What Makes Anabaptists Different?

What is Anabaptism and how does the Bruderhof fit in?

 

Video transcript:

RICHARD
We’re back with another series where we’re going to be talking about Anabaptism in general but then also how the Bruderhof fits into it – we consider ourselves Anabaptists but we aren’t descended directly from the Anabaptist movement of the Radical Reformation of the 16th century.

Just to say, the term “Anabaptism” is quite obscure. The only reference I can think of it in popular culture is in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 where the chaplain says “It isn’t necessary to call me Father. I’m an Anabaptist.”

MAUREEN
The people who founded the Bruderhof in 1920 only started to identify with the early Anabaptist expression of faith a number of years after they began living in community. That came about through a pretty amazing series of events, which we can talk about another time.

RICHARD
Right. Let’s get through the basics first. Anabaptism is an umbrella term comprising the Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites, German Baptists, Church of the Brethren, and the Bruderhof. There are about 4 million Anabaptists all over the world today in developed and developing countries, the majority being Mennonites. The very small minority being members of the Bruderhof.

MAUREEN
There’s nothing wrong with being small. “Anabaptist” is actually a Greek word meaning rebaptizer, because people who had been baptized as infants were baptized again as consenting adults. It was not a name the members of the movement particularly liked because they believed there is only one kind of baptism: when a person consciously requests it, repents of their sins, changes their life, and publically makes a confession of faith. In other words: no infant baptism. They preferred to call themselves simply ‘Christian brothers’ or ‘evangelicals’, meaning “those who hold to the Gospel.”

RICHARD
The term Anabaptist had negative connotations going back to Emperor Justinian’s time – AD 529 – when rebaptism became a heresy punishable by death. But baptism is the first point of the so-called Schleitheim Confession which was put together in 1527 and covers the points that all Anabaptists agreed to. At the time it was a really big deal because it meant rejection of the institutional church which was closely intertwined with the state. While we’re on the Schleitheim Confession it’s interesting to note that today some of the other six points in the Confession (for example unconditional nonviolence) aren’t held to by all Anabaptist congregations.

MAUREEN
So let’s talk a little more about what made or makes Anabaptists different from other Christians. The most basic distinction is something they have in common with early Christianity: a separation from the dominant culture, from institutional religion, and from the state – because of their determination to take the teachings of Jesus at face value. They believed the church Jesus founded could only be a voluntary church that came about through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. There could be no coercion. That’s why they didn’t get on so well with other reformers who believed that the state must be Christianized, or conversely, that the church could be institutionalized.

RICHARD
The voluntary church that the Anabaptists envisioned was a community of heart and life. That meant community of mutual help (which implies an informal commitment to voluntary sharing) or formal community of goods (more on this distinction later). The voluntary church was also distinguished by a complete rejection of the use of force even for self-defense, faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman, and detachment from the state – i.e. no service in public office as a judge, police officer, or anything of the kind. The early Anabaptists were remarkably fearless in sharing and living out their convictions, which cost many of them their lives. It’s interesting to note that the Anabaptists were the only movement that took no part whatsoever in violent religious persecution of other denominations during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

MAUREEN
There are further distinctions between the Anabaptist groups that formed at that time. One of the more controversial distinctions was the practice of community of goods by the group known as Hutterites (something we also do at the Bruderhof).  This means we don’t claim ownership of anything; material items are there to be shared so everyone’s needs are met.

RICHARD
Not surprisingly it was a hotly contested idea. Martin Luther said that such community is against human nature (which is kind of the point) and therefore condemned to founder. Probably the most surprising thing about the early Anabaptists in particular was their radical dissent from the status quo. They held the self-indulgent clergy in contempt, rejected the idea of priestly mediation to access God, and emphasized the priesthood of all believers. Really makes you think more Occupy Wall Street than horse and buggy.

MAUREEN
Maybe we should occupy Wall Street – WITH horses and buggies.

RICHARD
Bulls and buggies?

MAUREEN
Now that’s taking it a bit far. Well, that’s all for this video. If you have questions you’d like us to address in this series, go ahead and drop them in the comments and we’ll get to them in a later video. And please subscribe to our channel and ring the bell to be notified when we post a new video.