May 28 2013

Anabaptists are hip!

Share

Anabaptist symbol

by Joshua Brockway

In my work for the Church of the Brethren I increasingly find myself involved in discussions about our relevance today. Sometimes this is cast in the frame of doing workshops on Brethren Heritage, and in others it is outlined precisely in terms of relevance.

Running in circles outside of the Church of the Brethren, it is clear that we do have something to offer the wider church as it lives into the crumbling of imperial Christianity- more often called Post-Christendom. This interest often comes in the form of seeking out Anabaptist traditions- groups whose very genesis came about in a simple act of adult baptism, an act of civil and ecclesial disobedience. Now centuries later, after derision and flat out persecution, these Anabaptist traditions are hip!

It is interesting, and worth discussion, that this surge in interest falls out in varying ways. Some use the name “Anabaptist” to talk of the whole diverse tradition past and present, while others choose a more nuanced form and  speak of themselves as Neo-Anabaptists. In many cases writers, including the likes of Harold Bender and Stuart Murray, have attempted to offer a kind of type for Anabaptism in order to get a handle on just what we mean by this name.

Coming from an historic tradition within Anabaptism I have found myself trying to draw lines that help make this small, yet complex, tradition intelligible. This is often complicated because the historic communities often fall into sectarian modes- playing name games with each other, working on insider topics, and occasionally dismissing those who are not “true Anabaptists.”

After many blog, face to face, and Facebook conversations I have finally (and tentatively) come to a helpful taxonomy for this rich matrix of Anabaptism- both of the neo and traditional varieties. What I offer here is by no means complete or comprehensive, but simply a frame within which we can understand just what we mean by Anabaptism. I argue below that the dividing line between Anabaptism and Neo-Anabaptism is to be found in the practice of baptism- that is, whether the community of referent baptizes believers or infants.

Any wisdom to this outline is due to the great conversation partners while any faults are, unintentionally, my own.

Anabaptist

Historically speaking, the Anabaptists first emerged in the early years of the Reformation. A group of Swiss, initially connected to Zwingli, they were  disenchanted with the steps of the reform to date. This group gathered together for the studying of scripture and constructed a short document outlining the central tenants to their way of life as Christians. The Schleitheim Confession, though the core values of this new group, should be set immediately within this group’s decision to baptize one another based on a conscious confession of faith. This act, and not so much the faith they professed, literally broke the law and imposed on them the name of Anabaptists- Re-Baptizers.

Though the Schleitheim Confession makes clear that Christians are not to take up arms for the state, soon after the tragedy of Munster challenged the assumption, both then and now, that Anabaptism is necessarily non-violent in posture. It was not until Menno Simons came along in the wake of armed Anabaptists that a peace testimony became part of the tradition. There, however, Simon’s emphasis on the earlier Schleitheim statements regarding violence was a posture of biblical pragmatism. Since their practice of a believer’s baptism already challenged both civic and ecclesial authorities, a “quiet in the land” posture of non-violent, non-resistance (based in part on Romans 13) was simply prudent for the survival of the group.

As with many groups, different forms of Anabaptism soon followed- even up through the 18th century. Some groups took on a more sectarian or withdrawn posture, such as the Hutterites and Amish. Still others emerged on their own, such as the Brethren (Schwarzenau Brethren) who merged their Pietist sensibilities with adult baptism.

In the 20th century, Harold Bender set out to outline just what this thing called Anabaptism looks like. His work on an “Anabaptist Vision” was clear for its day in that it offered some markers for this tradition. Most recently some have rightly dropped Bender’s vision for a more historically nuanced picture, preferring instead to talk of the many visions and forms within the wider umbrella of Anabaptism. Even the once dominant narrative of the Brethren as holding together the distinct tradition of Anabaptism and Pietism has been critiqued in favor of naming the many influences that merged into the Dunker tradition. There were just too many forms of Anabaptism to talk of it in any singular fashion. Often, then, efforts to distill the distinctive is a kind of argumentative task to speak internally to the tradition itself- saying what we should be about- and then to a wider audience- making the tradition applicable.

Modern Anabaptists

Most recently, this desire to articulate a clear vision for those inclined to Anabaptist thought has come by way of England. There, through a strong relationship with the Mennonite Mission Network, a group of British church leaders began collaborating in a loose network. Stuart Murray (Stuart Murray Williams) penned a summary of the network’s discussions that outlined their understanding of Anabaptism. That summary was published in the US under the title Naked Anabaptist. In that book, Murray is clear that Anabaptism, as they understand it, is a theological perspective in the light of Post-Christendom. In the decades following the ecumenical movement, the UK network is often at pains to say that affinity with these markers of Anabaptism need not institutionally convert others to the historic denominations. Rather, it is possible to be an Anglican Anabaptist, Presbyterian Anabaptist, or even a non-denominational Anabaptist.

In the United States, a similar movement of interest in Anabaptism has come by way of the prolific theologian Stanley Hauerwas. Hauewas’ articulation of Anabaptism is often not the product of historical research into the Anabaptists of the 15th century but is rather a working out of the theology of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. Hauerwas often speaks of the rich formative culture of the church in a way that merges Yoder’s work with that of noted ethical philosopher Alisdair MacIntyre. Yoder, as a former student of Karl Barth, and Hauerwas as a part of the later Post-liberal discussions stand in stark contrast to the dominant narrative of Enlightenment Liberalism. In a way, like the UK Anabaptists, readers of Hauerwas often bring their understanding of Post-Liberalism ecclesiology to their own denominations.

What, then, is the difference between an Anabaptist and Neo-Anabaptist?

An impulse within Anabaptist circles is to talk of two groups- Traditional Anabaptists and Neo-Anabaptists. For me, this distinction feeds the sectarian bias of the historic denominations. I, myself, have been guilty of this at times when I have asked in polite conversation just what Hauerwas has to say about Anabaptism from his position as an Anglican. What possibly could he have to say about a way of life he writes about in abstraction without taking part in the existing, explicitly Anabaptist denominations?

As I interact with people who come to Anabaptist through a variety of ways and have formed their communities intentionally around the various forms of early Anabaptism, I find this distinction between Historical and Neo-Anabaptists unhelpful. Given the diversity within the history regarding forms of Anabaptism, it is simply too sectarian to say that anyone not a part of the main historical groups should be considered Neo-Anabaptist.

Instead, I want offer this brief taxonomy:

Anabaptists are groups of believers who share any of the markers of Anabaptist thought, and practice them within the context of a Believers’ Church structure (i.e. that baptism is a rite for those who have consciously confessed their faith and are baptized on the condition of this confession).

Neo-Anabaptists, then, are those groups or individuals who have found many of the ideas and practices of the Anabaptist tradition to speak relevantly to our context today, but bring this theology and practice into their existing denomination.

This distinction, based around the Believer’s Baptism, upholds the historic first rite of the tradition as the marker between the two. Hence, we can find persons, like Hauerwas or those of the UK Anabaptist Network, who continue to live and work within more magisterial traditions and not hold them outside the fold. For it is clearly a new phenomenon within wider Anabaptism to find such Anglican or Presbyterian Anabaptists. The ecumenical movement has opened the door to less sectarian forms and made it possible to even think that traditional Anabaptist thought could be at home within the very traditions that once persecuted these “Re-baptizers.”

For those of us in historic denominations within Anabaptism, wriers such as Hauerwas and Murray, to name just two, often help us to see parts of our heritage that we often overlook. This is especially the case for the Post-Liberalism of Hauerwas. It is important for those of us who resonate with Hauerwas, yet remain part of denominations like the Church of the Brethren and Mennonites- whose denominational life has come to adopt a decidedly liberal trajectory- to name just what we are claiming by calling ourselves “Neo-Anabaptists.” We are not working from the kind of ecumenical synthesis made possible in the 20th century, but are rather adopting a decidedly Post-liberal re-reading of our heritage. We should more appropriately identify ourselves as Post-liberal Anabaptists rather than muddy the waters with the name Neo-Anabaptists.

So what?

Some may think that such a distinction is mere hairsplitting. And I should confess that I hope this is not just an effort in theological abstraction. For example, many have observed that Greg Boyd’s congregation recently joined the Mennonite Church USA. I do not take this move to be a homecoming, or the movement of a Neo-Anabaptist group to becoming Anabaptist properly speaking. Instead, I think this was a move to draw together two Anabaptist groups, links that were once ideological and practical, and are now structural. Before that coming together, I would not have called Boyd a Neo-Anabaptist. Yet for the likes of Hauerwas, I think the distinction is necessary, if only to name the divergence around baptism. For it was the baptizing of believers and not infants that marked these groups in their day and context.

There are indeed a number of markers for Anabaptism that need further attention, such as a Post-Christendom ecclesiology, the centrality (or not) of a Peace witness in all its forms, and the importance of mutuality and simplicity. Still more work needs to be done in terms of Christology- especially given that many of the Anabaptist traditions have a Christ-centered ethic but do not have a explicit theology of the Incarnation and atonement. Nonetheless, we can see that the taxonomy begins to get at the current contexts of Anabaptist thought- a plurality of contexts not much different from the first centuries of the Reformation.

brockwayJoshua Brockway is director for spiritual life and discipleship for the Church of the Brethren. He serves as editor for this blog and book review editor of Brethren Life and Thought. His is currently writing a dissertation on the 5th century monk John Cassian. 

Share

Apr 3 2013

Small Groups in Congregational Life

Share

Tim Harvey, pastor of Central Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, VA recently shared some observations on small groups in church life in preparation for their congregational business meeting. In this post Tim discusses the components of vibrant small groups in the life of the congregation. The post was originally shared on Tim’s blog on the Central congregation’s website

Our congregation has recently experienced renewal through the ministry of the Hunger Group. Originally conceived as a short-term study group in the summer of 2011, these Central members have found renewed energy, focus, and challenge through their commitment to understand and alleviate hunger in the Roanoke Valley.  We have each benefitted from their leadership.

Small groups are not new to the history of the church. In fact, the Church of the Brethren began as a small group, as eight persons gathered for Bible Study, prayer and baptism in 1708.  Many Christians throughout the years have found a deepened sense of faith and commitment through the shared life of a small group.

In order to be effective, a small group needs to find togetherness in the following areas:  someone to bring the group together; a commitment to stay together; a focus which guides theirstudy together; opportunities to do mission together; chances to get together; and times to pray together.

The first two categories are the minimum commitment for a small group to exist in any meaningful way; without these, the group is significantly flawed and will struggle to accomplish effective ministry.

Leadership is what brings the group together.  Leadership takes a number of forms:  a convener; a study leader; a fellowship coordinator; a mission coordinator, just to name a few.  In fact, an effective small group will divide up these tasks among the group members, thus sharing in the overall group planning.

A commitment to stay together is also critical.  This commitment will vary from group to group, depending on the purpose.  A prayer group or life-stage group may stay together indefinitely; a study group (like we offer in the summer) or a focus group (like our membership class) will meet for a short period of time, or until a particular task is complete.  Whatever the case may be with each group, commitment must be clearly stated and agreed upon:  how often the group meets, how long the group plans to exist, and what members do to prepare for group meetings are key questions.

The next four categories will vary from group to group, depending on the purpose of the group.  They need not exist in equal proportion, but will be present in some form:

A small group should study together.  This will likely be what brought the group together in the first place; whether the group is a Sunday School class or a mission group, a time of study will open our minds to greater understanding of God’s activity in our lives and in the world around us.

A small group should do mission together.  Whatever the purpose of the group, there should be some project that takes the group outside of itself into the community.  When we put mission first in our lives, the Spirit opens up some interesting doors.

A small group should get together for fellowship.  Whatever the main purpose of the group (mission, study, prayer, etc.), the overall group experience will be enhanced by spending time together doing other things.  Deep relationships centered around fellowship can powerfully impact the group’s commitment.

Finally, a small group should pray together, encouraging one another in their shared spiritual growth.  Through prayer and discussion, group members can help one another grow in deeper faith and commitment.

As our congregation moves forward and seeks continued renewal and growth, small groups should be at the forefront of our thinking.  Approaching our Spring Council Meeting, I see several implications of small group thinking for our congregation.

First, the days of measuring church commitment by a willingness to serve on a committee are over.  Instead, small groups with a strong emphasis on mission and spiritual growth must be the priority of our congregation.

Second, consider the small group(s) (Sunday School classes) you are in.  How are the above six characteristics on display in that group?  Is there a clear investment in shared leadership?  Have each of the members in the group expressed their own commitment to the group?  In what proportion are the qualities of study, mission, fellowship, and prayer present?   If these qualities are there, then thanks be to God!  If they are not, is it time for some soul-searching among group members?  Could it be that the group has simply outlived its original purpose?  Is it time for the group to be either renewed or disbanded so members can reform into a new group?

Tim HarveyTim Harvey is pastor of Central Church of the Brethren in downtown Roanoke, VA. He and the congregation work hard at issues of renewal and revitalization, both in the congregation and in the downtown community. Issues of spiritual and literal hunger are recurring themes in their mission and ministry. And yes, he rides a unicycle!

Share

Jul 1 2012

Making the Center Strong: A Liturgical Reflection Part 1

Share

By Christopher J. Montgomery

Read the second installment of this series…

Gordon Lathrop asserts that the role of the presider in the assembly’s worship is to “make the center strong.”1 Throughout my work in pastoral ministry, either in proclamation, leadership, or the arts, my formation as a presider for worship has been a pattern of challenge, epiphany, and growth. My understanding of the role of presider when I first entered pastoral ministry as a worship minister nearly a decade ago was shaped by a paradigm of authority. The presider receives authority from God to act toward the assembly. In the past several years, this thinking has shifted. Recent research in liturgical architecture, Table imagery, and an experience and understanding of God’s presence began the work of synthesizing our tradition’s emphasis on ‘the priesthood of all believers’ with the work of presider. Though the presider’s calling and work is an act of divine importance, the authority of the presider rises from the assembly itself which God has empowered.

The Triune God of our faith meets us in this place that has been created for us. Our response is a rhythmic gathering toward and sending from that presence to expand the renewing power of the divine initiative. It is in this rhythmic gathering and sending, when the assembly is engaged in the rituals of story and meal, that the presider finds authority and empowerment. It is dynamic divine-human interplay: God and the assembly engaged in a sacred dance of illumination and response.

What follows in this brief report is my work with an urban Church of the Brethren parish, re-imagining and rehearsing these essential ecclesiological principles in the form of architecture and ritual. My goal as presider, and as advocate for faithful worship, was to “make the center strong” in response to the full revelation of God’s presence.

Grounding Worship in the Love Feast

In the Church of the Brethren, the practice of quarterly or monthly observance of “communion” or “the Lord’s Supper” is held in tension with our two annual gatherings for the Love Feast. We have valued the Love Feast as an expression of the community’s unity and obedience to Jesus: services of feet-washing, a simple fellowship meal, and the sharing of bread and cup. The principal ethos of Love Feast is often confined to the celebration of the event itself. In the past decade, many leaders across the denomination have worked to encourage congregations to learn to speak with a distinctly Brethren voice. The Church’s broadening development of the peace tradition has produced polity statements calling for social justice, environmental stewardship, and a purposeful conviction that Jesus intends to renew the entirety of creation. These missional perspectives should be shared in our liturgical expression. The self-giving renewal of God’s shalom begins in the illumination of God’s presence and the assembly’s ritual response to God’s revelation. The Love Feast in the Church of the Brethren is the community’s engagement in story and meal around the Table. As the primary holy day in the life of the communion, should not its spirit impact the weekly worship of its people?

The ecumenical spirit that has permeated the Church of the Brethren has been reflected in our parish since its consecration in 1953. Inhabiting a former high-liturgical Baptist facility, our liturgy embraced the typical Presbyterian style that characterized mid-20th century Protestant worship: a choir in robes and stoles, elevated chancel and pulpit, a robed minister, and the two-folds of extended gathering and the service of the word. It was a worship built upon the experience of the intellect engaged with educated clergy. Throughout the following years, changes in the worship order and content progressed organically with the changing styles of the presiding ministers. Because our congregational practice gives ministers broad influence over the shape of worship, the liturgical environment shifted from formal Presbyterian in the 1950s to informal Baptist by the late 1990s. There was little that was distinctly Brethren in either form or content.The liturgical place itself betrayed the historic Brethren emphasis on ‘the priesthood of all believers.’ An elevated chancel and pulpit from which the minister presided looked down upon an auditorium-style pew arrangement. A large stained-glass window displaying a crown hung recessed in the chancel. These elements, though aesthetically beautiful, highlighted the feeling of God’s distance from the midst of the assembly, holding implicit yet strong formative influence over the community that gathered for worship.

Understanding the history of the parish in changing worship, the broad vision of the denomination to reclaim a distinctly Brethren voice in worship and witness, and the theological implications of ecclesial expression, our congregation engaged in a process of liturgical exploration and renewal to discern our awareness of God’s presence through architecture and ritual.

Christopher J. Montgomery pastors the Drexel Hill Church of the Brethren near Philadelphia. He is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, Florida. He blogs at Practicing Missional Worship.

 Read on for part 2

  1. Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology Augsburg Fortress, 2006, 94 []
Share

Jan 31 2012

United Without Confusion and Without Mixture: An approach to Brethren Ecclesiology

Share

In 2008 the Church of the Brethren hosted a gathering of Young Adults as part of the continuing conversations about ministerial leadership. The goal of the gathering was to discuss the emerging realities for the church as the denomination discerned the needs for a new system of calling ministers. Each of the sessions began with prepared presentations and a series of questions for those gathered to discuss around their tables. After the event, a Minute was prepared from the conversations. Brethren Life and Thought will publish a number of the presentations here over the course of several weeks.

The following presentation was prepared and offered by Joshua Brockway.

There comes a time in the life of every member of the Church of the Brethren which arises as a kind of rite of passage. Inevitably someone has asked, or will ask, each of us where we go to church. To which we name our local congregation; Something Church of the Brethren. It’s the puzzled look on the face of the questioner that lets you know you have reached this rite of passage. “So, what religion is that?” Now, I am not venturing into the discussion of our name but simply saying that trying to explain the Church of the Brethren is an endeavor that is akin to explaining Cold Fusion. So we really dumb down the answer and say something we think they will understand: “Oh, we’re like the Mennonites.” Or we get historically and theologically accurate and say (in one breath): “Well we are part of the Radical Pietist movement as it took shape in the late 17th early 18th century in Germany. We also took much of our thinking and practice from the Anabaptist groups that often resided in the places where we fled to when local princes and governors began persecuting.” By now the eyes of our inquisitive friend change from puzzled to crossed, and we resort to the simplified response: “Well, we are kind of like the Mennonites.”

For any who have read Carl Bowman’s recent survey of the Brethren this is not just an anecdotal example.1 The numbers are showing that we indeed barely know who we are. When those surveyed were asked about topics from our denominational tagline, that is Peacemaking, Simplicity and Community, it was clear that a growing element of our membership does not identify with traditional “markers.” I do not want to engage in a conversation about so-called core testimonies or markers of Brethren identity, but to simply ask how it is that we understand ourselves as a Church. Unfortunately, the study is also showing us that a more reliable identifier of our members is where we fall in terms of issues in the political landscape of the United States. I also do not want to venture into the pile of issues which divide us, but to wade rather into that which defines us as the Church. In that spirit of asking and wading, I will argue two things: First, that our way of thinking about our Radical Pietist and Anabaptist elements is too often defined by our political and economic culture. Second, and more constructive I want to offer a Christological re-interpretation of those same elements.

Part of the Culture question we wrestle with as a tradition within the left wing of the Reformation is to ask what defines us, both as individuals and as the Church. In the last year the economic crisis has revealed an answer, at least in terms of the American context. Our social order, the bedrock of our culture is the economic exchange between persons. Art, education, and science are all grounded by the exchange of goods or services for money. In the past, persons involved in these vocations shaped their context. Today such influence is limited or enhanced based on the practitioner’s ability to return on the investment of finances of others. A quick look around the news stands or the television news channels and we see that the primary mode of understanding is in terms of exchange, money, goods, services, credit and debit. This frame of economics is the new totalizing force in culture. We might, as good Brethren, argue this is not the case for the Church. Yet, consider the way we discuss evangelism and service: The common thread becomes the sharing of services, the selling of our faith, the buying into a particular community by a person, or even the removal of buying power when a member leaves. Let’s be brutally honest here, how much of our anxiety over the decline in membership is a fiscal fear, an anxiety over the market value of our tradition. We would like to say that our culture, our thought, and our practices are defined solely by the vision of the Kingdom of God in scripture. It is clear, however, that the wider culture of money has a tremendous impact on our way of understanding the Church.

This kind of exchange model is not new for the understanding of society. In birth pains of the Enlightenment Jean-Jacques Rousseau formulated a theory of government which has defined the American landscape ever since. His theoretical discussion of “Social Contract” described political agreements as a process of exchange. As a basis of this theory Rousseau begins with the Individual, who, in his state of nature, is free and autonomous, attentive to his own needs. This Individual only enters into a community for ego-centric needs. That is, the community offers something which the Individual cannot provide for himself, and so the Individual relinquishes some of his freedom in exchange for the good of the community. The initial example of such a pact comes quickly in Book 1 of Social Contact making heavy use of the image of a family. Here he says that children only remain attached to the father “so long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as the need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved.”2

Though Rousseau is working within a conception of authority, politics, and governance his theory is, at its core, an economic one. Some have appropriated Rousseau’s theory for thinking about the Church. These ecclesiological theories present an individual’s participation in a community as a rational choice, a kind of cost benefit analysis. Thus, when a seeker enters the doors of the Church building, they immediately and subconsciously begin weighing the benefits and losses on an imaginary scale. On each side of the scale first impressions are weighted against the theological ideas, which are then weighted against factors as rudimentary as how far the building is from home. The individual then buys into the community based on this cost-benefit equation. Will this community give as much if not more than it asks of the seeker? Only the individual can decide. Rousseau’s Social Contract helps highlight two underlying assumptions within these kinds of ecclesiological theories; 1) primacy of the individual and 2) that this same individual must give up elements of his freedom to take part in the community.

When we consider the murmurs of a split within the denomination these two assumptions come right to the forefront of the debate. When the larger community is seen as no longer offering the needed services or for that matter contradicts the values of the individual, the only valid option seems to be to break the bonds of the relationship.3 Lest you think I am making too much of this economic example, think back to my longwinded description of the Brethren above. When we say that the Brethren are some kind of mix between Radical Pietism and Anabaptism how do we understand these two traditions interacting? Most often the two are portrayed in constant tension, as if the spirituality of the individual is some how trampled by doctrine and practice of the community, or that the decisions of the larger community have no impact on individual practice. In a more concrete example look at what the Radical Pietist marker of “No Force in Religion” has come to mean in terms of Annual Conference Statements: If the delegates agree with me, then the statement has weight, if not, then there is no need to follow what it says. I wish I could say this is new, but the reality is that this is how many of our Brethren scholars have interpreted the relationship between the Anabaptist and Radical Pietist elements of our tradition. Unfortunately, it is more reflective of American conceptions of democracy and social contract than it represents the Christian witness.4

So how else can we talk about these two elements our tradition which does not place them in opposition to one another? As a student of the Early Church one easily comes to mind. In the sixth century the Church wrestled with the relationship of the divine in the human being of Jesus of Nazareth. Without presenting an exhaustive survey of creedal developments or various Christological formulations, it is important to note what the definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451) tried to avoid. On one hand it rejected monophysitism – that is, when only one of the natures, divine or human, is present or where they are so united as to created a third kind of being. On the other hand the council set out of bounds any rejection of either the humanity or the divinity of Jesus Christ. Basically the council stated that Christ is “acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being.” In a really simplified version, you can’t talk about Christ the man without also talking about Christ the Divine.

In many ways we need to be able to say the same thing about the Church of the Brethren, that the Radical Pietist and Anabaptist, the individual and the community are one and the same. This is to say that the Rousseau-like tension, where the individual must relinquish much to be a part of the faith community, or that the faith community must see itself as a distributor of religious goods, has to be exorcised from the way be think about “Being and Doing Church.” How is it that we can talk about individual Christians without the frame of a community, and how is it that we talk of the Church as if it is not comprised of faithful people? To adopt a Chalcedonian ecclesiology is to finally recognize that there is no individual Christian without a Church, and there is no Church without individuals.

Anthropologists, ritual theorists, liturgical theologians and even philosophers all in many ways understand this Chalcedonian way of being a community. In their own ways these thinkers describe the way community practices such as worship and even a congregational potluck shape the way people think about the world. What they have not grasped is that these communities are comprised of individuals whose very experiences of life give content to these ritual structures. What we as Brethren hold in “tension” is really a way of working out the age old dichotomy of the individual and the collective. In a way we have been trying to do what these theorists only pondered. Yet, we get stuck in a way of thinking that is based on the economic and political models of the North American context and constantly fight about the authority of the denomination and the freedom of the individual. Our own grounding in Jesus Christ offers us a way to see the dynamic interplay of communal formation and individual participation that reaches beyond what politics and money can offer. To understand our way of being and doing Church in incarnational terms – that is, two natures united without mixture and without confusion – we arrive at a uniquely Christian way of thinking about the world and ourselves. So when we are asked about who the Brethren are, maybe we finally say with some conviction that we are an incarnational people. That seems to me to be the best starting point for any discussion.

1 Carl Desportes Bowman, Portrait of a People: The Church of the Brethren at 300 (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 2008).

2 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract, Bk 1.2.

3 See Greg Davidson Laszakovits, “I Am Not Saying…I’m Just Saying…” in Messenger November 2008, vol 157.10. Though Davidson Laszakovits does not follow the typical formula for discussing the prospects for division he does confirm the social contract approach to ecclesiology. The thesis of his editorial asks if the factions within the Church of the Brethren could minister more effectively and energetically if there were to be an amicable split. In essence, the individual desires for ministry are hindered by remaining in the denominational community.

4 Meier, Marcus. “Anabaptist and Pietist Influences on the Early Brethren.” In Lines, Places, and Heritage: Essays Commemorating the 300th Anniversary of the Church of the Brethren, eds. Steven Longenecker and Jeff Bach (Bridgewater, VA: Penobscot Press, 2008), 157–68. Meier recently argued in this essay that the historical evidence shows that the two traditions were not as distinct as we have often portrayed them. Instead, the Radical Pietists and Anabaptists mutually influenced one another.

  1. Carl Desportes Bowman, Portrait of a People: The Church of the Brethren at 300 (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 2008). []
  2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract, Bk 1.2. []
  3. See Greg Davidson Laszakovits, “I Am Not Saying…I’m Just Saying…” in Messenger November 2008, vol 157.10. Though Davidson Laszakovits does not follow the typical formula for discussing the prospects for division he does confirm the social contract approach to ecclesiology. The thesis of his editorial asks if the factions within the Church of the Brethren could minister more effectively and energetically if there were to be an amicable split. In essence, the individual desires for ministry are hindered by remaining in the denominational community. []
  4. Meier, Marcus. “Anabaptist and Pietist Influences on the Early Brethren.” In Lines, Places, and Heritage: Essays Commemorating the 300th Anniversary of the Church of the Brethren, eds. Steven Longenecker and Jeff Bach (Bridgewater, VA: Penobscot Press, 2008), 157–68. Meier recently argued in this essay that the historical evidence shows that the two traditions were not as distinct as we have often portrayed them. Instead, the Radical Pietists and Anabaptists mutually influenced one another. []
Share