This is Passion Week: from the volatility of Palm Sunday to the violence of Good Friday. I call Good Friday Armistice Day—the day that Jesus put an end to the need for animal sacrifice in worship and also the need for human sacrifice in war.
The Reformation was an important time of church reform but the dark side of the Reformation was that it was also a time of unbridled violence involving the old and crumbling Holy Roman Empire and numerous smaller jurisdictions: German principalities, various independent city states, and unorganized peasant groups—all of them aligned with some reforming and protesting branch of Christianity. Perhaps the most infamous of the violent events was the Munster debacle, climaxing on Easter, 1535. It 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 much 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?
This summer I had the privilege of guiding an Anabaptist pilgrimage to several countries in central Europe. I blogged about it a few months ago. I was asked to present a slide show during the week of Remembrance Day which prompted me to put my pictures into a logical package. A number of the stories we encountered were peace stories that seemed relevant at this time of year when we remember the horrors of war in order not to repeat them. I also did not want to merely repeat the same stories I had put in the “Anabaptist Beginnings” slide show. These stories may also be appropriate for advent season [which is just around the corner], since “Peace on Earth” is also the message of Jesus becoming human that we celebrate at Christmas.
So, check out “Stories and Pictures for Remembering” by clicking on “Slide shows” above.
I remember as a teenager who grew up in the church that I had some biting criticism for the people in the church because they were a bunch of hypocrites. They seemed to say one thing and do another. Their lives were inconsistent with their beliefs. Later in my young adulthood I joined my lot with this “bunch of hypocrites” and despite my ideals have become what I so despised. It has happened without much effort, all along my life’s journey.
I realized it again today. I was preparing a lecture on Menno Simons and looking for some good quotes to illustrate my points. Here’s a good one –
“Is it not sad and intolerable hypocrisy that people boast of having the Word of God, of being the true Christian church, yet never remembering that they have entirely lost their sign of true Christianity? For although many of them have plenty of everything, go about in silk and velvet, gold and silver, and in all manner of pomp and splendor; ornament their houses with all manner of costly furniture; have their coffers filled, and live in luxury and splendor, yet they suffer many of their own poor, afflicted members to ask alms; and poor hungry, suffering, old, lame, blind, and sick people to beg bread at their doors. Oh preachers, dear preachers, where is the power of the Gospel you preach?”
While I include this provocative quote we are spending a few thousand dollars on a new floor in our house while millions in the world do not have a house. Now, I know all the justifications about how we were living on plywood for a few years, and how it will improve the resale value of our house, and how it is our income tax return, and how we did give 10% of it, and people in other climates don’t need houses like we do in Canada, and how living in voluntary poverty just makes us leeches on society, and how it’s more complicated than donating money, and of course the best reason is that I got a good deal on some laminate! etc. etc. but it still troubles me. Oh, and to top it off we are paying $35 a ticket to hear the Great Lake Swimmers tonight! Oh, but my mom did send me some money as a birthday present which i have not spent yet :-).
It is easy, well a bit embarrassing, to confess my hypocrisy to the electronic world out there but it is a bit harder now that we are a double income family to actually practice the ideals of simplicity than it was when I was a poor college student. I claim to follow the Jesus who had no place to lay his head. It is a difficult journey and I also know we are not called to wallow in self-mutilation, as I am also wont to do. Hopefully a few confessions along the way can provide some catharsis. Hi, my name is Gareth and I’m a hypocrite.