Drawing on Menno and other Radical Reformers, twentieth-century Anabaptist historian Harold Bender identified an “Anabaptist Vision” that encompasses three emphases: Christianity as discipleship to Jesus, the church as a “brotherhood” or fellowship of believers, and the Christian ethic as love and nonresistance. This vision still guides Anabaptist preaching, which tends to focus more on the practical aspects of discipleship, community, and peacemaking than on more cerebral or doctrinal aspects of the faith.
Traditional Mennonites, Amish, and other Anabaptist groups are sometimes known as “the quiet in the land” as they focus on discipleship and peacemaking within their own communities and leave state governments to govern as they please. Sermons in these communities are often simple and extempore, as preachers are traditionally selected from within the community and lack formal theological training. But the Anabaptist vision has also influenced some of the most culturally significant, rhetorically eloquent, and prophetically radical preaching in the United States. The great Baptist preacher Walter Rauschenbusch was inspired by his study of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists to spark the social gospel movement in the United States and later to speak out against the United States’ involvement in World War I. Likewise, Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous 1967 Riverside Church speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” was penned by historian Vincent Harding, an adult convert to the Mennonite faith.
At its best, Anabaptist sermonizing continues to call Christians to simple lives of discipleship, community, and peacemaking, while maintaining a prophetic witness toward societies bent on materialism, individualism, and violence.