Throughout Scripture, we see a strong emphasis on positive traditions in the Church. In both the Old and New Testament, God repeatedly calls his people to be anchored with a sense of history. In this sermon, Greg explains why the Anabaptist tradition is closest to Woodland Hills.
Woodland Hills is starting a new journey, and we don’t exactly know where it will lead us. Lately, we’ve been feeling the need to partner with and align ourselves with people that share a common vision of the Kingdom. The Anabaptist tradition is the tradition that we most closely align with, and we’re pursuing a conversation with this tradition on what it might look like to be a part of it.
To understand the Anabaptist tradition, we have to go back to the 4th century. There was a Roman emperor called Constantine. He “converted” (it is disputed by some theologians) to Christianity and made Christianity the official Roman religion. This was the first time that the Christian movement became a part of the state. It was also the first time that Christianity felt the need to make people be Christian, even through violent means. We consider this to be a terrible thing for the church. This state-religion status of Christianity was the state of affairs during the 16th century when a strand of reformation emerged. This strand was the beginning of the Anabaptist movement.
The Anabaptists wanted to reform the church tradition. They wanted to institute adult baptisms that required a believer to proclaim their intention to live like Jesus. They wanted to separate church and state by separating tithing and taxation. They wanted the membership of the church to be a way of life and not being a part of the state. This desire to reform got the Anabaptists into trouble with the local government and other groups within Christian tradition. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be going over these distinctives of the Anabaptist tradition. Right now, we want you to know why we think it’s a good idea to have a conversation around joining this tradition.
First, we believe that we should be connected with and truly in relationship with others who have the same Kingdom vision. Just as much as an individual Christian needs other Christians to share life with, a church needs other churches to share their vision with. Woodland Hills is no different. We’ve felt God telling us that we need others to help us carry out this vision that he’s given us.
Second, we sense that we need to identify ourselves with a historical tradition. The Anabaptist tradition is far from perfect, but they have a heart that is very similar to our own. And they have a long tradition of living the theology that we preach at Woodland Hills. Throughout Scripture, we see God emphasizing over and over again to his people to remember the past and how God has led them to this point. We feel it’s important to be able to point towards a strand in the church tradition and say “that’s us”.
Finally, we think it’s important and necessary to unite with others in order to more effectively advance the Kingdom. We see ways that we could help the Anabaptist culture in advancing the Kingdom, and we see ways that they can help us in advancing the Kingdom. The Mennonites have a wonderful piece of treasure given to them by God. When we unite with them in carrying out the Kingdom, we get to participate in that honorable piece of work that God has given them. We can be a bridge in many ways to the Anabaptist tradition and today’s culture of Christianity, and we think God is calling us to investigate the best way to do that.
This is an exciting moment in Woodland Hills’ history. We’ve never really had a home in any kind of tradition. The BGC wasn’t a bad fit, but it wasn’t any kind of fit. And when we look outside of ourselves, we find that there is a group of people that have a similar heart and passion. Please join us in prayerfully considering what it would look like to partner with them. Pray for our leaders and pray for their leaders. Pray that they would find wisdom and God’s direction for our church.
Hide Extended Summary
15 thoughts on “Ana-What?”
Having been around the heirs of Anabaptism for many years as both a congregational member and a pastor from outside that tradition, I urge you to beware of the cultural tribalism that comes with these groups. It is easy to feel excluded by them because of their ethno-cultural history of separatism and perfectionism. While some may embrace Woodland Hills and welcome denominational affiliation, others will believe that you are not truly a part of them. Move with caution!
As always the message was wonderfully informative, as well as spiritually inspiring! Having spent some time in Montana years ago, I often came into contact with members of Hutterite Colonies who would come into the city to shop. Extremely polite and soft-spoken would be an understatement for these folks who seemed to have a kind of mysterious aura about them. I often wondered what it would’ve been like to have lived and worked as they did. Essentially they’re “Communists” or rather “Communalists” but in a good sense. Because the gamut of Anabaptism belief can run to extremes on both ends biblically/socially, I’m wondering if Woodland Hills can keep their foot in both doors – spiritually and politically being non -conformist, but as the same time remaining technologically savvy and socially progressive? Over the last few years, terms like
“Emergent” and “Christian Anarchist” have been used by the DTS hierarchy to describe churches like Woodland Hills in a childish attempt to belittle its success. The need for some kind of traditional alignment and covenantal association is definitely very important but should not be decided upon from external pressures. May the Holy Spirit truly guide this delicate process for Woodland Hills!
Please note that there have been and are other denominations and traditions outside of Anabaptism which have identified with the name “Peace Churches.” Check out the Wikipedia site under that name. One major tradition not mentioned by Greg Boyd can be found among Friends (Quakers). The Unitas Fratrum or Moravians claim to be the first “Peace Church” from their founding in 1457.
I was not able to attend last weekend because we are on vacation, so I need to listen to this. My favorite thing about coming to WH is that it’s not affiliated with any group or religion and it’s focus is always teaching us to try to better ourselves by being more like Jesus and moving towards the Kingdom of God. I hope that is how it stays.
FYI: Friends (Quakers) are a branch of the original Anabaptist movement.
As the mother of two who are in the army and who have been deployed in war zones, I wonder where they would fit at Woodland Hills? Many soldiers believe in their jobs, live with incredible stress, feel different from others and need a place to feel accepted as they are. They wiil risk their lives for their buddies on the battlefield. They live with the deaths of close friends. They worship and love the same God as those from the anabaptist tradition. Would they feel acceptance at Woodland Hills? Would they be able to come for help to deal with PTSD? Would they feel love or judgement. Greg said that there would be no changes, that Woodland Hills already is in line with the anabaptist beliefs. So are soldiers welcome now? How is this in line with the vision of breaking down walls? I have heard the statement that the church has failed the gay community, will we do the same to our soldiers?
Gary ‘s comment about tribalism is so true. The Mennonite name game makes fitting in so hard. They make fun of the game but it is still a barrier. Be cautious. MCUSA is facing struggles from within between ultra conservatives and liberals. I have been part of the Mennonites for ten years and find it ironic that a denomination that talks peace can’t live at peace.
Having grown up in the “tribe” of Mennonites, I want to acknowledge the cautions regarding the tendancies to “tribal culturalism” and the difficulty that the “Mennonite game” places those in who are not historically rooted in the Mennonite community. We do need to move beyond those restrictions to welcoming others into our tribe. As a podrishioner for a number of years, I want to affirm though, our need for Greg and WH to help us reclaim the vibrancy of our theological uniqueness and the part we can have in the larger Christian dialogue to point people to a Jesus centred faith. And yes, Greg, your preaching style needs to infect many of our pastors! Whether formally affiliated, or simply in sharing closely our conversations of faith, we can do more for the Kingdom together than we could if we did not get to know each other better going forward!
There’s great You Tube 20 Lecture Series by Dean Taylor on the “History of Anabaptism” put up by Llewellyn van der Merwe that everyone might find really interesting. It’s a truckload of material to sieve through but worth every minute. In response to Clare’s comment though, I think it’s important to remember that no single church out there, can be everything, to everyone, all of the time. If any body of believers, no mater how spiritually endowed they might appear be, tried to spread themselves too thin, it would only succeed in creating a dysfunctional malaise. I’m only a distant “podrishioner”, but I’ll guarantee you that there are members of the Woodland Hills congregation that would gladly pray for and with your two sons, if asked! Heck, I’ll pray for them right now!
I’m a lifelong Mennonite, married to a Quaker (who are not part of the Anabaptist tradition, Tony, but are a historical peace church). I have not attended a Mennonite church for the last 20 years, due to not having one near where we live. We’ve tried United Methodist, Southern Baptist, non-denominational (under Chuck Swindoll) and now are in a fast growing non-denominational assembly (11 years old with 2500 members) that is Anabaptist leaning, with a worship, media and preaching style similar to Woodland Hills. (I miss the lack of connection to a denominational service organizations, such as Mennonite Disaster Service, Service Adventure, Mennonite Central Committee, and conferences.) I’m still connected with the Mennonite church through family, Menno friends and I’m on the Board of a Mennonite college.
It was not until I moved away from a Mennonite community that I realized how unique it is to follow Jesus in such radical ways, in how to read the Bible to follow Jesus’ example, in living life in service to others, in stewardship, and in peace making.
The comments about cultural tribalism in MC USA are correct; just spent last weekend with 500 leaders in the MC USA education and health institutions and though I can play the game, it is more exclusionary feeling as I don’t live in a Mennonite area such as Harrisonburg, Goshen, Lancaster, Hesston, etc.
The lack of connection to outsiders is not due to elitism or ill intent. It is due to being blind to the impact of the behavior. I rate it right up there with individuals blind to diversity and inclusion needs. New people are not unwelcome, it’s the inverse. We want to know and welcome you so much that we want to find something in common to embrace quickly, so we immediately start the Mennonite game (where do you live, where did you go to school, who are your parents). I’ve been to conferences where they spoke all morning about how to include others, and then spent all lunchtime listening to a discussion about Mennonite genealogy. They didn’t connect the incongruence until I pointed it out and then were appropriately embarrassed.
We need Woodland Hills in MC USA, to point it out, to be our bridge, to be the risk takers to cause some disruption and be okay with that role. We also need you to be patient with us, as our humility and the importance of harmony mean we make changes slowly. We need to move past cultural traditions and memories, but they kept our forefathers alive and enabled Anabaptist beliefs to thrive, so they aren’t set aside lightly. My grandfather left France and his mother at age 13, as she did not want him to serve in the military; they never saw each other again. My grandfather watched sons do alternative service, in places other Christians/military leaders deemed humiliating to the non-patriots. Many served in the “looney house;” state mental institutions that were in horrendous condition and treated patients inhumanely with deplorable abuse. Anabaptists, in service to the least of these, created humane mental health institutions as a result and were at the forefront of mental health care as we know it today. Today, Mennonites in health care are embracing work with military members suffering through PTSD, helping them to find shalom in their lives again. Service to others, and watching their work not properly valued, led to the formation of the first “fair trade” organization over 80 years ago. Loving one’s enemies led to pioneer work in what today is known as victim offender reconciliation. These were all people different than us, but we found a way to serve them like family.
So, yes, we may be hesitant to embrace new people and new ways, but understand it comes from a history of needing to protect ourselves from abuse by others different from us. I’m 50, and most of my generation and younger are open and welcome to those without the “tribal” tradition, as we know you from school and the workplace . . . but we need to be taught a common language in our place of worship so we can connect to each other, one other than the Mennonite game and four part acapela harmony.
I’ll be looking for the next sermon, and praying for Woodland Hills in your decision. I hope you join MC USA, as we need your bridge to the future.
I hope WH might see its role as being a sending & planting church in the Anabaptist movement. There are no Mennonite or BIC faith communities in CT (at least according to their websites). I am part of a protestant inner city ministry – although I now attend a franciscan catholic church as it’s about the closest thing to the BIC I can find around here – & I have thought for a long time that the principles of discipleship underscored by Anabaptists, especially simplicity & nonviolent resistance, could be especially transformative in a community like ours. The Anabaptist understanding of the role of the church as a critic & moral conscience of the gov’t could also resonate strongly with those in our neighborhood who fought during the civil rights era & saw the need to separate from the gov’t in the pursuit of justice. Plus, the inner cities could be a great place to really break the anabaptist movement out of its more culturally-confining traditions (because it sure wouldn’t work otherwise). So, come here & plant a church!
Thank you everyone for your posts. We appreciate both the affirmations and the cautions about this journey. We want to reiterate that no formal decision has been made. In this relationship, we’re on the 2nd date and haven’t quite gotten to the nitty-gritty details that define a relationship. As we continue the dialogue, we’ll learn more about the cultural heritage that the Anabaptists have, as well as how our culture at Woodland might be received.
We’re excited about identifying a tradition in history that has a theology similar to ours, but we don’t plan on doing anything different in our church yet. If and when we do, it will certainly be done in community with a lot of processing (we LOVE to process around here…). Please pray for us as we seek the Spirit’s guidance about what this relationship might look like. Blessings!
I wonder if Greg has read Peter Leithart’s critique of the Anabaptist position (especially as it was espoused by John Yoder) in his book “Defending Constantine” (2010)? If so I wonder what his response is? This is a very different reading of Constantine, and he points out what he considers some basic errors in their understanding of the 4th century etc. Perhaps worth a look as a view from the other side?
A great book called Muhammad and Charlemagne. Sorry, but I absolutely believe that if it were not for the civil authorities in concert with the church fighting back against the onslaught of muhammadanism in the European theatre there might not be a church today. That is just a fact of history.