What are the different types of Mennonites?(Why are there many Mennonite denominations?)

As a theologian, I always seek to understand the different faiths and denominations across the world. I recently came across an article about the Mennonites and decided to delve deeper into their faith and religious practices. I conducted a tour of Mennonite schools and churches in western Ontario, and I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with different Mennonite communities. While sharing my experiences with other theologians in an online forum, one of my colleagues asked about the different Mennonite denominations. Having interacted firsthand with Mennonites and learned their unique religious and lifestyle practices, I was able to confidently and comprehensively answer his question. So, what are the different types of Mennonites?

There are three major types of Mennonites: Conference Mennonites, Conservative Mennonites, and Old Order Mennonites. Conference Mennonites belong to smaller groups of churches called “conferences,” and they have adapted to the modern world by embracing modern technologies and nationalist values. Conservative Mennonites strictly observe conservative Anabaptist doctrine, but they have implemented modern worship practices like Sunday schools and mission programs. Old Order Mennonites still adhere to more pure and traditional Mennonite practices, and they emphasize not conforming to the modern world.

In this article, I’ll explore the different Mennonite denominations, explain why there are so many of them, and answer whether they are all the same. Keep reading to learn more!

Different Mennonite denominations

What are the different types of Mennonites?
Different Mennonite denominations. Image source: Pinterest

Conference Mennonites

These are Mennonites who belong to smaller groups of churches called “conferences.” Unlike other Mennonite denominations, the Conference Mennonites are more accepting of modern lifestyles and nationalist values. For example, they use modern forms of transport like buses and enroll in the military service. They also pursue higher education, and they use modern technologies in their homes and farms. This makes them less culturally distinctive from the general public. Examples of Conference Mennonite denominations include the Christian Mennonite Conference and the Evangelical Mennonite Conference.

Conservative Mennonites

These are Mennonites who observe the conservative Anabaptist doctrine as written in two major religious documents: the Schleitheim Confession and the Dordrecht Confession of Faith. Conservative Mennonites hold various religious beliefs, including simplicity of worship, voluntary church membership, and simplicity in lifestyle. They believe in the authority of the Scripture, whereby they interpret and understand its teachings literally, except where they are clearly figurative.

They partake in seven holy practices, which are:

  • baptism
  • marriage
  • communion
  • anointing with oil
  • foot washing
  • the holy kiss
  • the prayer covering

They also use modern technologies like telephones, automobiles, and electricity. They practice non-violence, humility, and forgiveness. They also practice brotherhood in the church by being there for each other, whether spiritually, socially, or materially.

Conservative Mennonites are known for their mission and evangelical programs in different parts of the world. For example, their Christian Aid Ministries offer disaster relief and clinical health care to the needy. They also operate Christian schools for their kin, including winter Bible schools and Sunday schools.

Examples of Conservative Mennonite denominations include the Conservative Mennonite Conference and the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church.

Old Order Mennonites

Old Order Mennonites distinguish themselves from other Mennonites with their more traditional Anabaptist practices and lifestyles. They left the Mennonite Church in Canada and the US to form their own denomination when the church began engaging in modern evangelistic and worship practices. They are divided into three groups:

  • Traditional Old Order Mennonites are the most conservative of the Old Order Mennonites. They don’t use modern technologies like telephones and electricity, and they use horses for farming and transportation. They dress plainly and modestly, and they mostly live in rural areas.
  • Moderate Old Order Mennonites are the oldest of the Old Order Mennonites. Their members lean from being traditional to progressive, with some completely abstaining from technology and others using machinery in select aspects of their lives, like farming.
  • Progressive Old Order Mennonites maintain Old Order beliefs but adjust some of their practices so that they can also interact with the modern world. They utilize the internet, computers, cell phones, and automobiles, but mostly for business purposes. Limitations on how they use these technologies vary between different progressive Old Order Mennonite groups.

You should note, however, that all Old Order Mennonites observe the Dordrecht Confession of Faith and use the King James Version of the Bible. They also believe in community rather than individual beliefs, and they emphasize separation from the world as preached in Romans 12:2. Examples of Old Order Mennonite denominations are the Orthodox Mennonites and the Reformed Mennonites.

Why Do So Many Mennonite Denominations Exist?

Why are there many Mennonite denominations?
Why Do So Many Mennonite Denominations Exist? Image source: Pinterest

The Mennonite Church USA estimates that there are up to 40 different Mennonite groups in the US. The Mennonite World Conference also reports that there are currently 1.45 million believers in up to 10,180 Mennonite congregations across the world. These figures beg the question: Why do so many Mennonite denominations exist?

Although they originate from one Anabaptist faith, Mennonites have divided themselves into many different denominations for geographical or theological reasons.

For example, Old Order Mennonites separated from the other Mennonites in the 19th century following conflicts over the latter’s introduction of modern worship practices in the church. So those who preferred stricter and purer church practices left to form Old Order Mennonite churches. The 20th century saw another division among the Old Order Mennonites, with members further dividing into Orthodox Mennonites and Noah Hoover Mennonites.

Conservative Mennonites also withdrew from Mennonite Conferences following concerns that the mainstream churches were no longer observing conservative Anabaptist values and traditions. Different Mennonite fellowships emerged in the 20th century to continue observing traditional practices like plain dressing and nonconformity to the world.

Mennonites also have many different denominations because of practical reasons like geographical or language variations.

Are all the Mennonite denominations the same?

No. Most Mennonite denominations vary in certain religious and lifestyle practices. For example, Conservative Mennonite denominations practice modern worship practices like operating Sunday schools and preaching in English. On the other hand, Old Order Mennonites stick to more traditional worship practices, where they preach in their native languages and do not operate Sunday schools.

There are also Old Order Mennonite denominations that are different from each other. While traditional Old Order Mennonites do not utilize any form of technology in their day-to-day lives, progressive Old Order Mennonites do to some extent, usually in a business capacity.

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