This is one of the most common questions I’ve heard concerning the relationship between Amish and Mennonites.
Thankfully, it has a simple answer.
Are Amish also Mennonites? No.
Are Amish and Mennonites similar? Yes.
The way it breaks down can be a little convoluted, but the relationship between Amish and Mennonites can be summed up as the relationship between Catholics and Lutherans: One sprang from the other with a slightly different doctrine, and they both have the same roots that anchor their beliefs.
With that in mind, here’s how the Amish are different from Mennonites.
1. Are Amish & Mennonites Christians?
To start, let’s talk about the major background that makes the Amish and Mennonites so similar — they’re both denominations of Christianity.
Specifically, Amish and Mennonites are both part of the Anabaptist movement that started sometime after the Protestant Reformation in 16th Century Germany (or thereabouts).
Anabaptists distinguished themselves by choosing to be baptized as adults instead of being instantly baptized as children.
Naturally, this caused massive friction between Anabaptists — a very small offshoot of Christianity — and every other Christian denomination in Europe. That includes the newly-formed Lutherans.
As a result, violence broke out frequently between Anabaptists and other Christians, namely Catholics. It got to the point where Anabaptists started attacking Catholic institutions, like monasteries, to take them for their own denomination.
Pieter Simons, a Dutch Anabaptist, was among those who acted out in violence. He and a band of compatriots seized the Oldeklooster (Bloemkamp Abbey) monastery from the Catholics, and the Catholics later came to take it back.
Pieter died in the resulting fight and series of executions.
News of Pieter’s death made it to his brother Menno, a Roman Catholic priest, he grieved immensely and renounced his priesthood on January 12, 1536.
Menno then joined the Anabaptists by getting re-baptized, and he immediately began making a name for himself by rejecting the violence of the Anabaptists and promoting a peaceful lifestyle.
Those who followed Menno Simons adopted his name and became Mennonites.
About 100 years later, Jakob Ammann was born in Bern, Switzerland on February 12, 1644. Ammann converted to Anabaptism (the Swiss Brethren, who were similar to Mennonites but did not adopt the name for themselves) and vocalized a hard-line stance against modern conveniences, even by the standards of the 1600s.
Despite the probability that Ammann was illiterate, he began speaking against the Brethren by emphasizing concepts like excommunication and shunning individuals who were banned from a congregation.
Ironically, this earned Ammann his own excommunication from the Brethren, after which he traveled with his followers to the Alsace region and settled.
As the group distinguished themselves more and more from their original denomination, Ammann’s followers adopted his name and became Amish.
2. Which Came First: Amish or Mennonites?
Surprisingly, the question of whether Amish or Mennonites came first is easy to answer. Mennonites came first — by about 150 years — and the Amish emerged afterward.
In fact, given the extreme similarities between the Swiss Brethren and Mennonites, it’s fairly accurate to say that the Amish came from Mennonites in terms of belief.
After all, Ammann was essentially Mennonite himself.
3. Are All Amish & Mennonites the Same?
Today, there are varied denominations of both Amish and Mennonites. We’ll cover three well-known denominations of each.
The 3 Best-Known Amish Denominations
The most well-known Amish are probably the Lancaster Amish. They’re sometimes called “black toppers” because they ride in all-black buggies.
In many ways, this sect is the most “liberal” of Amish. They’re fairly integrated with their surrounding communities while maintaining a distinct lifestyle.
Some sneak electrical service to their barns and use cell phones as well.
There are also “yellow topper” Amish who tend to be slightly more conservative than the Lancaster Amish. They’re often found further into the sticks of Pennsylvania.
Yellow toppers inhabit an ideological middleground from the Lancaster Amish and the most extreme sect where they forego all forms of electricity, but they’ll still use things like reflectors and lanterns on their buggies so that people can see them at night.
Finally, there are “white topper” Amish. These are the Amish who are so conservative that they don’t paint their barns or wear more than one suspender.
(If you only need one suspender to hold up your pants, then two is a luxury.)
These are the hardcore Amish — the ones who live so far into the middle of nowhere that the modern world never quite got there anyway. Isolated, humble, and a little bit frightening, white topper Amish are a league of their own.
This intense isolation also leads to another problem that is getting much more recognition — inbreeding. White toppers are especially prone to inbreeding because of their closed communities and their distance from modern society.
If you start a town with only 10 families, it only takes a few generations before someone is marrying their cousin — and these families have been white toppers for much longer than a few generations.
The 3 Best-Known Mennonite Denominations
Mennonite denominations are a little harder to pin down than Amish ones. Partly, this is because Mennonites are much more successfully integrated into modern society as a whole.
Still, these denominations identify themselves outwardly, much like the Amish denominations do.
First, there are Moderate / Progressive Mennonites. These are Mennonites who are “regular” people in terms of the technology they embrace and the lives they lead.
The doctrine of their denomination may have an impact on their beliefs, but you won’t know it from the clothes they wear. There are lots of moderate / progressive Mennonite churches throughout Lancaster in particular.
After them, you have Conservative Mennonites. We don’t mean “conservative” in terms of politics here — although Conservative Mennonites tend to also be hardcore conservative in their politics as well — but conservative in terms of dress, appearance, and behaviors.
Conservative Mennonites dress in simple-patterned clothing and wear a lot of tennis shoes. To someone unfamiliar with them, they may even look Amish at first glance since they also tend to be farmers, carpenters, or other handymen.
They also tend to be more “into” their faith than Progressives.
Finally, we have Old Order Mennonites. They’re basically liberal Amish.
Old Order Mennonites are defined by dressing in simple solid colors (often black and white), but embracing some modern amenities like cars.
The cars are also often black, in case you were curious.
They’re fairly stern, and their faith rules much of their day-to-day lives with only one or two days per week away from churches, Bible studies, or services.
Old Order Mennonites tend to cluster near the Amish geographically for few other reasons than they have left the Amish faith but choose to remain close to their families.
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