A Materialistic Church: The Missional Corrective to Anabaptism

The standard critique of Anabaptism in its traditional form, and thus extended to its recent recovery, is that it is sectarian. Anabaptist visions of living in an alternative community, with different stories and rituals, is about withdraw from the current world. In fairness to the critique, there are some forms of the tradition that are about withdraw and creating a strong separatist culture with a dominant society. It is said, then, that Anabaptists are disconnected from reality and overly idealistic in thought and practice.

Yet, this need not be the case. In fact, I think that the intersection of Missional thinking and Anabaptism is a right balance of peculiarity and cultural participation. In this video, Michael Frost at the Sentralized conference demonstrates just how fruitful the interaction between the two schools of thought can be. Rather than arguing for a purist community withdrawn from society, Frost talks of the church as a community in exile. Dress in the clothes, enjoy the food and games, develop relationships with others, and yet tell the radical stories, sing the dangerous songs and embody different ways within the dominant culture.

Put another way, the Missional posture takes the Anabaptist community out of the realm of ideal forms and puts it on the ground. The congregation, as the central story telling and ritual place, does not exist in the sweet by and by. Rather, it is local- it is made up of people right where we are, comprised of hopes, fears, questions and needs. It is not isolated from the injustices of the society, nor is it immune to the questions the surrounding culture is asking.

Thus we aren’t talking about ethereal practices, but specific actions. We aren’t just talking about radical songs, but the very things a congregation actually sings. And when we talk of washing feet, we aren’t talking about a sentimental woodcut image but real feet on real people. And when we say we are being the church, it is clearly not the ideal. We are real people, who have goals and yet stumble along the way. We laugh with each other one moment and gossip the next. We serve meals with each other and then work at power grabs in the business meeting. The Missional corrective to Anabaptism reminds us that we are real people with faults and are situated in a wider context from which there is no escape.

Those who tend toward the idealized portrait of the church, those of the Anabaptist persuasion would do well to take seriously the contextual and cultural awareness that Missional theology brings. As part of that move, it is important for us Neo-Anabaptists and NuDunkers to wrestle significantly with the Incarnation as the defining theological frame for the tradition. By remembering that Christ did not come outside of a time and a place, we can begin to articulate how the vision for the church so central to our thought is not divorced from either. Our faith is, as Peter Rollins and many others say, a materialistic faith. And thus our ecclesiology or theology of the church, must be equally materialistic and embodied.

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2 Comments

Filed under Discipleship, NuDunkers

2 responses to “A Materialistic Church: The Missional Corrective to Anabaptism

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes!  I am so glad you made this turn instead of going out into the desert!  I think that the interplay between exile and exodus are key themes that the Church of the Brethren needs to focus on.  Even our denomination’s historical story can be viewed this way.

    Like you, what I love about the idea of exile is the missional piece.  However, I’m not sure that the corrective to Anabaptism is a reminder that we are “real people”. It seems the corrective should be that the goal of our community should be to seek the welfare of the city, rather than retreat into segregated communites that seek the welfare of the ourselves within the local church.

    The “real people” corrective seems better directed at our Brethren pietism. We are real and broken people, not the idealized and perfect people we pretend to be and that we hold everyone else to.

    Thanks for the conversation,

    David

    • Joshua Brockway

      Ha, thanks David! Yeah, I don’t go to far into the desert! Although I am working on a piece on the range of understanding of withdraw and renunciation in one of the desert fathers. I’ll save that commentary for later.

      I think, rather than saying the Missional corrective shows us we are real people, it shows us that we are in a context and there is no getting away. So really, I might better phrase it as the Missional Church work helps us Anabaptists not turn into sectarians.

      Thanks for the comment!

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