Where did the Mennonites come from (Origin and History of Mennonites)?

In my study of theology, I have encountered numerous types of Christian denominations. None has fascinated me as much as the famously-conservative Mennonites. When I got the chance to accompany my best friend on a trip to Pennsylvania, I had to visit the Mennonite community. My stay in Germantown, Pennsylvania, was insightful. Last month during our online thought-provoking forum on Christian denominations, people kept asking about the origins and history of the Mennonites. Since I lived among them and spoke to various Mennonite families about their history, I was in a perfect position to clarify everything. So, where did Mennonites come from?

The Mennonites came from the Dutch and German-speaking countries in central Europe. The group began amid the Protestant Reformation. This movement was led by Anabaptist leaders of the 16th century. Mennonites challenged mainstream religions such as the Roman catholic church. Their rebellion caused persecution and eventual escape from Europe.

In this article, we will study the journey of the Mennonites throughout the centuries. Join me as we discover their origin, history, and many other facts about the Mennonites.

What is the origin of Mennonites?

Mennonites came from central Europe in the 16th century. Firstly, the group believes in the mission behind Jesus’ ministry. The Protestant Reformation movement inspired the Mennonite church. However, the Mennonites neither identify as Catholics nor consider themselves Protestants. Mennonites’ stance is rooted in scriptures like 2nd Corinthians 6:17-18. This scripture urges believers to separate themselves from unclean practices. This is why Mennonites often use the phrase “separated unto God.”

The Protestant Reformation movement began as a way to fight the doctrines and theology taught by the Roman Catholic Church. One of the main practices rejected by Mennonites is infant baptism. This group saw infant baptism as a political ritual since the Roman Catholic Church required everyone to take their infants for baptism. This was when the Catholic Church had political jurisdiction over most of Europe.

Mennonites rejected the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church. Additionally, they opposed the beliefs of mainstream protestant reformists such as Huldrych Zwingli and Martin Luther. Huldrych Zwingli proposed the idea that church membership should be mandatory upon birth. Members of the Radical Reformation society disagreed with this notion.

These leaders helped to perpetuate the Mennonite agenda during the Radical Reformation era. One of them was Menno Simmons, after whom the church was named. Religious leaders and political officials banded together to oppose the Anabaptists and, by extension, the Mennonites. As a result, many Mennonites escaped to various parts of the world to escape persecution.

What is the History of Mennonites?

Origin and History of Mennonites
What is the History of Mennonites? Image source: Pinterest

Anabaptists such as George Blaurock, Felix Manz, and Conrad Grebel faced persecution due to their beliefs. These individuals believed that church membership should be a matter of choice. According to them, people should join Christianity because they believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. In 1525, the Blaurock, Manz, Grebel, and 12 other members of the Radical Reformation held a meeting and baptized each other. This meeting officially kick-started the Anabaptist church.

During the Radical Reformation era, mainstream denominations were intimidated by the growing popularity of Anabaptist groups such as the Mennonites. The Catholic Church and the ruling family at the time began punishing the Anabaptists through banishment, torture, imprisonment, and in extreme cases, Anabaptist leaders were executed. A group of violent Anabaptists named the Munster Rebellion fueled these persecutions thanks to their ferocious attack on mainstream religion.

In a small province in central Europe, a countess named Anne took issue with the violent Anabaptists in her state. In light of this, she signed a decree banishing all the Anabaptist groups in her territory. However, she made an exception by allowing the Mennonites to continue living among her people. Countess Anne began a trend, and it caught on all over Europe. Numerous leaders banished all other groups of Anabaptists except the Mennonites. This is due to their doctrines which abhor violence and value hard work.

Sadly, most powerful religious leaders were never happy with the presence of Mennonites. With the help of Monarchs, many Mennonites and other Anabaptists were severely attacked and uprooted from their homes. As mentioned earlier, the Mennonites were opposed to violence. This is why they refused to fight back. Instead, they choose to take their families and settle in other areas of Europe. Elizabeth 1 was among the few monarchs who gave escapee Mennonites Asylum in England.

Due to the harsh circumstances of their lives, Mennonites developed a strong sense of community. They lived simple lives free of material possessions. The simplicity is evident in their dress codes, music, and architecture.

When did the first Mennonites arrive in the United States?

The first Mennonites arrived in the U.S. in 1683 and settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania. It was a Mennonite family and several members of the Mennonite-Quacker group. These Mennonites were the first to formally denounce the business of slavery in the U.S. Late in the 18th century, approximately 2,5000 Mennonites relocated from Germany to Pennsylvania. The new group preferred to settle in Lancaster since the land was cheaper in West Pennsylvania. Later, the Mennonites settled in Mifflin, Kishacoquillas Valley, Lebanon and Franklin, and several other Pennsylvania. Currently, Mennonites reside in many American states, including Ohio, Maryland, New York, Kansas, and Indiana. A distinctive factor about them was their dislike of the American Revolutionary War.

How has the Mennonite Community developed over the years?

Where did the Mennonites come from?
Mennonite Community. Image source: Pinterest

Over the years, the Mennonite church has grown quite a lot. As of 2003, the denomination has over 1.2 million members with a presence in 65 countries. Studies reveal that North America and Africa have the most Mennonites at 451,180 and 451,959 members, respectively. Asia comes in third with a total of 20,8155 Mennonites. Central America, the Caribbean, and South America have 133,150 members, while there are only 53 272 Mennonites in Europe. It is worth mentioning that these figures may have fluctuated in the last two decades.

The Mennonites are among the historic peace churches which believe in pacifism and non-violent resistance. Today there are numerous Mennonite groups in the world. The following are their traditions and doctrines;

Moderate Mennonites

This group comprises the Mennonite Church of the USA and Canada and the Mennonite brethren. This happens to be the largest denomination of Mennonites. Their most distinct feature is their inclusion of protestant forms of worship. It’s hard to tell Moderate Mennonites apart from regular protestants. They do not have restrictions when it comes to the use of technology or dress code. Since they do not allow military service, Mennonite brethren have been known to excommunicate veterans who participated in the second world war.

Reformed Mennonites

These people are part of the initial Mennonite society in North America. This group faithfully adheres to the teaching of Menno Simmons concerning the New Testament. Instead of creating their own set of rules, Reformed Mennonites look to their Bible as their guiding tool in worship. This group is keen on the kind of plain dressing that was typical in the 18th century.

Holdeman Mennonites

These Mennonites began in 1859 and referred to themselves as the Church of God in Christ. The Holdeman Mennonites adhere to a stringent set of rules meant to maintain discipline in the church. If a member is excommunicated for a certain reason, these Mennonites demand the church to shun the individual completely.

Old order Mennonites

These are numerous groups that share conservative dress codes and traditions. Old-order Mennonites do not participate in politics or other activities that they consider worldly and sinful. This group ensures that their children go to a Mennonite-oriented school.

The Stauffer Mennonites are one of the subgroups in this category. In addition to being the most conservative Mennonites, Stauffer Mennonites forbid the use of technology and fancy clothing.

The Horse and Buggy Mennonites are the other subgroup of Old Order Mennonites. This group is less conservative than the Stauffer Mennonites. However, they still wear plain clothing and interact with excommunicated church members. The Majority of Horse and Buggy Mennonites are not opposed to using tractors for farming.

Automobile Mennonites make up the last group of Old Order Mennonites. They share lots of similarities with Horse and Buggy Mennonites. As the name suggests, Automobile Old Order Mennonites adopted the use of cars in 1927. To adhere to their conservative beliefs, these Mennonites only drive cars with plain painting (black and white).

Conservative Mennonites

As the name suggests, these Mennonites are extremely reserved, so much so that they do not allow televisions or radios. They are also very selective about the technology they allow into their lives.

Progressive Mennonite

This is the most liberal group of Mennonites today. A distinct characteristic of these Mennonites is their inclusion of homosexual members in their places of worship. A good example of such a church is the Germantown Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania.

Leave a Comment