The Mennonite Church has been in existence for more than 450 years and now has over one million members. Although they speak dozens of languages, the thousands of different congregations count themselves as one family of faith â€“ one of many faith families in the Christian church.
At the center of Mennonite teaching is the need to believe in Jesus Christ as the One who died and rose from the dead in order that people could live in union with God. Mennonites believe that the life and teaching of Jesus guide our daily living.
The Bible is central
The church tries to live in obedience to the Word of God â€“ the Bible. Mennonites believe that God’s spirit, or Holy Spirit, helps the community of believers understand that Word.
New life in Christ
Because we are human beings, we all sin: we commit wrongs, we don’t do the things we should, and we get out of touch with God. Taking part in regular worship service enables Christians to respond to God with praise and thanks, and to live for Jesus through the week.
Voluntary membership and commitment to Christ
A church is strong when its members experience God’s love and are wholeheartedly committed to its purposes. Believer’s baptism is practiced to symbolize the decision of an adult to make a public commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Reaching out to the world
Jesus Christ said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21, RSV). He sends the church to bring good news to all people throughout the world. Mennonites also believe it’s important to be concerned for both the spiritual and physical aspects of life.
Belonging to each other
Mennonites feel that Christians need each other for encouragement and growth, for confronting one another in a supportive way, and for help in time of need. The church grows in faith, unity, service, and witness when it is a caring and loving community.
As disciples of Jesus, Mennonites try to live under Christ’s rule: for many this means loving the enemy and refusing to use violence, living peaceably with others at all levels, serving the poor and needy, and taking risks to work actively for justice and mercy.
Helping each other
As members of the body of Christ, Mennonites try to care for the spiritual, emotional and physical health of other members. Mutual aid takes many forms, including giving time, money, and goods in times of need.
Where Did We Get Our Name?
Like Lutherans who were named after Martin Luther, Mennonites were nicknamed after an early Dutch leader, Menno Simons. But just as Menno Simons was a follower of Christ, so Mennonites today are followers of Christ, not Menno.
The family formed
A small group of earnest young believers said that reformers Martin Luther and Huldreich Zwingli had not gone far enough. Conrad Grebel led this group in an attempt to recover New Testament Christianity when they baptized one another and verbalized their faith in Jesus Christ at Zurich, Switzerland, in January 1525.
Believers met persecution, martyrdom, death
Fired by their new faith, the believers began to evangelize. The movement rapidly spread to South Germany and the Netherlands. The official churches immediately opposed the movement and scoffed at them as “Anabaptizers”, which literally means re-baptizers. The state would not tolerate this change because in essence it defied the government-run church, despite the Anabaptist’s strong appeal to Scripture in support of their position. In a short time, many Anabaptist leaders were martyred. Thousands more died gruesome deaths at the hands of their persecutors over the next two generations.
The family quietly grows and spreads
Fifty years of persecution took a terrible toll. The small groups lived without the right to own property or to meet publicly for worship. They moved to many places, including Russia and North America, seeking freedom to live their faith according to their consciences. From 1575 to 1850 the movement grew mainly by winning its own children to faith. In nearly every generation over the past 450 years, the church has experienced persecution somewhere in the world.
North American Mennonites began organizing home and foreign missions in the late 1800’s. They sent a first wave of missionaries abroad during the years 1899-1915, and another round of mission expansion followed World War II.
Especially since the 1940’s, Mennonites have developed a substantial ministry of emergency relief and development services which stand alongside church expansion.
Currently, close to one-half of the total family is to be found in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, which is also where the church is experiencing the most rapid growth.
The Story Unfolds
Mennonites continue to stress peacemaking and family relationships (both spiritual and biological relationships) as important for wholeness.
The church has not always lived up to its ideals, but God is gracious, as God always has been and always will be.
Originally published by Mennonite Board of Missions