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The Anabaptist View of the Church (Dissent and Nonconformity) [Paperback]

By Franklin H. Littell (Author)
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Item description for The Anabaptist View of the Church (Dissent and Nonconformity) by Franklin H. Littell...

The Anabaptist View of the Church (Dissent and Nonconformity) by Franklin H. Littell

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Item Specifications...

Studio: The Baptist Standard Bearer
Pages   256
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.19" Width: 5.95" Height: 0.64"
Weight:   0.82 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 6, 2001
Publisher   The Baptist Standard Bearer
Series  Dissent and Nonconformity  
ISBN  157978836X  
ISBN13  9781579788360  

Availability  64 units.
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More About Franklin H. Littell

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Franklin H. Littell is Emeritus Professor of Religion at Temple University and a longtime adjunct professor at Hebrew University. He was chief Protestant adviser to the U.S. High Commissioner in postwar Germany. He is the author of numerous books, including The Crucifixion of the Jews, The German Phoenix, and Religious Liberties in the Crossfire of Creeds. He lives in Philadelphia.

Franklin H. Littell lived in Atlanta, in the state of Georgia. Franklin H. Littell was born in 1917 and died in 2009.

Franklin H. Littell has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Dissent and Nonconformity

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General

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Review of The Anabaptist View of the Church  Dec 6, 2004
In this foundational study of Anabaptist history and thought, Franklin H. Littell calls for a complete re-assessment of the notoriously ambiguous label "Anabaptist." Littell, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Temple University, challenges traditional interpretations of Anabaptism by utilizing primary sources. Ironically, as Littell notes, historians of the last 400 years have made little use of Anabaptist writings when dealing with Anabaptism. Also, the scarcity of primary sources (at least until the twentieth-century), abundance of hostile polemical writings, and tendentious citation of secondary sources illustrate poor historiographical discipline where Anabaptism is concerned. The Anabaptist View of the Church seeks to correct this centuries-long mistake.
Littell begins with the problem of Anabaptism's essence. Littell clearly states that no complete uniformity can be found in the early years of the radical movement. However, this quintessential question of a single essence cannot be answered without looking at the major reform centers (Wittenberg, Zurich, and Strassburg). Littell quickly points out the ambivalent relationship between the reformers in each city and the flocks of radicals that arrived. The Munster debacle was a watershed event in the relationship between the radicals and reformers. Unfortunately, revolution came to be seen as a major element of all "Anabaptists" after the peasant's revolt and failure at Munster.
It is a fact that some pockets of radicalism (i.e., Munster) were revolutionary, but certainly not all. The "Maccabean" type of radicalism, as Littell calls it, held firmly to an eschatological view of reform. In this light, the church-state tensions "can be reduced by a theocratic attempt of the elect to gain control of the centers of power and to govern the world as though it were the church." The radical leaders in Munster instituted a "Davidic" dynasty with a foreshortened eschatology. The revolutionary spirit present in Munster is typical of many eschatalogically driven movements: push ahead, no matter the cost! But, the revolutionary spirit present in Munster was atypical of Anabaptists. In the end, after Munster, the reformers were, for the most part, unable to distinguish between the revolutionary radicals, and the quiet radicals. As a result, widespread prejudice and persecution sought all radicals. What began as control through confiscation and exile, culminated in forcible extinction.
While Anabaptists (violent and non-violent) were intolerable in most of Europe, Phillip of Hesse offered a tolerable haven for religious dissenters. In Hesse there was no death-penalty or outright rejection of ecclesiastical reform. In fact, Phillip himself was a primitivist who also desired a return to apostolic Christianity. Littell aptly points out that Phillip of Hesse emerged as an early voice for religious tolerance out of the horrors of religious persecution in the sixteenth-century. The success of his tolerant policies should not be a footnote in the larger discussion.
By the end of chapter one, Littell continues to work out a viable understanding of Anabaptism's essence. "All of this indicates that the movement is not susceptible to a facile interpretation." With such an array of groups scattered across Europe, one cannot argue for a simple definition of Anabaptism. However, Littell uncovers two recurring themes common to all groups under the "Anabaptist" umbrella: 1) they saw themselves as communities of discipline, and 2) as a community, they constituted the true church.
Chapter two introduces "fall" imagery as a foundational Anabaptist critique of Rome, the reformers, and all of Christendom. Littell connects the idea of a "fall" in Anabaptist thought with religious (and cultural) primitivism. The "True Church" experienced a fall after the apostolic age just as humanity spiraled downward following Eden. There was disagreement among reformers and radicals as to the exact date of the fall, but both groups believed in a tragic failure at some point.
Littell contends that both the nature of the fall, and the method by which it might be corrected, are at the heart of the break between the reformers and radicals. The former were not willing to discard the parish church; the latter believed the whole system to be destroyed beyond repair. Where could the Anabaptists look for a model? Unfortunately, Anabaptists could not look to Rome for a model of ecclesiastical reform. Interestingly, according to the radicals, the reformers had only offered a false hope of mending the broken system and offered nothing in the way of constructive change.
Instead of looking about, they looked to the early church. The common characteristics of the early church's relationship to the world were similar to the situation facing sixteenth-century radicals. Thus, the model of the primitive "pre-fall" community of faith includes the following: pacifism, communism, simplicity, and the importance of the common man. It is clear from these principles that Anabaptism presented more than a simple theological debate. Its prophetic presence and essence called for a re-assessment of the social and political order.
Littell moves on in chapter three to treat the internal nature of the True Church within, the community itself. What are the marks of the True Church according to Anabaptist writings? Littell posits believer's baptism, spiritual government, community, the Lord's Supper, and the authority of civil government (passive obedience) as the Anabaptist marks of the true Christian church. Detailed analysis of each mark is not necessary in a paper such as this, but it should be noted that "the Anabaptist sense of destiny as the Church of the Martyrs is of highest importance." A community of Christians, for the Anabaptists, involved living the life of the persecuted and crucified Christ. Not only did Christ command nachfolge in terms of martyrdom, but the evangelical message of Matthew 28 was equally important.
Littell claims that no texts appear more frequently in Anabaptist confessions of faith and court testimony than those containing the command to evangelize all people. This understanding of the Great Commission stands in stark contrast to that of Rome, and even the reformers. The "radical reformers" believed the command should be taken literally and applies to all Christians, regardless of earthly vocation.
The reformers, on the other hand, believed the apostolic age exhausted the command to evangelize. The "wandering" of the Anabaptists annoyed Luther who wanted to maintain the order of appointed ministers. This orderly view is in keeping with Luther's aging concern for order and stability. For him, the Anabaptist practice of leaving family and job to proclaim the gospel was a harmful and illegitimate understanding of scripture.
Not only did the Anabaptists restore the missionary zeal of the early church, but they did so by holding to a core eschatological belief. Eschatalogical belief, as Littell points out, is a common ground for revolutionaries and nonresistants. In the Anabaptist mind, making disciples and gathering the dispersed faithful were inextricably linked to God's ultimate restitution of the True Church. Littell asserts that the distinguishing mark of the Anabaptist movement is its view of itself as the True Church.
Littell concludes by tracing the history of Anabaptist scholarship. He is convinced that 400 years of scholarly work has misunderstood the Anabaptists. Absolute dependence upon the views of the Reformers, as read in their hostile polemical writings, is to blame for this faulty understanding of the radical reformation. Accordingly, the discovery and release of vital extant Anabaptist primary sources should lead to a belated reworking of Anabaptism's essence.
In conclusion, two words of caution must be added. First, little treatment is given to the role of social-class in Anabaptist life. Which segments of society were attracted to the movement? What role did one's social setting play in the "radical" understanding of the early church? Littell clearly states that most of the educated leaders were killed in the early years; does this vacuum of educated leadership suggest that subsequent "converts" were not educated, or that the educated avoided Anabaptism? Perhaps future studies will shed light on these important sociological questions.
Second, Catholic reaction to Anabaptism is strikingly absent. There are numerous references to the Anabaptist correspondence with the reformers, but where is Rome? Did the Anabaptist polemical agenda depend upon the audience? It is assumed that the radicals were persecuted from both ends, but only the reformers receive attention. How did the responses compare and contrast with those of the reformers? Since Anabaptism was neither Catholic nor Reformed, but was instead a group of distinct groups, it necessarily follows that Roman Catholocism must have played a vital role in Anabaptism's self-awareness.
Critiques aside, The Anabaptist View of the Church is a well-written and immaculately researched scholarly work, to which the sixty-one pages (for only 161 pages of text) of notes and bibliography testify. Any serious student of Christian history should read and reflect on this re-assessment of Anabaptism. Littell has revolutionized Anabaptist scholarship, and his call, ironically, is ad fontes!
Excellent history of the Anabaptists  Aug 15, 2001
This book ignited a new interest in the study of historical Anabaptists and their views. It is well documented and does not show the bias of many previous church historians. The book is not only a history but explains how the Anabaptist view of the church differed from the other Protestant reformers and its influence on modern church life. A good concise view of historical Anabaptist beliefs.

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