What Does It Mean to Be Mennonite? Luke Slagel, April 2011
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My understanding of Mennonites has changed and distorted itself over the last three years of my life, but never has it changed so drastically as it has two summers ago. Though I understood my own beliefs as my personal morals, I hadn’t understood how these values were brought to me. It wasn’t until I took this class that I started comprehending the reasons for my beliefs. Due to the complexity of any belief, I feel that to explain what a Mennonite is, I must start at the foundation, and for all Christians, Christ is the cornerstone.
To be a Mennonite, one must also be a Christian. This sounds almost absurdly simple but I have met a few people who claim to be Mennonites, and followers of Jesus yet also say that they don’t necessarily think that Christ was the Son of God. This undermines the all of the beliefs of Mennonites and leaves only basic morals that are no longer based on anything except a single person’s whims. From what I’ve learned from this class along, is that Mennonites were intentional in deriving practices and beliefs from the Bible. Though there were many splits and internal divisions, the importance is that all Mennonites strive to follow God through the only handbook that God has ever given us.
In the Bible I believe that God calls all people to be peacemakers. I believe that when Christ said, “Love your enemy as yourself,” he meant it. Through this passage and many others, especially in the New Testament, God is revealed as the loving God, the God of mercy, the God of forgiveness. God furthers this idea of forgiveness and love by giving up Jesus to be the greatest sacrifice, and to erase all of the world’s sins.
I intentionally used the phrase “world’s sins” because I believe that Christ didn’t come to save only those who have had good encounters with Christians and the Bible and have become baptized. Though I believe that baptism is a wonderful thing and very important to the health and life of a church, I believe in God who loves even the Gentiles and sacrificed Jesus for them as well as for the “chosen people.” I have had many discussions with people about whether some of the best people who have lived on this planet went to heaven or hell, though I can’t prove it, I believe that in many ways God cares more about our morals and our consequential actions than God cares about having the perfect beliefs. For this reason, I have come to respect people of different denominations and even religions much more than I have in the past. I do believe that I have stumbled on a denomination that has our beliefs very well connected to the Bible and because of this I am willing, even if hesitant, to share my own beliefs and morals with other people.
Because of my more open views on salvation, I have less of a conviction that all people must be baptized in order to go to heaven. I was quite struck at the importance of baptism to early Anabaptists. Because I have put so little importance on it, I assumed that the same could be said about Anabaptists. Here I have to accept a small split from the Mennonite tradition. I like baptisms and I think that they are an important part of church life and should continue to be. I however, was baptized young and I overlooked the importance that I should have placed on baptism. My baptism actually occurred before I had my “rebellious years.” I was baptized, and then I began to explore the idea of being wrong. I considered myself agnostic for a few years before returning to belief in God as seen through the Bible and in Christ.
One of the important things that brought me back to believing in Christ was my church family. I had an interesting relationship with my church because my father was a pastor, but I began exploring the idea of having a “church” with my friends. One of my best friends and I had the grand idea to start our own denomination. We discussed it for a long time, over the course of a summer. What I realized as we walked through how we should organize was that though I had problems with how the Mennonite hierarchy was set up, there wasn’t a better option that I could see. After realizing that I began to get more involved with my East Goshen church family. Since then, I have gained a desire to stay connected on a personal level with people in various churches that have different beliefs than I do. I find that despite disagreements, which occur in even the closest of friends, are nothing to the companionship and the challenges that we can give each other.
I was a Mennonite because I was born a Mennonite. I am a Mennonite because I have experienced my own utter hatred of the silly and juvenile issues that the Mennonite church has dealt with, only to have also experienced the wonderful love of God through my congregation and through the Bible. One issue that continues to haunt me is the acceptance of homosexuals. To me it is seems a no-brainer but I have to accept that I’m not the only person who has opinions. I have also seen the opposite side of acceptance. I have ostracized myself only to be reached for by someone who’s name I didn’t know.
To me, being a Mennonite comes down to love. I believe that God sent Jesus to show love. Jesus set the standard on how to love and for that reason I believe in love. God is love. I became a Mennonite because of God’s absurd love for me. Sometimes I still wonder why God would bother, and every time I ponder the question I get one answer. God loves. For that reason, I must love.
This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 2011.