“Menno” or “So I have charismatic blood after all”

Who woulda thunk? Menno Simons and the rest of the original Anabaptist movement was a charismatic/pentecostal movement! And here I thought I had conservative roots…

(1) Anabaptists, 1500’s, Europe. One of the four main branches of the early Protestant movement (along with Lutherans, Reformed, and Anglicans). Unlike other Protestants, the Anabaptists emphasized the restoration of apostolic patterns of worship and lifestyle, the importance of a conversion experience, baptism of believers only, baptism by immersion, total separation of church and state, the power to overcome sin after conversion, and the need to live a holy life. A prominent Anabaptist leader named Menno Simons, whose followers became known as Mennonites, wrote about speaking in tongues as if it were expected evidence of receiving the Holy Ghost. Many early Anabaptists worshiped quite demonstratively; in the words of a secular history text some participated in “very excited, ‘enthusiastic,’ evangelical practices… what Americans know as ‘holy rolling’… The congregation sometimes shouted and danced, and always sang hymns with great fervor.” In view of their doctrine and worship, it is not at all surprising that speaking in tongues occurred among early Anabaptists.

I’ve been curious about church history of late–in particular the history of the early church ceasing to look like…the early church…and looking like the Church of England and/or the Roman Catholic Church that dominated Europe and much of the world. (Pardon my ignorance on this stuff, please…) When did the church become more religion and less a body of Christ followers?

And what’s up with the partial sentence I bolded? Why did the “apolostolic patterns of worship and lifestyle” ever need to “be restored”? Why did we fade from that? Why has “religion” endured millenia and not the “church”? Which one did Jesus establish? Which one were we told to replicate?

I’ve heard and read the argument that the early church worked the way it did (i.e. operated with signs and wonders, manifestations of the spirit…) as a “springboard” of sorts for the spread of the gospel. The church was kinda “jump started” by the Holy Spirit to get it going, but now we don’t need the quick jolt of energy because we’re rolling.

Is that true? Are things really going well for the church…the American and European church in particular? Do we look much different from the very religious systems Christ came to break up? Are we beyond the “elementary” provisions supplied by the Holy Spirit to get thing going?

What were the steps the church followed in becoming a “religion” that Menno Simons needed to break away from? What mistakes have we repeated, in both the Mennonite church and the church at large? Are we back where he started? Would Menno Simons break away from the current Mennonite Church? Would he break away from a hip, post-modern church?

The Mennonite church I grew up in takes care of the details pretty well in Menno’s eyes (according to the limited list above): no infant baptism, we have power to overcome sin, we need to live a holy life, conversion experiences are good… It will even do a total emersion baptism if requested.

But, those are letters of the law. Those are church systems. What about the spirit of the law? Would Menno be happy with why they are followed? On a grander scale, would he behold worship and lifestyles that resemble our early church fathers, the apostles?

I don’t know enough about the guy to properly speculate answers. I can’t base my understanding of the Anabatist movement on that one source; I’m going to look for more information. But if it’s even close to being on target, then I have an incomplete, if not skewed, perspective on my roots. Actually, I’d even go so far as to say that my pride in my roots has been bolstered.

I know Anabaptists are most natorious for their stance on non-resistance. The denomination is passifist pacifist: war is not the answer and we won’t support it. Jesus taught love. I’ve been kinda passifistpacifist-leaning neutral on the whole thing. I think war should be avoided at all costs, but I’m not sold completely. I’m more supportive of Aquinas’ Just War Theory. But besides non-resistance, believer’s baptism and servant’s mentality, when people ask me what Mennonites believe that is different from other denominations, I don’t have many distinctives to offer. Maybe the Mennonite church I grew up in was too “mainstream.”

But if what the above resource claims is true, I just might have the guy I’m looking for as a role model. If I’m the restorer God told me I am at the Wild at Heart Boot Camp (that is the name I felt God giving me; read Wild at Heart starting on page 132), maybe I’m a modern Menno Simons of sorts, called to draw the church back to the Church. Maybe I’m one with holy discontentment for the way things are and dreaming the dreams of God.

This post is quickly getting out of hand; the stuff I’m writing and the thoughts I’m having are sorta scary. It’s easy for me to snuff the trains of thought out and say it’s outlandish to write the paragraph I wrote above. Modern Menno Simons? Restorer? Yah…restorer of your house on Park Rd., maybe…if you’re lucky. Restorer of your dirty jeans and sweatshirts…with the help of your washer. But don’t even think you’re qualified to be a restorer of God’s people. Leave that up to the next guy, who will leave it up to the next guy, who will leave it up to the next guy…

So, I take a deep breath, pray to God, and investigate more about this guy named Menno.

Joel Maust

Joel Maust is a blogger, marketer and photographer living in the beautiful Flathead Valley of northwest Montana.