations make sense of the context – the climax of the Beatitudes?
5. Did you know salt was used in ancient times as a fertilizer? Might this make more sense of the verse and its context?
6. Why do you think ‘salt as preservative’ was a more popular interpretation during the Christendom era than ‘salt as fertilizer’?
7. Which makes better sense in post-Christendom?

(NB: for further resources on this passage and its interpretation, see Alan Kreider’s article at: www.anabaptistnetwork.com/node/291)

Matthew 5:38-42

1. What do the phrases ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘go the second mile’ imply when used today?
2. How is this interpretation good news to oppressed and victimised people?
3. Might our interpretation of this passage be different if we realised ‘do not resist’ really means ‘do not resist violently’?
4. How would our understanding of Jesus’ teaching by affected by discovering that:
(a) A blow on the ‘right cheek’ suggests a master disciplining a slave with the back of his hand and turning the other cheek might represent passive resistance?
(b) Poor people in first-century Palestine wore only two garments?
(c) Roman soldiers could force people in occupied territory to carry their equipment for only one mile and would risk punishment if this went further?
5. What might it mean to behave in such ways today?

(NB: for further resources on this passage and its interpretation, see Walter Wink: Engaging the Powers, pp175-193)

Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

1. Within the Christendom church this passage was used to justify a mixed church made up of believers and unbelievers. Is this legitimate?
2. Where does the term ‘church’ appear in this parable? Can it be inferred?
3. In dissident groups a different interpretation was given. What do you think this was?
4. What do you think is the message of this parable and its contemporary application?
5. Can you think of other biblical passages where the focus is on the kingdom of God (v24) but the Christendom shift identified this with the institutional church?

Matthew 21:33-46

1. Who do you think the various characters in this parable represent?
2. What is the moral and teaching of this parable?
3. Would your interpretation be any different if the word translated ‘landowner’ was instead translated ‘mafia boss’?
4. Would your interpretation be any different if you knew that absentee landlords who extorted income from peasant farmers with threats of violence were deeply resented and sometimes violence was met with violence?
5. Is it possible that the son who is killed does not represent Jesus?
6. What, then, would be the point of this parable? Might Jesus be proposing another way that challenges the violence on both sides?
7. How does this parable equip followers of Jesus for mission today?

Mark 12:41-44

1. Is this incident simply about the extraordinary generosity of a poor widow?
2. What difference, if any, do the verses (38-40) immediately before this passage make?
3. What difference, if any, do the verses (13:1-2) immediately after this passage make?
4. Why are the political, social and economic implications of this passage rarely mentioned in sermons today?
5. How does this parable equip followers of Jesus for mission today?

Luke 1:1-2:40

1. Read carefully through Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.
2. During the Christendom era most people assumed God worked from the top down rather than from the margins. In this passage how many instances can you find of God working from the margins?
3. You might want to make a similar list from Matthew’s account (1:18-2:23).
4. What political implications of the coming of Jesus do you detect in the story (note especially the songs of Mary and Zechariah and the comments of Simeon)?
5. What is the significance of ‘peace’ in this story? Note the various references to this word.

Luke 18:18-30

1. With which character in this passage do we generally identify? Or do we detect only one character apart from Jesus?
2. What do we understand as the good news in this passage?
3. What happens if we identify, not with the rich ruler, but with ‘the poor’ (v22) to whom his treasures are to be distributed?
4. What would Jesus’ hearers likely have assumed about the reason why this ruler was rich, despite living in occupied territory?
5. How does the conversation between Jesus and Peter (vv28-30) affect the way we interpret this incident?
6. Is there any support in this passage for the frequent distinction made between our actions and our attitudes in relation to our possessions?

Luke 19:11-27

1. Who is the hero in this parable and who is the villain?
2. What kind of behaviour is this parable advocating?
3. Is it possible that the king is not Jesus or God? What sort of character is he?
4. What difference would it make to your interpretation if you knew that the hated Archelaus, a Herodian puppet king, had recently rushed off to Rome to be confirmed as ruler of the Jews (contrary to popular demands against this)?
5. What difference does the context make (the encounter with Zacchaeus in verses 1-10 and the entry into Jerusalem and clearing of the temple in verses 28-48)?
6. What is Jesus trying to communicate about the nature of God’s kingdom (v11)?
7. How does this parable equip followers of Jesus for mission today?

Church after Christendom: A thumbnail sketch

The basic argument of the book can be summed up in the following steps:

Part One: Shape: Prologue

• The first section of the book explores the shapes church after Christendom might need to take in a changing culture.
• The core biblical text for this section is Acts 11:1-18, in which the early church grappled with a profound paradigm shift.

Chapter 1: Church after Christendom: Belonging/Believing/Behaving

• As Christendom gradually disintegrates, the relationship between believing and belonging is unravelling in various ways.
• Beyond the churches there are various degrees of alienation from the church and its message.
• Understanding the complexity of this relationship is important for mission and church life.
• An additional factor is behaving, which raises questions about the meaning of conversion, baptism and membership.
• Centred set churches are becoming popular but these require a strong core as well as open edges.

Chapter 2: Church after Christendom: Comings and Goings

• As Christendom fades, it is helpful to understand why people are leaving and joining churches in a changing culture.
• There is considerable research available on church leavers, which needs to be examined critically in order to understand the various factors involved.
• How churches respond to church leavers is important, both for the well-being of the leavers and for the churches themselves.
• Listening to the concerns of church leavers can reveal key issues for churches to address in order to be more attractive and authentic.
• Understanding why people join churches is important both for mission and for reflection on church life.
• Cross-referencing lessons from leavers and joiners focuses attention on some critical issues for healthy church life.

Chapter 3: Church after Christendom: Will it Emerge?

• The demise of Christendom has been accompanied by both fragmentation of the church and a search for unity.
• During the late 1990s, a new wave of churches began to emerge, prompting some to suggest church after Christendom will emerge rather than evolving.
• Although categorising emerging churches at this stage is risky and inexact, a threefold division into mission-led, community-led and worship-led may be helpful.
• Different expressions of emerging church interact in different ways with the post-Christendom agenda.

Chapter 4: Church after Christendom: Will it Evolve?

• Some regard emerging churches as less promising, suggesting that church after Christendom is more likely to evolve from inherited forms of church.
• It may be that the strongest hope consists in partnership and mutual learning between inherited and emerging churches.
• All churches are in some senses both inherited and emerging; conversations can help various kinds of churches draw on each other’s resources.
• The global dimension is also important, as inherited and emerging churches learn from churches elsewhere and from missionaries and ethnically diverse churches in Europe.
• But what evolves or emerges must be about the ethos of the church, not just its style or shape.

Part Two: Ethos: Prologue

• The second section of the book explores the ethos church after Christendom might need to develop in a changing culture.
• Perspectives from both inherited and emerging churches (and church leavers) should inform this discussion.
• The core biblical text for this section is Ephesians 4:1-16, which offers a glorious vision of a healthy and participative church.

Chapter 5: Church after Christendom: Mission

• Church after Christendom will need to make a decisive shift from maintenance to mission in its basic orientation.
• This will involve action at a translocal as well as congregational level, so that institutions take on aspects of being missionary movements.
• Denominations, training institutions and other agencies need to move beyond missional language to substantive changes.
• The centre of post-Christendom society is contested, with competing claims being made for secularity and spirituality.
• Church after Christendom must embrace its marginality and develop strategies appropriate to mission from the margins.
• This will involve rehabilitating and reconfiguring evangelism.

Chapter 6: Church after Christendom: Community

• Interest in church growth has in recent years partly been superseded by concern for church health.
• Church after Christendom needs to identify the Christendom toxins and flush these out of its system.
• Induction processes and ongoing training is needed to build healthy churches.
• The neglected and maligned practice of church discipline is crucial if honest and loving communities are to evolve and emerge.
• Interactive and fully participative church life builds healthy and harmonious communities.
• Leadership models need to be reassessed and reconfigured in church after Christendom.

Chapter 7: Church after Christendom: Worship

• During the Christendom era, worship predominated over both community and mission, but these elements need to be re-balanced in post-Christendom.
• Emerging churches offer fresh and instructive perspectives on worship.
• Some are proposing that gathering together becomes less important, but this is unwise in post-Christendom.
• Inherited churches offer rich resources and long experience that church after Christendom will need to draw on and rework.

Chapter 8: Church after Christendom: Simple and Sustainable

• Church after Christendom must be both sustaining of Christians in emerging culture and also sustainable.
• Questions need to be asked about the focus, frequency and extent of church activities.
• Church after Christendom must be simple, but not simplistic, and capable of sustaining hope.

Church after Christendom: Some Questions

1. In what way can people belong before they believe in your church?

2. What are your church’s core values and how do you sustain these?

3. How do you engage creatively with those who leave your church?

4. What are you doing to encourage conversations between emerging and evolving churches?

5. In what ways can your church become more truly missional?

6. How do you induct new people into your church?

7. What practices in your church sustain healthy community life?

8. What activities in your church might you do less often or stop doing?

9. When you change the shape or style of your church, how do you engage with the question of its ethos?

10. What five things might your church do in response to the issues raised in this book?

You can download this study guide in .pdf format here:

After Christendom: A Study Guide (22p, 110KB)

After Christendom: invitation to write a paper

Six books in the 'After Christendom' series have now been published. Three more are currently under contract and we are in conversation with other likely authors.

However, there are some subjects that may not warrant a whole book but are well worth exploring from an 'After Christendom' perspective. We have already had suggestions along these lines. So we intend over the coming months to publish papers, essays and articles on this website.

If you have anything that you would like to offer, please let us know and we will be glad to consider this.

Mission, Anabaptism and Post-Christendom

"This paper seeks to explore the current context for mission in Britain in the light of the claim that this country is now entering a new epoch in which the church is no longer closely intertwined with state and society. It will be argued that this centuries-long relationship has been a problematic one, which has significant implications for mission by a church now finding itself increasingly on the margins of a society over which it had once been able to exercise considerable influence, if not outright control. However, it will further be proposed that Anabaptism, a Christian tradition historically marginalised thanks to its rejection of any symbiotic relationship between church, state and society, offers distinctive insights to the wider church which may enhance the task of mission in this period of transition and uncertainty."

Jonathan Blakeborough has made his MTh dissertation, entitled "A critical reflection on the Anabaptist contribution to mission in Britain in the context of Post-Christendom", available to the Anabaptist Network. You can download the text below.

Women and Men After Christendom Introduction

Women and Men After Christendom:
The Dis-Ordering of Gender Relationships

Introduction

I moved house recently. In this new house, my husband and I each have our own room. We have taken the two smaller bedrooms and made them both into studies. One of these rooms is bigger than the other – not by very much, but obviously so on opening the doors. I have the bigger study.

We had a removal firm help us with the move. The team of three men moved our desks into our respective rooms, brought in the bookcases, lining up the furniture where we asked, and then began bringing in the boxes of books, papers and computer equipment. I stood at the top of the stairs indicating which carefully labelled box should be taken into which room.

Part way through these ‘box runs’, one of the team came out of my room and asked me, without any humour, irony, sarcasm, hint of friendly banter, or cheek, ‘Why do you have the bigger study?’ This was a highly gendered question. His question was not so much one of curiosity as it was of bafflement. Something clearly did not add up for him, and despite his otherwise professional manner, he was compelled to cross the boundary into asking for a justification of our choice of room allocation.

Somewhat taken aback, I gave a highly gendered answer. I did indeed attempt to justify the situation, and in doing so accepted his assumption that there was something about this arrangement that was questionable. So, rather than replying with another question, ‘Why shouldn’t I?’, I simply said that I worked from home so spent more time in my home study and that my husband had an office at work. In other words, in terms of square footage, he had the larger space than me, albeit in two locations. I was giving reassurance, not to worry, all is in order in the world, just as it should be, with of course the man having the greater space.

All of us live lives impacted by gendered thinking and structures, however much – or little – we are aware of this. This book is about gender – about how women and men relate together. It consciously explores historical, theological and social influences that have shaped the social relations between women and men.

While I was finishing writing this book I had a conversation with a 19-year-old student. He was finding his chosen course of study frustrating because he felt it was focused on how to get a job in his field rather than the ‘whys and wherefores’ of his subject. Something of a self-taught philosopher, he was interested in the bigger picture that he felt was missing. He told me about life as a student, some of the things that had brought him to this point, and what he hoped he might do in the future.

He then asked me what I did when I left school. I briefly outlined what had brought me to the point of being involved in social and theological research and some of the things I had done. ‘Do you have faith yourself?’, he wanted to know. I replied yes, I was a Christian and so I was an ‘insider’ to much of the work I did. His response was immediate: ‘But don’t you find Christianity really offensive to women?’

I asked him to tell me what had led him to say this. He was very clear. Men wrote the Bible to tell women what to do, to keep them unequal. And that was what all religion was – it was about controlling people, keeping them in their place. In his sharp critique of what he thought about Christianity, he summed up the focus of this book, which is looking at the relationship of women and men in the light of the shift to post-Christendom.

The term ‘post-Christendom shift’ refers to how we are moving away from a situation where the church has religious, social and political power which can be imposed upon others to one in which Christians witness to the gospel by the way they live, not by the power they wield. This book is concerned with what this new understanding and practice might mean for relationships between women and men, which throughout Christendom have followed a hierarchically ordered gender pattern. The dis-ordering of the book’s subtitle is not about advocating chaos, but about dismantling this pattern of male dominance and female subordination.

While the transition to post-Christendom may at times feel disorienting as the church and Christians are dislocated from a privileged centre in society to a more marginal and peripheral status, it is also an opportunity to re-imagine ourselves differently. This is no less so in terms of the social relations between women and men. Can considering this age-old conversation in the emerging light of a post-Christendom framework offer us fresh or renewed insight?

In this re-imagining, I share with the student the pull of the bigger picture. Therefore, this is not so much a ‘how to’ book, but a ‘why we should’ book. It does not provide models to follow, but seeks to expose the nature of the challenge. This is partly because understanding something of the dynamics of Christendom’s gender hierarchy is necessary if we are to move beyond it, if we are to have more than superficial attempts to live as women and men after Christendom. And it is partly because I believe such living will look different depending on particular situations. A witness to re-imagined relationships will involve diversity as much as it does innovation. This diversity itself will be an implicit challenge to the highly restrictive gender order bound up in Christendom thinking and behaving.

So imprinted on us is a Christendom order of gender that the first difficulty we face is trying to think outside of its constraints. To help us to do this, and to remove ambiguity over some of the terms used in this book, Chapter 1 begins with making plain a number of contexts in which our consideration takes place. It introduces the breadth of the notion of Christendom and the importance of its integral idea of order, which I am challenging in this book. It notes how patriarchy – which includes a hierarchy of males over females – is enmeshed within Christendom; hence, the ethos of empire is sustained by women’s subordination. A discussion of the terms sex and gender, and sexuality, affirms the value of our embodiment as women and men while highlighting the way sexual distinction has been used to structure inequality in terms of belief, value and behaviour.

The chapter finishes with a note on hermeneutics, which I use both in a broad and more particular sense in this book. Broadly speaking, hermeneutics is about the framework we use for interpreting our world; a Christendom framework is one of a divinely ordered hierarchy (the word hierarchy comes from the Greek hieros meaning sacred and arche meaning rule). This contrasts with the frameworks of equality and friendship that are discussed in later chapters. In a more specific sense, biblical hermeneutics is about how we interpret the Bible, crucial for any discussion on gender relationships. But centuries of being told that the Scriptures prescribe patriarchal gender norms have left us unable to see that the biblical narratives actually contain challenges to such norms.

Chapter 2, therefore, explores the New Testament, both gospels and epistles, to tease out an unfolding narrative of groups of believers who were wrestling with the impact of their experiences on their social and political relations, including that of gender. The patriarchy of the world before Christendom was entangled with the Roman Empire (as it would be with the Christian empire that followed). The Christian claim, therefore, of belonging to a new community in God, rather than identifying with family, religious, political or national allegiances, was disturbing to the existing social and indeed sacral order. It questioned the usual social conventions of marriage, kin and household that structured the lives of women and men, particularly in the light of the expected imminent return of Jesus. The image of God as father was a direct challenge to the place of all patriarchs, whether in kin networks, households, or as heads of states. Its significance is not as a male as opposed to female metaphor, but as a picture that confounds systems of domination. A challenge in the world of the first Christians, it has the potential to continue to be a challenge to Christendom thinking, both past and present.

The chapter traces some of the diversity among believers in the first churches as they adjusted to the realities of a prolonged period of living in ‘the last days’ in the midst of mainstream society and culture, which, of course, had nurtured and formed them before their encounter with Christ. The emerging organizational structures of the church developed in the second and third centuries to a dominant patriarchal pattern, but not without well-attested counter traditions. Such counter traditions continued throughout the Christendom period, despite various attempts to obscure them.

It is the impact of Christendom on the relationship between women and men that I turn to in Chapter 3. Whatever his motivation, the decision of the emperor Constantine at the start of the fourth century to favour Christianity within his empire not only brought an end to the persecution previously experienced by the church. It also began a realignment of Christianity from the margins to the centre of the state and its power. To help illustrate the enormity of this change, I begin the chapter with a broader view of the impact of this mainstreaming of Christianity in the empire, including how religious orthodoxy became enforced with the power of the state. I then look at three dynamics through which the enmeshment of the church with the trappings of empire impacted on gender relations.

The first of these is the solidifying of the division between clergy and laity, with an increasing move to a priesthood that was not only male, but also celibate, and one that church authorities put much energy and law into enforcing. This spiritual and social hierarchy between clerics and laity relied on and reinforced negative and detrimental views of women – their physicality and their intellectual and moral capacities, for even celibate living was insufficient to bestow on women the purity that would enable them to serve at the altar. Second, the chapter considers the impact of the Reformation’s understanding of the relationship between family, church and state. The Reformers’ renegotiation of the relationship between sexuality and holiness that saw them closing convents and monasteries and promoting clerical marriage was imbued with patriarchal ideology. Marriages, and particularly those of the clergy, became ‘the showcase of Christian living’, and foundational to this was the authoritative role of the father in the household, which in turn was viewed as an analogy of the state. Women or men stepping outside of accepted patterns were considered disorderly and a threat to society’s wellbeing.

Chapter 3 finishes looking at a third dynamic underpinning the first two: Christian understandings of sex and sexuality. In particular, the double standard inherent in much Christian sexual ethics not only has seen women more associated than men with humanity’s sexual nature, but also viewed them as more culpable than men for humanity’s sexual failings. The outworking of this dynamic may have presented itself differently over the centuries, but sexual ethics remains core to Christian self-understanding up to the present day. It is possible to see contemporary churches’ struggles to maintain more traditional structuring of relations between women and men as attempts to maintain a distinctive Christian identity in the context of their declining power and influence in a post-Christendom world.

Chapter 4 considers a more recent and continuing response to patriarchal and Christendom gender order – the discourse of equality. Equality is a framework for envisioning the relationship between women and men that does not put them in subordinate and dominant positions. Rather, it challenges the values and the practices that perpetuate such arrangements, whether in domestic settings or public institutions. To survey the progress in equality that women have gained in various ways in the twentieth century is to realize that gains have come slowly and been imperfectly implemented. Failure to address the deeper ways that gender inequality is structured in both personal and public life has inhibited greater equality while at the same time giving a general impression that sufficient equality has been achieved. However, among other achievements, women’s movements have succeeded in putting male behaviour and privilege under a spotlight. The response to this has been an identifiable men’s movement, including a spectrum from the therapeutic mythopoeticism of Iron John to pro-feminist White Ribbon campaigns that focus on ending male violence against women.

Christian responses to the contemporary context of equality are dominated by the discourse of the feminization of the church. This chapter explores this conversation and the responses, epitomized by the Promise Keepers in the USA, that focus on how men might be engaged in Christian and church life. It suggests that the opportunities for personal growth that men are experiencing (and their female partners are often valuing) through such responses should not stop a more in-depth critical analysis of the discourse of feminization. A historical perspective on so-called feminization enables us to see how, from the eighteenth century, patriarchy has been adapting through various social changes, re-inventing itself but keeping a gender hierarchy intact, despite rhetoric to the contrary. The chapter concludes that equality is a demanding ethic, both personally and socially and, while perhaps not the most natural language for theology, one that finds resonance with the life of Jesus and the practice of the first churches.

It is theological imagination that is thought about in Chapter 5. The sense we make of the transcendent reality of God in our lives shapes our human communities. This is no less so for gender relations. When we say that humanity is made in the image of God but the chief human images we draw on to picture God are male, while at the same time finding it deeply disturbing, for example, to refer to God as ‘she’, this has implications for the relationship between women and men. Our gender-exclusive language reveals what is often denied, that we situate femaleness differently to maleness in terms of the relationship to deity, and this has implications for how women and men are situated with each other. Our theological imagination determines our social gender relations.

Of course, the unique image of God we have is Jesus, and Chapter 5 goes on to ask what meaning we are to take from the fact that Jesus was male. Contrary to much focus on the significance of Jesus’ sex, I suggest the key question here is not whether God could have become incarnate as a woman. Rather, it is whether there is anything about women and femaleness that means they are not suitable to image the divine. I explore this question through reflecting on responses to encountering artistic portrayals of a crucified Christ in female form. The visceral reactions that such representations provoke tell us much about the underlying symbolism that structures our theology and our gendered social organization.

The crucified Christ, of course, has a central place within Christian tradition. Here too, theological imagination has had a profound impact on how women and men relate. Frequently, Jesus’ submission to his own suffering has been used to encourage or coerce women to accept the suffering and injustice they encounter – not least from male abuse and violence, but also from patriarchal social systems that treat women unfairly – rather than to challenge it. Finally, therefore, Chapter 5 revisits the meaning of the cross, suggesting that its role in endorsing suffering cannot be accounted for simply as a perversion of Christian theology. Such meaning derived from the death of Christ is, rather, imbued with the legacy of Christendom understandings of atonement, which developed in the medieval period when cross and sword combined to coerce Christian political and religious allegiance.

The focus of Chapter 6 is on the Bible and in particular the New Testament. The overwhelming tendency has been to understand gender relations on the basis of a select number of New Testament verses, sometimes called the ‘hard passages’. In contrast to this contracted approach, I suggest an expansive threefold way of reading the New Testament when thinking about the relation between women and men. First, this means letting the whole text inform our understanding of gender relations. This involves making gender visible where it has been absent from our reading and discovering about gender relations in unexpected places. Second, it means bearing in mind the breadth of church life, experience and dialogue that we meet in the New Testament and joining in that conversation ourselves. These two approaches provide the context for the third way of reading that I suggest, which is a close-up look at the so-called ‘hard passages’. These verses remain important to explore, but through engaging in an expansive approach to New Testament reading, we open ourselves up to new encounters with these texts.

In effect, Chapter 2 consists of the first two approaches so in Chapter 6 I focus on the third approach, illustrating it by considering 1 Timothy 2:8–15. These verses have been used as the definitive, authoritative verdict confirming women’s subordination but, as I demonstrate, it is not only possible but more plausible to read them differently.

In the light of centuries of gender relations that have been characterized by antagonism, I suggest, in Chapter 7, that we use the notion of friendship to think of women and men, not just or even primarily as individuals, but as a paradigm for thinking about humanity as female and male. By drawing on ancient practices of friendship – which contrast with contemporary ones, but which also are partially subverted to new ends in the New Testament – I propose this motif offers us a qualitatively different approach to a Christendom mindset of power and control.

Finally, I return to the bigger picture with which I began and a reminder of how Christendom’s patriarchal gender order shapes all our lives. I do so with the hope that Christian communities, in grasping the importance of giving attention to gender, will creatively engage in their own dis-ordering of gender relationships

Worship and Mission after Christendom - Sample Chapter

Chapter 1: Worship After Christendom

During the Christendom centuries the phrase “Worship and Mission” occurred rarely, if ever. Worship was what the church in Christendom simply existed to do; worship was its central activity. Mission, on the other hand, was peripheral and rarely discussed. Mission took place “out there”, in “regions beyond”, in “mission lands” – beyond Christendom. In the last centuries of Christendom a small number of enthusiasts promoted mission; and an even smaller number of specialists traveled abroad to carry it out.1 But worship services were near-by, in one’s immediate neighborhood, not out there but “here”, in every town and every parish. The main task of the clergy – the large corps of religious professionals – was to preside over these services.

From Italy to Britain

Across Western Europe worship services provided cohesion for Christendom societies and articulated their values. Consider two examples, one glorious and one homely.

Quote:
In the sixth century, a great artist created the mosaics in the dazzling church of San Vitale in Ravenna, on Italy’s Adriatic coast. On both sides of the chancel the artist depicted processions heading toward the altar – on the north wall the Emperor Justinian, carries the Eucharistic bread, surrounded by clergy, civil servants, soldiers and a donor; on the south wall the Empress Theodora bears the Chalice, in the company of attendants and civil servants. Over the altar the artist depicted Christ, King of kings, of whose rule Justinian’s reign was to be an image.2

In Christendom, in which the reign of Christ was actualized, human potentates played a prominent role in the central act of the civilization, the worship service, the Mass. And the Mass, with its regal setting, gave legitimation to the emperor’s rule. In 529 this emperor, Justinian, had issued an edict requiring all inhabitants of the empire to be baptized and to attend services of worship.3 In a Christendom society, worship was unavoidable; thanks to government compulsion, mission was unnecessary.

In contrast to the splendor of San Vitale, a parish church deep in England’s Norfolk countryside is unimpressive.

Quote:
The parish church of Tivetshall St Margaret is conventional in design, with a modest-sized nave separated from the chancel by a filigreed carved gothic screen through which the laity can observe the Eucharistic action. Originally, a rood (crucifix) stood high and central on this screen flanked on each side by statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist. In the 1560s, however, the local power-holders, the gentry, decided that the statues were idolatrous – graven images – and they removed them. We may assume that some people were unhappy with this. And in 1587 the gentry replaced the discarded images with a wooden panel that filled the chancel arch up to the roof. On the panel an artist expressed Christendom values which, as in Ravenna, involved the “powers that be”: the coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth I was central; under this in neatly calligraphed letters were the Ten Commandments, the words of Paul in Romans 13 – “Let every soule subiect hymselfe vnto the auctorite of the hyer powers” – and a prayer: “O God save our Quene Elizabeth.” And to each side of this central ensemble were the names of the churchwardens (possibly local gentry) who may have paid for the improvement. Royal arms, Bible text and local gentry – a formidable visual evocation of Christendom.4 In this space, week after week, the local agricultural workers and their betters were supposed to gather, by royal command, for services of worship.

Worship in that culture was essential; mission – through which God changes minds and subverts inevitabilities – was in nobody’s minds.

So, for centuries in places like glorious Ravenna and rustic Tivetshall, ordinary Christians – the laity - were expected to attend the services of worship led by the clergy. Gradually European church and civil law established regulations for attendance at worship services. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 required Roman Catholics to take communion once per year; laws in Elizabethan England required people to attend a Church of England service every week in their local parish church; in England the 1944 Education Act required all children, of whatever religious conviction, to attend a daily act of worship in their schools. In Christendom, worship was the responsibility of the religious professionals. Non-professional Christians were expected to attend. The professionals spent a lot of their time organizing these acts of worship; liturgical theologians thought about what happened in the services of worship; and the laity – who, churchmen complained, often skipped the services put on in their behalf - spent most of their time engaged in secular activities.

Today, after Christendom, we’re in a different world. The clergy still organize services of worship, and some lay people attend them. But, in Europe and in many places in North America, Christianity has come to be “a minority cult in a cross-cultural situation.”5 For most people in the West, worship services are strange; they take place in an unfamiliar environment, using archaic vocabulary and an incomprehensible ritual language. And so, mission has emerged as a major concern for Christians who think about worship. But post-Christendom, in which Christians at last think about worship and mission, has not only caused some Christians to think about mission in new ways. It has also caused them to re-examine what they mean by worship.

Worship: actions and emotions

In Christendom, in which Christians could assume that most people would attend church, one way of talking about worship predominated. Worship denoted religious actions, which scholars call cultic actions. (Here, cult is descriptive, not pejorative.) Worship was what Christians did when they gathered in church. “Worship consists of our words and action, the outward expressions of our homage and adoration, when we are assembled in the presence of God.” So wrote the Scottish theologian W.D. Maxwell in the 1930s,6 and it expresses one dimension of worship which continues to be important – the cultic actions of humans in response to the presence and action of God.

But in the 1970s or so, as people in many places increasingly absented themselves from the churches and as Western cultures became more emotionally expressive, a second way of talking about worship became common. Worship – or “true” worship, as it was often called – now came to be associated with experiences and feelings. These emotions occur through an encounter with God that is real and personal. We “really” worship God when we sing, or when we praise God, or when “our hearts worship the Lord.”7 Worship, according to Sally Morgenthaler, occurs when humans “meet God,” when they have “a heartfelt response to a loving God”. The task of the worship leader is to enable this personal, affective encounter to take place; the leader must “allow the supernatural God of Scripture to show up and to interact with people in the pews.”8 In a culture in which legal compulsions to attend church have disappeared and social compulsions are withering, in which there are many attractive ways to spend leisure time, and in which consumer values have become all-pervasive, people attend worship services because they want to receive something. This emphasis upon heartfelt encounter is important. Like Maxwell’s emphasis upon cultic action it is an essential part of the picture. And we may realistically note that, in a post-Christendom world in which religious participation is voluntary, if people find that worship services don’t make them feel better, they will simply not come back!

New Testament words for worship imply mission

But worship is more than cultic actions and potent experiences. The New Testament writers used three words that deepen our understanding.9 One of these words, precious to the liturgical traditions, is leitourgia. Etymologically this means “the work of the people”, and in the ancient world it often had to do with a service that someone performed voluntarily for the state or the wider community. This is the word that the book of Acts uses to describe the worship of the Christian community in Antioch: “While they were worshipping (leitourgounton) the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul . . .’” (13.2). Was this worship “liturgical” in its order of actions and use of Psalms and other set prayers? The worship was clearly flexible enough to allow for the spontaneous inbreak of the divine word. And this worship led to action. It led to the missionary journeys of Paul, and eventually to Paul’s role as a public servant; leitourgos is what Paul called himself as he brought a redistributive financial gift from the Gentile churches to the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem (Rom 15.26; 2 Cor 9.12). It is thus not only Christians in the “liturgical” traditions that are drawn to leitourgia; so also are Christian social radicals who remind us that authentic worship expresses itself in mission – in action which makes justice.10

Many Pentecostal and free church Christians, on the other hand, ignore leitourgia altogether but discuss a second word - proskunesis - as if it were “the Greek New Testament word for worship.”11 Ancient writers used proskunesis to designate the custom of prostration before persons, reverencing them and kissing their feet or the hem of their garment. New Testament writers such as Matthew used proskunesis and its derivatives to connote affective, whole-bodied reverence (Matt 2.2; 4.9; 28.9); in his Apocalypse, John depicts scenes in heaven in which worshippers prostrate themselves before God and the Lamb (Rev 5.14; 7.11; 19.4; 22.8). The term proskynesis is almost completely missing from the epistles. The exception is significant - 1 Corinthians 14.25, in which outsiders, experiencing the presence of God in the multi-voiced Corinthian Christian assembly, “bow down before God and worship him, declaring, ‘God is really among you.” Proskunesis – worship that engages the affections and mobilizes the body – gives Pentecostal and charismatic Christians New Testament warrant for their emotionally and physically expressive worship. And there is a strategy of mission here. Pentecostals contend that today, as well as in first-century Corinth, worship of the proskunesis sort attracts, touches and converts people.

A third New Testament worship word, latreia, connoted formal religious acts, especially sacrifice. According to the evangelist Luke, the aged Anna engaged in latreia day and night in the temple, praying and fasting (Luke 2.37). For Paul latreia had come to refer not to ceaseless temple worship but to worship that permeates all of life. In a famous passage, Paul urged the Christians in Rome – in light of God’s amazing work of incorporating Gentiles along with Jews in God’s peoplehood - to offer their bodies as “a living holocaust” which is their latreia “that makes sense” (Rom 12.1-2).12 As a result of their worship - sacrificial, life-encompassing and ceaseless - the Roman Christians would be distinctive, not conformed to patterns of the Roman world but transfigured within the Roman world into the image of Christ. Latreia - worship that involves total personal holocaust, that affects one’s body and all areas of life – is radical. As Canadian missiologist Jonathan Bonk has written, “True worship involves sacrificing that which is most dear to us.”13

Although contemporary writers on worship tend not to give much attention to it, latreia has historically often dominated the awareness of theologians; in fact, the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787 explicitly subordinated proskynesis to latreia, which it asserted is the “true worship of faith which alone pertains to the divine nature.”14

Worship: ascribing worth to God

But Greek words may seem beside the point; readers of this book do, after all, tend to think in English. What English word can we use that encompasses what we have seen so far - worship that is words and actions, that is emotionally heartfelt, that is the work of the people, that is full-bodied and emotionally expressive, that is radically sacrificial? If we probe the inner meaning of the English word worship, we find it surprisingly able to convey the large, all-encompassing meaning of the biblical words.

Of course, every language has its worship words. German has Gottesdienst (the service of God); Spanish has adoracion; Indonesian has kebaktian which combines meanings of adoration, loyalty and obedience – “adore-obey”. Each of these words holds out special possibilities. Each of them also has limitations that are inevitable given the size of the reality that we are asking this word to denote. As a single, short-hand, all-embracing word the English language has worship. This is a particularly strong word. Worship is an Old English compound, made up of weorth and scipe – worth/worthiness and create/ascribe. Ascribing worth – in the most basic sense, this is what humans do when they direct their lives towards God. When humans ascribe worth they reveal what it is that they ultimately value, what is most important to them. As the Hebrew prophets remind us, people worship what they trust for their security. They are like the merchant in Jesus’ parable who found treasure in a field: they worship what they will sell everything to get (Matt 11.44-46). They worship what they organize their lives around and what they are willing to die or kill for. As Philip Kenneson has written, “Every human life is an embodied argument about what things are worth doing . . . All human life is doxological” – of God or of something else.15

In light of this understanding of worship, every worshipper must ask whether our lives and our priorities ascribe worth to the God who has been revealed in Jesus Christ. Our words may ascribe worth to God but our life choices may indicate that our deepest concerns are estranged from those of God. The Old Testament prophets saw this and labeled it idolatry. They inveighed against it. The prophetic critique assumed that the covenantal relationship between God and Israel had two parts - God’s saving acts and God’s “call to ethical obedience.”16 Israel ceremonially repeated this foundational covenant at times of revival. The recitation of God’s acts and the people’s response in word and ceremony were “the essence of worship.”17

The Old Testament prophets were particularly alert to the constantly lurking temptation to trust in human sources of security. They were convinced that we worship what we trust; we ascribe worth to the sources that we rely upon for our comfort and security – wealth, oppression, and military strength (Is 30.12; 31.1; Hosea 10.13). Jesus, too, taught in this tradition: “No one can serve two masters; you cannot worship God and mammon” (Matt 6.24). Idolatry is thus not primarily the action of genuflecting to graven images; it is ascribing worth to God in words and cultic actions and then undercutting these by ascribing worth to other sources of security in our choices and commitments. Idolatry is, to quote Paul, “worshipping the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1.25).

Worship is for all of life

The vision of the biblical writers is deeply holistic. The biblical writers invite us to worship God – to ascribe worth to God - in all of life. For them there is no sacred/secular divide which confines worship to religious places or cultic acts. The latreia that Paul describes in Romans 12.1-2 involves the transformation of all aspects of the believers’ lives so that they will be conformed to Christ. And in the Hebrew Scriptures the prophets’ most terrifying warnings come to people place their trust in conventional sources of security. In the temple or assembly, with word and rite they proclaim that God is Lord; then, in their everyday activities, they ignore God’s law, defy God’s priorities and trust in their wealth and weaponry. Such people want God’s blessing without committing themselves to live in response to God’s saving acts. They think that by participating in the cult they can short-circuit the route to blessing. They do not need to behave according to God’s law. But, in the words of Nicholas Wolterstorff, “The authenticity of the liturgy is conditioned by the quality of the ethical life of those who participate.”18

God, according to Isaiah, could not “endure solemn assembles” of people whose lives were unjust and whose hands, lifted in prayer, were “full of blood”; when the worshippers refused to advocate for the oppressed, orphans and widows, God hid his eyes and would not listen (Isaiah 1.13-15). Similarly, in Jeremiah’s day the Israelites assumed that if they stood before God in the temple and engaged in cultic actions their nation would be secure – even if in their everyday life they oppressed immigrants and orphans and widows, shed innocent blood, and worshipped other Gods. Not so, said Jeremiah. When the worshippers do not live compassionately and justly, the temple is a “den of robbers” whose cultic acts God repudiates (Jeremiah 7.1-11). As both Isaiah and Jeremiah realized, there must be congruence in worship between the worshippers’ words that ascribe worth to God, and the worshippers’ lives which are conformed to the character, purpose and mission of the One whose worth they proclaim. Wolterstorff’s pithy phrase catches the prophetic vision: “not authentic liturgy unless justice.”19

Jesus of Nazareth, whom contemporaries often called a “prophet mighty in deed and word” (Luke 24.19), stood in this tradition. The distillation of his teaching, the “Sermon on the Mount”, ends with Jesus’ reflections on worship and life. Jesus was concerned that people would worship him – call him “Lord, Lord” – and “not do the will of my Father in heaven.” They would hear his words and not act on them. Their responses would be disastrous for them: in judgement Jesus would not recognize them; and their whole worlds would collapse (Matt 7.21-27). Jesus’ vision thus parallels that of the prophets: not authentic liturgy unless discipleship.

Where this congruence between word and life is lacking there is idolatry - false worship which God judges. Christian leaders across the centuries have often restated this theme. In mid-third century Carthage, for example, bishop Cyprian stated as one of 120 precepts to be memorized by catechumens (people being prepared for baptism): “That it is of small account to be baptized and to receive the Eucharist, unless one profits by it in both deeds and works.”20 In sixteenth-century Holland, the Anabaptist leader Menno Simons, on the run from the civil and religious authorities, berated the Protestant clerics:

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O preachers, dear preachers, where is the power of the Gospel you preach? . . . Shame on you for the easygoing gospel and barren bread-breaking, you who have in so many years been unable to effect enough with your gospel and sacraments so as to remove your needy and distressed members from the streets, even though the Scripture plainly teaches . . . [that] there shall be no beggars among you.21

There was, however, another way – the way of repentance which would make the words and behavior of the worshippers congruent with the character of God. According to Isaiah, God invited the people to “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Is 1.17); according to Jeremiah, God promises the people, “If you truly act justly . . . if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan and the widow . . . then I will dwell with you in this place” (Jer 7.5-7); according to John the revelator, God will reward his servants, both small and great, when they reverence God’s name and refrain from participating in “destroying the earth” (Rev 11.18). God’s people can repent by repudiating worship services which offer God brilliant music and solemn sacrifices without challenging their unjust living; “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5.24). Then, as God desired, the people will ascribe worth to God consistently, with integrity, in “lives offered up to the agenda of God.”22

Worship services must be in keeping with God’s character and mission

In worship, all of life is the point. All of life must be lived in keeping with God’s character and agenda. But the ritual events, although secondary, are also important.23 In lives that ascribe worth to God, there must be times of concentrated attention to God which we call “worship services”, or, in short, “worship”. These are not the sum total of worship, but they are an essential part of worship, both weekly and daily. They are essential because if we do not give God specific, dedicated times in which we verbally and ritually ascribe worth to God, we will soon not ascribe worth to God at all. As pastoral theologian Eugene Peterson has written, “Worship is the time and place that we assign for deliberate attentiveness to God – not because he’s confined to time and place, but because our self-importance is so insidiously relentless that if we don’t deliberately interrupt ourselves regularly, we have no chance of attending to him at all at other times and in other places.”24 So in this book, we insist that all of life is worship, but we also assume that dedicated cultic acts – these markers of life that we call worship services – are indispensable.

Why indispensable? Because in worship services we can, by God’s grace, encounter the God of life. This encounter is God’s gift. In fact, worship is not simply a human activity; it is “primarily something that God does.”25 The Holy Spirit is at work, taking the initiative, beckoning us to gather in God’s name.26 God’s voice speaks; Jesus is present in our midst; the Holy Spirit bestows gifts to heal our wounds, restore broken relationships, and empower us to participate in God’s mission. Worship is “the self-communication of the Triune God.”27

When we worship God we enter an environment of praise. We read the scripture and proclaim the Good News; we pray and sing and bring testimony; we share in the eucharist. And, even in our brokenness and sin, God graciously encounters us. Through these means God enables us to tell and retell the story of God and God’s people; God reorients us by the story; and God reforms our habits and re-reflexes our instinctive behavior. In short, as we worship God, God nourishes in us the character of worshippers – humility, trust, obedience. As we worship God, we experience what Gerhard Lohfink calls a “de-idolizing effect.”28 With new alertness we see the tools and instruments, the forces and institutions which cast God in our own image and “whose exacting demands elude scrutiny and technique” – and whose unwitting instruments we would be if it were not for worship.29 When we say “Jesus is Lord,” when we bow at his feet, we radically restrict the worth we ascribe to Caesar. And as people freed from the thrall of false gods, we respond by giving thanks to God and praising God, and by committing ourselves to live in light of God’s mission so that we flow with it and not impede it.

Speaking specifically of the Eucharist, J. G. Davies asserted that “one of the fruits of communion, i.e. growth in the likeness of Christ by the reception of his humanity, is identical with one of the goals of mission.” He continued, “To partake of Christ’s person in the eucharist is to be engaged in” the task of Christ’s mission.30 As we recall or enact certain historical events, we as worshippers become participants in the significance of those events. Since “the context of the divine acts was mission, . . . [so] our present evocation and participation in them includes us in the mission” of God.31

Of course, as the biblical writers warn us, the worship services themselves can be unjust – instruments of irrelevance and oppression that reflect the rebellious daily lives of the people. In his first letter to Corinth, Paul tells his Corinthian friends that the humiliating way that they organized their common meal kept it from being “the Lord’s supper” (1 Cor 11.20-22); in its injustice it stood in the way of God’s mission. Without justice there was no worship. Similarly, when Jesus in the last days of his life entered the Jerusalem Temple, he encountered a worship system that was functioning efficiently but actually was blocking God’s mission. Its cultic enterprise zone in the court of the Gentiles excluded the outsiders and oppressed the poor. Quoting Jeremiah and Isaiah, Jesus exclaimed: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11.17).32 In anger Jesus upset the tables of the Temple bureaux de change and drove out the sellers of animals. Dramatically and offensively, Jesus indicated that, even in this holy place, without justice there could be no worship. The worship of God must not only be in harmony with the entire lives of the worshippers; the acts of worship themselves must also be in harmony with the mission of God. That mission is just and peaceable.

Worship services reveal the character and purposes of God

This, indeed, is the point: in worship we encounter our God, Creator and Redeemer, and in this encounter God’s character and purposes shape us. As we shall see in chapter 3, the God whom we worship is passionately committed to moving history in a particular direction, towards cosmic, creation-encompassing, unimaginable reconciliation. In Christendom, in which rulers and peasants were both Christian, Christians assumed that Christ’s rule had already been realized and that the established order had been divinely ordained. After Christendom we are aware that the world – both the world of Christendom and the world of post-Christendom that is succeeding it - is deeply flawed and marked by rebellion and idolatry.

But formed by worship and the story of God that we recount and enact in worship, we confess that God is committed to a different kind of world, whose future will be realized by alternative means. Through Christ, according to a lyrical passage in the letter to the Colossians, God will reconcile to himself “all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1.20). By suffering, by servanthood God has worked and is working to bring about reconciliation of people with God, of people with their enemies, of people with the created order. This is God’s mission – to bring right relationships in every area of life, to make multidimensional shalom. In post-Christendom, in which the world is in God’s control and not the control of the emperor Justinian or of the Norfolk gentry or of us, mission will therefore be central to the life and preoccupation of God’s people. We cannot participate in mission without worship. We’re not strong enough or clever enough. But when we respond to the Holy Spirit and in our weakness assemble for worship, the Spirit meets us in our need and equips us to live towards God’s vision. This is why “the very act of assembly is part of the mission of God.”33 As we attune ourselves to God’s mission and align ourselves with God’s purposes we will ascribe worth to God. We will discover, in all of life, that worship and mission belong together.

So how do we evaluate the worship services of our churches? Not by the expertise and correctness with which they are led; not by the emotions they elicit or the way they move our hearts; not by the way they break through the “culture barrier” by employing “the language, music, style, architecture, and art forms of the target population”;34 not by their pizzazz, which certain English Evangelicals call the “wow factor.”35 Rather, we will ask – does the worship of our churches ascribe worth to the missional God? Does our worship give space to the Holy Spirit who equips God’s people to take part in God’s mission? And we will ask, with Baptist theologian Stephen Holmes, whether is it possible that a God who “is properly described as ‘missionary’ . . . can only be worshipped by a missionary church?”36

Endnotes

1 Wilbert R. Shenk, Write the Vision: The Church Renewed. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1995, 51-52.
2 For photos of the Ravenna mosaics see: http://www.greatbuildings.com/cgi-bin/gbi.cgi/San_Vitale.html/cid_aj3037...
3 Codex Iustinianus 1.11.10, cited in Alan Kreider, "Violence and Mission in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries." International Bulletin of Missionary Research 31.3 (2007), 130.
4 For photos of this church, see www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/tivetshallmargaret/tivetshallmargaret.htm
5 J. Andrew Kirk, What is Mission? Theological Explorations. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, 187.
6 W.D. Maxwell, An Outline of Christian Worship. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936, 1.
7 Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004, 112.
8 Sally Morgenthaler, Worship Evangelism. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995, 23, 31.
9 Everett Ferguson, The Churches of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 208ff; C.F.D. Moule, Worship in the New Testament, Grove Liturgical Study 12/13. Nottingham: Grove Books, 1983, 74-76; I. Howard Marshall, How far did the early Christians worship God? Churchman 99 (1985), 216-229.
10 Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society. Downer's Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, 174. 
11 Miguel A. Palomino and Samuel Escobar, “Worship and Culture in Latin America,” in Charles E. Farhadian, ed, Christian Worship Worldwide: Expanding Horizons, Deepening Practices. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2007, 126.
12 Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, “Living the Word,” Christian Century, August 26, 2008, 20.
13 Jonathan J. Bonk, Missions and Money. revised ed, American Society of Missiology Series, 15. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006, 147.
14 Second Council of Nicaea (787), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd ser, 14, p 550; cf Augustine, City of God, 10.1.
15 Philip Kenneson, “Gathering: Worship, Imagination and Formation,” in Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells, eds. The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006, 54.
16 Nicholas Wolterstorff, "Justice as a Condition of Authentic Liturgy." Theology Today (1991), 14.
17 Millard Lind, Biblical Foundations for Christian Worship. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1973, 25.
18 Wolterstorff, "Justice as a Condition of Authentic Liturgy," 9, 16.
19 Ibid, 12. See also Christopher Marshall, The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2005, 30: “In the absence of justice . . . religious performances merely nauseate God.”
20 Cyprian, Ad Quirinum 3.26.
21 Menno Simons, “Reply to False Accusations” (1552), in Complete Writings, ed. J.C. Wenger. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956, 559.
22 Doug Pagitt, cited in Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger. Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005, 231.
23 John Witvliet, “Series Preface,” in Farhadian, Christian Worship Worldwide, xiii.
24 Eugene H. Peterson, Leap over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, 152-153.
25 J.G. Davies, Worship and Mission. London: SCM Press, 1966, 71.
26 Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, 17-18.
27 Michael B. Aune, "Liturgy and Theology: Rethinking the Relationship - Part II." Worship 81.2 (2007), 167.
28 Gerhard Lohfink, Does God Need the Church? Toward a Theology of the People of God. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999, 217.
29 Bob Goudzwaard, Bob, Mark Vander Vennen, and David Van Heemst. Hope in Troubled Times: A New Vision for Confronting Global Crises. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007, 44.
30 J. G. Davies, Worship and Mission, 97-8
31 Ibid., 106
32 Jesus was quoting Isaiah 56.7; Jeremiah 7.11.
33 Thomas Schattauer, ed., Inside Out: Worship in an Age of Mission. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999, 3.
34 George G. Hunter III, "The Case for Culturally Relevant Congregations." In Global Good News: Mission in a New Context, edited by Howard Snyder. Nashville: Abingdon, 2001, 98.
35 David W. Bebbington, "Evangelicals and Public Worship, 1965-2005." Evangelical Quarterly 79.1 (2007), 17.
36 Stephen R. Holmes, "Trinitarian Missiology: Towards a Theology of God as Missionary." International Journal of Systematic Theology 8.1 (2006), 89.



Anabaptist Links

These are links to Anabaptist related organizations sorted by subject. The Anabaptist Network is not responsible for content of these sites, nor does our listing of them constitute an endorsement. Not all Anabaptists think alike.

To see all these links in one page click here.

Anabaptist Denominations and Groups

New Anabaptist Communities

Pax Min

Amish, Hutterites, and Conservative Groups

Amish - general information about the Amish
Amish.net - a directory of sites dedicated to Amish culture, history, products, and tourism services
Amish - from Third Way Cafe
The Amish - detailed profile of Amish beliefs, history, and current controversies
The Amish - links to sites
Amish Beginnings - concise history of Amish beginnings in Europe
The Amish: Beliefs, Practices and Conflicts
TheAmish, the Mennonites, and the Plain People - questions and answers about Amish, Mennonites, Brethren, and other "Plain People" of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country
Brethren, Schwenkfelders, and Other Plain People
Bruderhof
- profile of Bruderhof history and beliefs
Bruderhof- from Third Way Cafe
Bruderhof Communities - official homepage for the Bruderhof
Dunkard Brethren Church
Elmendorf Christian Community - based in Minnesota, an independent Hutterite colony
The Hutterian Brethren - strict religious sect - history, beliefs, and contemporary practices
The Hutterian Brethren - homepage of the Schmiedeleut branch of Hutterites
A Day with The Hutterian Brethren - an article in Anabaptism Today on the Hutterian Brethren community in the UK
Hutterites - history and beliefs
National Committee For Amish Religious Freedom - to defend and preserve the religious freedom of the Old Order Amish religion in the United States
Old Order Mennonites - from Third Way Cafe
Origins of the Old Order Amish - from the National Committee For Amish Religious Freedom
The Plain People of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
Shunning/The Ban - from Third Way Cafe

Anabaptist History

General

The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
- an extensive collection of articles and texts
Amsterdam
- from Mennonite Encyclopedia
Anabaptism
- in depth look at Reformation-era Anabaptist history and theology
Anabaptism
Conversation
- responses to books and articles on Anabaptist
history

Anabaptism
in 16th Century Europe
- Church of the Brethren webpage -
helpful links at bottom of page

Anabaptist - Article on Anabaptist origins in Wikipedia (a free encyclopedia), including extensive links and references
Anabaptist/Mennonite
History
- Anabaptist history and contemporary Anabaptist
groups

The
Anabaptist Movement

Anabaptist
Origins
- Swiss Mennonite Cultural and Historical Association
- extract from The European History of the Swiss Mennonites from
Volhynia

The
Anabaptists
- summary of Anabaptism and description of main
beliefs - useful links at bottom of page
Bern
- from Mennonite Encyclopedia
The
Catholic and Protestant Reformations
- from Mennonite
Encyclopedia
The
Causes of the Early "Palatine" Emigrations
-
excerpted from Early Palatine Emigration, Walter Allen
Knittle, 1937
The
Character of the Anabaptists
- from A History of the Baptists, Volume I by John T. Christian
Charlie's
Heretics History Tour
- geographical and chronological
presentation of Amish, Cathars, Hussites, Hutterites, Jews,
Mennonites, Unitarians, & Waldensians
The
Counter-Cultural Nature of Discipleship
- House Church
Central website - Anabaptist history in context of contemporary House
Church theology

The
European Origin of the Church of the Brethren
- Anabaptist
origins, the rise of Pietism, and early Brethren leaders

The
German Palatinate
- from Mennonite Encyclopedia
Historical
Roots of Mennonites and Amish
- from Third Way Cafe
Hoover, Peter - The
Secret of the Strength: What Would the Anabaptists Tell This
Generation?
- Hoover's book online in its entirety- detailed
exploration of 16th century Anabaptist teachings and their
contemporary relevance
Mennonite
History

Old
World Background of the Pennsylvania Dutch
- excerpted
from Pennsylvania Dutch Cookery, J. George Frederick, 1935
Oxford
Hypertext Project for Baptist and Anabaptist Resources
-
collection of documents related to Baptist and Anabaptist history
The
Radical Reformation
- in depth study of the Radical
Reformation drawn from The Protestant Reformation by Scott
Dixon & Mark Greengrass
Radical
Reformation - Advanced Information
- descriptions of Swiss,
South German and Low Countries Anabaptism, as well as Spiritualists
and Evangelical Rationalists
The
Radicals of the Reformation
- Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and
Evangelical Rationalists

Thirty
Years War
- from Mennonite Encyclopedia
What
is Anabaptism?
- from Anabaptist Network website
Zurich
- from Mennonite Encyclopedia

Historical Figures and Events of the Radical Reformation

Balthasar
Hübmaier
- 1480-1528 - House Church Central website

Balthasar
Hübmaier
- quotes Hübmaier
on baptism, free will, religious liberty, and the sword

Charisma and History: The Case of Münster, Westphalia, 1534-1535 - an article from Essays in History
Church
and State in Conflict: Hubmaier confronts Catholics and Reformers

Felix
Manz
- c. 1498-1527
Hans
Denck
- 1495-1527
Jacob
Hutter
- d. 1536
Melchior
Hoffman
(c. 1495-1543) & the Melchiorites
Menno
Simons
- 1496-1561
Menno
Simons
- from Mennonite Historical Society of Canada
Menno
Simons Biography
- from Church of the Brethren website

Menno
Simons, Fugitive Leader
- from Christian History Institute
Menno
Simons
- from Victor Shepherd’s Heritage page
Menno
Simonsz Biography

Menno on the Net - A catalogue of web pages about Menno Simons
Michael
Sattler
- 1490-1527 - includes
account of Sattler's trial and execution from Martyrs Mirror

Michael
Sattler biography

Michael
Sattler, Anabaptist Martyr
- three extended excerpts on Michael Sattler including one from Mennonites In Europe by John Horsch
Münster Rebellion - an article in Wikipedia describing the Anabaptist uprising in Münster
Peter
Riedeman
- d. 1556
Radical Reformation, The - site includes brief descriptions and photos of the people, events, and locations relating to the Radical Reformation
Radical Reformation - article discussing the various groups and regions involved in the Radical Reformation
Radical Reformation: Resources - includes bibliography and links to other on-line resources

Spiritualists and Other Reformers

Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig -1489-1561 - links to resources on the influential radical reformer from the Schwenkfelder library
Reformation Theologians - Short biographies including Hübmaier, Marpeck, Müntzer, Zwingli, Menno
Ulrich Zwingli- 1481-1531 - information on key figure in the Swiss magisterial reformation

Primary Documents and Texts

1517-1525: The Beginnings of Anabaptism - excerpt from The Chronicle of the HutterianBrethren - 1665

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith - important Dutch Mennonite conference held at Dordrecht, Holland in 1632

A Foundation and Plain Instruction of the Saving Doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ - Menno Simons - 1539

Renunciation of the Church of Rome - Menno Simons - 1554

The Schleitheim Confession - 1527 - seminal Swiss Brethren statement of faith

Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, Church of England - 1563 - Article 38, 'Of Christian men's good which are not common', explicitly denounces Anabaptism

The Net of Faith - Precursor of the Moravian Brethren Peter Chelcicky's The Net of Faith, written in 1433

True Baptism Hans Hut - c. 1527

Martyrs Mirror

Anabaptist Martyrs History - photos and brief summaries of stories from the Martyrs Mirror

The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror - selected stories from the Martyrs Mirror

Dirk Willems - well-known story of Anabaptist martyr

Martyrs Mirror Images - reproductions of all the Jan Luiken etchings from the 1685 edition

Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians - the entire Martyrs Mirror online

The Mirror of the Martyrs Exhibit - information about the Martyrs
Mirror traveling exhibit, with monthly martyr story

General Information

Anabaptism:
The Basic Beliefs
- from Canadian Conference of Mennonite
Brethren Churches


Anabaptist
definitions from various encyclopedias


Anabaptists.org
- information on Anabaptist history and beliefs from a conservative
viewpoint - includes primary sources and historical writings


The
Brethren
- profile of Brethren history and different Brethren
groups


Brethren
Groups
- Historical overview of several Brethren
groups, including Moravian Brethren, Hutterian Brethren, Dunkard
Brethren, Brethren in Christ, and Mennonite Brethren


Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online


Mennonite
Brethren: Tell Me About Them
- from Canadian Conference of
Mennonite Brethren Churches


Mennonites
- history, beliefs, and current issues and controversies


Third
Way Cafe
- from Mennonite Media:
       
Basic
Beliefs

       
A
Brief History

       
Excerpts
from the book From Anabaptist Seed

       
Frequently
Asked Questions About Mennonites

       
Mennonite
Stew
- glossary of terms related to things Mennonite


Who
are the Mennonites?
- from Mennonite Church USA

Links Pages

These are other lists of Anabaptist/Mennonite links:
Mennolink Mennonite Information Service - extensive links to Mennonite and Anabaptist sites

Mennonite-Amish Connections on the WWW - excellent links page

Radical Reformation Links - summaries of links to Anabaptist sites

Writings on Christian Non-resistance and Pacifism from Anabaptist-Mennonite Sources - thorough listing of Anabaptist writings on peace and non-violence

Bibliographies

Bibliography of Anabaptist Materials (16th Century) - extensive list of
primary sources from Mennonite Quarterly Review

Books About Anabaptism - from Anabaptist Network
Brethren Bibliography - list of publications and online materials
The Classics of the Radical Reformation - book series providing primary works in English of 16th century Anabaptist & Radical Reformation figures

Mennonite Historical Library Bibliography - Anabaptist-Mennonite works acquisitions up to 1991 at Canadian Mennonite Bible College, arranged thematically:


  1. Bibliographies

  2. General
    historical works

  3. Anabaptism


    1. Primary works

    2. Secondary works


  4. Mennonites around the world


    1. France

    2. The Netherlands

    3. Germany-Poland-Prussia

    4. Russia-Soviet Union

    5. North America

    6. United
      States

    7. Canada

    8. Latin
      America

    9. Asia

    10. Africa


  5. Mennonite Conferences
    (Associations)


    1. Amish

    2. Hutterites

    3. MCC

    4. Mennonite
      World Conference

    5. Others


  6. Mennonite life and thought


    1. Pacifism

    2. Ethics
      - general

    3. Theology

    4. Biblical
      interpretations

    5. General


  7. Genealogies
    and family histories

  8. Community
    and congregational histories (N. America)

  9. Novels,
    biographies, poetry & other literary works

  10. Music
    and worship

  11. Cookbooks


The Mennonites: A Brief Guide to Information - topical
bibliography from Bethel College

The
Mennonites and their Contributions to World Peace
- lists internet & traditional print resources.
Note: This site is no longer active, the link provided is to a static archive of the old site, so many of the links on the page no longer function.

Mennonites: Suggested Basic Bibliography - covers aspects such as
beliefs, history, lifestyles, ethnicity, and culture

Nonviolence, Peace, and Justice

And No One Shall Make Them Afraid - A Mennonite Statement and Study on Violence
Bienenberg Declaration - five characteristics of a peace church
Brethren Nonviolence - Church of the Brethren website on nonviolence
Bruderhof Peacemakers Guide - A collection of brief biographies and quotes from a wide variety of peacemakers, both famous and obscure
A Christian Declaration on Peace, War, and Military Service - the position of the General Conference Mennonite Church on love and nonresistance - 1953. 
Christian Peacemaker Teams UK - CPT is committed to following the nonviolent way of Jesus and offers an organized alternative to war and other forms of lethal inter-group conflict
Christians and War - Some Biblical Perspectives - from Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches
Church and Peace Memorandum for discussion at the Second European Ecumenical Assembly - 1997
Every Church a Peace Church - provides a platform for discussion, to encourage the dissemination of ideas and concepts,and to become a powerful communications tool for the Every Church A Peace Church concept
A Peace Church - from Third Way Cafe

Peace Church Bible Study Home Page - focused on historic peace churches and scripture
Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance - article 22 from Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective - 1995
The Peace Making Commitment of the Mennonite Central Committee - defining peace and peacemaking, biblical roots of peace position, Anabaptist beliefs and peacemaking, North American Mennonite experience, integrating peacemaking into relief, service and development
Peacenik.co.uk - an internet service provider and email service that contributes £1 per month per customer to peace and justice related causes.
Prayer I58 - A radical Christian-based anti-authoritarian network inspired by Isaiah 58.
Project Plowshares - ecumenical peace centre of the Canadian Council of Churches
Resources for Peace - links and information on peace and nonviolence
Seniors For Peace - essays, bibliographies, and links centred around peace issues
Why Peace? - links and writings on Mennonites and peace

Organisations

Peace and Justice

Christian Peacemaker Teams - committed to reducing violence by "Getting in the Way" - active peacemaking rooted in spirituality
Church and Peace - brings together groups, communities, organisations and churches committed to becoming the peace church of Jesus Christ in daily life and action.
Global Anabaptist Peace and Justice Network - helps Anabaptist churches encourage each other and pray for peace - sponsored by Mennonite World Conference
Mennonite Central Committee - relief, service and peace agency of the North American Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches
Mennonite Church USA Peace & Justice Support Network- resources for study, witness and worship
Mennonite Disaster Service - response orgainsation that connects volunteers with disaster victims in need
Mennonite Economic Development Association - association of Christians in business who seek to bring hope, opportunity and economic well being to low income people around the world through a business-oriented approach to development

Mission

Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission - evangelical partnership through which six North American Mennonite Conferences work to promote mission in Africa
Center for Anabaptist Leadership - Urban mission agency based in Pasadena, California
Christian Witness - mission program of Mennonite Church Canada
Eastern Mennonite Missions - mission agency of Lancaster Mennonite Conference
Intermenno - one year exchange program, administered by the Intermenno Committees of Europe, for young people to spend a year in Europe
Mennonite Brethren Missions and Service - mission agency of the US and Canadian Mennonite Brethren church
Mennonite Mission Network - mission agency of Mennonite Church USA
Mennonitische Hilfswerk - German Mennonite mission site

Theology

Anabaptist Scholars - a network of scholars working from within the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition, which requires an annual subscription fee to join
Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective -  adopted by the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church in 1995, now used by Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA
Faith in a Fragmenting World - Columns by Adela McKay
John Howard Yoder’s Home Page - online selection of Yoder's unpublished, out-of-print and hard-to-find writings
Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith

Mennonite Confession of Faith - brief version of the confession of faith adopted by Mennonite General Conference in 1963
Mennonite Stew - dictionary of terms related to things Mennonite, including Mennonite doctrinal positions
Mennonites and Missions - from Third Way Cafe

UK Links

General

Bruderhof Communities in the UK - communitarian Anabaptist groups
Church Net UK - extensive list of churches, Christian organisations and resources
CTBI - Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
Ekklesia - not-for-profit think-tank which works to promote theological ideas in the public square
Greenbelt Festival - UK Christian arts festival
Iona Community - ecumenical Christian community
emphasising spirituality, peace and justice
Leaving Münster - a mini-portal to a number of Resources on following Jesus in a post-christendom world (including a blog recording lessons learned and mistakes made along the way).
Living Word Library - London based guide to Christian web resources
London Mennonite Centre - rooted in the Anabaptist tradition, cultivating Christian discipleship as a way of life:


New Way of Being Church - creating processes for transformation in church and world
Simon Barrow - Theology and More... - Secretary of CCOM and Assistant General Secretary of CTBI - links to Simon's writings on issues of theology and society, religion and current affairs, and to related organisations

UK Christian Handbook - online version of UK Christian directory
Wood Green Mennonite Church - Mennonite Church in London
Anabaptist Studies - Lloyd Pietersen's Anabaptist studies blog
Workshop - national leadership and discipleship training programme

Mission

BIAMS
- British and Irish Association for Mission Studies
CCOM
- Churches' Commission on Mission - part of Churches Together in
Britain and Ireland (CTBI)
Urban
Expression
- church planting initiative in
East London with an Anabaptist perspective
YWAM
- Youth With a Mission UK

Peace and Justice

Bradford
Department of Peace Studies
- important and well known centre for
peace studies
Christian
Aid
- agency
of the churches in the UK and Ireland, works wherever the need is
greatest, irrespective of religion
Christian
Ecology Link
- multi
denominational UK Christian movement for people concerned about the
environment
Church
Action on Poverty
- national ecumenical Christian social justice
charity, committed to tackling poverty in the UK
Churches
Criminal Justice Forum
- inter-denominational
network designed to uphold Christian values in the field of criminal
justice
Council
on Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament
-
believe that Christianity has a part to play in the debate about
peace and security in today's world
Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland
- formerly ECONI
Environmental
Issues Network
- deals
with issues relating to the environment and the world
Traidcraft
- leading fair trade organisation in the UK
SPEAK - a
network connecting the emerging generation to campaign and pray on
issues of global justice

Periodicals, Publishers & Booksellers

Periodicals

Anabaptism Today - journal of the Anabaptist Network
Brotherhood Beacon - publication of the Conservative Mennonite Conference
Canadian Mennonite - publication for Mennonite Church Canada
Conrad Grebel Review - interdisciplinary journal of Christian inquiry devoted to thoughtful discussion of spirituality, ethics, theology and culture from a broadly-based Mennonite perspective
Correo/Courier/Courrier - provides news, feature articles, essays and testimony for Anabaptist-Mennonites around the world - Spanish, English, and French editions
Direction - publication supported by Mennonite Brethren higher education institutions in the US and Canada addressing biblical, theological, historical, ethical, and church-related issues
The Mennonite - bi-monthly publication of Mennonite Church USA
Mennonite Brethren Herald - publication of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches
Mennonite Historian
Mennonite Life - illustrated quarterly, published by Bethel College devoted to exploring and developing Mennonite experience
Mennonite Quarterly Review - quarterly journal devoted to Anabaptist-Mennonite history, thought, life and affairs
Mennonite Weekly Review - internet edition - inter-Mennonite weekly publication
Mennonot - "alternative" Mennonite publication published on an irregular basis, dedicated to those invisible masses called Mennos on the Margins
The Messenger - publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference
Sojourner's Magazine - Radical Discipleship Magazine
Third Way Magazine - Christian thinking on politics, society and culture

Booksellers

Anabaptist Bookstore Online - online source for books by conservative Mennonite writers and publishers
Mennolink Books and Music - online selection of Mennonite books
Metanoia Book Service - book service of the London Mennonite Centre

Publishers

Good Books - publishes a variety of books on topics related to Mennonites and Amish
Herald Press - publishes books from a Mennonite-Anabaptist perspective
Pandora Press - publishes reasonably-priced books dealing with Anabaptist, Mennonite, Hutterite, and Believers Church topics, both historical and theological
Faith Builders Publishing - an Anabaptist publisher

Colleges, Universities, and Research Centers

Central and South America

Europe

Le Centre de Conférence et de Rencontre Bienenberg - Anabaptist seminary in Switzerland
Spurgeon’s College – London

Canada

Canadian Mennonite University - Winnipeg, Manitoba
Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies - Winnipeg, Manitoba
Conrad Grebel University - Waterloo, Ontario

Mennonite Historical Society of Canada - includes the Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
Steinbach Bible College - Steinbach, Manitoba
Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre

Articles and Essays

Discipleship, Mission, & Theology

Barrett, Lois - Thinking Theologically about Church and State

Barrow, Simon - Beyond the Ties That Bind: Anglicans, Anabaptists and Disestablishment
Barrow, Simon - Experiencing the Threat of New Wine
Bender, Harold - The Anabaptist Vision

Clapp, Rodney - Anabaptism and the Obstacles That Make for Vocation

Climenhaga, Daryl - Missions and Anabaptism

Finger, Thomas - Confessions of Faith in the Anabaptist/Mennonite Tradition
Friedmann, Robert - Anabaptist Theology

Friesen, Duane K. - Artists, Citizens, Philosophers: Seeking the Shalom of the City - An Anabaptist Theology of Culture
Friesen, John J. - Review and Discussion: Recent Studies on Anabaptist Spirituality (pdf)
Hauerwas, Stanley - Confessions of a Mennonite Camp Follower
Hays, Richard B. - Embodying the Gospel in Community

Hershberger, Michele - The Baptism Ritual in a Postmodern World
Hiebert, Frances F. - The Atonement in Anabaptist Theology
Janzen, John - Anabaptist-Mennonite Spaces and Places of Worship
Keener, Joseph - Separation of Church and State

Klassen, Walter - Anabaptist Hermeneutics
Kreider, Alan - Conversion and Christendom: An Anabaptist Perspective
Kreider, Alan - Initiation: Becoming Resident Aliens
Marshall, Christopher D. - Atonement, Violence and the Will of God: A Sympathetic Response to J. Denny Weaver's The Nonviolent Atonement
Marshall, Christopher D. - Following Christ in Life: The Anabaptist-Mennonite Tradition
Martens, Larry - Anabaptist Theology and Congregational Care

McClendon, James Wm. - The Radical Road One Baptist Took

Old, Graham - The Day God Turned His Cheek
Perry, John - Not Pledging as Liturgy: Lessons from Karl Barth and American Mennonites on Refusing National Oaths

Refocusing a Vision: Shaping Anabaptist Character in the 21st Century - essays on the continued relevance of Harold Bender’s "Anabaptist Vision" in the 21st century:


Rempel, John - Mennonite Worship: A Multitude of Practices Looking for a Theology
Roth, John D. - A Historical and Theological Context for Mennonite-Lutheran Dialogue
Rowland, Christopher - Anabaptism and Radical Christianity
Schenk, Wilbert R. - The Priority of Mission for Renewal of the Church
Schipani, Daniel - John Howard Yoder: Teacher of the World Church

Schlabach, Gerald W. - Beyond Two- versus One-Kingdom Theology: Abrahamic Community as a Mennonite Paradigm for Christian Engagement in Society

Schlabach, Gerald W. - Faithfulness, Temptation and the Deuteronomic Juncture: Is Constantinianism the Most Basic Problem for Christian Social Ethics?

Schlabach, Gerald W. - Guy F. Hershberger and Reinhold Niebuhr on Christian Love: Will the Real Augustinian Please Stand Up?

Schwartz, Glenn J. - Cultural Implications of the Anabaptist Movement Today
Sider, J. A. - A Light to Enlighten the Nations
Snyder, C. Arnold - Spiritual Empowerment Toward Discipleship
Stoltzfus, Ruth Brunk - What Does Discipleship Mean?
Swartley, Willard M. - The Church and Homosexuality: Review Essay
Wenger, J. C. - Our Christ-Centered Faith

Nonviolence, Peace and Justice

Burkholder, J. R. - On the gospel of peace and becoming a peace church

Charles, J. Robert - The Varieties of Mennonite Peacemaking: A Review Essay
Claassen, Ron - Measuring Restorative Justice
Claassen, Ron - The Myth of Redemptive Violence
Claassen, Ron - Restorative Justice: Fundamental Principles

Claassen, Ron - What is Forgiveness?
Claassen, Ron - What is Restorative Justice?
Davis, Dick - What If Every Church Had Been a Peace Church?
Elam, Jennifer and Chuck Fager - Renewing our Peace Witness: What Quakers can Learn from Mennonites

Epp-Tiessen, Esther - Why I am a Pacifist
Friesen, Duane K. - Christian Pacifism and September 11
Grimsrud, Ted - A Pacifist Way of Knowing: Postmodern Sensibilities and Peace Theology
Horsch, John - The Principle of Nonresistance

Horst, Paul - Nonresistance and Nonparticipation in Civil Government
Lederach, John Paul - Becoming the Enemy
Lederach, John Paul - The Challenge of Terror: A Traveling Essay
Miller, David B. - Peace and Faith: Antiwar activism and Christianity have been hand-in-hand for centuries

Roth, John D. - Reflections on a Tragedy

Ruth-Heffelbower, Duane - Toward a Christian Theology of Church and Society as it Relates to Restorative Justice
Shank, Duane - War in Afghanistan: Was It Just?
Shelly, Karl - To Witness for Peace in a Time of War
Stoltzfus, Vic - Paul was Patriotic

Swartley, Willard M. - The Christian and the Payment of Taxes Used for War
Theology and Culture: Peacemaking in a Globalized World - papers from 2001 International Historic Peace Church Consultation - includes:


Wenger, J. C. - Pacifism and Biblical Nonresistance

Yoder, John Howard -


Yoder, John Howard - The Just War Tradition:

History

Arnold, Eberhard - The
Early Anabaptists

Bair, Mark - Anabaptism
and Missions

Bender, Harold S. - Mennonite
Origins and the Mennonites of Europe

Biesecker-Mast, Gerald - Anabaptist
Separation and Arguments Against the Sword in the Schleitheim
Brotherly Union

Peter Erb - The
Life and Thought of Caspar Schwenkfeld

Feuerhahn, Ronald R. - The
Roots and Fruits of Pietism

Friesen, Abraham - Anabaptism
and the Great Commission

Gross, Leonard - Anabaptist/Mennonite
Group Dynamics

Howard, Tal - Charisma
and History: The Case of Münster, Westphalia, 1534-1535

Jecker, Hanspeter - "Test
Everything; Hold Fast to What is Good": How Menno Caused a
Reformed Pastor to Travel from Murten to Moravia

Kyle, Richard G. - John
Knox Confronts the Anabaptists: The Intellectual Aspects of His
Encounter

Lowry, James W. - Pieter
Jansz Twisck on Biblical Interpretation

Nelson, Stanley A. - The
Anabaptist Story

Oyer, John S. - Nicodemites
Among Württemberg Anabaptists

Reid, Mark - The
contribution of Menno Simons to the development of Dutch Anabaptism

Rempel, John D. - The
Lord’s Supper in Mennonite Tradition

Roth, John D. - The
Mennonites' Dirty Little Secret: what Christians could learn from
Menno Simons and how he rescued the Anabaptist movement

Schmölz-Häberlein, Michaela and Mark Häberlein -
Eighteenth-Century
Anabaptists in the Margravate of Baden and Neighboring Territories

Scott, Elizabeth - Anabaptists:
Separate By Choice, Marginal By Force

Snyder, Arnold - Revolution and the Swiss Brethren: the Case of Michael Sattler
Vedder, H. C. - A Short
History of the Baptists

Wenger, J. C. - Even Unto Death:
The Heroic Witness of The Sixteenth-Century Anabaptist

Yoder, John Howard - Original
Source Readings from the 'Anabaptist' Movements of the Sixteenth
Century in Germanic Europe

Anabaptist Blogs

Leaving Münster - Leaving Münster: an experiment in Anabaptist spirituality in a post-Christian world

Young Anabaptist Radicals - A loose affiliation of self-identified young Anabaptist radicals

Other Networks

Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand
doug.sewell@tpg.com.au
hhttp://www.anabaptist.asn.au/

The AAANZ is a network and resource for keeping in touch with the Anabaptist movement in Australia and New Zealand. A newsletter called ON THE ROAD is produced quarterly and is distributed mostly on-line. Regional support groups are forming and a national conference is planned to be held every eighteen months. Two pastoral workers carry out the goals of the asssociation under the direction of an executive committee that meets in a phone conference monthly, covering the six times zones from Auckland, New Zealand to Perth, Australia.

Anabaptist Network in South Africa
hhttp://www.anisa.org.za/

ANISA is an emerging Anabaptist network in South Africa, which produces a regular news bulletin.

An emerging network. For further information, contact Jonas Melin: jonas@mariannelund.nu

Anabaptist Network in Scandanavia

hhttp://www.anabaptist.nu/

Articles

From time to time articles on topics of interest will be added to this section.

Centre For Anabaptist Studies

Bristol Baptist College, the Anabaptist Network and the Mennonite Trust are partners in the Centre for Anabaptist Studies, based at the college in Bristol, which was launched in October 2014.

In recent years the Anabaptist vision has inspired Christians from many traditions as we face the challenges of post-Christendom and offered fresh insights on peace and justice, faith and politics, hospitality and community, church and mission, discipleship and biblical interpretation.

But there are currently few opportunities or resources for studying Anabaptist history and theology in the UK. We hope that the Centre for Anabaptist Studies will fill this gap.

In 2014 Bristol Baptist College inherited the library of the Mennonite Trust, the foremost collection of Anabaptist resources in the country. The college has access to scholars with the expertise to supervise research, produce further resources and develop programmes at various levels. The Anabaptist Network and the Mennonite Trust are the main connecting points for people in the UK interested in the Anabaptist vision and also have relationships with Anabaptist scholars in other parts of the world.

The work of the Centre will include:

* Public lectures and other events in Bristol
* Webinars accessible from anywhere in the world
* MA modules on Anabaptism
* Supervision of postgraduate research
* Maintaining and updating the Mennonite Trust library
* Visits from overseas Anabaptist scholars
* Projects in partnership with others

The founding director of the Centre is Dr Stuart Murray Williams, previously chair of the Anabaptist Network, currently chair of the Mennonite Trust and the author of The Naked Anabaptist, whose doctorate was in Anabaptist hermeneutics.

Honorary fellows of the college, who will contribute to the work of the Centre, include Dr Lloyd Pietersen, Dr Ruth Gouldbourne and Dr Linda Wilson.

Annual Lectures

The inaugural lecture of the Centre for Anabaptist Studies (on 8 October 2014) was given by visiting Canadian Mennonite scholar, Professor Tom Yoder Neufeld. His subject was 'Anabaptists, the Bible and Violence’. An audio recording of this lecture is available on request from anabaptist@bristol-baptist.ac.uk.

The second annual lecture will be on Wednesday 18 November 2015 at Bristol Baptist College. It will be given by Dr Toivo Pilli, whose subject will be 'Anabaptists, the Bible and Discipleship'. Further information from from anabaptist@bristol-baptist.ac.uk.

MA Modules

The Centre for Anabaptist Studies offers five MA modules:

* Anabaptist Origins and Distinctives
* Anabaptist Ecclesiology and Missiology
* Anabaptist Ethics and Hermeneutics
* Pilgram Marpeck
* Menno Simons' Foundation of Christian Doctrine

Alongside these there isa module on research methodology and students will also be expected to write a dissertation on an Anabaptist topic. The MA can be taken over 1, 2 or 3 years. A Postgraduate Diploma will also be available, consisting of the taught elements of the MA without the dissertation, and we hope to introduce a Postgraduate Certificate, consisting of three modules. In addition, any of the modules can simply be audited (studied for interest).

These modules will be taught in two modes: in block weeks to enable students living some distance from the college to attend, and online for students beyond reach of the college.

The first two modules will be taught on the following dates:

February 15-19: Anabaptist Origins and Distinctives
April 11-15: Anabaptist Ethics and Hermeneutics

Further information at www.bristol-baptist.ac.uk/study-centres/anabaptist-study-centre/.

Research Supervision

Bristol Baptist College offers postgraduate research supervision (MPhil, MLitt and PhD). The director and associates of the Centre will offer supervision of research topics related to the Anabaptist tradition.

Webinars

The Centre offers six or more webinars (web-based seminars) during each academic year. These webinars are free and can be accessed via a home computer. They last between 60 and 90 minutes, and there is a mix of presentation and interaction. The webinars are all recorded and so can be watched subsequently.

To receive information on forthcoming webinars or for information on how to access recordings, please contact anabaptist@bristol-baptist.ac.uk.

Mennonite Trust Library

The collection of books, journals and other material previously housed at the London Mennonite Centre has been donated to Bristol Baptist College and is now housed in the college library.

This is the most extensive collection in the UK of resources relating to the Anabaptist and Mennonite traditions. The Mennonite Trust is committed to updating this collection year by year and is delighted that these resources will be readily accessible within the college library.

Anyone interested in consulting this collection should contact the librarian, Mike Brealey at Bristol Baptist College, The Promenade, Clifton Down, Bristol BS8 3NJ or email library@bristol-baptist.ac.uk.

Information

For further information about any aspect of the Centre for Anabaptist Studies, to receive invitations to lectures, webinars and other events, or to enquire about studying at the college, please contact:

Stuart Murray Williams: Centre for Anabaptist Studies, Bristol Baptist College, The Promenade, Clifton Down, Bristol BS8 3NJ or email anabaptist@bristol-baptist.ac.uk.

The Centre for Anabaptist Studies also has a Facebook group, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/anabaptiststudies/, and a blog, which can be found at
http://anabaptiststudies.wordpress.com/.

Liturgical Resources

This section of the website contains prayers, readings and liturgies that draw on the Anabaptist tradition and can be freely downloaded.

Recommended Courses

The Anabaptist Network recommends certain courses developed by other groups which have values and perspectives that relate closely to our own.

Anabaptism and Mission Open Learning Module

For those interested in studying Anabaptism at a slightly more academic level, a Diploma Level open learning module is available (in CD-ROM format) on Anabaptism and Mission. This costs £80.00. Written by Stuart Murray Williams, this module is available from Spurgeon’s College, 189 South Norwood Hill, London SE25 6DJ (020 8653 0850). Email: enquiries@spurgeons.ac.uk

Crucible - Creating Church on the Margins

Christians in Britain (and across western culture) are facing profound challenges and fresh opportunities. The long era of Christendom is coming to an end. We now live in a plural society, with multiple religious options alongside secular assumptions, in which Christianity has largely lost its position of dominance and privilege. Although we seem to be declining in numbers and influence, this new environment offers many new possibilities – if we have the courage and imagination to grasp them.

Crucible is a new training programme for Christians with courage and imagination. It assumes:

  • We live in a mission context and need to think like missionaries.
  • We need to think creatively about church in diverse and changing cultures.
  • We serve the God who constantly does new things on the margins.
    - on the margins of society among the poor and disenfranchised
    - at the margins of culture, where creative thinking explores new possibilities
    - within the margins of the familiar, those spaces all around us neglected or ignored but full of potential

For further details, see www.cruciblecourse.org.uk

Fit4Life church training course

We are delighted to be the UK distributors of a new resource for churches, developed by a former member of the Network, Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, and her colleagues in Australia. Available in CD-ROM format, this training course (which draws gratefully on Mennonite material) is designed to help churches behave well and develop healthy practices.

The course contains numerous practical exercises for group work and covers:

• Church health and self-awareness

• Healthy communication

• Handling differences in healthy ways

• Healthy decision-making

• Clarifying role expectations

• Covenanting for health

For further details of Fit4Life see the article by Anne Wilkinson-Hayes on this website. You can also view two sample exercises from the course below.

Copies of the course are available for £10.00 from the Network. You can order one one using the contact form which can be found at the bottom of the toolbar on the right-hand side of the page, or you can write to us at PO Box 70108, London N12 7DW.

Church Health, Self-awareness and the Bible

Exercise

This exercise would be ideal in groups of about 6 people.

Aim: To help people to discover how self-awareness is a Biblical ideal and necessary for our growth toward healthier church life.
To invite people to explore how congregational awareness and openness to the truth may be developed.

Time: There are 2 parts to this exercise:
Reading the 4 stories and answering questions – 20 minutes
Reading Bible passages and reflecting on four questions – 30 minutes.

You will need: A copy of the handout below (p15) and some Bibles in each group.

Self-awareness is an important foundation for good health:

• A person is unlikely to go to the doctor for medical care unless they become aware that they are unwell.
• A person is unlikely to take up a fitness program, unless they become aware that their lack of fitness is impeding what they want for their life.
• A person is unlikely to go on a more healthy diet, unless they become aware that their present diet is likely to be causing them harm.

It is the same in the church. The first step to becoming healthier is to face the truth that there may be some aspects of our way of being and ministering together that are in fact weighing us down, and damaging our witness to the Gospel of Jesus.

In fact, when we think about it, we have all probably seen many examples of poor self-awareness in the church, and the troubled results.

Exercise

You may like to ponder the following stories. Each person may read them quietly or you may take turns reading the stories out loud.

Jeremy was a young Christian, and as eager as they come. At a Young Adults Bible Study, he had filled out a questionnaire on spiritual gifts and concluded that he had the gift of prophecy. So, he would often interrupt Bible Study groups or worship services or use personal conversation in order to “deliver a word from the Lord”. It was all done with a great sense of zeal, but it became increasingly obvious that Jeremy’s prophesies were actually an opportunity for him to tell long and detailed stories about his own life. He was actually crying out for people to notice him and take an interest in him, but nobody quite knew how to raise the issue with him. So, bit-by-bit, people started to feel so uncomfortable that they stopped inviting him to functions and started to ignore him. Jeremy’s lack of self-awareness and the inability of his church to help him started to become a cause of ill health for the whole church.

Jane was quiet. She was regular at worship and at church meetings, but never spoke up, never said anything. Yet she developed some wonderful relationships with some of the children in the church. This lead to her becoming a helper at Sunday School and a regular presence in the church’s playgroup ministry. Jane was a revelation. Not only did the children love her, but she also had a great way of responding to their questions about God. She began to get to know their parents, and when families were going through a rough time, she was the first to turn up with a casserole and an offer to pray for them. Families began to come to church because of Jane! However, when the children and families’ pastor approached Jane to join his ministry planning group each week, Jane took flight. She felt she had nothing to offer, and couldn’t bear the prospect of being embarrassed and humiliated in this way. She began to withdraw from Sunday School and playgroup. Jane’s lack of awareness of her gift eventually deprived the church of a capacity it sorely needed.

The Open Hearted Baptist Church savoured its reputation as a welcoming church. Indeed, there was always someone at the front door whose ministry it was to greet them, and get them to sign the visitors’ book. A well-presented letter would arrive in their letterbox on the following Tuesday, asking that they come again. At the August pastoral care group meeting, a letter from James and Jessica was read out to responses of deep concern. They said they had attended the church for 2 months, but felt unwanted. They said that they had never got past the superficial “lovely to see you again” conversations. They had stood alone with their coffee after the service most Sundays. Nobody had invited them to their homes or to any of the church’s home groups. They actually had wanted to help with the church’s recent fete, but they hadn’t been able to find out whom to speak to. They concluded that the church did not actually want new people and was happy to remain as it was. The Pastoral Care group prayed for James and Jessica, asking God to minister to whatever had made them so angry, and the church continued to lack a healthy self-awareness of what it was actually doing.

Paula was a gifted woman: witty, intelligent, hospitable, articulate and with brilliant organisational skills. She had “leader” written all over her, and quickly became the church’s most significant organiser. However, it was not all smooth sailing. She was often quite quick to criticise the contributions of other people, especially the pastor, whose pastoral style she didn’t seem to care for. She would often call on him to be more decisive, and then oppose him when he was. She became the chairperson of church meetings, and was brilliant, except that she controlled agendas so tightly that nobody much spoke up about anything. She would cancel meetings if she couldn’t be there personally. Inevitably, a move arose to have her thrown out of her role. She was devastated. All she had ever wanted, she said, was to love her Lord and serve the church. She fought the move and it wasn’t long before the whole church was dividing into bitter factions. Paula’s lack of self-awareness began to destroy the church she loved.

Part 1

1. What are your reflections on these stories?

2. Do you think that these are common themes or experiences in churches?

3. Can you think of instances in your own experience where a lack of self-awareness prevents a church from greater health and effectiveness in ministry?

4. Which story impacts you the most? What does this say about your own self-awareness?

Part 2

The Bible does not explicitly command us to be self-aware, but the need for us to face the truth about ourselves in relation to God, our relationships with one another and the implications of our behaviour is a constant theme:

• In Genesis 32:22-31, Jacob’s wrestling with a shadowy adversary is all about his need to face the truth about who he is so that God may transform him.
• 1 Corinthians13:12 looks forward to the time when our knowledge of ourselves in relation to God is as clear as God’s knowledge of us.
• Romans 12:3 calls us to think realistically of ourselves from the perspective of what God thinks is important.
• Many of Jesus’ stories are about inviting people to face the truth about themselves:
Mark 10:17-23: the rich young man
John 4: 1-42: the Samaritan woman at the well
Luke 7: 36-50: Jesus’ dinner with Simon the Pharisee
• The letters to the churches in Revelation hold a mirror to the churches so that they can see their truth in relationship with God.
• James 1:22-25 tells us that obeying the word of God is like looking in the mirror, taking note of the picture it shows us and then living in the light of what we have seen.

This suggests some important questions for our churches:

1. How can we grow in our commitment to know and love the truth – even the truth that is difficult for us to face?

2. How can we graciously invite and receive feedback from others about ourselves?

3. How can we help others to receive the truth in a caring environment?

4. How can we become a church of openness, trust and honesty?

Role Play – Self-awareness in Groups

Aim: To help us begin to recognise our own agendas and ways of working when we come together.

Time: 60 minutes.

You will need: Enough copies of the roles for each person to have one each. Copy the sheets and cut up into strips. The roles are on pages 22-23. Each person needs an envelope containing a role and a name badge/sticky label, with Christian names only (i.e. just Peter not Peter Prophet). A way of communicating the debrief/discussion questions – put onto an overhead projector slide/PowerPoint/slips of paper.

Instructions for Leader to read out:

1. Divide into groups of 6.

2. Each group is being given 6 envelopes, each containing one role and name tag. These are not to be opened yet.

3. The following is the scenario you are in:

There has been discontent with the current morning service. The 10 am service is fairly full, but there has been a feeling that trying to cater well for the children and young people is hard to do at the same time as providing meaningful reflective worship for older people. It seems as if trying to do something for everyone is ending up pleasing no one. The leadership team has proposed a move from one 10am service to two different styles:
9.30 Reflective meditative service
11.00 Family worship
You are a working group, made up of people representing different interest groups in the church. Your aim is to discuss the proposal and reach a common mind.

4. You may now distribute and open your envelope.

5. Read your role through and put on your badge.

6. Engage in a debate with other members of your group in the style suggested by your role. You each have a desired outcome, but try to engage creatively with the other members.

7. You have 20 minutes to discuss the issues.
Allow discussion to commence, and keep track of the time. At the end of the discussion put the following questions on the overhead projector, or hand around slips with the questions.

Debrief: (remove badges)

• Reveal character profiles to each other and talk about how the discussion went. Was it constructive? Why/Why not?
• People often come to meetings with their own agendas – how do we work creatively and sensitively with this?
• If the aim is to discern the mind of Christ when we come together, how do we help one another to put aside our own agendas?
• Split into pairs and talk with each other about our own tendencies in discussions. Which character do we most identify with?

Roles for Self-awareness in Groups Role Play

Peter Prophet
You are the youth leader. You had a dream recently in which you felt sure that God was speaking directly to you. In the dream you were underwater and saw a shoal of beautiful coloured fish. You admired their harmony – the way they moved as a group, and stayed together even when negotiating obstacles and searching for food. But suddenly a big ugly shark came and divided the shoal into two groups. The fish seemed to panic and scatter in different directions. All harmony was lost. You are convinced that God is saying that we need to stay together as one congregation in the mornings. Even though your personal preference is for a more youth-oriented service
– God has spoken!

Dolores Deacon
You will chair the meeting. You have served many years on the leadership team – in your opinion it is a good group that has grown in spiritual maturity over the years. You feel that only the leaders really understand ‘the pulse’ of the church, and the direction that God wants. The body of the church is full of barely committed people, new Christians and people who are, frankly, just passengers. God has called the leaders to their role, and their views are really the only ones to be truly ‘in tune’. To question the leaders is to question God’s judgment in calling them. You believe that God has led the leadership to this model of two services as a way of enabling a very diverse congregation to grow in their faith and service.

Worried Win
You have been at the church all your life and have a strong interest in trying to keep things as they were in the ‘glory days’ of the church. You are very fearful of change since it seems to dishonour the life and service of your dear friends in the past that gave everything for this church. You feel it important to point out all the problems and difficulties that others might overlook. People today are too quick to overturn the long-established, tested and God-honouring traditions of the past. If you can’t defeat change, you still feel a sense of triumph if you can delay or defer decisions. Obviously the two service model is an affront, and unworkable.

Wounded Walter
Life has not been kind to you. You cannot cope with any more failure, so it is very important that your view prevail. You need to be seen as a valued and essential person. You tend to do this by a self-effacing kind of manipulation. You try to make people feel sorry for you and play the victim role. You actually want a quieter service, because you can’t stand the noise and distraction the children make, but you would never admit this openly or say what you really want. Rather you find ways to make people want to protect you from hurt. You take everything very personally, and if you sense that things are not going your way, you may resort to throwing a tantrum.

Hen-pecked Harry
Your wife has told you to vote against the proposed division of the congregation. She says she has canvassed the opinions of all key people, and at least a third of the congregation will leave (including some significant givers) if the proposed split goes ahead. She wouldn’t dream of speaking out, but you would be in big trouble at home if you let this one get through! You are not sure what you think really – you would have liked to have listened to all the different views, but you dare not cross ‘she who must be obeyed’.

Loaded Lucille
You have been involved in the church some 10 years now. You found great comfort in the fellowship at the time of the death of your dear Freddie, and you have been very generous with the considerable fortune he left you. You were able to fast-forward the sanctuary renovation program, and you have always ensured that the pastors and their families got a decent holiday each year. You also give a good deal of your time to the church – supporting other widows, and running endless coffee mornings. You have come to expect that people take you seriously. After all, the more significant stakeholders should surely have a greater say in what happens in church. You think that a more focused approach to worship will be good for people and are supportive of the proposal.

MTh In Radical Free Church Movements

Members of the Anabaptist Network were involved in the development at Spurgeon’s College, London, of a masters degree (MTh) in Baptist and Anabaptist Studies, offering an opportunity to explore Anabaptism at a serious academic level. Given the history of Anabaptism in Britain and the limited awareness of Anabaptism in theological training circles, this is an important resource. As an open learning course, it can be studied anywhere in the world. This course has now been expanded and renamed as an MTh in Radical Free Church Movements.

For further information contact enquiries@spurgeons.ac.uk

Open to God training course

The Anabaptist Network is the UK distributor for 'Open to God', a second training resource developed by the Baptist Union of Victoria, following the success of their 'Fit for Life' resource.

'Open to God' is available in the same CD format and contains even more resources – this time on how church members can listen carefully to one another and discuss contentious issues. It invites church members to explore processes for making decisions well and offers resources for communities that want to be genuinely open to God and to one another.

Open to God costs £12 (including postage)and is available on request at admin@anabaptistnetwork.com.

Peace School: exploring shalom activism

Have you ever wondered what true peace and justice might look like? Is peace more than simply the absence of violence? What does it mean to be a genuine peacemaker? These are some questions that participants will grapple with on the new Peace School programme, launching this year.

Peace School is a national, year-long programme, exploring what it means to be a peacemaker in every area of life – personal, local and global. It consists of an introductory summer school followed by 3 weekends of learning together, interspersed with individual learning and interaction.

Peace School is linked with both Workshop and the Speak network and a member of the Anabaptist Network of organisationsk). For further information visit www.peaceschool.org.uk or contact Peace School at 4 Park Avenue, Pudsey, Leeds LS28 7TE (0113 257 4572); info@peaceschool.org.uk.

NB: in 2011 Peace School was put in abeyance for the time being.

Workshop

Workshop is a national training programme operating in five cities - London, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham. It has been running for over 20 years and thousands of people have studied on the course and have been inspired, even revolutionised, by it. It operates for one weekend a month from September to July each year. The director of Workshop, Noel Moules, is a trustee of the Anabaptist Network.

For further information, see www.workshop.org.uk

Restorative Justice

Although retributive approaches to crime remain the default position of most politicians and many members of the public, restorative approaches have been used increasingly in different parts of the criminal justice system. These approaches were pioneered by Mennonites in North America, among others, and Christians drawn to the Anabaptist tradition have been very interested in restorative justice initiatives.

We offer here some information about agencies in Britain that are working with restorative justice approaches and some resources for further reading.

Restorative Justice Organisations in the UK

Restorative Justice Consortium
http://www.restorativejustice.org.uk/index.html

The Restorative Justice Consortium was formed in 1997 bringing together a wide range of organisations with an interest in Restorative Justice. The organisations represented victims, offenders, young people and mediators, and those with a professional interest in RJ.

The objects for which the Association is established are:
To promote restorative justice for the public benefit as a means of resolving conflict and promoting reconciliation by:
• Promoting the use of restorative justice in the criminal justice system, in schools, in the workplace and elsewhere in the community in situations where conflict may arise
• Developing and promoting agreed standards and principles for evaluating and guiding restorative practice.
• Advancing education and research on restorative justice and the publication of the useful results of that research

Transforming Conflict
http://www.transformingconflict.org/

Transforming Conflict is an organisation that offers training, consultancy and support in educational settings for people seeking to enhance their skills in building a sense of community, fostering a spirit of inclusion and dealing creatively with challenging situations. Our work is underpinned by the philosophy of Restorative Justice, which stresses the importance of relationships above rules and the value of dialogue in healing the damage done to relationships by inappropriate behaviour.

Our courses are appropriate for all those who work in an educational setting and we have experience of running courses for pupil support teams, residential care staff, senior management teams, governors, teaching staff, learning support staff, lunchtime controllers, parents and students. We work in primary, secondary and EBD settings and have run both public and in-house courses. All in-house courses are tailored to suit the needs of the school. Having said that, we are also very responsive to the needs of the participants on the day and the programme can change to accommodate these needs.

Youth Offender Panels
http://www.youth-justice-board.gov.uk/youthoffenderpanels

Referral Orders are new court orders available from April 2002. They are given to most 10 to 17-year-olds pleading guilty on a first time conviction, unless the charge is serious enough to warrant custody. After appearing in court, the young person is referred to a Youth Offender Panel (YOP) who consider the best course of action.

A Youth Offender Panel consists of two volunteers recruited directly from the local community, alongside one member of the Youth Offending Team (Yot). They talk to the youngster, the parents and (where possible) the victim of the crime, to agree a tailor-made contract aimed at putting things right. The contract might include a letter of apology to the victim, removing graffiti or cleaning up estates and communities. It will also include activities to prevent further offending, such as getting young people back into school and help with alcohol or drug misuse. The Panel meets with the young person and their parents or guardians, to discuss reasons for the offending behaviour and suggest ways forward.

The victim is encouraged to attend the meeting to tell the young person how the crime affected them. Early results show that a young offender and a victim meeting face-to-face can be a powerful and positive experience for both.

With all parties in agreement, a contract is compiled to include an element of reparation, either to the victim directly or to the community at large. The contract also includes other elements to tackle the young person's offending behaviour - drugs counselling, anger management or dealing with truancy, for example. The contract is supervised by the Yot and reviewed at regular panel meetings. The conviction is "spent" when the order is successfully completed. If the young person fails to comply, the case is sent back to court and a different sentence may be given.

These panels, for the first time, give the community a say in creating effective packages that ensure young offenders repair the harm done and are given positive help to prevent further offending. It will be the responsibility of the panel to decide the right - and most appropriate - course of action, taking into account the young person's offence and reasons for offending.

Restorative Justice Ireland Network
http://www.extern.org/restorative/

The Restorative Justice Ireland Network (RJIN) was established in 1997 and is steered by a number of voluntary and statutory agencies North and South. We are working to raise awareness and stimulate interest in restorative justice throughout Ireland.
Our aims are:
• To promote the philosophy of restorative justice as an effective way of coping with crime and its effects throughout Ireland
• To network between persons and agencies interested in developing restorative justice and to give them a vehicle for sharing information, good practice, and research and information about training opportunities.
• To link restorative justice in Ireland with developments in other parts of the world, and contribute to international dialogue and learning.
• To facilitate the application of restorative justice principles into specific programmes and initiatives in Ireland.

Greater Shankill Alternatives
http://www.extern.org/restorative/Alternatives.htm

Alternatives has developed out of a two year action research project, which explored the issue of punishment attacks and the operation of the paramilitary informal justice system in the Greater Shankill area. This research involved extensive consultation with all those involved in the justice systems and youth provision. It identified failings in the formal criminal justice system in addressing anti-social behaviour in the Shankill area. It also highlighted the need for a non-violent alternative to punishment attacks, that would be community-owned and based on the principles of restorative justice.

Crime Concern Mediation and Reparation Project (MARS)
http://www.crimeconcern.org.uk/pages/projecttext.asp?contidno=2.3.5

We manage a successful Mediation and Reparation Project called MARS in Southampton. We have prepared national guidance on effective restorative justice practice for the Youth Justice Board. We are providing implementation support to over 40 Youth Justice Board-funded restorative justice projects.

Crime Concern’s Mediation & Reparation Service (MARS) was developed specifically to meet the ‘reparation’ needs of Wessex Youth Offending Team. MARS provides a service for young people who have offended, those who are subject to a court order including reparation, their victims, and the local community. As well as working closely with Youth Offending Teams, MARS also seeks to work in partnership with Victim Support Services and other community groups and agencies. The majority of referrals made to MARS stem from Reparation Orders (40%), Action Plan Orders (40%) and Supervision Orders (15%). MARS currently provides the following reparative activities:
• indirect and direct mediation where desired and appropriate.
• direct reparation work by young people for their victims.
• community reparation placements.
• individual victim awareness work with young people who have offended.

Inside Out Trust – Restorative Justice at Work in Prisons
http://www.inside-out.org.uk/

We believe that if people in prison do work that helps poor and disadvantaged people and gain both skills and self-esteem from so doing, they are less likely to re-offend and that helps us all. It is particularly important that we help young offenders to break the cycle of anti-social behaviour before they become lifetime criminals.

Inside Out fits in here because of its commitment to mediation between offenders and society. For us, 'restorative' means giving prisoners chances to compensate for their past behaviour by helping whole communities through their work. This also helps spread the idea that past offenders can be good citizens.

We match the needs of groups of disadvantaged people with the skills, enthusiasm and time available of people in prisons and provide services which would not otherwise be available. This match between offenders and needy people is a particularly powerful one and some of our most successful projects are those where prisoners can understand and relate to the lives of other people and do something to help them.

We recycle wheelchairs, bikes and motorbikes, transcribe braille for blind schoolchildren, paint pictures for hospitals and much much more. Anything, in fact, which a prisoner can do and which helps someone else to a more comfortable life.

Nacro
http://www.nacro.org.uk/

Independent voluntary organisation working to prevent crime. Nacro's vision is a safer society where everyone belongs, human rights are respected and preventing crime means tackling social exclusion and re-integrating those who offend.

Nacro runs community-based projects to stop young people committing crime by tackling the causes of their offending. This may include getting young people on drugs treatment programmes, getting them into training or employment, anger management courses or getting offenders to offer some form of reparation or apology to their victim.

The Sycamore Tree Project
http://www.prisonfellowship.org.uk/sycamore.htm

Based on the Bible story of Zacchaeus, challenges offenders to consider the effects of their crimes on their victims and how this will affect their future behaviour. Victims attend part of the course to tell their stories and the impact of crime on them and their families

A programme of Prison Fellowship England and Wales.

Quaker Initiatives
http://www.quaker.org.uk/peace/social.html#Crime and Community Justice

Crime and Community Justice Group (CCJG) was set up early in 1998, in response to a rising level of interest among Friends and Meetings. It had been several years since any significant work had been done at national level in the field of penal affairs and Quakers felt an urgent need to make their voices heard, again. In an increasingly punitive penal system, it was felt that there was a real need for a Quaker view to be articulated.

By November 1998, Crime and Community Justice Group had fulfilled two of the main tasks laid upon it. Firstly, it had produced a seven-page paper, Towards a Quaker View of Crime and Community Justice, to help to widen the debate on Friends’ position on crime and justice, the concept of community justice and the policy responses arising from it, which Friends may wish to support.

Secondly, the Group brought to Central Committee, as requested, a recommendation on women in prison. Central Committee supported the proposal that this was an issue on which to campaign at local and national levels. A paper called To ask the impossible? - Reducing the use of prison for women… was submitted to the Prison Reform Trust’s committee on the sentencing of women offenders and made available to Friends. Work on this subject continues.

Other on-going concerns include supporting initiatives of Restorative Justice in any way Friends are able, via including the Restorative Justice Consortium.

Circles of Support and Accountability works with released sex offenders to help them not to re-offend. It is a Canadian scheme which Quakers and others are promoting in the UK. Pilot projects have been set up in Thames Valley (where Quakers, police, probation and the prison service work in partnership) and Hampshire (probation and a local charity) and one run by the Wolvercote Clinic, all with funding from the Home Office.

Volunteers are recruited, screened, trained and supported by the scheme. Typically, four to six volunteers form a Circle. A high risk sex offender, with high levels of need and little or no other support becomes the core member. Meetings of the Circle and individual contacts are frequent to start with, but diminish over time. The overriding aim is that there be ‘no more victims’.

In 2001 the Group produced and distributed approximately 80 resources packs as a follow up to Tim Newell’s 2000 Swarthmore Lecture ‘Forgiving Justice’.

Representatives of the Group met with spokespeople of the three main political parties over 2000-2001 to discuss vital issues such as women, young offenders, prison overcrowding, restorative justice etc. The Group hopes to speak to the government again in 2002, about these issues.

On behalf of Friends, the Group has become actively involved with the Penal Affairs Consortium and the Restorative Justice Consortium, enabling it to keep in touch with and contribute to inter-agency work. The Group is also represented on the Churches Criminal Justice Forum and Interfaith Criminal Justice Forum. These ecumenical groups have planned many new initiatives including Community Chaplaincy, which would extend the work of the Chaplaincy into the community to support prisoners when they leave prison. The Group also has close links with Quakers in Criminal Justice (QICJ), an active informal network of Quakers involved in the criminal justice system.

REMEDI
http://www.remedi.cjb.net/

REMEDI (Reparation and Mediation Initiatives) is an independent Voluntary Sector organisation that provides a mediation service for victims and offenders of crime. It was set up in 1996, originally in Sheffield and has now expanded across South Yorkshire. REMEDI is a free and confidential service that uses trained mediators to help people resolve the effects of crime. Mediators are trained to remain impartial and will not take sides or judge people.

Victim Offender Mediation involves communication between the victim of the crime and the person who committed it. The mediators act as a go-between to enable communication between the two parties. The process is entirely voluntary and people are free to opt-out at any time. If both the victim and offender wish, a face-to-face meeting can also be arranged.

The Sussex Centre for Restorative Justice
http://www.sx-ctre-restjust.demon.co.uk/

The Sussex Centre for Restorative Justice was established in 1998 to promote the development of restorative practice in Sussex. While the SCRJ primarily provides services in Sussex, we do operate nationally.

Thames Valley Partnership
http://www.thamesvalleypartnership.org.uk/restjust.html

The Thames Valley Partnership convenes the Restorative Justice Development Group which brings organisations working in the field of restorative justice from across the Thames Valley area together to share ideas, discuss and promote new initiatives and give support to practitioners involved in a range of restorative approaches.

A recent report "Restorative Justice - A New School of Thought?" is the culmination of 18 months work supporting and evaluating restorative approaches in schools. The report stresses the importance of good preparation and real commitment from schools and all concerned as essential ingredients in making restorative practice work. Belinda Hopkins from "Transforming Conflict" has worked with the Thames Valley Partnership on restorative justice approaches in schools. Examples of her approach and her own research can be found at www.transformingconflict.com

We are currently exploring new work to support conflict resolution, mediation and restorative justice approaches in the prevention of anti-social behaviour. A new report "A Priority in Common" includes a scoping exercise of anti-social behaviour work in the Thames Valley region and papers from a seminar held in October 2002. We are hoping that we will receive funding to enable us to continue this work, and to support the work of community mediation schemes and restorative justice practioners in working alongside community safety partners in developing preventative approaches to anti-social behaviour.

In the early part of the year the Thames Valley Partnership supported three new pilot projects in prisons using restorative justice approaches in a variety of ways, including victim offender mediation, victim awareness and community involvement. The results of this work are available in a report "Restorative Justice in Prisons", published in May 2002. Future work will focus on the use of restorative approaches at the point of resettlement and integration of prisoners into the community which we hope to pilot in the Thames Valley.

Our restorative work will link with the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation's "Rethinking Crime and Punishment" programme which seeks to improve the public's understanding of the criminal justice system and increase confidence in its objectives. Our work on restorative justice will be one of the ways in which we are contributing to the Rethinking Crime and Punishment Programme.

Thames Valley Police
http://www.thamesvalley.police.uk/about/rj/index.htm

Thames Valley Police is the largest non-metropolitan police force in the country, covering the 2,200 square miles of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, and serving a population of 2.1 million. The force adopts a problem-solving approach to policing, a key feature of which is the use of restorative justice.

Restorative justice fits with our problem-solving style of policing. We use innovative methods to tackle the causes of crime and deliver a more effective police response. Involving others in seeking solutions, particularly via community based initiatives, is a key feature of our approach.

The roots of our work with restorative justice are to be found in Milton Keynes with the Retail Theft Initiative. This brings young people, who have been caught shoplifting, face-to-face with store managers to hear how shop theft affects others. Results, in terms of reducing reoffending, have been impressive. In addition, store managers also now see shop theft in a very different light and are becoming involved in working to reduce it rather than merely seeking a punitive sanction.

Building on such work Thames Valley Police instigated a conferencing pilot project in Aylesbury in 1995, to caution offenders for a wide variety of criminal offences. The success of the pilot led to the "rolling-out" of conferencing forcewide such that, from April 1998, all cautions, reprimands and final warnings have been delivered in a restorative style, via 11 restorative justice units situated across the 10 force areas.

The Restorative Justice Consultancy has also been set up at Police Headquarters to co-ordinate training of conference facilitators and disseminate best practice, both within the force and amongst partner agencies.

From a broader perspective Thames Valley Police have started using restorative justice as a highly effective response to incidents of non-criminal or semi-criminal behaviour arising out of neighbourhood disputes. Another key area where the approach is extremely valuable is in resolving issues surrounding bullying, truancy and disruptive behaviour within schools. We are also increasingly holding restorative conferences to resolve police complaints, and internal grievances in the workplace.

Restorative Justice Training Foundation
http://www.restorativejusticetrainingfoundation.co.uk/

The Restorative Justice Training Foundation is an organisation who's prime objective is the successful implementation of restorative approaches across the whole spectrum of society in the United Kingdom. To this end we are committed to providing high quality training for facilitators of restorative interventions at low cost. The foundation is a network of some of the most experienced trainers in the country, most of whom are still full time employees within the public sector.

Restorative Justice Publications in the UK

International perspectives on restorative justice: conference report. Mika, H, and K McEvoy, eds. (2001) Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Queen's University Belfast. Papers by R Shonhotlz, J Braithwaite, A Morris, A Skelton, M Wright.

Justice for victims and offenders: a restorative response to crime. Wright, M (1996) Winchester, England: Waterside Press. 2nd ed. Development of the restorative idea; new chapter on recent developments in

Restorative justice. New Zealand Ministry of Justice (1995) PO Box 180, Wellington, NZ. Discussion paper. Strang, Heather, and John Braithwaite (2000) Restorative justice: philosophy to practice. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Restorative Justice: Ideas, Values, Debates: Johnstone, Gerry (2002) Willan Publishing

Restorative justice: international perspectives. Galaway, B, and J Hudson (1996)Amsterdam: Kugler Publications. Useful collection of articles on many aspects including shame, public opinion, etc.

Restorative justice on trial: pitfalls and potentials of victim/offender mediation - international research perspectives. Messmer, H and H-U Otto, eds. (1992) Dordrecht: Kluwer. Conference papers by Tony Marshall, Burt Galaway, John Haley, Mark Umbreit, Gwynn Davis, Martin Wright, and others.

Restoring respect for justice. Wright, M (1999) Winchester: Waterside Press.
Various professional perspectives on criminal and restorative justice.

Youth Justice Board – Restorative Justice: Key Elements of Effective Practice:
http://www.youth-justice-board.gov.uk/Publications/Scripts/prodView.asp?...

Restorative justice: the Government’s strategy
A consultation document on the Government’s strategy on restorative justice
Released July 2003
http://www.crimereduction.gov.uk/workingoffenders42.htm

Shalom Activist

Noel Moules, Member of the Anabaptist Network Steering Group, Convenor of the Anabaptist Network of Organisations and founder and director of the Workshop: Applied Christian Studies learning programme writes on the subject of Shalom:

Shalom Activist

- assertive peace, transfiguring wholeness -

The Hebrew word shalom - from a Jesus perspective – is the totality of the Christian message and mission distilled into a single word: it is gospel in its completeness and quite simply the secret of the universe. ‘Shalom’ and the ‘Kingdom of God’ are identical concepts:

‘Of his all-embracing kingdom and of his shalom there shall be no end’ (Isa 9:6-7; cf. Lk 10:5,9; Eph 2:17)

Shalom is usually translated as ‘peace’, but is best understood by the words, ‘whole’, ‘complete’ ‘intact’, ‘holistic’ and ‘integrated’; the idea of everything fitting perfectly together as a dynamic whole, developing and interacting in creative harmony. The noun shalom is formed from the verb, shalem, meaning ‘to make something complete’, ‘to finish’, ‘to make an end of’; like an artist finishing their masterpiece.

Because shalom is formed from a verb it is packed with powerful energy, there is absolutely nothing ‘passive’ about it. To encounter shalom is traumatic and cataclysmic, best described as ‘shalom-shock’. Jesus’ comes ‘proclaiming peace’ (Eph 2: 17), confronting people with shalom in a way that disturbs and challenges. Shalom exudes energized wholeness, dynamic tranquility and explosive calm.

The Jewish rabbis declare,‘Gadol hasholom’ (‘shalom is the highest of all values’). An ancient rabbinical legend tells how God created every single blessing that was ever going to be created. Lying in a huge pile, God needed a container - a bag, box or jar, in which to put them - but could find nothing, so God created shalom. So to proclaim the single word, “Shalom!” is to proclaim the totality of everything that is true about God. Shalom is sourced and shaped in God, and Jesus is the incarnation of shalom:

‘Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ; for he is our peace’ (Eph 2: 14)

SHALOM HAS ONE HOLISTIC VISION

Shalom proclaims the hope for the whole of creation; that wholeness and harmony that will embrace the cosmos as a physically and spiritually renewed heaven and earth (cf Isa 65:17-18). That is why shalom ‘surpasses understanding’ (Phil 4:7)! Shalom is salvation in the most complete sense. No one is going to heaven! Instead God’s salvation involves the total integration of absolutely everything; earth embraced by heaven, quite literally, the two becoming one. Everyone living as a resurrection body within a transfigured cosmos, as a new creation within the new creation – not somewhere else but here on earth!

‘The creation itself will be set free from its bondage and decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ (Rom 8:21)

Jesus does not just die for people, but for the whole creation! The Greek phrase ‘all things’ means ‘absolutely everything without exception and forever’:

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself” (Jn 12:32)
‘... through (Jesus) to reconcile to himself all things ... making peace (shalom) by the blood of his cross’ (Col 1:20)

SHALOM HAS THREE ABSOLUTE REQUIREMENTS

Applying the three biblical requirements of shalom to life helps us calculate the extent to which shalom is actually present. Shalom is only truly present to the extent that all-three dimensions are present:

1. Shalom as well-being (eg. Isa 66:12)
- All material needs must be met (human and wild nature); everything that makes for life and dignity

2. Shalom as justice (eg. Ex 18:23)
- All relationships must be right and just; the word for ‘justice’ is mishpat - ‘to put everything right’

3. Shalom as integrity (eg. Ps 34:15)
- All people must have integrity in character; upright, displaying godliness in thought and action

SHALOM HAS FOUR ESSENTIAL RELATIONSHIPS

Shalom is first and foremost about relationships; not only with God and human society, but also the whole of wild nature - everything as it ought to be - in complete unity and fullness:

1. Shalom with God:
- ‘We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rm 5:1; cf. 1Th 5:23; Phil 4:9)

2. Shalom with yourself:
- ‘Those of steadfast mind you keep in shalom, in shalom because they trust in you’ (Isa 26:3; cf. Jn 14:27; Matt 11:29)
3. Shalom with humanity:
- ‘If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone’ (Rm 12:18; cf. Mk 9:50; Rm 14:19)

4. Shalom with creation:
- ‘ … and you shall not fear the wild animals of the earth. For you shall be in covenant with the stones of the wilderness, and the wild animals shall be in shalom with you’ (Job 5:22-23; cf. Mk 1:12-13; Hos 2:18)

SHALOM HAS SIX ACTIVE RESPONSES

Shalom requires inner formation, but always demands practical action! Every Christian is called to be a ‘Shalom Activist’. These six biblical calls for a shalom response set our agenda for activism and mission:

1. Seek shalom:
- ‘Depart from evil and do good; seek shalom and pursue it ' (Ps 34:14; cf. Heb 12:14)
- ‘Seek the shalom of the city … for in its shalom you will find your shalom’ (Jer 29:7; cf. Rm 14:19)

2. Proclaim shalom:
- ‘Wearing for shoes on your feet the eagerness to spread the gospel of peace’ (Eph 6:15)
- ‘How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news, who heralds shalom, proclaims joyful tidings, announces salvation’ (Isa 52:7; cf. Lk10:5-6; Eph 2:17)

3. Make shalom:
- ‘But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace’ (Ja 3:17-18)
- ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God’ (Mt 5:9; cf. Isa 2:4; Eph 2:14-15)

4. Live shalom:
- ‘Take note of the blameless person, and watch the one who is upright, for the person of shalom has a future’ (Ps 37:37; cf. Lk 10:5-6)
- ‘If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone’ (Rm 12:18; Prov 11:30; Gal 5:22)

5. Pray shalom:
- ‘I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity (1Tim 2:1-3)
- ‘Seek the shalom of the city… and pray to the Lord on its behalf’ (Jer 29:7 cf. Ps 122:6-9)

6. Expect shalom:
- ‘What we do know is this; when Jesus is revealed, we will be like him … all who have this hope purify themselves, just as he is pure’ (1Jn 32-3)
- A great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language … cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne” (Rev 7:10)
- ‘The I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever” (Rev 5:13)

SHALOM INSPIRES ‘ANGELS OF JUDGEMENT’

We have seen that ‘justice’ (mishpat) is central to shalom. Judgement (also mishpat) is nothing more than justice in action - ‘putting everything right’ - judgement is one of the most exciting biblical ideas:

‘The Hebrew word mishpat is the primary biblical word for both ‘judgement’ and ‘justice’. Both words have the central meaning of ‘putting everything right’, of ‘straightening out those things that have become twisted and corrupted’. Originally mishpat referred to the restoration of a situation or environment, which promoted equity and harmony, that is - shalom - in a community’ (Anchor Bible Dictionary)

‘Justice’ is the concept of ‘putting everything right
‘Judgement’ is the process of ‘putting everything right’

So judgement is a ‘process’ not a ‘statement’. It is ‘relational’ rather than ‘legal’; it overcomes evil with good, winning the hearts of evildoers and always establishing shalom.

“Judgement is now no longer a crushing word on a failed life but the first word of a new creation” (Walter Wink)

Every ‘Shalom Activist’ is an ‘Angel of Judgement’. Remember an angel (Gk: angelos) is a messenger; biblically an angel is a symbol of the power and authority of the one who gave them the message or action to deliver. So embrace the assertive and subversive peace that is shalom and work to bring its transfiguring wholeness into the lives of the people and social structures that surround you.

The Early Church

Alan Kreider's teaching series on the early church, previously only available as expensive
DVDs, can now be accessed free of charge:

www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbOAx84ri7g2OzXCKZwSU5x8GQwv8mAet

The Naked Anabaptist - an extract

This is an extract from The Naked Anabaptist, published in 2010 by Herald Press in North America and in 2011 by Paternoster in the UK.

Travelling through Pennsylvania in the spring of 2008 with a group of Mennonite church leaders, my friend Noel Moules was quizzed about the growing interest in Anabaptism in Britain and Ireland. Some of these American Mennonites had been in Britain a few weeks earlier and had encountered Christians from various traditions who were deeply attracted to Anabaptist values and insights. They found this intriguing. Why were British and Irish Christians interested in Anabaptism?

The sixteenth-century Anabaptist movement (to which Mennonites and other Anabaptist communities in America trace their origins) had left its mark on various parts of Europe – Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic – but very few Anabaptists reached Britain. Those that made it to London in 1575, seeking refuge from persecution elsewhere, were arrested and imprisoned and either executed or expelled by the authorities. For the next four centuries, although ‘Anabaptist’ was sometimes used as a term of abuse in Britain, there were almost no actual Anabaptists in the country.

So why, Noel was asked, was there a burgeoning Anabaptist movement in Britain and Ireland? What was attracting Christians to a tradition that had no historical roots in their culture? And what did it mean to be an Anabaptist in Britain or Ireland today? What did Anabaptism look like without the Mennonite, Hutterite or Amish culture in which it was usually clothed in North America?

‘Ah, you mean “the naked Anabaptist”, do you?’ asked Noel. ‘Anabaptism stripped down to the bare essentials.’ And so this book was born.

Noel and I are both founder members and trustees of the Anabaptist Network in Britain and Ireland. Since the early 1990s, the Anabaptist Network has provided resources for Christians interested in the Anabaptist tradition – study groups, conferences, a journal, newsletters, a theology forum and an extensive website. For some years we have been concerned that there was no straightforward introduction to Anabaptism easily accessible in Britain and Ireland. There were academic tomes, and books written for the American market, but these were not what we needed to answer questions we are often asked:

• What is an Anabaptist?
• Where did Anabaptism come from?
• What do Anabaptists believe?
• Can I become an Anabaptist?
• What is the difference between Anabaptists and Mennonites?

If you are asking any of these questions, The Naked Anabaptist is for you.

So Noel and I agreed with our colleagues in the Anabaptist Network that I would make use of his memorable phrase and write this book. My own encounter with Anabaptism has been told elsewhere. Since the early 1980s I have identified myself as an Anabaptist, not because I belong to an Anabaptist church or come from an Anabaptist family, but because this is the Christian tradition with which I have by far the greatest theological and spiritual affinity. The Naked Anabaptist is, then, at one level an extended personal testimony written by a British Anabaptist to explain his Anabaptist convictions. As such, I will use ‘I’ language from time to time, as in this introduction.

But this book was also commissioned by the steering group of the Anabaptist Network, several of whom have contributed to it. And those who receive the Network’s newsletters have known for some time about this project. Some of their contributions have also been incorporated. So I have used ‘we’ language in various places to indicate that I am writing on behalf of a community. Sometimes ‘we’ refers to those who have shaped the Network over the past two decades and who would, like me, identify themselves as Anabaptists. Sometimes ‘we’ refers to the wider community of Christians in Britain and Ireland who might not identify themselves as Anabaptists but who belong to the Anabaptist Network and draw gratefully on the Anabaptist tradition. I recognise that this use of language is imprecise, but that is the nature of the Anabaptist movement in Britain and Ireland.

My hope is that this book will be useful, not only to members of the Anabaptist Network who want to explain to their friends why they are intrigued and inspired by Anabaptism, and to people from other Christian traditions or none who stumble across the Anabaptist tradition, but also to North American Anabaptists asking the kinds of questions Noel was asked in Pennsylvania.

I have visited North America many times in the past fifteen years, teaching in Mennonite seminaries, preaching in Mennonite churches, working with Mennonite mission agencies, speaking at conferences with delegates from Mennonite, Mennonite Brethren, Brethren in Christ, Church of the Brethren, and other denominations descended from the Anabaptists. I have encountered the same incredulity and interest as Noel found in Pennsylvania: why are Christians in Britain and Ireland getting excited about their Anabaptist forebears?

This question is given added poignancy by the lack of interest in the Anabaptist tradition among many North American Mennonites. I have often found myself urging Mennonite students and church leaders to recover their own radical heritage as a source of renewal and inspiration. Although Mennonite scholars during the twentieth century embarked on a quest to rehabilitate Anabaptism, their passion and insights have not yet had the impact they deserve. Many Mennonites seem more interested in purpose-driven churches or the Alpha course.

Maybe Mennonite culture and traditions have stifled the Anabaptist heritage. Some years ago I had a conversation with a leader of a large youth organisation, who reported that at a recent staff conference they had received a word that they regarded as prophetic: ‘let go of your traditions and hold on to your heritage.’ She and her colleagues were pondering the implications of this challenge, recognising that many traditions had grown up over the years that might have been valuable once but were now hindering the organisation from fulfilling its primary calling.

If you recognise this in your own North American Anabaptist-related tradition, The Naked Anabaptist is for you.

And it is not only in Britain and Ireland that Christians from diverse backgrounds are appropriating the Anabaptist tradition. There are Anabaptist centres in Korea, Japan and South Africa. There is an Anabaptist Association in Australia and New Zealand, and a new Anabaptist Network is emerging in Scandinavia. None of these nations have any historic Anabaptist connections. There is also a new Francophone Anabaptist centre in Montreal.

In North America, too, where Mennonite, Hutterite, Amish and other Anabaptist groups are part of the cultural and religious environment, Christians from other denominations (including evangelical and emerging networks) are discovering the Anabaptist tradition. Some are now identifying themselves as Anabaptists; others are urging the Mennonites to value more highly their own heritage and recognise its contemporary significance.

And in academic circles, after centuries of neglect, marginalisation and caricature, there is growing interest in Anabaptism way beyond the Mennonite community. I am currently supervising two doctoral students working on Anabaptism. One is from Korea. The other is a French Canadian who has been church planting in Belgium and is now teaching in Rwanda. And the Anabaptist Network website frequently receives emails from students writing essays or dissertations on Anabaptism, asking for advice and resources.

In many nations, then, not only in Britain and Ireland, there are growing numbers of 'neo-Anabaptists' and 'hyphenated Anabaptists'. Neo-Anabaptists identify with the Anabaptist tradition and are happy to be known as Anabaptists, but have no historic or cultural links with any Anabaptist-related denomination. Hyphenated Anabaptists find inspiration and resources in the Anabaptist tradition, but do not identify themselves as Anabaptists. They might be Baptist-Anabaptists, Methodist-Anabaptists, Anglican-Anabaptists, Pentecostal-Anabaptists or various other combinations.

If you identify with either of these designations, The Naked Anabaptist is for you.

In 1953, the London Mennonite Centre was established, bringing an Anabaptist presence back into Britain for the first time in nearly four hundred years. Its influence gradually permeated British and Irish churches, encouraging Christians from many backgrounds to reflect afresh on issues of community, peace, justice and discipleship. But only in the 1980s did ‘Anabaptism’ begin to be used more widely, and it is even more recently that the Anabaptist movement has really become visible.

In 2004, the first book in the ‘After Christendom’ series was published. This series is an initiative of the Anabaptist Network steering group, which has invited various authors to reflect on the implications of the end of the Christendom era in many western societies, drawing on Anabaptist perspectives. By 2009, five books had been published, and others are currently being written or awaiting publication. 'Post-Christendom' celebrated the demise of imperial Christianity and welcomed the opportunity to rethink all kinds of issues as the church found itself back on the margins of society. It suggested that, as the mainline traditions associated with imperial Christianity struggled to adjust to this new situation, perhaps some of the necessary resources are to be found in the radical tradition associated with Anabaptism. Could it be, as some have suggested, that Anabaptism is ‘a vision whose time has come’? The ‘After Christendom’ series, which has been widely read and enthusiastically received, has introduced many others to this tradition.

So, all over the place, Christians (and others) in Britain and Ireland (and elsewhere) are bumping into Anabaptists. But who are these people? What do they believe? What practices do they have in common with other Christians, and what are their distinctives? Why have they suddenly emerged in post-Christendom western societies? And can you really be an Anabaptist without living in a common purse community like the Hutterites, driving a buggy like the Amish, or belonging to a Mennonite church and singing in four-part harmony?

If you’ve encountered Anabaptists and want to know more about them, The Naked Anabaptist is for you.

Welcome to The Naked Anabaptist!

Training Courses

The Anabaptist Network can offer training courses ranging from a single day to an evening course spread over a number of weeks. There are four courses readily available:

1. Creating Church on the Margins - in partnership with Urban Expression we offer a one-day course exploring the challenge of post-Christendom, the phenomenon of the emerging church and the relevance of the Anabaptist tradition in this new mission context.

2. Introducing the Anabaptist Tradition - a one-day programme telling the story of the Anabaptist movement and reflecting on the significance of its distinctive convictions and practices for discipleship today.

3. Interactive Church - four sessions looking at 'Alternatives to the monologue – interactive learning'; 'Multi-voiced worship – interactive celebration'; 'Church discipline – interactive pastoral care'; and 'Alternatives to tithing – interactive economics'. These can be fitted into a single day or spread over four evenings.

4. Urban Church Planting - in partnership with Urban Expression we offer a 12 hour course on church planting in inner-city, multi-faith contexts. This can be done over a weekend or over six evenings.

For further information, please contact admin@anabaptistnetwork.com

In addition, there are a number of study guides on this website, offering resources for personal or group study. To access these, go to http://www.anabaptistnetwork.com/studycourses

Webinars 2014-15

The Centre for Anabaptist Studies at Bristol Baptist College, in partnership with the Anabaptist Network, the Mennonite Trust and the Church of the Brethren, has presented a series of webinars which will help us think through the opportunities and challenges of post-Christendom. Each is presented by an author of a published or forthcoming book in the 'After Christendom' series.

You can watch recordings of past webinars by following the links below. To watch future webinars live or for further information, please contact Stuart Murray Williams at anabaptist@bristol-baptist.ac.uk.

Thank you to the Church of the Brethren for their assistance in hosting these webinars.

The Heart of Anabaptism Series

The 2015-16 webinars organized by the Centre for Anabaptist Studies have explored the 7 core convictions of the UK Anabaptist Network, which summarize the heart of Anabaptism and its contemporary significance. They are also at the heart of the book The Naked Anabaptist.

Seven people from different contexts (the UK, South Africa, Australia and North America) have reflected on these convictions, critiqued them and asked how they work out in practice.

Joshua T. Searle: Core Conviction #1: "Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him."
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p4o2r6c38wu/?launcher=fals...

LaDonna Sanders Nkosi: Core Conviction #2: "Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship."
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p47f49kot3h/?launcher=fals...

Andrew Suderman: Core Conviction #3: "Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalized Jesus and has left the churches ill-equipped for mission in a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving."
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p34s2b4tvg2/?launcher=fals...

Juliet Kilpin: Core Conviction #4: "The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom."
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p5eb3gcwn3s/?launcher=fals...

Alexandra Eilish: Core Conviction #5: "Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship. As we eat together, sharing bread and wine, we sustain hope as we seek God’s kingdom together. We are committed to nurturing and developing such churches, in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender and baptism is for believers."
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p2q8v2b1s14/?launcher=fals...

Joanna Frew: Core Conviction #6: "Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation and working for justice."
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p9i4f8hput8/?launcher=fals...

Mark and Mary Hurst: Core Conviction #7: "Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society and between nations."
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p9k90wqtcl4/?launcher=fals...

The After Christendom Series

Stuart Murray Williams: The Fading Brilliance of Christendom:
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p2qy6ro6bio/?launcher=fals...

Lloyd Pietersen: Reading the Bible after Christendom:
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p8li8i2sjc8/?launcher=fals...

Nigel Pimlott: Youth Work after Christendom - revisited:
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p9fa413ai44/?launcher=fals...

Andrew Francis: Hospitality and Community after Christendom:
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p8wukgrzw4i/?launcher=fals...

Simon Perry - Atheism After Christendom:
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p1p0v7j3jin/?launcher=fals...

Brian Haymes and Kyle Gingerich Hiebert - God after Christendom
https://brethren.adobeconnect.com/_a938267129/p3feszn6ecj/?launcher=fals...

Debating the Meaning of Atonement

This section includes a number of articles offering perspectives on the debate about atonement that developed in evangelical circles around Steve Chalke and Alan Mann's book, The Lost Message of Jesus between 2004 and 2006. In that book one short section raised questions about the legitimacy of the 'penal substitution' view of atonement (although it did not explicitly refer to this view). This provoked a storm of protest from conservative evangelicals, including both reasoned theological arguments and vilification of the authors.

The role of the Evangelical Alliance

The Evangelical Alliance, having been challenged to exercise discipline over the supposedly heretical views of one of its most high-profile leaders, decided to host and organise a public debate on the subject in October 2004. Although several other evangelical leaders had already dissented from penal substitution, they had done so in more measured tones and in less popular books. It seems that Steve Chalke was too prominent to be allowed such leeway. The debate, which attracted several hundred people, was an opportunity for Steve to present and defend his views and for those who disagreed with him to explain why. The Evangelical Alliance did not regard this debate as in any way open-ended: it was made clear penal substitution would remain the doctrinal position of the Alliance, even though its statement of faith did not make an explicit commitment to this.

The debate continued after this public airing of views, with strong language being used on all sides and with some individuals and organisations 'coming out' publicly on the issue for the first time, and in July 2005 the Evangelical Alliance organised a theological symposium on the subject. Speakers holding diverse views participated but the level of interaction between them was disappointing (this was an evangelical rather than Anabaptist way of dialoguing!). A large majority of those present unsurprisingly reaffirmed penal substitution as a crucial doctrine and the central model for interpreting atonement.

After a period of reflection the Evangelical Alliance quietly issued a further statement early in 2006, placing this on its website and in its journal Idea. This asserted that the position of the Evangelical Alliance was that its new statement of faith, which like the previous one did not explicitly affirm or require a belief in penal substitution, implied penal substitution. It urged all those who signed up to the EA statement of faith to do so 'with integrity'. This statement appears to have been an attempt to draw a line under the issue and to discourage further discussion.

The involvement of the Anabaptist Network

The Anabaptist Network was drawn into this debate and was named on several occasions as one of the groups that was expressing dissent from the traditional position of the Evangelical Alliance on penal substitution. As a non-membership network we could not, of course, take up any official position on the subject, but several members of the steering group (and others) engaged in some form of dialogue, publicly or privately, about the meaning of atonement and the helpfulness or otherwise of penal substitution language to explain the work of Christ.

Stuart Murray Williams was asked by Steve Chalke to speak alongside him in the October 2004 debate, and both Stuart and Lloyd Pietersen (a trustee of the Network) participated in the July 2005 symposium. Jonathan Bartley, representing Ekklesia, was also heavily involved in reporting and reflecting on the debate - often in ways that caused concern to the Evangelical Alliance.

The articles in this section reflect the perspective of various members of the Network who participated in different aspects of this debate. They should not be understood as the official position of the Anabaptist Network (for we have no such position), but they highlight some of the issues that some Anabaptists have been concerned about in relation to this issue and the way it has been handled.

There is no univocal approach to atonement within the Anabaptist tradition. David Hilborn, who is the head of theology for the Evangelical Alliance and was deeply involved in the whole debate, addressed the South London study group of the Anabaptist Network in 2005, arguing that Anabaptists should be able to support penal substitution. Some undoubtedly do. But there are others writing from within the Anabaptist tradition who dissent strongly from this position - not least J Denny Weaver in The Non-violent Atonement. For a helpful article on the position of the early Anabaptists, see Frances Hiebert: 'The Atonement in Anabaptist Theology'. Within the steering group of the Anabaptist Network (drawn from several denominational backgrounds) there is general agreement that penal substitution is problematic both theologically and ethically.

This is not a subject on which the Anabaptist Network wants to become fixated, although some of us regard it as important and suspect that evangelicals will need to return to it again before too long. We recognise that the Evangelical Alliance wishes now to discourage ongoing debate on the subject and we do not intend to challenge this by making further public statements. But we do want to record here our unease at the way in which the debate has been handled and especially at the wording of the Evangelical Alliance's recent statement. We accept (following private conversations) that the intention of this statement is to be inclusive rather than exclusive, but we regard the wording as unfortunate. The Network is not, however, a member of the Evangelical Alliance and so we leave any further dialogue over this issue to those who are members.

Conclusion - for the time being

Two things have become very clear to us over the past few months:

1. Many more evangelicals than we had realised dissent quite strongly from penal substitution - but several fear to say so publicly for fear of how others will respond. We hope that in time a more open atmosphere will allow for free discussion of this subject without fear of reprimand.
2. Many evangelical churches teach a very crude version of penal substitution - nothing like the more nuanced version that the July 2005 symposium advocated. If this more nuanced version is the one the Evangelical Alliance is defending, we would encourage them to do much more to ensure it is taught in evangelical churches.

The forum in this section remains open for further comments, but we do not intend to feature further articles on this subject on this website or in our newsletter for the time being. But we look forward to further conversation at some point about models of atonement that are theologically and ethically more integrated than we find penal substitution to be and about appropriate ways of talking about the work of God in Christ in contemporary culture.

Debate focuses on Justice, God's wrath and the Atonement

By Robert McGovern and Tim Nafziger


If you'd like to share your own perspective on the debate we'd love to hear it. Just go to the Lost Message of Jesus Debate discussion forum.

It's not every Wednesday evening that you find a thousand Christians together, passionately debating theological concepts, but the 7th of October was one of those evenings. The Emmanuel Christian Centre was nearly filled for a debate on Steve Chalke's The Lost Message of Jesus, sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance.



The main thrust of Chalke's book is that the radical messages of Jesus have been lost over the years. While it is wide-ranging in its examination of Jesus' message, it is Chalke's views on atonement that has caused the most controversy. In chapter 10, Chalke looks at the message and meaning of the cross and indirectly discusses penal substitution, or the idea that the purpose of Jesus' death was to placate a wrathful God who can only be satisfied by the sacrifice of his own son.



The evening was an attempt by the Evangelical Alliance to respond to the controversy in a constructive way, by bringing both sides of the controversy together for a conversation. The evening was divided into two halves. The first half was a panel presenting their cases for and against. On that panel were Rvd Steve Chalke and his secondary Dr Stuart Murray Williams. On the opposing side it was Dr Simon Gathercol, seconded by Rev Dr Anna Robbins. The second half of the debate was a chance for people from the floor to ask questions which had been submitted on paper between the halves.



Chalke opened the evening by emphasizing that The Lost Message of Jesus was not just about atonement, the issue that his critics have most seized on, but also about rediscovering Jesus' call to radical discipleship and peace. He admitted that his book had gaps as it was not meant to be an academic or even theological book. “I wrote this book for those who don't know Christ yet,” he said, “We [Christians] are considered to be guilt-inducing and judgemental.” Our focus on penal substitution is part of that problem, he said.



By focusing simply on God's wrath and appeasement through the cross we paint a distorted picture of Gods character. We portray him as a someone bent on retribution rather than someone who loves us deeply but who is upset by our actions. Furthermore, Chalke said, penal substitution perpetuates the myth of redemptive violence.


Chalke clarified that he does believe in substitutionary atonement on the cross but not penal substitution. He also outlined the notion of Christus Victor which sees Christ's life, death and resurrection all together as victory over the powers of evil, both spiritual and earthly.



Gathercol responded with an assessment of a number of areas. First he felt that the book was too one sided and needed more balanced discussion. He said that Chalke's renderings of the Gospel made the future life a pale second best to now. “My concern with Steve's view is that it has very little to do with saving us for eternity,” said Gathercol, “[Jesus] does talk a heck of a lot about the final judgement.”



Responding to Chalke's critique of penal substitution, Gathercol made the point that it was Father and Son working in unison undertaking to bear weight of sin that we alone cannot. He suggested that it was not a unilateral decision on God's part to have Jesus go to the cross. He quoted on Mark 10:45 and said that the story of Jesus and the cross are biblical and inspiring and that Jesus is paying a ransom for us, arguing that you cannot simply get rid of a doctrine just because it was badly treated by some.



Gathercol echoed the concerns of many Evangelicals when he suggested that Chalke relativizes Jesus' message too much. “Steve has gone to town on what sounds good in our context,” he said. “Jesus anticipated that people weren't always going to lap up the message.” He went on to argue that the book is a serious revision of Jesus' message that does not fit with the picture of the “rescue mission” that is portrayed in John 3:16.



Chalke responded to Gathercol's criticism by saying that his message was not simpy “God loves you so take it easy.” However, at the other extreme he called on the church not to reduce Jesus' message to the “sinner's prayer” as a key to heaven. “In the end, if you believe in penal substitution, the cross is not primarily about God's love, but about God's anger,” he said.



Murray Williams opened his statement with a review of the early history of the church, noting that the early Christians had no real theories of atonement and it was only when they became associated with Constantine that they began to create theories of atonement. Until then, the focus of Christianity was on Jesus as an example and a teacher, not as a sacrifice. Murray Williams noted than many of the early teachings of Jesus became troublesome to a church that was becoming powerful, wealthy and had to look after an empire. Ideas like "love thy neighbour" took on a personal aspect but had to be "forgotten" on national levels. In the Nicene creed, Murray Williams pointed out, Jesus' influence has been reduced to his birth and death, leaving out the importance of his life. He outlined his six main problems with the penal substitution model. (see Murray Williams' statement for more details)


Robbins also echoed fears of cultural relativism and criticized what she described as the rebranding of atonement. She cautioned that this could lead to a Christ of human creation in the misguided attempt to fit in with the “Spirit of the Age.” She also said that it is important the penal substitution is rightly understood and pointed to J.K Mosely's work in 1915.



God demanded justice, Robbins said, but he also provided a way that justice could be met. “He must see a penalty exacted for sin,” Robbins said, “Otherwise, justice is not done.” She went on to argue that penal substitution is essential to a Christian social ethic because, she said, “It allows us to be able to love even when we can't on our own strength.”



All but one of the ten question from the floor clearly disagreed with Chalke. Many challenged him with verses about God's wrath, his punishment, fear of God and penal substitution. The questions did not reflect a sympathetic viewpoint, which judging by the audience, was also present.



Joel Edwards ending the evening by affirming the commitment of the Evangelical alliance to the penal subsitution model of atonement, despite what appears to be a commitment only to "subsitutionary atonement" in its official literature.

Photos courtesy of the Evangelical Alliance

Stuart Murray Williams on the Lost Message of Jesus

This is the text of Stuart Murray Williams' statement at the debate on Steve Chalk's book The Lost Message of Jesus sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance on the 7th of October, 2004. You can also read a report on the debate from Anabaptist Network members.

For nearly 300 years, following the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, Christians were on the margins. They were multiplying and spreading across the ancient world, but they were a powerless and counter-cultural community, which every so often the authorities decided to persecute.

For nearly 300 years, these Christians were committed to taking Jesus seriously, not only as their saviour but as their teacher and example. In the Alpha or Christianity Explored courses of their day, enquirers and new converts were taught, not just the meaning of Jesus’ death, but the meaning of his life and his message.

For nearly 300 years, these Christians were uninterested in developing theories of the atonement. They knew Jesus had died to save them, they preached ‘Christ crucified’ and they celebrated his resurrection triumph over the spiritual and political powers that oppressed them. They drew on various images the New Testament uses, but they did not insist on one formula or explanation. Certainly not penal substitution, of which there is little trace in the early centuries.

For nearly 300 years, the church grew rapidly, lived distinctively and witnessed graciously. This was by no means a perfect church, but it was a church inspired by the life and message of Jesus.

Then, very unexpectedly, early in the fourth century, the emperor decided to become a Christian and to make Christianity the imperial religion. Taken by surprise and with little time to think through the implications, the church accepted Constantine’s invitation to move from the margins to the centre.

In an astonishingly short period, the church became powerful, wealthy and influential. Free from the fear of persecution, no longer a powerless and deviant minority, they celebrated the triumph of the gospel over the empire. Christendom had arrived!

But there was a price to pay. Power brought corruption. The church became violent and coercive. Biblical teaching was distorted. The counter-cultural and non-violent life and message of Jesus was very awkward in this new context. And the political dimension of his death – crucified by the same Roman state that had now adopted Christianity – was profoundly embarrassing.

So the fourth-century Alpha course changed dramatically. Precisely defined doctrine became more important than faithful discipleship. The social, political and economic implications of the life and death of Jesus were abandoned. His message was ignored or domesticated to support the new status quo. The great fourth-century creeds ignored his life and message and moved straight from his birth to his death (the Nicene Creed, for example, moves from the statement ‘was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man’ to the statement ‘and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate’). No mention of the life and message of Jesus!

In fact, the price the church paid to move from the margins to the centre was that the message of Jesus was moved from the centre to the margins.

The Lost Message of Jesus: Steve’s book has prompted tonight’s dialogue. The focus so far has been on how we understand the atonement, the saving work of Jesus on the cross. This is really important – but most of the book is actually about the message of Jesus.

When was this message lost? Answer: during the fourth century, when the church compromised with the empire and exchanged faithfulness for power.

Ever since then, Christian movements on the margins of the church have tried to recover this lost message, to encourage each other to take Jesus seriously again. The Anabaptist tradition in which I stand is one such movement.

Previously such recovery movements have been crushed by the mainstream church, which still finds Jesus’ message very threatening. But the end of Christendom and the return of Christians to the margins in western societies are provoking more and more attempts to recover the message of Jesus. And this is vital for our mission or even our survival: in a culture that has rejected institutional Christianity but is still intrigued by Jesus our only hope is to recover and live out his revolutionary message.

Steve’s book is saying absolutely nothing new. It draws heavily on the careful scholarship of Tom Wright, a leading evangelical New Testament scholar, but it is rooted in the tradition of recovery movements calling the church back to the message of Jesus.

I hope we don’t get so caught up in debating theories of the atonement that we fail to respond to this challenge. There’s too much at stake.

But what about our understanding of the atoning work of Jesus? Is penal substitution the only interpretation of the death of Jesus that evangelicals can endorse? Is it the best way to read the relevant biblical texts? Is it good news in contemporary culture?

Let me say four things.

First, that I understand why many people – on both sides of the debate – feel strongly about this issue.

Some of you have found it liberating to discover that there are other ways of understanding the life and death of Jesus and you are here to register your support for what Steve and several other evangelicals are saying about the atonement.

For others, the notion of moving away from penal substitution seems to threaten the heart of the gospel and you are here to register your deep concern. For many years I accepted and taught penal substitution. In fact, I wasn’t really aware of other ways of interpreting the death of Jesus. And even when I discovered other interpretations I saw them as (at best) subsidiary ideas: penal substitution was what it was really all about. I no longer believe this, but I respect those who do and I understand why any critique of penal substitution is so worrying.

Second, in no way do I want to downplay the seriousness of human sin, the reality of divine anger or the wonder of Jesus dying on the cross as substitute and sacrifice.

But I am simply not persuaded that penal substitution is an appropriate way of interpreting or integrating the biblical teaching on these issues. I find it theologically and ethically problematic. However I have heard it explained (and there are different versions of it among evangelicals), it leaves me with serious concerns, many of which Steve has already outlined. Let me mention six of these concerns:

1. Punishing an innocent man – even a willing victim – is fundamentally unjust.

2. Biblical justice is essentially about restoration of relationships rather than retribution.

3. Penal substitution is inherently violent and contravenes central aspects of the message of Jesus.

4. Penal substitution raises serious difficulties for our understanding of the Trinity.

5. Penal substitution fails to engage adequately with structural and systemic evil.

6. If penal substitution is correct, neither the life of Jesus nor his resurrection have much significance.

I have heard and read responses to these points, but I have not found these responses persuasive. No doubt we will continue to examine some of them this evening.

Third, in light of what I said earlier about Christendom, about the centre and the margins, about the impact of where we stand on what we believe, I simply note that those who have objected most strongly to penal substitution are those who have felt marginalised by church and society – Black Christians, feminist Christians and Anabaptists.

For them it has not seemed good news. In fact, it has enhanced their experience of powerlessness and victimisation. I think we need to listen to these brothers and sisters and ask how we explain the death of Jesus to those on the margins, the abused, the victims, the sinned-against, in a way that brings hope and liberation.

Fourth and finally, how does our understanding of the atonement equip us to engage with crucial contemporary challenges? Two sample questions:

In a world threatened by religious, political and ideological divisions, and by deep mutual distrust, what understanding of the cross will equip followers of Jesus to be peacemakers?
In a world where revenge, retribution and the myth of redemptive violence have hugely increased suffering and insecurity, what understanding of the cross can offer alternatives to the present unimaginative and disastrous policies in relation to Iraq, the Middle East and terrorism and break the vicious circle?

Penal substitution – a relative newcomer among attempts to interpret the meaning of Jesus’ death – has captured the allegiance of most evangelicals. But it is rooted in the Christendom system, in imperial and coercive Christianity, in a church colluding with the powers rather than offering a prophetic challenge or an alternative vision of justice and peace.

As Christendom unravels, I believe we will need to look again at many deeply held convictions which are less biblical than we think and more influenced by a fading and oppressive culture than we realise.

Maybe this dialogue will be just one among many as evangelicals sift carefully the Christendom legacy and rediscover other aspects of the lost message of Jesus. May God give us the grace and courage to follow Jesus into this challenging but exciting new environment and to hold on to one another as fellow pilgrims.

The Lost Message of Jesus

Update: You can now read our Report on the Lost Message of Jesus Debate as well as Stuart Murray Williams statement from the evening or share your own vies in the Lost Message of Jesus Debate discussion forum.

We are pleased to announce a public debate sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance to explore the issues raised in The Lost Message of Jesus, a new book by Baptist minister Steve Chalke, which suggests his thinking is becoming increasingly ‘Anabaptist’. His book invites readers to take Jesus seriously and questions interpretations of the life and death of Jesus that imply God condones the use of violence for redemptive purposes.

You may also want to read the first chapter of The Lost Message of Jesus which is available on the internet here.

Stuart Murray Williams will be taking part in this debate and other members of the Anabaptist Network are planning to be there. If this is of interest to you, book a place.

Evangelical Alliance Press release

The Evangelical Alliance has arranged a public debate on issues raised by Steve Chalke's controversial new book, The Lost Message of Jesus. The Alliance has received a lot of correspondence about the book, both negative and positive, and has organised the meeting so that key points of disagreement can be addressed in a constructive way. As well as Steve Chalke himself, speakers will include Simon Gathercole, Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen, Stuart Murray, Chair of the UK Anabaptist Network and author of Post-Christendom, and Anna Robbins, Lecturer in Theology and Contemporary Culture at London School of Theology. The meeting will be chaired by David Hilborn, the Alliance's Head of Theology. Discussion will focus on the atonement, and will also cover the doctrine of God, sin, salvation, and the relationship between church, kingdom and mission.

Looking forward to the event, David Hilborn said, "We are keen to see the important questions raised by Steve's book tackled in depth by people well qualified to do so. We also feel it right to give Steve the opportunity to respond to the considerable criticism which he has received since the book appeared, as well as to suggest why it is selling so well. Rather than relying on second-hand opinions, we want people to read the book and then come to the debate, so that they can formulate their own view."

In addition to formal presentations by the speakers, there will be a panel discussion with questions from the floor.

The 'Lost Message' Debate will take place on Thursday 7th October, 7.30pm at Emmanuel Christian Centre, Marsham Street in Westminster, London. Tickets £3. Booking is advised, as places are limited. To reserve a place, contact Julia Murphy on 020 7207 2114 or email acute@eauk.org. To pre-pay, send a cheque marked 'Evangelical Alliance' to Julia Murphy, 'Lost Message Debate', Evangelical Alliance, Whitefield House, 186 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BT. The Lost Message of Jesus is published by Zondervan (£8.99). It is available at amazon.co.uk, and at selected booksellers.

The Lost Message of Jesus Debate

Having made a round trip of 400 miles in order to attend The Lost Message of Jesus debate, I would now like to comment on both the debate and what Steve Chalke has written. Firstly, I think it is unfortunate that in his book Steve chose to describe the penal substitution theory of the atonement as "cosmic child abuse". Like me, Steve has grown up in the evangelical sub-culture and must have known what the effect would be of using such emotive language. If he didn't then, he certainly does now. Sadly, in the resulting storm of controversy other important themes, not least Jesus' teaching on non-violence, have been side-lined. I would have preferred that Steve had made a much more thorough biblical and theological case against penal substitution before he decided to open Pandora's box.

However, to be fair, writing in the September issue of "Christianity" magazine, Steve has latterly made a cogent case against penal substitution, drawing attention to its neo-pagan origins whilst at the same time giving a good thumb-nail sketch of the alternative Christus Victor understanding of the atonement, acknowledging for example the work of Gustav Aulen. (Fortunately, Bishop Aulen's seminal work, "Christus Victor", was reprinted in paperback in 2003 by Wipf and Stock and so is easily available for those who wish to read it for themselves.)

Turning to the debate itself, it is clear to me that those who spoke against Steve Chalke and Stuart Murray Williams do not seriously wish to examine the philosophical, theological and political origins of their favoured model of the atonement, nor its ethical implications. This in turn has serious implications for those Christians who do wish to and there will be members of the Evangelical Alliance's constituency who may well need to reconsider their position as supporters of this organisation.

The Wondrous Cross: book review

The Wondrous Cross: Atonement and Penal Substitution in the Bible and History
Stephen R. Holmes, 144 pages, Paternoster Press (1 May 2007), £9.99

Review by Stephen Dintaman

First of all, this book is delightfully readable. The Wondrous Cross fills a niche that is too often ignored by academic theologians. Having digested a large corpus of biblical, historical and cultural material pertaining to the atonement, and specifically the penal substitution theory of the atonement, he presents what he has learned in a manner that is accessible to the non-professional reader, and that even is, at times, inspiring.

Holmes embraces the idea that scripture has no normative theory of atonement, but employs a wide variety of metaphors and analogies, none completely adequate, to illuminate the meaning and power of the cross. The Bible is very clear that the cross saves us, but less clear on exactly how it saves us. Chapter 3, ‘Come and See the King of Love’ explores eight different metaphors for atonement used in the New Testament. Each of these cries out to be developed more fully, but given the limits of this book, he does an adequate job.

The remainder of the book is given to exploring the biblical and historical backgrounds for the development of the penal substitution theory of atonement, and the various modern criticisms of this theory. He identifies John Calvin as the first theologian who systematically developed the idea that on the cross Jesus bore the penalty, death, that a righteous God and the law requires. He argues that the penal theory, correctly presented, is at least useful in illuminating the seriousness of sin, and the costliness of forgiveness. It becomes problematic only when it is presented as the normative explanation under which all other aspects of the biblical witness are subsumed, and when it is presented in a way that divides the trinity and pits a punitive, vengeful God against a loving, merciful Jesus. His own reconstruction of the theory (pp.96-99) uses the concept of ‘corporate responsibility’ to explain how one man, though innocent himself, can take on the guilt of others. This is motivated totally by love, not by a punitive God’s need to punish someone.

This book is a response and a guidebook to a controversy raging throughout the evangelical world on the appropriateness of the penal substitution model. Various critics see it as out of date, as suggesting that God is cruel and vengeful, based on unacceptable ideas about transference of guilt, that it encourages punitive views of justice, and that it even promotes the idea of “divine child abuse”. Holmes maintains a very irenic tone throughout his discussion of these criticisms. To the critics he says penal substitution presented well is not as destructive as they make it out to be. To its defenders he makes the case that the penal approach is not the normative biblical model, indeed that scripture does not even unambiguously teach this view. Where it is made the standard model other aspects of the cross are eclipsed and its power diminished.

Yet his defense of the doctrine is a remarkably weak one. On pages 42-43, he says things like, “Much of the language about the atonement in the New Testament could be understood in penal substitutionary terms if we had good reason to do so, but equally could be understood in other terms”. Or later, “It might be right, but the New Testament does not, as far as I can see, demand to be read that way…”. If the idea is not clearly affirmed by scripture, we might wonder if it is really worth the bother to come to its defense. I suspect Holmes’ defense of it is more out of respect for how deeply it is imbedded in evangelical piety than any real passionate zeal for the idea.

Holmes is very Pauline in his passionate affirmation of the saving power of the cross, but fairly un-Pauline in that he addresses all parties in the controversy in a respectful patient way. Early on (p.4) he summarizes the controversy by saying some interpreters believe that penal substitution is necessary to faith, while others “equally faithful” believe the idea dishonors God. His desire to keep the peace is admirable, yet there also comes a point where we might have to judge that some interpreters in their zeal to discredit penal atonement reject any idea of Christ’s death as the God willed provision for our salvation and thus rob the cross of its saving meaning and power.

Why did Christ die? Symposium Report

On 6-8 July 2005 nearly 200 people were involved in a theological symposium held at the London School of Theology and organised with the Evangelical Alliance to follow up the debate in October 2004 sparked by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann’s book, The Lost Message of Jesus. Two members of the Anabaptist Network were there – Lloyd Pietersen and Stuart Murray Williams. Stuart presented a seminar on the subject of ‘Penal Substitution and the Myth of Redemptive Violence’.

Papers from the symposium are available on the Evangelical Alliance website (in the Theology section): see www.eauk.org. These were generally of high quality, arguing persuasively for or against penal substitution as the central or at least a necessary understanding of atonement. Some explored exegetical issues, especially in relation to Isaiah 53, Romans and Hebrews. Others investigated the place of penal substitution in the history of evangelicalism (arguing that it has always been present but has been challenged at various stages) and the doctrinal statements of the Evangelical Alliance (with a tortuous analysis of the current, but soon to be updated, statement from which ‘penal’ was omitted at the last minute for reasons not fully explained). Other papers examined the theological, ethical and missional issues involved in our interpretation of atonement.

The atmosphere of the symposium was generally warm and friendly, with courteous contributions and disagreements, although there was a detectable undercurrent from certain quarters that broke surface in the penultimate session with a public call for evangelicals who reject penal substitution to repent of ‘grave and serious error’ and endorse the doctrine. While many involved in the symposium seemed uncomfortable with the attitude and language of this session, a straw poll of participants indicated that a large majority of those present regarded penal substitution as a vital and foundational understanding of atonement.

Perhaps the most significant paper was a keynote address by I Howard Marshall, in which he presented a statement of penal substitution around which he hoped the great majority of evangelicals could unite. It may well be that this is the way forward that the Evangelical Alliance will choose in order to hold together the broad network of evangelicals they represent. His paper was certainly an attractive, carefully nuanced presentation that minimised the objections that some present had to penal substitution. However, there were three aspects of his paper that left some of us wondering:

• Was he really describing penal substitution as this is taught and understood in most churches and by at least some evangelical writers? It sounded more like substitutionary atonement than penal substitution. Those of us who are happy to endorse substitutionary atonement but resist the notion of penal substitution (for various reasons) may be drawn to this formulation, but we may remain suspicious that this presentation airbrushed out aspects that most evangelical scholars and certainly most evangelical Christians include within their notion of penal substitution. If Marshall is right in his interpretation, there is a huge gap between scholarly and other expressions of penal substitution! This needs urgent attention. But is he right? Or was this a non-representative presentation of penal substitution?
• Marshall insisted that penal substitution was not only one valid understanding of the atonement alongside other equally biblical and significant models, but the underlying, central and vital understanding that integrated all the others. Even if his interpretation of evangelical understandings of penal substitution is correct, some of us would still baulk at ascribing this model such centrality.
• The paper made no connection between the death of Jesus and his human life and teaching. In response to a challenge on this point (from Lloyd), Marshall accepted that the life of Jesus was significant but explained that his task was to expound the theology of atonement. This is exactly the point that continues to cause some of us concern: is it legitimate to discuss the theology of atonement in isolation from the life of Jesus? Isn’t this one of the problems with penal substitution – that it does not relate to the life and teaching of Jesus?

Other issues raised for some of us by this symposium include:

• How should we respond to the groundswell of support expressed for those who have challenged penal substitution over the past few months? Whatever the outcome of this symposium – and it seems likely that evangelicals will be urged to unite around the new Evangelical Alliance statement of faith that, like the previous one, implies but does not explicitly affirm penal substitution – in many churches we know there are Christians who feel deeply uncomfortable with this theology of atonement (especially if it is taught as the central model). However, they feel unable to challenge their leaders on this issue for fear of censure. We know of people who have been effectively excommunicated for even daring to question penal substitution (let alone rejecting this).
• How do we continue to address the ethical and missional issues that for us are caught up with our theology of atonement? Only Joel Green’s paper raised in a plenary context at the symposium the issue of violence and in seminars where these issues were raised there was reluctance to explore them in any depth. So what can we do to ensure that the key ethical and missional dimensions of this debate are not submerged under exegetical discussions? Perhaps this is an area where Anabaptists can continue to challenge conventional ways of thinking.
• How do we encourage people to wrestle with hermeneutical as well as narrow exegetical questions? The most vociferous proponents of penal substitution at the symposium wanted exegetical issues to be at the forefront, but surely there is a prior question about our hermeneutics. How do we read the texts? What are the connections between the life of Jesus and theological explanations of his death? Is Scripture flat or is Jesus the focal point? What difference does a Christocentric Anabaptist hermeneutic make to this discussion?
• How can we find ways of discussing issues like the theology of atonement that are truly multi-voiced and participative? One of the disappointing features of the symposium was the lack of space for interaction and dialogue. There were opportunities for questions and comments after plenary speeches, but these were very short; there was no significant opportunity to hear speakers engage in dialogue together; and the programme was so full that there was little time even for informal discussion. The symposium appeared to be stereotypically Reformed/evangelical in its structure and ethos: authoritative presentations with limited interaction. How might Anabaptists have structured it?
• There were statements during the symposium to the effect that the event was not a consistory court with power to discipline recalcitrant participants, or that this was not an occasion for the evangelical ‘thought police’ to operate. While grateful for this assurance, it left some of us wondering about when those who organised the symposium felt such activities might be appropriate. Given the accusations of heresy against some participants in the penultimate session, has the evangelical constituency entirely broken free of the Christendom mindset and the inherent tendencies to coercion and persecution that characterised the Reformed tradition out of which evangelicalism emerged? While we do not suspect the organisers will attempt to exercise discipline in the way suggested during the penultimate session, Anabaptists are perhaps more sensitive than many traditions to this issue. How can we foster an ethos of gracious dissent and open-heartedness to fellow Christians who disagree with us?

We welcome comments from others who participated in the symposium or who have read the papers. Please also see the atonement survey on this website and register your convictions there.

Training and Consultancy

Stuart Murray
Stuart Murray Williams works as a trainer and consultant under the auspices of the Anabaptist Network. Based in Bristol, he travels widely in the UK and overseas and works with local churches, mission agencies, denominational leaders, conferences and individuals. He has worked with at least 25 denominations in recent years. His particular areas of expertise are in:

  • Church planting
  • Emerging church
  • Urban mission
  • Mission in post-Christendom
  • Anabaptist history and theology

Under the name Stuart Murray, he has written books on a number of topics, including:

The Challenge of the City

published by Sovereign World in 1994

Written after twelve years in Tower Hamlets, East London – one of the most socially deprived, culturally diverse and under-churched areas of Britain – working as a church planter to establish what is now called Tower Hamlets Community Church. This book aims to provide a biblical and theological foundation for urban ministry and advocates that urban mission should be recognised as a strategic priority.

Explaining Church Discipline

published by Sovereign World in 1995

An extended reflection on the classic passage in Matthew 18, exploring historical reasons for the neglect of this practice, examining other biblical passages on the subject, and advocating the development of communities of disciples where loving church discipline is taught and practised.

Church Planting: Laying Foundations

published by Paternoster Press in 1998

A critical assessment of church planting strategies and practices, offering a biblical, theological and historical foundation for this component of mission. Attention is given to the postmodern and post-Christendom context for contemporary church planting. This is really a book on ecclesiology and mission from an Anabaptist perspective, using church planting as a way in to a range of issues.

Hope from the Margins

(jointly with Anne Wilkinson-Hayes) published by Grove Books in 2000

A booklet reflecting on the continuing decline in UK church membership and the disenchantment of many Christians with their churches and offering stories of new ways of being church that may function as signs of hope, provoking questions about what the church needs to become as we move into a new millennium.

Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition

published by Pandora Press in 2000

A detailed study of the principles and practices of sixteenth-century Anabaptists as they interpreted the Bible, comparing and contrasting this with Catholic, Protestant and Spiritualist approaches. This book identifies six key factors: the accessibility of the Bible to all Christians, Christocentrism, the relationship between the Testaments, the tension between Spirit and Word, the role of the congregation and the importance of application. A final section contends that this marginalised hermeneutic approach has parallels with contemporary approaches and significant contributions to make to biblical interpretation in post-Christendom.

Beyond Tithing

published by Paternoster Press in 2000

Starting from the premise that tithing is ‘bad news to the poor’ and thus an unjust and unwise principle to guide contemporary Christians in their financial dealings, this book examines biblical references to tithing and concludes that it is a biblical but not Christian practice. It investigates the strange silence about tithing in the pre-Christendom period and explores the miserable history of tithing in medieval and early modern Europe. Tithing is presented as a case study of the vestiges of Christendom that need to be identified and eradicated. Final chapters invite readers to reflect on other biblical principles, especially jubilee and koinonia, and to be creative and radical in giving and sharing.

Coming Home: Stories of Anabaptists in Britain and Ireland

(jointly with Alan Kreider) published by Pandora Press in 2000

The development of a vibrant Anabaptist Network in the UK, which has minimal historical links with this tradition, has surprised many. This book contains about sixty stories of those (from a Catholic monk to an Anglican canon to a Baptist minister to a House Church leader) for whom the Anabaptist tradition has been important. Essays by Alan Kreider, Noel Moules, Chris Rowland and Stuart Murray attempt to interpret and reflect on the significance of this phenomenon.

Church Planting: Past, Present and Future

(jointly with George Lings) published by Grove Books in 2003

A review of church planting in the 1990’s across the denominations, reflecting on what was and was not achieved during this period and the lessons that have been learned. A summary of the crucial theological and strategic issues that need to be considered for effective church planting today and tomorrow.

Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World

published by Paternoster in 2004

The end of Christendom, where the Christian story was known and the church was central, invites Christians in western culture to embrace marginality and discover fresh ways of being church and engaging in mission. This book is an introduction: a journey into the past, an interpretation of the present and an invitation to ask what following Jesus might mean in the strange new world of post-Christendom.
Read more

Church after Christendom

published by Paternoster in 2005

The second book in the 'After Christendom' series, this explores various aspects of church and mission in the strange new world of post-Christendom, including the relationship between believing, belonging and behaving; why people join and leave churches; what kinds of churches are emerging on the margins of inherited church and contemporary culture; and how mission, community and worship might be reconfigured in this new environment
Read more.

Changing Mission: Learning from the Newer Churches

published by Churches Together in Britain & Ireland (CTBI) in 2006

The third book in the series commissioned by Building Bridges of Hope, this is a survey of the 'emerging church' scene and a reflection on its possible significance for mission in contemporary culture. Offering a distinctive Anabaptist perspective, and earthed in many stories of emerging churches, this book uses a post-Christendom lens to explore this popular subject.

Church Planting in the Inner City

(with Juliet Kilpin) published by Grove books in 2007

An introduction to the distinctive dynamics of planting churches in inner-city communities, illustrated by the experience over the past ten years of Urban Expression (a Root and Branch partner of the Anabaptist Network).

Planting Churches: A Framework for Practitioners

published by Paternoster in 2008

A straightforward introduction to the practicalities and dynamics of planting new churches, fresh expressions or emerging forms of church.

The Naked Anabaptist

published by Herald Press in 2010 and by Paternoster in 2011

An exposition of the seven core convictions of the Anabaptist Network, with examples of their practical outworkings, exploring why Christians from many traditions are drawn to Anabaptism today.

Some of these books can be obtained from the Anabaptist Network at the following prices (including p & p):

Church Planting: Laying Foundations £14.95
Hope from the Margins £3.50
Coming Home: Stories of Anabaptists in Britain and Ireland £14.00
Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition £14.00
Church Planting: Past, Present and Future £3.50
Post-Christendom £9.99
Church after Christendom £9.99
Changing Mission £8.99
Church Planting in the Inner City £3.50
Planting Churches £9.99
The Naked Anabaptist £9.00

To contact Stuart or to order any of these books, email:
admin@anabaptistnetwork.com