Understanding the Mennonites - 1

In this, the first article of several on the history, beliefs and practices of the Mennonites, we will consider the origins of the movement, principally through the story of the leader whose name became synonymous with the churches he founded.

Menno Simmons, a Catholic priest, was converted to an evangelical Christian faith around 1525 as a result of reading the writings of Martin Luther.

Attracted to Anabaptism (though an opponent of its militant wing), his leadership and preaching gifts were recognized and he soon emerged as a leading figure in the Anabaptist movement in the Netherlands and North Germany. Within this region, he traveled extensively preaching the gospel, founding and establishing churches and writing numerous books, letters and pamphlets.

Menno stressed the idea of the local church as a community of believers committed to a new life of discipleship, sealed by believers'’ baptism and closely knit in fellowship and brotherly love.

Suspicious of dogmatic theology, Simmons was reluctant to use terms not clearly located in Scripture -– his avoidance of the word “Trinity” being one of the more controversial expressions of this approach. This should not be confused with his Trinitarian beliefs, which were in line with the historic creeds and confessions.

Frequently opposed by both Catholics and mainline Protestant reformers, Menno Simmons was often forced to move on from place to place in the course of discharging his ministry,– which was described by many of the churches he served as “apostolic”. He died in the town of Wustenfelde in 1561.

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