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By: Paul M. Emerson
One of the most obvious distinctives of Anabaptism has historically been adherence to the doctrine of nonconformity. From the very beginning of the movement in 1525, Anabaptists have dared to “march to the beat of a different drummer” in most, if not all, areas of life. Some may have taken this too far in being different for the sake of being different. Others have failed to take it far enough and have been absorbed into the general culture, thus losing their testimony altogether. The tension between these two extremes is very much with us today.
In order to properly practice Biblical nonconformity, it is probably best to imagine the putting on of a pair of eye glasses that filter everything through the Biblical Anabaptist perspective. This thought may aggravate some who are attempting to free themselves from what they call Anabaptist slavery. These are they who desire credibility within the larger evangelical community. The true disciple of Christ is exclusively desiring credibility with the Lord. Nothing else really matters. If, as we believe, Anabaptism is the correct perspective from which to see the world, said eye glasses are in order.
Nonconformity should be apparent in belief and practice. The teaching of our Lord, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, projects the marching orders for the true disciple. Such includes: nonresistance as a lifestyle, noninvolvement in the world of politics, modesty (including plainness) of dress, lowliness in deportment, meekness of spirit, contentment with necessities without luxury, and such other denials of the “American dream.” Nonconformity also teaches that the local church or community of faith has the responsibility to provide guidelines for the applications of Bible truth. The world system is seen as the kingdom of Satan and Christian disciples are to live distinct from it.
Anabaptists have insisted that lifestyle is a required proclamation of discipleship. Not that a silent witness is enough, but rather how one lives and appears speaks so loudly that the spoken witness can be lost without the appropriately consistent lifestyle.
In direct proportion to the loss of practical nonconformity, the whole testimony of Anabaptism will be lost.
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By: Paul M. Emerson
Anabaptists, from the very beginning, have uniformly taken an exclusive position on civil government.
On the one hand Anabaptists have advocated disobedience to civil authority when the authority requires disobedience to God. The apostolic cry “We ought to obey God rather than men” has been the watchword that brought many Anabaptists to their deaths. The nickname Anabaptist came about because of such an issue. The origin of Anabaptism surrounded the Biblical doctrine of believers’ baptism; hence the term Anabaptist, meaning “re-baptizers.” Another example of this position is reflected in the teaching of nonresistance, which resulted in refusal to engage in warfare.
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by: Paul M. Emerson
Anabaptists have historically been separatists. The position was nearly required by the circumstances of their 16th century origins. The ecclesiastical cousins of the Anabaptists (Baptists) across the Channel were called English Separatists because of like circumstances. In order to practice a believers’ church, adult baptism, and separation of church and state, both streams were disenfranchised from the state church. The separatism tended to morph into isolationism as the early Anabaptists fled for their lives and often were required to worship in secret.