Answers to Questions about the Amish and Mennonites
Mennonites and Amish
Have you wondered about the Mennonites and Amish? Who are they and what do they believe? Why do they dress the way they do? Why do practices vary from one group to another? Let us examine their basic beliefs, and explain some differences between them.
Mennonites were first known as Swiss Brethren. Later they were called Anabaptists (rebaptizers) because they baptized adults who had been baptized as infants. They believed scripture did not support infant baptism. They understood discipleship to require a voluntary commitment to follow Christ, something an infant could not do.
In 1525, rejected by the state church, these persons had begun a new movement of faith. Eleven years later Menno Simons, a Dutch priest, left the Catholic Church and became an influential Anabaptist leader. Because of his teaching and writing, many of his followers became known as Mennonites.
In spite of severe persecution, including the martyrdom of thousands, the movement grew. From Switzerland, it soon spread to Austria, Germany, Holland, France, and areas beyond.
The Amish also had their beginnings in Switzerland. By 1693 a young Mennonite minister, Jakob Ammann, felt the church was departing form some Biblical practices. A return to stricter applications of the Scriptures was emphasized by him. While many people agreed with him, others did not. Eventually the church divided and the Ammann followers became known as the Amish.
In search of religious freedom, many Mennonites and Amish emigrated to America in the 1700’s.
As Mennonites and Amish, we embrace the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. We believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God and attempt to follow its precepts. We believe God created the earth and its inhabitants, that Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God, and thus began the sinful, fallen state of mankind.
We believe the crucifixion of Christ was God’s ultimate sacrifice form man’s sin. This sacrifice paid in full the price of redemption for all believers. Those who receive Christ’s work of salvation, put to death their life of sin and embrace salvation (Mark 8:34-38). Christ arose as victor over death, and in Him believers are “born again” to live a new life now, and then live eternally in God’s presence. (John 14:1-3; Acts 16:31).
Salvation is obtained by:
Admitting we are sinners (Romans 3:23);
- Confessing and forsaking our sins (1 John 1:9)
- Receiving Christ as Saviour and Lord of our life (John 3:16)
As born-again believers, we see Jesus as our guide for life (as shown in the New Testament) and desire to yield to Him as our Lord and master. (John 14:21)
We practice believers’ baptism, a symbol marking an inward cleansing, and a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. We also believe in the Holy Spirit, who fills the believer and provides power, comfort, conviction, and direction for life.
We further believe that those who reject Christ are outside the fold of God, and will suffer the consequences (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). No other forms of righteousness, such as church membership, baptism, good deeds, or religious heritage are adequate for salvation. (Acts 4:12)
Most Mennonites and Amish agree on these fundamental beliefs.
Two Distinctive Beliefs
Nonresistance- One distinctive belief that has placed the Mennonites and Amish in the “Historic Peace Church” category is the doctrine of nonresistance. (Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:1-21; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.) According to the teaching and example of Christ, love is to be the guiding principle in all relationships. Therefore, most Mennonites and Amish refrain from lawsuits, military service, and racial discrimination. Many Christian groups recognize nonresistance, as practiced by the Mennonites and Amish, as an important contribution in understanding the teaching of Jesus.
- God’s Headship Order, and the Headship Veiling- Many Mennonites and Amish observe the headship order and the headship veiling as taught in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. This scripture identifies God as the Head of Christ, Christ as the Head of man, and man as the head of woman. Signifying submission to this God-ordained order of authority, men worship with their heads uncovered. Woman signify their submission by wearing the symbolic veiling (commonly called a “covering”), as this scripture prescribes.
Applications vary in observing this principle. Some woman no longer observe the symbol. Others wear it only during worship services. Still others wear the covering at all times as a constant witness that they accept God’s plan of authority. It reminds them of their privilege to worship God anytime, anywhere.
In today’s world this order of headship is often challenged and sometimes ridiculed. However, many who accept this principle can testify of the peace and security of living under the protection and blessing of God’s order.
Variations of Standards or Practice
As you may have noticed, there are variations in the applications and practices between the Mennonites and Amish, and within each group.
To illustrate, let us consider the hedges people place around their property. Some prefer hedges that are high and provide a limited view of the outside world. Often, this reflects a desire to keep wandering children from hazards beyond their own yard. Others prefer hedges that are low and easy to step over. This allows easier movement between the property and the world around. Rather than seeking protection, these property owners are simply identifying boundary lines.
As there are varying heights of hedges, so too, Mennonites and Amish have varying standards of “nonconformity to” and “separation from the world.” Romans 12:1-2 calls us to “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mid.” While all may accept this teaching, there are differences in how various groups apply this scripture.
The most conservative Mennonite and Amish groups have strict standards of separation (high hedges). They drive horses and buggies, avoid the use of electricity and telephones in their homes, and dress in plain and distinctive clothes. Education beyond eighth grade is often considered more of a hazard than an asset. The Amish make up most of those who hold this view.
In contrast, some Mennonites have assimilated into the larger culture (low hedges) so that they are no longer outwardly distinguishable from contemporary society.
Most Mennonites and Amish value hedges of varying heights, somewhere between the most conservative and the most acculturated. They use modern conveniences such as automobiles, electricity, and telephones. Many abstain from certain forms of entertainment such as radio and television that could undermine Biblical, moral and spiritual values. Modesty in dress is emphasized but not always distinctive in style. A simple lifestyle is encouraged as a way to avoid materialism and extravagance. Education is best accepted as preparation for teaching or healing ministries.
Another area of difference is in how each group responds to the call of Christ to make disciples. Some groups see their way of life, as sharing their faith. Others see a need for a more verbal witness. Most work for a balance of a verbal witness confirmed by a disciplined lifestyle.
These differences have led to a variety of groups. More recent groups using the double name Amish Mennonite, are simply identified as not being exclusively Amish or Mennonite. Some important teachings and practices of both are considered and embraced.
In general, Mennonites and Amish find their differences in how they choose to “be in the world and not of the world.”
Like all Christians, Mennonites and Amish are faced with temptations of the spiritual enemy. For some, the temptation may be to trust in their standards of dress and good works for salvation. For others, the temptation may be a lifestyle so close to the world, that a movement away from Christ is not detectable, In either case, a witness for Christ is hindered, and perhaps lost.
One cannot assume that all persons called Mennonite or Amish are true Christians. Those who “sow wild oats” reap wild oats. It is unwise to measure any group by a few individuals. We, like anyone else, depend on salvation through Jesus Christ and not through our own righteousness. (Isaiah 64:6; Acts 4:12; Philippians 3:9).
It is our hope that this brief message gives you a better understanding of the Mennonites and Amish. More importantly, we would earnestly encourage you to seek wholeness through Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. “Neither is their salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)
( Adapted from a tract originally written by John and Brenda Weaver, republished by Calvary Publications, Inc.)
Copied with permission from Brenda Weaver and Calvary Publications.
This information is available in pamphlet form.
To order, contact
11095 Pleasant Hill Rd,
Dundee, Ohio 44624
or pick one up at the Wilkes-Barre Mennonite Church