The Amish and the Mennonites share the same Anabaptist background. Because of this, they have several things in common, which makes it difficult for many of us to tell them apart. However, since they persist as two separate groups, one might ask, “What is the difference between Amish and Mennonites?”
Although the Amish and the Mennonites have very similar beliefs, they differ in how they practice their beliefs. Both have Anabaptist roots and place faith, family, and the community at the core of their belief systems. However, while the Amish live in Amish-only communities, get basic education, and avoid modern technology, the Mennonites get higher education and own hi-tech equipment. Mennonites also do missionary work and live in places where everyone else is.
So, where did the Amish and Mennonites come from? What are the Amish traditions? What are the Mennonite traditions? How are the Amish different from the Mennonites? Are there similarities between the Amish and the Mennonites? Keep reading to find the answers to these questions and more.
Where did the Amish and Mennonites come from?
The Amish and Mennonites came from the Anabaptist movement in Europe. First were the Mennonites, an unconventional reform movement founded around 1536 when Menno Simons, a Dutch priest, consolidated and established the work started by moderate Anabaptist leaders. Then, in 1693, a Swiss Anabaptist named Jacob Ammann, who felt that the Mennonite church was compromising too much with the world, left the church. Those who followed him formed what we call the Amish Church.
In the years that followed, Amish groups became recognized for their simple clothing, mustache-less beards, headwear, buggies, and simple lifestyle. Many Mennonite groups also engage in a few of the same practices.
What are the Amish traditions?
Although all Anabaptist movement groups, including the Amish, Mennonites, and the less-known Brethren, have similarities, the Amish are the most conservative.
When it comes to marriage, an Amish person can only marry another Amish individual. This keeps the community closely knitted. This, however, also works against them. Because they do not recruit members into the community, and the gene pool is small. It has been reported that some communities have had to contend with genetic disorders and have children with unexplained conditions. Since they mistrust science, genetic testing before marriage is out of the question, so these problems are not likely to end any time soon—unless they move away from this tradition.
Most people are aware of one aspect of Amish culture: their clothing. There are no patterns on their clothing, and all of the men’s suits and women’s dresses are solid colors, typically black, brown, blue, burgundy, purple, or green. The men wear black suits with no outside pockets and zippers for the trousers. Men and boys wear straw hats during the summer, or black felt hats during the winter or for formal events. The men also keep a beard, with no mustache.
The Amish women are said to keep a very small wardrobe. Most women have only four dresses: one for washing, one for wearing, one for dressing, and one as a spare. When going to church, a married woman will wear a black cape and apron with a plain dress under it, while a single woman is supposed to wear a white cape and apron. For working at the family farm, most women wear a grey apron. A woman is always expected to wear a prayer hat so that her head is always covered if she needs to pray at any time of the day.
The Amish are also known for Rumschpringe (pronounced rum-spring-a). This is when an Amish young person turns 16 and is considered an adult. They are permitted to leave Amish society and explore the modern world. After rumspringa, the adolescent can leave the Amish way of life and join the outside world or return to the community and get baptized. The majority of Amish choose to return. If they leave, they are shunned and cannot return if they change their minds.
The Amish congregation will also excommunicate and shun anyone for straying from their beliefs and lifestyle, based on 1 Corinthians 5:6. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”
When one is shunned, one cannot visit, eat, or even sleep inside the community. The other members are not allowed to accept presents from the shunned.
Higher education is discouraged, as it is said to lead to separation. Most Amish children only study how to read, write, spell, and do math in the Amish privately run schools, which go to only the 8th grade. After that, the young are equipped with skills useful for trades later in life, such as farming, woodworking, and sewing.
Together with these, the Amish are reported to be averse to technology. They don’t drive and instead prefer to cycle or ride horses. They also live without televisions, radios, and other electronic devices. Because most homes do not have electricity, it is common for people to use lamps to light their rooms when it gets dark. However, the Amish find ways to live comfortably, such as using solar panels and generators for electricity when needed.
In Amish religious practice, worship begins with a brief sermon delivered by one of the preachers. This is followed by Bible reading, prayer, and then another, longer sermon. Hymns are sung without harmony or instrumental accompaniment throughout the service. This is intended to emphasize what is said rather than how it is.
What are the Mennonite traditions?
Mennonite groups can be found in several countries worldwide, but they are most concentrated in the US and Canada.
Mennonites were historically forbidden from marrying non-Mennonites and, in some instances, members of other Mennonite communities. Marriage is strictly monogamous and is taken just as seriously as baptism. The ritual involves the congregation and is conducted by church elders or the pastor. Marriage ceremonies are typically less formal than traditional Protestant ceremonies. Cousin marriages have historically been common.
Mennonites seem to be much less constrained by strict dress codes. Conservative Mennonites dress similarly to their Amish counterparts in plain clothing, but they are permitted to wear clothing with zippers and small prints. Less conservative Mennonite groups dress similarly to the “English,” though flashy, revealing, or excessively bright garments are still frowned upon. Traditionally, Mennonite women maintain their hair fixed at the back or covered by a white prayer hat to symbolize reverence and the significance of their spiritual life.
Some conservative Mennonite groups may have schools exclusively for their members. Still, the majority of modern-day Mennonites in the United States attend regular public schools alongside their non-Mennonite neighbors. They can also pursue higher education, though the traditional focus on faith and family makes higher education a lower priority for some young Mennonite women. For those seeking to continue their religious education, the Mennonites have connections with several Midwest seminaries.
The Mennonites do not practice shunning as severely as the Amish do. It was one of the points of departure between the Amish and the Mennonites, as Jacob Ammann felt they were not strict enough. They also do not excommunicate members nearly as often as the Amish.
While all Anabaptists value service, many, including the Amish, concentrate on service within their community and live separate lives. The Mennonites, by contrast, live out their tradition of service by undertaking missionary work in many other parts of the United States or abroad. Regularly live and work with “English” or foreigners, and they are not compelled to limit their interaction with non-Mennonites.
When it comes to religious traditions, the Mennonites are unique. The entire exercise of worship is conducted through song. Congregational singing, often in four-part harmony, is used for worship, praise, the sharing of scripture and prayer, and virtually every other aspect of the religious service. Conservative Mennonite groups don’t permit instrumental accompaniment; therefore, all the singing is a cappella. Less strict groups permit backing music by organ, piano, guitar, or brass.
How are the Amish different from the Mennonites?
The Amish are different from the Mennonites when it comes to clothing, education, use of technology, the practice of shunning, lifestyle, service to others, and religious practices as follows:
|Dress plainly in solid colors.
|Most have mainstream modest, not-too-bright clothes and hairstyles then.
|Private education up to 8th grade
|Some attend public schools and are allowed to pursue higher education.
|Use of modern technology
|Don’t drive cars, and most don’t own personal phones or have electricity in their homes.
|Drive cars, own personal phones, have electricity, and use the internet.
|Practice shunning often
|Rarely practice shunning
|Live separated in Amish-only communities
|Live among non-Mennonite people.
|Service to others
|Service mostly members of the Amish community.
|Service also includes volunteering in non-Mennonite communities.
| Church service is dominated by sermons and is held in homes.
Singing is not accompanied by instruments.
Use Pennsylvania Dutch.
|The worship exercise is conducted through song. Singing can be accompanied by harmony and some instruments. Church service is held in a meeting house.
Use the English language.
Are there similarities between the Amish and the Mennonites?
Both found their first home in Pennsylvania when they got to America.
Both are Anabaptists, which are Christian groups that advocate for an intentional choice to accept God. Accordingly, only adults should be baptized.
They share foundational beliefs about the all-encompassing authority of the Bible, a practice of brotherhood and non-violence, non-resistance, and pacifism. Both seek to return to the simplicity of faith and practice.
Both groups believe in charitable giving, but the Amish focus on their community, whereas the Mennonites serve in missionary work.
When it comes to marriage, both believe in monogamy, detest divorce and encourage marriage between their own.
- Mennonites’ Beliefs and Practices
- Who are the Mennonites?
- Amish origins
- Who are the Amish, and what are their beliefs?
- Frequent questions about the Amish are answered.
- Excommunicating and shunning members of the church
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