Why Be Mennonite, Aaron J Short, April 1999 (United States)
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To address the question, Why am I Mennonite?, I think I need to look at a broader question what teaching’s have influenced me to stay Mennonite, and not explore any other religion, other than Mennonite.
I feel very strongly on the Mennonite tradition, but along with that I find myself searching for the complete picture, trying to associate with others being taught and teaching the same principles of discipline. I think one of the reasons for my participation in Mennonitism, would have to be due to the role of my parents. My parents where brought up Mennonite and their parents before them as well. They have taken part in my life, teaching me about Jesus Christ and instilling in me morals and a belief that they have studied and preached to many persons. However that teaching and up bringing by my parents can only carry me so far, I think there has to be a time in my life where I have taken control of the continuance of my Mennonite belief. But I raise the question, is this teaching of believing in Christ and living by strong moral back ground what it means to be Mennonite. I think that by living by those two things is a very, very small portion of the whole idea of carrying on a Mennonite message. I have visited those Churches that are very different from the Mennonite church and they don’t believe or carry on practices anything similar to those of the Mennonite Church which I was taught by my parents and recently. Going to church every Sunday, learning God’s word, and living by it, is what we are taught in the Church but it goes beyond that. I think we as Christians, and Mennonites, must unite as brothers and sisters in Christ in common understanding and preaching of the word of Christ. Not to increase the size of the congregation but to lead unbelievers to Christ as well. That is a part of why I am a Mennonite, uniting together in a single Christian belief.
I have been baptized into the Mennonite Church, becoming a member of the church sharing in a common belief, but my membership with Christ runs deeper than that.
Recently I have been faced with the fact that I am Mennonite and asking myself, “What have I done to preserve that identity in myself and toward my outward appearance”. In this term, I have learned an extreme amount through taking Anabaptist History and Thought. The learning I have done for this class has presented to me many new interesting ideas and opinions, allowing me to sort out my own opinions and trying to decipher what it means to be Mennonite. I now look at the Mennonite religion in a somewhat different perspective. I find now that we have done nothing or very little recently to be assumed to be called Mennonites. The Anabaptist vision was an inevitable task, but they where extremely persistent in their own right for separation of State and Church. Their struggle with persecution as they sorted out the ideas of their own and what others forced them to believe brought great suffering. The Oath, the Sword, Adult Baptism, Discipleship, Communion, these are a few of the things that Anabaptists dealt with during the reformation and in later centuries as it turned over from Anabaptism to Mennonitism. As Anabaptism did convert to Mennonitism, things became more worldly, and an outward sign. A more conservative society for Mennonites was being created keeping the same beliefs but the discipline wasn’t as strong. People of the Mennonite faith where and are more concerned with institutions, and an outward appearance opposed to the Anabaptists inward faith. With all these new ideas I had never given thought too, it makes me wonder if being Mennonite means anything, but to place people in a common ground fellowshipping with others.
I think I can understand what is meant to be a Mennonite with the teaching’s of my parents and the recent class, it adds to the complete picture for me what others felt and what I feel. I don’t see myself as a strong Mennonite if I compare myself to Mennonites in past centuries, what it comes down to is the conformity to the culture and the lack of discipline to live by Mennonite beliefs. I feel that I am less aware of what is expected of me for personal gain and for me to continue, than those ancestors that were part of the more disciplined way of life. I think that many Mennonites don’t feel a lack of interest in the Mennonite faith, but a misunderstanding of more strict beliefs.
I think through my involvement in the present Anabaptist class, it has raised many questions personally, and I look for a better understanding, but to understand and follow are two very different, difficult objectives. The interpretation is so miss understood, and other times it is quite simple but we look for a more complex way, for fear that it couldn’t be so simple.
To answer the question of why I am Mennonite, I am Mennonite, because I feel that Mennonitism represents the very foundation for what Christ was trying to express and teach during his time on earth. I feel that to interpret the Bible and teachings of the Mennonite church are very complicated, but holds solid evidence and history of what Mennonitism represents. To be Mennonite is not an obligation but a choice, like any other thing in life a choice, but it differs in its substance. You live the life of a Mennonite to gain others to Christ, in search of a true path to God, not to fulfill personal external gains. Sometimes it’s easy to understand what to do to follow the path but to put those ideas or works in to practice is sometimes difficult. I think that is where history and prior engagements of Mennonite teachings can help a person and myself out.
I have only praises for the teaching and learning I have gained through Anabaptist history, and hope to sometime use those for personal positive gains. I hope to someday also teach my children what it means to be Mennonite and live in such harmony to live with God and other believers in unity.
This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 1999.