Is an Order a Church?

I have a friend who is trying to make sense of the Anabaptist world (and, more importantly, to discern how Christians should live and work together). Recently, he shared an insight someone shared with him.

Think of the Anabaptists as a religious order, with the different groups as sub-orders.

Many of us would prefer not to have our congregations compared to a group of monks or nuns and most of us aren’t interested in living in a monastery or a convent. But the comparison is definitely helpful for understanding the conservative Anabaptist mindset. We think about a lot of issues in ways that make more sense for a religious order than for a full fledged church. From our concept of obedience to church leaders, to our concerns for regulated dress, to our willingness to include things in our discipline statements simply because we think they are one helpful way of doing things, we can infer the mindset of an order.

Now I have sympathy for orders, monastic ones included, though I would question the wisdom of a lifetime vow. But orders are supposed to be part of a full fledged church. A full fledged church must be broad enough to encompass believers in all legitimately Christian vocations. An order, by definition, is for those with a more specific vocation.

Many unresolved issues in Anabaptist ecclesiology can be thought of as confusing orders with churches.