Photo Friday: The Global Anabaptist Family

E. J. Swalm stands by bridge

Brethren in Christ bishop E. J. Swalm stands at the spot along the Aere River in Berne, Switzerland where 16th-century Anabaptists were put into a weighted cage and lowered into the water until they died. Then they were raised to be replaced with the next victim. (Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

Mennonite World Conference (MWC), founded in 1925, is a global fellowship of Anabaptist-related churches. Some regular readers of the blog may know that I currently serve with this organization; others may know that MWC’s next global gathering (called an Assembly) will be held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in summer 2015.

The North American Brethren in Christ have long been involved in this world-wide body of Christ — at least as far back as 1957, when Canadian bishop and nonresistance advocate E. J. Swalm participated in that year’s MWC Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany. (According to records, he was accompanied on his trip by fellow Brethren in Christ leaders Charlie B. Byers and C. N. Hostetter, Jr.)

Before and after the assembly in Karlsruhe, Swalm traveled around Europe, often visiting historical sites related to 16th-century Anabaptism, or fellowshipping with European Mennonite leaders he knew. He occasionally published notes from his travels in the Evangelical Visitor. The following excerpt comes from a missive published in the September 9, 1957 issue of that publication:

My dear readers, we broke our conversation with you at Basle, Switzerland where we spent a few hours and did some shopping.
. . . Later in the day we called on Rev. Samuel Gerber, President of the Swiss Mennonites who is a farmer high in the Alps. He is a very spiritual man with a strong passion for evangelism. After having a little prayer meeting, we went on our journey arriving at Berne about sunset.

Berne is a large city, famous for its miles of Arcades along the main street, also rich in Anabaptist history. Here in the Aare River early Mennonites were drowned one by one because their faith held them steadfast in Christ. We felt a sense of holy awe as we walked down the cobble stone street toward the bridge where scores of them took their last earthly journey before they stepped on heaven’s shores.

The Brethren in Christ have continued to be well-represented within Mennonite World Conference in the intervening years. For instance, former MWC president Nancy Heisey grew up as the child of Brethren in Christ missionary parents. The current MWC president is Danisa Ndlovu, bishop of the Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe. And many North American and Global South Brethren in Christ leaders participate in various levels of MWC administration and leadership, from the Executive Committee to the four Commissions to the leadership for the Pennsylvania 2015 Assembly.

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I Can’t Wait to Read This Book!

Apostles of Reason

Apostles of Reason

In my day job at Messiah College, I keep running into people who are reading Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism. The book chronicles a broad swath of Evangelical history — from the 1940s and the emergence of public figures like Billy Graham, to the recent present (i.e., 2000s). As you might suspect, Worthen covers a lot of ground, seeking to show how Evangelicalism in America is beset by a “crisis of authority.” Evangelicals, claims Worthen, emphasize the “authority” of Scripture (through interpretive strategies that vary widely across the Evangelical spectrum) while at the same time lacking a central authority figure (like the Pope in the Catholic tradition). Worthen suggests that this crisis is what makes Evangelicalism incredibly complex, fragmented, and difficult to understand.

This book has been sitting on my shelf for months. As soon as I get a respite from the semester’s workload, I’m hoping to delve in. From what I can tell, Worthen’s account will undoubtedly shed light on my ongoing research into the historical interactions between the Brethren in Christ and Evangelicals.

In the meantime, check out this review of Worthen’s book by scholar D. G. Hart, at Religion in American History.

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Stories of Costly Discipleship

The Bearing Witness Stories Project website

The Bearing Witness Stories Project website

The Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen College — a Mennonite undergraduate institution in Indiana — has launched an exciting new project, the Bearing Witness Stories Project.

According to the site, the Bearing Witness Stories Project exists to collect and share “the stories of believers from around the world who have continued to bear witness to their faith at great cost.”

The project emerges from the reality that martyr stories have always been important to the Anabaptist tradition. One of the tradition’s most famous texts, Theileman van Braght’s 1660 tome Martyrs’ Mirror, records the stories of the earliest Anabaptist leaders in central Europe — those who gave their lives while standing for their religious convictions in the face of Catholic and Protestant persecution.

Yet while Martyrs’ Mirror collects stories of 16th century Anabaptist martyrs, virtually no attempt has been made to catalog martyr stories since that time. Bearing Witness seeks to fill that gap.

The Bearing Witness site allows users to both read and submit stories.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this site (and its collection of stories) develop over the coming months and years!

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Read the Earliest Brethren in Christ Confessions of Faith

BIC_confession_of_faithThe earliest Brethren in Christ/River Brethren confessions of faith are now available online, courtesy of the Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives‘ recent digitization project.

The available confessions — five in all — were compiled and compared in the 1960s and 1970s by Martin H. Schrag, a Brethren in Christ historian and Messiah College professor. These documents provide significant insight into the character and convictions of those who came together in the late 17th century to form the River Brethren (later Brethren in Christ) communities.

Here’s an excerpt from Schrag’s theological analysis of the confessions (which is also available for download alongside the confessions):

The theological evidence has been distilled through a theological analysis of the Confession. This has been done in some detail, and the conclusion of the analysis is that the founding fathers of the River Brethren sought to integrate the Pietist emphasis of the deeply felt crisis new-birth experience with the Anabaptist-Mennonite understanding of the church and the relationship of the church to the world. The content of the Confession is at one with the Pietist concept of conversion and the Anabaptist view of the church.

These two traditions were active in Lancaster County in the decades surrounding the founding of the River Brethren. A Pietist oriented awakening transpired in those decades. The renewal was felt among the Pennsylvania Germans, including the Mennonites and German Baptist Brethren. The converts of the revival gradually crystallized as the United Brethren. The River Brethren were at one with the emerging United Brethren in relation to the understanding of the new birth. At the same time, they believed that the Bible called for a new corporate existence among Christians. Thus they combined the belief in the crisis new birth with the Anabaptist-rooted conception that the church is the new society living a life of brotherhood, love and mutuality. The church was to be the visible community of the redeemed living in keeping with the New Testament Church and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To the first River Brethren salvation was both an individual matter and a group reality. Christ calls people not only to personal holiness, but also into a new holy community.

Glen Pierce, denominational archivist, has provided the following instructions for accessing and downloading the confessions, using the Archives’ online catalog:

  1. Go to
  2. On the main Archives home page, click on “Collections” under the TITLE BAR.
  3. Select “Digital Collection” which is the last item on the SIDE BAR.
  4. Click on the “Online Catalog” link which is in the short second paragraph.  That takes you to the keyword search panel.  (Note, at this point, you can search for a variety of items if you know what you are looking for.  Or you can click on “Random Images” or go browsing through the various records that we have uploaded in our initial phase.  We have several hundred additional documents which will be uploaded, probably next week.)
  5. To retrieve a copy of Dr. Schrag’s comparison of various River Brethren confessions of faith — enter the keyword “Schrag” into the search bar.
  6. On the Results screen, click on the underlined link:  1000 0000 2078
  7. That brings up the online version of our PastPerfect catalog record for this specific document.  You will note various items of information on the right-side panel, such as “Year Range” and brief descriptions of the various texts: B, L, C, E and O.   You can ignore the names of various people – those links are not yet active.
  8. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and under the last heading (Document Download URL), press on the “Click Here” link.  That will download a searchable PDF document which you may then save to your computer.  It’s a fairly large file, so it will take a few seconds (depending on the speed of your internet connection.)
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More with Less and the Evangelical-Anabaptist Impulse

More with Less cookbook

More with Less cookbook

If you’ve been reading The Search for Piety and Obedience regularly, then you know that Asbury University historian David R. Swartz gave a fantastic Schrag Lecture at Messiah College earlier this month. (The Schrag Lectures are sponsored by the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies, an on-campus research center I direct.) Swartz’s talk focused on the intersections between Anabaptism and Evangelicalism during the 1960s and 1970s.

In his talk, he briefly mentioned More with Less, the Mennonite-published cookbook by Doris Longacre that inspired by Evangelical and Anabaptist audiences when it appeared in 1976.

Over at his blog Moral Minority, Swartz highlights the past and present popularity of More with Less among Christian “simple living” advocates:

Since 1976 the More with Less Cookbook has sold nearly a million copies to Mennonite, Christian Reformed, Covenant, Wesleyan, and Catholic churchgoers. Author Doris Longacre implored reader-chefs to live simply and eat ethically.

It continues to inspire today.

He explains this assertion by referencing a recent blog post by Ben and Heather Kulp of Boston, who have decided to connect their use of the cookbook with their Lenten observance. Here’s a snippet of their idea:

For the next 40 days, we will be taking a Lenten journey through the pages of More-with-Less, cooking exclusively from the over 1,000 recipes Doris Longacre tested and published nearly 40 years ago. We will shop for local ingredients when we can. We will not eat out at restaurants. We will cook from More-with-Less for our friends and enjoy non-More-with-Less meals that others prepare in their homes—hospitality is one of the cornerstones of a more-with-less lifestyle, after all.

To read more of their reflection, click here.

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Looking to Learn More About Anabaptism?

The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College

The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College

Then you might want to check out “Anabaptist Faith,” a series of lectures being sponsored by the Spring Senior Life Institute at Highland Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, PA.

According to the Highland Church’s website, the three-class course will begin April 3 and will feature speakers from the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College: Donald Kraybill, senior fellow; Jeff Bach, director; and Edsel Burdge, research associate.

Here’s some info from the site:

Class 1 on April 3 offers a broad overview of the Anabaptist movement with a focus on historical and faith practice perspectives. On April 7 the Young Center will be hosting a morning tour for class participants. Participants are asked to provide their own transportation to the Young Center on the campus of Elizabethtown College. Class 2 on April 24 features a study of the Amish and other “plain groups”. A question and answer session will be conducted with Stephen Blank, a local Amish businessman. Class 3 on May 8 reviews current faith perspectives on peace and baptism. Young Center speakers will review the Mennonites and other “assimilated groups. Each of the three classes meets from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Fellowship Hall, and includes lunch and conversation with the presenters.

Lancaster News highlighted this interesting program in last week’s issue. Here’s a taste:

Bach . . . gives an example of what people can learn in the Senior Life Institute by telling a story about taking some foreign students to visit an Amish family last year.

“The students were surprised at how friendly the Amish people were and how easily they talked about their family life,” Bach says. “In that visit, I think the foreign students realized that the Amish are trying to hold onto meaningful family life even as the culture around them changes so fast.

“(They) realized that the Amish ask themselves some of the same kinds of questions that modern people ask about how to maintain meaningful relationships. The Amish have a different set of filters to try to slow down the influence of the outside world. (The students) came away from that visit wondering what they could do to enrich their own relationships with others.”

For more information, check out the Senior Life Institute website.

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Spring Break!

spring-breakIt’s Spring Break at Messiah College this week, and I’m glad to have a short respite from my work as both an adjunct professor and Sider Institute director. My wife and I are taking a weeklong vacation: spending part of the time at a cabin near Harrisonburg, VA (where Mother Nature just dropped 10-plus inches of snow!) and the rest of the time in Washington, D.C.

I’m also taking a break from The Search for Piety and Obedience. We have a whole bunch of posts planned for next week, but for now we’re going offline.

Be sure to check out our Facebook fan page, and like us if you haven’t already. While I’m “away” from blogging this week, I’ll use our Facebook page to post some of the blog’s “greatest hits” to get you ready for next week’s return.

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