Columns Martin Marty: Sightings Opinion

Did the Anabaptist reformers ‘win’?

Amish Farm in Cooktown, KY | Photo Credit: Michael Vines/Flickr (cc)

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Theologian Karl Barth, a supreme definer of Christianity in the twentieth century, continues to influence Christian thinkers, notably with his admonition, “The church must always be reformed.” Not many worldlings, though secularly molded, would disagree. While Christianity is not their game, they applaud when the church is reformed—as when it promotes positive human actions: for peace, justice, equality. But what does “being reformed” mean, and how does it work in the world?

Now, at the end of this month in which celebration of the Reformation has inspired its heirs for an every-five-hundred-year-style commemoration, many are ready to admit that they are wearily “over-Reformationed,” or ready to urge, “get over it.” Here is a word of caution, however, to those who are too eager to turn the page and be done with it all for the immediate future. It is time to ask whether Protestants & Co. have given due attention to sundry versions and meanings of churchly reformation, and whether some of the overlooked styles have something to say to church and world in the next half-millennium. The case for this?

Certainly not overlooked in the year past was the Lutheran Reformation, which conveniently gave a name to a complex set of reform movements. To be fair, partners in these movements reminded publics that Reformed (Calvinist) Protestantism brought its own style and effects, as did the Anglican Reformation. Where the ecumenical spirit prospers, some even saw that Catholic change deserves attention. This was not the old “Counter-Reformation” as Protestants called it but, simply, a “Catholic Reformation.”

If the book is now to be closed after mention of those four, has anything truly significant been overlooked? The answer is yes. It is sometimes called the “Radical” or “Left Wing of …” or, more properly, the “Anabaptist” version and vision.

In a worthy article in Plough, Anabaptist Peter Mommsen claims that the Anabaptist Reformation not only “matters,” but “won,” and tells why. He knows that it is very unbaptistic to make extravagant claims that “we’re number one.” But he does point to three reforms, neglected or disdained when Anabaptist movements were formed in the sixteenth century, whose teachings and practices made them look like “losers,” or made them to be losers when the hangmen from the other four versions defeated or even killed them.

Mommsen and his fellows rightfully can claim that no other part of the sixteenth-century eruption did so much for religious freedom as did the irritating Anabaptists. (An inserted footnote here: Mommsen lists modern-day church versions of these as Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, Church of the Brethren, the Bruderhof, and others who make up a towering column of 0.1 percent of the 2.2 billion Christians worldwide.)

We look up from statistics to point to victory number two, however partial it is, championed by Anabaptist radicals and their kin: non-violence. Mommsen notes how heritages such as those represented by exemplars like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day, in the peace-church tradition and spirit, get hearings in Protestantism and Catholicism in our time.

The Anabaptist vision also favored and helped produce forms of community which did not and do not depend upon the power of imposed communities ruled by empires, political states, and autocratic church bureaucracies and managers. Against all odds, many believers are promoting what Mommsen calls “thick” (but not isolationist) communities. While they may not convert all to their experiments, their witness does not go unnoticed and is often positively heeded.

Is this boasting? At the end, Mommsen acknowledges some specialty weaknesses that do not deserve to be praised or copied. This cluster of Protestants did not “win,” as Mommsen’s article claims. But its witness is heard and its effects are still seen where religious freedom, non-violence, and community are present in fresh ways.

About the author

Martin E. Marty

"Marty" is one of the most prominent interpreters of religion and culture today. Author of more than 50 books, he is also a speaker, columnist, pastor, and teacher, having been a professor of religious history for 35 years at the University of Chicago.

36 Comments

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  • And to moot it all in less than 20 seconds:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2017: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

  • Knowing all organized and most independent churches are apostate because the opened their doors to worldly corruption it is a perfect time to reform the Church back to biblical standards.

  • That’s a pretty good story but it is definitely not based on the truth of the bible but it is an attempted rationalization of an anti-Christian religionist. .

  • We Christians were never commanded to “win” anything but rather to just preach the gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to do the saving. In the long run Jesus will rule and reign over everyone and everything in this world. These scriptures will prove my point out…

    Matthew 20:16
    So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many are called, but few chosen

    Matthew 7:13-14
    ¶ Enter in at the strait gate: for it is the wide gate, and broad way that leadeth to destruction: and many there be which go in thereat. Because the gate is strait, and the way narrow that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

    Matthew 22:14
    For many are called, but few chosen.

    Luke 13: 23-28
    23 Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that shall be saved? And he said unto them,
    24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
    25 When the good man of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye began to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us, and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are,
    26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
    27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are: depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
    28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the Prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out at doors.

    Romans 9:27-28
    Also Isaiah crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel were as the sand of the sea, yet shall but a remnant be saved.
    28 For he will make his account, and gather it into a short sum with righteousness: for the Lord will make a short count in the earth.

  • Biblical truth? How about this:

    As per many NT exegetes to include Professors Crossan, Borg and
    Fredriksen, et al, there is “No Historic Reason for the
    Season”.

    There was no Virgin birth.
    http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php/026_Jesus_Virginally_Conceived and http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb026.html

    And there was no Star of Bethlem.
    http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php/369_Star_of_Revelation

    “Gerd Lüdemann

    Commenting on the infancy narratives overall, Luedemann [Jesus,
    124-29] concludes that Luke and Matthew represent “two equally
    unhistorical narratives.” He cites the occurrence of a miraculous heavenly
    sign at key points in the life of Mithridates VI in a history written by
    Justinus (active in the reign of Augustus, 2 BCE to 14 CE). ”

    John P. Meier, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame

    Meier [Marginal Jew I,211ff and 376] considers these traditions to
    be “largely products of early Christian reflection on the salvific meaning
    of Jesus in the light of OT prophecies” and concludes that their
    historicity is “highly questionable.”

    Or this:

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New York Times

    Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob·a·bly

    Adverb:

    Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling
    nation.

    Such startling propositions — the product of findings by archaeologists digging in
    Israel and its environs over the last 25 years — have gained wide acceptance
    among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these
    ideas or to discuss them with the laity — until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million
    Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and
    commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called ”Etz
    Hayim” (”Tree of Life” in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that
    incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and
    the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it
    represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious
    mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine document.”

  • I don’t take non-Christians opinions on what the bible says let alone those that repeat their errors especially those “Professors” that you think disprove the bible because there are many more that debunk their “exegeses”. Unlike you I sought the truth of the bible and you sought the lies of men that agree with your unfounded opinion.

  • You might want to review the methods for doing rigorous historic testing. Such methods for example have been used to show that the Gospel of John is historically useless.

  • Amen! Started along time ago — “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” Apostle Paul

    “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” Jude

  • The Irony is that to them, “Winning” equates to numbers. But the Scriptures reveal the EXACT opposite. 🙂

  • I’ve done my research and am quite happy to be a Christian for over 25 years despite those that don’t know what they’re talking about…….you.

  • Amen brother……1 John 2:22

    Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is that Christ? the same is that Antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son.

  • With respect to John’s Gospel and John’s epistles,

    from Professor/Father Raymond Brown in his book, An Introduction to
    the New Testament, (The book has both a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur from the
    Catholic Church),

    John’s Gospel, Date- 80-110 CE,
    Traditional Attribution, (2nd Century), St. John, one of the Twelve,

    Author Detectable from the Contents, One
    who regards himself in the tradition of the disciple.

    First Epistle of John, Authenticity-
    Certainly by a writer in the Johannine tradition, probably NOT by the one
    responsible for most of the Gospel.

    From Professor Bruce Chilton in his book,
    Rabbi Jesus,

    “Conventionally, scholarship has accorded priority to the first three
    gospels in historical work on Jesus, putting progressively less credence in
    works of late date. John’s Gospel for example is routinely dismissed as a
    source……

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John#Authorship

    “Since “the higher criticism” of the 19th century, some historians have largely rejected the gospel of John as a reliable source of information about the historical Jesus.[3][4]

    “[M]ost commentators regard the work as anonymous,”[5] and date it to
    90-100.”

    “The authorship has been disputed since at least the second century, with mainstream Christianity believing that the author is John the Apostle, son of Zebedee.
    Modern experts usually consider the author to be an unknown non-eyewitness, though many apologetic Christian scholars still hold to the conservative Johannine view that ascribes authorshipto John the Apostle.”

    And from Professor Gerd Ludemann, in his
    book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 416,

    “Anyone looking for the historical Jesus will not find him in the Gospel of John. “

  • I left the catholic church years ago because of all the heresies and outright cultic beliefs. So do you actually have any biblical Christian theologians you would like to quote?

  • Not a Christian? Might want to review the following:

    Marcus Borg

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Marcus Borg

    Marcus J. Borg (March 11, 1942 – January 21, 2015) was an American New Testament scholar and theologian.[1] He was among the most widely known and influential voices in progressive Christianity. As a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, Borg was a major figure in historical Jesus scholarship.[2] He retired as Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University in 2007 and died eight years later at the age of 72, of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.[3][4]

  • Wikipedia is nothing more than an anti-Christian liberal rag. So you’ll have to come up with a more reliable source if you expect to have me believe you.

  • 20 Then did he charge his disciples that they may say to no one that he is Jesus the Christ.
    Jesus was clear. I will trust jesus over you religious nuts, every day of the week

  • Proverbs 14:23-24
    23 In all labor there is abundance: but the talk of the lips bringeth only want.
    24 The crown of the wise is their riches, and the folly of fools is foolishness

  • Like rebuking a heretic?

    Proverbs 13:16 Every wise man will work by knowledge: but a fool will spread abroad folly.

  • Thank you for confirming you’re not a believer in the word of God. So where exactly do you get your pagan beliefs from?

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