V. Summary and Conclusions

A. The "Two Stage" Theories of Salvation

The two stage doctrines of Christian living are to be scrutinized and most likely rejected. They included the Spirit over the Word, as with Karlstaldt and those that opposed Luther, and the placing of reason over the Scripture, as did the rationalists that opposed Calvin. Moving to our day, we will find this approach in the "Great Commission" Christians, some discipleship programs, the Deeper Christian Life (who describe yieldedness is a distinct experience which not all Christians have), or an emphasis on the Spirit filled life. Be careful of the super Christians, however; the highest calling is to be a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Instead of seeking subsequent experiences, magnify the initial experience.

These two stage theories tend to separate what the New Testament seeks to keep in close relationship: becoming a Christian and having a fruitful life.

B. Doctrines

From the Anabaptist story these doctrines have been seen:

  • The fallen church.
  • The regenerate church and its nature from the word "ekklesia" and images.
  • Contemporaneity--"This is that," and "Then is Now."
  • The practices of the church--profession of faith, believers' baptism, and Christian living. Also, the faith and repentance metaphors and decision making.

C. Observations

1. Embodied Theology

These Lectures are an attempt at Embodied Theology. That is, seeing the context for the doctrines and why they developed and why they are important. So rather than seeking similarities to philosophy you should be sensing a relationship to church history. Is this happening? The Anabaptist story should be known and understood and, if that has been done, then the doctrines will have been embodied. Rather than remembering "fallen church" as an "idea," you will have identified with those who lived through a difficult historic period and developed a doctrine to help them focus their reforms.

2. Beginning with the Anabaptist Story

That we began our study with the Anabaptist story marks these emphases:

  • The Anabaptist distinction is in the doctrine of the church. This doctrine distinguishes us from many evangelicals and other groups at the point of what it means to be the people of God. Therefore the approach in this course is to begin with a narrowness; we will then move to areas of commonalty with other Christian groups. This is not saying we are the only people of God, but it is saying that, as a people of God, this is our reason for being separate. Gaining our identity enables us to relate to others. Without a firm identity, our relating will be hazy and fuzzy.
  • Our relationship to the Anabaptist is the same as our relationship to the Reformation--we are inheritors and benefactors of what went on. It is the Mennonites and the Amish that are more directly descended from the Anabaptists movement, but all of us in the believers' church movement are benefactors. We benefit from what they learned and practiced as we benefit from Luther's helping us to regain the understanding of justification by faith or Calvin's sovereignty of God.

3. A Theological Weakness

One of the disappointments that come often to those who have heroes is to learn of their feet of clay. But if there is an understanding of "human fallibility" we should not be surprised at this. In my great admiration of the Anabaptists, I need to point out a weakness. In no way does this weakness diminish their contribution, but it is an Achilles heel. The Anabaptists and all their successors will need to watch for this weakness.

The Anabaptist heritage rejected the need for an official interpreter of Scripture. The study groups around Zwingli interpreted Scripture and they taught that every believer had that privilege. Scripture interpretation was not the dominion of any Priesthood. The humblest believer could find in his Bible what was necessary for salvation under the direction of the Holy Spirit. But blessings often have dangers as well.

The Reformation offered various approaches to Scripture interpretation.

  • Luther taught that any practice could be accepted as long as it was not contrary to the Scripture. So the authority of the pope was acceptable, but not the abuses.
  • Zwingli accepted only the practices explicitly specified in the Scripture. The Anabaptists followed Zwingli. But here is where the problems began.

During the Second Disputation this conversation took place:

Grebel:The Lord's Supper can only be observed in the evening and is to be observed with ordinary bread and each person will put the bread into his mouth instead of the pastor "pushing it in."
Zwingli:The sort of bread is not clearly answered in the Bible. So every congregation may have their own opinion. The time of the day is not mandatory or one must wear the clothes of Christ to the observance.

Now here is the tendency that must be guarded against--the tendency of becoming a biblicist.

Biblicists take all the words of Scripture to be equally binding and make them equally applicable for believers. Because the Anabaptist correctly believed that God was "the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb. 13:8), at times they felt it necessary to literalize a biblical account. This was not the normative practice, but it was the occasional happening particularly in their encounters with the magisterial reformers.

To the credit of Zwingli in the above conversation with Grebel, he was biblical--but Grebel was being a biblicist. Grebel's idea that the observation of the Lord's Supper should be observed only in the evening was a biblicist's approach.

Failure to distinguish between being biblical and being biblicists continue to plague us today. Let me attempt to clarify the problem. To be biblical, as I am using the term, means to accept from Scripture as binding those things that arise out of the nature of the gospel. The gospel is defined as the "life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ," cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-3. A biblicist, on the other hand, is one who holds that all statements of the Bible are equally binding on believers today. The distinction between being biblical and being a biblicist can be further clarified by the terms "essential" and "incidental."

  • For one to be biblical means accepting those scriptures that reflect or present the gospel as binding. Where the gospel is encased in Scripture, that practice is to be continued. That is considered essential. The practices within scripture which reflect or contain the gospel are mandatory for the believer's practices today.
  • Being a biblicist, on the other hand, means seeing all the Scripture as being equal. Those things which are incidental to the gospel are equally considered to be as binding as the gospel. Again, practices which are incidental arise from the temporary circumstances existing at the time of the apostles. Practices that are essential arise from the nature of the gospel.

For me this is the key to understanding the terms biblicist and biblical, attempting to distinguish between what is essential and what is not essential. Note the following incidental practices--that is, they arose out of the temporary circumstances existing at the time and place of the apostles. As cultural expressions, they should not be binding:

  • Greet with holy kiss, cf. 2 Cor. 13:12. This is a command, but reflects the custom of hospitality.
  • Wash one another's feet, cf. John 13:15. This is a command, but reflects the custom of hospitality.
  • Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, cf. Ex. 20:8. That one should set aside Saturday is a command, but reflects the old covenant.
  • The silence of women in the church, 1 Cor. 14:34. This is a command, but reflects the social customs.
  • Many of the dietary practices of the Old Covenant. There is no gospel involved in these practices, but they reflect good dietary practices of the day.

Or further, how would a biblicist justify the following?

  • Sunday School. We are to teach, but the Sunday School approach to education reflects our culture.
  • Preaching every Sunday, cf. Acts 20:7. Preaching to believers seems to be dialogical.
  • The Cooperative Program. The use of banking principles in the churches reflects our culture.
  • Pulpits, choirs, pews, hymnals, etc. There are no biblical accounts for such aids to worship.

I think that it is fair to state that no one is a biblicist on all issues, but all who are biblicists do pick and choose among the commands of Scripture. Now, what is essential? Those things that arise out of the nature of the gospel. A biblical person would most likely see the gospel arising out of the following:

  • Baptism. The death, burial, and resurrection are portrayed.
  • The Lord's meal. Again, the death, burial, and resurrection are portrayed.
  • Proclamation. Here is the setting forth of the death, burial, and resurrection.
  • Celebration. Here is rejoicing because of the freeing of the believer by the death, burial, and resurrection.
  • Confrontation. Here is setting forth the death, burial, and resurrection and challenging one who has gone astray to return.

Each of these practices contain the nature of the gospel. The believers' church has no options here. We maintain those practices which contain the gospel, but we are free to follow or not to follow those practices which reflect the culture of the biblical world, and to regard those commands as incidental. Regretfully, the difference between being biblical and being a biblicist is not always clear. The Anabaptists were biblical and from time to time tended to slip into being biblicists, as seen in the above conversation between Zwingli and Grebel. This problem is also seen in the many successors of the Anabaptists.

The Anabaptist Story has provided a major distinctive in believers' church theology. The doctrine of the church is what differentiates us from other groups. This is why the doctrine of the church is the first doctrine treated.