What Does It Mean to Be Mennonite? Allison Christensen, April 2011

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The article from the “The Mennonite” was interesting to me because the author made many bold statements. For one, he indicated that the Anabaptists today no nothing about what it really means to be an Anabaptist and what it was like for the people of the day that were being persecuted for trying to reform the church. He also indicated that we do not truly appreciate the customs of baptism and hold specific things sacred. One of the things that stood out to me the most was towards the end of the article when he said that, and I paraphrase, “on the other hand there are Mennonites and they live in many countries around the world where they are persecuted for their faith. They truly understand what it means to be Anabaptist.” This raised a question for me: “do you indeed have to experience persecution to really understand, appreciate, and support your faith? And how intense does persecution have to be? To what degree do you have to be persecuted to “get” your faith and know what it means to be Mennonite?” This leads to another important question and also the topic of this reflection paper: “what does it mean to be Mennonite?” This is a question that I think all of us have wrestled with over the course of the semester. What is it that makes Mennonites so distinctly different from those of other Christian denominations or even other Anabaptist denominations? Because there are so many facets that make up the Mennonite faith, I think it is extremely difficult to decide on one particular thing that sets Mennonites apart from the rest of the Christian denomination of the world. At the same time, there are some things that make us distinct from others.

In another article from “The Mennonite”, Ted Grimsrud gives us 4 different ideals that got the Anabaptists into trouble. They are as follows: 1) Their break from the church-state system, 2) Their refusal to support in wars, 3) Their rejection of hierarchies, and 4) Their belief in an alternative economics, based on sharing and simplicity. What was really fascinating was that at the end of the article he says something that completely contradicts the content of the previous article. He says that this religion is still alive and is relevant today even after all of those years back in Switzerland. I think that if we truly hold onto our faith and the principles that we held dear so long ago, I think that is one of the things that makes us truly Mennonite. That we would follow Christ as far as to hold onto the basic principles that make this denomination what it is and that we would hold onto it through persecution to preserve its quality for the Lord, is something that I think the Mennonites and Anabaptists in general have done well to really make this branch of faith unique.

Questions

  1. If we do not truly follow the same and appreciate the same practices of the old Anabaptist church, could it be that the Anabaptist faith has indeed itself become slightly reformed over time?
  2. How far do we have to be persecuted to really understand our faith?
  3. Can we still say that we have held onto the fundamental criteria that makes us Mennonite over the years in its original form?

This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 1999.