Voluntarism, Autonomy, and Post-Christendom Anabaptism

Too often voluntary church membership is translated into the right to make up one’s own mind. Accordingly, the church as a disciplined body becomes a community of like-minded individuals who share the conviction that they should respect each other’s right to make up his or her own mind…”Voluntary church membership” was a prophetic challenge against mainstream Christianity, but once Christendom is gone the call for voluntary commitment cannot help but appear as a legitimation of the secular commitment to autonomy. In a Christendom world it took conviction to be a pagan or an Anabaptist, but given the world in which we are now living it is hard to distinguish pagans from Anabaptists … (Stanley Hauerwas, ‘Whose Church? Which Future? Whither the Anabaptist Vision?’ in In Good Company: The Church as Polis (Notre Dame, 1995), pp.71,73.)

For at least partial corroboration in the experience of one Mennonite group, read this quote from a post-Christendom perspective:

A second characteristic of the [General Conference Mennonite Church] was the emphasis on freedom and autonomy—Christian freedom, not license, for the individual, and autonomy for the congregation. Each believer stood before God Himself in faith as a free individual, uncoerced by other believers. Each individual soul, created in the image of God, was competent and responsible to deal directly with God through Christ, without intervention of parent, priest, sacrament, church, or state. This personal responsibility to God was the basis for freedom of conscience. This was true, within limits, in both faith and practice. (Edmund G. Kaufman and Henry Poettcker, “General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM),” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/G4647ME.html.)

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2 comments on “Voluntarism, Autonomy, and Post-Christendom Anabaptism

  1. Amondstien says:

    We are not living in a post-Christendom world. At least not as totally as this quote presumes. Have you been to the suburbs? Do you not know what it is like to grow up Evangelical in America? There is much to opt-out of. It requires a choice to really follow in discipleship and not just be enculturated into a flaccid Christianity.

    • Theophilus says:

      Thanks for this corrective note that not all of us live in post-Christendom environments. I live in an urban centre where I cannot presume the faith of my neighbours, but within a couple hours’ drive of where I live there are communities that are effectively normatively Christian. As you say, being a disciple of Jesus will look different in those sorts of places.

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