Confessions of a “Naked Anabaptist”
A seminary professor’s evangelical Anabaptist journey
Stuart Murray in his book, The Naked Anabaptist, suggests that many Anabaptists around the world are part of traditions we wouldn’t readily associate with Anabaptism. According to Murray, they practice a stripped down or “naked” form of Anabaptism, devoid of the cultural trappings of some movements that descended from 16th-century Anabaptism. (For a quick overview of Anabaptist beliefs, I would recommend the brochure, Anabaptism: The Basic Beliefs, available on the Canadian conference website.)
Some might wonder how an Evangelical Free Church pastor, church planter, and missionary ended up teaching at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (MBBS) at ACTS Seminaries in Langley, B.C. I sometimes wonder, too.
As I interviewed for the position, I came to realize that I wasn’t only evangelical, but was one of those “naked Anabaptists” Murray describes in his book. I vividly remember my first impressions of the MB Confession of Faith. The words of the Confession struck me as a dynamic and compelling expression of biblical faith. It felt like I was coming home. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Confession beautifully expresses some core emphases of an evangelical Anabaptist perspective.
In the beginning…
Of course, my evangelical Anabaptist journey began long before my interview with the MBBS search committee. What influenced the journey? Obviously, my interpretation of Scripture positioned me to emphasize certain biblical themes. Yet, what contributed to the crafting of this hermeneutical lens?
When I was young, my parents attended an MB church in Moose Jaw, Sask. Pastor Lorlie Barkman assisted my parents in dedicating me to the Lord. Even though it’s hard to discern MB influences in my early childhood, I suspect that my parents’ experience in an MB church (and their upbringing as Old Colony Mennonites) contributed toward my predisposition to emphasize certain Anabaptist beliefs later on in life.
When I was two, we moved to Caronport, Sask., home of Briercrest Bible College. I was a “Port kid” for the next 17 years. During those years, I acquired a deep love for Scripture and passion for evangelism. I experienced the blessings and challenges of living in close-knit, covenant community (almost everyone at Caronport at that time was connected with Briercrest and was required to attend the Caronport Community Church). There was a strong Christocentric focus. Chapel sessions, church services, classes, and community life itself seemed to revolve around the person and work of Jesus.
At 19, I headed west to attend Trinity Western University. I experienced deep community while living in Trinity’s dorms for four years. Even though I had lived in a Bible college town, I hadn’t experienced deep “life on life” community like I did at Trinity.
While studying at Trinity, I started interning at Langley Evangelical Free Church, where I served on the pastoral team for 16 years. It was during those years that God greatly increased my vision for discipleship and meaningful mission in the world around me. In addition, I couldn’t shake my longing for the kind of community I had experienced at Caronport and even more so at Trinity. This longing helped fuel a growing passion for interpersonal peacemaking. My wife, Lore, will tell you that I may have gone overboard on this during our courtship.
In 2005, with the blessing of our church and denomination, Lore and I launched out in a new ministry of helping start small, missional communities called The Journey. Our goal was to plant loving, Christ-centred communities on a mission to be and make growing disciples of Jesus.
As I reflect on The Journey’s mission statement, I see several Anabaptist theological underpinnings (along with some evangelical emphases). We wanted to start churches that were Christ-centred. We hoped these churches would be loving, disciple-making communities that sought to fulfill the Great Commission. Our leadership was collaborative. We believed that it was possible for believers to make and implement decisions cooperatively. We regularly engaged in community discernment as we sought to interpret scriptural truth collectively. This often took the form of interactive discussions about biblical passages.
Our experience in The Journey crystallized and grew my commitment to several core Anabaptist emphases. I had unknowingly become a “naked Anabaptist” within an evangelical tradition.
When I started the five-month long interview process to become an assistant professor of practical theology and leadership studies at MBBS-ACTS, I had unwittingly committed myself to exploring and labelling my Anabaptist beliefs. I got the impression that the search committee had no doubts as to my commitment to evangelical beliefs, but was I Anabaptist enough to teach from an evangelical Anabaptist perspective? I had the same question.
As I browsed numerous articles in Direction Journal and read books like Confession of Faith: Commentary and Pastoral Application, For Everything a Season, A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology, Body Politics, The Naked Anabaptist, and A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church: Pilgrims and Pioneers, it became increasingly obvious that a marriage had taken place in my faith perspective – a marriage between an evangelical perspective and an Anabaptist one.
Many factors have influenced my evangelical Anabaptist journey. Suffice to say, I’m thrilled to be part of a movement that attempts to bring together strong evangelicalism with a robust Anabaptist orientation. It’s a privilege to be able to teach students from this perspective.
–Randy Wollf is assistant professor of practical theology and leadership studies at MBBS Canada in Langley, B.C.