Question: "Who are the Mennonites, and what are their beliefs?"
Answer: The Mennonites are a group of Anabaptist (opposed to infant baptism) denominations named after and influenced by the teachings and tradition of Menno Simons (1496-1561). Mennonites are committed to nonviolence, nonresistance, and pacifism.
Mennonite congregations worldwide embody the full scope of Mennonite practice from old-fashioned “plain” people to those who are indistinguishable in dress and appearance from the general population. There are many different groups who call themselves Mennonite, primarily because they refer back to their founding leader, Menno Simons, and their stance on nonviolence and pacifism.
Early Mennonites in Europe were good farmers and were invited to take over poor soils and enrich them through hard work and good sense. Often the governing bodies would take back the land and force the Mennonites to move on since they would offer no resistance. So the migration to America started, and they were welcomed by the Colonists.
There are many schisms, which actually started in Europe in the 1600s and continued after the immigration to America. Many of these churches were formed as a response to deep disagreements about theology, doctrine, and church discipline. Mennonite theology emphasizes the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. Their core beliefs deriving from Anabaptist traditions are the authority of Scripture and the Holy Spirit; salvation through conversion by the Spirit of God; believer’s baptism, usually by pouring or immersion; discipline in the church (including shunning in some congregations); and the Lord’s Supper as a memorial rather than as a sacrament or Christian rite.
There is a wide scope of worship, doctrine and traditions among Mennonites today. Old Order Mennonites use horse and buggy for transportation and speak Pennsylvania Dutch (similar to German). They refuse to participate in politics and other so-called “sins of the world.” Most Old Order groups also school their children in church-operated schools. Traditionally, they used horses to pull the farm equipment, but within the past ten years some are now using steel-wheeled tractors for farm work.
Conservative Mennonites maintain conservative dress but accept most other technology. They are not a unified group and are divided into various independent conferences. Moderate Mennonites differ very little from other conservative, evangelical Protestant congregations. There are no special form of dress and no restrictions on use of technology. They emphasize peace, community and service.
Another group of Mennonites have established their own colleges and universities and have taken a step away from strict Bible teaching. They ordain women pastors, embrace homosexual unions, and practice a liberal agenda, focusing on peace studies and social justice issues. Very little is mentioned in their church services regarding the fact we are all sinners and in need of a Savior as a sacrifice for our sins, rather focusing on maintaining good works and service to others.
The word “Mennonite” today can mean so many things; there are almost as many varieties of Mennonites as there are fast food chains. Some groups are more evangelical than others; some groups are focused on Bible study and prayer; other groups are carefully maintaining the works-based tradition set out by their ancestors; and, sadly, some groups have left the faith of their fathers and focus instead on current social issues.