The Mennonite World Conference (MWC) reports that there were 2.13 million Anabaptists in their fellowship in 2018 (membership, map and statistics, mwc-cmm.org). Africa is the continent with the most members, approximately 36%. North America is second, approximately 31% (ibid). Anabaptist is a broad term which includes Mennonites, Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and a number of other associated churches. There are more than 350,000 Mennonites in the United States (Who Are The Mennonites? firstmennoniteiowacity.org). There are about 350,000 Amish in North America. More than 62% of North American Amish live in three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana (Amish Population profile, groups.etown.edu).
The name is derived from Greek: “Ana” = again. “Baptist” = one who baptizes. In refers to one who baptizes again. It was a pejorative name used to describe those who did not accept infant baptism and insisted on believers being re-baptized who had been baptized as infants.
The name was broadly applied to various churches. These churches were not united in doctrine. Some sprinkled, while others immersed. Some denied private property and lived in communes, while others did not. Some relied on an “inner light” to guide them and believed that the Holy Spirit provided guidance apart from the word of God; others rejected this idea. Some were Adventists, while most were not. Some were Arian, while most were not. Some were polygamist, while most were not. Some may have practiced the truth, or been very close to it; others were not.
However, there were certain things that they did have in common. One was the rejection of infant baptism. Another was the autonomy of the local church. Many believed in the separation of church and state.
The Mennonites and Amish both have their roots in the Anabaptist of Sixteenth Century Europe. Therefore, we will study them together.
2. Menno Simons (1496-1561)
He was a Roman Catholic priest in Friesland, Netherlands. “Though educated in a monastic school and trained for ministry, he had never even touched the Scriptures. ‘I feared if I should read them they would mislead me,’ he later wrote, ‘Behold! Such a stupid preacher was I for nearly two years.’” (Menno Simons, christianitytoday.com).
He began to question transubstantiation. “Finally, I got the idea to examine the New Testament diligently. I had not gone very far when I discovered that we were deceived” (ibid).
Next, he began to question infant baptism. An Anabaptist, named “Sicke Freerks Snijder was executed in 1531 for having been re-baptized as an adult” (Menno Simons and the Mennonites, christianinstitutes.org). This prompted him to examine the scriptures. He said, “I examined the scriptures diligently and pondered them earnestly but could find no report of infant baptism… I realized that we were deceived” (christianitytoday.com).
Some Anabaptists were violent revolutionaries. In 1534-1535 the city of Munster, Germany was taken over by anabaptist and proclaimed the “New Jerusalem.” All who refused adult rebaptism were expelled from the city. Polygamy was adopted (Munster Anabaptist, gameo.org; Munster Rebellion, military.wikia.org; Ryan Reeves, Menno Simmons YouTube). In 1535, 300 Anabaptists died while trying to take Oldeklooster (or Bloemkamp), a monastery near Bolsward, Friesland, Netherlands. Among them was a Peter Simons. Some historians believe that this was Menno’s brother. “This was a life-changing event for Menno. While blaming the leaders who had misled these poor people, Menno also blamed himself for not having shown them the right way” (christianhistoryinstitute.org).
In 1536, Menno Simons left Roman Catholicism. He began to work with Anabaptist. He preached that they should not fight with physical weapons (christianitytoday.com).
During the 1700’s and 1800’s, many Mennonites fled religious turmoil in Europe and sought freedom in the New World” (Mennonite Church, ohiohistorycentral.org).
3. Jakob Ammann (1644-between 1708 and 1730).
Jakob Ammann was an Anabaptist/Mennonite leader in Switzerland/France. In 1693, he became concerned over the lack of discipline among the Swiss Mennonites/Brethren. He took issue with Hans Reist and Benedict Schneider over the fact that the ban (excommunication) was not being implemented against those who had left the church.
This led to division among them. Those who were with Ammann became known as Amish.
Other issues developed. “Ammann was highly influenced by Dutch Mennonite beliefs, and instituted the practice of feet washing in connection with communion, which was not practiced by the Swiss Mennonites. He also increased communion to twice a year, instead of the Swiss practice of annual communion services” (Jakob Ammann, en-academic.com). Later in life, Jakob regretted the division. He desired reconciliation. “Despite admissions of being rash and overzealous, the Amish would not give up the belief of practicing ban. Because of this, the main body of Amish and the Swiss Mennonites were never able to reconcile” (ibid).
“Many Amish and Mennonites accepted William Penn’s offer of religious freedom as part of Penn’s ‘holy experiment’ of religious tolerance. They settled in what later became known as Pennsylvania. The first sizeable group of Amish arrived in Lancaster County in the 1720’s or 1730’s” (Amish History, lancasterpa.com).
I found this statement from the Mennonites, “The Anabaptist and their Mennonite heirs share the protestant principle: Sola Scriptura (“by Scripture alone”). As such their primary authoritative referent is the Bible, rather than scripture plus tradition as understood by Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy” (Authority, Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia online, gameo.org). This seems to be the Amish position as well.
The Mennonites have Confessions. Examples are Schleitheim (1527), Dordrecht (1632), and the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995).
The Amish have the Ordnung (meaning order or discipline). These are unwritten rules for daily living (What is the Amish Ordnung?, amishamerica.com). These concern such things as dress, hair and facial hair, recreation, technology, and transportation (6 Examples of Amish Ordnung, amishamerica.com). The rules vary from community to community (The Amish: 10 Things You Might Not Know by Harry Scull, Jr., usatoday.com). They affirm the Dordrecht Confession (1632) before baptism (Beliefs/Amish Studies, groups.etown.edu).
Beliefs and Practices
“We receive God’s salvation when we repent of sins and accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord” (Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 8).
“In most (Mennonite congregations, B.H.) baptism is by pouring” (Frank Mead, Handbook of Denominations, p. 149).
“We confess that all penitent believers, who, through faith, regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, are made one with God… must, upon scriptural confession of faith… be baptized with water” (Dordrecht Confession, 1632, Article 7). Notice that being one with God comes before baptism. “Baptism by water is a sign that a person has repented, received forgiveness, renounced evil, and died to sin” (Confession of Faith, Article 11). Notice it is a sign that one has received forgiveness.
3. Lord’s Supper
“The Lord’s Supper is served twice a year in almost all Mennonite congregations… most also observe the feet-washing ordinance in connection with the Supper, after which they salute one another with the ‘kiss of peace.’ The sexes separated in the last two ceremonies” (Frank Mead, p. 149).
“As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service (Confession of Faith, Article 22).
5. Pictures and Technology
“Old order Amish and Mennonites forbid photography of their people based on the Second Commandment, Exodus 20:4” (Amish Faith Beliefs, lancasterpa.com).
Some Amish believe that James 1:27 “Means to stay away from things the ‘world’ does – like driving autos, having TV’s, going to movies, wearing make-up, and the enjoying the conveniences of electricity and phones. They often use generators to create power to run their equipment and use horses, instead of tractors to do farm work” (Who Are the Amish, and What Are Their Beliefs?, gotquestions.com). Not all so believe. Those who do are not completely anti-technology, but seek to limit technology in their lives. “The Amish don’t believe technology is evil in and of itself…What concerns the Amish is that unchecked or used improperly, technology can negatively impact, and even destroy the things they hold most dear…For example, they do not own automobiles because they believe the ability to move quickly and travel longer distances would cause them to move farther apart from each other, and separating families and eroding their tight-knit community” (Dallin Crump, What the Amish are teaching me about technology, dallincrump.medium.com). “Many outsiders assume the Amish reject all new technology. But that’s not true…The difference between the Amish people and most other Americans is the deliberation that takes place before deciding to embrace new technology…The Amish don’t automatically embrace what’s new, they evaluate it and decide if it’s a good fit for the lives they want to live” (Jeff Brady, Amish Community Not Anti-Technology Just More Thoughtful, npr.org). “Amish see threats in technologies which provide easy contact with worldly ideas and values (television, automobile), or those which break down the family or community, by serving as distractions or eliminating the need of relying on others in one’s community. Amish also feel that certain labor-saving technologies take more than they give, robbing their children of the ability to learn the value of hard work, for example” Do Amish Use Technology, amishamerica.com).
6. Falling From Grace
“While Mennonites hold tightly to the belief that we are saved through God’s powerful gift of grace, we don’t subscribe to the ‘eternal security,’ or ‘once saved, always saved’ theology” (Eternal Security, thirdwaycafe.com).
7. Original Sin
“Anabaptists have a unique approach to Original Sin… They affirm the historical reality of Original Sin, but deny that its power over the individual is final or absolute… What is the view of Anabaptists regarding the salvation of children? Generally, it is held that while children are conceived and born in sin, they are protected by the grace of God until such a time as they are able to take a conscious and informed stand, in confession and action, for or against the saving work of Christ” (Salvation, gameo.org).