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21 Questions for Anabaptism…

December 3, 2009

1.  Is Anabaptism inherently a dissenting stance?  If so, does Anabaptism inherently deconstruct itself?

2.  Is Anabaptism inherently a movement whose self-understanding (language frames) grows out of a reaction against the center as defined by 16th century Christendom?

3.  In an increasingly post-Christendom context what is the center?   Let’s concede that whether or not America is there yet, it seems to be the directional current of history in the West.   How does this impact the way we frame and answer question #1?

4.  Is Anabaptism inherently suspicious of faith formulations that emerged pre-Reformation (within Christendom)? 

5.  Is Anabaptism inherently localized communities of discernment (which accept the canon of Scripture)?

6.  What impetus is there within Anabaptism to practice mutual submission to a Community of the Spirit practicing discernment beyond the local congregation?  How does this posture and engagement with a broader understanding of Community move from embedded and presumed to deliberative and articulated?

7.  Is Nicene orthodoxy (which is embedded or presumed within historic and contemporary Anabaptist confessions of faith) normative in any way for contemporary Anabaptist communities of discernment? 

8.  Are the classical Trinitarian formulations of historic Christianity normative for contemporary Anabaptism? 

9.  What is the norming norm for contemporary Anabaptism?  If Sola Scriptura is no longer viable, within what broader Community will contemporary Anabaptism test localized discernment (understood to be guided by the Spirit)?  Does this question even have meaning or relevance to contemporary Anabaptism?  What capacity (as expressed in its structures and polity) does Anabaptism have to move beyond just localized communities of discernment?

10.  If Anabaptism has historically been defined as a  movement on the margins, what is the relationship between the margins and the center?  Are the margins the true center in Anabaptism?  If so, what does this mean for both dogma and discipleship?

11.  What has been the fruit of this self-understanding (see #10) in terms of polity and church life?  What resources are there within Anabaptist theology and polity to cultivate an ornanic unity in relationship with/around a normative center?

12.  How is discernment practiced within contemporary Anabaptist communities?  How is the discernment articulated in particular gatherings and communities normative for those who choose to dissent from the majority sense of what the Spirit and Word are saying to the Church? 

13.  How effective is the formulation of agreeing and disagreeing in love in cultivating relationship/communion/unity across difference?  What is the basis of unity/communion/relationship when there are different foundationalist assumptions guiding the discernment process? 

14.  Is the outcome of discernment within contemporary Anabaptism descriptive or prescriptive?  Only for particular localized communities or for the whole?

15.  What is the locus of authority for contemporary Anabaptism?   *Assuming the response to this would be some formulation of Community (believer’s baptism) gathered around the confession that Jesus is Lord, reading Scripture together (led by the Spirit) and seeking to live in the way of Jesus.  If Anabaptism is inherently egalitarian, is there any normative Communal locus of discernment?  Confessions of Faith express the teaching position (communally discerned) of the Church at a particular point in time…this is always an open process which has usually tested the ability of local communities to situate themselves within “the whole” when  new discernment leads to change in teaching positions or praxis

16.  How has Modernity muddied the waters of each part of this formulation?  Particularly as we observe foundationalism (see Murphy) framing the assumptions of how and where the authoritative reading of the text emerges.  (Experience/Reason….Scripture/Revelation)

17.  What capacity/disposition does Anabaptism have to be recalibrated in an increasingly postmodern milieu in conversation with other traditions which emerge out of distinctively different historical/cultural narratives and contexts?

18.  Can Anabaptism be reframed in a way that allows the story to be told not only as dissent, but as affirmation?

19.  In Anabaptism, what comes after deconstruction (other than accomodation to Modernity and/or Postmodernity)?

20.  Is Anabaptism primarily defined by a certain way of reading the text (Scripture) which leads to communally normed understandings of praxis and/or piety?  Readings which then locate the (implicit or explicit) boundaries for membership in particular localized Communities on the basis of conformity to those interpretations of text as expressed in either dogma (belief) or discipleship (behavior)?  (One could make the case that this happens on the Right and on the Left…that it is where one sets the boundaries in terms of dogma or discipleship that defines the community)

21.  What possibilities might a post-foundationalist approach to knowledge have for our ability to realize a centered-set Community?  How is this question predicated on a willingness to be in relationship with the Other…with the Whole?  How does a deeper Eucharistic theology provide the resources necessary to take us beyond agreeing to disagree in love (which while admirable, has not by and large prevented ongoing pattern of ecclesial schisms)? 

Many of these questions are germane beyond Anabaptism.  I ask them of Anabaptism, because that is the ecclesial tradition I am a part of.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Alexander Patico permalink
    December 3, 2009 2:55 pm

    I am not a theologian, and I don’t want to horn in on another communion’s conversation, but I thought I’d give it a go for my own tradition (Orthodox Christianity), for comparison:
    1. Yes, OC dissents from the “way of the world.” It must continually find its center (Christ), rather than deconstruct itself
    2. No, OC is defined by the beginning, not the middle of the story of Christianity.
    3. If the world should take a turn in the right direction, then both could be in sync (finally).
    4. No (obviously), but we also should never be too assured of having the all the answers down pat.
    5. OC is both local and universal; it accepts the canon of scripture, as well as the Church that assembled, and the ongoing influence of the Holy Spirit.
    6. All truth in the OC is “conciliar” (decided, ultimately, by the whole Church, aided by the Holy Spirit).
    7. The Nicene Creed is normative for the OC, though not exhaustive (no creed could ever capture the entire dogma of the Church).
    8. Yes, for us.
    9. Not applicable.
    10. The OC is not on the margins. The world is. Christ is the center, which is where we try to be.
    11. Not applicable.
    12. Dissent is discerned by the Church as a whole over time, as to its truth or falsehood.
    13. Everything should be done in love. Doctrine, however, is either true or not. When we are not sure, the more charitable approach is the best.
    14. Discernment is an aid. Prescription comes from the Divine; description chronicles our success in perceiving those prescriptions.
    15. The locus of authority is God, whose word is often transmitted through the Church (including hierarchs, layety, scripture, patristic writings, hymns, iconography, and other manifestations).
    16. Modernity requires that we continually renew our sense of the core doctrines to be sure we are living them.
    17. See 16.
    18. The OC sees itself as primarily affirmative.
    19. N/A
    20. & 21. Covered sufficiently above (I think).

  2. just an apprentice permalink
    December 4, 2009 12:50 pm

    Thanks for your responses Alex. It is interesting to hear how an OC responds to the same questions.

    Also, thanks for the report you sent on the interfaith conference in Atlanta. Looked like a very interesting gathering.

    Peace,
    Brian

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