Evangelical Anabaptism

Can the two traditions be held together?

May 21, 2018 by

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What is “evangelical Anabaptist”? It’s a designation claimed in some form by Mennonite Brethren, Conservative Mennonite Conference, Evangelical Mennonite Conference and Evana Network — which takes its name from the words evangelical and Anabaptist — and others.

But what does it mean in practice? While the answers will vary, the trend seems to be that combining evangelicalism and Anabaptism leads to minimizing Anabaptist distinctives.

There’s more to Christianity than Anabaptist distinctives. But if those are so minimized that they’re barely detectable, what’s the point of identifying as “evangelical Anabaptist”?

In a time when “Mennonite” in North America often means either plain and nonconformed lifestyles or a progressive peace-and-justice platform, many Mennonites who don’t identify with either of those markers are choosing to focus on the traditional evangelical emphases of personal conversion and relationship with God, as well as planting church communities that foster personal growth. For many, this has meant dropping the “Mennonite” name or absorbing it into an acronym.

After formalizing its separation from Mennonite Church USA at the end of 2017, Lancaster Mennonite Conference rebranded as “LMC: A Fellowship of Anabaptist Churches.” Its new web address, lmcchurches.org, carefully avoids the word “evangelical” on its “Mission, Vision, Values” page while balancing strong Anabaptist themes with the evangelical mandate of multiplying congregations, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Signs point to increased collaboration between the evangelical Anabaptist denominations. At LMC’s assembly in March, representatives of Evana and CMC publicly expressed affinity with LMC. LMC moderator Keith Weaver was on the Evana board for Evana’s first two years. The USMB schools, Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University, have formed relationships with Evana.

While plain and mainline Mennonites both emphasize — albeit in different ways — expressing faith by action, evangelical Anabaptists focus especially on inner peace from knowing God personally, which then transforms relationships.

At Evana’s first two conventions, the main themes were emotional internal experiences, rising above past personal hurts and trusting God to perform miracles. Perhaps these dynamics have traditionally been neglected among Anabaptists, with their ideals of submission to the group and accepting the highest costs for doing right. But perhaps these self-effacing ideals are among the reasons why Anabaptism is different from evangelicalism.

Time will tell whether evangelical Anabaptists can be both.


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