Jesus is arguably the most influential person who ever lived. But what is his influence? How should we understand him, and how should we respond to him?
I think the Anabaptists have something worthwhile to tell us here. (See my previous post on the Anabaptists.)
Anabaptist core conviction:
“Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church, and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.”
Jesus as a rabbi to follow
When a first century Jew agreed to ‘follow’ a Rabbi, he was becoming a disciple, a learner, and placed himself completely under the authority of that teacher. It is notable that Jesus many times called people to ‘follow’ him (Matthew 8:22, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21, Mark 1:17, 2:14, Luke 9:59-61, John 1:43, 8:12, 10:27, 12:26, 21:19), which meant forsaking everything else in their life.
This is notably different to much evangelism today, which pleads with people to believe in Jesus, ask Jesus into their heart, or say a sinners prayer. The Anabaptist emphasis is clearly closer to the call Jesus made on people in his day, and presumably closer to the call he would still make today.
The rabbi as teacher
A rabbi taught his followers /disciples, directly, and indirectly by way of showing an example or through questions and answers. The disciple could wrestle with various practical question of how to apply the scriptures to life, but once the rabbi had given his teaching, the disciple was expected to accept it and follow it.
Again, this is very different to much of modern christianity. Our teaching and evangelism is often based more on Paul’s teachings than on Jesus’ teachings (see What message?). We commonly regard the sermon on the mount as impractical and often put aside Jesus’ teachings, for example:
- Jesus preached non-violence (Matthew 5:38-44, yet the ‘christian’ nation of the United States exercises enormous military power, sometimes unwisely, which leads to many deaths. The ‘war on terror’ seemed to be based more on revenge than justice, something Jesus condemned.
- Jesus preached that we needed to be wary of greed and seeking great wealth (e.g. Mark 10:25, Luke 6:24, 12:15-21, 16:18-20), yet affluent western countries are built of wealth and exploitation, and christians are often the strongest supporters of capitalism.
- Jesus called his followers to a life of grace, forgiveness and care for the weak (Matthew 18:21-35, 25:31-46, Luke 17:4), yet christians are often judgmental towards those they feel are ‘sinners’ and ‘unbelievers’ – as many a christian internet forum shows.
So here also, the Anabaptist emphasis can help us re-focus on what Jesus regards as important. We can certainly learn from their emphasis on peace-making and conflict resolution, and also living more simply.
Jesus and mission
Our mission is generally portrayed as evangelism – calling people to repent and believe in Jesus – unless we belong to a church that emphasises social justice. But Jesus’ mission was more holistic – the kingdom of God, the establishment of a people who welcomed the rule of God in their lives, and who cared about evangelism, social justice and social welfare (as Jesus makes clear in Luke 4:14-20, 7:18-23, Matthew 25:31-46).
The Anabaptists remind us of Jesus’ holistic mission – perhaps if our focus was more holistic, the church would have more credibility and more people would be willing to listen and join?
Walking the talk
I don’t pretend that these issues are simple, for we may have to really wrestle with how to apply them. And I believe Jesus doesn’t want us to follow or impose religious rules pedantically (he spoke against the Pharisees many times on that score!), but rather wants us to see them as guiding principles to be applied under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
But surely Jesus’ teachings on these matters should be our starting point and default? And so the Anabaptists have tried to live, and their beliefs are a call for us to do the same.
Photo: I have seen this photo several times (first here) but with no attribution. If I shouldn’t have used it, please tell me and I’ll remove it.