Menno Simons was born at dawn in Friesland, Netherlands in 1496, but this dawn was on a spiritual horizon of drastic dramatic change coming over the Christian world. Ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1524 just seven years after Martin Luther put up his 95 theses on the Wittenburg Church doors, this rookie Father Simons in Pingjum began to have his own questions to the mystical literalism concerning the bread and wine representing the Body and Blood of Christ1. This, and the availability of vernacular translations, led him to doing what was an obvious uncommon practice, actually studying the Scriptures.
Hints of Transition
The beheading of pious Sicke Snijder was a trauma that pushed him further into a Berean2 attitude of Bible study, and now he began to question infant baptism, but he was still considered a Magisterial Protestant3 However, his continuing query was paralleling peers elsewhere, the Anabaptists, some of whom he met from Münster, offshoots of Zwinglian protestant4, and out of the Evangelical Brethren5 tradition. Like many Christians who enjoy getting their doctrine right, but their lifestyle remains "worldly"6 he parted ways on the radical holiness of living that these other spiritualist7 inspired followers exhibited and touted.
Even as guilt of his disobedient behavior nagged him, he was further shocked into transformation by an event at Old Cloister. 300 Anabaptists, including his brother were butchered. He describes it here:
After this had transpired, the blood of these people although misled fell...so hot on my heart that I could not stand it nor find rest in my soul. I reflected upon my unclean, carnal life...I saw that these children, although in error, willingly gave thier lives and their estates for their doctrine and faith ... but I myself ... acknowledged abominations simply in order that I might enjoy physical comfort and escape the Cross of Christ.
Salvation and Influential Ministry
It was right after this that like the St. Paul, and Church Father Saint Augustine he had his dramatic conversion, and on January 30, 1536 he officially left the Roman Catholic Church and fellowshipped with the Anabaptists. Not sure if he sympathized with the Münster group, Obbe Phillips, or Melchorists, most of whom were pacifists, he finally was ordained as an Anabaptist elder by Phillips in 1537 at Groningen.
He preached for 24 years with a style nearer to an earlier group from Strasburg, the Marpecks, and witnessed Obbe's defection in 1540. Though he had many followers martyred, and his wife and children suffered early on, he survived the turbulence until he died in 1561 in Germany where he relatively lived more peacefully for his last 8 years than previously in Holland.
Starting with his publication The Foundation of Christian Doctrine, 1539, he went on to publish 24 more. He developed , improving earlier Anabaptists, Grebel, Mantz, Sattler, Hubmaier and the aforementioned Marpeck. His contributions were developing the concepts that are essentials of modern evangelicals, of personal sincere confession and repentance. This fellowship of like believers then can minister to each other and others with loving care.
Church Discipline was an area that finally had him leave his more moderate Swiss and Southern German stance for the more stern Dutch reaction to error within. There was a bit of division over some of these issues, but by 1550 twenty-five percent of the Northern Netherlands considered themselves Mennonites.
Today, Mennonites are throughout the world, with several different conferences, and they are famous for their maintaining consistent nonfrivolous Christianity. Their community in Belize is renown for providing vegetables and other produce for that developing country. And even though their close brethren the Amish have more notoriety, the Mennonites' quilts, cooking, and other products are predominate in their American communities.
1Transubstantiation is the belief that the sacramental elements of the bread and wine actually become the real body and blood of Jesus, and is sacrificed again. Luthers' view that Christ is present, but we are not sacrificing Him, but is done by God; thus they have a doctrine of Consubstantiation. (see footnote 4)
2In the book of Acts (of the Apostles) in the New Testament, the Bereans in the 17th chapter, vs. 10-12 were considered more noble because they "...searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." that the Apostle Paul was teaching them, and the verification therof led to saving belief (including some famous women.)
3This describes one of the original three basic branches of the 16th century Reformation, First, Roman Catholic internal reform. The magisterial is the one that desired some break with Papacy, and believed in Church/State management of Christian affairs, but the increasing Nationalism from the previous Imperialism changed its dynamic. The others were the "radicals" or Anabaptists. These are broken down again fourfold: One being rationalists whose descendants became Unitarians, eschatological revolutionaries, whose main leader was Thomas Münzer died with their follower's violent revolution of 1525, spiritualists emphasized the internal presence of the Spirit and were not prone to want to leave denominations, and evangelical brethren -- this being the ones from Zwingli in Zurich, instituting adult rebaptism, moral living, and love of Holy Writ. they started in their first Anabaptist church in Zollikon in 1525
4Ulrich Zwingli and others like Simon Stumpf were looking to personal commitment to Jesus and the Bible.
5Zwingli debated Luther on the issue of Transubstantian (see footnote 1) believing vehemantly any teaching that the material stuff used in communion was real was idolatry since Jesus' body was at the "Right Hand of the Father."
6The Piety movement called on believers to give up the carousing and drinking, (worldly) and live a simple quiet life of strict obedience to following Jesus' and His disciples' teaching
Source: Great Leaders of the Christian Church Moody Press