Mennonites are named after Menno Simons, a Dutch priest who joined the Anabaptist faith and attracted many followers in Holland in the 16th century. As a radical movement diverging from the majority of Protestant reformers, the Mennonites had beliefs and practices that separated them from the rest of the Protestant and Catholic Christians. Despite a history of persecution from others, Mennonites have retained these unique customs and beliefs.
“Anabaptist,” means to “re-baptize.” The Mennonites, like the Amish, were referred to as “Anabaptists” because they believed in baptizing converts to the church who had been baptized as infants in other churches. Unlike Roman Catholics and many Protestant denominations, the Mennonites disagree with child baptism, believing that it should be the informed, voluntary choice of an adult to become baptized. Children are not counted as a member of the church until after they are baptized as adults.
Another custom separating Mennonites from other Christian denominations is the practice of foot washing, based on the example set by Jesus washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. Foot washing often follows communion service in Mennonite churches. Participants may wash each other’s feet in pairs or may turn to the person to their right and wash their feet. The men wash the feet of men, and the women wash the feet of women. Foot washing is an expression of “hospitality” and “affectionate recognition,” according to the Anabaptist Network.
Pacifism and Service to Others
Mennonites believe in a non-violent way of life based on the teachings of Jesus and the Bible, and they express this believe by abstaining from any participation in violent activity, including military service. This belief attracted persecution from their neighbors and has led to Mennonites settling in areas without compulsory military service, such as the prairies of Canada. Although abstaining from military service, Mennonites believe in the duty of personal service to others. Mennonites have been and continue to be involved in many charitable and volunteer organizations that are active in the wider communities.
Way of Life
Although many Mennonites are active in the wider community today, they lived in separate communities in the past as a result of the persecution they often faced from outsiders. Although Mennonites often no longer live separately, their way of life still distinguishes them from the rest of society. Traditional Mennonite clothing is conservative, especially for the women who often wore head coverings or prayer veils. This is less common today, except for very conservative Mennonites. Mennonites generally abstain from smoking and drinking, as it is taught that the body is God’s temple. Mennonites may also abstain from watching film or TV, as they disagree with watching the portrayal of violence.
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