One may never know the impact of their life on others.An example of this is an Anabaptist man from Holland named Sicke Freerks Synder who was martyred in 1531 for his faith. A young Catholic priest who knew Sicke was appalled that such a good man would be killed for a different faith. This priest, who had struggled with alcohol abuse, began to read and study the Bible.In that study the priest, Menno Simons realized that he too, like Sicke Freerks, must make Christ central to his life.
Eventually Menno chose to give up the priesthood and join the Anabaptists. He was re-baptized by Obbe Philips in 1536, and by 1537 he had assumed some spiritual leadership as a pastor and teacher.In accepting this call, Menno knew that he was putting not only himself, but also his wife and children, at risk of persecution and death.In accepting this call; first to follow Christ, and then to lead the church, Menno became a fugitive for the rest of his life.
The authorities considered Anabaptism to be dangerous to not only the spiritual welfare of their realm, but also the social and political structure of Europe. Anabaptists, like Menno, taught that the decision to follow Christ and the Church should not be connected in any way to the political systems, and that it was open to all adults who would answer Christ’s call to discipleship, rather than be dictated by the politically appointed preachers, or a distant pope.Menno helped the Anabaptists return to this core teaching after an element of Anabaptists had physically taken over the city of Münster.
Menno’s hard work of calling the church back to this basic view was recognized by the authorities.He was considered so dangerous, that not only was a bounty offered for his arrest, but it was illegal to give he, or his family, shelter and aid.If someone was caught aiding him in any form the punishment was death! Despite this kind of pressure, Menno lived to be an elderly man and died of natural causes.
His recognized leadership also led to the authorities to name the Anabaptists, “mennonists,” and then later, Mennonites. The Anabaptists themselves preferred to be called Taufer (baptizers) in German, and Doopsgezinde (Baptists) in Dutch. Even today we do not consider Menno Simons to be a founder or prophet, but recognize that he had a huge influence on our story.He was a gifted speaker, a prolific writer, and had the ability to unite the small and widely scattered groups that made up the Anabaptists movement in Holland and Germany. His writings are still in use in our circles today.
We must also consider the life of Sicke Freerks Snyder who died for his faith.In his death he was instrumental in forcing Menno to examine his own life. He could not know as he suffered and died that God was using his witness and testimony to change a young, alcoholic priest who would profoundly shape even our lives today. In the same way, none of us know how our lives will influence the future generations. So we must live and die with the same commitment to discipleship and following Christ as Sicke and Menno lived and died nearly five hundred years ago.