Kreiders bring good news of the demise of Christendom

Christendom in Britain is dying--giving Christianity has a chance to be reborn.

This was the message two former missionaries brought to the Believers Church Lecture Series March 20-22 at Fresno Pacific University. Alan and Eleanor Kreider spent 26 years in England with the Anabaptist Network and the Mennonite Board of Missions. “The demise of Christendom is good news for Christianity,” Alan said

“There's Life in the Roots,” was the name of their series, which consisted of three presentations at Butler Mennonite Brethren Church. Individuals talks were “Coming Home: Anabaptism in Post-Christendom England,” “Economical with the Truth: Anabaptist Insights on Swearing and Lying” and “Multivoiced Worship: Anabaptist Protest and Biblical Ideal.”

All three events share a single end. “To indicate that Anabaptism is a major resource to Christianity in post-Christendom,” Alan said. What is often called the decline of Christianity is actually the decline of “Christendom,” or the partnership between government and church, Eleanor said.

Separation of church and state, a basic tenet of Anabaptism since its beginnings in the 16thCentury Protestant Reformation, is good for the church, the Kreiders said. Anabaptists patterned their faith after the early Christian church, which created a community of equal believers who studied the Bible, baptized only willing adults and renounced violence. Mostly, they put Christ at the center of their everyday lives. “It always boils down to that,” Eleanor said.

On the other hand, centuries of state churches, compulsory prayer and other official links between government and religion have failed to make people more pious. In England, for example, the Queen is the defender of the faith and bishops sit in Parliament, yet only 7.5 percent of the people go to church. “People are stopping going to church in droves,” Alan said.

When the church blends with government the church becomes coercive, the Kreiders said. So many people have been scarred by evangelism that has forced a particular practice as well as faith that they reject all evangelism. “Anabaptists were evangelistic while allowing for choice,” Alan said.

Though the United States is built on separation of church and state, many Americans support practices, such as enforced prayer in schools and laws requiring stores to close on Sunday, that smack of Christendom. “I'm sure Christendom has been idealized,” Eleanor said. “It's easier.”

Easy, but false. “Christianity can't rely on the state. It must rely on the Holy Spirit,” Alan said.

The wisdom of voluntary worship is gaining hold. In England people from many denominations are embracing Anabaptist ideas and carrying them to their own churches. “From a Roman Catholic abbot to a Pentecostal Bible teacher, they all call themselves Anabaptists but remain within their own denomination,” Alan said.

 Anabaptism's gift to the wider church is that it was around before Christendom, and can serve in its aftermath. “There’s life in Christianity, but it’s the life in the roots. There’s life in Anabaptism because we’re from the roots,” Alan said.

Since returning to the United States in 1991, the Kreiders serve as mission educators for the Mennonite Mission Network and as adjunct faculty at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana. Alan is the author or editor of 11 books and Eleanor of three. Together they wrote Becoming a Peace Church.

The Believers Church Lecture Series is funded through an endowment established by Herbert and Jessica Penner, Bakersfield, California.