Why I’m An Anabaptist

People routinely come to my site by searching “shaun groves denomination” or “shaun groves beliefs” or, yesterday, “Is shaun groves calvinist?”

I’m a theological mutt. I grew up in the Texas wing of the Southern Baptist denomination, worked for the Methodists while in college at Baylor (a Baptist-ish school), and have sung and spoken in a church of just about every denomination over the last eleven years. My bookshelf is a diverse neighborhood of Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Mennonites, mystics and theologians, Americans, Germans, Africans, Canadians, South Americans and Asians, modern and ancient.

I guess I’ve never really plainly answered the question “What are you?” because, first of all, I don’t know the answer and, secondly, I don’t think it matters all that much. Which means I’m probably more Anabaptist than anything.

These words are transcribed from a recent sermon by Bruxy Cavey, an Anabaptist pastor at The Meeting House in Canada.

(It’s downright normal to be an Anabaptist in Canada, by the way. Have you even met one in America? But that’s another post…)

As Anabaptists we tend toward biblical theology rather than systematic theology. In biblical theology we tend to read scripture and mine it for implication and then go and live what it says. We ask, “What is the bible saying on this matter?” Systematic theology is rooted in the bible, absolutely. It takes all the biblical data and constructs a system of thought on a particular topic that is rooted in scripture, but then once that system is built [the believer] goes back to scripture and reads it through that filter.

Now you can see the danger and advantage. [Systematic theology] creates a clear-headedness so that when you read scripture you can fit things together and see things perhaps you’ve never seen before. But what if when building that original structure you made some mistakes. Now you’ve built a filter that’s flawed and every time you read scripture [through it] you will reinforce flawed beliefs.

So all of us need to be humble and say we believe that through the Bible God is speaking to us and theology is only our best intellectual human response to that.

…Anabaptists just don’t typically do systematic theology with the depth and rigor that Calvinists do, for example. One reason is that we look back over church history and realize that in those times when the Church was theologically the most rigorous [it was] also the most violent. Every time they held another meeting to make sure they nailed down orthodoxy was another time that persecution broke out against the people who didn’t embrace the orthodoxy. So you can understand then why historically Anabaptists are very skeptical of creeds – we’re a non-creedal group of people, because every time you fashion a creed it gives another excuse to kill people who won’t sign the creed.

And if you can’t even get the simplest, the plainest teaching of Jesus – like “don’t kill” – why should we trust you on matters that are far more complex?

Our first leaders within the Anabaptist movement were intellectuals, students of the first reformers. [As they studied the bible they said to the reformers] you’re not going far enough. They debated with their professors. A bunch of twenty-somethings who had courage and vision and were debating with their professors saying, “We need to take this further.” They identified themselves publicly, wrote, preached, debated and then they were all slaughtered.

That was our first layer of [Anabaptist] leadership. The next layer of leadership that had some education was slaughtered. And the next. And finally we were left with farmers and bakers who said, “How do we just follow Jesus? Because that’s all we can do.”

So the early leadership of the Anabaptists focussed on following Jesus. “Don’t kill. We’ll start with that and then we’ll branch out from there.”

If you’re a Calvinist you need to understand this about Anabaptists: Not only do we disagree with you. We disagree about the importance of the disagreement.

Yep. I’m mostly this.