What is the essence of Anabaptism?

Essence of Anabaptism

April 29, 2024 | Feature | Volume 28 Issue 7
Various Contributors |
Photo by Diego Gonzalez/Unsplash.

We asked numerous people to share three to five words that express the essence of Anabaptism for them. We also invited them to elaborate if they wished. 


Personal faith. Christocentrism. Discipleship. Community and simplicity.

- Sylvie Kremer, editor, Christ Seul (French Mennonite magazine)


Serving Jesus through serving others.

- Catherine Gitzel, pastor, The Gathering Church, Kitchener, Ontario


Peace extremists in Jesus’ name.

- Joshua Penfold, former Canadian Mennonite columnist


Holistic, Jesus-centered discipleship, rooted in community.

- Rachel Wallace, pastor, Eigenheim Mennonite Church


A living tradition.


I do not know that Anabaptism has an “essence,” if by that is meant a core set of beliefs or practices. For almost every conviction one could identify, there would be Anabaptists who would hold opposing convictions. Just look at the letters to the editor section of the Anabaptist magazines.


However, what holds Anabaptists together is that we share a 500-year-old tradition that is still living and breathing today. That means that it will continue to grow and change in conversation with those who came before and those who embody it in a variety of ways and in various contexts around the world.

- David Cramer, managing editor, Institute of Mennonite Studies, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary


Following Jesus. Love. Nonviolence. Communal.


Anabaptism focuses on Jesus. That’s true of Christianity in general, of course, but Anabaptism focuses on Jesus in very particular ways: prioritizing Jesus’ teachings and way of life as found in the Gospels, centering Jesus in our faith and life individually and communally such that nothing else is central, and holding allegiance to Jesus and his way of love above all other claims for our allegiance in this world.


This leads Anabaptists toward such distinctive (not unique) commitments as nonviolence even in the face of violence, voluntary service to others both within and beyond our faith community, and broader humanitarian and “social justice” efforts in the world.

- Michael Pahl, executive minister, Mennonite Church Manitoba


Following Jesus together.


For elaboration, I think the “together” piece is critical, although no less critical than the focus of our action: Jesus. Lately, I’ve been meditating on what Jesus meant when he said others would know us as his disciples by the way we love one another (John 13:35). Is there a way to truly follow Jesus apart from doing it in community?


Assuming the answer is “no,” how does that shape the ways we work and serve together as church communities, and how we live out our faith in the current culture?

- Rebecca Roman, editor, The Messenger (Evangelical Mennonite Church)


A worldwide network of peacebuilders committed by love to listen and work for justice.

Krystan Pawlikowski, Winnipeg (former Mennonite Central Committee worker)


Jesus is Lord! Daily discipleship. Holistic witness. Spirit-filled community. Allegiance through adult baptism. 


Peace, willingness to suffer, reconciliation, evangelism and the cross are subsumed in the above categories. 

- Joanne De Jong, currently working at Meserete Kristos Seminary, Ethiopia


The Essence of Anabaptism is breaking with expected norms. 


The Anabaptists saw problems with the church and, ultimately, with the way church/society was structured and reinforced. They took action that broke from what was expected of them, at great personal cost, in order to live into their morals and dream of a new way of doing church.

Steph Chandler Burns, pastor with Pastors in Exile


Everyone is welcome, and every voice matters. 


What I love about Anabaptist tradition is that it welcomes everyone. But not only do we welcome everyone, we also listen to all who we welcome. 


There is no hierarchy within the Anabaptist tradition. Time served is not a prerequisite before we will listen to what someone has to say. 

- Jordan Pilgrim, pastor, Valley Road Church, Kelowna, B.C. 


Baptizing into Christ’s body of peace. 

- Isaac Villegas, ordained minister with Mennonite Church USA, PhD student at Duke University


Faith. Family. Peace. Work. Love. 

- Kevin McCabe, St. Catherines, Ontario


Social Justice. Peacebuilding. Mennonite.

- Isaias Rodriguez, Abbotsford, B.C.


Self-referential. Dedicated. Moralizing minority ……. Allowing generous room for kindness and criticism in relation to each word.

- Adam Robinson, pastor, Arnaud Mennonite Church, Arnaud, Manitoba


Family, persistence and committees. 


Something I found oddly familiar in Mennonite histories was how they would organize meetings to discuss how to organize a bigger meeting, trek through Russia to have the bigger meeting where they discussed how to get another bigger meeting with the czar. That doesn’t happen unless you are persistent (stubborn), good at committees and really like the people you live with.

- Nic Geddert, Winnipeg


Volunteering to yield.


“Volunteering,” because we enter the church and circulate our gifts within it by choice, and because we tend to emphasize our works, for better and worse. “Yield,” because the thing we volunteer to do is often to hold back and let the same self that speaks its “yes” now listen and follow. In the space yielded by this gelassenheit, God yields fruits. Anabaptism lives in this rightfully tense relationship between our acting and our yielding.

- Isaac Kuhl-Schlegel, Winnipeg


Family. Fellowship. Working for peace.

- Heather Yantzi, Ayr, Ontario


Peace with the Creator. Peace with our being. Peace with others. Peace with creation.


Think of these four aspects of peace as quadrants connected at the middle by the cross of Jesus.

- Reverend Dann Pantoja (Indigenous name: Lakan Sumulong), president and CEO, PeaceBuilders Community, Inc., Indonesia


Anabaptism for me reaches back 500 years to the Reformation, when the Bible became more accessible to the common person due to easier and faster printing methods. As a result, many young intellectuals read the Bible and rethought the standard Catholic doctrine. Many different reformed groups emerged, among them Anabaptists, with their idea that you became a Christian upon your confession of faith—a personal conscious decision.


This new idea was rejected by the Catholic church and some of the other Reformed movements. As a result, the re-baptizers were often persecuted for their thinking, and this eventually moved them to a position of not repaying the violence they were subjected to with further violence. These ideas were foundational for the subsequent Mennonite Church.

- Ken Reddig, Pinawa, Manitoba

Photo by Diego Gonzalez/Unsplash.

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