This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Examining our essentials

Even if you think you’ve got the basics of Anabaptism down, you can always benefit from a refresher. Palmer Becker’s Anabaptist Essentials, released last month by Herald Press, runs through the basics in 10 short chapters ideal for everyone from the curious newcomer to the longtime church leader.

As an expanded version of Becker’s booklet, What Is an Anabaptist Christian?, the book digs deeper into what distinguishes Anabaptism from other Christian traditions. Becker highlights three major themes: Jesus-centered faith, life in community, and reconciliation as the heart of our mission and work.

Reading through Anabaptist Essentials reminded me of the witness that impressed me as a 12-year-old flipping through conservative Mennonite publications in the summer of 2001. The emphasis on a faith that transforms our lives as we imitate Jesus, and the commitment to peace and reconciliation — at the cost of our lives, if necessary — stuck with me.

On 9/11, I was 13 years and one day old. All I could think was, “We need that Mennonite stuff.”

Today, my sentiment is the same. Thanks to Becker, I can articulate it a little more eloquently.

I’ve since learned there is a difference between ideals written in a book and the lives of actual people. Most of my experience with Anabaptism between the ages of 13 and 25 was through written material. Only in the past three years have I fully experienced the community-centered life in which these ideals are lived out.

Comparing this experience with my Reformed/Baptist background, I note the strengths of Anabaptist life are our service, forgiveness and peace witness. Becker writes that “forgiveness is essential for community.” Forgiveness lays the foundation for reconciliation and peacebuilding among communities and individuals. The testimony of peacebuilding and service continues to attract Christians like me as we seek truth in a violent world.

To me, the weak areas of Anabaptist life are biblical interpretation and personal piety. Becker writes, “It is important to interpret the Scriptures from a point of view that includes both the spirit and ethics of Jesus.” Yet I note among us a lack of emphasis on expository, in-depth Bible teaching that esteems the text above our feelings about it.

How is the spirit of Jesus to be discerned apart from the teaching of the apostles he called? Becker writes, “For the Anabaptists, salvation through Christ meant yielding to God and being remade into a new person empowered to live a different kind of life.” A close relationship with God’s Spirit is nourished by knowing and obeying the written Word God has preserved for us.

Anabaptist Essentials takes us back to the basics. We must be vigilant to strengthen and maintain them.

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