Who are the Mennonites? What is a Mennonite?
Mennonites are Anabaptists, which is a faith stream within Christianity. Anabaptism grew out of the 16th-century Radical Reformation (which followed the Protestant Reformation). Technically, Anabaptists are neither Catholic nor Protestant, although they do share some beliefs of both.
The first Anabaptists separated from the state church when they began re-baptizing adults and refusing to baptize infants until they could make an adult decision to follow Christ. Anabaptism literally means to re-baptize. At that time, infant baptism was not only an accepted practice, but it also bestowed citizenship. These early Anabaptist Christians were the forerunners of today’s Anabaptist/Mennonite Christians and many others in the “Free Church” tradition that sought the separation of church and state.
Mennonites are named for Menno Simons (1496-1561), a Dutch priest who embraced Anabaptist theology as an alternative to Catholicism. As an influential Anabaptist leader, he consolidated the work initiated by moderate Anabaptist leaders.
What is the relationship between the terms “Anabaptist” and “Mennonite”?
All Mennonites are Anabaptists (See question #1). Not all Anabaptists are Mennonite, however, as there are numerous Anabaptist denominations today (See question #5.)
For more information, read “What is an Anabaptist Christian?” by Palmer Becker here: https://www.mennonitemission.net/Downloads/DL.MissioDei18.E.pdf
What do Mennonites believe?
Anabaptist/Mennonite Christians tend to shape beliefs around these core values:
- Jesus is the center of our faith.
- Community is the center of our lives.
- Reconciliation is the center of our work.
For more information, please see the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995).
Also see our Mennonite Church USA confessions and resolutions in our online resource center.
What is the difference between Mennonites and Amish?
Mennonites and Amish are both Anabaptists and share common historical roots. While the groups agree on basic Christian doctrine, their differences come in interpreting how those practices should be lived out.
The original difference in opinion came in 1693, when Jacob Ammann, a Swiss Anabaptist leader, felt that the church leaders were not holding to strict separation from the world and that spiritual renewal was needed. Ammann did not believe that the ban, or shunning, was being practiced as it should be. He separated from the Swiss Brethren segment of the Anabaptists over this issue and his followers were nicknamed “Amish.”
Ammann enforced more separatist ways upon his followers, and today some practices among the Amish include: untrimmed beards and hooks and eyes in place of buttons on outer garments of the men; horse and buggy transportation; horse-drawn implements for farming; plain and distinctive dress patterns; no electricity in homes.
However, most contemporary Mennonites are not outwardly that different from any person you meet on the street, and in fact live in countries around the world with a wide variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds. Mennonites believe in simple living but express that simplicity in a spirit of stewardship and awareness of the needs of others rather than completely separating from society as the Amish continue to do.
The above information was gathered from Anabaptist World USA and other resources. See the MennoMedia store for a booklet called The Amish by John Hostetler, and The Amish: Why They Enchant Us, by Donald B. Kraybill. Author and professor Steve Nolt’s book, “The Amish: A Concise Introduction,” is also a good resource. The Amish in Northern Indiana site provides additional information about the Amish. The web site, How Stuff Works, also has a section on the Amish.
For more information, visit our history page (coming soon).
Are all Mennonites the same?
Mennonite Church USA is one of about 40 different Mennonite/Anabaptist groups in the United States. While these groups share a common Anabaptist faith ancestry, they may vary in the way they dress, worship and practice their beliefs.
Some of the largest Mennonite/Anabaptist groups in North America are: