Welcome to my Blog. I’m Steve Langton, I’m a Christian, and this blog is about my take on issues facing the Church today. I’m not greatly worried about denominational labels as such; I guess ‘Brethren’ is the best fit among the usual British groups, but I’m currently with a local Baptist Church, there are many Independent fellowships I’d be happy to belong to, and as I believe in going to a reasonably local place I could stretch even to an Anglican church if nothing else were readily available. I’m broadly evangelical but not a dumb wooden literalist ‘fundamentalist’ – I’ll no doubt blog about that at some point in the future.
I am quite involved in the British Anabaptist movement. A brief explanation ….
‘Anabaptist’ means literally ‘rebaptisers’. For much of church history since the 4th Century the Church was an ‘established’ state religion and in the interests of unity in society it was conventional to baptise/christen babies or very young children. But particularly since the Reformation there have been many who have believed that this was not the original practice, and that the New Testament teaches a very different view of state/church relations, and as part of that the NT also teaches ‘Believer’s Baptism’ – baptising those old enough to do their own believing. In the state church model everyone had been baptised as a baby, so those who baptised believers were seen by the state church as ‘re-baptising’, so ‘ana-baptists’. In Britain those who baptised believers were part of the Puritan movement, which nearly took over after our Civil War in the 1640s, and many continued to believe in some sort of ‘Christian country’, and to these days English Baptists and Americans and others derived from the English movement can be a bit ambiguous about their relation to the state.
On mainland Europe things went a bit differently. In the confused times of the Reformation there were ‘Anabaptists’ who sought to establish Christian states, earthly kingdoms of God. One major group in Germany took over the city of Munster; in the subsequent siege, their practices became more extreme and questionable. Eventually they were roundly defeated in a massacre not unlike the recent siege in Waco, though on a larger scale. Other Anabaptists realised this was wrong on both sides – Christians should not be warring and killing one another (or anyone else) on behalf of their faith. This led to a distinctive position of Christians who rejected State Churches, rejected infant baptism, and generally took a pacifist stance. Not all the original groups have survived into the modern world, but most people will have heard of the Amish – who perhaps are a bit extreme! There are also large bodies of Mennonites (named for an early leader, Menno Simons) and Hutterites. In modern times it has proved convenient to use the ‘Anabaptist’ label to distinguish this tradition from that more ambivalent English/American Baptist tradition.
In America distinct Anabaptist congregations are widespread; in Britain things are a bit different. There are a few Mennonite and Hutterite groups, but rather than try to set up a distinct denomination replicating all the dress codes and other traditions that have developed among the older groups, there is a Mennonite Centre (now based in Birmingham) and a broad ‘Anabaptist Network’ who seek to spread the key distinctive ideas of the Anabaptists to whoever is interested; the local Anabaptist study group to which I belong are mostly Baptists but there are others of different denominations or from independent congregations.
For myself, though I’ve always been a political liberal, positive interest in the Anabaptists developed in my university years in the late 60s when I saw the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ kick off and realised that the ‘Christian country’ thinking underlying that violence was unbiblical. Again, I’ll probably eventually blog about that in more detail….
There were moments when this might have been “Steve’s Anabaptist Blog” or “Steve’s Disestablishmentarian Blog”; but I decided that both of those were a bit too narrow in implication. I’m not a totally traditional Mennonite or whatever, and I’m concerned with much wider issues than the Anglican or other ‘establishments’. So I settled for the English phrase ‘Free Church’ meaning primarily Christians not entangled with the state and arguably compromised by those entanglements; but also Christians who, though they care for and are involved in the communities in which they live, don’t aim to dominate and boss the state or expect special privilege in the state.
What I’ve done for the moment is that in advance of setting up the blog I’ve written several essays, some topical, some less so, which I propose to release on the blog every few weeks; then as things develop I’ll add both new material and responses to any comments from the people (I’m optimistically hoping for at least two!) who may read the blog.