Happy New Year, dear Anabaptist Witness readers! Our first blog entry of 2017 is a book review by Titus Guenther examining the relationship between the Pentacostal and Anabaptist traditions. Consider it a fortaste of our upcoming spring issue, “Following the Holy Spirit in Mission”. We wish you a blessed and spirit-filled new year!
Winds of the Spirit: A Profile of Anabaptist Churches in the Global South, by Conrad L. Kanagy, Tilahun Beyene, Richard Showalter, Harrisonburg, VA; Waterloo, ON, Herald Press, 2012. Pp. 260. Foreword by Philip Jenkins.
Pentecostalism is in our century the closest parallel to what Anabaptism was in the sixteenth: expanding so vigorously that it burst the bonds of its own thinking about church order, living from multiple gifts of the spirit in the total church while holding leaders in great respect, unembarrassed by the language of the layman and the aesthetic tastes of the poor, mobile, zealously single-minded. (John Howard Yoder, 1967; cited p.205)
Winds of the Spirit, is a timely and ambitious study of the faith and practices of Anabaptist churches in nine countries of the Global South plus Lancaster Mennonite Conference in the US. This Multi-Nation Profile was spearheaded by three Eastern Mennonite scholars, in collaboration with leaders from the participating Anabaptist church groups in Africa, Asia and Latin America – all originated by Eastern Mennonite Missions or partners of EMM.
The study brings some surprising insights into the life of Anabaptist churches in the Global South and their remarkable numeric growth. How “Anabaptist” are these churches actually, some have wondered. The results of the extensive questionnaires show these churches to be “orthodox” and strongly committed to the original core Anabaptist convictions and practices compared to the North American and European Anabaptist churches of today – influenced as the latter are by the Enlightenment.
Furthermore, an “interesting interplay” is revealed: “If Pentecostalism owes something to early Anabaptism,…contemporary Anabaptism in the Global South is equally indebted to the Pentecostal movement” (28). Some Anabaptist profile churches “mirror Pentecostal characteristics” more closely than others but all share with Pentecostals and Charismatics a greater openness toward the supernatural, miracles, and the Holy Spirit, compared to a “rationalist” orientation in Northern Anabaptist churches.
Anabaptist churches in the Global South experience the same numeric growth as Pentecostals and Charismatics in the hemisphere and, like them, are committed to sound Christian faith and strongly emphasize “right behaviour” (28f.); they perceive a clear distinction between followers of Jesus and non-followers, a distinction that is often blurred in the Global North. The authors submit that Anabaptism of the Global South more closely mirrors original Reformation Anabaptism than does its Northern counterpart. Moreover, the authors argue that “both sixteenth-century Anabaptism and its contemporary expressions in the Global South reflect characteristics and qualities of the first three hundred years of pre-Christendom church history” (29).
The authors argue that Bender’s The Anabaptist Vision, that has majorly oriented life in North American Anabaptist churches, may be incomplete, leaving out precisely the Spirit-emphasis that is so alive in the “Anabaptist visions” of Southern Anabaptist churches. This comprehensive survey of the Southern Anabaptist church scene offers a great framework for conversations with Southern Christians, which will deepen our understanding of biblical Anabaptism. Robert Suderman (cited p.234) advocates a paradigm-shift in saying:
“An Anabaptist focus is no longer something that comes from the North….The church in the North is learning very much, and needs to learn even more from the Southern churches. For example, in Africa and Latin America there is a new awareness that Pentecostal fervor is not contradictory to Anabaptism. Anabaptists in the South have shown and reminded us that Anabaptism is at its roots Pentecostal. We in the North have shied away from, even scoffed at certain aspects of the Pentecostal stream. It is important to find ways of understanding Anabaptism through a Pentecostal lens.”
Some distinctive factors in forging the Anabaptist identities and visions of Global Southern churches today include: “(1) a missionary passion and a context that distinguishes Christian from non-Christian, (2) persecution and oppression, (3) a concern for discipleship and faithful living, (4) an emphasis on a holistic gospel, and (5) an embrace of the Holy Spirit” (249). If these themes seem remote to Anabaptists of the Global North, they were all central to the early church and Reformation Anabaptists – and perhaps to all renewal movements throughout church history.
This wide-ranging Profile of Anabaptist Churches in the Global South, “with data from eighteen thousand church members in ten countries,” makes the convincing claim that “the future of Anabaptism lies with churches in the Global South” (cover). For this reason, Winds of the Spirit should be mandatory reading in all churches, particularly in the Global North, the better to understand and become a part of the Christocentric renewal movement of the world-wide church, one in which the Holy Spirit plays its proper role.
The Spirit of the Lord rushes through the world mightily and uncontrollably; wherever his fiery breath falls, there God’s kingdom comes alive. There strides Christ through time in his Church’s pilgrim-dress, praising God: Alleluia. Maria Luise Thumair (cited in Konstanzer Calendar, Sept. 3, 2016); my transl.
[German original] Der Geist des Herrn durchweht die Welt gewaltig und unbändig; wohin sein Feueratem fällt, wird Gottes Reich lebendig. Da schreitet Christus durch die Zeit in seiner Kirche Pilgerkleid, Gott lobend: Halleluja.
Titus Guenther is Associate Professor Emeritus, Theology and Missions, of Canadian Mennonite University and former Book Review Editor of this journal’s former incarnation, Mission Focus: Annual Review.
This article was originally published in Mennonite Historian, Vol. 42, No. 3 (September 2016) 11 (without the opening and closing quotes).