The Anabaptist Network comprises people from all over Britain and from a wide range of church backgrounds. Some are simply names on a mailing list, interested in keeping in touch and knowing about activities of the Network. Others are much more fully involved in exploring the implications of Anabaptism for discipleship, mission and church life in contemporary culture.
Although the Network includes some Mennonites and members of a Hutterian bruderhof, it is comprised mainly of Christians from traditions that do not have direct historical links with Anabaptism. Anabaptist values and perspectives have begun to impact Christians from Catholic, Anglican, Quaker, Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed, Pentecostal, House Church and other backgrounds.
The Anabaptist Network has made visible this growing interest in Anabaptism and has encouraged further exploration. It has been a rallying point and an opportunity for dialogue. New members joining the Network have frequently expressed a sense of “coming home” to a tradition that embodies their own convictions and provides a framework that integrates these. Some have also been relieved to find that they are not the only ones attracted to the Anabaptist tradition and concerned about the issues it raises. And many have been pleased to discover that we are a Network, not an institution, an informal coalition rather than a movement, and relational rather than denominational.
The Anabaptist tradition has been wary of creeds and fixed statements of faith, concerned at imposing interpretive grids on Scripture and of conveying the idea that there is no possibility of our understanding developing in fresh ways. But Anabaptists have produced various Confessions, setting out not a comprehensive statement of beliefs but a summary of distinctive values, convictions and practices. These statements are always provisional and subject to review in light of fresh insights.
In the late-1990s the Anabaptist Network developed a statement of its Core Convictions. The Network is a diffuse and diverse community, with no official membership or criteria for involvement. Not everyone involved would necessarily sign up to everything in this statement. But these Core Convictions summed up what some of us who had been involved in the Network for some years believed we were committed to. In the spirit of the Anabaptist tradition these are offered as provisional rather than final and we are committed to reviewing and revising them from time to time.
What follows is the current version (revised in January 2006 in light of comments at our May 2005 residential conference, at which the convictions were explored in various ways). For those interested, the previous version can be found below.
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.
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.
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, marginalised 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.
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.
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.
6. Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in 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.
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.
We are not interested in Anabaptism as an end in itself, but as a lens through which to rediscover Jesus and his call to discipleship. Nor do we regard Anabaptism as a flawless tradition, or as complete in itself, but as a significant movement within European (and now global) church history, whose voice has been silent for too long. We believe the Anabaptist tradition offers crucial insights for churches now operating from the margins and facing the challenges and opportunities of witness in a post-Christendom culture. We believe it calls Christians back to the forgotten centrality of Jesus, and on to a more radical missionary engagement with contemporary society.
Participants in conferences and study groups, subscribers to Anabaptism Today and others involved in Network activities are drawn to Anabaptism for various reasons. Some are interested mainly in one aspect of the tradition (discipleship, community, peace, etc.). Others are intrigued by sixteenth-century Anabaptist history and want to know more about this movement. Many are searching for ways to renew their own churches and traditions. Some have “come home” to Anabaptism and now identify themselves primarily with this tradition.
Consequently, we have developed some core convictions but no “statement of faith” or set organisational procedures. The Anabaptist tradition has generally been wary of creeds and has encouraged ongoing dialogue rather than fixed positions. The Network has developed over the past decade through conversations over meals, discussions among friends old and new, sharing ideas and experiences. It operates not as a “bounded set” (where concern to define insiders and outsiders requires careful definition and maintenance of boundaries), but as a “centred set” (a more dynamic model, where relationships rather than rules define belonging, and where the focus is on living by and communicating core convictions).
Despite the informal nature of the Network, we recognise that every movement in which people care passionately about things encounters conflict. We choose to name this so that we are not taken by surprise when tensions develop. Convinced that peace is at the heart of the gospel, we are committed to dealing with the conflicts that inevitably will arise by seeking God’s way through them, not fearing conflict but facing it, recognising that conflict well handled can bond a group together.
Formed in 1992, the Anabaptist Network is a loose-knit, relational network of individuals interested in drawing on the insights and experiences of the Anabaptist tradition. During the 1980s, a study group met in London to explore issues of common interest and to learn from Anabaptist materials. We studied together, became friends and began to think about other people we knew with similar interests.
By 1991 we felt that the time might be right to develop an Anabaptist Network in the UK, to strengthen friendship links between those who shared common interests and perspectives. Many of these had encountered Anabaptism through the ministry of Alan and Eleanor Kreider, Mennonite missionaries in England. We wrote to about 600 people, inviting them to join this emerging Network and 450 responded positively. The Anabaptist Network was formed, a journal, Anabaptism Today, was launched, and in 1993 we set up a charitable trust to administer the Network.
Our mandate is to offer resources and perspectives from the Anabaptist tradition for reflection on Christian discipleship in a post-Christendom culture, where churches are now on the margins rather than at the centre of society. We want to encourage friendship and sharing of ideas between those who are wrestling with the challenges of this context and who are interested in mining this marginalised tradition for responses. Above all, we want to stimulate and encourage faithful and creative forms of mission, church life and discipleship.
The Network sponsors regional groups (previously known as study groups) in various parts of the country, which offer opportunities every couple of months for members of the Network to meet together informally and locally to explore Anabaptist themes and their contemporary significance. Some groups have met for two or three years before disbanding, feeling that they have achieved their aims; others have continued to meet over several years. Each has developed its own identity and flavour.
You can find regional groups in your area in the Anabaptist Network regional groups listing.
During 2012 Anabaptist activities and networking in Scotland increased. Information about this can be found on the ‘Exploring Anabaptism’ blog at http://anabaptismscotland.blogspot.co.uk, or by contacting Ian Milligan at firstname.lastname@example.org.