MENNO SIMONS OF FRIESLAND: THE OUTSTANDING MOVEMENT LEADER SHIVRAJ K. MAHENDRA Introduction We live in an age of leadership. Leaders are needed in every field of life. As young people, we too are on the way to become leaders. In the process, we derive leadership inspirations from the history. While a good number of leaders are quite well known, some of them are yet to be introduced to many of us. One such leader is Menno Simons. Menno Simons was the outstanding Anabaptist leader of the Anabaptist Movement (also known as the Radical Reformation), which ran parallel to the 16th century Protestant movement. His followers are known as Mennonites. Today they represent the Mennonite Churches all over the world. Simons was not the founder of Mennonite Churches, as it is generally assumed, but he became the leader of the movement after it had been in existence for a number of years. In this article an attempt is made to highlight the life and legacy of Menno Simons. Life of Menno Simons Simons was born in January 1496 in a small village of Witmarsum, Dutch province of Friesland. His parents were probably dairy farmers. He may have received his training in a monastery of Friesland or in a neighboring province. Simons knew Latin and Greek. During his study he acquainted himself with some of the Latin Church Fathers. In 1524 at the age of 28, Simons was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest at Utrecht (Netherlands). He was married; had two daughters and a son. After a life lived extraordinarily for God, Simons breathed his last on January 31, 1561.
Chronicle of Fishers for Christ, December 2016 © Shivraj Mahendra
The Legacy of Menno Simons Simons was a leader with great vision and mission, capabilities and qualities. Some of his historical efforts and achievements are outlined here: Founding of a Pure Church. Simons was a focused leader with clear vision of his task. His sole aim was to work for the establishment of a true Christian and apostolic church. He sincerely and honestly wanted to give his all for the Christian church and the glory of God. All through his life he worked tirelessly for the founding of a true and pure Christian Church. Reformation and Theology. The Anabaptist movement of the 16th century believed in reforming ‘Christians’ rather than ‘Theology’. Anabaptists wanted to restore the Church to its original purity. However, Luther and other Reformers saw the Anabaptist theology as amiss and against their doctrines. Simons rejected the Catholic Church, which did not preach justification by faith. But he also rejected the Lutheran Church because of its onesided emphasis on “faith alone.” Simons could not accept the radical movement also, which attempted to usher in the kingdom of God by force. So he developed a theology of martyrdom, a theology of suffering for God. When he was torn between two authorities: the Bible and the church, he saw that the Bible had taken Luther, Zwingli, and others out of the Catholic Church; now he was on the same path. Which of the two authorities would win? He wanted to be loyal to both. From the writings of Luther, he concluded that the Scriptures should have the first place. So the Bible became the authority for Simons.
For Simons, baptism was a result of rebirth by faith. And thus he rejected infant baptism on the basis that only those who have consciously committed their lives to Christ and believe in the remission of their sins may receive the Holy Baptism. He also believed that actual transubstantiation (the transformation of the bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ) does not occur, but Communion is more a memorial of Christ (His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming). This believer’s baptism and communion is now followed by Baptists, Mennonites, Pentecostals and others. Evangelical Spirituality. Simons prayed to God to bestow upon him the wisdom, Spirit, and courage so that he may be able to preach God’s adorable name and His holy Word in purity. He was committed to make known God’s truth and His glory. He had accepted the evangelical truth and dedicated his life to take upon him the “cross of Christ.” One could see the great sense of evangelical spirituality in Simons. Underground Evangelism. After his antiCatholic and other views became public, his life was in danger. So he quietly renounced all worldly reputation, name and fame, easy life, and willingly submitted to stress and poverty under the heavy cross of Christ. He left his home community and church and lived an underground life, continuing his labors as a voluntary underground evangelist. He had become popular as an “evangelical preacher.” Literary Contributions. In addition to his evangelistic and leadership works Simons was also studying the Word of God and writing pamphlets to strengthen and guide those in need of spiritual help and to win those in danger of losing their evangelical faith. His great work, the Foundation Book, did much to restore the original Anabaptist concepts and principles, which were in grave danger of being lost. His writings were effective not so much because of their superior and logical qualities as a theological system, but because behind them stood a man formed according to the Scriptures. The writings of Simons have been published
Chronicle of Fishers for Christ, December 2016 © Shivraj Mahendra
more often than the writings of any other Anabaptist leaders. The Lesson from Menno Simons For today’s aspiring Christian leaders, Menno Simons has much to learn from. Courage, creativity and commitment are some of the key elements that characterized his leadership. Simons’ significance as a leader is seen in the fact that he assumed leadership responsibilities at the crucial hour of the movement. The Radical Reformation was in danger of losing its original identity and membership. Simons maintained peaceful Biblical Anabaptist concepts and won many who had been in danger of being swallowed up by other movements. He did this as its leader, speaker, and defender, through his preaching as he journeyed from place to place, and through his simple and searching writings. Through Simons’ courageous and devoted life a distinctive witness in the Radical Reformation movement, representing a Christian brotherhood and a Christian way of life, was preserved. These are generally recognized as an integral part of Anabaptism and include such basic principles as separation of church and state, freedom of conscience, voluntary church membership, priesthood of all believers, holy living, and a Christian peace witness in a world of strife. Conclusion In the present day, when we struggle to keep up with the demands of leadership lifestyle, challenges and perils, Simons inspires us to be bold and courageous. He inspires us to be evangelical leaders of high spiritual standard and commitment. In times when our churches, organizations or institutions undergo difficulties, we must stand up and take up the lead. This is the clarion call to all aspiring Christian leaders. Shivraj Mahendra is a theological translator, author and educator. Connect with him on Facebook or email: firstname.lastname@example.org Note: An earlier version of this article has previously appeared in Radiant 2012.