Disciples who make disciples 2
We can all be disciples who make disciples. For Sixteenth Century Anabaptists, like the illiterate Hans Nadler, this meant travelling around as he plied his trade (he was a needle seller), engaging people in conversation. He would talk about God, the difficulty of living a holy life in these permissive days and the difference God made in his own life. He would often use the Lord’s Prayer or Apostles’ Creed as a framework for teaching spiritual truths. After all, they were commonly used and understood by most of his hearers who all thought of themselves Christians because they had been born in a Christian country and their parents had done their ‘duty’ by having them christened as a baby. But there was a key difference. When Hans spoke to his heavenly Father he was having a loving conversation with a close friend not going through a routine.
While he might not have talked much about the Holy Spirit, Hans spoke about his Father and Jesus his Saviour and Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit who inspired his teaching and the holy life that validated his words. And he spoke of how disciples were being joined together in loving fellowship. For many Anabaptists, enabling others to encounter God was a matter of living a community life of such love and close fellowship that others were attracted to it even when daunted by the commitment they showed.
The Dutch Anabaptist leader Menno Simons said:
“We do not teach and practice community of goods but we teach and testify the Word of the Lord, that all true believers in Christ are of one body (I Cor. 12:13), partakers of one bread (I Cor. 10:17), have one God and one Lord (Eph. 4). Seeing then that they are one, . . . it is Christian and reasonable that they also have divine love among them and that one member cares for another, for both the Scriptures and nature teach this. They show mercy and love, as much as is in them. They do not suffer a beggar among them. They have pity on the wants of the saints. They receive the wretched. They take strangers into their houses. They comfort the sad. They lend to the needy. They clothe the naked. They share their bread with the hungry. They do not turn their face from the poor nor do they regard their decrepit limbs and flesh (Isa. 58). This is the kind of brotherhood we teach.”
What does it mean in Twenty-First Century Britain? We have the privilege of being part of a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-site church that aspires to live up to its name All Nations. In the last few years there has been a shift in emphasis from the Sunday service or the conference event to a healthy focus on family life, meaning both the natural and the spiritual family.
We still believe in the value of the gathered church meetings but we know that, unless those close to us see faith working in reality in our lives at home, they will struggle to accept and believe what we say. And we place increasing emphasis on developing authentic community, gathering around meal tables in homes especially, but also in other places that are natural settings for community life. The first part of Acts 2 has always been important for us Pentecostals and Charismatics but we are now also exploring the aspects of church life seen in Acts 2:42-47.
Change has come as a result of encouraging Jesus-centred authentic community, developing a culture where the Holy Spirit is welcome and invited not just to visit but to stay. The Spirit mends broken lives and enables holy living – not a “holier than thou” exclusivity but a warm and attractive goodness. It can be a challenge to live in a counter-cultural way but the best place to learn, encourage and demonstrate holy living is in small groups of disciples committed to Jesus and to one another. We call them Life Groups like a lot of churches – others might talk of Home Church or Cell Groups or similar.
We are often blessed and surprised (in a good way) by stories of everyday kindness and generosity, ranging from paying for someone’s drinks in a cafe to providing meals for a couple with a new baby to providing a home to someone in need. The church is building itself up in love. Of course it is not perfect, but community is genuine and is happening more.
Whether we are conscious of the Anabaptist tradition or not, we are rediscovering what the Sixteenth Century Anabaptists discovered: holiness brought about by the Holy Spirit is attractive.
This is part two of a two part summary of a more academic article which you can read at: http://www.anabaptistwitness.org/journal_entry/4772/
The other contributions to that journal are at: http://www.anabaptistwitness.org/volumes/volume-4/issue-1/