Who Are The Mennonites?
On any Sunday you will find Mennonites gathered for worship in about 60 countries around the world. With over one million members, the Mennonite church has been in existence for more than 480 years, expressing their faith in various ways and including a wide variety of people: from a Midwest farmer, to a European architect; from the African chieftain, to the South American sociologist. Although they speak dozens of languages, the thousands of different Mennonite congregations count themselves as one family of faith--one of many faith families in the Christian church.
The Mennonite (Anabaptist) faith movement began in Europe in the 16th Century when a small group of believers challenged the reforms of Martin Luther and others during the Protestant Reformation, saying they were not radical enough and calling for adult rather than infant baptism. In 1525, several members set themselves apart from the official church by publicly declaring their faith in Jesus Christ and re-baptizing each other.
Church-state structures did not tolerate these Anabaptists or "Anabaptizers," meaning re-baptizers. Over the course of two generations, thousands were persecuted. Many met death as martyrs. In order to preserve the movement, the survivors went into hiding. From 1575 to 1850, membership grew primarily when adults passed their faith to their children.
Mennonite Church USA is one of nearly 20 formally organized groups of Mennonites in North America that vary in lifestyle and religious practice but all stem from the Anabaptist movement. Though their streams of faith may differ, Mennonite groups hold common beliefs: Jesus Christ is central to worship and to everyday living. Behavior is to follow Christ's example. The Bible is considered the inspired word of God. Membership continues to be voluntary, with adult baptism upon declaration of faith.
Mennonites are known for their peace stand, taken because they believe Jesus Christ taught the way of peace. Many members choose not to participate in military service. Some take their belief further by objecting to government military expenditure; a few choose not to pay the percentage of their annual income tax that would go for military purposes.
Mennonites are also known for their strong commitment to community; interest in social issues; voluntary service to those who have experienced hardship and loss in floods, tornadoes and other disasters; and mission outreach.
Menno Simons was born in Friesland, Holland. Little is known of his early life and education. In 1524 he was ordained to the priesthood of the Roman Church. However, his study of the New Testament soon began to produce doubts about many of the doctrines. Luther's writings also influenced him to leave the Roman Church. His preaching thereafter is described as evangelical.
Simons went farther than either Luther or Calvin in rejecting the teachings of Romanism, and soon allied himself with the Dutch Anabaptists. He was baptised in 1537 by Obbe Philip. His fame as a writer and as a preacher grew, and soon the Anabaptists of that area acknowledged him as their leader.
He taught that neither baptism nor communion conferred grace upon an individual, but that grace was obtained only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.