From Apathy To Courage

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A Man of Peace Died in Peace

Born in 1496 A.D. in the small village of Witmarsum in the Dutch province of Friesland, Menno Simons grew up tending cattle on his father’s dairy farm.  At the age of 28 he was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood and appointed to a parish near his own home.

Menno Simons settled right into a routine that included saying Mass, baptizing newborns, playing cards, and drinking with his fellow priests.  As he went about his days, Simons’s active mind was entertaining doubts concerning certain tenets of the Catholic faith.  He had been reading Luther and was influenced by the region’s strong anti-Catholic movement.

His first doubts centered on the Mass and whether bread and wine became the actual body and blood of Christ.  This was a serious issue for a priest and not one easily ignored.  His personal questions led him to an intense study of Scripture and the conclusion that the teachings of the church were wrong.  Yet he remained a Catholic priest.  It was a comfortable living.  It paid the bills.  

Then troubling news reached his ears.  A man in a nearby town had been executed for adhering to an unusual new doctrine: rebaptism!

“It sounded strange to me,” wrote Menno, “to hear of a second baptism.”

The death of this “Anabaptist” (rebaptizer) drove Menno to a renewed search of the Scriptures.  He could find no mention of infant baptism, and he became more and more convinced that “believer’s baptism” was instead the true Christian model for baptism. Still he remained a Catholic.  It was safe.  It was secure.

But then Menno’s peace was shattered.  Members of his own congregation, his brother Pieter among them, staged a militant Anabaptist occupation of a local cloister and were captured and massacred by the authorities.  Menno’s soul was crushed.  He realized that in his role as a spiritual leader he might have been able to discourage the groups violent enterprise.  

Had he been a good shepherd, he could have led them into peaceful pastures instead of stony graves.  

“The blood of these people, although misled, fell so hot upon my heart that I could not stand it, not find rest in my soul,” he wrote.

He repented of his apathy and all his sins, begging God for grace and a clean heart.  He prayed for the wisdom, spirit, and courage to “preach His exalted adorable name and holy Word in purity, and make known His truth to His glory.”  Menno Simons was reborn as a true and real believer in Christ.

As he began to preach the Bible from the pulpit and to those he met, Menno’s life became increasingly at risk.  In 1536 A.D. he quietly renounced his priesthood, was rebaptized, and began an itinerant career of radical biblical reform that lasted until his death.

During that time he rose to a place of revered pastoral and apostolic influence within the Anabaptist movement.  His tireless traveling, his writing, and his spirit of moderation helped unite various Anabaptist groups into one distinctive Christian body.  As neither Catholic nor identifiably Protestant, the Mennonites, as Simons followers came to be called, maintained a view of the church as a pure bride for Christ, untainted by earthly political allegiance.  Believing that Jesus called Christians to forsake the sword for the Word of God, they refused to accept secular offices or join an army.  As such, authorities everywhere, both civil and religious, viewed them as traitorous and seditious.  Many were martyred for their faithfulness to their understanding of the words and example of Jesus Christ.

But Menno Simons, a man of peace in a world of war, eluded capture to the end and died in his own bed on January 31, 1561  A. D. 

Points To Ponder

To what extent do you agree with Menno Simons’s conclusions regarding baptism for believers only,…and for pacifism?  What do you feel are the best arguments for or against these convictions?  If you had lived in the 1550s and 1560s, A.D. do you think you would have followed the teaching of Menno Simons?  Why or why not?

God’s thoughts and positions on these matters are clearly stated in The Book of Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 9   NKJV:

(9)   “Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.”

Learn Well The Lessons of History……………….

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