What is a Mennonite?
What is a Mennonite?
We get this question a lot. The short answer is Mennonites are Anabaptist Christians who seek to follow the way of Jesus. We take the life and teachings of Jesus, particularly “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) to be the starting point for this. As a result, our faith practices and discipleship tend to emphasize community, the Kingdom of God, reconciliation, peacemaking, simplicity, and justice.
Here’s the slightly longer answer. Anabaptists represent a stream of faith that emerged 500 years ago in Europe. At about the time Reformers were challenging the Catholic Church, a small group of people in Switzerland were studying the Bible. They came to the conclusion that Jesus meant what he said in the Sermon on the Mount. As a result they emphasized the practice of non-violence and the belief that the church should be a voluntary community. You see back then church wasn’t a voluntary thing. You were born into it. And baptism was used to create a citizen for tax purposes, it wasn’t just religious.
The Anabaptists got into trouble with this behavior. They stopped baptizing infants which angered the state, and they re-baptized adults which angered the Catholic Church (that’s how they got their name. “Ana-” means “again,” so the name “Anabaptist” means to baptize again). Both the Catholics and the Reformers began arresting, drowning, and burning Anabaptists at the stake for their religious and civil crimes. Because the Anabaptists practiced non-violence, they refused to fight back and instead withdrew from city centers for survival. It was a painful beginning, and they remained distant from mainstream society for several generations.
Early on a Catholic priest named Menno Simons became one of the leading Anabaptists. He was kicked out of the Catholic Church and his followers became known as the Mennonites. That’s where the name comes from.
In the last fifty or sixty years, most Mennonites have become fully integrated into society, but they still retain many of the distinct practices of Anabaptism. Specifically, there is a strong emphasis on community, the Bible as authoritative, Jesus as the center, service to the world, peacemaking, and the pursuit of justice. This is what happens when you try to follow Jesus as expressed in the “Sermon on the Mount” and the Gospels.
To learn even more you can also visit Third Way Cafe.
If you would like to research deeper into the Anabaptist movement, please visit the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online at www.gameo.org.