No Particular Axe to Grind

In the introduction to Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, William Balke says two important things — important, that is, to the point I would like to make here.

The first is that the name anabaptist results in a classic example of misdirection. “The name ‘Anabaptist,’ or ‘rebaptizer,’ picks out what actually was only an incidental teaching” (p. 11). There are many baptists today who share the anabaptist rejection of infant baptism, but who are not anabaptistic in their central assumptions. And, even more curiously, there are many today who call themselves confessionally Reformed who do buy into the central anabaptist assumption.

That central driving issue has to do with the way we relate the church to the rest of human society outside the church proper. In short, do you believe in the ideal of Christendom? If you do not, then you are historically anabaptist. If you are Calvinistic in your soteriology, and historically Reformed in your ecclesiology, then this means that you think Christendom is a good thing.  

Balke notes, accurately, that “in the overall consciousness of the Western world, it [anabaptism] seems to have gained the victory” (p. 9). This is why certain theologians, in the name of confessional Reformed orthodoxy no less, can attack advocates of Christendom as being heterodox and “suspect,” and get away with it. If anabaptist assumptions had not carried the day, affecting virtually everybody who looks at church/state issues, this move would be seen as being as anachronistic as a picture of John Calvin in a Hard Rock Cafe Geneva t-shirt.

Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose someone set up a panel discussion in which Scott Clark and I both had to prove that we weren’t something. I had to prove that I was not semi-Pelagian, or Romanish, or Arminian, or anything else icky and non-confessional in my soteriology, and Scott Clark had to prove that he was not an anabaptist in his views of Christendom. The questions and follow-up questions would be posed by a theologically astute computer with no particular axe to grind, no ego or sin issues, and no job at a contempo-Reformed seminary that it could lose. Just the facts, ma’am. I would be done in ten minutes, and Scott Clark would be sweating it out under the lights three hours later, and be no closer to the Reformed vision for human society.

And so this is the state of theological understanding in the Reformed world today. The Reformation citadel has hired anabaptists to be its security guards, and nobody appears to think anything of it. This anomaly does not prevent Scott Clark from loving Jesus, and does not prevent him from receiving a crown of glory when the Lord Jesus judges the quick and the dead. There will be anabaptists who hear the divine well-done, and there will be those among the Reformed who don’t. So a man can be in this position and be a fine Christian. What he can’t have is a fine grasp of the historical theology involved. Of course, if you have to choose, then always go for the former. The point I am making here is that we shouldn’t have to choose. But maybe that’s just me.



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