Protestant group that emphasizes a simple style of life
Mennonites belong to a Protestant group that emphasizes a simple style of life and worship. They base their beliefs on the Bible, especially the New Testament. Mennonites try to live according to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). They believe the Bible forbids them from going to war, swearing oaths, or holding offices that require the use of force.
The first Mennonites belonged to a church organized in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1525. The members called themselves Swiss Brethren. They believed that church and state should be separate, and that Reformation leaders had not reformed the church enough. They also believed that baptism and church membership should be given only to people who are mature enough to make a thorough commitment to the church and demonstrate sincerity in their way of life. These early Mennonites were nicknamed Anabaptists, which means rebaptizers. The name Mennonite came from Menno Simons, a Roman Catholic priest who led the Anabaptists beginning in the mid-1530's. The Mennonites later split into groups, including the Amish, and became increasingly diverse.
Mennonites often migrated to escape persecution. Many moved to Pennsylvania in the early 1700's and became part of the group called Pennsylvania Dutch. Dutch Mennonites began settling in Polish West Prussia in the 1500's. Some of them moved to Pennsylvania in 1683 after William Penn, the English Quaker who founded Pennsylvania, offered them religious freedom. Many West Prussian Mennonites of Dutch descent moved to Russia in the late 1700's. In the 1870's, many of them moved to Canada and to the Great Plains states.
In 1688 the Mennonites of Pennsylvania became the first major group to denounce slavery in writing.
Contributor: Leland Harder, Ph.D., Former Prof. of Practical Theology, Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
SOURCE: IBM 1999 WORLD BOOK
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