Gary Bryson hosts a program about anabaptism on ABC Radio National called The Anabaptist Vision…
[Part 5 of a 12-part series]
Show: ABC Radio National
Full Podcast: The Anabaptist Vision
Host: Gary Bryson
Guests: Mark Hurst and Chris Marshall
Gary Bryson: The early Anabaptists were often forced to live in caves and in the wilds of mountains and forests. Many thousands died in the persecution that followed the turmoil of the Reformation.
Mark Hurst: This movement very quickly became a missionary movement, and spread across Europe, and at that time where you had State churches, you didn’t need to have evangelism because everybody was a Christian, and if you had these people coming around saying ‘No, you need to convert to this’, they also then became a problem for the State authorities.
Gary Bryson: The Reverend Mark Hurst is a Mennonite missionary based in Sydney. He and his wife Mary have for many years been the pastoral workers for the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand.
An important figure in the development of Anabaptism was Menno Simons, the man who gave his name to the Mennonites.
Mark Hurst: Menno Simons was a Catholic priest in the 1500s, and in his local area there was the Peasant Rebellion going on, and he observed that, and even in his writings he was saying that he spent most of his time drinking and playing cards and his faith hadn’t really been internalised, but when he saw people dying for their faith in the Peasant Rebellion, it caused him to look again at what he believed, and he had a conversion experience and he actually joined these Anabaptists.
And then he had very pastoral gifts, and he quickly became one of the leaders in the Anabaptist movement at that time. They labelled Anabaptists as Mennoists, or Mennonites, as followers of Menno, but it was really a derogatory name given to them, just like you would have Calvinists or Lutherans, the Anabaptists that were part of the movement that Menno was involved with became called Mennonites. But Menno spent the last 25 years of his life in hiding and on the run, he had a price on his head. So he travelled around meeting with Anabaptist groups but always having to do that hiding and moving from house to house.
Gary Bryson: Persecuted in Europe, many Anabaptists fled to the New World, where its various branches make up what is known today as the historic peace churches. These include Mennonites, Hutterites and the Amish, along with the Quakers, who developed their tradition separately from the Anabaptists.
So how can we understand the distinctive theological features that make up Anabaptism? Well, like all Christian traditions, the Anabaptists are said to be Christocentric – focused on following the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ. For the Anabaptists though, this has both an ethical and discipleship dimension.
Chris Marshall is St John’s Associate Professor in Christian Theology at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
Chris Marshall: As well as the kind of ethical Christocentrism, a feeling that Jesus teaches us how to live, and we must take literally what he says, also there is the kind of hermeneutical Christocentrism which is that when we read the Bible, and we try to work out what in the Bible is still God’s word for today, because the Bible’s a very diverse document and has lots of violent bits in it, how do we decide how the Bible is relevant for today, that one of the key tests is it must be consistent with the way of Christ. So what we read in Scripture that is not consistent with the way of Christ, no longer has authority for today. What we read in any part of Scripture that is consistent with the way of Christ, continues to be God’s word for today.