Mennonites:

Anabaptists / Radical Reformation


 

Image: The Prayer Foundation logo (with white Celtic cross on a green shield).

Photo: of an Old Order Mennonite horse and buggy.

 

Photo: "Skellig Michael" Copyright Irish Tourist Board.

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Image: portion of illuminated manuscript page from "The Book of Kells."Photo: Columbia Icefields.  Photo Copyright 2006 S.G.P.  All Rights Reserved.

Rejected Infant Baptism / Stressed Separation of Church and State. 

Mennonites are members of a Protestant church named for Menno Simons. They trace their origins to the Swiss Brethren (established 1525), nonconformists who rejected infant baptism and stressed the separation of church and state. 

Persecution scattered them across Europe; they found political freedom first in the Netherlands and northern Poland, and from there moved to Ukraine and Russia.  They first emigrated to North America in 1663.  Many Russian Mennonites emigrated to the U.S. Midwest and to Canada in the 1870s when they lost their exemption from Russian military service. 

Today Mennonites are found in many parts of the world, especially in North and South America.  Their creed stresses the authority of the Scriptures, the example of the early church, and baptism as a confession of faith.  They value simplicity of life, and many refuse to swear oaths or serve in the military.

Nonviolence, Nonresistance, and Pacifism

The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after and influenced by the teachings and tradition of Menno Simons (1496 -1561).  As one of the historic peace churches, Mennonites are committed to nonviolence, nonresistance, and pacifism.

There are about 1.5 million Mennonites worldwide as of 2006. Mennonite congregations worldwide embody the full scope of Mennonite practice from old fashioned 'plain' people to those who are indistinguishable in dress and appearance from the general population.  

With a few notable exceptions, Mennonite experience in Europe and North America has been, and continues to be, predominately rural.  The largest population of Mennonites is in Africa, but Mennonites can also be found in tight-knit communities in at least 51 countries on six continents or scattered amongst the populace of those countries.

Beliefs:

Mennonite theology emphasizes the primacy of the teachings of Jesus as recorded in New Testament scripture.  They hold in common the ideal of a religious community based on New Testament models and imbued with the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.  Their core beliefs deriving from Anabaptist traditions are:

  • The authority of Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
  • Salvation through conversion by the Spirit of God
  • Believer's baptism understood as threefold: Baptism by the spirit (internal change of heart), baptism by water (public demonstration of witness), and baptism by blood (martyrdom and asceticism or the practice of strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline).
  • Discipleship understood as an outward sign of an inward change.
  • Discipline in the church, informed by New Testament teaching, particularly of Jesus (for example Matthew 18:15-18). Some Mennonite churches practice the Meidung (shunning).
  • The Lord's Supper understood as a memorial rather than as a sacrament or Christian rite, ideally shared by baptized believers within the unity and discipline of the church.

One of the earliest expressions of their faith was the Schleitheim Confession, adopted on February 24, 1527. Its seven articles covered:

  • Believer's baptism.
  • The Ban (excommunication).
  • Breaking of bread (Communion).
  • Separation from and shunning of the abomination (the Roman Catholic Church and other "worldly" groups and practices).
  • Pastors in the church.
  • Renunciation of the sword (nonviolence and pacifism).
  • Renunciation of the oath (swearing as proof of truth).

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith was adopted on April 21, 1632, by Dutch Mennonites, by Alsatian Mennonites in 1660, and by North American Mennonites in 1725.  There is no official creed or catechism of which acceptance is required by congregations or members.  However, there are structures and traditions taught as in the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.

Disaster Relief

Mennonites have an international distinction among Christian denominations in disaster relief and place a strong theological emphasis on voluntary service.  Mennonite Disaster Service, based in North America, provides both immediate and long-term responses to hurricanes, floods, and other disasters.  Mennonite Central Committee provides disaster relief around the world alongside their long-term international development programs.  Other programs offer a variety of relief efforts and services throughout the world.

Peace and Social Justice

In the last few decades some Mennonite groups have also become more actively involved with peace and social justice issues, helping to found Christian Peacemaker Teams and Mennonite Conciliation Service. __________________________________________________________

Offshoot Groups:

Amish

During the sixteenth century, the Mennonites and other Anabaptists were relentlessly persecuted.  By the seventeenth century, some of them joined the state church in Switzerland and persuaded the authorities to relent in their attacks.  The Mennonites outside the state church were divided on whether to remain in communion with their brothers within the state church, and this led to a split. 

Those against remaining in communion with them became known as the Amish, after their founder Jacob Amman.  Those who remained in communion with them retained the name Mennonite.  This period of persecution has had a significant impact on Mennonite identity.

The Brethren in Christ Church (often abbreviated BIC) is an Anabaptist Christian denomination with roots in the Mennonite church, pietism, and Wesleyan holiness.  They have also been known as River Brethren and River Mennonites.

Brethren In Christ Church / River Brethren

The BIC Church began about 1778 in Pennsylvania.  It loosely shares an early connection with the United Brethren back to 1767.  The Brethren in Christ trace their denomination back to a group of Mennonites who lived just north of Marietta, Pennsylvania on the east side of the Susquehanna River.  As they met to study the Bible and to experience God, the people of this group (who became known as the River Brethren) developed a conviction that believer's baptism (trine immersion) was the scriptural form of baptism.  The River Brethren of the 18th century also held to a firm reliance on the centricity of Scripture.  As their Pietist lifestyles and their beliefs regarding baptism continued to develop, they began to distance themselves from other Anabaptist denominations such as the Mennonites and German Baptists, of which groups they had previously been a part. __________________________________________________________

Source: Wikipedia - "Mennonites".   

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        Photos & Layout: Copyright 2007  S.G.P. All rights reserved.      

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Photo: Copyright 2000 S.G.P.  All Rights Reserved.  A lone monk of The Prayer Foundation in a wooded area.