What Is Mennonite-ness?
A friend told me recently that I should blog about maintaining Mennonite-ness in an unceasingly wired and media-oriented world.
She is full of fascinated questions about my lifestyle–questions such as: Is it true that you drive only black cars? How does a bald Mennonite woman pin on her cap? Can Mennonites make rum cake?
What I view as normal life, she views as unique and interesting.
Her comments got me thinking. What is Mennonite-ness? Is it merely a set of unusual lifestyle choices, as she believes it to be? And is it something worth maintaining?
The Root of Mennonite-ness
Walking through the Wal-Mart book aisle the other day, I noticed the prominently-displayed inspirational books. Emblazoned across their fronts with pictures of well-known Christian speakers, their slip covers lined with phrases like “face your fears,” “become the person you were meant to be,” “make every dream come true,” and “find abundant happiness,” their message was clear: “What’s in the Christian game for me?”
It is a message that runs contrary to what Jesus taught when he said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple,” and “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”
For those of us who are conservative Anabaptist, we have an idea of the difference between the two messages and an idea that we don’t want to swallow the first one, though our efforts to follow the Jesus-centered message are often woefully inadequate.
We all have family members in mainstream Christian churches. For some of us, we have left the beaten track to join a plain church. For some, we were born this way, and now we are the only ones of our family left.
“You’ve lost the Spirit, and you’re bound by the letter,” they tell us. “Now that we’ve left all that behind, we have freedom. Salvation doesn’t come through good works.”
But, with a picture in our mind of the two kingdoms–one a dazzling thing of beauty and power, the other plain and rather ugly, beset with stark realities of blood, sweat, and tears–we hold grimly to our trivialities. Cape dresses, sober vehicles, no television, no rum.
These are our security in a fast-paced, ever-changing, materialistic society.
Why Maintaining Mennonite-ness Is a Conundrum
We all hold our Anabaptist heritage as precious. We’ve heard the stories. Those early Anabaptists stood–against great pressure–for the things that are cornerstones of our faith.
• Simplicity. They turned away from the complex, organized social strata of the state church of their day to a simple, Christ-centered gospel.
• Personal responsibility. Every man, every woman on equal footing before God. No riding into the kingdom of heaven on the cassock tails of a cleric. No initiation rites for unknowing infants.
• Discipleship. They turned away from state church tradition and died to follow a Man and a Book.
Times have changed. As modern Anabaptists, we are part of an increasingly complex network of churches, split-offs of the churches, and split-offs of the split-off churches. Every church has a set of written standards agreed upon, and every church is guided by a complicated hierarchy of who associates with whom.
The many churches, standards, and guidelines are the result of a people deathly afraid of becoming “worldly.” We’ve seen it happen so often–watched what we believe to be Bible principles of separation, nonconformity, nonresistance, the wearing of the head covering, flung away to the winds of newer, bigger, better and filled with the Spirit.
We work to tighten our security and build walls against the encroaching world. Ironically, the higher we build our walls, the more complex grows our religion, and the more we destroy the simplicity and Biblical adherence we are trying to preserve.
Why We Need to Let Mennonite-ness Go
If we try to maintain Mennonite-ness, we destroy the foundations of our heritage. I am not suggesting we throw away Bible principles. I am suggesting that we would better preserve those principles if we let Mennonite-ness go.
To say “Forget your Mennonite-ness and follow Jesus” feels radical and scary. We know so many people who have said that–and who have dropped, along with their Mennonite-ness, principles of the Bible that we think important.
Nevertheless, Mennonite-ness is not the gospel. One day it will crumble–with every other man-thought religion, institution, and dogma on earth. At the end of time, only the gospel of Christ, pure and simple, drenched in blood and rather ugly, stands.
Should we build on any less?