*All scriptural references taken from the New King James Version.
There is a distinguishing trademark historically, which has been stamped upon every Anabaptist movement globally. It is an inherent point of identification which manifests itself in natural expression and also in theological terms. This dual expression has both positive and negative aspects.
Historically, we Anabaptists have been known to engage all manner of controversy, out of which has sprung innumerable divisions—divisions that are still perpetuating today. These controversies range from, non-resistance, various styles of clothing, women’s veiling’s, straight-cut suits, selected farm machinery, black bumper cars; with many minor and insignificant idiosyncrasies that have little or no spiritual significance. Often like the Pharisees of Christ’s day, we “major in the minors.” Having embraced the Pharisaical spirit in years past myself, I was once guilty of persecuting the true Church.
Theologically, mainstream Anabaptists are amillenial in their doctrine of eschatology, which likely resulted from our early history involving the Muenster saga. The Meunsterites, being pre-millenial in their eschatology, ultimately went awry in their practice and theology, forever placing stigma upon the name “Anabaptist.” From that time to now, Anabaptist movements globally have attempted to somehow find their true identity. In our attempt to do so, many of us have unknowingly lost our way by focusing on certain outward aspects, in an attempt to mark us as the true Anabaptists, rather than finding our identity in Christ alone, as was the focus of our forefathers in the days before Muenster.
If we are to recover the Living Waters released through our forefathers, our trust must shift from our sole identity as an Anabaptist, to that of sole identity in the all-sufficiency of Christ. For any Anabaptist, and at any level, this notion may be a severe challenge—even a brutal death to our self-life. For we traditionally have found what we collectively deem a safe place in our historical identity, when in reality it was often misleading, and has been found to be little more than shifting sand foundationally, invariably ending in misunderstanding, strife and divisions. In stating such, if the reader is left with the impression that I am attempting to shed my Anabaptist identity or heritage completely, then you have not heard me correctly. Much rather, and in very simple terms; I have found no living water in defining my being as an Anabaptist. To the gracious contrary, I have found living water in defining my being as a slave to Christ, while yet appreciating, honoring and seeking to redeem the errors within my Anabaptist heritage. For as the Israelites wandered in circles for their misdeeds, so has my extended Anabaptist family wandered the same. It is therefore not until we collectively yield to the perfect will and intention of the God of Restoration, that we as a people will enter the Promised Land life in Christ Jesus.
Let us briefly examine some of our divisions and see if there might yet be a remedy for this long, dark history of division and separation from each other.
In their earliest stages, some of the more critical divisions had their beginnings with Menno Simons, when he, from northern Germany and Holland, detached from the Swiss Brethren to the south. As well, Jakob Amann spawned a split among the Swiss brethren. These men were strong believers in Christ, carrying out great exploits in His name—men who left spiritual legacies of extreme importance to us. They had some significant flaws however, flaws which affect us to this day.
Presently many Mennonites largely ignore the Amish for their gross ignorance of the biblical tenets of salvation; while the Amish ignore the Mennonites for their perceived freedoms and liberties in their spiritual lives. Both points of contention have been blown out of proportion, yet they continue to separate us. At the same time, there are countless divisions among the Amish, wholly aside from contentions within the Mennonites. The same has occurred within the Mennonites; innumerable divisions.
As I travel abroad, I have observed these divisions as having been set in stone, immovable, irreconcilable. Though saddening, I see hope within Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21:
“…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
Which do we want to believe; the lie that these divisions perpetuate, or the prayer of Jesus? Many would believe it fruitless to hope in a vision of such unity, but the true heart of God is that to draw His Body into “one” in Him—the God of Restoration.
Within every stream within the Anabaptist family, I find those who adamantly proclaim Jesus as their Savior and Lord, while in the same breath very often shunning their fellow Anabaptists, whether Amish or Mennonite. For many years I have yet chosen to believe Jesus in the face of monumental odds; that mass restoration would be possible among we Anabaptists today. If Jesus prayed it, I accept it as a personal model of prayer, and also choose to believe it will come to pass—even in my lifetime.
Jesus will be returning for one Bride—one Bride which is whole, without fragmentation, and which is unconditionally yielded to Him—in unity.
One of the divine elements that set’s Jesus apart as the Messiah, is His right-ness (righteousness). Yet He was willing to receive the accusations of being wrong to become sin for us. He in turn saves and redeems us from our collective wrong-ness (fragmentation). See 2 Cor. 5:21. Every faction or stream within our Anabaptist family at large deems themselves right, when in reality, our very factional existence makes us wrong. Until we find ourselves on the right side of God’s favor (in light of our present divisions) we shall never find our true destiny in life; we shall not reach it until true repentance comes forth from each of us. Who is right, or who is wrong, is never the issue. The issue is this: there is no one standing in the gap, to bridge the purposes of unity and oneness in Christ (Colossians 1:24, Ezekiel 22:30).
Even here, God’s great patience and longsuffering for us is seemingly boundless, as He stands poised to restore all things:
Being justified freely by His Grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:24-26).
God is at this time demonstrating His great forbearance of our sins, in spawning many divisions throughout our history. He is at this time extending His mercy and longsuffering, to redeem, to heal, to reconcile, and to bring together all of us into one Body. Up until now, time had been on our side, but such is no longer the case. Unless we are marked with a heart of deep sorrow and true repentance for the personal role we have played in spawning factions and divisions, we may very well miss our present opportunity, for the window of opportunity will soon pass by:
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved (Jeremiah 8:20).
The Final Harvest of course transcends the Anabaptist people, to encompass every tribe and tongue—the Bride of Christ to be. But I believe the Final Harvest to also hinge upon a critical motion which must come from we Anabaptists; for the divisions which we have spawned over hundreds of years, have impacted all of Christendom. We must therefore take ownership of our sin; the spilled blood of thousands of our Anabaptist forefathers requires it, for they have paid the ultimate price. And we must collectively realize that very often, healing and restoration throughout the Body of Christ is felt by way of the ripple-effects of our personal repentance as Anabaptist, and our personal resolve to be channels of the restoration of all things.
I deeply long for the day that the world will see a heart of restoration in the Church Universal, prompting them to believe. Because Jesus prayed this prayer, I choose to believe it will come to pass. May He touch and move all of our hearts, from an immovable, stubborn posture of being right, into that of a repentant and malleable heart, yielded to God’s purposes in binding us together in the agape-love of the Father, through Jesus.
At times, while in my prayer room, I see a sea of humanity converging to form singleness of heart—singleness of purpose—the very essence of unity, on a universal scale, in Christ. While visualizing this, I am reminded of Genesis 11:6, wherein God said:
Indeed the people [are] one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.
In the context of Genesis 11:6, these people were bent upon evil. However the truth remains; that because they were of “one language,” nothing that they had proposed to do would be withheld from them. Suppose then, that we Anabaptists were of “one language,” purpose and vision, bent upon that which is rooted in God’s perfect will for us. Nothing then, within the framework of His will for the restoration of all things, would be withheld from us.
Without a unified vision, we perish. I implore you to embrace this vision with me, and to keep it before you daily, as you approach the Throne Room of grace, in prayer. Together, with “one language” in our prayer and petitions, we will ultimately find that nothing shall be withheld from us as we contend to live-out the fullness of our mission as Anabaptists.
I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected. Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry (Habakkuk 2:1-3).
Edited by: David Davenport