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Hospitality and creation

By on Oct 9, 2017 in The World Together | 0 comments

I was recently prompted to remember an important conversation with a friend. This friend identifies “radical hospitality” as an important part of her mission and ministry. By extending and receiving hospitality, she hopes to encounter the differences that often lead to conflict, meeting them with generosity and openness, rather than suspicion. She believes that hospitality is a gift, a tool and a mandate given by God to the church. I have been nourished and grown by the hospitality she models. I believe it is a form of Christian peacemaking.

My brother-in-law also practices lavish hospitality, although he probably wouldn’t consider it to be his mission or ministry. He is a talented cook, and he regularly invites people to share a meal at his home. His hospitality is directed mostly toward family and friends, most of whom are very much alike. While a gracious encounter with difference is not the focal point of these meals, I must admit: I’m really glad to be invited.

While I’ve found both of these forms of hospitality to be meaningful, I’ve also been puzzled about how they’re related. I found a compelling answer in Bishop Amos Muhagachi, who recently shared communion at my seminary in the style of Tanzania Mennonite Church: “Mungu ni mwema! Know that God is good!”

A good meal — whether it’s with friends and family, or with strangers and sojourners — can be a reminder of God’s goodness. Hospitality can remind us all of the goodness of God’s creation, in which we share, and of which we are a part. But more than being simply a reminder, hospitality nourishes us and shelters us in objective ways. A warm, dry place to sleep is a tangible gift. So is a meal, a cup of coffee or a friendly conversation. Hospitality is the loving power of God made manifest. It is God’s creation, given and received as good.

If the meaning of hospitality is grounded in the good work of God the creator, then we miss out when we reduce “radical hospitality” to a religious way of talking about multiculturalism or immigration policy. We miss out on truths about God and creation which might renew more than just our politics. In a similar way, when we talk about “creation” as though it is a religious idiom for the environment and our concerns about it, we miss out on an opportunity to deepen our relationship with the Creator God.

Hospitality is powerful. However, we must not be arrogant in our estimation of hospitality’s power. The power of hospitality is grounded in creation, and creation suffers the corrupting effects of sin. Our hospitality, too, is fallen. It is corruptible. In Christ alone do we find salvation from sin’s power to distort the goodness of God’s creation. In Christ, we are a new creation.

As we share in Christian communion, we share in the meal of the new creation. In this hospitality, we encounter the loving power of God made manifest in Christ, given and received as good. Faced with the magnitude of this gift, I am moved to share God’s hospitality with every tribe, tongue and nation. I hope for all people to know Christ’s saving power, and to eat the bread of life that he gives. I long for all people to take their place at his table. Evangelism flows naturally (or, perhaps, supernaturally) from Christian communion. Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.

Matthew Cordella-Bontrager is a third-year M.Div student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., and attends Yellow Creek Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind.

Honorable protests

By on Oct 9, 2017 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 6 comments

Few protests are remembered for 500 years, like Martin Luther’s. Or even 50, like anti-Vietnam War marches. Dem­onstrations by National Football League players this fall may be historic or fleeting, but they’re part of an honorable tradition of dissidents who seek positive change and stand on the right side of history.

Before every NFL game Sept. 24-25, some form of protest took place on the sidelines. A small movement that began a year ago exploded after President Trump lambasted players who knelt during the national anthem to make a statement on racial injustice. By using a crude phrase to describe them and asserting they should lose their jobs, the president belittled free speech — and multiplied the number of protesters. Hundreds of players knelt, sat, stood with interlocked arms or re­mained in the locker room during the anthem.

Professional athletes have a unique platform of influence. To tell a man to be quiet and stick to football disrespects his right to speak for those who might never be heard. And to dem­onstrate in whatever nonviolent way draws attention, even using a “sacred” moment like the playing of the national anthem.

The NFL players showed the power of peaceful protest to raise awareness of a moral cause. One’s conscience might be stirred by police brutality, abortion or war. The time for action might be the playing of the anthem, the anniversary of a Supreme Court ruling or the shooting of an unarmed black teen­ager. Speaking freely to correct the nation’s faults honors the values the flag and anthem symbolize.

It was fitting that pro­tests spread across the NFL while a magisterial history of the Viet­nam War on PBS recounted protesters’ pivotal role in confronting national sin. (The Bethel College Moratorium observance in 1969 was shown for a few seconds.) People of faith stood at the forefront of the antiwar movement. Many considered their actions patriotic. They were right — about patriotism and about the war.

Times and causes change, but the voice of conscience remains. Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers wrote in The New York Times: “My faith moved me to take action. . . . I knew I need­ed to stand up for what is right.”

MCC to help restore hope in Cuba after hurricane

By and on Oct 9, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

Bonnie Klassen remembers the haunting, howling wind.

“It was a deep, threatening growl. I had knots in my stomach,” she said. “That wind was purely destructive.”

Klassen, Mennonite Central Committee area director for South America and Mexico, arrived in Cuba just hours before Hurricane Irma hit. After waiting out the storm for a day, she headed to the north coast where the damage was most severe. Klassen traveled — by vehicle, motorcycle and sometimes on foot in rubber boots — and listened as people described a storm that packed winds of more than 155 mph and seemed to hover for hours.

Yoel and Daily Balbusano, Brethren in Christ pastors in Caibareín, Cuba, took in three neighbor women whose houses lost their roofs in Hurricane Irma. Bonnie Klassen —MCC 

Yoel and Daily Balbusano, Brethren in Christ pastors in Caibareín, Cuba, took in three neighbor women whose houses lost their roofs in Hurricane Irma. Bonnie Klassen —MCC

“A lot of them talked about the sheet metal on their roof lifting up and then banging down. Over and over for hours. Until it just blew away,” Klassen said.

Most of the cement houses still had walls, but no roofs. Those made of wood were tilted or gone altogether, the remains mixed with household items like dishes.

Corn, plantain and bananas are common foods in Cuba, and Klassen said they were flattened by the storm. Fortunately, beans, another common crop, had not yet been planted.

Klassen drove past orange and lemon groves where the ground was littered with fruit, most of which cannot be salvaged. Farmers are lamenting the loss of trees decades old.

“We visited one farmer who had 55 kinds of trees and plants. When the hurricane came he boarded up his windows because he couldn’t stand watching his trees die,” she said.

But Klassen said the farmer, like many of the people she spoke with, is determined to rebuild. When the wind died down, the cleanup began.

“He cut all the big trees down, he had a plan to process the fruit into jam,” she said. “It seemed to empower him as he faced something so devastating and unpredictable.”

Local church teamwork

MCC is working with a local organization, the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue, in Matanzas province to provide emergency food and shelter, along with support for small-scale farmers.

MCC is also working with the Brethren in Christ Church in Cuba to assist congregations in Las Tunas and Villa Clara prov­inces. These projects will focus on repairing houses and supplying emergency food.

Klassen said that after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Brethren in Christ congregations set up emergency brigades that could respond quickly after a disaster. The brigades are a major advantage now.

“There’s a huge potential in working with churches,” she said. “Churches are everyday people with diverse skills. They know how to respond and how to get access to things like locally produced food.”

As MCC contemplates what’s ahead for Cuba, Klassen focuses on another farmer she met there. He grew roses as his main source of income. Irma flattened all of them. He described straightening the flowers one by one.

“He did this carefully and gently, because roses are gentle things,” Klassen said. “I am always looking for those signs of resilience. MCC’s job is to support that hope.”

Hopi school is left in disarray

By and on Oct 9, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 1 comment

Disheveled classrooms and missing equipment are some of the challenges facing Mennonite Education Agency as it discerns how to get Hopi Mission School up and running again.

Mennonite Church USA representatives Carlos Romero and Ed Diller toured the Kykots­movi, Ariz., school in mid-August. It was the first time anyone from MC USA visited the MEA member school since a chaotic vacuum followed years of legal proceedings.

Concerned about financial transparency and other activities at HMS, MC USA filed a complaint in Navajo County Superior Court in 2015 asking that the HMS board be evicted from the property so that MEA could review documents. A July 3 ruling sided with MC USA as land­owner, ordering the board to ar­range for an orderly transition.

“After we won the case, we sent a locksmith in who changed all the locks in the school, because we had gotten notice that things were being taken from the school,” said Romero, MEA executive director.

He said buildings and apartments seemed to be in good shape, but some contents were missing. A judge granted MC USA an injunction against equipment being removed from school property, but items had already been removed by the time the court took that action.

Romero saw student desks were flipped over, books and other items from shelves strewn across the floor and office papers in disarray.

Hopi Mission School classrooms were found to be in disarray when Mennonite Education Agency representatives visited the Arizona school in early September. Ed Diller — Mennonite Education Agency

Hopi Mission School classrooms were found to be in disarray when Mennonite Education Agency representatives visited the Arizona school in early September. Ed Diller — Mennonite Education Agency

“In the apartments the school has, we found that all the washers and dryers were missing, and many of the beds were missing,” Romero said. At least one window was broken, and a garage door showed signs of an attempt to pry it open. “The other stuff that was left, most of it once again was thrown on the floor or flipped over, and the same was true in the houses that are part of the school.”

It is difficult to know exactly what is missing, because no inventory of equipment has been found. There also doesn’t seem to be a record of student enrollment.

“My understanding is the school had a minivan and a 15-passenger van, and those are missing. They took the vehicles,” Romero said. More than 1 million soup labels and box tops collected by churches were used when HMS acquired a minivan in 2003. “Apparently there was also a relatively new school bus that they had there, and that is no longer there.”

Washers and dryers, along with beds, were removed from Hopi Mission School apartments. Ed Diller — Mennonite Education Agency

Washers and dryers, along with beds, were removed from Hopi Mission School apartments. Ed Diller — Mennonite Education Agency

No conclusion yet

Romero and Diller, an attorney, visited as members of a task force MC USA convened in 2014 to address mounting concerns about HMS and school administrators’ lack of cooperation with MEA. Mennonite Mission Network closed its service worker unit there at the same time.

Federal investigators shared MC USA’s interest in reviewing documents and took a more direct approach, carting off multiple vehicles full of paperwork last year. Federal indictments have since named superintendent Thane Epefanio, principals Rebecca Yoder and Anne Lowry and HMS board treasurer Matthew Schnei­der, alleging almost $1 million in fraudulent activity at HMS. Other charges accuse Epefanio and his wife, Michelle, of Social Security fraud. A federal investigator testified a year ago in a court hearing that Thane Epefanio passed $1.6 million through a Las Vegas casino in the previous two years.

The one-day visit in August did not offer time to meet tribal leaders, Kykotsmovi Mennonite Church or students’ families.

“I am hoping to go back to Hopi within the next four to five weeks,” Romero said Sept. 21. “At that time we will be setting up meetings with tribal leaders as well as some of the leaders of the town, to update but to also explore ways of working together and ways we can partner to move this ministry forward.”

Because the HMS board could still appeal the judge’s ruling, MC USA is still working to bring the matter to a conclusion before fully devoting resources to cleaning and organizing the school. The board has indicated it wants to reopen a private school and claims ownership of both the name Hopi Mission School and the property’s contents.

“Our lawyer is in conversation with their lawyer, to see if we can bring the whole legal case to a final end,” Romero said.

First steps

Meanwhile, Romero has been reaching out to a number of people in search of two to four individuals to live at the school for at least six to eight weeks and coordinate initial restoration. On Oct. 2 he still hoped to identify those people by mid-October.

“We have received numerous emails or calls from people who are interested in going and helping for three or four days or a week in cleanup,” he said. “But before we can really start to do that we really need to have someone on site to help us to coordinate.”

Teachers will come later. MMN has a history of providing some workers and is represented on MC USA’s task force. Romero said MMN has indicated an openness to considering the most appropriate way to be involved with HMS again.

MEA will soon mount an appeal across the denomination for financial support, and Romero hopes to be able to coordinate with Hopi Mission Foundation to reignite its work to raise funds for the school.

MEA is exploring whether it is possible to restart school for the spring semester, and intends to definitely be ready by the beginning of the next school year.

Yoders celebrate 300 years in America

By and on Oct 9, 2017 in Feature, Latest Issue | 0 comments

SHIPSHEWANA, Ind. — Perhaps no other name is as closely linked with the American Mennonite and Amish faiths than Yoder. It’s the 598th most common last name in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But 300 years ago, there was only one man.

Hans Yoder was the first Mennonite of that name to settle in America. He immigrated from Europe in 1717 and settled in the Quakertown, Pa., area, where he probably worshiped at Swamp Mennonite Church.

yoder reunion crowd web

Floyd Yoder, left, of Venice, Fla., visits with Willy Christner of Shipshewana, Ind., at a Sept. 20-23 reunion celebrating 300 years of Yoders in North America. Rich Preheim — MWR

He, as well as the first American Amish Yoders, who arrived in Pennsylvania 275 years ago, were recognized at the national Yoder reunion Sept. 20-23 in Shipshewana.

But Hans Yoder had plenty of company. Three hundred years ago, he was part of one of the largest and most important Mennonite migrations of the 18th century.

Starting in the mid-1600s, Mennonites and Amish began moving north along the Rhine River from Switzerland, where Bern and Zurich authorities were trying to eradicate the Anabaptists. But their new homes also became oppressive, and in the early 1700s the Anabaptists were looking to move again.

“They were so disenfranchised that they were looking forward to the chance to go somewhere else,” said Rolando Santiago, director of the Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Historical Society.

Mennonites already living in Pennsylvania, the religious haven created by William Penn, began encouraging their European co-religionists to join them in America. With the aid of Dutch Mennonites, more than 700 Swiss refugees migrated in several waves during 1717.

“I’m totally grateful to the Quaker William Penn,” said reuniongoer Joe Yoder of Middlebury. “Penn got the Amish and Mennonites to settle in America.”

Seventy-six families, numbering nearly 500 people, joined a Mennonite settlement in what is now central Lancaster County that was started by 29 immigrants in 1710. That influx of Europeans would establish Lancas­ter as a major Mennonite center.

Runaway horses

Two area congregations, both members of Lancaster Mennonite Conference, are observing their tricentennials this month. Lancaster Online reported Groffdale Mennonite Church in Leola, which celebrated Oct. 1, attributes its origins to runaway horses. Several escaped from their Mennonite owner living farther south in the original community. The horses’ pursuers caught them in an area they saw as especially fertile, and one of them bought 1,500 acres.

Mellinger Mennonite Church in Lancaster will hold its anni­versary festivities Oct. 21-22. The congregation, founded by 1717 settlers, is named after Martin Mellinger, who didn’t arrive in America until 1772. But his influence as a deacon was so great that the congregation took his name.

The other 200-plus immigrants of 1717, such as Hans Yoder, settled farther east in the older Mennonite communities near Germantown.

Swiss origins

At the Yoder reunion, an estimated 350 people from 26 states plus Canada heard historical pres­entations on family origins and Anabaptist history. While definite genealogical links have yet to be made, it’s believed that all Yoders originated in Steffisburg, Switzerland.

While Hans Yoder was the first Anabaptist member of the family to arrive in America, he was not the first Yoder on the continent. That honor goes to two Swiss Reformed members who settled in Berks County, Pa.

The reunion was for all Yoders, although the Mennonites and Amish, or those descended from Anabaptist Yoders, were predominant.

The reunion also featured a presentation on Steffisburg by Andreas Joder (the German spelling of Yoder) of Switzerland. A native of the city, he spoke in the absence of his father, a longtime Steffisburg civic leader who was unable to attend because of illness.

Joder was struck by the audience’s historical knowledge.

“I’m impressed,” he said. “Maybe I need to change my presentation a little bit.”

The Shipshewana gathering was the eighth Yoder reunion since 1995 and the first in the Midwest. Previous reunions had been held in Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina.

New Hesston president brings international perspective

By and on Oct 9, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 2 comments

HESSTON, Kan. — Even before he made his way to the podium, Joseph A. Manickam got a standing ovation from nearly 650 people gathered for his inauguration as the ninth president of Hesston College on Sept. 23 in Hesston Mennonite Church.

Looking out on the array of faces, Manickam brought his hand to his heart and said, “Sisters and brothers, in case you didn’t tell, my face is red.”

Hesston College faculty member Michele Hershberger, right, prays for President Joseph K. Manickam during the inauguration ceremony. With him are daughter Faith; wife, Wanda; and son Matthew. Surrounding the family are, from left, Amy Nissley Stauffer, pastor of Hesston Mennonite Church; Koyuki Sakamoto, sophomore from Osaka, Japan; Stephanie Yoder, Alumni Association president, Weatherford, Okla.; Kelvin Friesen, board of directors chair, Archbold, Ohio; Carlos Romero, Mennonite Education Agency executive director, Goshen, Ind.; Brent Yoder, vice president of academics; Cindy Loucks, president’s administrative assistant; Michelle Armster, Mennonite Central Committee Central States executive director, North Newton, Kan.; and Kansas Independent College Association representative Amy Bragg Carey, president of Friends University, Wichita, Kan. — Larry Bartel/Hesston College

Hesston College faculty member Michele Hershberger, right, prays for President Joseph K. Manickam during the inauguration ceremony. With him are daughter Faith; wife, Wanda; and son Matthew. Surrounding the family are, from left, Amy Nissley Stauffer, pastor of Hesston Mennonite Church; Koyuki Sakamoto, sophomore from Osaka, Japan; Stephanie Yoder, Alumni Association president, Weatherford, Okla.; Kelvin Friesen, board of directors chair, Archbold, Ohio; Carlos Romero, Mennonite Education Agency executive director, Goshen, Ind.; Brent Yoder, vice president of academics; Cindy Loucks, president’s administrative assistant; Michelle Armster, Mennonite Central Committee Central States executive director, North Newton, Kan.; and Kansas Independent College Association representative Amy Bragg Carey, president of Friends University, Wichita, Kan. — Larry Bartel/Hesston College

A spirit of humor has always accompanied Manickam, said Phil Zehr, Manickam’s professor while at Hesston College.

And, indeed, Manickam’s journey with Hesston began well before he was announced as the presidential candidate of choice last October.

A 1987 Hesston graduate, Man­ickam first came to the college from Thailand, seeking an automotive technology degree.

“I remember his mother asking me, ‘Do you think my Joe can earn a living as a mechanic?’ ” Zehr said. “I replied, ‘Oh yeah, and he can do more.’ ”

Manickam’s journey led him to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in intercultural studies from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., his bachelor’s degree in communications from Goshen (Ind.) College and an associate degree in automotive technology from Hesston.

Before accepting his new position, Manickam directed the Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Bringing his global perspective and cross-cultural experience to the forefront, Manickam titled his inaugural address “One World to Share.”

“Wanda and I have had the privilege of traveling around the world,” he said. “I’ve traveled to close to 50 countries, and the world is a beautiful place. Don’t believe the lies you see on TV. The truth of it is we have one world to share.”

Manickam acknowledged the diversity of the Hesston College population, now including 1 in 8 students from outside the United States. The inauguration’s key Scripture passage, Matt. 22:23-40, was read in three languages: Amharic, Korean and English. A banner hung above the stage representing all the colors used in flags of the world.

“Today, we must recognize the individual giftings that we bring to the table together to share with one world,” Manickam said. “This is the world that I believe Hesston College is poised to go and engage. We’re doing it already, but there’s more that we can be doing.”

Brent Yoder, vice president of admissions, said Manickam often poses the question, “What does the world need from Hess­ton College?” With so many diverse perspectives, thinking about what Hesston College can do for the world is at the forefront of Manickam’s agenda, Yoder said.

Manickam has already begun to inspire his vision across the campus. Speaking in chapel and campus worship, he continues to expand the worldviews of students and challenge them to be “Grounded in Community [and] Globally Engaged” — the homecoming weekend theme that surrounded the inauguration.

Mackenzie Miller is a Hesston College student intern at MWR.

Franklin Conference joining Lancaster

By on Oct 9, 2017 in Latest Issue, News | 11 comments

Franklin Mennonite Conference is joining Lancaster Mennonite Conference a year and a half after departing Mennonite Church USA.

Franklin lay delegates and credentialed members voted Sept. 28 to affirm the recommendation of the conference board to join LMC as a bishop district. The resolution passed with 92 percent approval.

Franklin has 14 congregations with about 1,000 members in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Franklin delegates voted to depart MC USA at their annual spring meeting April 18, 2016, surpassing the required two-thirds needed with a vote that received 77 percent approval.

Conference leaders said concerns about issues surrounding same-sex relationships made congregations want to leave MC USA.

A Franklin release stated that Franklin District of LMC will continue to operate much as it has in the past.

Allen Lehman will continue to serve as pastor to the pastors and represent the district at LMC’s bimonthly bishop board meetings.

Associated organizations such as the Franklin Conference Mission Board and The Burning Bush newsletter will continue.

History: Catalyst of Anabaptist ideas

By on Oct 9, 2017 in Columns, History, Latest Issue, Preheim | 0 comments

Five hundred years ago, on Oct. 31, 1517, German monk and theology professor Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church by nailing his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg. This simple act  ignited the Reformation.

The new movement quickly produced two streams of faith: Lutheran, adhering to Luther’s teachings, and Reformed, first led by Ulrich Zwingli, the Luther-inspired pastor of the Grossmunster church in Zurich. Zwingli’s influence on the development of Anabaptism is well documented. Among his followers was a group including Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz, which on Jan. 21, 1525, held the first adult baptisms.

karlstadt

Andreas Karlstadt, intellectual founder of Anabaptism

But a straight line can also be drawn from Luther to Menno Simons — a line that runs through Luther’s colleague Andreas Karlstadt. While Luther would become an ardent foe of Anabaptism, even calling for the execution of its adherents, Karlstadt had a tremendous effect on some of its most important leaders.

One 20th-century non-Mennonite historian called him “the intellectual founder of Anabaptism . . . its theological founder par excellence.”

Karlstadt, like Luther, was a theology professor at the University of Wittenberg. (In fact, he had awarded Luther his doctorate in 1512.) And, like Luther, he had growing concerns about the condition of the Catholic Church. The two men became primary shapers of a new “Wittenberg theology,” which was instrumental in driving the Reformation. They were both eventually excommunicated by Pope Leo X.

Many of Karlstadt’s beliefs would become integrated into Anabaptist life and thought. He was an early opponent of swearing oaths — “He who does not honor God will never honor an oath,” Karlstadt said — and downplayed imagery in church.

Aware that many people understood Luther’s emphasis on grace as downplaying works, Karlstadt urged him to give more attention in his preaching to following Jesus in life. He even wrote on Gelassenheit, or yieldedness, which became a key tenet of the Anabaptist faith.

On Christmas Day 1521, Karlstadt conducted the first non-Catholic Lord’s Supper. In contrast to the mass, he wore no vestments but simple secular clothes, did not elevate the bread and the cup and served both to participants. (Only the priest drinks from the cup in Catholic services.) And he did all of it not in Latin but in German, the vernacular of the people.

Karlstadt and Luther didn’t hold identical views on everything, but scholars say there were no serious theological disagreements between the two. Still, by 1522, Karlstadt’s zealousness for reform began putting him at odds with Luther and local civic leaders, who were becoming more cautious about the pace of change. He was marginalized at the university, and in 1523 he moved to Orlamünde, south of Wittenberg, where he became a pastor.

In his new position, Karlstadt began implementing his ideas. He promoted egalitarianism, refusing titles of honor in favor of “Brother Andreas.” He refused to baptize infants.

But Karlstadt was not, by definition, an Anabaptist. He didn’t baptize adults who had been baptized as babies, nor was he rebaptized himself.

Once again, Karlstadt ran afoul of the authorities, who considered his reforms too radical, and he left Orlamünde after only one year. For the next decade, he and his family lived a nomadic life that took them from Switzerland to northern Germany. It also brought Karlstadt face to face with some of Anabaptism’s founders.

In late 1524, Karlstadt and his brother-in-law Gerhard Westerberg met in Zurich with Grebel and Manz and their band of radicals. They raised money to publish some of Karlstadt’s writings, including one on the Lord’s Supper. Westerberg would later become a leader of the Anabaptists at Cologne.

Karlstadt also corresponded with members of the movement in Moravia, and by 1527 he had met Melchior Hoffman, who would become the father of north German and Dutch Anabaptism. In 1529, Karlstadt was in East Friesland working with Hoffman, who was greatly influenced by the former Wittenberg professor, particularly on matters of ecclesiology, worship and the importance of works as well as faith.

Hoffman would proceed to baptize Jan Volckerts, who baptized Jan Matthijs. Matthijs commissioned 12 “apostles” to evangelize the Low Countries, two of whom baptized and ordained Obbe Philips in 1533, who baptized and later ordained Menno Simons.

But the years of transiency took a toll on Karlstadt’s family, so in 1534, he reached a truce with Ulrich Zwingli, the great reformer and anti-Anabaptist of Zurich. That allowed Karlstadt to become professor of Old Testament and rector of the University of Basel, positions he held until he died of the plague on Christmas Eve 1541.

Rich Preheim is a writer and historian from Elkhart, Ind.

Talk to North Korea

By on Oct 9, 2017 in Latest Issue, Letters | 0 comments

North Korea is indeed a threat to the United States with its ICBM and possible nuclear attachment. But bellicose and militaristic talk only raises the tension and the risk. Why not talk to North Korean leaders instead? This does not give up anything, but would merely be communication in an atmosphere of respect. As time goes on, messages between opposing sides might emphasize increased diplomatic endeavors.

Problems can be identified and tentative solutions made. Diplomacy is necessary.

Marlow Ediger
North Newton, Kan.

No halfway liberty

By on Oct 9, 2017 in Editorial, Latest Issue | 0 comments

The protest that shook the world began 500 years ago this month. On a church door in the Saxon town of Wittenberg, an obscure German monk posted 95 statements of dispute with Catholicism. It was Oct. 31, 1517. The Reformation had begun. Soon the Catholic Church would split, and the many-sided argument known as Protestantism would change the face of Christianity.

Mennonites, too, are celebrating the anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold challenge to authority. The Anabaptists were third-way radicals rejected by Catholics and Protestants alike, but their movement emerged from the religious and political revolution Luther ignited.

Not that Luther approved of the dangerous fanatics who eventually took the name of a Dutch priest, Menno Simons. In fact, Luther was an ardent foe of Anabaptism, as columnist Rich Preheim writes. Though Pope Leo X denounced Luther as a wild boar in the Lord’s vineyard, Anabaptism gave Catholics and Lutherans one thing to agree on: The rebaptizers must die.

The root of the Anabaptist heresy was their insistence that Christian faith was an adult choice, separate from the rule of the state. Even reform-minded leaders found it difficult to imagine a legitimate church that didn’t baptize infants. Luther and other Protestant reformers rejected papal authority and corrupt clergy but held fast to Christendom — the linking of spiritual and civil authority that bound people together by faith, soil and crown. Anabaptism looked like anarchy.

In fact, Anabaptism was the future. Seeking to separate church and state, Anabaptists pioneered the idea of religious liberty. By claiming the freedom to worship as they saw fit, they took a stand for a principle that would form the bedrock of democratic governments and pluralist societies.

Luther typically gets the credit for setting in motion the forces of individual liberty that would shape Protestantism and shift the course of history. But it was the Anabaptists who extended Luther’s religious rebellion to the political realm.

“All Christians are priests,” Luther said, and so “have the power to test and judge what is correct or incorrect in matters of faith.” This ability to judge would be far from complete without the freedom to reject the state’s authority over religious faith. Protestants are known for refusing to let others tell them what to believe, but it was the Anabaptists who first pushed that principle to its fullest extent. It would take centuries for their radical idea to go mainstream.

The Reformation anniversary provides an occasion to reflect on our Anabaptist identity and to appreciate the heritage we share with other Christian traditions. The global Anabaptist family is marking the milestone with a 10-year series of events, Renewal 2027, extending beyond the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism in 2025. The first Renewal gathering took place in Germany in February. The next will be in Kenya in April.

The passage of time has brought reconciliation to Luther’s and Menno’s spiritual descendants. In 2010 the Lutheran World Federation officially apologized for the persecution of Anabaptists, and Mennonite World Conference granted forgiveness. Participants in Lutheran-Mennonite dialogues regarded their work as more than a historical footnote. They believed it healed a wound on the body of Christ.

The Lutheran-Mennonite journey from condemnation to friendship shows the good fruit of ecumenical relationships. Protestants’ many-sided argument may never be resolved, but we’re grateful Luther got the debate started, Anabaptists jumped into the midst of it, and today it’s conducted with words, not swords.