What is a Mennonite?

The Mennonites have not always lived in Canada. If we look at how they began, we will have an easier time understanding why they did not want to fight during the Second World War.

Mennonites trace their history back almost 500 years. They are named after Menno Simons. Menno Simons was trained as a Catholic priest, but as he read the Bible for himself, he began to see differences between the Bible and the Catholic church. Based on his understanding of the Bible, Menno Simons disagreed with many of the practices and beliefs of the Catholic church as he knew it. Around this time, other men and women also began to challenge the Catholic church. This movement is known as the Reformation.

Menno Simons made the Bible his only authority. He thought that all people should read the story of Jesus in the Bible and then decide for themselves how to live. When Menno Simons read the Bible, he believed that the example of Jesus was calling him to live a life of peaceful obedience. Simons emphasized the need for believers to dedicate their lives completely to God and to become disciples, or followers, of Jesus.

Canadian Mennonite Brethren Church leader Frank C. Peters, reflecting on his time as a conscientious objector stated

“From the beginning to the end of his life, Jesus grappled with the problem of force…. I can come to no other conclusions than that Jesus was the first Christian pacifist.”

[ Frank C. Peters, “Moderator's Corner”, Mennonite Brethren Herald, July 9, 1976 p. 19.]

The Mennonites knew that following Jesus completely was a difficult decision. For this reason, they did not baptize babies like the Catholic church did. In order to be baptized and become a member of the Mennonite church, you had to be old enough to understand the sacrifice you would have to make.

So far, we know that the Mennonites have certain beliefs that set them apart from many other Christians. What exactly did they believe, and how did they live such a difficult life?