Amish and Mennonites make up a very small percentage of the world’s population. Because of their low populations, there are few people who can say for certain what either denomination believes — or even how Amish and Mennonites differ.
One of the most common questions is “Are Amish also Mennonite?”
The short answer is no, the Amish are not also considered Mennonite. Amish are a distinct denomination of Christianity, and Mennonites are separate from them. Each group has their own sub-denominations, but they never overlap (even though they may share some similarities).
The long answer is slightly more complicated, and it requires an understanding of the history behind the creation of Mennonites and the Amish.
To flesh this out, we have to go back to the creation of Anabaptism in 1500s Europe — when Mennonites separated themselves from mainstream Christianity prior to the creation of the Amish.
The Creation of the Mennonites
Around 1522, a radical idea arose in Switzerland — Christians should be able to choose when they get baptized. This idea of being baptized as an adult was called Anabaptism, and it was a radical break from the new Protestant belief system and the mainstream Catholic belief system.
As Anabaptists distinguished themselves, sub-denominations quickly manifested underneath the umbrella of adult baptism. This included the founder of Anabaptism Ulrich Zwingli and an ex-Catholic priest named Menno Simons.
(There were many, many other Anabaptist leaders at this point in history, but we’ll stick to these two for the sake of this blog post.)
Simons was born in 1496 as a peasant in Holland and became ordained as a priest around 1515. Ten years later, Simons is noted in his journals as having significant questions about the concept of transubstantiation, which states that the bread and wine served during communion literally becomes the blood and body of Jesus Christ after being blessed. This is widely believed to be the first major doubt that Simons began to have in the Catholic Church.
Simons then learned about the concept of adult baptism — and re-baptism — around 1530. This led to Simons questioning the concept of infant baptism, as practiced by Catholic doctrine. This is noted as being his second major issue with Catholic belief.
Finally, in 1535, Simons’ brother Pietr attacked a Catholic monastery with a group of radicalized Anabaptists. The Church responded in kind, killing Pietr. This was the major life event that made changed Menno Simons forever.
Following his brother’s death, Simons renounced his priesthood in 1536 and was rebaptized into the Anabaptists. He quickly rose to prominence because of his insights and education as a priest, and he immediately began thinking about the nature of the world as it related to violence.
This finally led to Simons starting his own denomination of Anabaptists who differentiated themselves by taking a hard stance on non-violence. Even if they were attacked, they would not physically harm someone else — even if it meant their deaths.
The group following Simons became known as Mennonites, and the idea of non-violence quickly spread throughout Europe.
While it was rebuffed by many — war was a fact of life in medieval Europe, after all — it resonated with those who were disillusioned by the senseless loss of life to violence.
One of these groups was the Swiss Brethren, essentially the Swiss equivalent of the Dutch Mennonites, who were also Anabaptists. They adopted the Mennonite belief of non-violence and began earning a strong following throughout Switzerland, including Canton of Zug.
Eventually, Simons passed away in 1561 around the shockingly old age of 65 (for the time). But his philosophy, legacy, and followers continued to spread throughout Europe.
Mennonites had been created, and they were here to stay.
The Creation of the Amish
Fast forward about 80 years to the birth of Jakob Ammann. Ammann, an illiterate and somewhat wealthy Swiss man, rose to prominence in his local denomination because of his passion and strict interpretation of biblical law.
Ammann was baptized into Anabaptism sometime in the 1670s. His fanaticism within the sect became such a problem that local Swiss authorities had to write to Bern (Switzerland’s capital) to ask how to “deal” with him on at least one occasion.
Despite this, Ammann joined the Anabaptist ministry after being ordained around 1693. He then moved to the Alsace region, which has historically changed hands between Germany and France on many occasions. At this time, Alsace was under the control of France’s King Louis XIV.
Geographically and topographically, Alsace is fairly secluded from the rest of Europe because it’s an enormous valley between two huge mountain ranges. It’s four times longer (north to south) than it is wide (east to west), near the Rhine river.
This is important because there wasn’t a very easy way to get to Alsace from any direction. If you went there, you were essentially cut off from the rest of Europe, and Europe was cut off from you.
But for Ammann, this was ideal.
Ammann’s beliefs were such that he caused a lot of issues with the orthodox Anabaptist belief system. Ammann had strict rules regarding men’s facial hair, women’s modesty, excommunication (later called Meidung or “shunning”), and ideas that were more commonly associated with Dutch Mennonites than Swiss Brethren.
These were considered radical beliefs by other church leaders, though Ammann still managed to gain a considerable following.
About the same time he moved to Alsace, Ammann and the mainstream Swiss Brethren caused what is called the “schism” in Anabaptist history. This was a major split among the conferences of churches to which Ammann belonged.
The short version of the schism is that some people hated Ammann’s ideas and others loved his ideas. The two groups wound up excommunicating one another.
Ammann, believing himself to be in control of his church’s conference, finally instilled his doctrine across all of the churches that chose to follow him. The Swiss Brethren continued to practice as they always have.
Eventually, Ammann’s followers became known by a new name — Amish.
Despite several attempts to reconcile the differences between the Amish and the Swiss Brethren, the two groups never came back together in any significant way. Following an edict in 1712 that expelled all Anabaptists from Alsace (again from King Louis XIV), Ammann died sometime before 1730.
(The only reason we know this is because there are records of Ammann’s daughter requested baptism in a Reformed Church and stated that her father was deceased.)
It’s possible that Ammann died in 1712, about the same time as the edict, because his conflicts with the Swiss Brethren were noted to have dropped considerably around that time.
Regardless, Ammann’s legacy was secure, and the Amish still exist today.
With all of this in mind, let’s re-examine the question at hand.
Answering the Question: Are Amish Also Mennonite?
No. It is not accurate to say that Amish are also Mennonite.
The Amish are ideologically descended from the Mennonite belief system, but this does not make them Mennonite.
The same can be said for Protestants, who deliberately split from Catholics. The Protestants are not considered Catholics even though they share many practices, like infant baptism and communion.
The Amish are a distinct denomination in Christianity, though they share many overlaps with Mennonites in terms of practices and beliefs. Both denominations are also a part of the Anabaptist groups that are separate from Catholics and Protestants.
So while Amish and Mennonites are deeply related by the nature of their histories, they are two different belief systems today.
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