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The Separatist Approach to Culture

This entry is part 10 of 20 in the series

"Christ the Sanctifier of Behavior"

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The Anabaptist approach to culture finds its clearest representation today in the Amish, Mennonites, and Brethren, but other groups manifest the general Christ against culture model in various ways as well. Like their forefathers, the Amish and Mennonites concern themselves not with national or cultural identity with others around them but rather “on honoring their parents for their faithfulness in recovering and preserving the faith of the Anabaptist forebears.”1 James Juhnke summarizes the typical Anabaptist position, specifically related to political involvement, as expressed in modern day Mennonites: “The traditional Anabaptist-Mennonite position, shaped by the persistent theological distinction between church and state and by a history of governmental persecution, is one of noninvolvement in political affairs.”2 The Mennonites, however, began a slight compromise in areas of voting and office-holding in the early 1800s,3 while the Amish have maintained a more thorough separatist approach.

There has also been a rise in recent years of a group identified as Neo-Anabaptists, who continue to perpetuate the separatist two-kingdom approach of their namesake. Authors in this group include Harold Bender (The Anabaptist Vision), John Howard Yoder (Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture), Stanley Hauerwas (The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church), Shane Claiborne (Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals), and many of the emergent church authors. These Neo-Anabaptists specifically denounce American Christianity for what they claim is its capitulation to the American political system, argue that the church is a community rather than an institution, and advocate social reform.

The Relationship Between Holy Culture and Unholy Culture Should be One of Witness

The greatest strength of the separatist position is its recognition of inherent corruption in the world’s system and its insistence upon complete separation from that world. However, its preoccupation with establishing God’s kingdom of earth leads groups like the Amish toward an extreme isolationism and the Neo-Anabaptists toward a sort of liberal socialism. What this position lacks is recognition of God’s common grace to mankind on the one hand and of the sin that still wars even within believers on the other hand. The Anabaptist position naively assumes that Christians can obey God’s laws inherently and thus can exist in perfect community.

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.


  1. Juhnke, A People of Two Kingdoms, 1. []
  2. Ibid., 4. []
  3. Ibid., 11. []

One Response to The Separatist Approach to Culture

  1. Well done – great summary. The last remark hits the point for the Anabaptists: sin is primarily external and not internal. Therefore one has the ability to "please" God by staying away from certain "things" or "places" and in-turn will live an acceptable and pleasing life towards God. Ah – radical human depravity strikes again at the poor soul who thinks their sinfulness is "out there" somewhere.

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