What is a Mennonite?
A Mennonite is someone who belongs to the Mennonite Church, an Anabaptist Church that has been active since the 1500s, or who has grown up in a church community. These individuals can be found all over the world, often in close knit and very friendly communities, and their religious traditions place a heavy emphasis on community connections, public service, and pacifism. As with many Christian sects, members express their beliefs in a wide variety of ways; some Old Order Mennonites, for example, strive to live simply by rejecting modern technology and dressing plainly, while Moderates live relatively ordinary lives, with nothing on the outside to distinguish them from friends and neighbors.
The Anabaptist movement in the Church was part of a greater upheaval in the Christian community known as the Reformation. The politics of the Reformation were extremely complex, but they essentially boiled down to a difference in opinion with the dominant Catholic Church, leading to the creation of numerous other Christian sects. Many of these sects, including the Anabaptists, stressed a return to the authority of the scripture and the early church as a model.
The Anabaptists came to be called by this name because of their beliefs surrounding baptism. They felt that instant indoctrination into the Church at a young age with baptism ran contrary to the customs of the early church, when people came to the church later in life, making an active choice to embrace Christian values. Mennonites share this belief, using baptism as a believer's confession and modeling their behavior on that modeled by the early Christian church. This branch of the community is named for Menno Simmons, a religious leader who lived in the 1500s; in the late 1600s, the Mennonites experienced a profound split that resulted in the creation of the Amish community.
Many people are familiar with Mennonite organizations that offer disaster relief, and members of this church have become famous worldwide for their rapid response to things like hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires. Many are also involved in peace and social justice issues, as a natural extension of their pacifist and non-resistant values. They also try to live simple lives, contributing to their Church and community and rejecting the accumulation of wealth and material goods.
In areas with a strong Mennonite community, it is possible to find schools run by the Church, and members are often very active in their religious community and in the larger outside world. In other regions, Old Order Mennonites prefer to keep to themselves, and some very conservative sects will ostracize people who chose to reject the church after being baptized. Many members are happy to discuss their faith and religious beliefs with curious people, and some churches welcome people who are exploring their faith at services and social events.
You can find the two complete works of Menno Simon if you search for the Complete Works of Menno Simon in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library online.
We have a very rich history and beginnings that sadly, most Mennonite churches of today would be shocked to hear. Not all were pacifists. This is a newer teaching that has crept into the Mennonite Church. It is sad that we have lost touch with what mattered to our ancestors and now associate and "fellowship" with those they once stood up firmly against. It is also sad to read on various sites and in books and magazines, a bold re-writing of Mennonite history.
If you wish to read more on this, an accurate book on some of our history is "Fire in the Zurich Hills," and of course, Menno Simon's volumes as mentioned above. These are the most accurate that I have found to date.
I myself had a Mennonite mother and am dyed-in-the-wool Mennonite though I belong to no church membership. I grew up in all the trappings of Mennonite ethnicity, and still speak the plautdietsch language (something the majority of conversion Mennonites have no inkling of).
While we're at it, Jacob Amman in 1693 tried to persuade Mennonite church leaders of his beliefs, and was rejected. Instead he formed a group that came to be known as Amish - a fork that happened over 3 centuries ago. (Who comes up with this "Ammo-Mennonite" stuff?)
Growing up, I lived near Amish country, and we would go visit and buy furniture from them. Their commitment to excellence in their daily activities is great. The Ammo-Mennonite people make wonderful food also, and we enjoyed their authentic products. The joy of living simply is evident in how they choose to conduct themselves.
I was profoundly affected by an instance a couple years ago when there was a school shooting of innocent Amish children by a psychologically disturbed gunman, after which the gunman shot and killed himself. The Amish held no resentment, but attended the man's funeral as a sign of forgiveness. This is the core belief system of the Mennonites and Amish, and is an unquestioning submission to the redemptive and loving message of the Bible. It is truly an inspiring example.
The Mennonites have flourished in the US, and have come to be an important and central part of the German diaspora in the states, which is the largest minority and most popular ancestry claimed in the US. The agricultural bent of Germans settling in the US allowed them to expand all over the nation and contribute to a strong economy by farming techniques and passion for life.
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