Sunday, January 23, 2011
The Anabaptists began by reading their Bibles. Grebel and the others in their group were inspired by Luther, just as Zwingli was, but they didn’t just understand a new theology. They saw a new lifestyle that, at the center of it, was the reading of Scripture. When they determined to baptize each other, it was because they saw clearly in the text that which neither Luther and Zwingli saw. When they were exiled and died, it was not for love of peace, nor for love of martyrdom—it was because they loved the text better than life.
While they held the words of Jesus, their Lord, as higher than any other writings—especially in the Sattler tradition—this was not to demean their desire for the rest of the text. Rather, they saw Jesus’ words as bringing light to the rest of Scripture, the OT providing background for Jesus and the NT fulfilling Jesus. Anabaptism was community, but it was a communion of the Word. They would understand the Jewish tradition of dancing with Torah, for the Word of God is the source of life, the source of joy, the power of God. They needed God’s words more than flowers need the rain, more than they need air to breathe. Their passion for the truth of God had no limit.
Never would they have accepted our excuses to ignore the Bible. They would never have said, “The first century was a different culture,” for they wanted their society to be a culture of the Word, to imitate and to put flesh on it. They would never have said, “The Bible is full of contradictions,” for they would have embraced those contradictions, passed through them and come out the other side with God’s truth. They would never have left a passage saying, “There are many ways to understand this section,” but would have worked through it until they understood what the Spirit of God was saying through that passage to them, that day.
Why do we not reflect this passion? Why do we, the baton-holders of the Anabaptist tradition, give a nod to Scriptures as proof-texts or as the “basis” for our theological ideas, but we do not live in it as fish live in the sea? How can we be satisfied with Bible studies that are so filled with the prejudices and influences of this world’s politics, this world’s moralities, this world’s questions, not allowing the Bible itself to lead us into questions and for us to seek it as a parched traveler seeks water? Why do we leave the study of Scripture to “experts”, and just believe what they say?
Are we concerned about seeming too fanatical, too “fundamentalist”? Are we too concerned about drawing more people to the church who may not care for the radical views that may result if we actually drew the whole Word of Jesus into our hearts and lived it out? Or are we simply lazy, considering the analysis of text and impassioned stands to be the place of the schoolchild?
God save us from our lethargy! Lord, we pray with Anselm, “We ask that the words of the Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts.” Help us to love the Word more than we love life.