In the face of a perceived ritualistic faith in the Russian Mennonite Colonies, January 6, 1860 saw the formation of a group attempting to live a genuine Christian faith. 150 years to this day, the Mennonite Brethren were formed (read more here). This dissenting group declared their intentions forthright: “We herewith completely dissociate ourselves from these decadent churches, though we pray for our brethren, that they shall be saved. We want to be innocent of the souls of the erring. But Thou, O Jesus, equip faithful living witnesses, who will direct Thy children and the world Thy hands to Thee!” (“Document of Secession,” from J.A. Toews, A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church)
While history has sadly seen this original mood of dissension persist to varying degrees, the genuine desire to be faithful living witnesses has remained a driving force in Mennonite Brethren identity worldwide, continuing to confront uncritical acceptance of religious status-quo.
While challenges remain – and will likely continue – in defining Mennonite Brethren identity both individually and collectively, I cannot deny the impact the complex history of this relatively young movement has had on my life. In a culture full of overly-individualistic spiritual pursuits, I’ve found a home in a group that values authentic Christian faith to which most agree occurs in the context of community. To consider myself Mennonite Brethren means my identity is shaped by the community to which I belong.
And so 150 years is significant not just for the Mennonite Brethren religious movement, but for the Mennonite Brethren member. Values and beliefs of the past century and a half inform how we identify ourselves as Mennonite Brethren today (e.g. a legacy of cross-denominational influence continues to shape Mennonite Brethren theology, making our openness to diversity not all that surprising).
As the collective Mennonite Brethren story continues to evolve, then, we mustn't forget how as individuals we are shaped by this story in which we take part. As a Christian - a Mennonite Brethren Christian - I take solace in the reality that I'm part of something bigger then myself - a community in history that continues to explore together what being faithful living witnesses means.
Happy Birthday Mennonite Brethren!