Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 31 - Menno Simons, Reformer, Anabaptist, Champion of Peace


His pulse quickened and sweat began to bead upon his forehead ever so slightly. He didn't think anybody noticed his momentary pause and moment of anxiety but he couldn't be sure. Menno Simons swallowed hard and picked up where he left off in the mass. As they approached the moment when the bread and wine would become the body and blood of Christ, Menno became increasingly anxious about what he was doing. "This is silly," he thought to himself, "I've done this simple thing so many times...it's no different than last time." But his inward chiding would not deter the feeling that something special was happening in the moment--it was different than the last time he had done it because he was paying particular attention to the moment and tickling, small voice of the the Holy Spirit as it spoke to his heart. As he continued in the mass, his mind was brought back to only a few days prior when he and some of his fellow priests had been taking everything so lightly in the pub. As they drank and played cards, they seemed to have a life devoid of worry or anxiety--they had a job to do and they were good at doing it. Plus, it paid very well for the son of a poor, peasant family who had lived in a town oppressed by imperial aims and ambitions. He cleared his head by convincing himself that he was being deceived by the devil and that what he was doing was the same thing he had always been doing.

For years, he was tormented by doubts and fears that not everything was right about what was going on in the services. Menno felt as if God was genuinely calling him to live a Christian life and not simply the relaxed life of a priest. At times, he seemed to have felt a call to follow God even if it meant not following the Church. This was a horrifying prospect for a man as loyal as Menno was. Ultimately, he decided to seek out solace and solution in the scripture. Ironically, this was a novel approach for Menno. Most of his friends and colleagues were relatively unfamiliar with the scripture because they had been provided with everything they needed to do their job. When Menno began to voraciously consume the scripture his pain only intensified. He knew that the path he was following was one that others had followed and it had led them to a position known as "the reformation" and he feared it. He didn't want to end up like Luther or Zwingli but he couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right. He earnestly desired the unity of the One Church but could not escape the suspicion that reformation was needed if the One Church was to remain Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Having become familiar with the scripture, he eventually found himself siding with the Anabaptists even if it meant being defrocked and being labeled a schismatic. This wounded loyal Menno like no other blow but he was willing to suffer it because he felt called to the vitiating faith he felt his brothers and sisters were losing. Shortly after the death of his brother Pieter as an Anabaptist martyr at Munster, he finally made the break and became a member of the Church in protest to a Church where baptism and civil citizenship were synonymous and where the sword was wielded with easiness and lightness.

Menno always rejected the sword and insisted that the Christian way was the way of peace even if it cost the individual everything. He once wrote, "True Christians do not know vengeance. They are the children of peace. Their hearts overflow with peace. Their mouths speak peace, and they walk in the way of peace." He spent the remainder of his life serving among other Anabaptists as a preacher of peaceful reformation. It wasn't that he wanted the Roman Catholics to fail but, rather, to succeed wildly and profess a life-giving faith he feared was increasingly absent. Along these lines, he insisted that his brothers and sisters take up peaceful ways of resistance and reformation although some Anabaptists did not. Eventually, as Anabaptists were persecuted and began reacting violently, Menno was asked to be an official leader and shepherd of the group. He still insisted that they renounce the sword and take up the cross. For this, he was criticized by some and lauded by others. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that later Anabaptists began referring to themselves as "Mennonites," even though Menno himself would have strongly resisted the name. He died on January 25, 1561, as a leader and reformer having failed to see the reunion of the Church but in hope that there was room for unity through peaceful reformation.

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