I know this might seem like an odd question to some, but it is one I have been asking: Is there a place for Pentecostal-Anabaptist dialogue? I came to Christianity through Pentecostalism. While I am not part of a Pentecostal Church there is no retroactively removing all of the influence it has had on my thinking, especially as regards Pneumatology.  I have talked to a handful of people who are part of the Pentecostal/Charismatic tradition, or who have recently departed from it, who identify with much of what Pentecostalism has to say about being a Christian in the modern world, but who don’t feel comfortable with the overarching direction being taken by many particular Pentecostal/Charismatic groups. Whether this be a move toward trying to become a megachurch, or the politicizing of their pulpit, or the embrace of the health-and-wealth gospel, or even something as simple as adrenaline junky liturgy, i.e., worship gathers that have to be fast, and loud, or people think something is wrong, there is a desire to preserve what is best without being forced to accept it all. Many of these people seem interested in Anabaptism to some extent.
Pentecostal/Charismatics may want to embrace many aspects of traditional Anabaptism, even joining Anabaptist communities, while wondering if there is a willingness on the part of Anabaptists to entertain the possibility of embracing things like more freedom of expression in worship (not crazy aisle running, pew jumping worship, but maybe some songs with a guitar and drum involved, some clapping of hands, the raising of hands) or some the charismata (both in corporate worship and individual prayer). Everyone knows the differences between Pentecostals/Charismatics and Anabaptists/Mennonites, but there may be many similarities that lead the two traditions into further dialogue (kind of like Drew Hart aims to do with Anabaptism and the Black Church tradition). For example, early Pentecostalism advocated Christian non-violence. Both groups tend to be “Low Church” movements with a strong emphasis on the Priesthood of Believers. Both groups seems to be willing to address matters related to gender, race, and so forth. Recently, Michael Grenholm shared in a blog post an article written by Richard Gillingham titled Parallels between Anabaptism and Pentecostalism that may be worth reading for those interested in this question.
Anyways, I haven’t sat down and thought this out in-depth, but since I’m having conversations with Anabaptists on one hand and Pentecostals on the other hand I thought I’d write a post that at least allows for people from either group to share their thoughts with me.
What doth Anabaptism have to do with Pentecostalism and Pentecostalism with Anabaptism?
 Though I must say it hasn’t been Pentecostal Pneumatology that has influenced me most directly—other than Gordon D. Fee’s work—but rather other thinkers who have interacted with Pentecostalism such as James D.G. Dunn and John R. Levison.
There should always been room for interdenominational dialogue. I was going to ask what the differences were between these two communities before I noticed your comment “Everyone knows the differences between Pentecostals/Charismatics and Anabaptists/Mennonites ..“. I confess, I don’t – at least not well.
Nevertheless, people typically dialogue about their similarities to strengthen then, or about their differences to reconcile them. You’ve mentioned a number of similarities that might act as a bonding agent betwixt these groups (race relations, opposition to violence etc). That leaves the issues that prevents greater unity between Pentecostals and Anabaptists (which I confess – I do not know). If its merely a matter of history, that hardly seems sufficient to justify achieving greater unity between these Christ-professing groups.
You’ve said on a number of occasions that theology doesn’t define Pentecostalism. I’m confident that this can’t be said so assuredly of Anabaptists so there is some possibility that if there is dialogue between these groups theological preference might be a point of discussion.
… should have read “seems sufficient to not justify achieving greater unity …”
I think in some sense traditional systematic-style theology doesn’t shape Pentecostalism or Anabaptism. both have “theology,” but not the kind of systems you’d see in Roman Catholic or Reformed thought as a couple of examples. Both Pentecostalism and Anabaptism have ethos/practice shaped theologies, so in that sense I think there is an interesting place for common ground.
Someone reminded me on FB about this group: http://www.pcpj.org/ .
They seem to share a lot in common with Anabaptists.
This is a curious subject that is of great interest to me. My wife and I are considering joining an intentional community in which two of the members closely identify with the charismatic movement. Growing up in the United Methodist church, we tended to look upon the Pentecostal/Charismatic folk with a sort of amused curiosity—those folks were just plain weird! (Of course, this coming from a church where “Amen!” was never spoken during the service, and people came and went with a sort of grave solemnity.)
However, since joining the Anabaptists, I’ve come to find that I am much more appreciative of my charismatic friends’ perspectives. Recently, while writing a sermon that I delivered before a local Mennonite congregation, I became very stressed about what I was writing. One of my charismatic friends from the intentional community happened to be there while I was writing. She took me by the arm and prayed over me in tongues. Normally my sensible, rational, Western self would have scoffed. But there was something real about it. Something very holy. I don’t understand it, and that’s not how I personally experience God. But it suddenly became impossible for me not to take her seriously.
I might also add that recent years have seen a resurgence in interest in the Spirit. My American Baptist seminary in particular is very Spirit-focused, and there is a solid connection between the historical Baptist distinctives and Anabaptist theology.
So I don’t have a whole lot of experience with the Pentecostal/Charismatic church, but my hunch as an Anabaptist who attends a Baptist seminary is that they’re not so drastically different—there is definitely room for dialogue.
As a Pentecostal it was quite obvious to me that the line between bizarre human behavior and authentic pneumatic experiences was a very thin line indeed. It made Paul’s letters quite relevant though, especially his correspondence with Corinth. Unfortunately, in many Pentecostal circles warnings against being obsessed with glossolalia or against embracing any and every prophecy without testing it were frequently ignored. I remember dozens of “tongues-and-interpretations” announcing the imminent return of Christ. We’d all be a tad freaked out by it, repent, and then eventually go on with our lives. When some scholars suggest that there may be a thin line in the Gospels between the words of Jesus remembered and the “words of Jesus” that came via local prophets it seems to me that this is altogether plausible based on my experience in such a charismatic setting.
So I don’t think anyone should embrace each and every thing affiliated with Pentecostalism, but as your recent experience suggests, many Christians may err the opposite direction. Our religion is anti-pneumatic. This is most evident among blatant cessationist Christians, but also apparent among many other groups, especially Biblicist types who think God stopped talking whenever the canon closed (when was that?). I’d like to see something like a cautious charismatic renewal where people are open to experiencing the Spirit in ways that allow us to break free from the constrictions of our Eurocentric approach to worship, but which also recognizes that there is a danger of abuse if elders/leaders and other mature Christians don’t create an environment that “test the spirits” and tests prophetic utterances.
Thank you for this post. I was raised Southern Baptist, became charismatic mostly in high school, in seminary, I identified more as Anabaptist, and now I see myself as a combination of all three + creedal. I’m pacifist now for Charismatic theological reasons.
Thank you so much for linking to my blog! It should be noted that I didn’t write but merely reposted Parallella between Anabaptism and pentecostalism, it was written by Richard Gillingham. You’re welcome to check out a text I’ve written on the same topic: Why I as an activist love the gifts of the Holy Spirit: http://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/why-i-as-an-activist-love-the-gifts-of-the-holy-spirit/
I’m really passionate about this combination. Not only does the Pentecostal and charismatic movement need more activism for peace and justice, but Anabaptists need the power of the Holy Spirit to be able to do more for the Kingdom. I recommend you to check out the teachings of John Wimber. He stood for sound, non-hyped charismatic theology that still expected and experienced a lot – many people were genuinely healed at his conferences. He was also a pacifist and passionate for social justice. You can read more about him on my blog: http://holyspiritactivism.wordpress.com/tag/john-wimber
You’re welcome. That’s quite the journey, but one that appears to have made you a balanced and well-rounded theologian!
Thank you for the clarification about the author. I’ll make sure to check out your take on the subject as well as the info about John Wimber.
Brian, again wonderful post. I’ve also been pondering on this for some time–admittedly after meeting you and Miranda, but also because I was baptized into a Vineyard type church where I encountered charismata and other manifestations of the Spirit.
As you pointed out, there seem to be many similarities with both the early Anabaptist movement and the early Pentecostal (Azusa street) movement. Low-church, empowering, affirming of all and the exercising of everyone’s gifts regardless of race, sex, class, etc– let’s call that what it is, that’s Jesus!
However, at this point, if a Mennonite walked into a Charismatic Church on Sunday, I fear they would be as shocked and uncomfortable as a Charismatic walking into a Mennonite one. But perhaps that says more about the institutions we’ve built up instead of the fresh, organic movement of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a marginalized community.
I think that is where we start. And I’d love to be a part of this movement. There is freedom from the powers in the peace and justice/ Kingdom and Jesus focus of Anabaptism, and there is freedom and strength in the exercising of the gifts found in Charismatic movements–not to mention the passionate and overwhelming sense of intimacy with the Spirit. I’ve encountered both.
I think both have so much to learn from each other. Here’s my thought, Anabaptist theology (for me) is sort of like a non-violent martial art school. I’m sorry to use this analogy, but I used to train in different schools and so this makes sense to me. Sometimes one has a core “school” or approach to everything. Not to sound cheesy, but this is what Bruce Lee understood. He was raised in a very rigid style of kung fu that left no room for change, variation, or adjustment. It became stale to him, and so he constructed his own fluid style that was meant to change and adjust when he learned new things. This was his school and philosophy.
Yes, I did just correlated Anabaptism to Bruce Lee.
In the same way, I think that Anabaptism is a school of faith. It is non-violent, of course, but only because it follows Jesus. So in a way, I think that Anabaptism has the ability to enter into meaningful dialogue with lots of different “schools.” However, as it stands, the institutions of Pentecostal/ Anabaptist manifestations could never blend, in my opinion. Anabaptism is too clinical and Eurocentric, while Pentecostalism has become too focused on cults of personality and flashy (non-simple) living.
But I’d love to explore a new type of charismatic Anabaptist theology. I pray for it.
I agree. It doesn’t make sense to try to submerge Pentecostalism into Anabaptism or Anabaptism into Pentecostalism. Your analogy of schools (of discipleship) is helpful. In many ways Anabaptist disciples will learn to follow Christ in ways that Pentecostals will not and visa-versa, BUT if these schools share students, or learn to consider adopting the other’s key practices—while modified to fit into the established school—then maybe everyone will be better for it.
For example, I wouldn’t want to advocate that SAMC begin healing services, but it might be good for Mennonites to take some time to study and pray together asking how the Church’s legacy of charismata in the early days and in recent renewal movements might inform Anabaptist thought and practice. Likewise, Pentecostals used to share many of the values of the Anabaptist (as seen in the Pentecostal for Peace and Justice, which are throw backs to early Pentecostalism). Maybe modern Pentecostals reading Anabaptist literature or laboring together in the community with Anabaptist groups would help them recover that side of their tradition.
If it’s of any interest, my family identifies itself as anabaptist pentecostal.
We do have a blog.
Praying Yeshua blesses you
Michael and Elizabeth
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