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Archive for September, 2014

A few months ago, when Ailie and I were initially reading through The Naked Anabaptist together, I shared this quote from the author, Stuart Murray, on my Facebook wall: Anabaptists believe that,

“Economics and spirituality are connected for reasons of justice rather than charity. The backdrop to this conviction is a global economic order that is profoundly unjust, in which vast numbers are kept impoverished within a system that benefits and protects the powerful few.”

While this isn’t the core conviction that I’m sharing with you today, one of my friends’ responses perfectly shows just how weird Anabaptists can seem to other Christians.

 

My friend asked me if it would it be possible to have a “global economic order” if Anabaptism was the majority Christian tradition? Now, I knew what was behind the question–to him, and many others, Anabaptism makes sense MERELY as a critique of the world and its systems, because a faith tradition that values economic justice and peace cannot realistically be applied to globalized economies and nation-states to govern themselves. When my friend asks what the world would be like if Anabaptists ruled the world, what he means is that Anabaptism doesn’t work as a system — in other words, it is naive to think that an ethic founded on Jesus could work on a geopolitical scale. The man who encouraged us to turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, and love our enemies has little of practical use to say to our complex global world; Jesus’ words sound good in theory or for interpersonal purposes, but can’t work when we’re talking about a national response to terrorism, illegal immigrants, and capital gains taxes, to name a few thorny issues.

 

And this is exactly where the third and fourth core convictions are coming from–Christendom, the political and theological system that essentially helped to develop Western Civilization since the fourth century, has not served us well. And in the church’s quest for status, power, and relevance through this system, we have marginalized Jesus and his Gospel and we have made discipleship more difficult as a result. As Christendom is ending and we are increasingly entering post-Christendom, Anabaptists are actually welcoming this as it will give us a clearer vision of the radical nature of Christ’s Kingdom.

Now, these convictions may come as a complete shock to you, as many in the Church have fully bought into the benefits of Christendom by holding tightly to the first amendment and arguing that prayer needs to make its way back into public schools, among other things. But, in case you’re quick to come to Christendom’s defense, keep in mind that this was the system that “terrorized its own subjects through inquisition, torture, and witch hunts; oppressed them through a deeply resented tithing system; persecuted dissidents; and expanded its influence through wars, forced baptisms, and crusades.” The Anabaptist movement started as a dissident movement that was critical of these practices. How could a system supposedly built on biblical principals lead those in power to enact unbiblical ones, like the selling of indulgences and making church leaders wealthy aristocrats?

 

The reason we are critical of Christendom and are welcoming its end is that it was fundamentally flawed and ultimately at odds with Jesus’ own teachings. It produced a system in which Jesus himself was marginalized by being replaced with “biblical principles.” Christendom has made the world a harder place to comprehend that loving your enemies is even possible, because this kind of love would cause social unrest and disorder and “bad people” wouldn’t get what they deserve. Christendom has made it harder to imagine that peace and non-violence is a legitimate answer to another’s aggression and that a “gentle word can turn away wrath,” as we read in Proverbs. Additionally, because it has been so tightly bound up with Western Civilization for so long, Christendom has also made it painfully difficult to see the benefit of different expressions of faith and discipleship throughout the world–such as, liberation theologies in Latin and South America that have flourished as a response to Christendom are seen as suspect and secular because they run counter to the dominant forms of Christianity throughout the rest of the West.

 

What does a post-Christendom world look like? Murray says that, as Christians, post-Christendom means that we will move from the center to the margins, from the majority to the minority, from settlers to sojourners, from privilege to plurality, from control to witness, from maintenance to mission, from institution to movement. Thus, when we sing songs that align us with the Israelites in exile or exodus, this isn’t out of some sort of new way to understand the Old Testament–this is because we, as a people are becoming more like them. We are becoming aliens, exiles, and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home–and this is a good thing! This world, as it is understood now as Jesus has not yet fulfilled his Kingdom, is incomplete at best and is not our home!

 

With this coming post-Christendom, the church will have less power and less of an “institutional” voice, and this is hard for most of us to accept. So, when my friend asks what a global economic order under Anabaptist rule might look like, he can only imagine a Christendom with Anabaptist rules as the the system to fix the broken Christendom. But we aren’t satisfied with just correcting some problems or “tweaking” it — we want to do away with the whole mess because as our fourth core conviction says, identifying the church with wealth, status, and power is inappropriate and actually hurts discipleship. We are not suspicious of Christendom because it was not Anabaptist; we are suspicious of the church looking to embrace power, status, and wealth because time and time again, these things tend to lead to empire, oppression, and injustice. “The association of the church with status, wealth, and force continues to alienate people from the gospel,” Murray writes, “Despite its reduced size and influence, many still perceive the church as–concerned about social order rather than social justice.” We tend to forget that “Most of the Bible is a history told by people living in lands occupied by conquering superpowers. It’s a book written from the underside of power (Rob Bell).” Not only that, but since Jesus is central to our faith, we see in him a person that tended to avoid seizing power, spending most of his time with those who had little status, and continually reminded the wealthy that it would be as hard for them to enter the kingdom of God as it would be for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. And during Christendom, when the church seized all the power and status that it could, we forgot Jesus and we forgot who he ultimately cared about. We created an anemic Christianity that ignored the upside-downness of the Gospel and that is what we hope to recover in post-Christendom.


QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  • How much evidence can you find that your community is in post-Christendom?
  • How do we decide what aspects of Christendom to move on from and which ones to carry on into and/or repurpose for post-Christendom? (For instance, church cathedrals are an extremely visible sign of Christendom.)
  • In what ways does “association with status, wealth, and force” change the witness of followers of Jesus?
  • What opportunities are available to a church on the margins that were not possible for a dominant church?

 

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This week we’ll be continuing our study of The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray.  We’ll be reflecting on two of the “Core Anabaptist Convictions” that Stuart describes:

  • First: Christendom did not serve Christianity well, leaving anabaptists to pursue counter-cultural [read counter-Christendom] ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Second: identifying the church with status, wealth, and force is inappropriate and discipleship may very well result in difficulty.

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The Naked Anabaptist

During the month of September, we’ll be reading and talking about the book, The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith, by Stuart Murray.  Join us to learn more about the theology and practice that informs the Mennonite tradition.

the-naked-anabaptist

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