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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Brief History of the Anabaptists


Amish Buggy
Amish romances have been camped out on top of fiction sales charts for many years now. But how much does the ordinary reader really know about the Amish, what they believe, and why they live as they do? There’s a whole lot more to this plain Christian sect than their simple rural lifestyle and close-knit families and communities. Today I’m going to give you a crash course on the history of the Anabaptists, a group of Christian believers that includes not only the Amish, but also the Mennonites, Dunkards, Landmark Baptists, and Hutterites, as well as Beachy Amish and some Brethren groups.

During the Reformation, the word Anabaptist was applied to Christians who rejected infant baptism in favor of baptizing only those old enough to profess faith in Jesus Christ for themselves. The term, which means re-baptizer, was not complimentary, just as the label Christian was used in a negative sense when it was first applied to Jesus’ disciples. At the time of the Reformation infant baptism was the norm not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but also in Protestant denominations that had split away. That meant that most people who wished to make a confession of faith and be baptized as adults had already been baptized as infants, so they had to be re-baptized.

Menno Simons
The Anabaptists first emerged in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1525. Along with Baptists, Quakers, Methodists, Moravians, and a number of other denominations, this movement arose from the desire of many believers to return to the beliefs and practices of the apostolic first-century church. Anabaptists also believed in the separation of church and state and voluntary church membership. They regarded the Bible as their only rule for faith and life and demanded that believers live a holy life.

At that time in Europe people weren’t given a choice as to which denomination to join. They were enrolled as members in the official church of their country at birth. If you were born in a Catholic country, you were a Catholic. If your country was Lutheran, then you were a Lutheran. Rejecting the prevailing church and becoming an Anabaptist led to serious persecution if not a death sentence. Many believers were formally expelled from their country or forced to flee, only to face persecution from the church holding sway in the country to which they fled.

Jakob Ammann
In spite of opposition, the Anabaptist movement continued to spread in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. In 1536, a Dutch priest from Friesland named Menno Simons left the Catholic church and soon became an Anabaptist leader. He formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss Anabaptist founders, including the doctrine of nonresistance. Then in 1693, the Anabaptist preacher Jakob Ammann and his followers broke with the Swiss Brethren, led by Hans Reist, because of doctrinal issues that included matters of church discipline such as shunning, which Ammann supported and Reist did not. Ammann’s followers became known as Amish, while those who sided with Reist, along with the Dutch Anabaptists, eventually became known as Mennonites due to the leadership of Menno Simons.

During the 18th century, the continuing pressure of persecution in Europe led to the migration of many Anabaptists to the English colonies in North America, among them the Amish and Mennonites. Many members of these groups originally settled in Pennsylvania, where a large number of their communities are still located today.
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J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers, an author, editor, and publisher, and a lifelong student of history. Her novel Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with bestselling author Bob Hostetler, won ForeWord Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, releases in Spring 2017. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.


12 comments:

  1. Very interesting post Joan.
    I live in Maryland, about 2 1/2 hours from Lancaster, PA, which we try to visit a couple times a year. Enjoy going into the Amish shops & restaurants.
    Blessings, Tina

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    1. Thanks, Tina! You're obviously close to the center of all things Amish. I live in northern Indiana amid the next largest Amish settlement in this country so I get a lot of exposure too, and I love it. A side benefit is that there are lots of Hochstetlers here. lol!

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  2. Such a fascinating family history! I love hearing and reading about! And to think they still have the documents from back then!

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    1. Not every family has that blessing, Bev. Good or questionable, family history is fun to delve into, as you know. :-)

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  3. I live in an Amish community in Northern Michigan. They are great neighbors and friends.

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    1. Pegg, I'm in Elkhart, which is right on the state line. Are you in the Northern Peninsula or on the "mainland"? Yes, the majority of the Amish are very good neighbors. There are some groups that are very separatist, like those around Berne, IN, though, who don't mingle much with outsiders.

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    3. I'm in the NE part of the "mitten" in Alpena County. Our son lives in Howe, IN. So he's in the thick of Amish country down there too. But they are much more modern around him than the Amish here are. His one Amish buddy has a GPS in his buggy! The bishop here would faint dead away if someone did that. ;)

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  4. I was just researching this same topic to learn about how the Mennonites in Lancaster Co, PA responded to the Revolutionary War.
    Karen

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    1. Karen, there's quite a bit of information available on the internet on that subject. Check out this link: http://www.anabaptists.org/history/anabaptists-during-revolutionary-war.html

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  5. I've always found it interesting that some of the great persecutions weren't over core doctrinal issues (like the Deity of Christ) but what boiled down to differences of interpretation. And their diligence in recordkeeping ... wow! A few years ago I discovered my maternal great-grandmother came from a large community of Mennonites in western Kansas that had emigrated from the Ukraine, and West Prussia before that ... with all of it well-documented in records still kept by the church in Kansas. So amazing. And so neat to know that segment of my own family history!

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  6. I was born in southwestern MN, where my dad was a Mennonite Briethren pastor. We moved to Ontario, Canada, where there were quite a number of MB churches. The conference offices were in Hillsborro, KS. We dressed like everyone else, drove cars, etc. MBs believe that you must accept Jesus as your Savior and be baptized upon confession of your belief.

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