In 2012, there were close to 2 million followers of Jesus who identified themselves as Mennonites. Followers of Jesus, who identify themselves as Mennonite, are found worldwide. Even though there are Mennonites around the globe, many people still don’t know our origins or our story.
Mennonites are a diverse group of followers of Jesus. Our story stretches as far back as the 16th century in Switzerland. During that century, the reformation brought conflict between the state controlled churches. Anabaptists were common folk who wanted to really understand what it meant to live and love like Jesus. They wanted to follow Jesus without the control of an oppressive government and oppressive government-controlled churches. They called themselves the “free church.” As a symbolic commitment to following Jesus for themselves, these individuals would baptize each other. Others called them, the Anabaptists, which means to “re-baptize.”
The government and government-controlled churches saw this symbolic act of baptism as an act of rebellion, since everyone was forced to be baptized as a baby in their churches. It was a way for them to keep control and collect taxes. The authorities also did not like the conviction of the Anabaptists, as they called for a separation of church and government. The Anabaptists did not believe in contributing to an oppressive government or taking up arms to fight a nation’s enemy. Anabaptists believed in following Jesus in every aspect of their daily life. This meant they could only be focused on the Kingdom of God and not the Kingdom of this world. Trying to balance the two would have been compromise. In following Jesus, they realized how important it was to be a community together. They also realized the essential importance of following Jesus’ call to love our enemies and our neighbors. It was because of these spiritual practices and disciplines, that the other churches and governments of their time found them to be rebellious. In fact, in the 16th century thousands of Anabaptist followers were martyred for their beliefs. Despite that, they continued to be peacemakers.
The onslaught of oppression did not stop our movement. Our communities grew and spread to the ends of the earth. In those early days, there was no central denomination or belief system that held these similarly convicted followers of Jesus together. As the oppression grew, various leaders arose from the diverse Anabaptist communities to give spiritual leadership and discipleship to the believers. One of those early leaders was Menno Simons. Menno Simons was a former Catholic priest who became a prominent leader in the Anabaptist movement. As a result, many Anabaptists became known as Mennonites, or those who follow the confession of faith as taught by Menno Simons.
Today, Mennonite practices vary widely. We continue to be a diverse group of followers of Jesus. There are also now more Mennonites on the continent of Africa than anywhere else in the world. However, our central values of following Jesus in our daily life and peacemaking continue to hold us all in community, despite our different disciplines and practices.
Our whole story isn’t written yet and we invite you to get to know us as individuals. We might have more in common than you realize.