Tag Archives: Menno Simons

Bill Rambo: A Look at John Knox and Menno Simons Today

The Protestant (Radical) Reformation Through 2017

 by Bill Rambo

I was baptised as an infant. Don’t be too shocked, please. I was rebaptized as an adult.

But my early life was informed by my parents’ commitment to the Presbyterian Church. It sent them as missionaries to the Congo, later called Zaire, for many of my formative years.

I have missionaries on both sides of my family, going back four generations on Dad’s side and five on Mom’s. My wife Sharon Hildebrand and I met serving in Christian missions in Africa, she with MCC and I with the southern Presbyterians.

This intertwines my history with the experiences of reformers John Knox and Menno Simons, and it raises questions for me and others today.

Priests and Reformers

Knox (c.1505-1572) was a founder of the Reformation in Scotland as it broke from the Roman Catholic tradition in 1560. Simons (1496-1561) was, of course, a key leader of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition in which the EMC has a place. He began as a priest in Friesland in what is now the Netherlands.

Both priests found that political and cultural circumstances, as well as inner convictions, pushed them to consider the Scriptures more highly than the traditions and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Both were influenced by the Reformation activities of Martin Luther in Germany and John Calvin in Switzerland.

Simons was converted and broke with the more mainstream reformers, especially on the issues of believers’ baptism and participation in civil government. Knox came from Great Britain where Protestant forces, especially Henry VIII’s Church of England, contended with Roman Catholics in government; this showed the political influence of the French and the Spanish in England’s royal family.

A Guard and Galley Prisoner

John Knox was influenced by his association with Scottish reformers Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart, both of whom were martyred for their Protestant teaching in the first half of the 16th century. Knox was actually an armed bodyguard for Wishart, and was taken prisoner after the French put down an armed uprising. This attack was at the request of Mary of Guise, the Catholic mother of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Roman Catholic regent of Scotland.

Knox was forced to row galleys for the French for almost two years. Later exiled to England, Knox became a priest within the Church of England and was one of six chaplains for the young King Edward VI. In the early 1550s, Knox was offered various posts to keep him under the thumb of Edward’s in-fighting regents. In 1554 he left Great Britain for the continent.

Idolators and Rulers

For the next five years Knox developed his doctrines of Protestantism, focusing on “idolaters”—meaning Roman Catholics—and women as secular rulers. He published “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women” largely against Mary of Guise in Scotland and English Queen Mary I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. Hundreds of reformers were executed under “Bloody Mary” during her reign from 1553-1558.

Knox consulted both John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger in Switzerland about civil government. He served as a minister to English exiles in Frankfurt and Geneva, before returning to Scotland in 1559. (Menno Simons had read the works of Bullinger and Luther in developing his stance against infant baptism.)

From 1560 to his death, Knox was a renowned preacher in Scotland as the country continued to develop its commitment to Protestantism and against Catholicism. Knox was part of the impetus toward Scottish emphasis on preaching, reading and singing in “the Kirk” (the Church) based on the Word of God.

Heresies

Even before he returned to Scotland, Knox had written letters to the Scottish churches warning about idolatrous Catholicism and what he called heresies. He included Arminianism, which emphasizes that people are free to choose either to follow Jesus or to reject him.

To Knox, this said that people control their eternal destiny and are justified by works rather than faith. In turn, Simons and other Anabaptists saw the doctrine of predestination as leading to moral laxness for individuals and for the church.

Knox’s longest work, more than 170,000 words, was “An Answer to a Great Number of Blasphemous Cavilations Written by an Anabaptist, and Adultery to God’s Eternal Predestination.”

To be fair, Richard Kyle points out that Anabaptist was a “generic label for all kinds of nonconformity, virtually synonymous with fanaticism or heresy.” Knox may not have referred to the strain of Anabaptism that would eventually respect Menno Simons’ teachings, although he touches on several Anabaptist distinctives.

An Anabaptist?

For instance, Knox had a run-in with an “Anabaptist” while a chaplain for King Edward VI. The man presented Knox with a book that he claimed to be written by God and asked his opinion. After reading that the Devil, not God, had created the world and the wicked creatures in it, Knox said, “Ye deserve death as a blasphemous person and denier of God, if you prefer any word to that which the Holy Ghost has uttered in his plain Scriptures.”

The Anabaptist took the book and left. Knox regretted that he had not kept the book and reported the Anabaptist. This failure could have created serious problems for Knox. Yet even years later, Knox would not mention his name, which could have led to the Anabaptist’s death.

Obviously, this “Anabaptist” was not in the sola scriptura tradition of Simons, Luther, and others.

Baptism

However, most major reformers and Roman Catholics saw it as dangerous heresy to reject the sacrament of infant baptism. Anabaptists, according to Knox, saw baptism as non-sacramental, a testimony of faith, not itself a part of the process of salvation. Knox and most reformers agreed that baptism did not confer salvation, but Knox asserted that it was not necessary to be rebaptized.

Five Centuries Later

Where does all this controversy leave us five centuries later? Debate continues about predestination versus free will, though with perhaps more charity. Likewise, Christ’s Church has developed more loving attitudes, rather than executing those with whom we don’t agree. We may still have a way to go to conform to the Sermon on the Mount in the areas of anger and the desire to call each other various kinds of fools (Matt. 5:21-22).

As for baptism, it would be nice to think that the Church is more tolerant now than in the Reformation. However, in Zaire as a young adult I requested to be rebaptized and saw the anguish of a Presbyterian colleague from Scotland whose mission authorities forbade him to take part in the ceremony.

Knox and the major Reformers thought that Christians should take part in civil government. Simons and many other Anabaptists thought that separation from the world was required of followers of Christ.

Today, the nature of government in modern democracies seems to require that good people not be separate from the way government is done. “In the world, but not of the world” was easier to discern in the past when rulers came from distinct strata of society and Christian leaders too often confused secular power and religious authority.

Today, citizens of all classes may ascend to political power, and Christian integrity should be shown in the service of politics as well in as our call to be Christ’s witnesses and his hands and feet in the world.

A Command and a Warning

BRambo2016c
Bill Rambo

In spite of Reformation conflicts in the past, we should continue to progress into a more perfect expression of Christ’s commandment and warning: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Bill Rambo (Saturday Night Church), BA, BS, is a high school teacher in Winnipeg. He grew up in The Democratic Republic of the Congo/Zaire and in the United States. After marrying Sharon, he has been rooted in Landmark, Man., for more than a quarter century. However, he still cheers for the Denver Broncos as well as the Bombers. He has served on the EMC Board of Church Ministries and currently serves on its Education Committee.

 

Terry Smith: Menno Simons, Remembered and Forgotten

By Terry M. Smith

The Protestant (Radical) Reformation Through 2017

In this year when the Protestant (Radical) Reformation is remembered, Menno Simons is a 16th century leader to whom we are indebted and yet often forget. Some EMCers know Menno’s story; others know little. Pastors play a role in this.

Many of us were raised within the EMC. We’re shaped by this Dutch former priest, indebted to the Radical Reformation, influenced by the Small Church’s leaving the Big Church in 1812, and have family who were born on “this side” or “that side” of a river.

For others, few reasons why we attend an EMC church clearly relate to Menno Simons: it meets nearby, is evangelical, friendships, family, Kids’ Club, VBS, camp work, Sunday School, coming to faith in Christ, limited options, church conflict elsewhere.

Some people attend because a local EMC church has Mennonite in its name; others,  because it doesn’t. Some attend because of a church’s non-resistant position; others despite it or because it might mean little locally. Yet each church is linked to Menno Simons.

Credit WGM and Others

Credit leader Ben D. Reimer and the Western Gospel Mission’s workers for opening the EMC door 70 years ago to non-Dutch/German people. The WGM in 1946-1961 planted churches in non-Mennonite communities in three provinces, downplayed the term Mennonite because it was a barrier to outreach, and adapted somewhat to local cultures.

As people have noted, it is ironic that aggressive church planting happened by pacifist German-speaking people just after World War Two. Credit also goes to non-Dutch/German people who decades ago became members (or a pastor, such as Edwin Wright) when it might have been easier to go elsewhere. As a result, changes have happened and are happening.

Honed Earlier

For some of us, our “Anabaptist convictions” were partly honed in Baptist, Pentecostal, and other Evangelical circles before joining the EMC. I was attracted to the Mennonite church because the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, a fine denomination, would likely not have ordained me because of my stance on the Holy Spirit. I sought an evangelical option (despite my United Church roots) and was influenced by MCC on peace and social issues. Joining the EMC in particular was more luck than good management—credit Jim and Virginia Dyck (then in Wabowden), the EMC contingent among SBC’s faculty, and Russ Loewen who snagged me to teach a S.S. class in Steinbach EMC.

Thought and Menno Simons

Whether we’ve joined the EMC from the inside or outside, we’re to consider Menno Simons’ teachings. It dishonours him and seems un-Anabaptist to do otherwise. Not that we must agree with him on all matters. Menno Simons insisted that people test what he said by the Word and Spirit and, if there’s a difference, stay with the Word and Christ (Complete Writings, 311). Menno never said to study Scripture because all roads lead to him. His focus was different: it was on Christ.

Exploring Menno Simons and the history he symbolizes is enriching, confusing, and disturbing—as can be any part of Church history. We might become aware of the many Anabaptist divisions, how some Anabaptists disassociate from Evangelicals, and how some people merge faith and culture under the term Mennonite. For some people the migrations to Prussia, Russia, Canada, and elsewhere fall within family history that is both significant and enriching; to others, the connection that matters starts and remains in Canada.

Comfort in Menno

When disturbed, though, we can find some comfort in Menno Simons: he disliked divisions among Anabaptists, wouldn’t want the church to be named after him, and thought the term Anabaptist didn’t fit him (334, 630). What might he think, then, when people claim to be born Mennonite, talk of Mennonite food and language, or describe themselves as Mennonite while not following Christ? How is Menno Simons honoured if not allowed to critique the church named after him?

What’s attractive for some of us is that Menno was evangelical in his understanding of Christ and his work. “For Christ’s sake we are in grace; for His sake we are heard; and for His sake our faults and failings . . . are remitted,” he wrote in 1550. “For it is He who stands between His Father and His imperfect children, with His perfect righteousness, and with His innocent blood and death, and intercedes for all those who believe on Him and who strive by faith in the divine Word to turn from evil . . .” (506).

Assurance of Salvation

Further, Menno Simons taught that a weak follower of Christ could have an assurance of salvation. In 1557 he pointed a sick woman to Christ: “I pray and desire that you will betake yourself wholly both as to what is inward and what is outward unto Christ Jesus and His merits, believing and confessing that His precious blood alone is your cleansing; His righteousness your piety; His death your life; and His resurrection your justification; for He is the forgiveness of all your sins; His bloody wounds are your reconciliation; and His victorious strength is the staff and consolation of your weakness….” What wonderful words!

He told her, “ . . . rest assured that you are a child of God, and that you will inherit the kingdom of grace in eternal joy with all the saints” (1051-1052). I once showed this passage to Rev. Dave K. Schellenberg, the WGM’s former field man, EMC church planter at Portage la Prairie, and the first editor of this magazine. It puzzled him. If earlier Kleine Gemeinde leaders read Menno’s writings and he taught on the assurance of salvation, why did they seem so uncertain of assurance?

No Boast of Perfection

Comfort in Menno Simons can also be found in his being an imperfect saint. “Think not, beloved reader, that we boast of being perfect and without sins,” he wrote in 1552. “Not at all. As for me I confess that often my prayer is mixed with sin and my righteousness with unrighteousness” (506). J. C. Wenger, a modern Anabaptist scholar, highlighted such references (footnotes on 233, 311, 447).

Menno was properly concerned about Protestants who sang of freedom in Christ “while beer and wine verily run from their drunken mouths and noses.” He objected in 1541 that “anyone who can but recite” that salvation is by grace through faith alone, “no matter now carnally he lives, is a good evangelical man and a precious brother.” Simons was concerned about a living faith, about faith and practice. Memorization and slogans weren’t enough then. They still aren’t.

Such correction wasn’t always well received: “If someone steps up in true and sincere love to admonish or reprove them…and points them to Christ Jesus rightly,” Menno said, “…then he must hear…that he is one who believes in salvation by good works, is a heaven stormer, a sectarian agitator, a rabble rouser, a make-believe Christian, a disdainer of the sacraments, or an Anabaptist” (334). How might Menno Simons be received today as a preacher within our EMC churches and on Mennonite colonies?

An Unnatural Death

J. C. Wenger says Menno wrote far too much defending what now is mostly discarded: that Jesus was born in Mary, but not of her (836-837). I agree. Nor do we need to hold to his strict view of church discipline: a spouse is to separate from a mate under discipline (478-479). He fluctuated on this depending, we can suspect, on who was pressuring him at the moment (1048-1049, 1058-1061).

His six  “true signs” of the “Church of Christ” are useful for assessing a church’s maturity and doctrinal integrity (734-743), though I hold that denominations can be in Christ while partly in error. As well, given our strong concern in the EMC for evangelism and church planting, it’s important for us (including missionaries and evangelists) to learn from Menno’s concern for peace and social justice (100, 117-119, 194-198, 367-368, 602-604).

Menno said more. Agree or disagree with him on a particular matter, we best not dismiss him. He held his views in a difficult time at a high personal cost. If he physically died a natural death denied many others in his time, his memory dies unnaturally in our time if we forget him—whether our local EM church name says Mennonite or not.

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Terry M. Smith (Rev.) joined the EMC in 1979, served as a pastor from 1985-1996, and became executive secretary to the BCM in 1997. He was raised in the United Church and baptized in a Baptist church. During journalism studies he was called to ministry and began pastoral training at Central Pentecostal College. He is a graduate of SAIT, SBC, MBBC, and PTS.

Major source: The Complete Writings of Menno Simons (Herald Press, rev. 1984) edited by J. C. Wenger. A biography of Menno Simons is on 1 to 29; an autobiography is on 668-674. Leonard Verduin, a Christian Reformed minister who died in 1999, graciously served as translator.

Dr. Royden Loewen: A Tribute: Menno Simons (1496-1561)

The Protestant (Radical) Reformation Through 2017

by Dr. Royden Loewen

In 1496 a boy named Menno was born to Dutch dairy farmers. The father’s name was Simon; the mother’s we don’t know. Neither do we know whether Menno was born in the springtime when the warm air shines on the flat lush green pastures of the province of Friesland, or in the fall when cold and wet northerly winds bear down from the nearby North Sea.

Whatever the case, it was here in Friesland that Menno was raised, where he studied and began his work as a Catholic priest, installed to that position at age 28, near his home village of Witmarsum.

His early years in the church were routine. He carried out his duties as priest, seemingly without caring to use knowledge of Greek or Latin to pursue “biblical truth,” and using what spare time he had to cavort with his fellow priests, living a life that he later described as frivolous and greedy, “without spirituality or love.”

A Movement

Then something happened to change his life. Around 1530 Menno began to hear of Anabaptists, a religious movement originating in Switzerland, but spreading quite quickly northward, reaching his very village. He heard the Anabaptists preach that Christ could only be truly known by following his radical message of peace and service daily, not through communion, for example, where Christ was relegated to ritual and symbol.

By 1531 he heard, too, that an Anabaptist, Sicke Freerks, had been executed for baptizing adults—to follow Christ for this believer was a matter of decision and will, not one of inheritance and custom. Menno turned to the Scriptures to seek the pure gospel and there discovered the essence of religious faith—to “live in Christ.” Menno felt the strong pull now to leave the old church and join the Anabaptists, but later he noted how the lure of money and status had made this an almost impossible step to take.

A Break

In 1536, however, Menno made the break—a true conversion, he said, that followed a tearful plea for the gift of God’s grace and a clean heart.

Menno was out of the old church, out of money, and, after he agreed to lead the Anabaptists of his region, suddenly also out of luck. He was on the run.

As he raced ahead of the authorities, he preached, baptized, and wrote profusely on being a person of peace, of sacrifice, of service, of purity. He was neither a great theologian nor a charismatic preacher. He was a common man, strongly identifying with the simple and devout craftspeople and farmers of his region.

Yet Menno rarely shied from stopping in the cities—Bonn, Amsterdam, Cologne, Gdansk, Luebeck, Wismar—to debate publicly or secretly with the “learned” men. His stand was unequivocal: the Bible is the sole authority; Christ is the full model of life; salvation means being a “new creature” implanted in Christ; this “new life” is revealed in community as peace, purity, simplicity, and the willingness to suffer.

A Leader

Menno Simons was not the founder of the movement that acquired his name. But, at their request, he became their leader, a shepherd to the scattered, persecuted flock. He became widely known through his travelling, debating, counselling and prolific writing—loved by his friends, hated by his enemies.

Menno says, “In this it is evident that where sincere faith and true faith exists, the faith which avails before God and is a gift from God, which comes from hearing the holy Word, there through the blossoming tree of life all manner of precious fruits of righteousness are present, such as the fear and love of God, mercy, friendship, chastity, temperance, humility, confidence, truth, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Menno’s life verse, 1 Corinthians 3:11, appeared on the front of all his books and pamphlets: “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Brushes With Death

With a 100 gold guilder reward on his head, Menno’s brushes with death were close. In 1539 Tjard Reynders had been severely tortured (“broken on the wheel”) for having given Menno refuge in his house. Then in 1544 Menno’s publisher Jan Claeszoon (Klassen) was beheaded for possessing 600 copies of Menno’s book. In 1545 a boatman whisked Menno down the Mass River to escape Holland, but the ferryman was caught and killed. Once Menno escaped when sheriffs stopped a stagecoach, but failed to recognize him.

Later Years

In his later years Menno’s energy began to run out and he became disabled. To add to this difficulty, his wife Geertrudyt and two of his three children, a boy and a girl, died probably sometime in the mid-1550s.

Moreover, Menno’s own idealistic vision of a church as the very expression of Christ’s love generated almost continual debate within the church. He readily confronted men and women who he thought were too easily given to strict doctrine, to violent lifestyles, to spiritual apathy, to faintheartedness.

royden-loewen
Dr. Royden Loewen

Menno died in 1561 and was buried in a private garden in Bad Oldsloe, Germany. His work would not be forgotten, for he had left a legacy of having been a leader of a people and a church formed around his undying motto: “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is . . . Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Royden Loewen, with roots in the Blumenort EMC, is Chair of Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg. This article is reprinted. It first appeared in The Messenger on Sept. 18, 1996.

Dr. Terry Hiebert: Conversion Stories of Martin Luther and Menno Simons

The Protestant (Radical) Reformation Through 2017

by Dr. Terry Hiebert

October 31, 1517, was Reformation Day, an event that produced the second great division in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of the West. By some counts, the Protestant movement has since produced 45,000 more divisions we call denominations.

Centuries earlier, the apostle Paul urged the early Christians in Ephesus to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:3-6).

We might conclude from Paul’s statement that divisions should cease, denominations should dissolve, and the Christian Church should reunite as one big family. Notice, the word happy was omitted intentionally. For example, Lutherans and Mennonites have dialogued since 2002 about our differences and have expressed forgiveness and pledged cooperation with one another.

Each admit that the other belongs to the extended Christian family even if we do not attend all the same family gatherings. The differences have to do with beliefs, practices, ethics, organization, and traditions now 500 years in the making. Differences between even two Christian groups are complex.

Simplify the Issues

Now let’s simplify the issues. Lutherans and Mennonites can trace some of our main differences to the conversion stories of our founders, Martin Luther and Menno Simons. Like the influence of parents on their children, the experiences of Luther and Menno have imprinted their descendants for generations. The Reformers wrote of their conversions years after the fact. Luther described his conversion in 1545, recounting his experience of God’s grace in July 1519. Menno in 1554 wrote an account of experienced of God’s conviction and his conversion in 1536.

The conversion stories of Luther and Menno reveal the distinctives between the two Reformers as well as the two traditions that developed over the past 500 years. Consider the features of their stories of coming to faith in Christ. While there are similarities, the differences are also striking. I will highlight some of the more important distinctions.

 

Martin Luther Menno Simons
University lecturer above reproach Parish priest playing cards and drinking
Miserable sinner repented regularly People pleasing sinner but unrepentant
Doctrinal problem with God’s righteousness Moral problem is with his sinful heart
Raging conscience hating the God of wrath Troubled soul disturbed by his own hypocrisy
Crisis that miserable sinners are born in sin, condemned by the Law, and hear a Gospel of wrath Crisis of belief in the traditional views of the Lord’s Supper, infant baptism, and the violence of Christians
Scripture study in Romans 1 about the righteousness of God Scripture study about the Lord’s Supper and believers baptism
Discovers that God justifies by faith and feels like he is born again. Prays for grace and a clean heart and receives Christ’s forgiveness
Focuses on God’s objective work for us Focuses on God’s Spirit at work in us
Finds support for justification by faith in the tradition of Augustine Finds support for his new beliefs about the sacraments in Scripture but not in tradition
Experiences transformed love for God. Experiences a call to service and suffering in obedience to Christ

 

What can we learn from the two conversion stories? Let’s reflect on the stories of transformation, before, during and after conversion. Again we discover as many differences as similarities. Perhaps we should not be so surprised at their differences considering the conversion stories we hear in church every year at baptism.

Different Places, Mindsets

Before their conversions, Luther and Menno came from very different places, backgrounds, and mindsets. Luther was a university lecturer who encountered a biblical, theological, and philosophical problem that tormented his spiritual life as well. It seems that for Luther, the biggest problem was with a God of wrath and not so much with Luther the sinner.

Menno was a parish priest serving without ever having read the Scriptures. Menno started reading the Scriptures, but admitted that he wasted this knowledge through youthful lusts, sensual living, and looking for the favour of people. Luther started out to please a wrathful God while Menno started out to please worldly people.

At their conversions, Luther and Menno experienced a deep crisis of faith. Luther admitted he was a sinner, but was angry at a God who was not satisfied with his attempts at repentance. Luther was converted by an insight from studying the Bible that God justifies the sinner by the gift of faith. Luther had a theological conversion and repented in his beliefs about God.

Menno grew in awareness that his preaching of Scripture clashed with his sinful lifestyle. Menno was converted by the conviction that God would judge him for misleading his parishioners through hypocrisy. Menno had a moral conversion or a repentance of heart toward God and people.

Different Emotions and Callings

After their conversions, Luther and Menno followed experienced different emotions and callings. Luther felt “altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.” He returned to his study and was comforted to discover that his mentor Augustine had written similar ideas about justification by faith years earlier.

Nine months after Menno’s conversion, he felt God’s Fatherly Spirit empower him to renounce his worldly reputation. Menno yielded to “the heavy cross of Christ” and accepted the call to lead a small group of the Anabaptist faithful.

The two conversion stories are quite different. Luther’s conversion transformed his life from tormented anguish of soul in anger towards God to a place of love for God and the proclamation of God’s grace. Menno’s conversion transformed his life from sensuality, ease, and popularity with people to a place fearing for his life and the proclamation of obedience to God.

Both Luther and Menno in their conversion stories indicate that they were ministers of God before their conversion. Luther posted his 95 Theses two years before his conversion. Menno served as parish priest 12 years before his conversion. Both confessed troubled souls. Both identified a moment of enlightenment when a new understanding of God’s Word transformed their minds. Both yielded themselves to the grace of God after their conversions. Both continued to serve God resulting in a renewal of worship, beliefs, and morals for generations of followers.

Beyond Lament, a Blessing

While I hear many Christians lament the disunity in the Church today, the Reformation has become more of a blessing even considering the great difficulties experienced in the early years after 1517. Why? Because the message of unity is not the only word in the Scriptures. Paul continued his appeal to the early churches by celebrating the importance of diversity in the body of Christ as well.

In Ephesians, Paul wrote, “but to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (4:7). We hear echoes in praise of diversity as Paul calls the Corinthian church to unity in the Spirit’s manifestations of grace. To a divided church the apostle still maintained, “now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). The phrase common good is better translated as “to be an advantage to someone.”

One legacy of the Reformation is found in the conversion stories of the Reformers and their followers. Like faith stories today, no two Reformers were identical. The conversion stories of Luther and Menno are quite different. The Reformation advantage is that over 75 million Christians identify more fully with the body of Christ because Luther and Menno taught us to see God’s grace in different ways.

Still, 500 years later we are Christian first, and only then Lutherans or Mennonites, because there is one Lord Jesus Christ, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. In the case of Luther and Menno, how about three out of four?

terry-hiebert-2016
Dr. Terry Hiebert

Dr. Terry Hiebert serves at Steinbach Bible College as Academic Dean and enjoys when students get excited about theology. He is married to Luann, a college English instructor. They have three adult children and four energetic grandchildren. Terry and Luann enjoy their dog, a tiny house project, and long distance travel. They attend Gospel Fellowship Church (EMMC) in Steinbach, Man.

Resources:

Martin Luther’s Conversion Account see link

Menno Simons Conversion Account see link

Terry Smith: Menno Simons and Martin Luther

by Terry M. Smith

What does a priest do when struggling with his beliefs? He might study to gain knowledge and peace. The priest was Menno Simons; the one who helped him toward peace was Martin Luther, a former priest.

Luther (1483-1546) earned BA and MA degrees before entering a monastery because of a vow made in a storm that frightened him. He studied theology and was ordained as a priest in 1507. He later earned a doctorate in theology.

On Oct. 31, 1517, Luther displayed a written protest against the practice of indulgences. Instead, he highlighted the grace of God revealed in Christ. By 1521 Luther was declared an outlaw and for the next 25 years he was a reformer.

Menno Simons (1496-1561) was born in the village of Witmarsum, Friesland, now part of the Netherlands. After lengthy studies, he was ordained as priest in 1524 and served for 12 years. During that period he struggled with the doctrines of transubstantiation and infant baptism. He read the Bible and found it at odds with some of what he practiced.

In his struggle, Menno found some peace through the writings of Martin Luther: “He was always grateful to Luther for . . . the fundamental principle of the authority of Scripture as over against any human authority” (H. S. Bender). While indebted, Menno disagreed with Luther on infant baptism.

In 1535 Menno left the Roman Catholic Church; within a year or so he was approached and then ordained to lead a group of Anabaptists. For the next quarter-century Simons sought to provide stable leadership to a persecuted group that was too often at odds with itself.

Luther and Simons each married, had children, and died of natural causes. Near the end of Menno’s days, the influence of Martin on Simons remained clear. In 1556, five years before he died, Menno was disturbed by the actions of Anabaptist leaders at Emden who ordered a woman to shun her husband or be excommunicated.

“I can neither teach nor live by the faith of others,” he wrote, disagreeing. “I must live by my own faith as the Spirit of the Lord has taught me through his Word.” The Word had final authority, not the questionable practices of people—whether Catholics or Anabaptists.

“I desire, according to my humble talents, to teach a Gospel that builds up, and not one that breaks down” wrote Simons, “one that gives off a pleasant odor, not a stench, and I do not intend to trouble the work of God with something for which I have no certain Scriptural grounds.”

terry-smith
Terry M. Smith

Menno, like Luther before him, had earlier sought spiritual peace and found it in Christ. Now, later in life, Menno did not want to unnecessarily add to another’s distress.

Sources: W. Klaassen, Anabaptism: Neither Catholic nor Protestant (Conrad Press, 1981); Menno Simons, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons (Herald Press, 1956, 1984), H. S. Bender, biographer, and L. Verduin, trans.; C. S. Meyer, “Luther, Martin,” in Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. J. D. Douglas (Zondervan, 1981); R. H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Mentor, 1950).