Mennonites are one of the lesser-known Christian groups that arose from the Protestant Reformation.
Dating back to the 1500s, Mennonites belong to the Anabaptist movement in Christianity. Anabaptists are distinct from Protestants and Catholics because they believe in adult baptism, as opposed to infant baptism.
The Mennonites in particular began when their leader, Menno Simons, emphasized the concept of non-violence above almost all other beliefs. This was a radical concept at the time, and it’s thought to be in response to the killing of his brother at the hands of Catholics.
But no group stays unified forever. Mennonites still universally support the ideas of non-violence, infant baptism, and other cornerstone ideologies (in theory, anyway). The specifics of their beliefs differ based on their individual sect, though.
So what are the Mennonite denominations? And how do they differ from one another?
In this blog, I’ll talk about the three major categories of Mennonite denominations, which denominations belong in those categories, and how they differ.
In general, modern Mennonite denominations can be broken into three groups:
- Conference Mennonites
- Conservative Mennonites
- Old Order Mennonites
We’ll start with the most “worldly” Mennonites.
1. Conference Mennonites
“Conference Mennonites” is the unofficial name for Mennonite denominations that are grouped into smaller groups of churches, which are called “conferences.”
Conference Mennonites tend to be the most modern of the three Mennonite categories in terms of their day-to-day living. These Mennonites are often indistinguishable from the public at large, and you wouldn’t know they were Mennonite unless you asked them about their faith.
Some Conference Mennonite denominations include:
- Atlantic Coast Conference
- Christian Mennonite Conference
- Canadian Conference
- Evangelical Mennonite Conference
- Franconia Mennonite Conference
- General Conference Mennonite Church
- Ohio-Indiana Mennonite Conference
- Virginia Mennonite Conference
Conference Mennonites are further defined by their embrace of modern music and nationalist values (like military service), but still recognizing the call to be “in the world, but not of the world.”
This is in stark contrast to our next Mennonite denomination, the Conservative Mennonites.
2. Conservative Mennonites
Conservative Mennonites are essentially what they say on the tin. They’re intrinsically traditional to the point of nearly having an insular, closed society like the Amish.
Some Conservative Mennonite sects include:
- Biblical Mennonite Alliance
- Conservative Mennonite Conference
- Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church
- Ohio Wisler Mennonite
Conservative Mennonites can often be discerned by their outfits, which include flannels, leathers, and denim for the men and coverings, plain dressings, and tennis shoes for women.
The clothing itself will vary, depending on the exact denomination you examine, but the above lists are good rules of thumb.
In addition, Conservative Mennonites enjoy modern conveniences, like driving cars. However, the cars themselves must be black to prevent someone from feeling pride in their mode of transportation.
Conservative Mennonites split from dominant Mennonite ideology around the 1950s when a minority of Mennonites considered the modern church to be moving against its own beliefs. The founders of the Conservative Mennonites withdrew from the main church, and now they’re their own denomination.
However, there’s one more category of Mennonites that goes even further in terms of separating itself from the world at large.
These are the Old Order Mennonites.
3. Old Order Mennonites
Old Order Mennonites — sometimes called “horse and buggy” Mennonites — are nearly Amish in terms of their everyday lives.
While they make up a microscopic portion of Mennonites throughout the world, they’re the main reason people have a hard time understanding the differences between Amish and Mennonite.
(In case you’re wondering — no, the Amish are not also Mennonites.)
Some Old Order Mennonite groups include:
- Orthodox Mennonites
- Stauffer Mennonites
- Virginia Old Order Mennonite Conference
- Reidenbach Old Order Mennonites
- Reformed Mennonites
In general, Old Order Mennonites discern themselves from their Mennonite cousins by refusing many of the modern technologies that we take for granted. This is not out of a fear or rejection of technology itself, but because of the faith’s belief in community and togetherness.
Old Order Mennonites also dress plainly, meaning they almost exclusively wear monochromatic clothing with little or no jewelry.
They tend to live in rural areas, even more than other Mennonite denominations, and they actively practice excommunicative shunning against those who take egregious action against the church itself.
This concept is cribbed from the Amish, who are notorious for their practice of meidung, or shunning.
In these regards, it’s easy to see why someone could see a practicing Old Order Mennonite person and believe them to be Amish. After all, they dress similarly (some say “the uniform is the same”), they travel similarly, and they even practice similar church disciplines.
One of the major differences, however, is that Old Order Mennonites will have churches where they worship, which are also called “meeting houses.” This is a stark contrast to the Amish, who have no churches.
Conservative Mennonites also participate in a form of modern health insurance. While not purchased from a healthcare provider, their health insurance still covers them in the event that they need treatments. However, it’s more in the form of collective bargaining with healthcare providers than actual insurance.
The Amish, by contrast, do not.
While there are other differences that discern Old Order Mennonites from both the Mennonites and the Amish, these beliefs are the easiest to recognize.
But with all of this said, we’re left with one important question.
Since there aren’t that many Mennonites in the world, why are there so many denominations?
Why Do So Many Mennonite Denominations Exist?
Following the Protestant Reformation, Christianity saw a massive series of offshoot denominations that still believed in the Bible, but ultimately had their own ideas about what it meant.
However, there were a wide variety of reasons for the creation of these denominations, and some of them could get so specific that they seemed ludicrous.
For example, the Swankites first separated from the Wengerites concerning major issues like baptism ceremonies and the relationship of the individual to the church and the church to Christ.
But one of the other issues was the length of the meetings the church held.
For another example, Jakob Ammann founded the Amish by creating different ideas about the concept of excommunication. This was a major difference between him and the existing Mennonite belief system, so it caused an ideological schism.
As a result, the umbrella concept of “Mennonites” doesn’t actually exist since there are so many factions in such a small group.
According to Britannica, there are only about 1 million Mennonites in the world. Above, we listed more than a dozen different denominations, and there are way more scattered throughout the world.
The truth is that Mennonite beliefs are somewhat unified in terms of biblical understanding and interpretation. But they’re far from unified in terms of agreeing on…
Just about anything.
At the same time, some of these denominations are so similar that it seems almost bizarre that two denominations exist.
But for some of these groups, the determining factor is geography. That’s why you’ll find Conference Mennonites named after their state or region. Their unifying factor is less about beliefs (since their differences are so minute at this point) and more about their geography.
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