mainstream Anabaptism is an oxymoron

In my previous post, responding to The Naked Anabaptist, I asked this question: what to do when a fringe movement becomes mainstream and relevant - when its' “time has come” as seems to be the case for Anabaptism?

As I continue through the book Murray hasn’t explicitly answered my query. But as I reflect on his proposal of popular Anabaptism today, a thought came out of his discussion of post-Christendom that addresses my question above (ch. 4 - "After Christendom").

You see, my question above assumes that popularity will change Anabaptism as it evolves into more prominent forms of organization and authority (e.g. Mennonite World Conference or the Anabaptist Network). Basically, fame comes with a cost - Anabaptism will change.

But there's a problem with my line of thinking. The question assumes categories incongruent with the Anabaptism Murray describes. The assumptions that popularity and growth must be managed and organized assumes that Christian faithfulness in the world be achieved ourselves - achieved if we only try a little harder, or exert our influence a little more. This type of language, however, represents the Christendom (Christian culture) model that Anabaptism has so ardently opposed in its 500 year history. It’s hard to apply the language of the majority to a minority. Never having been the majority Anabaptism (in theory) doesn’t have this default desire to maximize popularity or ascend the ladder of cultural influence. In a sense, Anabaptism, even if gaining popularity, will never be “popular.” Or at least it shouldn’t be.

I see Murray’s emphasis on the shift “from control to witness” as one reason Anabaptism can avoid the pitfalls associated with being mainstream. In leadership speak, control involves strategies that maximize effectiveness. With this mindset churches compete for the market share so to speak (i.e. people’s allegiance). Witness, however, has a different vocabulary and basis - and thus a different approach altogether. Murray comments that “Anabaptism, at its best, offers a model of peaceful witness that integrates words and deeds, personal and communal testimony, listening and speaking.” Instead of strategies for faithfulness the focus is on stories of faithfulness - the ongoing act of the church “witnessing to our story and its implications” in the world we find ourselves.

These are just some musings - I still have some reading to do. But essentially this is what I’m considering: mainstream Anabaptism is an oxymoron.

Next question on my radar is this: is the language of "witness" just semantics, or does the church's role in the world significantly change once we accept our role as witnesses in our post-Christian reality?


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