Anabaptists, Anglicans and Violence

Anabaptists, Anglicans and Violence


I’m not an Anabaptist, although I am sympathetic to their ideals. The Anglican church however has several tenants in direct opposition to a number of key Anabaptist tenants. I do not have an issue with these Anabaptist assertions, which leaves conflicted as someone who largely identifies as an Anglican. The Anglican points of opposition are..

No common goods..


THE Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.

Article 28 of the 39 Articles

Infant baptism..

No Minister shall refuse or, save for the purpose of preparing or instructing the parents or guardians or godparents, delay to baptize any infant within his cure that is brought to the church to be baptized, provided that due notice has been given and the provisions relating to godparents are observed. If the Minister shall refuse or unduly delay to baptize any such infant, the parents or guardians may apply to the Bishop of the diocese who shall, after consultation with the Minister, give such directions as he thinks fit.

The Ministration of Public Baptism of Infants to be used in the church, From the Book of Common Prayer

Institutional support of the state, a Monarch as head of the Church, the death penalty and state advocacy of war..


THE King’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.
Where we attribute to the King’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly

Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.

The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.

The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.

It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars.

Article 37 of the 39 Articles

All of which the Anabaptists oppose, and I guess if pushed I do too. Yet the biggest differences between the Anglican and Anabaptist church, to me, is their vision of the Church in society. The Anglican church historically has been wedded to the English state as long as it has been reformed, the Anabaptists have been (in)famous for their rejection of the state everywhere and all that it entails (excluding that one time in Munster). In this light the Anglican church is positioned as an insider on the workings of society, the Anabaptist as the perpetual outsider. The Anglicans a majority movement, the Anabaptists a minority. This isn’t to say one is good the other bad, merely they have different visions of how they interact with society.

For a long time I considered myself a pacifist, yet watching all the violence in the world I’m left wondering what I would do if I was in the Ukraine, Syria or Iraq right now. I wonder if pacifism in this setting is guilty of selfishness for the same reason as suicide. You don’t consider the people around you, the people who depend on you, and I’m saying this coming into a time in my life where people for the first time depend on me. More than that, people make a culture, a society, a church and to offer no hard defence of those things is to give no value to the aforementioned things. Violence isn’t the only ways to protect these things of course, but can I really offer those alternatives to the Assyrian people or the Kurds who were stuck on Mount Sinjar? We might be willing to become refugees or to live as peaceably as possible under extortion by groups like the Islamic State, or practice non-violent civil disobedience but ultimately to do so is to give up our agency and rely on those outside the church for our assurances of safety and peace. Our safety in this instance will be assured by their willingness to use violence when we no longer are. Our safety then comes at the price of ensuring their are always people outside the Church, outside of salvation willing to do what we dare not. This is a cynical, utilitarian and exploitative outlook that bears no real love for the salvation and redemption of these people we are utilising to protect the church.

PACIFIST. Those who “abjure” violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.

George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism

One criticism of this is that perhaps it takes a poor view of Gods sovereignty and the agency of his Spirit in the world. That we are making the same mistake as Abraham in initially choosing Hagar over Sarah. That all things are according to his will and happen exactly as he intends and we just need to be faithful in our maintaining peace with all people. In this case we must be blunt about the fatalistic nature of this. That we must not even value the Church and its preservation as we live in the expectation that God will intervene in some other means. That we cannot trust our own reason or understanding of a situation no matter how dire. Yet we do not take this approach to Evangelism in general (unless of course we are hyper-calvinists) and firmly believe that God has placed us in a role in others coming to faith. The church is his hands and feet as scripture tells us. Likewise, with the progressive disappearance of the church in the middle east, who will be there to preach the Gospel to the Muslims, Jews and others left behind? We might say ‘there will be others’ but just as with the attempted destruction of Palmyra, can such things ever be replaced once they have disappeared? Are these communities and cultures not living artefacts in a fashion? If we do not value such communities, are we complicit in a fashion for their disappearance? To be truly a pacifist is to believe nothing in this world is ultimately worth saving. That might be fine for a Buddhist, is it fine for the Christian?

Yet the Anabaptist didn’t emerge in a vacuum, they came about in a period in the Middle Ages when the church aligned itself too closely to the state to the great detriment of the church. The anabaptists expressed a heartbreaking love for their enemies which lead to them being persecuted by Protestants and Catholics alike and yet still exist today despite their earlier sufferings. Much of their theology has trickled down into much of contemporary Protestant Christianity such that the practice of credo baptism is positively normative in Evangelicalism as is its distrust of secular power.

We who formerly treasured money and possessions more than anything else now hand over everything we have to a treasury for all and share it with everyone who needs it. We who formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us.

 Justin the Martyr

Historically the aligning of the church to a single political power distances itself from other centres of power and compromises its witness in all areas apart from the region it was allied to. A Christian Constantinople emerged at the detriment of the Persian Church who came to be seen as a 5th column by the ruling Sassanid Empire. However,  even if the church is decentralised we find ourselves in a place where in both World Wars we had Christians on both sides willing to slaughter one another. A tragedy and a gross error in judgement, yet if such a thing had never of occurred would the world look more like that depicted in Philip Dick’s novel ‘The Man in the High Tower‘? A Reich on which the Sun never sets? There are no easy answers to these questions but it seems like a blanket answer one way or the other on this is simply a refusal to engage with these questions altogether. To opt out of all possibility of violence will mean you will never regret its consequences, but you’ll also never be invested enough to really bring about a change in the fundamental nature of the society you find yourself in because society itself is inherently violent.

The early church, to my understanding, was united in its rejection of violence. This has been moderated over time but the words of the Church fathers are convicting even today. The act of violence is one thing, but it is the existential implications of the act that we need to wrestle with. This is important because to get it wrong in either direction I think would be a gross error.

As the Church is in decline in the West the outsider theology of the Anabaptists is no doubt likely to appeal to an increasing number of Christians. Talk of the Benedict option in the US is a good example of this. Its uses the language of monasteries but really doesn’t seem too radically different from what the Mennonites have been practicing since their conception. How will this impact the Anglican church, a church that in the UK has always been close to the state? Could there ever be a meeting of minds between Anglicans and Anabaptist theologians? How will the Church of England respond to a England that doesn’t know Christ? Can the church ever marry the best of both the Anglican and the Anabaptist?

I am a Christian. He who answers thus has declared everything at once—his country, profession, family; the believer belongs to no city on earth but to the heavenly Jerusalem.

St. John Chrysostom


The Islamic State is changing my mind on Pacifism

The Islamic State is changing my mind on Pacifism

For many years after becoming a Christian I believed in pacifism. The early church were pacifists (to my knowledge) and so was Jesus and his immediate followers (with one or two exceptions frequently debated). Part of my journey towards Christianity was in reading the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero who stood up to the injustices of El Salvador at time and was martyred for it. A famous quote of his goes..

We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.

― Oscar A. Romero

The quote even now serves to highlight the life-changing power of the Gospel to me. Yet despite this in recent years I cannot help but realise that the world I live in and the circumstances I am so grateful for would not have come about with a direct use of violence at some point.

121874John Howard Yoder in his book ‘What would you do?’ addressed in what I felt was a sufficient way how one would answer a response to home invasion and the threat to loved ones. I reasoned from the book that a pacifist would place themselves between the invader and a loved one, I imagined Romero would say the same. Ultimately I would not want to deprive someone of the chance to respond to the Gospel by depriving them of their life. Yet it is one thing to accept your own or even the demise of your loved ones but what of something more? The destruction of a culture? A people group?

I might of completely misread it but in the aforementioned book Yoder leaves space for the distinction between individual violence and state violence. That it is one thing ultimately to protect friends and family and another for a state to engage in any semblance of warfare, just or otherwise. History however isn’t quite so clear cut, take modern Iraq and Syria for example.

Borders and violence

Christian pacifism I believe is a position closely aligned ultimately with political anarchism, I say political because to say you govern anything you must be able to define your sphere of influence. A state is a fundamentally violent entity in that its existence is defined by being able to exert influence over a population and equally in being able to define who makes up that population. In this sense I would offer that to believe in any form of governance is a concession to the necessity of violence in some form or another.

An anarchist is someone who doesn’t need a cop to make him behave.

– Ammon Henacy

In all honesty there is a part of me that still holds to Christian pacifism despite these implications. However with the advent of groups like the Islamic State in the world I have been questioning myself. The Islamic State is a state in that it is able to both exert influence over a population and protect its borders. If I lived within its borders they would either hold me and mine to ransom, kill us or force us to convert to Islam. Without its use of violence to create and enshrine borders the Islamic state might still be ‘Islam’ but it would not be a ‘State’.

ISIS makes a point of eliminating anyone and anything that doesn’t fall into its view of Islam

This totalitarianism we see in groups like the Islamic State is one that has appeared in various guises all over the world. This kind of violence however isn’t terrible for its violence against the person (which is horrific), but for its violence against the people by denying them an identity that links them to their past, the land and their culture. The Islamic State has a reputation for destroying tombs, historical monuments and both Christian churches and the Mosques of rival Islamic sects. This isn’t accidental, the Islamic state if it had its way would eliminate all trace of a world beyond the one it is attempting to create. Even now the children within its borders learn a history different to the history taught to the children outside of it. The Islamic State, like any totalitarian doesn’t care about your pacifism, it will quite happily remove you and all trace of your existence from both the earth and its history. Not just you but all people like you in their sphere of influence.

An appropriate response

LeoGreatIf their were easy answers to unrelenting violence we wouldn’t need to discuss such things. I pray that we all were given the gift of tongues (or leaders with such tongues) like that of Saint Leo the Great who managed to turn Attila away from Rome and without violence saved so many. But at the same time we would be naive to think that the Attila’s of this world might uniformly be talked into lasting peace. The small peace of Leo’s Rome was in the context of Europe’s great ruin after all.

Many wars are existential in that they challenge the identity of the places and people among which they occur. I think a Christian can be a pacifist but one must truly expect miracles to be one because it is surely the more dangerous road to take. Part of me also wonders however if it is the selfish road to take. The Middle East was once thoroughly Christian and is no longer precisely because of the violence inflicted on it. Despite this as long as the state exists violence will be a part of the world we live in. In my own case as someone in the Church of England I am part of a National Church which as long as it is ‘National’ cannot without contradiction be a peace church unless it is in conflict with infrastructure the state itself. I am also speaking from the perspective of someone who has been raised in a state that has never known conflict seen in other parts of Europe in recent history or in Syria today.

I’m of two minds about this and will probably follow it up in the future as I think about it more.

Civil courage, in fact, can grow only out of the free responsibility of free men. Only now are the Germans beginning to discover the meaning of free responsibility. It depends on a God who demands responsible action in a bold venture of faith, and who promises forgiveness and consolation to the man who becomes a sinner in that venture.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer