Words Alive! Writing Contest Winner: Curtis Oesch (Research Essay)

“Plainly Dressed, Maybe not so Concealing”

As one of two Mennonites in my large high school, the other being my brother, I was often asked how my religion and faith differed from other forms of Christianity. Although I have attended a Mennonite church for my whole life, I often left people with a fairly unsatisfactory answer saying, “We’re pretty similar with a few differences regarding pacifism.” The authors of An Introduction to Mennonite History, The Naked Anabaptist, and Mirror of the Martyrs present their own take on the core convictions of Anabaptism, and, although derived from the same set of central beliefs, provide some different assessments of the intricacies of this “radical” faith.

In his article titled “What is an Anabaptist Christian?” Palmer Becker identifies three main statements that many Anabaptists claim as guides for their own faith: “Jesus is the center of our faith, Community is the center of our lives, and Reconciliation is the center of our work” (Becker 2). Interwoven with these are three integral core values which have helped define Anabaptism since its beginnings; discipleship, community, and nonresistance (Bender). Members of this church seek to lead lives with Jesus as their model. Along with this, Becker states that we need to form a group with “a strong sense of belonging to each other” (9). Through community people are able to form a common identity and find comfort in the support that they receive from fellow believers.

One well known example of Anabaptists’ following Jesus’ teaching to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” can be found in the story of Dirk Willems (Matthew 5:44; Oyer, et al. 36-7). After being captured and imprisoned for practicing Anabaptism, Willems escaped from the prison. As he was making his way across the thin ice covering the moat, his pursuer fell through. Rather than escaping, he risked his freedom and returned to save the man’s life, only to be recaptured and sentenced to death (Oyer, et al. 36-7). Dirk Willems’ display of trust in God and his belief in a better life if he were to die overruled his fear of recapture and physical pain. Although we may not experience these same extremes in our lives today, we are called to be willing to risk everything in order to further the kingdom of God on earth.

A final text from which we have drawn information is Stuart Murray’s The Naked Anabaptist. One specific concept that Murray applies to the postmodern Anabaptists is their rejection of Christendom in which many claim Christianity as their faith but fail to live it out (Murray 45). Rather than placing value in material things, Anabaptism teaches that it is more important to “live simply, share generously, care for creation, and work for justice” (Murray 46). In doing this the church is also recognizing the temptation of power and the use of force that comes with status and material wealth.

Freedom to make one’s own decision is an integral part of truly becoming a believer. As a whole I believe that my beliefs and core convictions have been strengthened in the first six weeks of Anabaptist History and Thought I still hold to the same values that I did prior, but more tightly. I have also learned of things in my Mennonite history that I disagree with, but that has not deterred me because my agreement far outweighs those differences. Having gained more knowledge of my history also gives more substance to my membership in the Mennonite church as I can share this with others around me.

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