Mennonites are a relatively small group of committed believers in Jesus Christ. Worldwide membership of baptized Mennonites stands at around 1.2 million, approximately 42% of which live in Europe, the United States, and Canada. Early in their history they were given (by others) the name of their early Dutch leader, Menno Simons. But they are followers of Christ, not Menno.
The "Anabaptist-Mennonite" movement began in the 16th century at the time of the Protestant Reformation in Europe. A small group of earnest young believers said that reformers Martin Luther and Ulrich 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. Fired by their new faith, the believers began to evangelize. The movement rapidly spread to South Germany and the Netherlands, where Menno Simons joined the movement and then provided two decades of pastoral leadership for this persecuted group of believers.
The official churches immediately opposed the movement and called them "Anabaptizers," which literally means RE-baptisers. The state government was intolerant of the movement because it did not accept the self-proclaimed authority of the government-run church. Many Anabaptist leaders were martyred. Thousands died gruesome deaths over the next fifty years. Small groups of Anabaptists lived without the right to own property or to meet publicly for worship. Some fled -- many to Russia and North America -- seeking freedom to live their faith according to their consciences. Due to the expanding missionary efforts of the last century, nearly half of all Mennonites today live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where the Mennonite churches are experiencing their most rapid growth.
Central to Mennonite teachings is the belief that Jesus Christ is the model for life. As such, Mennonites believe that Christianity is more centrally a matter of lived faith than it is a matter of propositional beliefs. Mennonites believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead in order that people might live in union with God. In relating to each other and the world in the same loving, forgiving way that Jesus practiced, they aim to continue the ministry Christ began, living in simple obedience to the Word of God. The believe that the life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Bible serve as a key to the interpretation of the Bible in the context of today's world.
Mennonites recognize that all people sin -- they do wrong, failing to do good and thus losing touch with God. They believe that God sent Jesus Christ to the world to defeat the powers of evil, to confront injustice, and to free people from their sins and from their enslavement to lifestyles of self-preservation. Mennonites believe that all those who believe in Jesus Christ and who orient their lives to the Reign of God receive forgiveness for their sins, a more whole life, and the promise of living forever with God. They practice "believers baptism" to symbolize the decision of an adult to make a public commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Mennonites try to follow Jesus' call to the church to bring good news to all persons. They are concerned with both the spiritual and the physical needs of the world. Essential to Mennonites is the strength of community. They gather together to encourage one another, to reaffirm their life orientation toward God's work in the world, to worship God, and to help one other discover God's ways in the world today.
Mennonites believe that following Christ means loving the enemy and refusing to use violence. Many conscientiously refuse to participate in military service. They try to live peaceably with others at all levels. They understand that a life oriented to God's work in the world will necessarily be a life of service to the poor, the needy, and and the marginalized, and are willing to take risks in working actively for justice and mercy in the world.
There are several Mennonite-related denominations. They include the Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church, and the Mennonite Brethren. The first two of these are moving toward integration in the years ahead.
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