So let’s say you really love Jesus, and God’s Word, and His people.
But let’s say you are also concerned about how Christians often don’t look that much like Jesus, and have a tendency to cherry-pick Bible passages that let them bypass the teachings and example of Christ, and you’re alarmed at how the Church can so easily compromise with worldly political parties and systems and powers, and you long to get back to the pure simplicity of just knowing and following Jesus.
What does one do with all of this?
If you’re like me, you become an Anabaptist – a “Third Way Christian.”
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The idea that Christians should actually be trying to live like Jesus did should be a no-brainer. And yet often we Christians have erected theologies, doctrines, and practices that seem to take us away from the teachings and example of Christ.
Enter the Anabaptists.
This movement finds its roots in the Protestant Reformation, when a small group of Christians applauded the new Protestant movement, but felt that it didn’t go far enough. They welcomed the shift back towards Scripture and the Gospel, and the reclaiming of the priesthood of all believers, but felt that there was something crucial still missing: an emphasis on Christians actually looking like Jesus, and following the teachings of Christ as a top priority.
Since the Protestant revolution that was occurring in Western Christianity didn’t quite fit what they were looking for, this small group broke away from the Protestants and began their own thing. As one point of theological difference, both Protestants and Catholics at that time practiced infant baptism, a phenomenon that this new group could not justify by Scripture. So, they chose to get baptized again as adults, upon the confession of their own faith in Jesus, rather than accept the baptism that their parents had chosen for them as babies. Infant-baptizing critics contemptuously gave this group the name, “Anabaptists,” which means “the re-baptizers,” and the name stuck.
Anabaptists kept the title, but also at times referred to themselves as “The Third Way,” since they were not Catholic, they were not quite Protestant, but represented a third approach to following after Jesus.
So what exactly is this “Third Way?” Here is a brief picture:
- We are biblically-grounded. Most Christians would claim this, of course. From the beginning, Anabaptists turned to Scripture for answers on all matters of faith. Infant baptism is a great example of this in action – you can’t find the practice in Scripture, therefore it does not need to be followed.
- We are similar to Protestants on the big stuff. Concerning God, Scripture, Jesus, sin, the cross and resurrection, Christ as the only way of salvation, eternity, the Second Coming, etc., Anabaptists would generally agree with Protestant doctrine on these matters.
- We are unapologetically Christ-centered in theology and practice. The Bible is the written Word of God; Jesus is the Lived-out Word of God (Jn 1.14). Jesus is what it looks like when a human lives out God’s Word perfectly. Because of this, all matters of faith, ministry, theology, and practice are viewed through the lens of Jesus Christ; who He is, what He taught, and how He lived. If a matter is un-Christlike, then Anabaptists want nothing to do with it, as “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did” (1Jn 2.6).
- We revere the Old, and prioritize the New. All Scripture is God-breathed (2Tim 3.16), but not all Scripture is equally applicable to the life of the Christian. Most Christians already believe this to some extent, as we understand the difference between the Old and New Covenants, and so on this side of the cross, we no longer sacrifice animals, worry about priestly garments, demand circumcision of our men, etc. We study the Old Testament, we teach it, we revere it as part of the infallible and inspired Word that teaches us about God and points us towards Christ – and we also understand that the New Covenant has brought a new way of life that makes the Old Covenant obsolete to us (Heb 8.7-13). This means that if the Old and New Testaments ever come into conflict with one another on a matter (such as Israel’s call to kill her enemies [e.g. Josh 10.40] vs. Jesus call to love our enemies [Mt 5.43-48]), then it’s not hard for us to discern what to do – we go with Jesus and the New every time.
- We are opposed to the tenets of Christendom. Christendom refers to the merging of Church and State into one kingdom, as was the case for many countries in medieval European history, and as is often called for by some Christians in modern America, as examples. But from their origin story, Anabaptists have always felt that the separation of Church and State is actually good and right, believing that the Church has a job to do, and the State has a job to do, and that they should not be one and the same. History demonstrates that when Church and State get too chummy, things can get pretty toxic, where the Church inevitably seems to compromise itself in order to appease the worldly power. So, Anabaptists are happy to pray for their secular leaders, and live quiet and peaceful lives before them, (1Tim 2.1-2), pay their taxes (Mt 22.15-21), and then focus their attention on God’s Kingdom, and not any earthly kingdom (Mt 6.9-10; Phil 3.20).
- We are committed to peace and peacemaking. Perhaps the best known aspect of Anabaptist branches like the Amish and the Mennonites is a commitment to non-violence (pacifism). Violence is the way of the world, and Christians are to be different from the way of the world (2Co 6.17). As it seems impossible to obey Christ’s command to love your enemies (Mt 5.43-48) while trying to harm or kill your enemies, Anabaptists have always chosen to prioritize Christ’s command and take it seriously. This doesn’t mean that we sit idly by in the face of evil or oppression; it means that we take good, active, passionate, transformative, yet ultimately non-violent and non-coercive action to overcome it (Rom 12.21).
- We are focused on intentional discipleship and spiritual transformation. It is never enough to call ourselves Christians; we must actually be following Jesus, and allowing ourselves to be changed by the Holy Spirit into people who more and more reflect who He is (2Co 3.18; 1Jn 2.6). This takes intentional effort and discipline, and requires a commitment beyond simply showing up at church and spectating on a Sunday morning.
- We are devoted to serving and to justice. When there is a need, Anabaptists step up! That whole thing about a community of Amish or Mennonites coming together and raising up a new barn for a family in a day – that stuff really happens, and obviously in many forms beyond just literal barn-raising. Anabaptists are Christians of action, not only talk and prayer, and actively seek to meet needs practically, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever He is needed, especially for those who are struggling (Mt 25.31-46).
- We are communities of equals. You’ll have a hard time finding grand hierarchies or fancy titles in the Anabaptist world. Yes, some are called by God to be leaders (e.g. Rom 12.8; Titus 1.5-9, etc.), but Anabaptist leadership seeks to be low-key, humble, and servant-hearted. Jesus made clear that leadership in His Kingdom was not about raising oneself above others, but about lowering oneself to serve others, exactly as He taught and lived out before us (e.g. Lk 22.24-27; Jn 13.1-17; Phil 2.5-11). Anabaptists, as always, seek to follow Christ’s example.
- We are evangelical in nature (not in name). Most Anabaptists would be wary of the cultural term “evangelical,” as (especially in North America) it often suggests a political agenda as much as a theological persuasion. However, in practice, Anabaptists have always been committed sharers of the Gospel, wanting to preach Jesus not just through words but through action as well (Mt 28.16-20).
There is much more that could be said, but this is a decent snapshot!
I am an Anabaptist pastor, and devoted to the Anabaptist vision of worshiping and following Jesus. This column will focus on looking at life, faith, theology, ministry, and practice through a decidedly “Third Way” lens. Although certainly not without its faults, the Anabaptist pursuit of Christ is beautiful, encouraging, challenging, transformative, and life-changing, and it is definitely worth exploring.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you will join me in this “Third Way Christian” journey, and that you will learn more and more about the Person, the life, the teachings, and the ways of Jesus Christ as you do.