I have been reading Snyder's (2004) book. In the current chapter, Snyder discusses the Anabaptist perspective of living in this world. The core of their approach to life is that the inner renewing and cleansing should result in an immediate and likewise change to the external person (p 138). Faith in Christ and baptism by the Spirit meant outward changes in the way that you dealt with people around you.
As I read the section on worldly possessions, I heard echoes of my own thinking. The difference is that these people didn't just think this way, they endeavoured to live this way.
The first emphasis was on sharing material goods. They argued that "Since they have such spiritual things in common, they should likewise share with a member [who is] in material need" (p 139). The relationship to the things of this world reflected the higher, spiritual relationship. A lack of faith in the material provision reflected a lack of faith in the spiritual realm.
This emphasis on sharing meant that they reproached the poverty evidenced in Christian churches (p 140). Maybe more accurately they reproached the disparity that they saw in these churches. I am thinking here of the disparity in churches that I saw in New Zealand with the well-off often regarding the less well-off as lazy or not working hard enough. A theme that I have heard justified by the passage “Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich” (Proverbs 10:4). The capitalist 'Christian' work ethic took precedence over the concern for the impoverished state of those around them. As I write this, I am conscious that I agree with the Anabaptist philosophy but that I am a long way from practising what they teach.
For the Anabaptist, this attitude toward possessions and poverty led to "the avoidance of riches" (p 141). The gathering of riches took one away from the spiritual life. Instead resources needed to be used to care for "those who had need, particularly within the baptised Body of Christ" (p 141). The focus is clearly on the care for the fellow believer but I suspect that this overflowed to the traveller or sojourner in their midst. This selfless caring would have acted as a witness to those around them.
The next aspect that Snyder discusses is the attitude to traders and "the emerging capitalist forms of economic activity" (p 141). Traders were seen as "adding arbitrary cost to articles" (p 141). Snyder says "brought more cheaply" but I can see that they may object to the pressure for the producer to sell below cost thus impoverishing the producer. Fair trade at least argues that the producer should gain just value.
However, the focus is Snyder's passage is the impact on the final purchaser who is forced to buy at a higher price thus "taking bread from their mouths and thus making the poor man nothing but the bondman of the rich" (p 141). Our modern society would struggle without the traders and distributors. Goods are no longer produced by local craftsmen and the trader / distributor enables goods to reach people who need them. However, the fundamental idea behind Anabaptist thought in this area is that "Christian economic activity should be of benefit to the poor" (p 141). Certainly our economic activity is weighted toward the rich, often the bankers or traders in money. Traders and distributors of physical goods may benefit the flow of goods to the poor but bank trade in money and the accounting principles work against the poor.
Not surprisingly, the Anabaptists opposed the investing of money for interest (p 141). Any surplus should be used to help the poor. They went as far as to emphasise giving without expecting return of the principle. My thought is that the concept of a loan is simply an instrument for holding control of wealth and ultimately control over the borrower. I lend you this for your current need but I now have control over you and have expectations of how you will use what I have lent so that I am repaid. The true gift is given in the hope that no future gifts need to be given but not placing obligation on the receiver.
The Anabaptist philosophy is driven directly by their love of God and neighbour. Holding back what we could give is holding back on God's love. Is this giving from what we don't have. I see it more as giving so that God might provide.
There is one other emphasis in this section. This is that the Christian shouldn't be concerned about self-advancement. We live and act for the benefit of others and not for the interests of self. Yes, I would like the status of lecturer but more importantly I want the opportunity to give of my knowledge and skills. I see the possibility that it could all be wasted because I don't match the profile of any available position but maybe working as an independent tutor would fulfil my vision just as much as operating within the university system. It may offer me more freedom since I will not be under pressure to conform to the false measurement of performance.
Snyder, C. A. (2004). Following in the footsteps of Christ: The Anabaptist tradition. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.