This thought kind of meandered into my mind the other day.
I write about the Anabaptists a lot. I read them a lot. I think about what they taught and how they lived a lot. That doesn't make me an Anabaptist.
I am not a Yoder or a Bontrager or a Miller or a Graber or a Stoltzfus. I can't trace my ancestry back to the bloody days of the Anabaptists being martyred in Europe or later emigrating to America. Anabaptism is a deeply rooted historical movement. Their historical experience means something far more enduring than other traditions. I can read Calvin or Luther or John Owen or Charles Spurgeon and get a lot from them even though I am not British and I don't believe in "baptizing" babies. It is a lot more problematic to experience Anabaptism apart from their historical experience and often when it is tried it ends up being something unrelated to or even contrary to Anabaptism. Even in our American context it is remarkably difficult to integrate into Anabaptism when coming from a very different background. (Incidentally that is one of the principal weaknesses of conservative Anabaptism in America.)
Yet something speaks to me powerfully from these voices of the past, a whisper that shouts across the centuries to someone who is profoundly different from Menno, Conrad and Felix. It really shouldn't. As I said I have no historical cultural or religious ties to Anabaptism. I moved from generic evangelicalism as a new believer to the Reformed position in short order and I still find so much that is profitable in the writings of the great theologians of the Magisterial Reformation. In some positions I am actually more deeply entrenched than ever before! By virtue of the people I was reading and the culture I was in, the Anabaptists were more often than not the villains of the Reformation, not to the extent of the Roman Catholics but a close second.
So it is by pure accident (or perhaps providence...) that I find myself with such an affinity for the Anabaptists. I can trace it back to a single book, a book I came across through connections when I first started to reject the institutional church. That book, The Jesus Paradigm by Dave Black, was not one I liked all that much at first but it grew on me the more I read it. It was one of the first exposures I had to the Anabaptists that was not written in opposition to the them and designed to pin the blame for all of evangelicalism's woes on them (White Horse Inn, I am lookin' at you). As I started to read more and more I found so much that made sense, that brought together a lot of the previously disjointed thoughts I had. Some were pretty easy to digest, like the church as a fellowship of disciples but others were hard and I had to wrestle with them, like non-aggression.
Now that we live among so many varied kinds of Anabaptists, they have come alive for me in a lot of ways. Some great, like those who love and care for my family and I. Some not as much as they are shown to be just regular people rather than heroic figures from books, people with real struggles and problems. That has made them more real and actually made me appreciate Anabaptism even more. Rather than some unattainable heroic myth, they are real people who have the same issues I do. I see areas of caution and concern but I also see so many places of genuine love that I should emulate.
I am glad to be where I am in this respect, even if it was by accident. I hope I can continue to learn and grow and in my own small, humble way add to the story of the Anabaptists even if I don't have the right last name.