The Naked Anabaptist

Book:THe Naked Anabaptist

The Anabaptist are a often forgotten part of the christian church. We know about the split which separated the eastern Orthodox churches from the Roman church. In the west we are more familiar with the Reformation, where the Protestant churches split from the Roman Catholic church. But there was a third group in the Reformation, persecuted and maligned by both sides, but growing in influence today – the Anabaptists.

This book outlines what Anabaptists believe, and why they are coming into greater prominence.

A very little history

The Reformation was a time of great change – politically as well as in the church. Alongside reform movements in the church were movements for greater rights for peasants. The reformers generally avoiding rocking the political boat, but other christians supported both reform movements. While there were many and varied expressions of these reform movements across Europe, the Anabaptists came to be a label for many of them.

Because they emphasised believers’ baptism and didn’t recognise child baptism as valid (‘Anabaptist’ literally indicates ‘second baptism’, a title given to them by their enemies), they were a threat to church authorities and the the growing Protestant movement. And because they tended to support the peasant movements, they were a threat to state authorities as well. As a result they were persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants, with thousands of them being martyred.

Some Anabaptists supported violent revolution, and were decisively defeated, but most were pacifists, and reacted to persecution by retreating into more separated communities. Their vision for their communities and for society was still radical, but their opportunities were limited. The Mennonites, the Amish and other small groups grew out of this movement.

Anabaptists today

While the Anabaptists are not well known by most christians, they have created a legacy that is becoming increasingly valuable today. In its four main chapters, this excellent book outlines the Anabaptist emphases:

  1. It is important to follow Jesus, not just depend on him for salvation. The Anabaptists tend to take Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount much more seriously than other christians, and see his teachings as being the focal point of the Bible and the key to understanding it.
  2. Since Constantine first adopted and promoted christianity in the fourth century (thus beginning the political and cultural force called ‘Christendom’), the institutional church has become too closely associated with the state, with wealth, power and privilege. Jesus calls us to be servants and to identify with the poor and under-privileged. Modern Anabaptists therefore tend to welcome the end of the age of Christendom, believing it will force followers of Jesus to return to a more radical lifestyle.
  3. “Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability, and multivoiced worship.” Church leadership should be consultative. Christians should live as simply as possible and care for God’s creation.
  4. Christians should seek to be salt in society. Non-violence (and hence pacifism), environmental care, social and economic justice and peaceful conflict resolution are all activities and goals important to modern Anabaptists.


I believe all these emphases are relevant and important for today, and can easily sit alongside and inform more traditional church programs and goals. The evidence suggests that the western church is facing greater challenges in the future (see The future for the church), and I believe we need to re-examine our understanding of the gospel and mission (see What message?). These emphases are relevant to these needs.

I thoroughly recommend this book as a catalyst for thought, planning and action. I will blog in coming weeks about some of these emphases, in the hope I may encourage some of us to new understandings and action.

Further reading


Following Jesus

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  1. I think if you take point 2 above, you’ll better understand my reaction to the Michael Shank article on “The Hill”. Again, it’s not a matter of whether or not I think Democrats or Republicans are the “right” way, but whether or not a Christian, let alone an Anabaptist, should be advocating for a particular party at all.

  2. I understand you feel strongly about this, and I guess you have a heritage of being detached from partisan politics. But while I agree that churches generally should avoid supporting a particular party (and thereby potentially alienating some of the members), I can’t see why individual christians should not. In fact, to be salt and light in the world, some christians probably should, just as some of us should probably be involved in all sorts of other organisations.

  3. It’s interesting to note the similarities between the anabaptist distinctives and those of Christian Anarchism. Each focuses attention on the life and teachings of Jesus, particularly his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Each adopts the “Constantinian Fall” thesis regarding the church’s unholy alliance with the state. Each emphasizes the missional and communal nature of the church. Each tends to be committed to non-violence (though in neither case is this last distinctive universally held).

  4. So far so good. Since becoming a born again believer in 1999, I have become increasingly uneasy with the church where it seeks to control and quench the working of the Holy Spirit. As we are all unique, should there be room for creativity and innovation and consensus among the body of believers, and does some of the body truly believe, or are people exercising a hobby on worship, control and finance?

  5. Hi John,
    So glad you have found my blog and made this comment. I have been a follower of Jesus for far longer, but I feel very much the same as you have expressed here.
    In answer to your question, I think we have to see that people in churches are there for many different reasons and have many different levels of belief and commitment. Some are there because they’ve always been there, some find it comforting, some don’t know any other way to be spiritual or to follow Jesus, for some its a job or a community, some are joyful Jesus-followers, etc.
    And their motives and willingness to change are affected by their history. I often reflect on how I think many politicians enter parliament genuinely wanting to make a positive difference to their communities or the nation, but once there, the “system” gets to them – staying in power starts to matter more than doing right, personal gain becomes more attractive, and adversarial argument takes over from wanting to work together for the common good.
    I think the same can happen in churches. Ministers need to make a living, so keeping everyone happy can matter more than keeping Jesus happy, because he doesn’t generally pay the bills. Maintaining the status quo becomes more important than growth and innovation. People simply become tired and jaded. It can be attractive to be a big fish in the small pond of a church, especially if one isn’t a big fish anywhere else. Gatekeepers can enjoy exercising power, even if only over small things.
    It is sad. But the true gospel is still true, Jesus is still the king, and meaningful service can be done to bring God’s kingdom into the little part of life that I can affect. Somehow, I still mostly feel positive at age 72, even though the negative things around me can get me down. I think it may be because my wife and I both feel much the same, and each encourages the other one to not give up.
    It can be a hard life following Jesus, but it is meaningful. I hope you find it so too.

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