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Photo Credit: Urban Christian News

By Aaron Gaglia (GagliaAC)

Earlier this month, Mennonite World Review published an article announcing that Woodland Hills Church, led by Pastor Greg Boyd, is thinking about joining an Anabaptist denomination. As a follow up to this announcement, on February 17th, Boyd started a 6-week series on the Anabaptist tradition. The first sermon in the series was entitled, “Ana-What.” In this sermon, he explains why Woodland Hills wants to be aligned with a church tradition, and why specifically an Anabaptist tradition.

He began by laying out the Biblical basis for being a part of a tradition, appealing to the Deuteronomic call to remember and teaching on tradition in 1 Corinthians 11.

After speaking of good aspects of tradition, he then proclaimed Woodland Hills Church’s solidarity with the Anabaptist tradition. “When we talk about the Anabaptists, we’re talking about ourselves. It’s not because we tried to sound like the Anabaptists, it’s just that we have grown in that direction and realized that that in fact is the tribe and tradition that we are most lined up with.”

Boyd then went on to explain what Anabaptism is and how it came into existence. He began by showing a sharp change in Christianity at the time of Constantine. He explained how Constantine treated the Christian God just like any other pagan god, erecting churches (temples) for God, focusing on doctrine rather than practice, and using the sword in the name of religion.

“It changes everything…because we always conform to the God we worship… before Constantine, people trusted the power of self-sacrificial love to change the world, to spread the Gospel, but after Constantine they start trusting the power of the sword to conquer the world for Jesus.” He went on to point out other distinctions between pre- and post- Constantinian Christianity including a shift from a focus on a transformed life to a focus on correct belief. He said that Christianity begin to look more like pagan religions “where the important thing is not about your life. It’s about what you believe…And it’s about spreading that doctrine, because that’s what keeps people out of hell. And so you want to conquer the world in the name of that doctrine.” Though many saw this development as good, Anabaptists did not see this as a work of God but as a work of the devil.

While there have always been dissenters from the institutional church, Boyd said “The Anabaptists are the first dissenting group that survived to tell about it.” He then chronicled their history in the 1500s, including the great persecution they received.

Though the movement became associated with baptizing, this is not the most important distinction of Anabaptism. He summed up the Anabaptist movement with a slogan by Hans Denck: “No one can know Jesus who does not follow him in this life.”

Boyd pointed out that the Anabaptists are the only ones who take the Sermon on the Mount really seriously–they see it as their “Magna Carta.” They see “loving your enemies and refusing to engage in violence as the precondition for being called a child of God, which really ticked off everybody else because they wanted to use the sword and this would mean that they aren’t really children of God.”

Boyd assured Woodland Hills that they are not changing anything the church is doing, but rather finding a tribe with their same convictions. He then went on to explain why Woodland Hills was thinking about becoming part of the Anabaptist tradition, showing how it will be beneficial both to Anabaptists and to Woodland Hills.

Though I have my differences with Boyd’s theology, his conviction to root his church body in a tradition is noble and something I can support. It will be interesting to see what denomination Woodland Hills joins and how his congregation responds to the change.

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