Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Really Brief Mennonite History

When Martin Luther first began his reformation of the Roman Catholic church in 1519, there were many who agreed with his focus on faith and Scripture, and they called themselves “evangelicals”. There was a small group in Zurich, Switzerland that felt that the evangelicals were not focusing enough on what the Bible really said, especially concerning that baptism is for those who have faith, not for infants. They were called Anabaptists (which means “re-baptizers”) because they baptized those who were supposedly baptized as infants. Because the Anabaptists held to these positions in opposition to both the Catholic and Evangelical (or “protestant”) governments, which legalized religious beliefs, the Anabaptists were declared criminals and arrested, tortured and killed by all governments in Europe for the next 100 years. Even evangelical leaders such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli encouraged political leaders to arrest and kill Anabaptists.

Fleeing persecution and seeking to spread the gospel around the world caused Anabaptists to spread all over Europe, from the Netherlands to Russia. Later, the Anabaptists moved to America, seeking to hold their beliefs without persecution. As they came to the United States, the immigration officials saw that most Anabaptists carried a writing of Menno Simons, a popular Anabaptist writer of the mid 1500s, and so they labeled them “Mennonists” or, later, “Mennonites”.

Today there are more than a million people who are a part of Anabaptist or Mennonite communities. There are many Anabaptist groups, including the Mennonite Church, the Brethren in Christ, the Amish and the Hutterites. More than half of all the Mennonites in the world are found in Africa, India, Indonesia and Brazil. Mennonites have established many cooperative ministries including international aid organizations, health services, mutual insurance programs, service to the needy in North America, and conscientious objector programs.

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