What Is the Difference?


Suppose someone would ask you what the difference is between conservative Anabaptist-Mennonites and conservative Protestants. How would you tell them briefly and concisely? Often we don't know the motives of a person who asks such questions, or we wonder if they imagine we belong to a cult. So, we're tempted to stress the similarities and minimize the differences. Do we then come across as regular Protestants with just a few different understandings? Are these understandings significant?

When we explain to people our beliefs, are we apologetic, or do we stress the Biblicism of our emphases? Do we point out our differences as doctrinal differences, as differences in practice, or both? Do we pay lip service to neglected and forgotten truths while living little different from the evangelicals around us?

What we explain to people will vary with the amount of time we have and the depth of interest. It is certainly in order to explain to someone who asks that we believe in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, and that we believe in the infallibility of the Bible and the Genesis account of Creation. Most people, however, want to know what our distinctives are and what makes us "tick."

One very basic Biblical difference is that we believe in a clear-cut distinction between the old covenant and the new, more so than any Protestant group. This probably shows up most clearly in our teaching on nonresistance. We don't go to the Old Testament to "prove" that fighting back is acceptable Christian behavior. When I explain nonresistance to a seeker, I try to mention that this means not going to war. In everyday life, it means not suing or countersuing, not demanding my rights or protesting against authorities even when I disagree with them.

Another obvious distinctive is a consuming desire to take the Bible, especially the New Testament, at face value and put its precepts to practice. This desire should affect every area of life -- our morals, our family values, our honesty, how we relate to our neighbors, our involvement or lack of involvement in sports, entertainment, and popular music -- "Christian" and secular.

In this area of obedience and applying Scripture, people will most often ask about the way we dress (if there is something distinctive about us). We need to be prepared for some very frank (and usually sincere) questions. Consider the clerk who asked a Mennonite husband, "Why is it that your wife looks as if she stepped out of a 1900 Sears and Roebuck catalog and you look like any other man around?" Or if we tell someone we believe in covering our bodies and being modest, then how do we explain trousers or dresses that are too tight or a man wearing a T-shirt as outer wear?

Many people in society are disenchanted with religion, and yet they are seeking meaning and purpose in life. We have an opportunity in this age of communication and travel to share with them the difference God's Word can and does make in a person's life. They will want to know what we believe and why we believe it. They will also want to see what we believe "in daily walk and action."

What is the difference? The difference is in the life that is transformed by the blood of Christ and the renewing of our minds.

Roger L. Berry
posted here with the author's permission on October 23, 2000



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