Peter Hoover: Radical Anabaptists Today - Part 1

Radical Anabaptists Today: Part 1

Every so often I hear comments like, You Anabaptists have it easy. You grew up surrounded by people following Christ, so everything just comes automatically for you.

While I agree we had godly examples around us during our childhood, and that they taught us many good things, I must tell you that following Christ has never come automatically, or without a life and death struggle. For sure not if we choose to follow him in a radically all-or-nothing way.

For many years I have written about Anabaptists who lived long ago, what they said, and how they stuck to the narrow way, no matter what it cost. This time around, to demonstrate how we must all take the Kingdom of God with violence (Matthew 11:12), how much tenacity, daring, and inner resolution it really takes (regardless of our backgrounds) to follow Christ and not turn back, I will write about real Anabaptists of our generation. Common people, like us, that broke out of the mold, losing all they had for Christ and his Kingdom on earth in our time.

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If you went out looking for them, where would you find such people? In church colleges or smoothly running institutions? In grand relief projects or popular Christian missions, publishing glossy newsletters to bring in the funds? More often than not, modern believers running nicely-organized programs, mission-minded churches highly visible to the world, have the least resemblance to the rough-and-tumble radicals that have kept Christ's Kingdom community alive through two thousand years.

Real Christians have always done and do really surprising things, sometimes accomplishing awesome feats in the power of God, at other times miscalculating or making shocking blunders along the way. Forget about rocking the boat. Jesus' followers persist in upsetting the boats of Christian denominations, over and over. Forget about keeping traditions or keeping a status quo. The only thing real Christians know how to keep, is how to keep Jesus always in view - a challenge that keeps life exciting, for themselves as for all with whom they interact. And to be sure, without really radical Christians, the saving faith we profess would certainly have died out centuries ago.

To reassure you that Christians of this type have not gone extinct in our time, let me tell you about Junior Wanner's Mom and Dad. . . .

One Anabaptist Family

Cruising about Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with his friends, on long summer evenings, nothing seemed too serious for Harry Wanner. True, his parents, Daniel and Jennie Wanner, would not have liked for him to own or drive a car. Neither did they approve of his friends or what they did together. But not yet baptized nor converted Harry did not care. That is, he tried not to care.

Until the day he got his draft papers.

Suddenly, faced with the reality of fighting in Korea (dreadful reports still coming back of the slaughter at Pork Chop Hill), Harry's outlook changed. He knew he could not serve in the army, dropping bombs on frightened villagers, or shoot another man. Even though he would not have admitted it among his friends, deep in his heart he feared God.

The letter from the Draft Board came on a Tuesday morning. That night after chores, Harry rushed over to David Horst's to see their daughter Grace. Startled, she nevertheless agreed to marry him, and on the fifth of June, 1954, they made their vows before a Justice of Peace. Harry was nineteen. Grace had also turned nineteen three months before.

As a married man, Harry stood a stronger chance of getting a military deferment, but how could he claim Conscientious Objector status without belonging to a historic Peace Church (the Mennonites, Quakers, Brethren, Dunkers or the Amish)? Even Harry's parents had not belonged to any church for ten years, having left the Old Order Mennonites during World War II when Civilian Public Service and the buying of war bonds had caused disunity there. Talking it over, the newlyweds decided to sell their car, get a horse and buggy, and ask for baptism among the Stauffer Mennonites that met in an old meetinghouse on the Ephrata Pike, just out of Hinkletown, in Lancaster County. Grace's parents belonged to this congregation and it seemed to make sense.

A year later a son, Christian Wanner, joined the family. In another year, they had another boy they called Warren. The next year a daughter, Virginia, came, and the year following, in 1958, came Harry Wanner Jr. With so many children in a short time, both Harry and Grace earnestly sought the Lord and prayed for their spiritual welfare. Harry turned to reading Menno Simons, and he spoke with the ministers of the Pike congregation about his concerns. Is it necessary that our young people get their own money when they turn sixteen, and spend so many wild years before they settle down?, he asked them. Rather than listen to his concerns, bishop Jacob Stauffer set the Wanners back (excommunicated them) in 1962, for their lack of submission.

What now?

Almost a hundred years before Harry Wanner expressed his concern, a minister among the Stauffer Mennonites

had asked the same things. Samuel Bowman, with a group of supporters, including the Rissler family, believed it unnecessary for young people to grow up "wild". Instead, he wanted a place where parents bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. He said, "Where fathers and sons, mothers and daughters work together in love, most young people will want to serve Christ and get baptized at an early age." In 1886, for the same reason, the Stauffers had put the Bowmans and Risslers out. For nearly a century, they had kept on meeting in their homes and by 1962 their little group consisted of only three families (all Risslers), with a few single girls.

Church at the Risslers

To their great joy, when Harry and Grace Wanner decided to join the Risslers, Harry's parents joined too. The little group revived and ordained Harry to the ministry (after some trepidation about not being able to use the lot, he being the only eligible person in the group). Then, in search of cheaper land and better farming possibilities, Harry and Grace bought a farm in Snyder County, Pennsylvania, two hours drive to the north-west. His parents, Daniel and Jenny Wanner, moved up too. Regular meetings continued with the Risslers, one Sunday a month in Snyder County and one a month in Lancaster, until Harry grew a beard.

In Snyder County, for the first time, Harry made friends with the Amish. Unlike the Amish of Lancaster County, these people seemed humble, down-to-earth, and sincere. They were earnestly trying to live out what they believed. Sam Troyer, the Amish man from whom the Wanners had bought their farm, became an especially good friend, often coming over in the evenings to speak about the Scriptures and hold challenging discussions.

One discussion involved the shaving of the beard. "Why should men shave off their beards?" Sam asked Harry, "Aren't we satisfied with how God made us? Why should we want to look like women, like the popes in Rome, or like the Greeks who shaved themselves because of their immoral perversions?"

Harry could not answer, but when he let his beard grow, the Risslers stopped meeting with him. Once more the two Wanner families in Snyder County found themselves on their own. Sometimes they attended Amish meetings and enjoyed them. But the group that most appealed to them was led by a fellow-Mennonite, Titus B. Hoover, who had moved from Lancaster to Snyder County fifteen years earlier.

Titus and Fannie Hoover, with their large familyalong with the Peter Peters family who had moved in from Laird (Waldheim), Saskatchewan, were meeting with a small group of members, in their homes. But when Harry realized they did not stand in good unity among themselves, he stopped taking his family there.

Please click on the following link to go to Part Two.

S-Secret-of-Strength-new.jpg The Secret Of The Strength
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Peter Hoover. “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you,” Christ told his followers. And a few fishermen, a tax collector, and a motley group of believers set out to change the world. In fact, they succeeded.

In 16th century Europe, the Anabaptists preaching in cities by night, on back streets, and in secret corners behind rail fences set out to do the very thing the apostles had done. They, too, turned the world of their day upside down. What was the secret of their strength? In this book, Hoover explains what gave the Anabaptists their incredible spiritual strength.

290 pp. Paper.