What influences my decisions and the way that I live? Am I more concerned about how others might think about me or am I more focused on what God desires of me?
For the Anabaptist, it was what God desires of them. They referred to this as “fear of God.” The “fear of God” is a motivation for consistent living of biblical faith rather than a fear of penalty. They had real motivation to stand firm in your beliefs despite the pressures from surrounding visible society. The Anabaptists went to their deaths at the hands of human authorities rather than turn from their beliefs. Their “fear of God” exceeded their fear of human authority. The human authority may take this life from us but God can condemn us for the rest of eternity. When you hold such a belief, fearing God takes priority.
Snyder (2004) describes the Anabaptist attitude when he says “God, the almighty creator of heaven, earth and of all things on earth, is a living God who has promised salvation to those who repent, return to him and obey him. He also has promised judgement and condemnation for those who persist in unbelief and self-willed disobedience” (p 31). While I don't hold any more to the gospel of salvation in the life to come, I do see God's salvation as being worked out in this life. In the prayer that Jesus taught, he said “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That isn't about a future salvation but of a new kingdom coming now. One that lives according to God's will and purpose. This new kingdom issues in God's shalom, an active peace that works for reconciliation. Those who fear God ahead of all else, will seek to live out this new kingdom in this age. The “fear of God” in this context is the only door to salvation and obedience to his commands.
The Anabaptist attitude is often illustrated with the story of Dirk Willems who was escaping from his persecutors when one of the chasers fell through the ice, Dirk returned to help his chaser. He knew that his return to assist would mean his arrest and death but Jesus command was to “love your enemies” so Dirk returned, was arrested and was burnt to death for his beliefs.
Snyder summarises this as “The 'fear of God' is the biblical door that stands at the beginning of the path back to God because it describes the necessary attitude and frame of mind needed to get reality back into proper focus” (p 32). That is any pressure from this world to turn from God and what he desires of us are seen as of little consequence compared with what God desires of us.
Howard Behar (2009) talks of being true to oneself. When we fear society and the views of others then we will act to reduce our fear of their opinions and views and be inconsistent to ourselves. Being true to ourselves helps build confidence and provides inner peace.
For the Anabaptist, the fear of God provides the foundation for being true to oneself. The fear of God is the first principle of Anabaptist spirituality. Everything else is subordinate to this principle.
The second principle is to treat all people as equals. No person is regarded as having authority over an Anabaptist believer. God and his principles come first. All persons are subservient to God and should be treated as equals (Snyder 2004, pp 33-35). God treats all people as equals and so should the believer.
The next principle is that of repentance. In the Anabaptist view, we can choose to be disobedient to God's will but if we fear God then we will only sin inadvertently. When we become aware of our sin, we should immediately repent and God will forgive. Snyder quotes Joost de Tollenner who says “Have God always before your eyes in all your ways and seek to please Him with an upright heart; and God shall be with you, and have compassion upon your weakness, and look past your sin when it comes upon you unawares through ignorance \and misapprehension” (p 37). If God is before our eyes then we will endeavour to act in accordance with what we believe he desires and true to ourselves.
This leads directly to the idea of yielding to God's will and “what God wishes to accomplish through one's life” (p 41). The 'fear of God' clearly leads to this willingness to yield to God's will. It also reflects a belief in the integrity of God and that God will not treat those who trust in him unfairly. There is, however, a willingness to accept suffering at the hands of others because there is a focus on God. The willingness to suffer is also accepted because Christ suffered and showed willingness to suffer (p 45). If Christ was rejected by the world, should the believer expect it to be any different.
The Anabaptist understanding of faith, works, and salvation is based on the belief that if a person has accepted Christ as their saviour and his redemptive action on the cross then they will seek to live out that faith in what they do and say. The Anabaptist faith comes from the belief "that Christ must be born in the heart of every believer (by grace through faith), and that this birth was a transforming power that produced actual (not imputed) righteousness" (p 52). Faith must be accompanied by a transforming power leading to living "a new life as a condition" for our commuted sentence. That is Christ didn't die that the believer might continue as they had always been. If a person accepts the free gift of power to change the way that they live then salvation is not separable from a change in lifestyle.
Belief isn't an add on to a Christian life. It is the beginning of a transforming Christian life. Our acceptance of God's gift of salvation is proven "by means of concrete response and action" (p 54). God's grace "is a living power that actually transforms sinners, here and now" (p 55). God's grace isn't passive, it is active in transforming the person who accepts that grace. As a consequence God's grace will be evident in the life of the believer.
The Hutterites express this in their writings as people "can never be born again until they hear the Word in their hearts and obey it, as Christ taught us" (p 60). The acceptance of this life changing grace is a covenant decision and not something that God forces on us. He makes it freely available to us. We can decide to accept or reject it.
For the Anabaptist scripture is lived out in the believer's life. Although they were clear on the biblical support for their actions, the memorisation of scripture was so that it become a living part of their lives and not something to be quoted as and when required. "The very essence of the spiritual walk, then, is to be prepared to follow after Christ in word and deed. This is done, not out of heroic acts of the will, but by the power of God, born of God's living Word in the heart" (p 63).
This ability to live out the faith stems from "the presence of God" in the believer's life (p 64). Snyder contends that "The experienced presence of God is to be sought in repentance and submission to God ... In the second place, the presence of God defines the experience of rebirth without which, the Anabaptists maintained, there could be no new life" (p 64). Faith is about coming into the presence of God and allowing God to transform everything about our lives. For the anabaptist, God's presence wasn't "one of ineffable rapture," a feeling of contentment and peace, "God's presence was an experienced power that led them to repentance, to a new life in community and to a Christ-like life in the world. It was God's immediate presence and power that strengthened them in the midst of their suffering" (p 66).
C. Arnold Snyder (2004) Following in the footsteps of Christ: The anabaptist tradition. New York: Orbis Books.
Howard Behar (2009) It's not about the coffee. Portfolio.