From the beginning of the Anabaptist movement, there has been a strong emphasis on simplicity of lifestyle. Some of this was initially required because of intense persecution wherein there was no possible security in material things. Early Anabaptists were on the run and were not able to accumulate goods.

This eventually changed and our forefathers became owners of property. Hard work and good management resulted in economic prosperity that resulted, in turn, in more complex lifestyles. It would seem that this wealth and complexity of lifestyle led to an assimilation into the world around. When assimilation did not happen, wealthy Anabaptists tended to set up colonies of isolation and lost their evangelistic fervor. Seldom did those who accumulated wealth and possessions maintain Biblical simplicity.

Biblical Anabaptism was founded on the principles stated in 1 Timothy 6:6-10. Therefore, personal wealth is either to be distributed to the cause of the Gospel or used to influence the cause of Christ. Wealth should not be used to “tear down old barns and build bigger ones.” Rather one should ask what is needful to glorify God. Are the fancy things in this life going to matter a million years from now? Can we even agree on what is needful? Are we willing to allow our brotherhoods to speak into our lives on these matters or does the spirit of American independence reign? (The contents of my pocketbook are no one else’s business.) Do we live to impress the Lord or our neighbor?

Living simply is most difficult in the land of the American dream. Most of us consistently have more than we need and the more we have the more we want while the world goes to Hell.

What would the early Anabaptists (the radicals of the reformation era) say to us if they were to see us now?

Written by: Paul Emerson

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