Being an Anabaptist Mennonite, Ty L Stuckey, April 1999 (United States)
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Being an Anabaptists and Mennonite has several life long meanings and implications that both explain many of my actions and have helped to develop the way in which I think. The three most significant parts of being a Mennonite to me are believer's baptism and along with this a voluntary church, belief in nonresistance, and a strong desire to show and behave that the chief concept to Christianity is. Although several of these components might not seem on first glance to be as important as others in the "grand" scheme of my set of Mennonite beliefs, each of these elements have played a significant role in my development as a Mennonite.
The need for a believer's baptism and a voluntary church has been strongly forced upon my mind as I have reached the age that I am currently at in my life. After having grown up in a small church where my entire extended family attended, my grandpa preached, the rest of my family performed "jobs" every Sunday, and all of my cousins and I knew that when we reached high school we were to be baptized, the concept of voluntary church never really entered my mind. However, as I have attended Goshen College the past few years I have grown to understand at a much deeper level what a voluntary church and believer's baptism originally meant and what they mean to me. As I have had to make the decision of whether I was going to church every Sunday after a long week and usually longer weekend I have begun to understand what it means to choose to attend and to want to be part of a congregation. I think that it is incredibly important for everyone to have a time away. I do not mean a time were everything is still paid for by your parents or guardians and they just ignore you; but instead an actual time were one gets out on his or her own and has to make some decisions about their faith and what their position in life is going to be. This has to be followed by a slight disclaimer however. I also very strongly believe in a church presence during this time. Whether this presence comes from attending a Mennonite College, the continued prayers of your congregation, or even just visits from you childhood pastor I think that a certain level of contact is necessary. Without this nearness of the church it becomes to easy to forget what the church once meant to you. This time away has also forced me to consider the decision that I made a long time ago now and continually reaffirm it. I think that I have spent much more time considering the baptism decision and although I am glad that I made it, I often wish it had been more of a believer's baptism versus something I just felt as though I should do it was my turn.
Although a belief in nonresistance used to be a central issue for Anabaptist I feel as though it has been waning in the Mennonite church as it really no longer is a pressing issue for many people. The youth of our congregations are no longer being threatened with draft or conscription. I think that in many congregations this has caused the stance on nonresistance to take a backseat to what many consider more "important" or more "relevant" issues to today. I want to take a different stance however and feel as though it is a stance that many others should consider very strongly. Is nonresistance simply a belief that one should not pick up a weapon, go to war, and kill? I don't think so. I think that the Mennonite church needs to more openly resist war. This not only means choosing not signing up to be drafted when an individual turns eighteen but also being willing to work to change the activities that are causing war to occur. I applaud the actions that Mennonites have taken in the reaction to war with their many programs and committees that are set up to aid everyone in the result of a war. However, why are always reacting? One of the beliefs of Mennonite Economic Development is that one of the best ways to provide assistance to poor people is through the growth of business and the creation of job opportunities for individuals. I think that most Mennonite would agree that it is better to teach someone how to farm than to hand them a potato. Why then do we not take this attitude toward nonresistance?
Why not help to stay war by teach others why war is not helpful? Why not teach them to find other ways to deal with conflict? Now that Mennonites no longer have to worry about being forced into war as they used to I regard this as the next issue to be dealt with in a nonresistance standpoint.
The entire way that other Mennonites and I live should reflect the way in which discipleship is the essence of Christianity. The life of a Mennonite and the society in which a Mennonite lives should reflect the teachings and examples of Jesus. If this is not happening what does it mean to a Mennonite? Without the outward expression of an inner salvation through baptism of the soul what does this baptism mean? What does a hypocrite do?
They say one thing and act differently. What did Jesus say about hypocrites? How much worse is it for someone who knows how to act and doesn't act that way than another who has not heard the good news to be saved? Without acknowledging this and behaving in a way that reflects the inner experience of a Mennonite on the outside I do not belief that one can be a Mennonite. However, I do not want this to sound as though I think that the only reason to act as God would want us to is so that we can be saved or to not be hypocritical. Without leading an exterior life that follows Christ's life how can one hope to follow the great commission as we so eagerly refer to the end of Matthew Chapter 28? It is necessary for a Mennonite to both lead an expletory life inside their bodies and outside in order to please God.
To be a Mennonite I believe that each of these elements needs to be present in the life of an individual. I do not believe that anyone can truly follow these principles, as Christ is the only blameless and sinless person ever. However, I think that some people seem to think that in today's world that this gives us an excuse to ignore what we as Christians, Mennonites, and Anabaptist need to do. I regard these as ideals that we should all be stretching for and trying or best to achieve.
This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 1999.