How did the Mennonite Church begin?
During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli led a movement separating from the Roman Catholic Church. Small groups of reformers throughout Europe felt the existing church did not meet God’s standards or the needs of the people. In 1525, in the middle of this religious upheaval, a small group of young adults who had been meeting for Bible study and prayer in Zurich, Switzerland, felt convicted to re-baptize each other. Their actions were a third way of responding to the Christian message: forming a church around the belief that adults should be baptized on confession of faith and that they should be separated from the world and the state.
During the next decade, a Catholic priest in the north of Holland was observing and carefully following the development and expansion of the Anabaptists. In 1536, Menno Simons joined the Anabaptists, whose network was growing in spite of intense persecution to the members and martyrdom for people in leadership.
Menno was born in 1496, and was 40 years old when he made the change from Catholic priest to Anabaptist leader. From his studies of the Scriptures, Menno began to write and teach about community, mutual aid, sharing of resources, support to widows, their children and the poor, sister/brotherhood among believers, simple life-style, nonresistance, nonviolence, peacemaking, and servanthood. These dimensions of Christian life are today observed to a greater or lesser degree by the broad spectrum of present-day Anabaptist-Mennonites.
The denominational name “Mennonite” was first used as a nickname, but through the centuries it has become an accepted label.
“True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.
It clothes the naked.
It feeds the hungry.
It comforts the sorrowful.
It shelters the destitute.
It serves those that harm it.
It binds up that which is wounded.
It has become all things to all people.”
– Menno Simons
For more on Menno Simons see the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.