How would you translate Menno’s TEF?

As part of the conversation that often occurred in response to Mennonites in Northern Ghana, who were asking me “what does it mean to be Mennonite?” I would quote a snippet from Menno’s document. (I mean, only sometimes, when they asked specifically about Simons, because “church founders” are a BIG deal there). But the language was such that I always found myself changing the words. These folks loved Jesus, and they weren’t necessarily asking me about what Jesus had to say about discipleship and prayer, but they wanted to know what Menno had to say. They had only relative familiarity with British English and most are distanced from the written word. I wonder if I translated the following accurately? I wonder if it matters? How would you translate/summarize this part of Menno Simon’s Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing (1539)

“True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant, but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto the flesh and blood; it destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; it seeks and serves and fears God; it clothes the naked; it feeds the hungry; it comforts the sorrowful; it shelters the destitute; it aids and consoles the sad; it returns good for evil; it serves those that harm it; it prays for those that persecute it; [it] teaches, admonishes, and reproves with the Word of the Lord; it seeks that which is lost; it binds us that which is wounded; it heals that which is diseased and it saves that which is sound; it has become all things to all men. The persecution, suffering, and anguish which befalls it for the sake of the truth of the Lord is to it a glorious joy and consolation.”

Comments (7)

  1. Forrest Moyer

    Well, I’m not sure of the original source, but the following is a commonly used translation/abbreviation:

    “True evangelical faith cannot lie sleeping,
    for it clothes the naked,
    it feeds the hungry,
    it comforts the sorrowful,
    it shelters the destitute,
    it serves those that harm it,
    it binds up that which is wounded,
    it overcomes evil with good,
    it has become all things to all people.”

    Wishing you all the best in your continued communication and relationship-building.

  2. ST

    thanks forrest!

  3. victor

    It may be important to some to notice that the commonly edited version Forrest offers makes Menno sound more like a social worker and less like a pastor than the original.

    Menno describes a fully-orbed faith including holiness, evangelism, the centrality of scripture, care for the needy, and suffering. Most of this is lost in the social work version.

    Menno would almost certainly have objected strongly to the way that the edited version narrows his concerns.

  4. ST (Post author)

    hey vic, can you help me out as to how you would put menno’s TEF? thx.

  5. AlanS

    There was an article in The Mennonite about this last year. Thought it might be useful in the discussion.

    (As a side note, I’m pretty sure that the reference to a Maroon T-Shirt was to my website – For the record, I was never asked to comment on that or engaged in any dialogue on it.)

  6. victor

    The article AlanS points to is great.

    I’d suggest that Menno’s summary is also great if you’re looking for a holistic description of Christian faith. What the folks in Ghana seem to be interested in is what makes Mennonite faith distinctive among Christian traditions – particularly as understood by the founders.

    In order to get at this I think you can do no better than to look at the pre-Menno Schleitheim Confession in which a number of the founders came to consensus about Anabaptist distinctives.

    One attempt to translate those distinctives looks like this:

    The Schleitheim Consensus of 1527 is the first broadly recognized document of Anabaptist sentiment. In this time of crisis, a number of Anabaptist leaders converged in Schleitheim, Switzerland to clarify the beliefs about which they were risking their lives. Many of those gathered would become martyrs within years. The consensus emphasizes that the life of following Jesus must be a voluntary one self-determined by the individual.

    Article I. Being a disciple of Jesus involves a self-determined voluntary commitment to the Christian faith (therefore baptizing children was inappropriate).

    Article II. Being a disciple of Jesus involves a self-determined voluntary commitment to the peacemaking Rule of Christ (Matthew 18:15-20 — promotes reconciliation and serves as discipline rather than appeal to coercive authorities).

    Article III. Being a disciple of Jesus involves an ongoing self-determined voluntary commitment to faithful discipleship (the Lord’s supper is to be shared only with those who continue to be responsive to the teachings of the Jesus and reconciled to one another [see article II]. The presence of Jesus is not in the memorial bread and wine but in the gathered, reconciled, body of believers.)

    Article IV. Being a disciple of Jesus involves a self-determined voluntary commitment to holiness (requiring a separation from worldly ungodliness).

    Article V. Disciples of Jesus self-determine who will serve as their pastors (rather than the appointment of church leaders by the State church elite).

    Article VI. Being a disciple of Jesus involves a self-determined voluntary refusal to use violence (Church discipline was enforced only by notification that an repeatedly unrepentant individual could no longer be “on the team” [the ban] and not by violence; Christians should not serve as judges or magistrates in positions of power requiring the threat of force; [there is little reason to believe they would have endorsed voting as a means to encourage others to be responsible for taking actions the voter finds abhorrent]).

    Article VII. Being a disciple of Jesus involves a self-determined voluntary commitment to humility and allegiance only to God (commitments are made with a simple “yes” or “no” in recognition of how finite humans are and therefore the uncertainty of human promises — this in contrast to those who make bold oaths, guarantees, and pledge ultimate allegiance to anything other than God.)

    In context of a state/church monopoly directing how people lived their lives the Anabaptist movement is rightly understood as a human, or civil, rights movement. The founders insisted that the God-given dignities (or “rights”), particularly the dignities of self-determination in matters of faith, not be subject to coercion by others.

  7. ST (Post author)

    thanks y’all!

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