Keeping Faith Alive: Practical Concerns for Anabaptist Identity -- By: Dale R. Stoffer
ATJ 30 (1998) p. 23
Keeping Faith Alive:
Practical Concerns for Anabaptist Identity1
Dr. Stoffer (Ph.D. Fuller Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Historical Theology at A.T.S.
I live in Ashland County, Ohio, which is home to a growing Amish population, many of whom are part of the very conservative Swartzentruber Amish. Their buggies have no windshields and they have stoutly resisted the usual red reflective slow moving vehicle signs as worldly. On any given day several Amish buggies can be seen on the streets of the main town in the county, also named Ashland. They may be heading toward Wayne Savings and Loan, or Hawkins Market, or Home Hardware, or even our WalMart. Though Ashland still retains the quaintness of small town America, the Amish buggies nonetheless provide a sharp contrast to the modern life that surrounds them.
There are, however, some very real similarities between the Amish and us English, especially those of us who still trace our roots back to the sixteenth century Anabaptist movement. We are both faced with questions of vital importance for our future. What effect does acceptance of various features of modern culture have upon our faith? Do we progress into modern culture only at the risk of forfeiting some essential features of our faith? Have some of us progressed so far that return to some of the core values of the Anabaptist faith will be impossible? Who decides how far and how fast we progress?
Several years ago I reviewed both Carl Bowman’s Brethren Society and Donald Fitzkee’s Moving Toward the Mainstream. Both tell the remarkable story of cultural change in the Church of the Brethren over the last 150 years during which the church “shed many of the peculiar trappings of its plain-sect heritage to plunge into the American Protestant mainstream.”2 But both also raise very unsettling questions, not only for the Church of the Brethren but for other progressive groups in the Anabaptist heritage as well. It seems the more we progress into the modern mainstream, the greater is our uncertainty about who we are and what our mission is.
In this article I will discuss some of the challenges posed by our modern and postmodern society and propose some responses that we as heirs of the Anabaptist tradition can make to strengthen our Anabaptist identity.
Challenges Posed by Modern and Postmodern Society
Traditionally, the Anabaptist/Brethren faith was more caught than taught. Our faith was not so much a set of beliefs or credal statements, but key
ATJ 30 (1998) p. 24
Gospel principles, ...
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