While not officially affiliated with any larger denomination or organization, our agrarian Christian community shares common beliefs with numerous diverse Christian traditions, including Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Mennonites and many more. With that said, we draw probably the greatest portion of our beliefs, lifestyle and values from the Anabaptist tradition (just as many other Christian groups do, if perhaps less consciously). (For a summary of the historical roots of our beliefs, click here.)
We have extensive written materials available outlining our beliefs in detail, but for those who wish for a condensed overview of our Christian faith, we offer the following summaries:
—We renounce religious coercion or the forcing of conscience in any way.
—We hold to an uncompromising belief in nonviolence and nonresistance (as distinct from the narrower and much more relativistically held political activism or advocacy that today the term “pacifism” widely connotes).
—We believe Old Testament Israel manifested the purpose of God sown in a natural body, a body politic, that passed away and rose in a spiritual Body with the risen Christ and the birth of the church as the kingdom in which “all the families of the earth would be blessed.” Although this does not preclude God’s blessing and purpose for natural Israel, the old, “ungerminated” seed of God’s purpose in a natural nation cannot now serve to define the fully flowering fruit in God’s spiritual community comprised of all peoples. Therefore, the Old Testament can no longer be used to justify State churches and their persecution of dissenters, as if the church were merely the Old Testament natural nation of Israel superimposed on the Gentiles.
—We forgo active participation in the polis of time (politics) in favor of a full life in the context of the polis of eternity (the kingdom of God, the community of Christ).
—We believe in the separation of church and State in order to protect and sanctify not the State but the church as Christ’s virgin Bride.
—We believe that, while God commands us to render unto Caesar his due and to duly honor, pray for and obey him, ultimate loyalty and devotion belongs to God—not to Caesar. Especially does this prove crucial when Caesar would forthrightly have us deny God. This belief has incurred much persecution against those of the Anabaptist tradition, from Inquisitors to Nazis and Stalinists. Yet, as Solzhenitsyn said, how different the world would be if all people had responded with the apostle Peter (or, we might add, even James Madison) that God must be obeyed before men.1
—We believe in a certain simplicity of lifestyle, a rootedness in the land with an emphasis on family and intentional community.
—We believe church government arises from a relational form of internalized and noncoercive authority based on consent and emerging from within the local church and associated churches or else spontaneously emerging from a founding ministry. In short, we are of the “free church” or the “believers’ church” tradition. We also believe in a plurality of leaders arranged in the living and relational order given by God in the New Testament.
—We believe in the absolute necessity, for any true individual or corporate life in God, of an encounter with the transcendent God who is Biblically portrayed as “breaking into” and redefining human experience and understanding through revelation and regeneration. This actual entry into God’s presence goes far beyond a belief in merely propositional or scholastic or rationalistic knowledge about God, salvation and Scripture. (We do not fault theological menus but believe they have little value unless believers can eat the promised meal.)
—We believe that knowing God constitutes salvation (John 17:1-3) and that this knowledge of the nature and love of God is relational and presentational, coming through the Lord Jesus Christ.2 Moreover, this must rest solely on the enscriptured Word as it was lived out through the first church and is revealed to us today by the Holy Spirit.3 This revelation is not, in other words, based on the language of Greek (Neoplatonic) philosophy or later church councils or creeds insisting on often nonbiblical terminology as a litmus test for theological points and central issues of faith.
—Parallel to the above, we believe the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” as interpreted by the Holy Spirit, not as interpreted by “church fathers,” “the Apologists” or church councils and creeds—as with Jesus, for us also, the so-called and always changing “Great Tradition” does not trump “the Great Presence” and “the Great Book.”4
—Though, as mentioned above, we do not believe Old Testament Israel can any longer serve as a model or justification for the church seizing political power, neither do we accept the classic view of “replacement theology,” which allows for no special calling on the Jewish people in the economy of God’s purpose. We believe instead, along with the apostle Paul, that the spiritual return of a remnant of natural Israel will at the end even become the focus of God’s purpose as God makes “one new man from the two”—Gentiles and Jews. This return will be “life from the dead” for those “branches” that have been broken off and will coincide with the full restoration of the church when, “in the dispensation of the fullness of the times,” He “gathers together in one all things in Christ.”5
—We believe that the New Testament cannot be properly understood apart from the vision and historical context provided by the Old Testament, especially its unfolding revelation of the One God of Israel. Nonetheless, concerning which vision of which testament prevails, whether in shifts of the role of the Law or in the unfolding revelation of God and His requirements for human conduct, the Old is to be interpreted in the greater light of the New as the latter is understood in deep relationship with the Spirit of Christ and in the context of Christ’s Body (John 5:39-40; Eph. 4:11-16). This interpretation will never, however, contradict the revelation of the Old Testament but will only show its meaning more clearly and perfectly (John 10:35).
—In keeping with the above, we hold that, though all Scripture is profitable when rightly applied, the New Testament alone gives the explicit and definitive guidelines for the church and Christian life and should, in its entirety, be interpreted Christocentrically. In short, both the life and teachings of Jesus are at least as important as a standard for Christian life (in ethics, conduct, love and sanctification) as His death and resurrection are for justification and regeneration. And beyond being a mere standard, we believe that the resurrected Christ is now eternally alive and reigns through the Holy Spirit as Head over His Body, the church, which now is His life on earth (Phil. 1:21; Rom. 6:8-9; Eph. 1:22-23). So to be “in Christ” is to necessarily be in His Body, which does not merely model itself after Christ but lives out by the Spirit His very life on earth,6 increasingly conforming itself to His precise image by the power of the same Spirit that indwelt Him without measure (Rom. 8:9-16, 29; John 3:34, NASB).
—We place an emphasis on applying the Bible to everyday life (in other words, lived religion or sanctification or embodied holiness, which marked not only the Anabaptists but also the early Pietists and Wesleyans, as many of these other above traditions also still do). Our stress on orthopraxy does not preclude an equal stress on orthodoxy. Rather, we believe that both right belief and right conduct (orthodoxy and orthopraxy) must be fused in an authentically lived life. But we also believe that both of these elements of right belief (orthodoxy) and right action or living (orthopraxy) must be combined with what T. H. Runyon called “orthopathy” or right feeling, which he saw as “a necessary but currently missing complement.” Runyon insisted that while “experience needs the word of orthodoxy if it is to communicate rightly and the deeds of orthopraxy if it is to be [the instrument of sanctification, nonetheless], . . . both words and deeds need to be filled with the divine power and impact of the motivating Spirit, mediated, received and communicated further through experience.”7 Thus the need for orthopathy, without which no one even cares about right belief or right living, or, for that matter, even God or other human beings. In contrast to this living, deeply experienced faith, humanly arrived at counciliar creeds or doctrines that have no decisive or real bearing on our relationship to God, to our brotherhood or to the world but that are nonetheless used as litmus tests for judging and rejecting others seem to us to deny both the Spirit and letter of Christianity.
—We believe that the great Reformation must at some point go beyond simply the reform of doctrines (and a kind of creedal sacramentalism). They must instead meet and merge with an authentic reformation of human lives and of the church that those lives build. (Some might say the source of this belief also lies in Pietism, though, again, we would say its source is simply Biblical.)
—We view the Reformation as ongoing, even reaching all the way back to the restored roots of New Testament Christianity as it was practiced by its first Jewish believers (what is often pejoratively referred to by its detractors as “primitivism,” but which we refer to as “pristine Christianity”). Because of this, although we place weight on what many consider orthodox, we also remain open to God, knowing that Jesus has not yet returned, and so, in our view of Scripture, the restoration of all things has not yet occurred (Acts 3:21, KJV).
—We believe in the One God of Jewish monotheism who fully incarnated Himself in the fully human life of Jesus of Nazareth with whom He became fully one.8 This oneness we now believe extends into the life of Christ’s corporate Body (John 17:18-24) and the individuals who comprise it. They, too, are brought into oneness with God (at-one-ment) in Spirit, in truth and in love—in an entire culture of the wholeness of life, which we also see as necessarily monotheistic rather than polytheistic or pluralistic or relativistic.
—We believe saving faith always brings a commitment to the “obedience that comes from faith” and a pledge to discipleship, neither of which can be separated from conversion or salvation. In other words, we believe Luther’s words (probably more than Luther himself did) when he said: “A Christian . . . should increase this faith until it is made perfect. For this faith is his life, his righteousness, and his salvation: it saves him and makes him acceptable.”9 And we believe Calvin’s words on this probably far more than Calvin did, that “actual holiness of life . . . is not separated from free imputation of righteousness.”10
—We believe that discipleship is tied to the very formation of gathered believers into the Body of Christ—into thevisible church.
—We believe in believer’s baptism (immersion) as a pledge of the old nature into the sacrificial death of Jesus as well as into the lordship of Jesus and that therefore takes place in the name of Jesus.11 Moreover, this pledge is therefore one of submission to a discipleship that leads us in love into an increasing sacrifice of our lapsed nature, in accord with our pledge through baptism into Christ’s own sacrificial death,12 and into a deeper participation in the love and power of Christ’s resurrected life through the Spirit.13 This, then, is the unfolding fulfillment of what began in our new birth in the Spirit.14 It is also thus necessarily an initiation into a believers’ church, an initiation that places us “in Christ” through His own corporate Body now on earth (Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 12:13).
—We hold, in short, to a belief in spiritual regeneration through a powerful encounter with God (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-48; 19:1-6).
—We believe the Lord’s Supper is a memorial of Jesus’ singular sacrifice but, at the same time, also signifies and celebrates the ongoing and growing communion in the sacrificial death of Jesus that committed disciples actually do share in their daily life with one another in the Lord. In this sense, we hearken back to the original Anabaptist self-definition of “the community of the committed.” Communion represents the rededication of the individual and the church, a rededication of the pledge originally made at baptism into the sacrificial death of Jesus, which a life lived in love for others entails.
—We believe in a certain separation from the world but without separatism or sectarianism. This could be understood in the sense that a wife’s relationship to her husband is set apart, sanctified, on one level in the marriage but not so much that it would exclude all forms of relationship with those outside the couple’s own particular marital covenant. In other words, adultery is forbidden, but certainly not every conversation or friendship except with one’s husband entails adultery. The same is true of Christ’s Bride, the church.
While these summaries are not exhaustive, hopefully all the above will help in some measure to begin answering some questions. In the end, we hope that one day we will be able to simply call ourselves “Christians” and that everyone will believe it because of the life we live for Him and in Him.
For those more deeply interested, a great deal of material is available (click here for more information), and, as always, please come visit us—and feel free to ask questions!