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?