MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works (Part 2): Personal Ponderings

It’s a bit uncomfortable, seeing our heritage through a whole new lens, with a very different beginning than we have imagined. The truth is a bit intrusive… Never ind, it’s downright disruptive, at times, and demands of us to see life a differently than we always have… to see ourselves a bit differently…

But I, for one, prefer the truth, no matter what. So, when I discovered, in returning to our early history as non-resistant folk, that ‘our side’, the Anabaptists, also brutalized their enemies, it was with mixed emotions.

I was saddened by the atrocities, yet thankful to know the truth, and thankful to see the bigger picture. Knowing our true history and heritage, I believe, better equips us in breaking generational sins and the strongholds of our ancestors. And maybe it even removes the temptation to surrender to religious arrogance, and causes us to see our own humanity.

I first learned of these horrific things a few years ago, and was reminded of them again recently, when I read my friend, Ira Wagler’s blog, where he some of that story. Rather than retell it, I will link to his page, for you to read what he shared, at: Distant Roads: The Cages of Muenster.

Understanding some of these realities, it makes far more sense, to me, that Menno Simons refers relatively frequently in his writings to the importance of dealing with murderers and violence, through church discipline and excommunication. Without that knowledge, it would seem a bit over stated. I mean, it’s not every day that someone in the church murders someone. Why put it in the list of things to excommunicate for? Clearly this violence is something that troubled Menno, and was appropriately dealt with under his leadership.

In my next blog I will begin exploring the matter of shunning and excommunication, looking at some of Menno’s amazing strengths, as well as what I would view as biblical weaknesses. (In sharing these weaknesses, I expect very few readers, at least with Anabaptist heritage, will disagree with me. And, in his strengths, many will cry a silent ‘amen’ to him and wonder where and when we lost what he had.)

Regardless of his strengths or weaknesses, I am convinced that he was a man passionate about God, pure of heart, and as sincere a man as any I’ve known or studied. (And, as for his weaknesses, at the end of the day, we are probably all a bit misguided in one area or another, to which I say, “Thank God our salvation lies in Jesus, not in perfect understanding of God and His word, nor in our faultless delivery of that understanding.)

With that I will return to my exploring of the big, ugly, brown book… which, I might add, turned out not to be boring after all….

In fact, it made its way off of my bookshelf numerous times, over the years, and then ended up on my night stand a year ago, or so, and now it rests by my writing chair. Next to my Bible, it is probably the most ‘marked’ book I own. More pages are ‘dog-eared’ than any other book I own. I laugh. I read it out loud. And now I’m writing about it. 

As I familiarized myself with Menno’s writings, I discovered the various sections and how at least some, if not quite a few, of his writings were responses to accusations of his ‘enemies’. This immediately intrigued me. His enemies inspired him to express himself, to write out his beliefs, even if in defence of their attacks on him, and stand firm on his faith. And he did it with very little hostility. 

Hmm… what if we, as Christians today, did that, rather than surrendering to culture, society, and those who oppose us? Oh sure, some of the back and forth seemed a bit juvenile, and therefore a bit entertaining–like when Martin Micron called Menno a cuckoo (see pic below),  and Menno  says at another place that Micron “…repeats the same song, but he sings it to the unintelligent, and to a little better tune”, when referring to Microns inconsistent presentation of his own distorted doctrines.

Menno Simons 2 007

Menno Simons 2 009In another instance, Menno responds impulsively, then apologizes for his insensitivity in his writings, but closes with leaving it to Microns own consideration as to who should get the greater blame.

Menno Simons 3 001

Menno Simons 2 012 b

Seeing the side more ‘reckless’, as Menno describes himself, or more impulsive, I gained a whole new fascination with him. Human after all… And possibly a bit more like myself, with a blend of the Apostle Peter and Apostle Paul. Not quite as composed and ‘perfect’ as I might have previously imagined. A bit of a smart-alec too… Something I can appreciate in a strong spiritual leader, if it isn’t abused, because it makes for an engaging speaker.

Along with that ‘reckless’ humanity, I also saw the root of some things not quite so noble. There is an obvious thread of our spiritual arrogance on which our faith was founded. I don’t mean that rudely, but the reality is most of us Anabaptists have been raised with a strong sense that we are the most right…. Just a bit more saintly than other Christians, if, in fact, they are Christians at all. We’ve been taught in subtle, and not so subtle, ways that we have the ultimate truth. (Yeah, yeah, I know… there are many others like us, who believe the same thing about themselves. Odds are their founding forefathers carried some of the same arrogance about ‘a perfect understanding’.)

At one point Menno writes, in his reply to Martin Micron of a younger ‘adversary’, Herman, “I told him twice, ‘dear Herman, you are too young; you will have to learn a great deal before you ought to try to defend your cause. What is become of all the bold assertions, which you made at the start?’ Yet, Micron writes that some of their weak brethren were very much strengthened by Herman during discussion. I will leave the matter here. Thus they hoodwink the reader that he may not observe that Herman acted so childish, to their shame....” [pg 359, Reply to Martin Micron, Menno Simons, Complete Works.]

Another place Menno says to Martin Micron, “…Good Martin, you would be well if you would learn to know yourself better, for you are yet too much of a novice in the scriptures to defend yourself.”

His calling Herman ‘much too young’ as grounds for trying to silence him, and again  calling Micron a novice, seems not only a bit of a power trip, but it isn’t biblical. Paul tells Timothy to not let people despise him because of his youth, but to be an example. (1 Timothy 4:17) While it may have been accurate, in Menno’s case, his words could have come across as an attack and were not necessary.

In this way it is obvious that Menno condescends to those who oppose him. Had he already done all that he could, in a non-adversarial tone, to communicate effectively? I cannot judge that. However, the way he talks down to anyone who does not agree with him, is something that sounds oddly familiar. Come to think of it… I think it is my own voice I hear, echoing in the not-too-distant past. So I will keep my stones in my pocket and not judge, since I, too, have sinned with my words. Far greater sins than these…

While I agree with only some of what Menno Simons teaches–particularly in the area of excommunication, where he seems to get derailed brutally by human reasoning–I give him credit for one thing. The man knew his Bible and passionately taught what he understood it to say. 

So I find myself vacillating, as I read his writings… Caught between deep admiration for a man who stood with courage for his faith, in one moment, and wondering at his less than admirable character, and beliefs, in the next moment. It is his transparent humanity in the less noble side that I admire deeply, even with the obvious flaws.

With that in mind I will delve into his teachings on excommunication and church discipline, starting next week.

… Be Continued…


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