A Mennonite by Providence, Amos M Kratzer, April 1999 (United States)
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Why am I a Mennonite? I attend a Mennonite college, am currently enrolled in an Anabaptist/Mennonite history class, and am a member of a Mennonite church. To be honest, I do not spend a lot of time thinking about why I am a Mennonite. I am too busy being a Mennonite. Forced to reflect on why I am a Mennonite a flood of memories enter my mind. My entire life has revolved around being Mennonite. I was born into a Mennonite family located in Kidron, Ohio. My father rented a 140-acre dairy farm that was surrounded by Mennonite farmers. The reality of being born into a Mennonite family and being surrounded by a Mennonite community has profoundly impacted my life. I consider my childhood background a gift from God. I would not trade my experience for anything.
It is my Mennonite background that gives me my Christian faith and heritage. I am a Mennonite Christian as opposed to a Christian who happens to be Mennonite. My Mennonite paradigm has and will continue to affect the way I view the world. I see the world through the looking glass of one who spent the first twenty years of his life learning to be a Mennonite. I will never be able to disassociate myself at least not completely from Mennonite perspectives and assumptions. What makes me who I am? I have a unique genetic DNA coding that I inherited from my parents, which predisposes me to having certain characteristics. Beyond my physical attributes, I am not sure exactly how my genetic coding effects my being. But I do know that I had no control over my genetic chemistry. I feel safe in saying that I received equally limited input when I was born into my Mennonite family and community. I can relate in a concrete way to the expression, “born into the faith.”
The point that I want to convey by sharing about my DNA and my family of origin is how providence has placed me in this world. I humbly and thankfully accept everything my God-willed entry into this world had to offer. I did not choose my family; my family was given to me. I did not chose my Mennonite faith; the Mennonite faith chose me. Where is my free will in all this? What about making my own decisions? Can I choose to reconfigure my life? The answer is “yes.” I have the freedom to turn my back on God’s free gift my faith and my heritage.
Yet, I am choosing to stand firm on the rock upon which I have been planted, Jesus Christ. My Mennonite faith taught and nurtured my association Jesus, who walked this earth 2000 years ago as a human yet fully divine. My Mennonite faith has equipped me with skills and teachings that inundate my thinking. For me, the Mennonite faith is not something I practice; the Mennonite faith is my life. I am a Mennonite trying to find my way through the maze of complexities in today’s world. Even as a young boy I was aware that questions of truth and right are not easily answered. I remember listening to my parents discuss disputable issues around the dining table. I came to understand that it was easy for my parents to be completely mistaken even though they claimed to know the truth. I learned that Mennonite doctrines are not written in stone.
Only recently have I come to understand that the Mennonite faith is not necessarily the “perfect” way to be a Christian. You do not have to be a Mennonite to be Christian; you do, however, have to be a Christian to be a Mennonite! The Bible offers the most comprehensive and accurate reference to how Christians should live. The books in the Bible are written in prose using common language and everyday experiences. How then are we to interpret a book that, quite literally, has outlived its time? How does the Bible address the needs and circumstances of the twentieth century? I want to make an argument for what I believe is the core of Mennonite identity.
Menno Simons, the founder of the Mennonite faith, returned to the Biblical texts and diligently struggled to understand how believers in Christ are to live their lives. To this day, Mennonites still ask themselves the same question: “How should the broader Mennonite church coexist in a secular world?” In addressing this question of practice, Mennonites are far from being united. Between Mennonite churches, beliefs are divided. Because of division within the church I am quite certain that I cannot nail down an absolute definition of what it means to be Mennonite. I can, though, offer what I believe to be Mennonite traits for the Mennonites to whom I am closest. First, being a Mennonite means valuing a community. At a young age I learned that living as a community means more than living together in a confined space. I remember Dad calling me off the tractor to help chase cows that had broken through the fence. I might add that chasing a whole herd of cows is more than a two- or three-person job. I will never shake the memory of our neighbors coming to our aid. At that junction in my life I learned by the example of those farmers that living in a community meant dropping everything to help someone in need.
Mennonites share a sense of accountability for each other’s decision-making. Community members try to pattern their lives after principles embedded in the Bible. The constant struggle within the Mennonite church is to know how to adjust Biblical applications for a changing world. Traditionally, Mennonites have slowed down the process of altering their lifestyles. Church schisms and broken relationships resulted because Mennonites were unwilling to change. Is doctrine worth the price of broken relationships and divided churches? The Mennonite answer to this question, in extreme cases, has been “yes.” A Mennonite would rather error on altering a Biblical application too slowly than to error on accidentally omitting a Biblical principal altogether by too hastily modifying the application.
The heart of the Gospel and the heart of the Mennonite faith rests on the life and death of Jesus Christ. Without the Jesus who lived here on earth and an understanding that Jesus now sits at the right hand of God the Mennonite faith would be merely an ethical cookbook. Jesus offers us, recorded in the four Gospels, a reversal to the irreversible. The Good News of the Gospels is that death is not our end. Life is not just a dirty trick. We do not have to enter this world with nothing, work our entire lives, only to exit the world with absolutely nothing. Jesus promises that our work here on earth is not in vain. To me, the message of the four Gospels is not merely Good News; it is the Best News. Because I believe in Jesus I have placed complete confidence in the Bible.
This semester as I studied Anabaptist history I became profoundly aware that I was studying my own story. The story of faith passed down through the generations is the faith story I am living today. I am choosing to claim my Anabaptist/Mennonite heritage and by God’s grace I will pass it on to my children. I do not know God’s ultimate plan for my life, for the Mennonite church, or for the entire world. All I know for sure is that Jesus has called me to secure my faith in him.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 1999.