Mennonites have their roots in the Reformation of sixteenth-century Europe. They are named after Menno Simons, a Roman Catholic priest who joined the Anabaptist wing of the Reformation. Hence Mennonites are often known as Anabaptist-Mennonites. The Anabaptists (literally, “re-baptizers”) differed from other reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, in emphasizing adult baptism (making a choice to follow Christ), a radical separation of church and state, and the way of nonviolence (pacifism). For the Anabaptist-Mennonites, the community of faith, the church, is the primary interpreter of the Bible, and following the teachings of Jesus (discipleship) is emphasized more than doctrinal belief.
Stuart Murray, in his book The Naked Anabaptist, summarizes the key distinctives of Anabaptists this way:
- Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord, the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle.
- Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation; we are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible.
- In a culture of churches ill-equipped for mission, Anabaptism has rejected Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.
- We are exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition.
- Our churches are to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship.
- Spirituality and economics are interconnected, calling for living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation and working for justice.
- We are committed to finding nonviolent alternatives and to learning to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society and between nations.
Migrations and mission efforts have seen the Anabaptist-Mennonite faith spread around the world. In Canada today, there are about 123,000 Mennonites (baptized church members), and many more who claim the Mennonite heritage. The Mennonite World Conference now encompasses about 1.5 million members in 74 countries.
For further reading:
- Anabaptist History and Theology: Revised Student Edition by Arnold Snyder (Kitchener: Pandora Press)
- Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Waterloo: Herald Press)
- One Quilt Many Pieces: A Guide to Mennonite Groups in Canada by Margaret Loewen Reimer (Waterloo: Herald Press)
- The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith by Stuart Murray (Waterloo, Herald Press, 2010)