Sunday, January 9, 2011

Some Mennonite Beliefs

The Amish are Mennonites. The Mennonites aren't Amish. It's complicated.

One recurring question that came up in comments when I posted on Amish and Mennonites is that people want to join Amish churches or, at least adopt Amish philosophies (an extreme) because the Mennonites aren't "extreme" enough. In other words, people believe that Mennonites are too much like everyone else. We're too modern, too mainstream. We don't offer the experience of "getting away from it all" that people imagine the Amish can offer them. Several of you asked me to write about Mennonite beliefs, which is like asking someone to write a brief summary on the history of mankind. In short, that's a topic you can go long and deep with, and still never touch bottom. Also, I'm in no position to be a spokesperson for anyone's beliefs other than my own. So probably what would make a lot more sense to my readers is to compare the similarities and differences between the Amish and Mennonites, which will hopefully give you a clearer picture.

Mennonites and Amish sharing the road.

While I can see where this idea that Mennonites are not "different enough" come from, it is also an arbitrary argument. You see, having been educated in (and now working in) a secular environment, I can easily identify a huge disconnect between my own values, the values of my church, and the values that appear dominant in the mainstream American culture. There even seems to be a difference between Mennonite values and the ones of many other Christian churches. The hallmark of an Anabaptist faith is that Jesus is the center, and making Jesus the center of your belief system does not strike me as a very popular lifestyle choice. And that's just the beginning.

The first thing that people use as an example of how similar Mennonites are to everyone else is that we drive cars. It's true, except for Team Mennonites, the majority of us drive sedans, mini-vans, pick-ups, and SUV's. This differentiates us from the Amish who are forbidden to own cars, but certainly use vehicles and hire drivers to take them places. The fact that people point out the car issue first tells me one thing: People care an awful lot about appearances and external factors. But another real and
highly visible difference between Amish and Mennonites is that the Mennonites are all over the globe doing missionary work (Matthew 28:16-20). It's unlikely you will find any Old Order Amish handing out Bibles in Uganda, or or taking up outreach efforts. Also, we do welcome people from different backgrounds to our churches to worship with us and explore membership. Our church doors are wide open on Sunday morning, and there is usually a sign out front that tells you what time to show up. Our churches are not hidden away in an ever-revolving rotation of member's private homes, we are open to everyone. (And this is not a slight to people who have cell churches or worship in homes, it's just the observation that a real building with a sign out front makes it easier to find us.)

People are also quick to point out that Mennonites use technology, while the Amish have limits. This statement also has its weaknesses. It's based on the belief that the Amish don't have access to technology, or reject it outright. While many Menno churches allow a computer with internet in the home (some Mennonite churches do not, or only allow computer with e-mail access), the Amish church has drawn the line so that their church members cannot have a computer in their home. However, there are many Amish who access the internet at public libraries and through their mobile phones (which are allowed). Although I have a degree in Information Science, I never felt as unsophisticated as I did while standing in line behind an young Amish woman on her blackberry at a grocery market in Walnut Creek. Like the Amish, many Mennonite churches are walking the fine line on technology. I like to think we analyze what technology
serves us best, versus which types might we end up serving.

Mennonites do use electricity. While the Amish do not use electricity, they do use other forms of energy (air, gas, propane, etc.) and do not lack for power. We use different ways that accomplish the same goal.
An Amish carpentry shop. Not electric, but more powerful than your Kitchen Aid.

Another visible difference is how we dress, and I say this tongue-in-cheek because many people have told me that they cannot tell the difference between the more conservative Mennonites and Amish people. The issue of how we look confuses people because there is more than one way to identify as Mennonite, and even within groups that convey a conservative appearance, there can still be differences that aren't easily noticed by people who are not familiar with our churches. These differences can make us seem ambiguous, and people aren't attracted to ambiguity. Dress is decided the same way in Mennonite churches as it is in Amish churches. It is a community decision that focuses on modesty, and sometimes but not always, a uniform or non-conforming appearance. It can be decided on a church-by-church basis, or a decision made amongst a group of like-minded churches. Anyone interested in this topic can further explore it in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 3:3.

Finally, most (but not all) Mennonites are far more tolerant of educational advancement than the Amish. Despite the differences in various Mennonite churches, I think if you were to walk into one on a Sunday morning, you would find a similar sense of certainty and purpose. You would find people who know what they believe and why they believe it, have deep cultural traditions, practices that are Bible-based, and a church body that stresses accountability for our choices. We have distinct practices on baptism and communion, and a wonderful tradition of acapella singing. You would also find a devotion to world-wide relief work, missions and church-planting, and church activities that feed on fellowship and mutual aid. It's likely you would even be invited over someone's house for dinner after church.

Yes, we are just like everyone else, breathing the same air in and out, having the same problems and struggles, just like the Amish. But I cannot deny that we also have some unique characteristics and practices that set us apart. That people come to our churches, visit, sometimes join, and quite often leave saying that they just don't feel like they ever "fit in" tells me that while we are just like
anyone else, we also are not like everyone else. A radical and vibrant discipleship of Christ is something that will never be in danger of being too mainstream.

As always, you can always e-mail me if you would have specific questions, and you may want to visit
this site for plenty of good information.

18 comments:

  1. A good post with things that needed saying!

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  2. Very well said... looking at the interior life is more meaningful than the outward appearances. However, I think the thing we keep coming up against, is that the Amish "image" is really about appearances. It feels like I want to post a warning about the Amish, akin to that on passenger side rearview mirrors, "Things are not as they appear."

    Thank you for this important post.

    Saloma

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  3. Here we have "two" kind of Mennonite, horse and buggy and driving. So some are more Amish yet then they use tractors with steel wheels. No Mennonites here use horses for field work. That is only the Amish. But they do use horses for their buggy.

    I asked if they had computers. Not in their homes. Perhaps in the businesses but even there I don't see them. One large business still sends out grocery bags of invoices all hand written so I suspect no computer.

    I never realized before I started researching a bit that there were "secular" Mennonites too :).

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  4. @Saloma- LOL! What an idea. I do think that the growing number of writers who were born Amish and are now writing about that experience give an important voice and clarity to the image so many people have of Amish life.

    @Christine- Not sure where you are from, but if you lived in an area with a dense plain population you would see Mennonites using horses, steel-wheel tractors and regular tractors for field work. Besides a wide diversity in farming practices, you would see varying degrees of computer use, from computer for "business only" to laptops discreetly tucked away in homes. And it's getting harder to find any kind of Mennonite who doesn't have a "smart phone."

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  5. That's good, but next time would you please "write a brief summary on the history of mankind"?? It shouldn't take long. That was a GREAT post and I know you could've gotten more specific, but you did highlight the main points and I think that's what people want to know. I think my biggest problem is when people judge other religions or worse, judge someone by their religion - that makes me insane. Just ask Samuel - man sees what's on the outside, but the Lord sees our heart. I love learning about other religions - I don't have to agree with everything, but it's still interesting to me, and apparently a lot of others! Another super job, girl ~

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  6. Thanks for sharing...we are all called as Christians to be a peculiar people. We are in the world but,not of the world. Jesus is the center of my faith,my very existence..without him I am nothing...I lead my life as the Holy Spirit guides and as Gods word directs me....I am very interested in the Amish and Mennonites faith because I believe as I see it,they are truly a sold out people,desiring to live a God willing life separated from so much sinfulness in this very sinful world. Some of the differences you mentioned seem to me to be people just living by their own convictions,such as driving a vehicle versus using horse and buggies. I believe anything that comes between us and Gods will for our lives and stirs us from our faith is sin...but,what is sin for you may not be sin to another...we are told to work out our own Salvation..However there are some things that are sinful to all because,Gods word calls it sin plainly...I didn't mean to go on and I am not trying to add to your words...just sharing my own :) One difference between the Amish and the Mennonites that I stand with the Mennonites on is that your faith practices Evangelism which I believe is necessary to further God's Kingdom and we as Christians were all commissioned by our Lord to "Go ye"....... blessings to you,Shelley

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  7. An excellent post!

    I guess I have an advantage living near Amish Settlements and having a few Mennonite aquaintances. When I think of Mennonites, I think of Missions. First impressions truly count and our first introduction to the Mennonite religion was while my husband and I were on a mission trip to Central America and met up with some Mennonites on their's. You know that Mennonites are Christians because they share their faith and it matches up with The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    The Amish around here rather keep to themselves and their "mission work" is just in their community and possibly including some "English" neighbors who need some help. They are very kind but it's hard to say what each community believes, spiritually, because they don't share in that way. We assume they are Christian because they are supposed to be ... but that doesn't mean all communities have been taught the truth of God's word; just like many so called Christian Churches in the world, today. ... and no cell phones but I did come across a phone shanty in the middle of nowhere :-)

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  8. Years ago we worshipped at the Mennonite church down the road from us. It is a more modern-day church. At that time, there were several older women who wore prayer coverings. Half the time we sang acapella; half was sung with piano and organ music.

    Now when we stop in for a service, there is a praise band and no prayer coverings. I find it hard to distinguish it from the Pentecostal church I attend. I love the beliefs of the Mennonite faith. I think this church changed its ways to accommodate the attendees, and I don't agree with that.

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  9. Great post, Monica! I had no idea that Amish were Menonnites, nor that some Menonnites drove a horse and buggy. Thank you for sharing!

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  10. I recently found your website and honestly feel that God has led me here. You did a wonderful job of explaining some of the differences between the Amish and Mennonites. I've recently begun a major finetuning of my Christian walk and am finding I line up most closely with the Mennonites you just described. Romans Chapter 12 v. 2 is really applying to my life at this moment. Looking forward to reviewing your blog and future writings. Blessings.

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  11. Very interesting post, Monica. I appreciate many of the stances taken by conservative Mennonites, such as plain, modest dress and upholding standards as a church. I appreciate their emphasis on keeping ungodly and worldly influences out of our homes.

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  12. @Susan- How very interesting! I hope you find the path the Lord has chosen from you, and perhaps a church too. :-)

    @Amy- Nice to see you in the blog world again!

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  13. Excellent post! Obviously you have thought through this for a while.
    Gina

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  14. "The Amish are Mennonites. The Mennonites aren't Amish. It's complicated."

    Very well said, although in my own case I suppose it would have to have "Mennonite" replaced with "Plain." A wonderful post--thank you for sharing!

    Mia

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  15. This is a great post! It does irk me when people seem to focus on the "works" and appearance of the Amish. I read so many blogs and found too many, who wish to be "plain like the Amish" I dont know how or why the Amish have garnered this kind of fandom, but I guess people link it to their ancestry or predecessors.

    Or they feel by partaking in these "works" they can feel closer to God. Homebirthing, homeschooling, canning, needlework, men not shaving, women not wearing deodorant.. etc.. the list is endless. However, when you question the spiritual or scriptural evidences, that these are the only means, they skirt the facts or reproduce something they read earlier on another blogger's site.

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  16. I am a member of the Church of Christ and we believe in Full immersion baptism as the only true baptism and way to be saved. I found out yesterday that they Amish believe in "pouring" as their way of baptism. I was surprised by this being that they love the Lord so strongly that their whole life is surrounded by living for him even down to the way they dress but even though I live in a more worldly lifestyle (I guess you would call it) we are following this way of baptism and they are not. I was pretty confused. What are the Mennonites views on baptism and how to be saved? I dont mean this disrespectfully I am just curious and trying to understand.

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  17. i work at wendys and today i was talking to a customer and they dressedbin a way ive never seen in anchorage alaska. i asked if they were amish and she said no im mennonite. and i replyed oh how do you like it? i feel very dumb she told me well im christian i believe in jesus so i apologized and walked away. i got home from work and looked up what the history and belifes are, i even looked up a church in my area i would like to learn more about it. i guess im asking what should i do i want to go to the churvh and learn more but i dont want to be pushed in to something im not sure about, and would it be rude to go and learn or if i fidnt believe in something that someone else believes in why im at the church? Im only 16 so i don't want to offend someone so if i have im very sorry im just curious.

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    Replies
    1. Most Mennonite churches would warmly welcome anyone to their church services who had an honest desire to attend. No one is going to try to push you into anything you are not ready for, so I would encourage you to go, make new friends, and enjoy the experience.

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