One Anglican’s Ode to Anabaptists… Sort of (Carson T Clark)

Carson T. Clark is one of my favorite blogger friends.  He’s smart, witty, and has a passion for the kingdom of God.  We don’t agree all the time, but that’s what makes for good conversation!  I hope you will check out his blog and add it too your readers!  Follow him on Twitter and Facebook as well.


Over a decade as a christian vagabond I intently explored 16 different traditions before finding a home in Anglicanism. No doubt it has been a flawed effort, but I’ve made a since effort to glean the best elements of each of those expressions. That’s why I tell people that while I’m part of one tradition, I pretty much consider myself a mutt of Christendom. The challenge is now integrating those things within my faith and practice. 1 of the 16 was the Anabaptist tradition (*Just a good-natured dig). I can’t say that I fully agree with Anabaptists on any one point, but I do want to highlight the ways they’ve profoundly influenced me. The word “ode” doesn’t apply to this genre, but that’s the general spirit behind this post.

In no particular order, here are the five things I love about Anabaptists:

1) Christian Non-Violence – As previous posts on George McFly and Stanley Hauerwas have shown, I’m definitely not a pacifist. Yet I’m much closer to the Christian Non-Violence perspective than I am Just War Theory. As far as ethics go, John Howard Yoder ranks far higher in my mind than Augustine.

2) Discerning Allegiance – Anabaptists don’t swear their loyalty to anyone or anything but Christ and His Kingdom. As you might imagine, they’ve faced severe persecution for this. Quite tragically, it’s one of the few things that has united such historic enemies as Roman Catholics and Calvin’s Geneva, the U.S government during WWII to Soviet Russia during the Cold War. Awesome! These people practice what they preach. I offer a tip of the cap.

3) Theological Humility – Maybe they’re out there and just off my radar, but I’ve never known an Anabaptist who was obsessive about systematic theology. God bless ‘em. Seriously, have you ever heard an Anabaptist refer to himself/herself as a Calvinist or an Arminian, Pentecostal or Cessationist, Dispensationalist or Covenant Theologian? They sometimes cautiously toy with labels like evangelicalism, but overall they just don’t get their theological panties in a bunch even when they’re rigorous thinkers. Contrast that with, say, Presbyterians. Kurt Willems here at the Pangea Blog is a fine example of passionate faith and intellectual exploration grounded in Anabaptist theological humility.

4) Lack of Pretension – Anabaptists are down to earth folks. They seem to have this inoculation against materialism that always amazes me. Of course, I do think they’re aesthetically handicapped. That’s the downside. On several occasions I’ve walked out of Anabaptist churches thinking, ‘You do know that God is the Creator and we’re made in His image, right? Logically, that would suggest…’ The strength, however, is people who just aren’t jerks. This contrasts remarkably with many of the Episcopalians/Anglicans I keep meeting who are clearly given to snooty condescension. Often times when I’m writing blog posts I think, ‘Would an Anabaptist reader think I’m being a jerk?’ If so, I rewrite it. That’s just about the highest praise I can offer.

5) Loving Work Ethic – Have you ever met a group of people who consistently work harder at loving people than Anabaptists? They’ll bend of backward to help ya, give you the shirt of their back, and whatever other cliché you can think of. Let me give two brief examples. First, it’s a little thing, but the chairs for wife’s and my kitchen table were breaking a year ago. (This is what happens when you buy furniture from Wal-Mart.) I asked a Mennonite buddy if he could possibly help me out. The next day he’s at my house. Couple days after later they were fixed better than ever, and he’s apologizing for taking so long to return them. Naturally, he refused payment or even a “I owe you one.” Second, I visited a Mennonite church and this guy confessed that he was grumbling. What about? A tornado had ripped apart a town a couple states away. At the crack of dawn on Saturday morning the guys from church gave him a call, told him to grab his chainsaw, and be ready to be picked up by 7:30. Figuring there had to be more to the story, I asked what the connection was. The dude gave me a puzzled look. I asked, “Friends or family? Another Mennonite community?” Nope. Just people who needed help. I’m telling you, Anabaptists are characterized by simple, hard-working love that’s  quite reminiscent of early Christians.

In sum, there’s many christian expressions, including my own, could stand to learn an awful lot from Anabaptists. My hope is that this post is an encouragement in that direction.

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  • Wayne

    I’m so in need of a simpler label. Currently I am a closet emergent, post-evangelical, anabaptist leaning, open (as in Boyd), intentional communitarian (whatever that is). 

  • Insightful and even-handed, as always. Keep it up, my friend!

    • Clark Bailey

      I have to completely agree. 

  • Kind words, Carson.  You’re right that traditionally, Anabaptists seem to miss the artistic/aesthetic side of faith…with the exception of a capella singing, which I truly miss since I’m not around Mennos any more.  I think some of the newer strains may have caught this though.

    Perhaps more spiritually, it was one of my Catholic (Roman) friends who pointed out to me years ago that in our aversion to ceremony and ritual, we can fail to recognize the miraculous in God’s dealing with people.  While I don’t find ritual a helpful antidote myself, her observation was correct, I think.

    • I do have to confess my ignorance in that I’m not up-to-date on Anabaptist cultural developments. My experience is primarily historical and theological, but I have visited 3 or 4 Anabaptist churches and have some good Anabaptist friends. If they’re doing better with the aesthetics, that’s great news.

      • You might or might not be pleasantly surprised.  Mennonites are all over the map on this.  I could take you to Mennonite churches with plain white walls, no window treatments, and no symbols of any kind in the meeting house.  I can also take you to churches where everyone in the place looks like a returned Peace Corps volunteer, and they’re as likely to sing a worship song in Zulu or Hindi as English…and it may be because they’re genuinely multicultural or it may be because they’re carefully cultivating the image of openness.  I can show you Mennonites who still consider dancing a sin, and others who would have liturgical dance in the morning worship.

        In other words, I have the sense that Mennonites are about as monolithic as Anglicans…  ;{)

      • Nancy Fitzgerald

        I would like to use your comments in a newsletter article to our Church of the Brethren congregation. I think it will invite some reflection on our part. May I? Your name will appear and any web info you would like me to add.
        thank you

  • Justin Burkholder

    Maybe the way that anabaptists were challenged/persecuted in the 16th and 17th century has led them to this theological humility you mention.  Obviously, persecution has a purifying element where we learn to take seriously only those things that ought to be taken seriously.  I’ve always been under the assumption that every strand of Christianity could use a good dose of persecution.  Although, it is quite impressive that they have maintained this ethos centuries later.  Just a thought.

  • Zac

     Something I have always appreciated about Anabaptist, Mennonites in general is their passion for doing social justice, akin to your ‘loving work ethic’. I find the MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) to be a great organization and love visiting their thrift stores that are all over the place especially in the the Midwest.

  • Ian

    Illuminating, Carson. Well done.

  • As an Anabaptist I think this post is pretty spot on. One of the things that drew me to an Anabaptist tradition (I like your subtle jab there) was their Activist stance on Nonviolence. 
    The theological humility you mentioned is the thing that sealed the deal for me as I entered ministry.  As it was explained to me, when you have been called a heretic and tortured and oppressed for generations at the hands of those who seek doctrinal purity you tend to be more accept others whose views don’t completely aline with your own.

    • Accepting of doctrinal variance… accept, of course, if the issue in question is paedobaptism. 😉

      • Pardon me. I just like a good-natured, subtle jab, which Kurt and I have borderline perfected… But, seriously, I really do appreciate Anabaptists’ overall theological humility.

        • No pardon needed among brethren, Carson!  ;{)

          ps. I liked your dig about Anabaptist tradition too…just forgot to mention it in my reply…but it did NOT go unnoticed!

      • Not just that, actually.  You’re referring to the better angels of Anabaptism, really.  Having spent some time in some pretty old-school conservative Mennonite churches, I can tell you that “variance” is definitely not always accepted or embraced!

  • Pardon me. I just like a good-natured, subtle jab, which Kurt and I have borderline perfected… But, seriously, I really do appreciate Anabaptists’ overall theological humility.

  • Anonymous

    As always, love when two of my favorite bloggers join up. 🙂 You guys will have to do guest posts for each other more often since I like to think of you two as “peanut butter and jelly” when it comes to blogging. 

  • Jonathan Smith

    I too spent some time as an Anabaptist, a pastor actually, and married to one! Your comments moved me in “feeling remembrance.”

    Mennonites have gotten better at theology, and in some cases with aesthetics. I tried and they tolerated my attempts. Their new confession of faith, while not saying “real presence” gets close. You might want. To check out Tom Finger’s Eschatological Theology. He’s a Presbyterian turned Anabaptist who brought his systematic skills with him. I think a listen to the Anabaptist understanding of the gathered community at the table as a sign of the body of Christ present and visible would enrich our sacramental understanding and strengthen the practical expression of the incarnation into “Anglican” life.

    Fr Jonathan Smith
    King of Kings Charismatic Episcopal Church
    Sarasota, Florida