The New International Encyclopædia/Mennonites

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The New International Encyclopædia
Mennonites
Edition of 1905. See also Mennonite on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

MENNONITES. A denomination of evangelical Protestant Christians which arose in Switzerland in the sixteenth century. The beginning of the sect was in a congregation formed in Zurich in 1525 by Conrad Grebel and his associates, Manz and Blaurock. Stress was laid upon discipline rather than dogma; abstinence from the vanities of the world was imposed; and (the State being regarded as unchristian) the principle of refusing to participate in civic duties, to bear arms, and to take oaths was upheld. The movement begun at Zurich extended through Switzerland and into Southern Germany and Austria. The attitude of its adherents toward the State exposed them to persecution, which continued in Switzerland through the whole of the sixteenth century, and provoked emigrations into Moravia and Holland. The Anabaptists (q.v.) were active in Westphalia at the same time, and, professing some of the same views with Grebel's followers, gave occasion for the introduction of heresies and troubles. After the Anabaptist disaster at Münster, Menno Simons (q.v.) became a leader among the followers of Grebel, and placed their movement upon a sounder footing. Allying himself with the more sober-minded elements of the Anabaptists after 1536, he organized congregations in Northern Germany and Holland, and by virtue of his piety, discretion, and ability, made such an impression upon the body that, although he was not its founder, his name became identified with it. The Mennonite Confession of Faith, in eighteen articles, was adopted in Holland in 1632. It embodies the usual evangelical doctrines concerning God, the fall of man, the authority of the Scriptures, repentance, and baptism, and contains articles relating to discipline and conduct. Grace is presented as designed for all. The view taken of the Lord's Supper accords with that of Zwingli. In the United States the sacrament is observed twice a year, usually in the spring and fall, the connnunicants having been previously examined concerning their spiritual condition. The rite of foot-washing (q.v.) is observed in connection with it. Baptism, which is only upon confession of faith, is administered by pouring. After baptism the kiss of peace is given by the minister, or by a representative sister, if the convert is a woman. Correct discipline and rectitude are considered more important elements in the Christian life than learning and the elaboration of doctrinal points. Divorce is condemned, except for adultery. The bearing of arms and taking of oaths are regarded as wrong, and the holding of offices under the State is not encouraged. The Church polity is congregational, with a ministry of bishops, priests or elders, and deacons.

The Mennonite Church has been divided in both Holland and Switzerland. The different branches in Holland were reunited in 1801. A division took place in Switzerland in 1620 between the Lapland and Lowland Mcnnonites when Jacob Amen, of the Bernese Alps, held that excommunication of one party dissolved the marriage tie, and proscribed the use of buttons and the trimming of the beard. Traces of this separation are found in the United States and Canada in the Amish congregations.

The first settlement of Mennonites in the United States was made in 1683, when immigrants, induced by William Penn's offer of religious liberty, settled in Pennsylvania and built a church in Germantown, on a spot still occupied by a Mennonite meeting house. Another considerable immigration has taken place from Southern Russia since 1871, the immigrants establishing colonies in the United States (Minnesota, Dakota, and Kansas), Canada, and Brazil. So far as it is possible to ascertain, the Mennonites have in the United States 55,554: communicants, with 1112 ministers and 673 churches. They are divided among twelve branches, which differ on points of doctrine, ritual, and discipline, or in historical origin.

I. The oldest and largest of these branches is The Mennonite Church, the members of which are represented in seventeen States, but most largely in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Their 288 churches, with 418 ministers and 22,743 communicants, are for the most part affiliated with some of the twelve district organizations, but a few of them are independent. A publishing house is established at Elkhart, Ind., where a semi-monthly newspaper in English, the Herald of Truth, a weekly journal in German, the Mennonitische Rundschau, Sunday-school and children's periodicals, Mennonite historical and doctrinal works, and other books, are published.

II. The Bruederhoef Mennonite Church traces its origin to Jacob Huter, who was burnt at the stake at Innsbruck, Tyrol, in 1536. It was at one time represented by 24 communities in Moravia, whence they were driven to Hungary. They removed to Rumania in 1767, and two years afterwards to Russia, and finally, in 1874, to the United States, where they settled in South Dakota. They live under the communal system. Their language is German, and their books, preserved in manuscript, including their history (Gemeinde-Geschichtsbuch), are in that tongue. Their 5 congregations have 352 communicant members and are served by 9 ministers.

III. The Amish Mennonite Church originated in the division already mentioned, which took place in Switzerland in 1620, and represents the Oberland Mennonites, or followers of Jacob Amen, of the Bernese Alps, after whom it is named. It is second in importance among Mennonite bodies in the United States, and has 265 ministers, 124 churches, and 13,226 communicants, being most largely represented in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. A settlement of Amish Mennonites was formed in 1824 in Wilmot Township, Ontario, where land was bought for the purpose by Christian Nafziger, of Munich. Five congregations have grown up from it, to which 329 faniilies are attached.

IV. The Old Amish Mennonite Church is the result of a separation from the Amish body which took place about 1865 over questions concerning forms of worship and methods of Church work, the separatists protesting against certain steps which they regarded as innovations, and insisting upon a strict adherence to the ancient forms and practices. They have 2438 members, with 75 ministers and 25 churches, and are strongest in Indiana and Ohio.

V. The Apostolic Mennonite Church is a branch derived from the Amish, which came to the United States by immigration from Europe about 1840. The discipline is less strict than in the other Amish branches. Two churches are mentioned, both in Ohio, with 2 ministers and 209 members.

VI. The Reformed Mennonite Church originated in 1812, under the leadership of John Herr, who protested against laxity in the Mennonite Church, and insisted upon the preservation of purity in teaching and the maintenance of exact discipline. Its adherents are strict in the observance of the old ways and in their discipline, and do not as a rule hold fellowship with other denominations. They have 1680 members, about half of them being in Pennsylvania, with 43 ministers and 34 churches.

VII. The General Conference Mennonite Church has adopted modern views and practices to a larger extent than most of the other branches. It originated as a result of proceedings which were instituted in 1848 in Pennsylvania against a minister, John Oberholtzer, who was charged with attempting to introduce new teachings and practices. Oberholtzer and his sympathizers withdrew and formed a body called the New Mennonites. This body united with churches whose members had come from Germany and settled in Illinois and Iowa, and a General Conference was formed, with three districts — eastern, central, and western. A new constitution, described as being evangelical in tone, was adopted in 1898. The number of members is 10,395, with 128 ministers and 70 churches.

VIII. The Church of God in Christ was founded in 1859, under the leading of John Haldeman, who believed himself inspired with the spirit of prophecy. It inculcates a strict adherence to the teachings of the founders of the Mennonite Church. The estimate of its numbers gives it 18 ministers, 18 churches, and 449 members.

IX. The Old, or Wisler, Mennonites represent a separation from the Mennonite Church in Indiana which took place about 1870 by those who opposed the introduction of Sunday schools, evening meetings, and other new features. The first General Conference was held in 1898. They number 603 members, with 17 ministers and 15 churches.

X. Die Bundes Conferenz der Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde originated in Russia about 1840, and was brought to the United States by immigrant adherents between 1873 and 1876. It practices baptism by immersion, and attaches special importance to evidences of conversion. It is one of the most active of the Mennonite bodies in missionary enterprise, and has missionaries in China, Africa, and India. Its 16 churches have 2950 members and are served by 41 ministers.

XI. The Defenseless Mennonites are likewise distinguished by the stress they lay upon the necessity of conversion and regeneration, and represent a separation from the Amish, which was led by Henry Egli. They have 1126 members in 11 churches, with 20 ministers.

XII. The Church of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ is the most recent in organization of the Mennonite bodies, having been formed about 1880. The Brethren are open communionists, and administer baptism in any of the usual forms. They have 59 churches, 76 ministers, and 3103 members, in eight States of the Union, and churches in Canada.

The larger Mennonite branches have in recent years displayed increased activity in missionary enterprise, in consequence of which they have enjoyed a greater relative prosperity. A general tendency has been observed toward a closer drawing together of the different branches. This was exemplified in an effort which was made in 1898 to secure the holding of a General Conference of the Mennonite and Amish district conferences, and in the coöperation of all the bodies with the Home and Foreign Relief Commission at Elkhart, for famine relief in India, for the education of the famine orphans, and for the support of the missionaries among them.

Bibliography. Periodicals: Mennonitische Rundschau, weekly (Elkhart, Ind.); Herald of Truth, semi-monthly (ib.); Christlicher Bundesbote, weekly (Berne, Ind.); Gemeindesbote und Waisenheim, monthly (Hillsboro, Kan.); Zions Bote, weekly (Medford, Okla.); the Mennonite, monthly (Quakertown, Pa.). The Gospel Banner, weekly, and the Evangeliums Panier, semi-monthly (Berlin, Ontario), represent the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. Literature: Blaupet ten Cate, Geschiedeniss der Doopsgezinden (Amsterdam, 1839-47); Starck, Geschichte der Taufe und der Taufgesinnten (Leipzig, 1789); Brons, Ursprung, Entwickelung und Schicksale der Taufgesinnten (2d ed., Norden, 1891). Consult also the article “Mennoniten,” by Hauck, in the Hauck-Herzog Realencyclopädie, vol. x., which has full bibliography. In English, consult: Menno Simons's complete works, and The Mennonites: Their History, Faith, and Practice, published by the Mennonite Publishing House, at Elkhart, Ind.; Martin, The Mennonites (Philadelphia, 1883); Krehbiel, The History of the General Conference of Mennonites of North America (Saint Louis, 1895); Pennypacker, Historical and Geographical Sketches (Philadelphia, 1883), the first half of which relates to the history of the Mennonites; Richardson, “A Day with the Pennsvlvania Amish,” in the Outlook, vol. lxi. (1899), pp. 781-86.