MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works (Part 1): Teachings on Divorce

MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works…

Menno Simons Writings 003

My father handed me the big, fat book, of boring, religious writings. (Forgive me. I mean no disrespect, but old English, for me, is associated with a distant, non-relational God.)  An ugly brown. Go figure. As unappealing to look at, as the thought of reading it. Another book in the collection of the ‘Never Read’ section of my book-case.

Most likely it was my father’s way of reminding me to never leave the Mennonite church–in whatever ‘brand’–and his attempt at keeping me on the ‘straight and narrow’.

“Thank you very much,” I said. And I meant it.

Whatever his motive at the time, and however (appropriately) plain, and even boring, the book might be, my father had given me a gift that meant the world to him. He handed it to me with almost a sense of reverence. On ‘this’ man, Menno, our faith heritage was founded, and that was something my father treasured. Still, it stayed a step below his near-sacred Martyr’s Mirror, which I had spent much time reading as a child. Now that book I would have loved, had he given it to me.

(I must inject here that, in 2001, my father became very ill, suffering from diabetes, that had, unfortunately, only worsened with his love for cultural fried foods, desserts and other taboo menu items, and led to him needing an amputation. While in the hospital I spent more time with him, one on one, than any other time in my life, and during that time he blessed me to leave the Mennonite church. The ‘brand name’ no longer mattered to him. He had discovered grace, he said.)

This gift, of Menno’s writings, was given to me in my mid-twenties, or thereabouts, and it lay dormant for quite a few years.

One Sunday morning, while I was still in a conservative Mennonite church, the pastor preached enthusiastically on  ‘Divorce & Remarriage’ and the church’s stand on it. He referenced Menno Simons, our fore-father, our spiritual ‘leader’, more than he referenced the word of God. And, quite frankly, Menno wrote about it more than the New Testament, for sure.

What it was about the strong referencing of Menno Simons that inspired me, I don’t know for certain, but something tweaked my curiosity… A desire to hear it from ‘the man’ himself.

Maybe it was my irritation at hearing more about this ‘founder of our faith’, than Jesus Christ, on that particular morning, or the frequent preaching of the church’s positions, rules and constitutions, rather than the teaching and doctrines of Christ and the Word of God in general. Whatever it was, I do recall that these things always aggravated me, and unsettled me, and that particular morning enough to make me act.

Regardless the cause, the questions began… What did this man really teach and believe? Do we assume that what is taught, Sunday after Sunday, church service after church service, and what is attributed to this great leader of our denominational faith, is accurate? Or does anyone ever reference his actual writings? (Or, do they, like me, find that big ugly brown book a little drab, inside and out?)

Are we like the daughter who, when she moved out on her own, went to prepare a roast, and instinctively cut the end of the roast. When questioned as to why, she couldn’t  answer more than, “My mother always did.” When she questioned her mother, she said, “Your Grandma always did.” And when they asked the Grandma, she said, “Because my roast pan was too small.”

Do we ask the questions, make sure we know and understand truth, or do we simply accept, without questioning, what we have seen and learned?

I had no reason to believe he was being misrepresented… No reason to believe that our denominational views had evolved over time and morphed into something very different than what I had heard my entire life was the beliefs of our founding fathers. Such a thought never occurred to me.

Still, with the curiosity sparked, I found myself, the following Monday morning, searching Menno’s big, fat, ugly book for answers. I flipped furiously at first, having found no title page, simply scanning, looking for key words, ‘marriage… divorce… remarriage… etc’. Nothing caught my eye.

When I finally discovered the book’s index system, I made progress. On page 311, of ‘A Humble & Christian Defense‘–ah… there’s our humility, boldly advertised, so as not to have it missed…–I found what I was looking for… but it surprised me.

I admit, I was fully expecting Menno to support everything I heard preached the previous day, and my whole life, but I had to see it for myself. What I found, instead, rather stunned me. I am confident that my Conservative Mennonite Churches of Ontario (CMCO) leaders, and all other conservative Mennonite leaders, whether in school, Numidia Bible School, or any other potential influence, never intentionally misled me about Menno Simons’ beliefs. But clearly they didn’t do their homework, because not one every mentioned that Menno Simons had it wrong.

Rather than type out his words, I have photographed what I found that day. His writing is in response to a false charge that the Anabaptist church allowed polygamy, having wives in common, and that any man could say to a woman, “Sister, my spirit desires your flesh’. [MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works, pg 310, in ‘A Humble & Christian Defense‘.]

Menno goes beyond simply answering to those charges. He expounds on where the church stands on the issue of divorce and remarriage, among other things, before he even ventures to address their accusation.:

Menno Simons Writings 001

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Lest anyone would quickly argue that ‘they cannot be separated from each other, to marry again’ is a stand alone ‘belief’, and the ‘otherwise than for adultery’ applies only to the separation, I did my homework to find out if in fact I read this correctly. What I found was the ‘Wismar Articles’.

In 1554, seven key Dutch Anabaptist leaders, including Menno Simons, Dirk Phillips, and Leonard Bouwens met together in conference to discuss some pressing issues, and the result was the ‘Wismar Articles‘.

“Article IV. In the fourth place, if a believer and an unbeliever are in the marriage bond together and the unbeliever commits adultery, the marriage tie is broken. And if it be one who complains that he has fallen in sin, and desires to mend his ways, then the brethren permit the believing mate to go to the unfaithful one to admonish him, if conscience allows it in view of the state of the affair. But if he be a bold and headstrong adulterer, then the innocent party is free – with the provision, however, that she shall consult with the congregation and remarry according to circumstances and decisions in the matter, be it well understood.”

That Monday morning, still in a state of shock, I called the wife of the minister who had preached the previous morning, and asked if they happen to own the Complete Works of Menno Simons. They did.

“Could you turn to page 311, in A Humble & Christian Defense, and read, out loud,  the second from the bottom paragraph on the left column of the page?”

She began reading, and gradually her voice faded, as she absorbed what she found. There was a pause, followed by, “Well, we have to remember Menno Simons was just a man.”

I didn’t say it, but the thought went through my mind, He sounded like a powerful authority on the subject yesterday… on this topic, I might add. I wondered then how we had come to idolize a man with such differing views from our present practice and teaching.

My intent that day wasn’t to endorse careless divorce and remarriage. However, my findings did force me to contemplate whether there are other ‘biblical teachings’ that we have reinterpreted, reinvented, adjusted, and enforced that might, in fact, have another valid biblical interpretation… Possibly even one endorsed by our denominational hero, Menno Simons.

I have friends and relatives whose marriages survived affairs, and some who did not. I have Christian friends who understand Jesus’ teaching on divorce precisely as Menno Simons taught them, and have remarried fellow believers. I judge neither view, because biblically I can see both sides. For myself, I have predetermined that absolutely nothing will ever sever our marriage bond. I am committed to Tim for life, no matter what. But that is easy to say about a man who loves and honours me with his whole heart.

Having seen the impact of affairs, sexual addictions, and brutal betrayals, woe is me if I should judge harshly another individual on the matter, when the Bible, and our forefathers, allow room for divorce and remarriage.

In writing this, I am not arguing for or against Menno’s position. I am merely exploring some of what he believed, and sharing it with the world….

…To Be Continued…


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5 thoughts on “MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works (Part 1): Teachings on Divorce

    • Trudy Metzger June 28, 2013 / 11:28 pm

      First of all, it is in the photo I posted, directly out of Menno’s books–that is what I wanted her to read to me. However, if you want to see it online, simply hold the ‘Control’ button and ‘F’ button simultaneously, and type ‘to marry again’ in the ‘find’ bar that pops up. This will highlight that section. (It is approximately half way down.)

  1. genive atkinson July 29, 2014 / 5:13 pm

    is there any way you could tell me what m.s. taught on daughters staying at home until marriage?? if a daughter wants to leave home and the congregation is aware should they not inform the parents if they know ahead of time and try to reconcile the relationship ( 18 is a manmade law.)

    • Trudy Metzger August 6, 2014 / 9:56 am

      Hi Genive,

      Since you have not shared any details, I will respond in generalities that may or may not apply to your situation. Without details, it is impossible to speak accurately. What I write here, I do so based on what I have seen in other situations, and what I have seen to bring restoration eventually to relationships. But let me start at the beginning….

      I have no idea what Menno Simons taught on staying home until marriage. I’ve never come across an opinion on the matter. I would be less interested in that, then in what the Bible says, or on his interpretation on what the Bible says and, even there, little is said, if anything. What we do know is that Mary and Martha shared a home with Lazarus, but we don’t know if their parents were living or not. To state it one way or the other, would simply be surmising. However, we do know that when the blind man healed by Jesus, his parents said, “He is of age, ask him,” indicating that there was an ‘of age’ thing that gave independence to children. That aside, there is an extent to which these things are determined by cultural norms *if* there are laws to enforce those norms. For example, if a parent (Christian or not) forces a child over thirteen (Yes–13!) to return home, using physical force, they can be charged in Canada. While children are not considered ‘of age’ until 16, they are allowed to walk out the door at 13, and cannot be forced to return, here in Ontario. To force it could result in assault charges etc.

      There are times, when this happens, that parents have offered the child a safe and loving environment–regardless how imperfect–and the child has been influenced by peers or other tragic experience. Other times, and more often than not, the home offered that child is not safe emotionally, (often) physically, and spiritually. In times past, where the law did not step in, family members did. in Jewish culture a man could be stripped of his entire family, and have no say, if he did not care for them. I met with a Jewish Rabbi a few weeks ago, to ask a lot of cultural questions, and found some of what he shared very fascinating. Interestingly, the same was true in many cultural backgrounds, where family would intervene. We can’t do that anymore. Now the law controls these things.

      All that to say that there are circumstances that justify children leaving long before they turn eighteen, and in loving homes they often want to stay long past eighteen. The onus is on the parents to respect the children and thereby teach respect by example, and draw respect from the children. They are not possessions that we own and control. They are God’s children, entrusted into our care, to raise for His Kingdom and not our own agenda. We are to launch them emotionally, physically and spiritually so that they are of use to the Kingdom of God, not so that they can make us feel good and give us peace of mind.

      As to the role of the congregation (or leaders) it seems to me that it should hardly be the business of the church to babysit what happens in families. Church control has stripped fathers of their God-given leadership–servant leadership, of the ‘by example of love and grace’ sort, and has weakened the family unit. In many instances the hatred/resentment children have for parents is really their deep feelings for the inappropriate control of the church, because fathers and mothers alike try to make the child into what the church law demands the child to be. And often it has not a thing to do with biblical truth. Children despise that, when they see through the sham of man-made religious agenda. (And that is true in every denomination, not only my Mennonite background.) I don’t know what your background is, but undoubtedly it is there too. I haven’t gotten to know a denomination yet where this does not exist. And it isn’t that all of those guidelines are so wrong, but the order of authority and leadership is completely out of God’s order, causing problems. So, no, I don’t think the congregation ought to mind the family’s business, as far as trying to control an adult who wants to leave. But, yes, they should offer resources to help with reconciliation. And if the parents don’t want to be alienated for life, they need to release their child(ren) and respect them as adults, and not try to control their every move. The prodigal son’s father didn’t try to stop him. He let the son go and was eventually reconciled with him. That is the most accurate picture we have of what God’s opinion is in all of this, and it is the one I support, be it sons or daughters.

      These are my thoughts… What doesn’t apply, you can toss aside.

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