As I continue on my faith journey, I find myself drawing ever closer to the description of “Anabaptist.” I grew up in a Christian Church/Church of Christ, went to college/seminary at a Baptist school, then took my first pastorate at a “Bapticostal” non-denominational church. I’ve never been too fond of denominational labels, as they’re usually used to “other” rather than bring together, but, through the influence of Shane Claiborne, Drew Hart, Ron Sider, Scot McKnight, and others, I’ve slowly drifted toward Anabaptist philosophy.
It’s only natural, then, that I sought out a primer of sorts for Anabaptism, and found the Small Books of Radical Faith series to be a solid starting point. This volume, What is the Church? outlines, in brief, the ecclesiology of Anabaptist faith and the role and function of the church body. David Fitch breaks it down into six simple chapters that root the church as a practicing community of believers through whom God works.
This definition would revolutionize much of Christianity if we would accept it. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed to us, and the world, that many segments of Christianity were focused only on a once-a-week physical gathering. And while I don’t want to downplay the need for such a gathering, Fitch is careful to define church as a body rather than an experience. It’s not something that we go to or have done to is, it is something we are and work out ourselves.
In the concluding chapter, Fitch argues for three different types of gathering in church: the close circle (a committed small group of believers), the dotted circle (a larger community of believers), and the open circle (wherever the church takes the Gospel and Christ’s presence is revealed at work). Nowhere in that definition, or anywhere else in the book, does Fitch talk church polity or buildings, organizational structure or order of service. For Fitch, and for Anabaptism in general, church is much more informal and personal.
If you’ve been looking for a new way of doing church or if you’ve found yourself turned off by the way your local church body is being the church, or if you’re a church leader wanting to move your church to action, What is the Church? is the groundwork for developing a true ecclesia in your communities.