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JOHANN ARNDT AND MENNO SIMONS
By
Andreas Ehrenpreis, 1650

     Johann Arndt [Johann Arndt, 1555-1621, German Lutheran churchman, author of devotional books widely used in Mennonite circles of that time] was a highly enlightened man, respected by his own people but despised by many others as a heretic. He wrote much that was good and true about the Christian life. But he did not represent that the perfect word and highest command of love must be carried out in com­munity and mutual help. He comes very close to the mark, for example, when he says of the apostles that they had to leave and disclaim everything they had, even their own self, before they could receive the Spirit from Above. He says that the true light was given to those who followed Christ on this way. Johann Arndt saw that. If he had represented this direction truthfully instead of covering it up, he and his followers would have run into great danger. Never at any place or time could Church community flourish if its people represented the full light of the truth, for wherever a true spark of the light has tried to show itself, it has been attacked with persecution and annihilation. So the light of truth has always been squelched. People rushed at it with fire and sword whenever it tried to shine. They threatened to exter­minate it with tyranny, torture, and execu­tion. The nearer one gets to the truth, the more dangerous it becomes.
   
Even Menno Simons
[Menno Simons, 1496-1561. “Foundation of Christian Doctrine” (1539), pp. 105-226, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956)] remained a little to one side of the truth. In his Foundation he testified earnestly and with enthusiasm to some essential points of Christian faith. He came close, very close, to the truth about perfection. He condemned avarice, ostentation, arrogance, and the like in strong words. But he never spoke out clearly about the decisive choice placed before the rich young man or about the powerful creation of the early Church in Jerusalem, although he knew the Church had its origin in nothing less than the mighty inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the early Church, the giving up of possessions and the holding of all goods in common were very clearly witnessed to, particularly in the case of Ananias and Sapphira.
   
Menno’s writings seem to point very forcefully in this direction. He lashes out at lust for money and the increasing of the rich man’s fortune. He does not mince his words in exposing the cruelty with which they oppress the poor and leave them in their misery. He uses very sharp words against the whole wide world and its scan­dalous profits. 
   
But in singling out the people of the world, the clergy, and the monks for these pointed attacks, he lulls to sleep his own brothers in the faith. Many of them were living in the same wealthy ostentation and lack of discipline. Some oppressed their poorer fellow believers instead of really helping them. The Foun­dation points particularly to those Men­nonites who are proud of this writing by Menno Simons and who console the rich among them with it. 
   
Had Menno Simons demanded the fruits of life that are truly in keeping with love, he would surely have found fewer people to go with him. There have always been only a few who have really dared to take the narrow path.

 Quoted from the book, 'BROTHERLY COMMUNITY, THE HIGHEST COMMAND OF LOVE', two Anabaptist Documents of 1650 and 1560 by Andreas Ehrenpreis and Claus Felbinger, PLOUGH PUBLISHING HOUSE, Rifton, New York

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