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Anabaptist Identity Conference, A Critique

Shipshewana, In, March 28 – 30, 2019

Steve Blackwell

I was very excited to attend the AIC and that excitement was justified. As a rather recent convert to the Anabaptist doctrine and having spent a few days with the Hutterites in Minnesota my love for the people and their values remains untarnished.

Because it was an “identity” conference I wanted to know two things: 1st How is the historical Anabaptist identity being preserved? And, 2nd what is that identity and is the original goal and focus still valid today?

Because of certain constraints, I will focus my critique on the second part since, in my estimation, the first part, especially for those who were present among us non-Anabaptist background “seekers,” the mysterious charm of these Godly people is very much alive in the 21st Century, but in all honesty, I do have an issue with their present stance.

My introduction to Anabaptism was an accident, or maybe a miracle. Yes, like nearly all Protestants I knew of these odd people with their funny ways, their gentleness, exclusiveness, value-driven lifestyle, hard work, and simple ways, but that is all I knew about them. My Bible training gave them the necessary “tip of the hat” acknowledgment as part of my curriculum that highlighted the heretics of the Reformation and the problems they caused to the progress of the “true” Christian message as professed by Luther and Zwingli. Grebel, Manz, Blaurock, and others now bearing the label of anabaptist (re-baptizers) by their foes, having discovered the buried treasure of non-resistance to evil, separation from the world, and believer baptism, proceeded to do what every believer should do, and that is, to share this vast wealth with anyone in need, begging for relief, or those who hold out an empty hand. All my Christian life I unconsciously hungered for their message and struggled often with The Sermon on the Mount only to have it explained away by my teachers and leaders. One day while reading 2Timothy 3:12 “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” a live coal fell from the altar of God and illuminated my heart and changed my life forever, and along with that illumination came the beginning of my story of personal suffering that validated Paul’s message. And, now I realize too that there had been given, to a special people, a vast treasure that was not being shared.

Without the help of heritage, without the help of community, and without the help of men, but only a burning heart, a prophetic treasure, and desire to share, I ventured into my old haunts to find that Paul’s inspired words to Timothy are still true today. Just as in the days of the Apostles and the “Radical Reformers” I had discovered the secret weapon that is hidden to the world and to the institutional Church that “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it remains alone.” This death is more than just an odd appearance to outsiders, giving up of the luxuries of technology and science, or building a wall around an “identity” to keep out the world; No! it is so much more than that.

I appreciate very much that my Anabaptist brothers and sisters have maintained their wonderful heritage because that heritage has become a sign to the world. The world of man and religion cannot help asking the question, when Anabaptist appear, “Who are these strange people?” The problem is, they get no answer, they are a sign with no message. They signify something to the world, but what? Must we find the answer by accident? The treasure that the Anabaptist reserve for themselves or bury will get out with or without their help, and I pray it with their help. Enjoying their craftsmanship and good food is not enough and I believe that if Conrad Grebel was here today he would say, “It is time.” It is time to infiltrate the cities, the Churches, the schools, the streets and neighborhoods of the world and to open our hands and to share this great resource of truth that the world fears and the Devil hates.

When the Israelites came out of captivity the first two things to be restored were the Altar and the wall. The altar represents our sacrifice and the wall represents separation from the world, security, and protection. Commerce took place during the day but at night the world was forced out and the gates closed, i.e. they were separated and “in the world but not of it.” The wall is the great heritage of truth of our Christian forefathers, but heritage quickly turns into legalism without the altar. True Christians are “light,” “salt,” and “sheep in the midst of wolves.” Yes we are the light of truth, and we are the salt of the earth, but we mustn’t forget that we are also sheep for the slaughter, that is our destiny. If we will be true to the first two the third will also come. We must pick up our own cross and follow Jesus.

We have allowed the world of religion to dictate just how much of the truth is allowed to be preached. And, how will we know when we are succeeding? It is no different today than it has ever been. How did the Apostles know? How did the Remnant of the Dark Ages know? How did the Radical’s know? The trail of blood has arrived at the doorstep of Twenty-first Century, will you be sheep in the midst of wolves or will you be sheep closed-up in a pen behind walls of protected identity?

I love the Anabaptist and it is not my goal to hurt them, unless the hurt has the effect of healing. I have much that I need to learn from them and my study is ongoing but maybe they can learn something from a Seeker?

7 replies on “Anabaptist Identity Conference, A Critique”

The time is rapidly approaching when all who claim the false shelter the world provides will learn who has been providing that shelter. It will be then that those who claim the anababtist message will be called upon to spearhead the clarification of that message for those who may be given one last chance to awaken from their apostate slumber.

Thanks for the clarification, Steve. This makes sense. However, as with any denomination or movement, there is considerable breadth within Anabaptist traditions. Long-time friends of mine who have now become Mennonite have also adopted a “social justice” mentality (exalting the goodness of humankind), as fits with their local congregation.

David,

Yes, I am aware of the wayward ones, as I am aware of those in all sects and denominations, that that is always the outcome. Those that I refer to are those who hold closest to the original Anabaptist. It is easy to allow our hearts to sprout roots into the soil of this world. Once the Church slips into institutionalism during times of peace the focus is shifted toward programs and self-interest, social justice is one such focus away from truth. Anabaptist are just as vulnerable as others once our eyes start looking down instead of up.

Steve – I’m not sure what your conclusion is saying. Are you hoping that the Anabaptist message becomes more enunciated to the world? Or that the sign continues without a message?

Good morning David,

Both! The message of the Anabaptist is clear, to themselves, as was evident to anyone who attended the conference. The problem is, as I see it, that the focus is misplaced. Identity is important but behind their identity is a heritage and foundation of non-conformity. This non-conformity is not just a statement of separation from the world in their dress or appearance, but includes the proclamation that there is another kingdom present in the here-and-now that is radically opposite of the social, economic, and political system the world is used to. The sorrowful consequences of the proclamation of this kingdom is what is missing and is the proof that the message is not being delivered. Yes, they are a sign, they do signify something to the world, but it is only oddness and a cultural distinction and preference. The world has not heard from them nor does it know what their values are. They have retreated from the battle to enjoy peace and prosperity behind a closed system. They have neglected the “radical” part of the reformation they started to live in safety in America. They have buried their talent.

Hello Steve.
Thanks to your invite, I was also blessed by meeting up with these special people. I’m still processing much of what I heard from the many speakers, people I talked with and from a few books I purchased. That said, I think I have a much greater grasp on what these people believe and the manner their ancestors lived and the message of the kingdom they proclaim.
I concur with you that despite this message and what appears among many of them to be exemplary lives, as a whole they seem to have hidden their treasures from the world at large. I think we both see clearly how and why this has happened, without an ongoing threat of one form or another we all can become lax in our outreach and become inwardly focused. How much more would this be true when many of the assemblies are far away from where most of the worlds terrors and troubles exist. I’m not necessarily opposed to the latter, provided as Christians we aren’t forsaking to speak and teach in those areas where the needs are the greatest.
I think it goes without saying that most of the elders know this problem exists. That said, wouldn’t it be their primary duty to take up the torch and set the example for others to follow? Those embracing the anabaptist label need what every Christian needs- a willingness to sever oneself from anything not deriving from heaven and a willingness to count the cost when the waters get deep- and they will are are already.
Sadly, very few claiming to be Christians in our day know little about separation, whether from this world or from their old selves. If this is true and it is, it can be assumed that these have little or no desire to die as Jesus commands and of course requires. Dying to self is a requirement of discipleship and of any hope for any effective outreach to anyone else in our path, immediate family or otherwise.
I hope you continue to speak your heart and mind my friend. It was no accident you were chosen among the many to pray for those who started on this path long before you. I know that was Father honoring your desire to encourage, admonish and even some day live among them. I know your presence there touched more than a few of them and that’s saying a lot since they’ve never even met you prior. That goes for Albert and a few others too.
You and I have a place in this, even though we see it from a distance at present. I’ll do what I can to cultivate the few new friendships I met there and hope that might lead to some more gatherings together soon. We do well to continue in our prayers for them, each other and the Christ like message and lifestyle we were blessed to be able to share among them- twice.
I hardly see this as an end, but the beginning of something we have always longed for over the years- a message and a people who once again turn the world upside down despite the cost to us personally or as a family. That’s the type of instrument Father can and will empower for His glory, and for the redemption of this fallen world.

Michael,

I was really happy to see you it had been far too long since our first meeting. Your fire and zeal for the kingdom is very apparent, and catching. Due to the conference leader’s efficiency of time usage and the great conversations with the Amish and Mennonite people from all over the country it left little time to catch-up on your life.

I think that the few who were at the conference who were not from the Anabaptist background could have easily taken the wrong message away from there concluding that Anabaptism had to do more with certain cultural distinctions and singing acapella four part harmony than evangelism. But, it was about their identity and we were the outsiders, I just think they have forgotten about a very important part of that identity. Add to their message of a distinctive lifestyle the upside down message of the kingdom of God they would once again harmonize with heaven by introducing the sacrifice.

Our part, could be in all of this, is to be the new Conrad Grebel’s and Felix Manz’s and to blow a hole in the wall they have built.

There is another men’s gathering sometime this year so think about attending. Their resources are tremendous and we need to continuously educate ourselves so when the time comes we will be ready, and that time is near I believe.

Time to go to work. We will talk more later. Love you brother, keep up the fight, God bless you,

Steve

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