Joining a Conservative Anabaptist Church
Your second option is to join a church somewhere in the conservative Anabaptist world. By conservative Anabaptist, I mean Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, Brethren, and what are sometimes called “Remnant” churches. The Apostolic Christian Church might also fit into this category.
When I think of the term Kingdom Christians, the Anabaptists are the first ones who pop into my mind. In fact, Anabaptists are about the only Kingdom churches still around. There are individual Kingdom Christians in many places, but aside from some house churches, the Anabaptists are pretty much the only option. Conservative Anabaptists have been practicing Kingdom Christianity according to the Sermon on the Mount for nearly five hundred years. (Liberal Mennonites, liberal Brethren, and liberal Apostolic Christian churches, on the other hand, largely resemble conventional Western churches.)
The conservative Anabaptist world encompasses a broad spectrum of cultures and practices. At one end are the horse-and-buggy Old Order groups. Not many Kingdom seekers end up joining those groups, but some do, and for those who can make that big a change in culture, it can be very successful. However, the vast majority of people from non-Anabaptist background find the shift to Old Order is just too difficult. With such a change, a husband and wife definitely would need to agree, and the children too, unless they are very young.
At the other end of the spectrum are the “Charity” or “Remnant” churches. These are usually made up partly of people who were raised in other Anabaptist churches and sought a less regulated church than most conservative Anabaptist churches. Remnant churches often emphasize some Evangelical theology, and their preaching may be Revivalistic in flavor. However, these churches vary considerably among themselves.
Most Remnant churches have a Kingdom theology. They certainly belong in the category of Kingdom churches. Many people in these churches are seekers from non-Anabaptist backgrounds, and possibly more of them “make it” in Remnant churches than in traditional Mennonite and Amish churches.
- Advantages of Joining a Conservative Anabaptist Church
Let me tell you about some of the advantages of fellowshipping with Anabaptists. The biggest advantage is that they are the only Kingdom churches except for certain house churches. Certainly the Anabaptists are not the only Kingdom Christians, but I don’t know of any churches outside of the Anabaptists (with the possible exception of a few Holiness churches) who teach the Sermon on the Mount as the way Christ requires us to live. While many churches teach the Sermon on the Mount as an ideal, they don’t require their members to live by Jesus’ teachings when it comes to war, swearing oaths, divorce, and many other matters Jesus taught about.
The Anabaptist’s obedience extends beyond the Sermon on the Mount to other New Testament commandments, such as the head covering, modest dress, and headship in the home. Again, the Anabaptists are almost the only churches who still teach these things and require them of their members.
Personally, I find the Anabaptist spirituality and lifestyle very attractive. When I think of Anabaptists, I think of the statement of the early Christian writer, Minucius Felix, who said, “We don’t speak great things; we live them.” The Christianity of the conservative Anabaptists isn’t flamboyant, but it is powerful in its quiet simplicity.
I grew up in the 50s, and I miss many aspects of the life I knew as a boy. When I was growing up, families were more stable, and divorce was uncommon. Most people believed in an ethic of hard work. There were no bank credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard, so people were less apt to be over their heads in consumer debt. Children were raised at home, not in daycare centers. Husbands were the heads of their homes.
In the 50s there was such a stigma associated with declaring bankruptcy that most people would make great sacrifices to avoid going bankrupt. Likewise, there was such a stigma associated with living on welfare that most people preferred to do without rather than to accept a government handout. Premarital sex was rare. Drug use was mainly confined to large cities.
In the conservative Anabaptist world, life is still much like this. These people have rejected most of the detours of modern society and live by what I call old-fashioned values.
Another advantage of attending an Anabaptist church is that it is generally much more stable than a house church. Anabaptist churches, especially traditional Mennonites and Amish, tend to be stable congregations made up of stable families. In a conservative Anabaptist church, you also have a larger community of other churches to turn to if you need help, compared to a house church. For example, if your house burns down, or some other calamity strikes, you have a huge network there to support you.
- Disadvantages of Joining a Conservative Anabaptist Church
Now you may be wondering, “If life among the Anabaptists is so wonderful, why don’t all Kingdom Christians join an Anabaptist church?”
The conservative Anabaptist world is not a spiritual paradise, and it isn’t easy for those of us from a non-Anabaptist background to make the transition to the Anabaptist world. Earlier I mentioned that one advantage of staying in the church where you are is that you avoid the stress of moving and changing jobs. For most of us, joining an Anabaptist church will require moving and changing jobs. That means we’re already under a lot of stress to start with, and then we run into the challenges of Mennonite, Amish, or Brethren culture.
I mentioned earlier that I love most things about Anabaptist culture, but there are aspects of it that can be vexing. Hundreds of years of persecution forced the Anabaptists into isolated communities that developed cultures, quite different from society around them. Parts of this culture that were originally connected with Biblical principles no longer are.
A seeker coming into the conservative Anabaptist world will run into many of these cultural issues. We seekers usually don’t mind making changes when we can see their connection to a clear New Testament teaching, but the many changes that must be made merely for the sake of tradition or culture, based on rules that had meaning perhaps a century ago, can begin to wear on us.
This leads to the larger issue of what Anabaptists call standards. Some standards may no longer have a solid Biblical principle behind them, but most Anabaptist standards are applications of a present-day Biblical principle. With these standards, we seekers usually can see the Biblical principle involved; however, the idea of a church deciding for everyone in the church how to apply this or that New Testament principle is something new to most of us. A few such applications would not bother most of us, but the list is often quite long, and the applications can be debatable.
To add to that problem, when a church legislates so many specific applications of Biblical principles, invariably there will be glaring inconsistencies between them. Again, a bit of this doesn’t bother most seekers, but over time it tends to wear on people.
Another challenge in joining an Anabaptist church is that we seekers, seeing how well Anabaptists do in many areas, tend to expect them to be perfect. Anabaptists are great people, but they are not perfect and they don’t claim to be. Anabaptist churches have many of the same problems that plague most churches, such as gossip, cliques, ambition for positions of authority, disagreements, jealousies, and other such things. Most of us would expect to find those things in conventional churches, but we may imagine that the Anabaptists have risen above such things, only to be deeply disappointed when we find they haven’t.
One final issue: if you value the example of the early church, you will find that the Anabaptists do quite well, better than any group I know of, in following the lifestyle of the early church, but when it comes to theological issues, they disagree with a lot of early church teachings.
From my perspective, I would caution against joining an Anabaptist church unless you and your spouse both want to do this. If you do not agree, it is doubtful if it will work to join an Anabaptist church. Likewise, I would advise you against it if you have teenage children and they do not support this decision; you may well find your children turning not only against the Anabaptists, but against God. But if you go into it realistically, understanding the challenges involved in joining an Anabaptist church, you may find it is a solution that works for you, as it has for hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Christian families.