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The Contemporary Relevance of the Anabaptist Faith 4

Anabaptism

The following commentary addresses the fourth point as advanced by Myron S. Augsburger in “The Contemporary Relevance of the Anabaptist Faith” (Brethren in Christ History and Life, August 2000), which is: “Engaging the Holy Spirit as Sovereign Presence Beyond Subjective Experiences.”

I consider myself blessed to have studied for five years at a Pentecostal undergraduate college (VFCC). Valley Forge offers a Theological Studies track that is as good as any in the country. The track’s academic requirements and practical expectations are very, very serious. Students are required to have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher at the end of their Sophomore, Junior and Senior year to remain in the major. My requirements for the major included 18 credits of Biblical language, a senior research project, and time logged as a TA (Teaching Assistant). These requirements have evolved and broadened a bit since I majored (1999-2004), but they are still very, very demanding, spiritually and intellectually.

I say all of this because Pentecostals are often tagged as hyper-spiritual, non-intellectual, and/or non-academic. Pentecostals are often branded as people who are “heavy” on the Spirit, but “light” on intellectual depth. I would be the first to disagree. There may be Pentecostals who self-identify in such ways, but stereotyping an entire expression based upon the individual expression(s) of a few is an unfortunate and detrimental practice. I walked beside more than a few Pentecostals who embraced intellectual and spiritual experiences equally. It should also be noted that for every Pentecostal who is “heavy” on the Spirit but “light” on intellectualism, there exists a non-Pentecostal Christian who is “heavy” on intellectualism but “light” on Spirit. There is a need for balance between Spirit and intellectualism. There is also a need to understand the many, many times when the spiritual and intellectual overlap, lest one mistakenly think the pair are diametrically opposed and isolated categories. Balance is key. The Pentecostals with whom I have journeyed alongside practiced this balance daily and they faithfully taught others to strive towards it too. I was one of their students and learned much about the Spirit. This was a good lesson for me to learn; I’m thankful for it. We all can learn much about life and living in the Spirit from the Pentecostals.

Augsburger’s thoughts concerning our distinctive embrace of the Spirit echoes the call for cognitive and spiritual equilibrium. He writes, “The dynamic work of the Spirit’s sovereign presence is more than subjective emotional ecstasy, it is the awesome sense that the sovereign Lord is at work in one’s life to call us to consistency with his will.”

Augsburger is suggesting that we not look at discipleship as a mere behavioral mandate, but as deep spiritual transformation occurring deep within us that is confirmed by God’s Word and internal/external experiences. Ours is a daily walk in and with the Holy Spirit resulting in emotional ecstasy, intellectual curiosity, a sense of belonging, and obedience to God’s voice. Yes, the Lord is at work in our lives, through the Holy Spirit, who takes us to the subjective and then well beyond. The Church would do well to once again prioritize the supernatural presence, works, and acts of the Holy Spirit.

Augsburger continues, “This teaching on the sovereign presence of the Spirit is especially relevant in our more existentialist orientation with a corresponding emphasis on the charismatic elements of faith. The ecstatic aspects of religious experience are derivative from and always secondary to the reality of the sovereign presence himself. It is the consciousness of his presence that issues in holiness of life.”

The above statement differentiates the Anabaptist expression of the Spirit from the Pentecostal in that the daily act of discipleship is so fused to the Spirit and spiritual experiences that are founded upon the reality of the presence of God in our lives. It’s not that Pentecostals don’t believe God is present in their lives in the Holy Spirit, as much as it is the practical theological idea that our knowledge of God’s immediate presence in our lives actually is the source of our holiness. A Pentecostal expression of the Spirit more often than not places the onus of holiness upon instantaneous and supernatural acts of the Spirit rather than the presence of the Spirit. Anabaptism focuses upon the reality of the presence of the Spirit in our lives and the daily transformation and holiness resultant.

The Spirit’s presence in our daily lives introduces us to real, deep, and inwardly focused transformation that gently leads towards external re-creation. There is nothing more relevant than inward and outward transformation. Hopeful change is in high demand; our faith is truthfully built upon it. When we understand that God is incredibly present in our daily lives deep change begin to happen. Holiness is pursued, in the Holy Spirit.

9 Comments

  1. grace
    Posted February 18, 2008 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Shawn,
    This was an amazing post. It says so much of what I think about, except from a different perspective. I am not very familiar with the Anabaptists, although from what I have read, I share many of their beliefs and values. Also, I would identify myself as charismatic (or perhaps post-charismatic) although I am not sure of the distinctions with pentecostalism.

    However, as to the content of the post, I also believe that incarnational living requires the ongoing supernatural presence of the Spirit and that charismatic or pentecostal expression must move beyond the ecstatic experience to an outward transformation of missional expression in our daily lives.

    I hope to see the emerging/missional conversation influenced by the good things of the Holy Spirit, whatever we call them (charismatic, pentecostal, pneumatology, etc). And I hope to see the charismatics influenced by the good things that are coming out of the emerging/missional conversation.

  2. Shawn Anthony
    Posted February 18, 2008 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Grace - Good morning! I hope all is well!

    Yes, I agree with what you say re: the charismatic expression as requirement for real incarnational living. Right on! We need the Holy Spirit! I also agree that we must also move beyond the ecstatic features of the Spirit towards an outward missional expression that is obvious in our daily lives. Right on, again!

    You are echoing Augsburger’s thoughts well (see the final three paragraphs of the above post). I think Augsburger’s expression of the Holy Spirit actually mirrors Pentecostalism AND/BUT goes one step further, beyond the ecstatic nature, and towards the incredible realization that God is literally - literally - present in our lived lives. It is the knowledge of this very real presence - not a quick or instantaneous act of the Spirit - that leads to deep, deep holiness of life. So, Augsburger’s expression of the Spirit involves our lived lives and the Spirit, together. Lived-life and Spirit mutually relate and do not overpower one another. Make sense? Basically, this expression says we live and interact daily with a very, very present God. This lived presence urges each of us towards holy living. And why not! Can we comfortably continue to sin while knowing that God is literally in the room? God’s presence changes a lot of things in our lived life, at least it should.

    I think this is an important and unique characteristic of the Anabaptist expression.

    In other words, Anabaptists are more likely to say the Spirit meets us each morning and ushers us into the literal presence of God, in which we grow in holiness of life. I think this is distinct from a charismatic that makes the church altar into a place where holiness can be instantaneously obtained.

    Make sense?

  3. grace
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Shawn,
    I wanted to get back to this all week, but life, work, etc. got in the way.

    My experience has been that there are charismatics of both types, those who have learned a daily walk with the Spirit and those who want some sort of instant transformation through an altar experience.

    There is definitely a difference in maturity and fruit between those who live in daily dependence and awareness of the literal presence of the Spirit and those who don’t.

    In the charismatic tradition, although it is suggested, there isn’t really an established or consistent model of discipleship for Spirit-led daily living. It’s more a factor of individual motivation and perhaps influence of mentors and leaders.

    Consuming Jesus has a great section about this topic. If you haven’t already read it, I’m sure you will enjoy what the author says.

  4. Eric
    Posted February 25, 2008 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Shawn,

    I just found your “The Contemporary Relevance of the Anabaptist Faith� posts and have truly enjoyed the read. Have you posted a link to where the original article can be found?

    Thanks…

  5. Shawn Anthony
    Posted February 26, 2008 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    @Eric: No. I actually have the article in hard copy, taken from Brethren in Christ History and Life (August 2000).

  6. grace
    Posted February 26, 2008 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Shawn,
    A quick question, is pentecostal or charismatic expression a newer aspect of the anabaptist faith?

    I had dinner with a friend who grew up Mennonite, and she said that her parents were actually forced to leave the church over this issue.

    I am curious about the extent of focus on the holy spirit within the anabaptist tradition and perhaps if this is understood differently than what it typically expressed in pentecostal circles.

    One thing that I would really like to see in the emerging/missional conversation is an emphasis on the holy spirit without the division that typically surrounds various manifestations of spiritual gifts.

    Hope you don’t mind my questions. I am curious about anabaptists.

  7. Shawn Anthony
    Posted February 26, 2008 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    @Grace: I don’t mind your questions at all! In fact, I have been meaning to respond to your questions, but I’ve been seriously swamped in real-time activity and responsibilities. My apologies for the delayed response!

    As regards your question:

    I’m not sure that “Pentecostal” or “Charismatic” would be accurate descriptions of the Anabaptist expression of the Holy Spirit. I take that back - I’m very sure that these descriptions don’t work in Anabaptist circles. Those terms are attached to very, very recent movements (a little over 100 years old) that claim a distinctive all their own. I would not be afraid to say that these distinctives would not be regularly featured in an Anabaptist setting. A deep, deep reliance and expression of the Spirit need not be attached to “Pentecostalism” or “Charismatic” movements. So, the Anabaptist expression of the Spirit would be different than that of the Pentecostals and/or Charismatics

    That doesn’t mean, however, that gifts and manifestations of gifts are not a feature of an Anabaptist expression of the Spirit. I think the big difference is what the manifestation of these gifts means … Pentecostals make certain gifts the evidence of Spirit filled living. I think this is unfortunate; most - if not all - Anabaptists would agree.

    I too would love to see a deep conversation about the Spirit that does not involve the polemic disagreements over the spiritual gifts. I think we all would do good to focus more attention on the work and action of the Spirit in our lives and communities.

    Thanks for the questions, Grace!

  8. Eric
    Posted February 27, 2008 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Shawn,

    For those who are interested, the August 2000 issue of Brethren in Christ History and Life can be ordered for $5.00:

    Brethren in Christ Historical Society
    P. O. Box 310
    Grantham, PA 17027

  9. Shawn Anthony
    Posted February 27, 2008 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Eric! You are the man!

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