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The Anabaptist Tradition

A Living Witness

David C. Cramer
David C. Cramer
David C. Cramer (PhD, Baylor University) is teaching pastor at Keller Park Church in South Bend, Indiana, and managing editor at the Institute of Mennonite Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.

Forged in the revolutionary tumult of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, the Anabaptist tradition is known less for its preachers than for its martyrs. Indeed, outside the Bible, the most significant text within the Anabaptist tradition is the Martyr’s Mirror. And yet, in the New Testament the word from which we derive “martyr” also carries the connotation of “witness.” The early Anabaptists not only offered their lives for their faith but also, through their lives and speech, provided a witness to a Kingdom that challenges the pretensions of state and empire.

This is not to say that Anabaptists deemphasize the art of sermonizing. For many Anabaptist groups, the title used for a pastor or elder is simply preacher. According to the 1527 Schleitheim Confession, a foundational document for Anabaptists, the role of the pastor is “to read, to admonish and teach, to warn, to discipline, . . . and in all things to see to the care of the body of Christ, in order that it may be built up and developed, and the mouth of the slanderer be stopped.” This was the task Menno Simons assumed for himself as he shepherded the fledgling Anabaptist movement through his itinerant preaching in the first half of the sixteenth century. Known as the “evangelical preacher,” Menno preached a distinctly Christocentric message, adopting as his life motto Paul’s words: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11 NRSV).


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