Grace at the heart of our witness

“Early Anabaptists practiced foot washing just like Benedictines do today!” exclaimed [Father] Augustinus [Sander], a Benedictine monk I met in Switzerland. He had just looked up Michael Sattler on the Internet.

“Not surprising,” I said, “since Sattler came from the Benedictine order.”

Sattler was the primary author of the influential 1527 Schleitheim Articles, in which Anabaptists called for truth-telling, rejection of violence, accountability to community, separation of church and state, and holy living in obedience to Jesus – all of which sounded to brother Augustinus like the practices of his religious order.

Early Anabaptists left or were expelled from monasteries and congregations of the Roman Catholic church, often in painful or even lethal circumstances. But Anabaptists retained this very monastic ideal: that it is possible – essential – for Christians to take seriously the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–6) and other teachings of the New Testament about ethics, nonviolence, community, and holiness.

Anabaptists did not so much want to get rid of monastic ideals of disciplined lifestyle; rather, they wanted all Christians to live in monk-like obedience to Jesus.

Father Augustinus and J. Nelson Kraybill

I rejoice that Mennonite, Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed and other Christians today often find ways to fellowship and collaborate as sisters and brothers in Christ. We have much to learn from Augustinus and from others around the world who share the high standard of obedience to the way of Jesus.

Augustinus and I both were ecumenical guests at a gathering of Lutherans. Ask Lutherans what is distinctive about their tradition, and most likely you will hear, “salvation by faith through grace.”

Mennonites also believe that.

But sometimes we so much emphasize peacemaking and service as hallmarks of the gospel that we forget grace. We forget that we still are sinners whose right relationship with God and with fellow humans comes only by grace through power of the Holy Spirit, not by our fine efforts.

—J. Nelson Kraybill is president of MWC (2015–2021). He lives in Indiana, USA.


This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2020. Click here to read other articles from this issue.



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