Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 54 - Quiet Denominations (Video)

No. 54. >> I understand we are coming close to the end of this course. And before we do, can we talk about the quiet denominations in America? Groups such as Amish and Mennonites. >>DR. LAWRENCE R. RAST, JR.: That's an excellent question, Josh. In fact, I think it's very apropos to what we've been discussing. They are in a way quiet denominations. You don't see them as overtly presenting themself as other groups. Though if you live in an area with a significant number of Amish, like I do, you can't miss them. But then again the question is: Why are they there? Who are they? What's their particular story? In particular in terms of the Mennonites, they take their name from Menno Simons, one of the older leaders of the Anabaptist movement in Germany in the 1530s. Menno Simons is a second generation Anabaptist, however. You might recall earlier we talk about those early Anabaptists. And some of them were very radical in their posture. In fact, they went so far as to take over certain cities in Germany. They invoked violent measures to make a statement against the existing church and state. Saying that they had no redeeming qualities and must be resisted and overthrown, if possible, with disastrous results for some of the followers of the early Anabaptist leaders. However, by the mid 1530s, that particular emphasis had passed in Anabaptism. While the separation of church and state remained as a key point, as a central teaching of this group, it now took its expression in a much more passivistic or withdrawn way. That is to say Menno Simons and his followers would say: To be a part of the church involves a conscious and clear decision on the part of the individual to take a yoke of responsibility upon oneself that is very demanding. That yoke is placed upon oneself in the act of baptism as an adult. What is involved in being a Christian person is simply faithfulness to the revealed will of God, which is demanding, which demands a certain accountability to one another's colleagues and which expresses itself in such a way that one is either in or out of the community. Discipline becomes a key feature of this particular group. Now, in terms of making an argument for this perspective, Anabaptists, like Menno Simons, and his followers, who are then called Mennonites, turn to the Scriptures. And in the Scriptures they see any number of exhortations in the Old Testament and especially in the New. Encouraging the people of God to live up to the high standard that God has for them. Along with that comes a recognition that there will be a price that has to be paid. That in fact, being a Christian, a follower of Christ, will actually cause one's life to be conformed to the life of Christ. So that Christ's characteristics come to characterize you as an individual. The formal principle then of the Scriptures as a textbook for life, code book for existence as a follower of Jesus, come to the forefront. In terms of material principle, they will extract from that not just following the rules of the Scriptures as such. But rather, identifying a unique interpretation of the doctrine of justification within this context. That is to say to be a justified person in the Mennonite tradition is to be one who passively suffers as Christ himself did. That is not raising one's hand in anger or rebuke. Even if one is justified in doing so. The pattern of Christ, who submits himself to death, in other words, becomes the life pattern for the Christian person. Suffering all things and resisting not. In some of the most extreme examples of this, Mennonite followers of Christ will not defend their own families or themselves, even at the threat of death. Giving their lives as a witness to their faithfulness to Christ. Now, what comes out of that, of course, is a question of what does it mean then completely to conform oneself to Christ? What is demanded? Does that mean our life should be shaped in every respect like his? Or do we take a general principle and then make that applicable within our given historical contexts? On this point you have a division of sorts between the Mennonites. And even within the Mennonites and other groups. For example, the Amish who come along somewhat later. Within the Mennonites, Evangelical Mennonites tend towards a more simple and demanding way of life. Whereas more modernistic Mennonites will allow participation in most aspects of contemporary life. But putting the principle of suffering and passivism at the heart of their activities. In other words, it's fine to drive a car. But if somebody runs into your car, don't make a big deal out of it. Suffer on behalf of that. And thereby make the good witness to them. On the other hand, there were groups of Mennonites who thought that this was going far too far. Even well back into the 1600s. Who said that in fact, most Mennonites had conformed themselves to the world. Had given up the distinctive teachings of the faith. And therefore, they demanded a fair, more rigorous adherence to community standards. The Amish, as they later would be called, would make much more severe demands of their people in terms of what was appropriate and what was not in terms of conformity to the world. The more rigorous Amish communities even demanding -- going so far in their demands as to not allow the use of any modern conveniences. However, there's even an interesting diversity there among various Amish communities. And within the hierarchy that develops within these communities. An elder within the various Amish communities here in the United States can determine just how much technology is appropriate for that particular community. And so the familiar perspective and picture of the Amish using horse drawn carts and horses for farm work and the like sometimes will be seen in a different light, depending on the community. For example, there is one Amish community in Kansas that I'm familiar with that I've seen in which the elders have decreed that it is appropriate to use technology. In fact, tractors, in the running and tilling of soil, the running of a farm. As long as those tractors do not have wheels per se. And so one will see out in the fields large caterpillars, bulldozers of sorts, pulling very modern equipment, but they are not using wheels. You get my point here, Josh, that this is a variety of perspectives. And the problem, once again being this tempering the sola scriptura principle. That is to say if you really are insistent that you will recreate biblical Christianity, turn the Bible into an absolute rule book, it becomes very, very difficult to put that into practice in such a fashion as to make everyone happy. Better I think the principle that guides us as Lutherans. That the Scriptures, the Gospel especially, teaches what freedom in Christ is all about. And in 1520 as Luther put it so beautifully in his tract on the freedom of a Christian, he said a Christian is perfectly bound, a servant of all. But that a Christian is also perfectly free, a servant of none. Freed in Christ we are, in fact, freed to serve. Particularly in proclaiming the Gospel. And using the best means that we can have at our disposal to get that message of the Gospel out to a world in need. Afterall, isn't that really what it's all about? Proclaiming Christ and Christ alone.