My Plain Dilemma
When I started this blog eight months ago, I noted that our mission was to answer questions about Mennonites and our Christian faith. Because that is what our family is. Conservative Mennonite Christians.
So, I simply set out to answer questions about our Faith. And since we know it and love it and have experienced it all of our lives, it cannot be that hard, right?
I think in the back of my mind I knew I’d be answering questions broader than just about Mennonites because, to be fair, there are other groups of Christians relatively similar to us with basically the same faith and Biblical practices but who are not Mennonites.
I had in mind that a more inclusive term which I’d likely end up using would be Anabaptist* since that name overarches groups like the River Brethren, German Baptists, Mennonites and even the Amish. So yeah, I sort of figured Anabaptist would probably end up being the broader umbrella term.
But if you notice, I have not used the term Anabaptist much... nor even the term Mennonite in most posts. Increasingly I find myself using the term ‘Plain People.’ I didn’t really expect this, but as it grows on me, I like it.
If you stick around, I’ll explain why I’ve come to believe that this ‘Plain People’ term fits the purposes of this blog better than either Mennonite or Anabaptist.
First, a basic point of sociology: If one sets out to give concise answers to questions about broad people-groups, like churches or faiths in this case, the sub-groups should be close in practice. The more similar the small groups are to each other, the more likely that an answer for the broad group can be also true for all.
Let's look at this in real life...
Let’s imagine I’d set out to answer questions about Mennonites. So, someone launches a question. Let's say, "How do Mennonites find marriage partners?" Or maybe, "How do Mennonites address the influence of Facebook, TikTok, Instagram or video gaming?" Or, "Do Mennonites go to college?"
As soon as I’d set out to answer this question, I’d run into a major dilemma. I would not be able to answer the question unless I’d give a lengthy disclaimer and explanation to differentiate between Mennonites that are plain and those who have acculturated into general society. Because the answers for the two groups would of necessity be vastly different.
Conservative Mennonites, like our family and farm team and churches which we relate to, are often called ‘Plain People.’ We do not intentionally set out to be plain or simple or even different just for difference’s sake alone.
But we are committed to simply obey the plain commands of Jesus and other New Testament Bible scriptures quite literally. We do not try to explain them away or wiggle around them. We just accept them as God’s Word on His will for His followers and make practical, real-life applications to them for our lives and for our churches.
Because of that commitment, we live very different lives in some ways than the prevailing world culture. And of course, we live very differently from those who may still retain the Mennonite name but who have mostly accepted the popular cultural values and are fundamentally indistinguishable from general society.
So, as you can imagine, there is no concise way to answer ‘How do Mennonites do things’ because the range of what a Mennonite is, believes and practices is far too diverse. The umbrella is too big for consistent, accurate answers.
The same is true of the term Anabaptist.*
A broad range of groups today identify as having Anabaptist heritage; Mennonites, Quakers, some Baptist, and many Brethren. But many members of these Anabaptist heritage groups, even though they were at one time plain churches, are no longer plain people today.
So, with Mennonites or Anabaptists, my dilemma is the same.
It’s impossible to do justice to the ‘How do Anabaptist do things’ questions because the umbrella is too broad to be concise. Answers would be drastically different between plain Anabaptists and those Anabaptists which have been slowly but surely acculturating and absorbing into the rest of the world's culture.
But this is still not then end of the difficulty. (I’m not trying to exaggerate or make this complicated.) 🙂
On the flip side, there are other plain Christian groups, German Baptists, River Brethren, Amish and even Bruderhoff and Hutterite folks, for example, who are not Mennonites. They maybe are not even all Anabaptists—they have a different historic faith journey altogether. Yet with them we do share a deep and distinct kinship of Christian faith and literal, Biblical obedience.
Even though there are for sure differences in applications of scripture, there is much more "common-unity" of Biblical obedience among the various Plain Christian Communities than there is among the various types of Mennonites or Anabaptists.
So, if someone were to ask, “How do Plain People Christians address the influence of Facebook, TikTok, Instagram or video gaming?” or "Do Plain People go to college?" ... I’d still have my work cut out for me, but the unifying umbrella of the Plain People term is much more doable. So, I believe I could actually at least try to answer those questions.
If I do use the word Mennonite or Anabaptist without qualifications (and I will sometimes, I'm sure) just know that what I'm really speaking about is Plain Mennonites and Plain Anabaptists.
So, I’d be glad to know. Does this make any sense? Have I explained clearly or is it still confusing? Do you understand better why I’ll be shifting to answering questions from a ‘Plain People Christian’ perspective?
You can send me your questions and comments by simply hitting reply to this email... I’d love to hear from you.
Blessings to all!
Your Plain Mennonite Christian friend, 😊
- Edwin Shank
*The prefix ‘ana’ in the word Anabaptist is of Greek origin and literally meant ‘again’. The Anabaptists of the 1500’s were given this nickname by their state-church enemies. The Anabaptists insisted on being again-baptized (re-baptized) because of their conviction for adult believers' baptism rather than the infant baptism which was enforced upon threat of death by the state churches of that day.
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