25 Flavours of Mennonites

When we lived in Ontario it would happen from time to time that someone I had just met would ask me what kind of Mennonite I was. “Does your church allow cars? electricity? telephones?”

I knew these questions arose because there were at least 25 flavours of Mennonites within a 100 km radius of where we lived and for many of them things of this nature were a big issue. I would gladly have avoided these questions because I couldn’t see what they had to do with being Christian, which should be the most essential part of being a Mennonite.

People were curious and they didn’t know where else to start. It was so easy to answer the questions and wander down a rabbit trail that didn’t lead anywhere, leaving the questioner no wiser than when he started and leaving me feeling that I’d failed to say anything really helpful.

What I wanted to say was that the way we use the things available to us in this world can reveal something about our relationship with God. But making rules about things results in a group that is impressive in their outward unity, but does not ensure that they have a relationship with God. It does not even ensure that the members trust one another; sadly, the unity is often only apparent to outsiders.

What I wanted to say was that the essence of Christianity is to be filled with love, joy, peace and all the other qualities described as the fruit of the Spirit. To do that, it is often necessary to avoid things that will feed our pride. Pride is a sneaky thing that tries to enter our lives in so many ways that no amount of rules could ever cover them all. We must each deal with pride on a personal level.

What I wanted to say was that the making of rules provides fertile ground for thinking that I am doing a better job of following the rules than others. That feeds my pride and a critical, suspicious attitude towards others. That would be to head in altogether the wrong direction.

What should I have said? What would you say? What are your questions about being Mennonite?

6 thoughts on “25 Flavours of Mennonites

  1. I can relate to the subject, except here in Pennsylvania there are 60+ flavors of Mennonites PLUS Amish. The question is more often; What is the difference between the Mennonites & Amsih. I am down to; On principals faith they are nearly identical. On choice of life style there is a great variation. This usually satisfies casual curiosity and opens the door if they have more questions, The main thing that separates the Church of God in Christ Mennonite (Holdeman) from the the “Mennonite buffet” is the faithful keeping of the Apostolic/Anabaptist doctrine of the unity of the visible New Testament Church. Not to be taken as holding “exclusive” salvation. Today’s common denominator in most Anabaptist churches of “the church consists of all true believers everywhere and is “invisible” among all Churches. This is not historically true and is not substantiated in the whole of the New Testament.

  2. I am quite active on Twitter, in particular #AgTwitter, and many of my followers know that my background is Mennonite. There are many misconceptions of what a “Mennonite” is and sometimes I have a little fun with it. Looking at pictures from the late 1800s and even up to the 1950s and 1960’s you can certainly pick out my family as being Mennonite.

    The problem with the “Christian church” is people within it tend to forget why certain traditions and rules exist. They don’t have anything to do with our salvation but are there to help us live in a way that is supposed to help us not to be tempted by worldly things and be more focused on God. The problem is that people tend to forget that and rely on these rules to earn salvation. Salvation is not earned but rather given freely by the Grace of God. Basically we should be doing good because we are saved and not to be saved.

  3. You make a good point here, and sadly, many Conservative Mennonites place to much emphasis on outward unity. When people ask me what I am (I wear a covering and cape dress), I tell them that I am a Christian attending a Mennonite Church and that we dress the way we do as one way of applying the biblical standards of modesty etc. One aspect of the outward application that can be easy to forget is this principle: “Our actions inform our hearts.” Basically, Mennonite traditions will save no one, but by rising every day and putting on my covering I am reminding myself of God’s protection and authority. Many other Mennonite traditions have such unconscious influences.

  4. I like your approach Yolanda. Thanks for your comment.
    A lot of people don’t know what to make of the way we dress. I was in a Christian book store last week and a Hutterite man approached me, wondering if I was from a neighbouring colony. Well, I wear a beard and that day I was wearing black pants, a dark shirt and a dark coat. I don’t always dress that uniformly dark, but his question didn’t bother me. It certainly wouldn’t enhance my Christian life if I determined to dress so that no one would ever mistake me for a Hutterite.

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