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Anabaptist Ecclesiology

February 9, 2006

How would Anabaptists (Believer’s tradition) interpret 1 Timothy 3:15? My readings in McClendon lead me to believe that the Anabaptist view of “the church” in 1 Tim. 3:15 might go something like this. That is, “the church” primarily in the community of converts that gathers around Scripture, enlivened by the Holy Spirit for worship and witness.

Augsburger state it this way:

“To live in grace is to live in Christ and have the total of one’s life oriented around him rather than around oneself. This is not a primitivism, trying to reproduce the precise form of the first-century church. Instead, each of us should seek the primary experience of a relationship with the risen Christ. The book of Acts is not primarily a presentation of (vague) mystical experiences but a declaration that the risen Christ is continuing his work through the Holy Spirit.

We might coin the word primalism to label this quest for the primary experience of solidarity with Christ, of a life filled with the Holy Spirit. Thus we regard the church as a community of the reborn. People come to Christ in the personal experience of relationship with him, “born from above” and living in and by the Spirit (John 3:3-8).”
–Myron Augsburger, The Robe of God, 35

“Each of us should seek the primary experience of a relationship with the risen Christ.” The question is, how does this not just veer off into a private, individualistic experience-based view of the Christian life. We experience Christ in the community of believers–the Church. So it is not as if my “personal” relationship with the risen Christ is primary, and the “communal” experience of the risen Christ (in the gathered worship, the rule and rhythm of life in community, the corporate witness) is secondary. That is where much of contemporary Evangelical Christianity has drifted (in my humble view). We have taken our cues from Modernity and made the individual the locus of the Christian enterprise.

Let me also bring McClendon into the conversation. In his volume, Doctrine, he says:

Not surprisingly, then, Christian history itself is replete with schemes that—though not consciously so intended—serve to limit or control this radically unsettling Book (the Bible). Three such schemes—(a) use of historical-critical exegesis in a way that keeps Scripture at a ‘suitably’ remote distance, (b) use of tradition so as to monopolize the interpretation of Scripture, and (c) use of inerrancy theories so as to confine the thrust of Scripture. (McClendon, Doctrine, 464)And the whole force of Scripture’s truth rests upon just such a vision, just such a sense that this is that: You, now, in the Deuteronomist’s own generation—you are the generation of slaves freed by the Unnameable One. Personal gratitude evokes your obedience to this law. You were in Egypt. The story you are living out now is the story related in the text. History is real, history matters, exactly because in God’s mysterious way the past is present. So the church of the New Testament is the church now; time, though not abolished, is in this manner transcended, and the church that reclaims its past stands today before the great final Judge as well. “This is that” and “then is now.” Here is a mystical vision, mysterious exactly because it does not deny the facts of history but acknowledges them. Our study of the original setting does not cancel the vision but enhances its claim upon us. Christ-centered, this vision has formed Baptist life from before Anabaptist times to the present.Enter now the Baptist vision. It tells us that this is that, that the story then is the story now; that the Jesus Christ who then rose, truly rose and appeared to the disciples in the breaking of bread is present now and does appear to us in our kingdom work and our spiritual worship, in our witness—and in this very word. It tells us the Gospel resurrection narratives both witness to what happened then and stake a claim on what happens now. It tells us his risen presence then coheres with his risen presence now; it is its determinative forerunner; it is its cause. It tells us his presence is the very matrix of the intelligibility of this word and of our world. It is under the hermeneutic of this vision that authentic scriptural authority appears. (p.466-467)

This is helping develop my understanding of an Anabaptist ecclesiology. Brian McClaren drew on McClendon’s theological views quite a bit in writing, “The Story We Find Ourselves In.” This view is what I believe is referred to as narrative theology.

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