The Anabaptist Story, Part 5 (Nelson)
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.
From the Anabaptist story these doctrines have been seen:
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.
That we began our study with the Anabaptist story marks these emphases:
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.
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 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:
Or further, how would a biblicist justify the following?
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:
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.