The Amish and Mennonites are two religious groups with tons of similarities and differences. Both religious groups are Anabaptist, meaning that they were formed in the early 16th century by believers who did not agree with several doctrines in the then church, such as infant baptism.
One interesting fact is that the Amish and Mennonites were once part of the same religious faction known as the Swiss Brethren, before a big split caused them to take different directions. This split occurred in 1693 because of conflicting views about baptism and politics between two groups led by Jacob Amman (founder of the Amish) and Hans Reist.
After the split, the Swiss Brethren became known as the Mennonites. From then, these two groups hold distinct religious beliefs but still continue to share a common heritage.
Why did the Amish split from the Mennonites? Do both groups still hold the Anabaptist idea that belief must result in practice? Let's find out.
What this article covers:
How Do Mennonites Differ from the Amish?
The Amish are known for their strict adherence to faith, tradition and family while Mennonites are more open to modern technology. While both groups share a common Anabaptist heritage, there are several differences between the two. Let's take a look at the difference between Amish and Mennonite.
The Amish strictly follow the Ordnung, a German term for discipline, rule, or system. This requires that they dress a certain way. What’s the difference between Amish and Mennonite clothing?
You'll notice that Amish men often wear plain suits and broad-brimmed hats while the women wear long dresses. Women's clothing is plain and, depending on the Amish community, lacks buttons.
While the Mennonites also have the Ordnung, they aren’t restricted by it. They can choose to dress in modern clothing styles or adopt more conservative attire. Therefore, you cannot single out a Mennonite man or woman from a crowd if they choose not to dress in conservative attire but can always tell apart the Amish from the non-Amish.
Head coverings for women, like the Amish faceless dolls, are worn because the Bible commands them. These coverings are a strict reminder to remain humble and pure in the eyes of God. Let's take a look at the Mennonite vs Amish head covering.
Amish women wear a prayer Kapp and a bonnet on top of the prayer Kapp. The bonnet can be black or white depending on the woman’s marital status. The prayer Kapp is made from white cotton and is pinned in place with either an ornate pin or a ribbon. Do the Mennonite Amish women use the same head coverings?
Mennonite women wear more modest head coverings than their Amish counterparts, but they still observe the practice. The type of head covering varies by denomination and region. Mennonite women often wear a scarf, hat, or bonnet that covers the head and hair completely. A black bonnet, for the Mennonites, symbolizes submission, modesty, and honoring God.
Hats for Men
What’s the difference between Amish and Mennonite hats? Amish men wear hats made from straw or wool. These hats protect them from the sun while they work outside.
Mennonite men also wear hats, but they’re slightly different. They wear black felt or straw hats depending on their region and the season as a symbol of respect for God and humility in his presence.
The Amish are very conservative and have chosen to keep away from modern technologies. This is an intentional move to protect their faith and families from worldly influences while also keeping their community close-knit. This means they don't use modern electric amenities or cars.
Old-Order Amish don’t even permit using modern methods to till the land such as tractors. They prefer to do it by hand or with horses. Every family also owns a hand-woven garden harvest basket which they use to collect the crops.
Mennonites, on the other hand, are more open to modern technologies and can use phones, radios and televisions. They can travel in motorized vehicles and some even own computers or drive cars but with certain restrictions. Also, some Mennonites view technology as a way to reach out and spread their faith.
The Amish live a simple, rural, and deeply religious life. Historically, the community has abstained from engaging in political issues, including voting. In recent years, however, they've been taking interest in local and social issues. It’s estimated that almost 10% of the community voted in previous elections.
Traditionally, Mennonites also didn’t engage in politics or voting. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, their involvement increased. Today, most liberal Mennonites view politics as an integral part of life that affects the most vulnerable in society. This community can vote and some members of the Mennonite Church in Canada have run for public office and served in parliament. That said, the more conservative groups still abstain from voting.
One thing that you'll notice when you travel to Amish communities is that there are no church buildings. So, where do they hold their church services?
The Amish hold church services in their homes. They meet every Sunday in one of the local district member's homes. The services rotate from home to home throughout the year.
Unlike the Amish, Mennonites have churches. There are more than 40 Mennonite groups in the USA. Although these groups share the same faith, they may observe different worship styles in their churches.
The Amish don’t have central leadership or headquarters. Instead, they have districts with elected leaders, bishops, and ministers. The elders oversee the implementation of the Ordnung and any decisions made by the members have to be unanimous.
Mennonites, on the other hand, have a more centralized leadership structure. Each denomination has its own governing body such as Mennonite Church USA or Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada). They usually have executive or administrative directors and members of the governing body are elected by individuals in each region.
Shunning is the practice of expelling a member from the social and religious community. The Amish employ shunning as a disciplinary measure for members who violate the Ordnung or break any of their beliefs. This is done as a reminder that all members must live in obedience to God’s laws and teachings.
Mennonites don’t practice shunning in the same way as Amish. Some Mennonite churches may practice a milder form of shunning that involves temporarily suspending church membership or participation, but there’s no formal or official policy on this within the community.
Why Did the Amish Split from the Mennonites?
To refresh your memory, Mennonites and the Amish were once part of the same religious faction known as the Swiss Brethren. In 1693, a disagreement between the founder of the Amish, Jacob Amman, and Hans Reist led the split of the Anabaptist movement into two separate branches - the Amish and the Mennonites.
One of the greatest contributors to the split was the adoption of new practices from other cultures. Since the Swiss brethren moved around a lot to find new lands where they wouldn't be persecuted, they adopted practices from other cultures. These practices greatly contributed to their split. What did Jacob Amman and Hans Reist disagree on?
Here are the issues that the two disagreed on:
Shunning Banned Members
Shunning and social avoidance were common practices among Anabaptist Christians. For the Swiss brethren, shunning entailed refusal to eat the Lord's Supper with banned members.
However, Jacob Amman felt that this practice wasn’t as strict enough, mostly because the Dutch in the lands they moved to practiced stricter shunning. This included complete avoidance of eating regular meals, not just the Lord's Supper, with the banned members. However, Hans Reist and some Swiss Brethren felt that this punishment was too strict and accused Jacob of trying to start a new faith.
Excommunication of Liars
Another contentious issue was whether people who lied should be excommunicated. Jacob Amman believed that liars should be punished by excommunication and total shunning, while Hans Reist disagreed with this and felt that the punishment was too extreme for the crime.
Saving of People Who Didn't Follow God's Word
Jacob Amman argued that even though people in the new lands accepted, helped, and didn’t persecute the Swiss Brethren, they couldn't be considered "saved" unless they were re-baptised and followed the teachings of God's Word. Hans Reist felt that everyone should be given the opportunity to come to salvation without being re-baptised.
Along with these disagreements, other issues such as feet-washing, church discipline, and frequency of communion also sharply divided the factions of Jacob Amman and Hans Reist.
Eventually, a meeting was called to address these divisions, but Hans Reist refused to attend. Instead, he chose to explain in writing why he disagreed with Jacob Amman's views. This failure to attend angered Jacob and he excommunicated Hans, who, in response, excommunicated Jacob, leading to a split in the religion. Interesting play of events, right?
Although the Amish and Mennonites share a common history, they’ve developed different beliefs and practices over time. The split between the two religious factions is largely attributed to disagreements over issues like shunning, excommunication of liars, and saving people who didn't follow God's Word. Ultimately, it was a failure to reconcile differences that led to the permanent separation of the two groups.
Today, the Amish and Mennonites continue to live side by side peacefully, despite their different views. They maintain respect toward each another and, even though they no longer belong to the same religious sect, they still share similarities especially when you look at Old Order Mennonite vs Amish.
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