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This book is an introduction to the Mennonite faith story. It was written with several audiences in mind: those wanting to learn about Anabaptists and Mennonites, churches seeking to teach youth and adults about Mennonite origins and beliefs, and students in Mennonite colleges and high schools in Canada and the United States.
The writers of this book want to tell the Mennonite story sympathetically, yet also critically. This story includes both the good and the bad, stories that may inspire you and stories that may disappoint you. To be fair, we must say that the writers identify with this story and with the faith tradition that has guided Anabaptist Christians through time. The writers do not think that the Anabaptist witness has been flawless, but they do hope that this book will lead readers to appreciate the Anabaptist witness and to strengthen their own faith and commitment.
To encourage discussion, the book includes essays on five topics important to Anabaptists through the centuries: the church, following Jesus in daily life, nonviolence and peacemaking, the relationship between church and state, and outreach.
Mennonite Education Agency prays that this book will deepen the faith of all who read it and will renew their appreciation for the Anabaptist-Mennonite story.
From The Epilogue
Taking Part in God's Drama
By Stephen M. Nolt and Harry Loewen
When Luis Correa, a pastor in Colombia, is asked to explain why he is an Anabaptist, he tells stories. Some are experiences of church members working for peace in Latin America. Others involve friendships with Mennonites from other parts of the world.
Not all of his stories are pleasant. In one case, Correa left a Mennonite congregation in deep disappointment. He recalls all these stories of faith and failure as he seeks to follow Jesus.
"For me history is very important," Correa says. "A people without [a] history is a people without a future."
In the Bible, God's people often used stories to explain who they were, connecting their faith and God's faithfulness. Moses began his own story with the wandering of Abraham and Sarah (Deuteronomy 26:5-10). Later Joshua picked up the story and added to it (Joshua 24:2-13). The writer of Psalm 136 and the priest Ezra did the same thing (Nehemiah 9:6-37). Early Christians such as Stephen (Acts 7) and Paul (Acts 13:16-41) joined their stories to the story of God's people who had come before them.
But how do we make sense of our stories?
Our overview of Mennonite history crosses times and continents. Preachers and peasants, martyrs and missionaries, reformers and rascals have all played a part in this story. Often their witness was inspiring. Stories of courage and loving service call us to deeper commitment. Everyday tales of God's work in ordinary lives give us hope. These stories are a source of strength and wisdom and power.
But some aspects of the Mennonite story make us uneasy. Sometimes Mennonites were unfaithful, even hypocritical. At times they lost sight of God's activity and inflicted pain on one another or hindered others from hearing God's story.
When we encounter unfaithfulness or hypocrisy, it is tempting to become frustrated and reject our history. We may want to hide our past, embarrassed because it includes mistakes and failures. Or we may simply ignore our story.
We know that the Bible includes stories about the past, but Jesus is calling us to be faithful disciples now. Can't we just start from scratch? How does history relate to mission or peace? What does the past really have to do with the present or the future?
Discipleship as divine drama
Being a disciple of Jesus in today's world is a lot like taking part in a play. But not an ordinary play with a completed script. Instead, it's as if the world's most renowned playwright handed you a script that is missing a crucial scene, and then asks you to complete the play by writing—and acting—the missing section.
On the one hand, participating in this divine drama calls for all the originality and imagination you have. This is your chance to follow your heart and be creative, confident that you are participating in the greatest performance of all time.
On the other hand, you don't have complete freedom to create your scene. The scenes that come before and after your scene put some limits on what you can do. There are already themes and characters that you must work with. And there is a story line that you have to move along toward the drama's conclusion.
We know some of the scenes that have already been played: creation; the call of Abraham and Sarah; Jesus' life, death, and resurrection; the birth of the church; and much more. And we believe that the ultimate ending of this divine drama is the coming kingdom of God, the reign of God's shalom.
So we take our parts while looking forward and backward. As we review the script, we realize that there were some unexpected twists in the plot that we still aren't entirely sure how to interpret. We're stuck with some flawed characters, and the stage may not be set the way we'd like.
But we are also confident that Christ is directing us in faithful creativity. Like any theater production, this one is a group effort. We recruit more players and make space on the stage for new people to take leading roles. We develop some themes from preceding scenes. And we play other things quite differently as we anticipate where this story is headed
Our lives—the scenes God has called us to live—have to bridge the scenes that have come before us with the finale that we believe will unfold when the final curtain goes up. We can't ignore either the past or the future as we live faithfully in the present.
Siaka Traore, a first-generation Christian and Mennonite pastor in Burkina Faso, put it this way: "God includes us in the management of time and events so we must not simply be subjected to history. We must make history. We must influence history in the direction God wants."
Siaka Traore and Luis Correa remind us to connect our past and God's future through the scene we are living today. As we worship the One who is and Who was and Who is to come, we find our place in this divine drama, living our scenes in anticipation of the reign of God.
What's your scene? Are you ready to take your part in God's drama?
From the epilogue to Through Fire And Water: An Overview of Mennonite History (Herald Press).
The Christian Heritage
1. The Apostles Build the Church
2. The Church Gains Power and Wealth
3. Reformers Shake the Church
How do you know when your church is faithful?
Anabaptism Emerges in Sixteenth-Century Europe
4. The Swiss Brethren Break with Zwingli
5. Anabaptism Develops in Holland
6. Radical Reform Comes in South Germany and Moravia
Is your life a witness to the spirit, water, and blood?
From Anabaptist to Mennonite
7. Searching for Peace and Prosperity, 1600-1800
The North American Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Story
8. Finding a Home in North America, 1683-1860
9. Mission and Peace, 1860-1960
10. Faithful Witness in a Diverse World, 1960 to Today
What does it mean for you to be a peacemaker?
The Russian Mennonite Story
11. Building a Mennonite Commonwealth, 1789-1850
12. Conflict and Renewal, 1800-1917
13. War, Terror, and Sustaining Faith, 1917-1990
Where does your loyalty lie?
Anabaptism Grows Around the World
14. Anabaptist Witness in Asia
15. Mennonites and Brethren in Christ in Africa
16. Anabaptist Visions in Latin America
Do you see many members forming one body in Christ?
Epilogue: Taking Part in God's Drama