The first members of the Anabaptist churches in the 16th century chose to join that movement. Then severe persecution had a huge impact—many of the first generation even lost their lives. In time, for most of the Anabaptists’ spiritual descendants, the Mennonites, ongoing viability depended much more on retaining the children of the church more than on gaining new converts from the outside.
The survival of the Mennonite tradition depended on a change from their initial belief. From the first, they believed in the baptism of choosing adults—this separated them from other Christians who baptized infants. Later the practical focus was more on the community sustaining itself mainly by keeping its young people from choosing to leave.
For a long time, Mennonites differed a great deal from the surrounding society (most obviously by speaking a different language). So their young people rarely felt comfortable leaving—the shock was too great.
A number of years ago I became acquainted with a Hutterite community where the people mostly spoke German, where they were different from those of us on the outside. A few young people chose to leave, though. They called them runaways. Most of these runaways headed to a nearby city. When they got there, they felt lost, like fish out of water. They tended to congregate with other runaways, and in time most headed back to the Hutterite communities.
The viability of the Mennonite tradition today?
For mainstream Mennonites in the United States, those days are long gone. More than ever since the 16th century, Mennonites must choose to stay in the church. Our continued identification with this community is a choice. Hence the ongoing viability of the Mennonite tradition cannot be taken for granted.
The viability of the Mennonite tradition depends on Mennonite churches self-consciously embodying core Mennonite convictions. What are several of the basic convictions that are distinctively Mennonite? What is it we are choosing when we choose to identify ourselves as Mennonite? Continue reading
During the Spring of 2012, I have had the challenge of writings a series of (very) short Bible study reflections for the Mennonite World Review (which was Mennonite Weekly Review when my series of articles began in February).
This has been an excellent discipline. I have written these kinds of reflections for MWR several times before, and I always enjoy doing so—not least because I am often asked to write about texts I am unfamiliar with.
For some time, I have wanted to look more closely at John’s Gospel. I have tended to focus on the other gospels much more (including a recent series of thirteen sermons on the Gospel of Luke). John is a bit different, to say the least. Continue reading
[This is the sixth in a series of sermons in interpreting America in the 21st century in light of the Book of Revelation. The series will continue, monthly for about two years.]
Revelation 6:1-17—Shalom Mennonite Congregation—April 15, 2012
Kathleen and I love to go on rides out in the beautiful countryside around Harrisonburg. We’ve gotten lost a few times and once or twice had close calls with the gas gauge. But mostly it’s great and we enjoy the rides as much now as ever.
One memory is the first time we ventured west on state highway 257, years ago, not long after we moved here. I hadn’t bothered with a map, thinking part of the fun is figuring things out as we go. We drove through Briary Branch and cruised on our way to West Virginia—I thought. A nice highway. Then all of a sudden the nice highway ended. It was a shock; little warning. We had a couple of options, but they weren’t too appealing. Narrow, steep, windy roads with no lines. After wandering around for awhile, we turned back and left the way we came.
This sense of disorientation when the expected continuation of the nice highway ends is kind of how I feel with I come to Revelation, chapter 6. You may remember the first five chapters. Maybe not totally easy sailing, but fairly clear. And it’s not too difficult to see in Revelation one through five a nice message of peace, the Lamb as the way. But then with chapter six, the plagues begin. The nice part ends. What in the world is going on? Continue reading
I just completed a two-year run as a columnist for a devotional magazine called Purpose, published by MennoMedia.
The column was called “Pursue Peace,” and my assignment was to write a 400-word essay each month that would relate peacemaking to that issue’s theme. This turned out to be a pretty challenging task.
A number of the themes were not necessarily things I had thought about in relation to peace before. I couldn’t simply draw from my already existing arsenal of peace stories and teachings. Plus, I was severely limited by the 400-word ceiling. No careful development of sophisticated arguments here!
I enjoyed the challenge, though. Several of the pieces challenged me to make connections I would not have thought about otherwise. And it’s always a useful discipline to seek to write clearly, accessibly, and concisely. And because of the context for these mini-essays, I found myself often taking a more personal and practical slant on the theme—and less heady and intellectual.
Unfortunately, Purpose does not have a web presence. So I have uploaded the essays to PeaceTheology.net so they won’t simply disappear. The home page for the essays is here.
Ted Grimsrud—April 2, 2012
[See notes on Revelation 5]
John enters the door into heaven at the beginning of chapter four and begins to describe what he sees. First it’s a vision of the throne room—which turns out to be a vision that reassures the reader of God’s on-going presence and worthiness of continued worship from all creation. This reassurance forms the first of a set of bookends that is matched at the end of the book with the vision of the New Jerusalem that returns to the image of the “one on the throne” (21:5) being worthy of praise and adoration.
It’s is essential that we keep these two references to the one on the throne’s mercy and healing love—and power—as we enter into reflection on the visions that come between the throne room and the New Jerusalem. In some ultimate sense, those visions must be seen as serving the purposes of the healing power of the one on the throne.
To emphasize that the intentions of the God of Revelation are healing, the first vision after the throne room account (chapter 5) portrays the power of the Lamb, seen in faithful witness and crucifixion followed by resurrection and vindication, to take the scroll. Because of this power, the Lamb receives that same all-encompassing worship from the entire animate creation. The power of the Lamb leads to the liberation from the powers of sin and evil of people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9). And these liberated people for a nation of the their own that stands in resistance to the nation ruled by the Beast.
So, with the context set—God as ruler, the Lamb as liberator, the nation of Lamb-followers established—we turn to a new set of visions within the broader vision of one on the throne establishing the New Jerusalem. Continue reading
Ted Grimsrud—April 1, 2012
[See notes on Revelation 4]
After the throne room time of praise of the one on the throne, we move to the next part of the vision of chapters four or five. If we think of this vision as a kind of worship service, at this center point we get the main content of the service that allows us to understand the significance of the worship that precedes it and follow it.
Revelation 5:1-5—Who can open the scroll?
John sees a “scroll” in the right hand of the one on the throne. That this scroll is in God’s “right hand” emphasizes its weightiness as does the fact that it is so securely secured with seven seals (“seven,” again, is the number of completeness). Though we are not told directly, we surely are to understand the contents of this scroll to be the fulfillment of God’s work with creation, a message of final and complete healing.
But the message cannot simply be given. Someone must be found to open the scroll and bring the message to its fruition. To John’s bitter frustration, given his longing that the healing come, “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it” (5:3). We can only speculate as to why this is the case. One idea, though, is that everyone misunderstands the way the scroll is to be opened. Everyone looked for the power of domination as the power to bring history to its conclusion. Continue reading