The Mennonite Tradition
The 1500’s were a time of incredible change in Western Europe, including in the Christian church. At that time the Catholic Church was established by governments as the only expression of Christian faith, but dissent was brewing. Martin Luther and his followers broke away from the Catholic Church in protest over the corruption he saw. Other reformers also broke away and formed new Christian movements. One of these movements was called Anabaptism. While Luther and his followers were glad to have the state government establish and protect their church, just as other governments protected the Catholic Church, Anabaptists were different.
Anabaptists believed the church should be separate from the state. This is such a fundamental premise of American culture that it may be hard to imagine a time when state mandated religion was considered the norm. But during such a time the Anabaptists taught that becoming a Christian required an act of free will – of personal choice – it could not be imposed by a government or chosen by a baby. Although they had been baptized as infants, the believers re-baptized each other upon their adult confessions of faith. (Anabaptist literally means “again-baptizing.”) They refused to let the state churches baptize their children. Most contemporary Christians now teach the importance of making a personal commitment to faith... but it wasn’t always so.
In 1536, a former Catholic Priest named Menno Simons gathered together groups of Anabaptists who took literally Jesus’ title as Prince of Peace and tried to live out Christ’s directives to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. As they organized under Menno Simons’ leadership, they became known as Mennonites. Because of their opposition to state religion and their commitment to peacemaking, the early Mennonites were hunted down, tortured, killed, and exiled from many places.
The search for religious freedom led Mennonites to the same place it led the Pilgrims, the new world of the American colonies. The first permanent Mennonite settlement was established in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in 1683. Mennonites, though remaining a small denomination, flourished in the United States, teaching peacemaking, offering relief during disasters, establishing health and educational institutions and working on justice for all.
Today Mennonites number almost 1.5 million, living in 75 countries around the world. For more information CLICK HERE. The Mennonite Education Agency provides leadership for more than 40 elementary and secondary schools, colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada. The Peace & Justice Academy is the first Mennonite school in California.
In Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” In the words of Menno Simons:
“True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.
It clothes the naked.
It feeds the hungry.
It comforts the sorrowful.
It shelters the destitute.
It serves those that harm it.
It binds up that which is wounded.
It has become all things to all people.”