Third way community

Essence of Anabaptism

June 4, 2024 | News | Volume 28 Issue 7
Will Braun |

If Joe Heikman had to choose a single distinctive Anabaptist value, it would be community. “That’s how I met Jesus,” he says, in community, growing up as part of a Brethren in Christ church in Pennsylvania.


He did not arrive where he is at on his own.


When I spoke with Heikman, he was preparing a series of sermons on the basics of Anabaptism for Wildwood Mennonite Church, the Saskatoon congregation he serves as pastor. The series will cover some history— Heikman loves history—and then shift to material based to some extent on Palmer Becker’s book, What is an Anabaptist Christian?


Heikman quotes Becker’s three-prong distillation of Anabaptism: “Jesus is the center of our faith; community is the center of our lives; and reconciliation is the center of our work.”

Jesus, community and reconciliation.


Circling back to community, Heikman notes that of Becker’s three points, community is the key for him. We find the other two—Jesus and reconciliation—through community. Heikman also notes that the Bible itself is a sort of communal endeavour.


Heikman says Becker’s three characteristics are not necessarily unique to Anabaptism, but perhaps the combination of them is.


When asked what Anabaptism has to offer the world, Heikman says he prefers to look at what we have to learn rather than what we have to offer.


He notes that Mennonites have been isolated for much of our history, and we are “still emerging into the world” and altering our view of the world as an adversary. As such, he says we need to have a “posture of learning . . . learning to see what God is doing beyond the boundaries of church.”


“Our humility and willingness to do that might be a gift we have to offer,” he says.


Though he prefers not to start with the question of what Anabaptists have to offer, he does believe the Anabaptist emphasis on community can be a gift to the world.


He notes the tension between the Anabaptist emphasis on individual choice—going back to Anabaptist origins in adult baptism upon confession of faith—and the need to work together as community and come to faith in community. Individuality matters, and community matters.


“We do a really good job of holding on to both,” he says.


I ask if he sees a further tension between highlighting Anabaptist distinctives and the value of humility. “I struggle with that all the time,” he says, noting that we have to be willing to speak about our beliefs while also “recognizing that other traditions have something to teach us.”


Heikman says the Anabaptist experience of living with tension may, itself, be one of our valuable distinctives. We seek a “third way,” neither passive nor violent. We have experience finding ways to live together in tension. Heikman says the ability to find a third way is important in a world of polarization and binaries.

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