Gary Bryson hosts a program about anabaptism on ABC Radio National called “The Anabaptist Vision“…
[Part 11 of a 12-part series]
Jarrod McKenna: Since the Constantinian shift in the church there has been a change in Christians’ thinking where they think that the role of the Christian in the world, be it George Bush or Tony Blair or whoever else, has been, Christians should rule, Christians should be in charge, we’re the good guys. And that’s completely foreign to the early Christians and to the Anabaptists as well. They would say that our role is not to rule the world but to be a lived-in community, a sign of a world transformed. So that’s a fascinating model. How do we stay in these places which are clearly not transformed, which clearly participate in oppression and a destruction of creation? How do we stay in those places without participating in them ourselves, even if it means we become wedged between these two worlds? These are practical nitty-gritty issues of day-to-day living that we talk about, and we discern the Spirit’s movement as communities. This has been the witness of Anabaptism, the witness of the early Friends, Quakers, the witness of the early church. And also you find it in places like the Base communities of the Catholic liberation theology on the ground level where people are opening up the scriptures and going ‘How do we live this out? What does that look like in our situations of day-to-day life’?
Gary Bryson: Jarrod McKenna, one of the founders of the Peace Tree Christian Commune in Perth, and also the founder and creative director of ‘Empowering Peacemakers in Your Community’.
The Anabaptist focus on post-Christendom poses a particular problem for mainstream Christianity. If Christianity is indeed no longer at the centre of power, should it continue to behave as though it is, or should it be reconceived, in Anabaptist terms, as a church that operates at the margins? Chris Marshall.
Chris Marshall: In many ways Anabaptism is an idea that’s found its day. I mean if you think, what is the contemporary context of the church at this time of history in Australia and New Zealand? What is the world that we live in? Well it’s one that’s characterised I think by the demise of Christendom. Now after a 1500 year period where it was assumed that the church, state and the culture were all part of the same mix, and that one was a Christian by virtue of belonging to a Western European Christian society – that’s what we mean by Christendom – but that really has unravelled and has pretty well disappeared, certainly in the Western world. And churches that have for 1500 years assumed that reality are kind of left, spinning really, to know quite what it means to be church now in this new world. And a tradition that has always emphasised voluntary commitment and nonconformity has something to say to us in that context.
We’re also in a context of growing secularisation, certainly at an institutional level in society, of growing pluralism, in terms of religious beliefs and practices, and I think in this kind of confusing pluralist relativist, secularist world that we live in where the church has been pushed to the fringes, many people are rediscovering, I think, the Anabaptist ideal of dissident communities of faith who commend the gospel to society by lifestyle as much as by theory, a lifestyle that is committed to non-violence, to justice, to peacemaking, to sharing and so on.