The Anabaptist Vision

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The Anabaptist Vision was the title of Harold S. Bender's presidential address to the American Society of Church History in 1943. Bender posited discipleship, i.e., following Jesus in life and under the cross, as the essence of Anabaptism, especially by comparison with Protestantism. He contrasted discipleship to faith (Luther), the first leading to patterns of Christian life, the second to theology. Second, the "Anabaptist Vision" meant a new church, with voluntary membership, separation from the world, persecution, and the exercise of brotherhood and sisterhood in economic affairs (mutual aid). Third, love and nonresistance applied to all human relationships.

Historians of Bender's time emphasized synthesis and especially the search for essence, e.g., trying to define the essence of the Renaissance. Secular scholars, as well as Christians, especially Mennonites, warmly accepted his formulation of Anabaptist essence. It fitted the historiographical mood, and its evidence made it credible. European scholars saw Anabaptist discipleship in the prior work of Johannes Kühn. And many Christians were reading the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the 1960s and 1970s the "Anabaptist Vision" came under attack, usually indirectly, on grounds of over-idealization. Did Bender denigrate too many bona fide Anabaptists as marginal because they did not fit his discipleship definition? The "Anabaptist Vision" continues to inspire many Mennonites.


Bender, Harold S. "The Anabaptist Vision." Church History 13 (1944): 3-24; and Mennonite Quarterly Review 18 (1944): 67-88, many reprints in several languages. See the full text, with footnotes.

Hershberger, Guy F., ed. The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision. Scottdale, Pa. : Herald Press, 1957, including Franklin H. Littell's answer to Bender on discipleship vs. the church as essence of Anabaptism.

Kauffman, J. Howard and Harder, Leland, eds. Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: A Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1975: 114ff.

Packull, Werner O. "Some Reflections on the State of Anabaptist History: The Demise of a Normative Vision." Studies in Religion 8 (1979): 313-23.

Weaver, J. Denny. "The Work of Christ."' Mennonite Quarterly Review 59 (1985): 107-29.

Gross, Leonard. "Recasting the Anabaptist Vision." Mennonite Quarterly Review 60 (1986): 352-363.

Kühn, Johannes. Toleranz und Offenbarung. Leipzig: Meiner, 1923.

Author(s) John S Oyer
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Oyer, John S. "The Anabaptist Vision." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 1 Oct 2023.

APA style

Oyer, John S. (1989). The Anabaptist Vision. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 1 October 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 26. All rights reserved.

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