Thursday, August 23, 2007

"The church is rushing nowhere at an incredible rate of speed."

Dave Black, professor at Southeastern Seminary, offers a thought-provoking discussion of the condition of contemporary churches within the context of his gratitude for the Anabaptists.

Although I'm not enough of a historian to make declarations about exactly how much rehabilitation of the Anabaptists needs to take place, I appreciated in particular this final post in the series. Its main thrust reminds us of the radical commitment to Scripture that authentic obedience demands, even when this obedience is incompatible with deeply entrenched church structures and traditions. In other words, the Anabaptists seem to have suffered comparatively little from fear of man or lust for credibility and security.

As Black writes:
I suspect that church institutions as they are now known are incapable of thoroughgoing renewal. It is my view that new church plants are the most likely bodies to reflect early Christianity rather than the proud establishments of Christendom . . . In the Anabaptist perspective, the leaders of the Reformation were no less tyrants than Constantine because they also enforced religious conformity by civil power. The pomp and display, the ambition and the pride of Christendom, seen in both their Roman Catholic and Protestant forms, were the precise opposite of the submissive humility that characterized Anabaptism. One does not have to be a biblical scholar to recognize the parallels that exist with today’s American form of God-and-Country evangelicalism.
It seems that the contemporary relevance of Black's point about the Anabaptists is this: We need to exercise ourselves to examine self-consciously the religious or ecclesiastical culture of which we are a part. Our purpose is to identify how our accumulation of tradition has skewed our understanding of God's Word. We then need to extricate ourselves from that culture and tradition, regardless of the personal cost.

3 comments:

Keith said...

"The Anabaptists seem to have suffered comparatively little from fear of man or lust for credibility and security."

This virtue is highly praiseworthy. Of course, it's not too difficult to say that Luther and other protestants were also virtuous in these ways. When Luther said, "Here I stand, I can do no other," he was facing the death penalty.

"Our purpose is to identify how our accumulation of tradition has skewed our understanding of God's Word. We then need to extricate ourselves from that culture and tradition, regardless of the personal cost.

There is nothing wrong with the accumulation of tradition -- if it is good tradition based on and reinforcing of God's Word. The only cultures and traditions we need to extricate ourselves from are bad, sinful, ugly, harmfull cultures and traditions. We should hold on to good, blameless, beautifull, helpful cultures and traditions.

There is no way to live in a tradition/culture free vacuum. Your only choice is between good traditions and bad traditions.

Why is the early church viewed as an ideal? The early church was a mess. If it hadn't been so messed up, we wouldn't have big portions of the New Testament. The Apostolic teaching in response to the early church's problems are of course authoritative and helpful for all time. But the early church itself was no role model.

Finally, I think that Black's praising of consensus decision making is misguided. Community is certainly important. Viewing one's primary citizenship as being in the church, the Kingdom of God, is right. But those things don't require, and are often mitigated, by a committment to consensus decision making. What we need is a committment to unity and considering others better than ourselves, not consensus. I understand that a mindless committment to Roberts Rules of Order is annoying and sometimes foolish. However, decision making structures and clearly spelled out processes are a great blessing when administered in love and wisdom.

Perhaps a committment to consensus decision making, as opposed to the leadership of qualified elders, is a tradition from which the anabaptists should extricate themselves.

Ben said...

Keith,

In saying Black's article was thought-provoking, I didn't mean to suggest that I'm in full agreement. I suppose you recognize that. I'd agree with you on some of your critiques.

I do think the Anabaptists are a bit underrated, from what I can tell. I surely don't mean to demean Luther's courage, but to express appreciation for the Anabaptists' courage in the face of opposition not only from the RCC, but also many of the Protestants.

And of course I don't mean to throw out all tradition. What I suggested is that we ought to be aware enough to recognize when its gravity pulls us off course.

Keith said...

Ben,

I understand. I was just throwing out my reaction.

I agree with you that the Anabaptists are improperly underrated by some. However, I also think that they are improperly overrated by others.

For those committed to the magisterial reformers, it is easy to view the Anabaptists as having done nothing right. However, those committed to certain Anabaptist principles often act as if the Anabaptists did nothing wrong and the reformers did nothing but persecute Anabaptists. I know you and Professor Black aren't saying anything like that, but some do.

Glad to hear you aren't opposed to all tradition. Such opposition has too often been a characteristic of Anabaptists, fundamentalists, and evangelicals -- a laughter and/or tear inducing characteristic when considering the traditions that exist in these anti-tradition communities. I'm sure it is that type of goofy tradition you are hoping to help abolish.

Peace