New Kid on the Mennonite Block. Part 5. Core Beliefs

Part 4 in the ongoing series New Kid on the Mennonite Block, in which I discuss my entrance and education into the Mennonite community. Read Part 1 Here and Part 2 Here and Part 3 Here and Part 4 Here. 


In Stuart Murray’s book The Naked Anabaptist, he presents 7 core beliefs of Anabaptists. They are in his own words, and not all agreed upon terminology but they present some great thought around the basics. Over the next few posts I am going to explore the core beliefs. Here we start with #1.

Numero Uno for Anabaptists is:

  1. “Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church, and our engagement with society (Murray, 45).”

Murray goes on to explore this principle, mainly looking at the person of Christ and the variations between Catholicism, Protestantism and Anabaptism. That for much of Catholicism (which he traces from Constantine and in the vein of Empire rather than the current forms of it) and Protestantism (specifically the modern conservative versions) that the Christology paid closer attention to the death of Christ rather than the life of him. The Protestant view of Christ is one of seeing a divine human who died and therefore separates us, through our faith, from the world. Anabaptists believe in this salvation but put it in context of a larger life. Historically the church has overlooked major sections and teachings such as the Beatitudes and Christ’s attention and involvement with justice rather than a mere escapism of salvation only.

Anabaptists value the life of Christ as well. He taught us how to live in a context. How do we live in the face of Empire? How do we live in response to violence? How do we serve others? How do we care for the needy? Christology is not only eschatology, something that Protestants and Catholics (historicaly. And yes there are exceptions) have by and large for overlooked. Ultimately, Jesus was a renouncement of earthly power (or a different form of it) that turned kingdom in its head and sought to honor the least of these. The powers that be in Prot. and Cath. systems of the day seemed to be seeking to replace the powers of Rome with their own versions of it. Anabaptists sought to follow Christ not replace Caesar with Jesus in the same system of hierarchy and oppression.

The final phrase, about “our engagement with society” is central. Following Christ creates an engagement with the culture. We are called to seek peace, love others, engage culture, and act for justice.

There are many ways this plays out, hence the hundreds of years of tradition and thousands of books on it. From my perspective most churches hold Christ at the center but it matters what attributes you ascribe to him. A church like Mars Hill holds Christ at the center as well, but their Christ is a tough, ass-kicking, MMA fighter who demands respect or else. For Anabaptists/Mennos, Christ is an example of justice, love, compassion and engagement all rolled into one. I hope to do more reading on specifics, rather than Murray’s good (but very broad and paraphrased presentation).

A few Questions for you Mennonites out there:

1) is the tradition Protestant or not? Murray claims it is not but many others claim it is. From your pespective, why is it or is it not? What are the key differences?

2) Is it evangelical? Yes, closely related to #1 but also important.

I would love to get your thoughts.

One Comment

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  1. Okay… you asked a Mennonite, you’ll get a Mennonite. 🙂

    1) We call ourselves “The Third Way”… and, BTW, it goes beyond being Mennonite, but being Anabaptist. suffice it to say, not all Anabaptists are Mennonites… and I would also add that, really, not all Mennonites are Anabaptists. I know a number of churches with the Mennonite name that act a lot more standard evangelical protestant with a bit of pacifism tossed in for good measure.

    But the indication of “neither Protestant nor Catholic” is accurate in historical perspective… We come from a tradition that is not rooted in the reformers like Luther and Zwingli.. nor are we rooted in the Roman Catholic tradition. Instead, it’s more the “radical reformation”, meaning trying to get back to the root of things, back to what the church was intended to be like from the beginning. That’s what makes Anabaptists “a third way”… while we still have our “institutional church” structures, there is a reason why the buildings are typically called “Meetinghouse” and not “church”… because we believe the church is not in the institution, building, hierarchy, etc., of the formalized institution but is more out and among the people.

    So… key difference… traditional Protestant like Anglican, Lutheran, UCC, Reformed, Episcopal, Methodist… even Baptist, Pentecostal, etc., are still based primarily on an organized, Christendom dependant institutional church. Anabaptism/Mennonites are less concerned about the institution than they are about living Christ-centered lives 24/7…

    2) Yes, we are evangelical. Anabaptism from the start has always been looking to bring people into the circle around Jesus… no, we’re not Evangelical like Billy Graham, Saddleback, etc., where Evangelical is more a denomination than a description… but we are evangelical in that we do look at the great commission in Matthew 28 as being an important factor… we are called to make disciples. So… yes, we are evangelical… but we’re not right-wing, Republican, God-and-Country evangelical. heck, to be a REAL Anabaptist, we’re not Democrat, Communist, Libertarian, Green-Party, etc., either…

    A good book to read (if you’re looking for more books) is an older one from 1980 called “The Third Way” by Paul Lederach. Might be hard to find but I’ll bet your Mennonite church should be able to find it for you.

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