This is the second of two guest posts by Simone Ramacci, a friend from Great Britain.
Simone is a biology research student and the leader of a campus ministry at the University of Essex (England). He is currently serving as an intern at the local Congregational church and as Science & Religion Rep for the Student Christian Movement (UK).
4. The Church and Evangelism
We now come to a big issue in contemporary Christianity: what is the role of the Church today?
Back at the time of the Reformation, the Church was, more or less, a matter of public policy. A Catholic country would mean everyone was born Catholic, and likewise for Lutherans and Reformed. One’s Church membership would begin soon after birth, at their baptism, and would remain the same for the rest of one’s life.
Anabaptists, as we’ve seen, refused this idea of being born into the Church. It was clear to them that being a Christian meant following the path of discipleship, making a commitment to live a Jesus-driven life. It was not exactly a new idea; it is well known to scholars that becoming a Christian in the early years of Christianity meant a long period of catechesis, trying on the life of discipleship before even being baptised.
Too often we consider the “church” a building we go to once weekly, do our duty by sitting in for the service, catch up with fellow members, and repeat the following week. Like both Catholics and Protestants, we still have the unhealthy habit of assuming people will be born into the Church and stay there, because our idea of Church membership is a name on a form and a familiar face on a chair.
What we can learn from Anabaptist and early Christians is the true meaning of Church. It doesn’t need to be an isolated community, but it should be a group of people (however dispersed) who live in a way that is counter-cultural and, sometimes, frowned upon by others. I do not mean to suggest we should cling to our taboos and holiness codes, any group can do that; what I do mean is that we need to remember discipleship must be taken seriously and must be a conscious decision.
Forget the cringe-worthy notion of people handing out John 3:16 pamphlets on the street, being “real”Church means real evangelism: it was never just about theology, the early Church (and the Anabaptists) grew because their message was something refreshing in their own culture, a new way of being grounded in the True Human, Jesus Christ, a way of living which was clearly distinguishable from everyone else.
- From theory to Practice
It is now time to see how what we discussed would look like in real life.
The first implication of Anabaptist thought is that the Church is a community of people who have committed to the Way of Jesus, rather than people who are born into it. I cannot stress this enough: the Good News needs to be preached and experienced to all and by all, including our (grand)sons and (grand)daughters who are born into “a Christian family”. If one’s whole experience of Christianity is going to church on a Sunday or saying a prayer before bed, then the Church will become irrelevant.
From this flows the question of what a Christian life lived in the footsteps of Jesus looks like. How can we know him? Christ is present for us in and through God’s Spirit. The unknown Wisdom which we could only glimpse in nature is fully shown in a real historical person whom we can know and follow as he is remembered by his Church through the power of the Abba who vindicated him.
To follow Jesus is then to embody the radical third way which he embodied, which was the way the early Church tried to follow then, and the Anabaptists try to follow today. This Way is centred in the loving-kindness of God to which Jesus was witness, which we manifest as a community in our radical love lived in daily life. We are called to love everyone without letting our holiness codes get in the way of loving, love everyone even when we know it will cost us (and cost Jesus it did!), and love everyone even when we are trying to fight their oppression. We are called to renounce violence, to the point that, even if we are to defend ourselves, we will refuse to take a life, to the point that we will be called names when we refuse to take part in civil traditions that discriminate between “us and them”, to the point that we will be criticized for not wanting the worst of people to get “what they deserve”.
This is what it means to know and follow Jesus as our Lord in life (and death), and together with his unending love, we are to imitate his trust in the One he called Abba, who is Father to us all.
This is the Way of Jesus, not any easy-going-Gospel!
— Simone Ramacci