The Munster debacle was a tragic and terrible event that illustrated the extremes of the Anabaptist movement. Although the Munsterites may have been on the fringes of Anabaptism—a radicalization of a radical movement—the events at Munster became very influential in shaping the theology and practice of Dutch Anabaptists for generations to come. Munster was a defining moment even if it was something to react against. My theory is that the terrible violence at Munster was instrumental in forming the strong pacifist theology of Menno Simons and subsequent generations of Mennonites.

Consider Menno’s own words: “After this happened [the bloodshed at Munster] the blood of these poor misguided sheep fell so hot on my heart that I could not stand it. I saw that these zealous people voluntarily gave their lives and possessions for their [false] faith and beliefs… while I myself continued in my comfortable life simply in order that I might enjoy physical comfort and remain outside the cross of Christ.”

After much agonized soul-searching Menno left the safety of the priesthood and joined the fledgling Anabaptist movement. He wrote about his developing convictions: “Christ is our fortress; patience our weapon of defense; the Word of God our sword; and victory a courageous, firm unfeigned faith in Jesus Christ. And iron and metal spears and swords we leave to those who, alas, regard human blood and swine’s blood about alike.”

And what of the violent debacles in our world today? The situations are more complex in a global society but some of the roots are the same. Do these situations break our hearts the way the Munster debacle broke Menno’s heart? How do we respond to violence today?

 

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