Do you know anyone personally that would raise their hand and joyfully accept Jesus’ demand of his disciples? I don’t mean declaring him Lord and Savior (Rom. 10:9-10), or loving your enemies (Matthew 5:44) or loving God (Mark 12:30). Those are all fine and good, commendable actually. We would be lost without all of this. But when we get past that, when we love Jesus, God and our enemies, where does that leave us? Are we ready to do the other things Jesus asks of us? To leave our home (roof), family, (Luke 9:57-62) and even give up our lives (John 15:13)?

Oh, these are just figures of speech you might say, Jesus doesn’t really want us to not have a house… or Jesus doesn’t really want us to leave our dead father just chilling in the morgue… or Jesus doesn’t want us to abandon our family or be irresponsible parents… does he?

Thinking about what all this means (for me and for the church) I went back to some of the Anabaptist leaders of the 16th century to see if they had anything to say about this.

Conrad Grebel said: “True Christian believers are sheep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter; they must be baptized in anguish and affliction, tribulation, persecution, suffering, and death; they must be tried with fire.” Yikes!

Leonhard Schiemer said the following: “As soon as a man wants to begin to live as a Christian he will experience exactly those things that Christ experienced. That is the lot of all Christians for the disciple is no greater than the master. For it is grace if someone for the sake of conscience suffers godly sorrow…. For it is grace with God when you patiently suffer for doing good.” [2]

More suffering

Hans Hut had this to say: “And all who desire to grow in the body of Christ in which the Son of God is known and through which we become God’s children and joint heirs with Christ as Paul witnesses to the Romans (Rom. 8:17) (must) also suffer with him and grow into the image of the Son of God through the justification of the Father.” We have a pretty somber bunch here… By the way, I didn’t look up the words suffering and Anabaptists in Google. [3]

Pilgram Marpeck – “We are a co-sacrifice with Christ, pleasing and acceptable to God…. If someone suffers as a Christian, however, he should not be ashamed; let him praise God in the matter, for it is time that judgment begins on the house of God (1 Pet. 4:16). Furthermore, those who suffer, commit their souls to the faithful Creator with good works. … To this holy cross of Christ… we have surrendered with holy patience (not obliged or forced patience) to overcome all our enemies in the victory of Christ”. [4]

For me it’s easy to just respond to these comments and say, “well sure these folks and their families were all persecuted, suffering tends to go along with persecution right? Many of the early Anabaptists were martyred even… talk about suffering.” But this is a different time and a different place, this doesn’t apply to me in Ecuador or Indiana.

How can we take these admonitions seriously today? The early Anabaptists took their faith in God and their love of Christ seriously.  They loved God with all their hearts, mind and strength.  But they also knew and believed that the outward expression and evidence of this faith had to be evidenced in their lives. That meant that some of them were baptized as adults and then were arrested, since adult baptism was often a crime punishable by execution. Today in most places in the world this is not the case. So what kind of suffering or sacrifice can I come up with to be able to live out and express my faith?  An article by Steve Porter made me think about this in a slightly different context. Porter explains how if social activism is truly empty if not carried out in a humble prayerful way. For many of us doing social justice and activism work may just be to build up our egos. Or maybe because of some moral outrage or even because we are spiritually empty. [5]

To take his point a step further, we should look at our entire lives, not just the social activism part. As Mennonites, we seem to be an easy target for the critique that social activism for the sake of social activism is not really “Christian”. But I think we could lump most any church into this group if we broaden the discussion beyond “social activism” or the “social gospel”.  Is our spiritual and praise life about sacrifice? Is it about suffering? Is it about humility? Is my time reading and studying the Bible (if I manage to do it at all) done humbly? Is my time alone with God about me being filled spiritually? Similarly, is our work with at-risk communities about our sacrifice? How are we suffering? How are we walking humbly with God? Have I invited the Holly Spirit into my work of serving refugees? Have I suffered in my prayer meeting?

As Porter states, when I go out and build something or protest something, it can be really easy for it to be about me because I’m doing it. [6] I’m probably enjoying myself or I feel good about what I’m doing. Why would I do it if it was not enjoyable or if it made me feel bad? Or as Michael Sattler states reflecting on the discussion of faith versus works: “the work-righteous who promised blessedness or the forgiveness of sins, through works done without faith, i.e., through that which, in one’s works one thinks is one’s own…” [7] It really comes down to this, nothing is our own, our job, our family, our activism, even our worship, and it seems to be the tendency that we think that activism is our own, our cause, our fight.

So how can we reconcile this issue? I can’t just spend time praying, because then I am not acting as Jesus acted. He was healing, teaching, calling out injustice.  I can’t go and feed hungry, because maybe I’m just doing it to have my ego stroked…?

What if everything we do: prayer, praise, work, activism, service, living, family interaction, friends, commuting, recreation, truly everything, we do in a spirit of suffering and humility?  In this way our resting can build up our prayer life. Our service can build up our scripture reading, etc.  We continuously have to remind ourselves that we are not worthy, we must continuously lament and confess to God that our prayer life, our family life, our church life, our work, our service isn’t worthy, that we probably aren’t putting Christ first.  We shouldn’t always have excuses, that when I get to this maturity level or when my kids are this age, then I will be able to truly follow Christ.  There are no worthy excuses. That’s why just giving in to Jesus’ reconciling message is the only truly humbling option.  Otherwise we may be just faking it.   I have not arrived there yet. I admit, I work as a missionary, “a social martyr” Donavan calls us. [8] But I feel I haven’t sacrificed much either. I think I actually have it pretty good. I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth with a great climate, lovely weather, etc.  I need to remember on the good days and the bad days. I can ask God for forgiveness. I can confess that I have looked back from the plough and do so continuously. I need to make this part of my routine so that when and if arduous suffering ever comes I will know where to turn. God willing I won’t look back when it really matters.  This may just be a far-flung idea. Another point from Donavan that I feel I should mention is this: “Never accept and be content with unanalyzed assumptions, assumptions about the work, about the people, about the church or Christianity. Never be afraid to ask questions about the work we have inherited or the work we are doing. There is no question that should not be asked or that is outlawed. The day we are completely satisfied with what we have been doing; the day we have found the perfect, unchangeable system of work, the perfect answer, never in need of being corrected again, on that day we will know that we are wrong, that we have made the greatest mistake of all” [9]

In conclusion, most of us are not really persecuted because of our faith. We likely do not have to live in fear of being killed because we are living out our faith, but we should live in fear of spiritual death.  Jesus said that the dead can bury the dead. Are we spending most of our time just helping other dead people bury each other instead of truly following Christ, right now, living, suffering, sacrificing and walking humbly with our God.


[1] George Huntstone Williams and Angel Mergal, Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957), 80.

[2] Lydia Müller. Glaubenszeugnisse oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter I, Leipzig: M. Heinsius Nachfolger, 1938. quoted in: Walter Klaassen. Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources. (Plough Publishing House, 2019), 90.

[3] Ibid, 89.

[4] William Klaassen and Walter Klassen, The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978), 453-454.

[5] Steve L. Porter, Felicia Heykoop, Barbara Miller and Todd Pickett, “Spiritual Formation and the Social Justice Turn”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 44:3 , April 2015.

[6] ibid

[7] William Klaassen and Walter Klassen, The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1978), 455.

[8] Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995), 144.

[9] Ibid. 144

Peter Wigginton serves with MMN as Ecuador partnership coordinator in Quito, Ecuador.