Disciples who make disciples
Hundreds of ordinary people in a small city impacted by the power of the Holy Spirit, propelled into mission, spreading good news in the homes of friends and family and in the workshops and marketplaces. Hundreds of ordinary people transformed by the Holy Spirit, their lives changed to display an attractive holiness. Hundreds of ordinary people on fire with love for God and one another, willing to risk torture and even death so that their lives might cause others to become Jesus-followers. Hundreds of towns and cities in the wider region – and many thousands of people – touched by revival in a ten-year period.
This could describe revival in parts of China or Iran today but actually describes the first ten years of the Anabaptist movement in Central Europe from 1525 to 1535. It was a diverse movement even leaving aside the extremists at the fringes. But in the centre ground was a passionate and determined commitment to following Jesus regardless of cost. Discipleship was the key distinctive of the Anabaptists.
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation,” wrote Paul in 2 Cor 5:17. If the gospel of a new creation is meaningful then it will be evidenced by changed lives rather than theoretical explanation. Luther and other reformers concentrated on faith alone making us right with God, but the danger with their teaching is that it could remain pure theory and not be seen in changed lives. The Anabaptists wanted to put the teaching into practice.
They were accused by Protestants of bringing back salvation by our own efforts, or ‘works’. But a leading Anabaptist, Menno Simons, wrote “We do not seek salvation by works … for the power of faith quickens and changes them [disciples] into newness of life, and they walk by the gift of grace in the Holy Spirit in the power of their new faith, according to the measure of their faith, in obedience to their God who has shown such great love.” Even their opponents had to admit the Anabaptists lived holy lives. These ‘heretics’ confused Franz Agricola, a Roman Catholic writer. “As concerns their outward public life they are irreproachable,” he wrote, “…one would suppose that they had the Holy Spirit of God!”
The eloquence of preachers can be powerful when inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the eloquence of ordinary people ‘preaching’ through the example of changed lives is even more powerful and can reach further. I am not suggesting there is no place for preaching and teaching – in fact I know my own primary calling is as a teacher. But the evidence of changed lives is what speaks to people and truly preaches the gospel. That is why Paul said, “Imitate me.” (1 Cor 4:16 and 11:1) He was so confident that his life backed up his words that he could actually say, “Do what I do.”
When we present biblical truth we should really communicate the Truth, Who is a Person not a series of concepts and ideas. In 1 Cor 2 Paul explains how he preached and taught, not with human wisdom but in words inspired by the Spirit so as to demonstrate the power and wisdom of God (see v 4 and vv 12-13 in particular). He implies that miracles backed up the message and we know from Acts and from many references in his letters that Paul allowed people to see his lifestyle. So a good preacher/teacher does not just inspire but also imparts something of the life of the Spirit, enabling others to enter into the same relationship with God. In our different ways we can all do that!
This is part one 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/