Anabaptism: a living tradition inspiring the church in Belgrade

Anabaptism: a living tradition inspiring the church in Belgrade

Alexandra Ellish - December 01, 2017

In early October I was in the Balkans, visiting Belgrade Baptist church and participating as part of their celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Stuart Murray Williams (tutor in Mission, and Director of the Centre for Anabaptist Studies at Bristol Baptist College, UK) and I were invited by Pastor Dane Vidovic to explore the significance for the Reformation of a subsequent movement - the radical reformation - which was initiated by the Anabaptists who felt that the Reformation wasn’t going far enough. We might consider these early Anabaptists as ‘cousins’ to the first Baptists, and our Baptist family owe much to these Anabaptist pioneers. Over two days, we looked at Anabaptist values and practices, both historical and contemporary; Anabaptist hermeneutics; and how we might practically embed some of the radical convictions of the Anabaptist tradition in our church communities today.

The Anabaptists of the 16th century were a rag-tag bunch which included ex-priests and monks, poor and uneducated folks, theologians and writers. The early Anabaptists wanted to abolish the tithe, the practice of usury, and military service. They were committed to the separation of church and state and the centrality of the life of Jesus for the community of followers. These early Anabaptists also believed that Jesus taught the way of non-violence as a key distinctive of the church.

Our 21st century context differs significantly from theirs in a number of ways, however there are also interesting places of resonance with their experience and ours as we travel further into post-Christendom. The subject which most captured the imaginations and enthusiasm of the church in Belgrade centred around a key Anabaptist conviction: that Jesus in the person of the Holy Spirit is present and active in every member of the church community and that each person has something to give, say or contribute in the life of the community. This can happen both within the context of the church as it gathers for worship and nurtures reflective & counter-cultural disciples; as well within the missional action of God through the church: to offer hospitality and welcome, to share the shalom of God and work for peace, to visit the sick and imprisoned. It was exciting to listen to people discussing what they wanted to develop in their church community; what ideas they wanted to explore, and how they might more faithfully follow Jesus with their various gifts, passions and talents.

It was my first time in Serbia and it was privilege to meet, worship with and learn from brothers and sisters from this part of world. We were staying with Dane and his wife Melita in their home in Belgrade. They are a joyful, charismatic couple who have dedicated their lives to Christian ministry and serving the church. It was a real honour to be invited to preach and teach in a Balkan context; a part of the world which I had not visited before. It was a wonderful visit and we were so blessed by the welcome, generosity and care which Dane and Melita showed us. I hope that it will not be my last visit!

Photos: Alexandra Ellish

Alexandra Ellish is a Baptist minister who is part of a church-planting team based on the outskirts of east London, UK. She also works for the Anabaptist Network and for Urban Expression. In 2007-2009 she worked in the EBF office in Prague as part-time office assistant.