Why I Am a Mennonite, Shawn M Gerber, April 1999 (United States)
Translate page into:
"No, I do not drive a buggy. Yes, I have electricity. Yes, I can have my picture taken. No I am not Amish." These are some of y responses to curious friends and acquaintances who wanted to know what I meant when I said I was Mennonite. I grew up in a Mennonite family in the suburbs of Canton OH. The only Mennonites I encountered during the week were fellow church members at my church on Sunday mornings. People did not have a real understanding of who Mennonites were because there were not many in my area. I do not feel that I had a real conception of what it meant to be Mennonite until I went to Goshen College (Goshen, Indiana). There I discovered a rich heritage an d a faith tradition that I have come to cherish and embrace in my life. For me, being Mennonite means embracing a tradition and a way of life that represents the most faithful response to the calling of Jesus Christ in this life. This takes place in a number of practices and doctrine that are central to the Mennonite faith. The Mennonite faith and the Mennonite community form the most appropriate environment for me to carry out a life that is most consistent with the life of Jesus.
As a result of my young adult years, I have found the Mennonite emphasis on living according to God's kingdom and not to the kingdom of the world to be very meaningful. Growing up I was made aware of how I was different from my non-Christian or non-Mennonite friends because of the way that I felt I should live for Christ. Occasionally my friends would do things that I knew were not permissible for me as a Christian, therefore I was perceived in a different way than my other friends were. I found that tension to be difficult and yet rewarding at the same time. I did not like being left out of certain social events with my friends but through those experiences I was constantly reminded of how I was a citizen of God's kingdom and that by living in this tension I was dong the will of God. I began to gain an understanding of what Jesus must have felt as he endured persecution from the world. In this way I was assured that I was living in a way that was remotely consistent with that of my Lord and Savior.
Today however, we Mennonite are losing that distinction between the world and the kingdom of God. Most Mennonites are no longer separatists and the lines between the Mennonite community and the world are becoming fuzzier as Mennonite become more integrated with society. This can become dangerous as we begin to open ourselves to a greater number of temptations to live as the world lives. We North American Mennonites face many of the same issues that the prosperous Dutch Mennonites had to face in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. How do we live as a part of our societies and yet retain our Mennonite identity? As a Mennonite I believe that it is crucial that we retain that tension of living as a citizen of God's kingdom in this world. For when we stop being conscious of the way in which we are called to live differently from the unbelievers in the world around us, we run the risk of losing the faith that has kept us continually striving to follow Christ no matter what the cost.
The Mennonite emphasis on following Christ (discipleship) has been another aspect of the Mennonite faith that I have come to see as crucial to my life in Christ in this world. Mennonites do not see Jesus' life as some abstract ideal but as a model for the way in which we are to live our lives. Jesus did not come to simply die and forgive us for our sins, but Jesus also came to offer us a new way of life to follow so that we might find true life. Through encountering many different kinds of people and doing many different forms of service during my time at Goshen College, I have found that spreading God's love to others and sharing my joy in Christ to those around me are the most important duties that I have in life. Living in this way gives me greater satisfaction than any other phenomenal experience or pleasure ever could. A life of discipleship is not a solemn venture of bondage to a set of Biblical rules, rather it is a joyous, thankful response for the freedom, love and atonement that we find with Christ as our Lord and Savior. In focusing on discipleship, the Mennonite lifestyle captures one of the most important components of the Gospel and in the process provides me with the greatest joy that I could ever experience in life- the joy of sharing what God has done for me in Jesus Christ.
I am supported, encouraged and loved in my life in Christ through the Mennonite community. I find the Mennonite emphasis on community as crucial for my life of service to God. We can not faithfully live out our Christian lives alone. The support of fellow sisters ad brothers in the faith is necessary for one's growth in the Christian life. As the spirit of Christ is made manifest in the life of the church, so is one's spiritual life empowered through interaction with the church. My church and my Mennonite friends have been crucial to my development as a Christian and understanding of what God wants in my life. God has used my fellow believers to guide and encourage me in finding the most faithful way of following Jesus in my life.
As I consider my pending life journey, I can not see myself with out the support and the resources of the Mennonite church. In the Mennonite church, I have found a body of believers that truly care about each other, people that are committed to following the movement of God's spirit no matter the cost. Of course the Mennonite church has its downfalls as well but any faith is going to have its downfalls because it is subject to human sinfulness. But in the Mennonite tradition and doctrine there is a faith that is deeply committed to following Christ and doing the will of God. The Mennonite heritage shares a unique understanding of what it means to live faithfully in a world that presents believers with many difficult tensions and trials. This tension must exist if one is to live faithfully to the call of Christ. The Mennonite church has developed itself into a community of believers that are committed to helping one another follow Christ and deal with the tension of existing as a citizen of the kingdom of God in a world that does not uphold that kingdom. Therefore as one committed to a life of faithful discipleship to Christ, I want to be part of a community of believers that supports one another and upholds the call of Christ in a tumultuous world.
This essay was completed for an Anabaptist/Mennonite History class at Goshen College in April 1999.