- The Anabaptists were right about the church.
Organic means motivated by love, based on relationships, and structurally simple and reproducible.
Church should be about relationships, friendships, community and spiritual family – not just a building with a one hour Sunday Gottesdienst with preaching and the sacraments. And its structures must be simple, easy to reproduce with built-in flexibility and fluidity. Systems and structures that are complicated, bureaucratic, centralised, and controlling will no longer be valuable in the coming Reformation.
The church also needs to be contemporary and relevant and have a style that reflects the culture. Not that it must chase fads or is a slave to culture; but it must not be stuck in a cultural style that is now extinct.
The Anabaptists have not been represented well in History and especially European history because they lost the historical battle to the state churches. In previous centuries they were tortured and massacred and in literature have been stigmatised, slandered and misrepresented. An example of this is how Thomas Müntzer, The Zwickau Prophets and The Peasant’s war were all blamed on the Anabaptists. Thomas Müntzer was actually a Lutheran and not part of the Anabaptist movement (but he came to realise that infant baptism was not Biblical although he himself was never baptised as an adult). The militant Zwickau Prophets were not Anabaptists and were never baptised by immersion as believers, and a very low percentage of Anabaptists were discovered to be involved in the Peasant’s Uprising. But because the movement has been caricatured this way, Europeans have been able to reject the important truths they brought and have suffered greatly as a result.
America was colonised by Christians who had been persecuted and wanted to enjoy religious freedom and as a result many of the Anabaptist ideals were adopted. On the other hand, Europe remained under the control of state churches, whether Protestant or Catholic, and this has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the Gospel. Because Luther was a strong advocate of state churches and was not willing to take the Reformation he started to its logical conclusion, he viciously persecuted the Anabaptists and this is still the prevailing spirit over Germany and much of Europe. Free churches may not be persecuted the same way but they are still considered with deep suspicion and often labelled cults – which to a German is the ultimate curse.
But consider the legacy of the Anabaptist movement:
- The Bible as the sole rule of faith and practice.
- Freedom of religion – liberty of conscience.
- Separation of church and state.
- Voluntary church membership without forced conversion.
- Believer’s baptism by immersion.
- Self-governed local churches
- Local church trained clergy
- Evangelistic zeal.
- Priesthood of all believers.
- Pacifism or non-resistance.
- Separation from the world and holiness of life
Whilst there were some extremes in the Anabaptist movement such as millennialism, refusing to take oaths, or to hold public office; the world-wide church have by-and-large accepted their points and blasted forward, whilst the European church have refused to change and are stuck and declining.
Luther was right about the Gospel but he was wrong about the church. Luther challenged Catholic doctrine but the structures he adopted for the Lutheran church were largely Catholic minus the statues and the confessional. The Anabaptists however, had a much more Biblical ecclesiology (theology of church) which we must learn from. Luther restored the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer; but the Anabaptists restored the ministry of the priesthood of the believer.
There is always a need for new wineskins to contain the new wine. If there is going to be another great wave of the Spirit then new wineskins will be forming to hold the new wine. We do believe in the importance of the renewal of the state churches but we also think radically different structures and mentalities are necessary to express what God wants to do. Lutherans of all people should understand the need for new wineskins! If we say there is no need for new wineskins then what we are saying is that we all need to revert to the Roman Catholic Church – which no Protestants are willing to do.
One particular reason we need new wineskins is the danger of a centralised system. In many denominations the local church does not own their church building and the pastor is paid a salary from central funds. If a pastor decided to move with the Spirit he would be expelled and immediately lose his accommodation and salary which makes it very hard to move with the Spirit. This kind of control must change.
So some of the recommendations we are making for a new Reformation are:
- Free churches – free of state control and free of denominational control.
- Locally led congregations – the Bible speaks of elders who govern and shepherd the church.
- Mobile apostolic teams – that influence the churches but don’t own them.
- Churches comprised of confessing believers who have repented of sin and are water baptised by immersion.
- Cell groups and house churches who gather to make disciples.
- Not requiring academic theological degrees for pastors – but rather practical, local church based training and proving, and studying as you go.
- Bi-vocational pastors.
- Rented venues and venues that don’t necessarily look religious.
A church will not become a missional church unless it is an organic church. If we want the whole church – not just a professional pastor – on mission then we need to have structures that reflect that. Organic structures make it easier for everyone to be a disciple and to make disciples. To be a church where every person is involved in the Great Commission.
On with the Reformation!