“Anabaptism was essentially a movement which insisted upon an earnest and uncompromising endeavour to live a life of true discipleship of Christ, that is to give expression in fellowship and love to the deepest Christian faith, with full readiness to suffer in conflict with the evil world order. So long as this willingness to suffer as an expression of deepest faith, and this willingness to enter into a nonresistant struggle for salvation, was a living reality, just so long was Anabaptism a great and powerful movement. Fellowship and suffering were the outward marks, but an inmost Christian experience was the foundation which made the outward marks possible. Wherever and as soon as these inner forces declined and consequently the readiness to suffer . . . ceased to exist . . . the situation changed completely. There were still numerous groups of Anabaptists in existence, but they held their faith more in quiet or in secret, and were more concerned to have the personal experience than to work it out in a radical following of Christ.” Thus far from Robert Friedmann, Mennonite Piety through the Centuries, © 1949 by the Mennonite Historical Society, Goshen, Indiana.
Friedmann has concisely captured the reality of the power of the Anabaptist movement, and the decline of most of its descendents into a “Quiet in the Land” pietism. There are many groups today who claim the Anabaptist heritage, yet most equate it with being the quiet in the land.
“To this end we preach as much as opportunity and possibility affords, both in daytime and by night, in houses and in fields, in forests and wildernesses, inthis land and abroad, in prison and bonds, in water, fire and the scaffold, on the gallows, and upon the wheel, before lords and princes, orally and by writing at the risk of possessions and life, as we have done these many years without ceasing.”
“We seek and desire only that we might point the whole world (which lieth in wickedness) to the true way, and that many souls may by the Word of the Lord, through His help and power, be won from the dominion of Satan and brought to Christ.”
“This is my only joy and the desire of my heart, that I may extend the borders of the kingdom of God, make known the truth, reprove sin, teach righteousness, feed the hungry souls with the Word of the Lord, lead the stray sheep into the right path, and win many souls for the Lord through His Spirit, power and grace.”
These last three quotes are from Menno Simons. How many of those who call themselves Mennonites and claim to be of the same faith as Menno could completely identify with these, his life purpose statements?
How much longer will it be acceptable and permissible in our society to be a halfway, “quiet in the land” Anabaptist? I do not have any faith that the tide of history can be turned by the political actions of well-meaning Christians. Politics is “the art of the possible” and best left to politicians. Christians in politics soon find themselves making compromises in order to win what appear to be small advances in their agenda, which are soon swept aside by the march of the principalities and powers.
Anabaptists in ages past did more to change the course of history by their uncompromising Christian faith and life, including their willingness to suffer a martyr’s death.