Thursday, October 20, 2016

Martyr to Muppy Mennonites

Martyr to Muppy Mennonites
    Last evening we heard a challenging speaker using the above title for his topic. The main question being asked, "How did the Anabaptists go from being willing to die for their faith as martyrs to being assimilated into main stream society?" (Muppy = Mennonite Urban Professional People) The Mennonite Church in the Netherlands was strong and true, but today it is a dying church. What happened? What can we learn from them? And I've been pondering...
    When you think of the Netherlands and Holland, you may think of canals, windmills, wooden shoes, Delft blue, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates and dikes. But the story of the Mennonites in the Netherlands is largely unfamiliar.
     The story actually began in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed the 95 thesis to a German church door which has become known as the onset of the Reformation. There was great resistance from the Catholics at the very beginning. Then in 1525, several men in Zurich, Switzerland took a bold step away from the Reformed Church and infant baptism to a believers baptism. They were persecuted severely by both Catholic and Reformed groups. There were some radicals who made  a bad name for the Anabaptists at Munster, Germany. But eventually,  as separate entities, the Dutch Anabaptists and the Swiss/German Anabaptists came to a unity  of faith. Menno Simons, a Dutch Anabaptist became one of the strong leaders and through his writings helped bring a cohesion to the persecuted Anabaptists. Thousands lost their homes, possessions, loved ones and even their own lives in the persecution that followed. You can read many accounts of Mennonite believers dying for their faith in the Martyrs Mirror by Thieleman J. Van Braught. It is believed the last martyr in the Netherlands was a woman who died for her faith in 1597.
    The doctrine and practice of the Dutch Mennonites was similar to what we hold to be true today in our own congregation. They practiced the seven ordinances, communion, feet washing, baptism, marriage, anointing with oil, holy kiss  and headship veiling for women. They were more radical about the use of the ban than we are today. But they appointed elderly, single women as deaconess to move among the congregation to be of assistance to the poor and needy. These women did not speak publicly but were a great blessing and encouragement in the community. The lot was used to ordain a three-fold ministry. Psalms were sung in church, hymns were sung in the home. They organized and conducted schools for their children. The Dutch Mennonites not only dressed simply, but their homes, diet and whole lifestyle was modest and simple.
  But already in Menno Simons lifetime, two sides developed among the believers. The differences were mostly over small matters and a division took place in 1566. Some wanted to maintain a more simple lifestyle while others began to take on the ways of their urban neighbors. The Swiss Anabaptists were largely rural farmers but the Dutch Mennonites lived in the cities. They became the professionals - the engineers, business men, doctors, artists and more. Some Dutch cities were comprised of 25% Mennonite residents. They became rich and famous for their accomplishments in their professions. In more recent years, a Mennonite engineered the long dike from Holland to Freisland.
      During the 1700's, persecution eased and the Dutch Mennonites were respected citizens making a significant contribution to society.  They chose to be quiet about their faith which was still not looked on with favor in the general society.  Possibly to appease their conscience for their compromises, the Dutch Mennonites gave freely of their abundant wealth to help those in need, including their Swiss Anabaptist brothers and sisters. You can read about some of their generosity in the volumes Documents of Brotherly Love by James Lowry.
    But the differences continued to abound and more divisions took place, usually over minor details. They began to practice open communion, baptism became optional , and children were sent to the public school. Eventually, a non-denominational church opened where people could go regardless what they believed. Individualism blossomed and grew - my religion is between me and God- it is none of your business! They became involved in politics and government programs. At the same time, they admired the simple lifestyle of the Swissers who were coming to their ports and aided them in gaining passage to the New World for religious freedom. Yet, they did not want to retrace their steps and give up their worldly involvements.
    What are the parallels to our Mennonite world today?
 #1- Religious freedom and being socially accepted in the community. We can worship in freedom, move any where in the USA and establish a church or business place. Many people in our society of far-flung faith and location are pleased if they can find an Anabaptist in their genealogy! They are fascinated with our cooking, our quilts, barn raisings, and disaster service.
#2- Economic prosperity - We can provide for our needs and even many of our wants. We are among the privileged in the world who have electric and running water. We are known to make a valuable contribution to the economy of a community by honest business dealings and innovative ideas.
#3- Religious confusion. They had so many different groups, it was confusing. Some were not affliliated with any group.  It was difficult for young people to find a stable, satisfying church life. The church that had once been willing to risk their lives to spread the Gospel to others, now were too involved in the local tensions to be effective in evangelism. There were schisms and splits everywhere.
    Today the average age in the Netherlands Mennonite churches is at least 80 years old. A friend pointed out something very wrong in a picture he took at a communion service in their church. Every member had gray hair! It is a dying church! The Netherlands is known to be one of the most liberal and ungodly nations in the world. The Dutch aided our people during the persecution age. Is God calling us to help them in their dilemma now?
    How can we remain faithful until Christ returns in our setting? We need to maintain distinct lines of separation from the world - not only in our dress, but in our homes, entertainment, social contacts and more. There are Biblical principles of  modesty and simplicity but beyond that is the value of identity with the people of God. It is important to support our own schools that the next generation "may know and value truth."
    Be careful with professionalism. Personally, I have seen devout, sincere believers use an education to further the kingdom in significant ways. They have used their education to produce good quality literature, minister to the sick and dying, prepare the next generation for service, etc. But when faith is sacrificed to further the profession, it is another step toward assimilation.
     Are we radical or rational in our goals and decisions? One man who was making a compromise (with a muppy attitude) said, "But we do need to live, after all." His friend (with the martyr spirit) replied, "Do we? We can die."
    I am not saying we all need to go back to being PA Dutch farmers living in isolation. But we do need to consider where our choices are taking us. Are we more like a Muppy with an independent Me-spirit? Or are we crucified with Christ - willing to give up all we are and have -even life itself - in surrender to Him?  Jesus told us to go into the world and evangelize, not assimilate! We are called to be in the world, but not of it!
     It is not one giant leap to go  from martyr to is a series of small choices - maybe over the span of several generations! Still thinking...