6th December 2010

Posted in

Blog :: Mennonite Retrospective

Well this entry reveals (in case you didn't know already) that I'm a theology and Church history geek. While all Church history is interesting to me I am particularly interested in the Believer's Church tradition and the various Old Order groups they eventually became in North America - Anabaptist and Pietists, Mennonites and Brethren are all particularly interesting to me because I feel a degree of kinship and relation.

I actually haven't had many Mennonite contacts but I do have a dogeared copy of The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision and have long been impressed John Howard Yoder's examination of theology from an anabaptist perspective. With that background in mind - pretty much a positive view of Harold Bender (if not sure about his thesis) and John Howard Yoder - this thread on mennodiscuss.com really set my hair afire. There were too many good quotes in the thread to quote them all, too many to let them all go... A few of the head turners:

The key flaw in my judgment in Bender, Yoder, et. al. was restitutionism. Bender thought he could "jump over" 4 centuries of Mennonite history to arrive at a "pure" Anabaptism, just like he also thought that the Anabaptists had jumped over 14 centuries of corrupted Christendom to arrive at a "pure" New Testament church...

The theory of restitutionism tries to give a supposedly intellectual justification for being the "true" church. It doesn't work. Every authoritative community requires some tradition to justify itself Every one of the above bullets is based on a traditioned reading of scripture (i.e., a reading of scripture informed by and guided by some tradition).

Again, I must resort to metaphor to make my point quickly: Bender/Yoder let the monster of restitutionism in the Mennonite house, because they thought it would destroy the impurities of "Mennonitism". To the contrary, it destroyed the very essence of the Mennonite tradition. That is why I predict MCUSA will become a miniature mainstream Protestant church. Having fed tradition to the monster of restitutionism, it has no authority, no communal heritage to fall back on. "He who lives by the sword,...."; he who debunks tradition will be himself debunked.

And again a little later

But as a matter of "fact" (apart from the theoretical validity of Yoder's position), I disagree that Yoder's "hermeneutic" has brought a "vitalizing vision" to the Mennonite community. He identified nonresistance with the pacifist movement of the late 60s. This in turn led many Mennonites to assume that whatever else that movement stood for, was part of the truth of the gospel. As a result, feminism, environmentalism, and the morality of the homosexuality activity became regarded as essential to "Anabaptism." (I am aware that the MCUSA has--barely--escaped endorsing the last. But Lancaster Conference--formerly the bastion of conservative mainstream Mennonitism--is on the verge of accepting female ordination.)

Note the crucial irony (stated in cliched Mennospeak): Yoder's theology make the Mennonite Church more worldly, not less.

As far as describing Anabaptism as a "hermeneutic," my response is precisely that that hermeneutic is wrong. It is not justified by the NT, by history, by theology; it does not further Christian faithfulness.

Wow! And all ably defended. Fascinating reading and a pointer to an interesting set of essays (entitled Refocusing at Goshen College), particularly the Steve Nolt entry...

Posted on December 6th 2010, 09:49 PM

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