In my pastoral travels, people are always surprised to learn that I am Mennonite. I do not fit the common Mennonite image of plain clothes and riding horse and buggy. Sometimes, people wonder if my church's head office is in Utah because they confuse Mennonites with Mormons. Furthermore, people are surprised to learn that I was not raised Mennonite and that people can become Mennonites. In fact, within the Toronto area, we have Spanish speaking Mennonites, Chinese speaking Mennonites, etc. Because of these confusions, I want to explain what makes a Mennonite.
Mennonites are a Christian denomination. Our roots go back to the Protestant Reformation in the sixteen century where our ancestors took a more radical stand against the mainstream church. Our ancestors believed that the church should be separate from the State--something we take for granted now--but then, the church and State functioned as one. During those times, one became both Christian and became a citizen of the State through infant baptism. Our ancestors challenged this by refusing to baptize infants and by rebaptizing themselves as an expression of their adult Christian commitment. This is why our ancestors were called Anabaptists meaning "re-baptizers." Our ancestors also believed that Christian love must work at loving everyone including our enemies. As a result, Anabaptists refused to participate in wars or any acts of violence. Our ancestors also believed that our faith should be evident in the way we live and relate to others. Our Anabaptist ancestors were martyred for these beliefs. One of our earlier Anabaptist leaders was called Menno Simon, hence the name Mennonites which we are called today.
Today, modern Mennonites strive to live out these core Anabaptist values. We are a peace church which seeks to love our neighbour , even our enemy, through gracious relationships, justice and relief initiatives, dialogue, conflict mediation, and peacemaking teams. We are an ethical church that strives to practice our Christian faith everyday in our family life, work settings, and involvements, both inside and outside church. While the church and State are separate now, we still see the church as counter-cultural. The church needs to confront cultural values and activities that undermine life rather than build people up.
These are the principles that we, as Mennonites, try to practice in life. Anyone who can embrace these values can be a Mennonite--even you.
By Gord Alton
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