Ask a Mennonite…(Response) (2022)

The interview series has been such a success, I’m planning to extend it through the fall! Thanks so much for bringing these interviews to life with your thoughtful and respectful questions. I don’t know about you, but I’ve really learned a lot.

Today Kurt Willems responds to our questions about Mennonites and Anabaptism.

Kurt is writer and pastor who is preparing for church planting by finishing work towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. He’s a contributing writer for Red Letter Christians, and has also written for The Ooze, Emergent Village, and Sojourners. I hope you will consider subscribing to Kurt’sPangea Blog; there’s some great stuff there.


From Dustin: Were you raised Mennonite? If so, did you ever go through a time where you questioned your faith and explored other options? If you were not raised Mennonite, what caused you to consider that tradition and eventually subscribe to it?

This is a wonderful question. Yes, I was raised “Mennonite.” Actually, I’m part of an offshoot group called theMennonite Brethren. You can read about how the M.B.’s came to behere. I can trace both sides of my family tree to the MB movement that fled persecution during the late 1800’s. My Great Grandpa Penner boarded a ship in the dark of night to find a new home that would be hospitable to their way of life. My Willems side of the family has similar stories.

So, yes, I was raised Mennonite, but here’s where things get interesting… I wasn’t raisedAnabaptist. Two distinctive convictions that shaped the Anabaptist (broad Mennonite tradition from theradical reformationperiod) way include: 1)nonviolenceand 2) suspicion of earthly governments (nationalism). By the time I was being reared in the church, only a slim minority actually held to these views. Basically, I grew up in an environment that felt like straight-laced evangelicalism with a unique ethnic culture (Mennonites are known for their food and quilts).

It wasn’t until I started reading books by emerging church types that the question of nonviolence came back to my attention for serious consideration. Prior to this, I believed that choosing peace was irrational and that just wars were necessary in a fallen world. Then, I entered seminary (Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary[Mennonite Brethren]) and my initial questions grew legs. And about 3 years ago, after growing up Mennonite, I embraced the Anabaptist view of theology. This view puts Jesus in the center of how we interpret the rest of Scripture and how we understand the full revelation of God. And within that center we take seriously the Sermon on the Mount, believing that discipleship is a radical reorientation of lifestyle. Essentially, I grew up Mennonite Brethren but not Anabaptist. Now, I’m authentically both.

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From John: Could you give an overview of the different sub-denominations within Anabaptism? How united are Anabaptists in theology, faith, and practice?

The Anabaptist movement is connected in many ways. But unlike many churches that have their roots in Christendom, we Anabaptists are “non-creedal.” For us, the New Testament and the peace witness of the early church serve as our center.

Because of this, our movements have held many common characteristics such as – believer’s baptism, the priesthood of all believers / the church, nonviolence, interpret Paul through Jesus rather than Jesus through Paul, non-hierarchal leadership, and the kingdom of God as a counterculture – but we’ve never had any authoritative creeds to unite us. Just shared values.

Today, many Anabaptist groups exist in North America and beyond. All of them reflect the values listed above (at least in theory), but express them in their own way. At one extreme you have the Amish. I’ve never met an Amish person and they are as foreign to my experience as they might be to a Baptist or Methodist. On the other end of the spectrum, you have some of the major denominations that are united under the umbrella of Mennonite Central Committee (our social justice / mission organization). These denominations include:Mennonite Church USA,Mennonite Brethren, andBrethren in Christ. Several other Anabaptist groups also exist, but I’m not connected to them personally.

From Rachel S.: There is such a wide variation between Mennonites in terms of theology and lifestyle. Are there major conflicts that occur within your tradition?

Conflict? We are people of peace… we NEVER HAVE CONFLICTS :-) Next Question.

Okay, I’m being facetious here. Certainly we have conflicts. At the local level, theological issues continue to arise in my particular denomination. We have many pastors who were trained in conservative evangelical seminaries and many congregants that are pro-war, etc. This creates interesting scenarios for those of us who still hang on to our Anabaptist heritage.

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Not only so, but we’ve had to wrestle with women’s issues, homosexuality, the atonement, and many of the same conflicts that other denominations are facing as well. Not only so, but the whole “emergent” issue continues to create divisions and controversy in our movement. Interestingly enough, those who are more Anabaptist in their theology and ethos, tend to be more open to emerging church authors and issues. Consider this quote from Stuart Murray’sThe Naked Anabaptist: “The Anabaptist movement began as a loose-knit coalition of groups who were forming in various places across central Europe – the sixteenth century equivalent of the ‘emerging church.’”

From Zeckle: I respect the Mennonites and Quakers' stand against violence. After studying some of the teachings, I am finding myself to be more of a pacifist. I find in my own tradition (as well as other traditions), the thought that pacifism means doing nothing, just sitting by as violence occurs. What is the Mennonite understanding of pacifism? And how does your tradition deal with Matthew 10:34—“Don't imagine I came to bring peace to the earth, I came to bring a sword”--which seems to be the quote against pacifism among many in my tradition?

First, pacifism is not passivism. This might be the worst caricature that ‘just war’ Christians create when describing this perspective. For this reason, most of us now prefer the language of nonviolent resistance.

As far as a “Mennonite understanding of pacifism,” I’m going to defer that question to a series I wrote called:Nonviolence 101. I think that my series on this subject will address most of your questions. I will simply add that various shades of gray exist on this complicated issue.

Finally, Matthew 10.34. That’s always an interesting one. The problem is that in Matthew 5 Jesus says: “But I say to you: don’t use violence to resist evil!” (Matthew 5.39, The Kingdom New Testament). I’d begin my answer then by saying that we need to take the whole of Matthew into account when interpreting the meaning of this verse in chapter 10. Then, we need to keep the sword passage in the context of the rest of that passage. It clearly is speaking of the division that will take place because of Jesus. His followers are bound to endure divisions from family, friends, culture, etc. Not only so, but following Jesus may lead to suffering the results of non-peace… even counting the cost of discipleship by carrying their own cross and following Jesus (10.38). Jesus knew that his mission during this age would lead to suffering, not peace. This doesn’t negate our call to be peacemakers but amplifies how difficult this task will be. Much more could be said about this, I recommendthis commentary.

From Justin: Is there any situation, ever, in which the use of violence would be acceptable?

Not for followers of Jesus. However, a few things need to be said.

First, the state is given the authority to use the sword to “punish evil doers” for the sake of reducing violence from running out of control (see this article). Notice that in passages such as Romans 12-13, the assumption of Paul is that the people of God are completely distinct from the sword bearing officers. Therefore, violence in its most reduced form is allowable by those who are part of the pagan police / military, but the assumption of the New Testament is that Christians do not participate in this practice. On the few exceptions,see this article.

Second, Anabaptists would do well not to judge the motives of those Christians who take up arms for their country. Although we may believe that this activity is contrary to how we understand Jesus, others disagree. For those who don’t share our perspective, this doesn’t mean that they are not authentic followers of Christ. They most likely have pure intentions for serving in the way that they do. Nevertheless, we do need to take this issue seriously and continue to show the church that violence only begets violence and is contrary to God’s intention for his people.

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Third, a bit of humility would do us Anabaptists a bit of good. We don’t know how we will respond in the worst of situations (Hitler, Spouse attacked, etc.). Our hope, is that we’ve spent so much time connecting to our heavenly Father that when a situation arises, that we will respond out of an outflow of how Christ is transforming our inner life. The more we confront the violence within, the more the peaceful Spirit of Christ will inform our response to physical confrontations.

From Chrystal: Would you talk about the role of women in the Mennonite tradition? What types of ministry roles are women allowed to hold? Are there differences between women's roles in the home versus in the church?

In all three of the major Anabaptist Mennonite denominations (Mennonite, Brethren in Christ, and Mennonite Brethren), women serve as pastors in various roles. My tradition, the Mennonite Brethren, may be the most restrictive of the three groups. I personally am an egalitarian, which is a view shared by every professor at our denominational seminary, but if memory serves me correctly… we still don’t ordain women. We license them as pastors, but not ordain women yet. Not sure why this is. Nevertheless, the Mennonite movements tend to be fairly open to women in leadership, if not completely open.

Amish and some other Anabaptist groups do not share an egalitarian view.

From Brian: Can you discuss some of the Mennonite views of Technology. I've readFlickering Pixelsby Shane Hipps, a former Mennonite pastor, and was impressed by his thoughts. As a technology geek, I'd like to more from a Mennonite perspective.

I think Shane Hipps is the best resource that I know about. If any reader of this post can list others, please do! I reviewed his first book calledThe Hidden Power of Electronic Culturehere. Shane is a wonderful reminder to the whole church that tech stuff can be great, but can also unintentionally alter the message we are communicating. I can’t recommend his books enough!

From RM: Can you explain the main differences between the Amish and the Mennonites? I almost always package the two together... are they similar at all? My extent of knowledge of Amish culture is a high school trip to Lancaster, PA and Beverly Lewis books. While I love the traditions and heritage, the philosophy and theology seem harsh. Are Mennonites the same way?

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As I already said above, I’ve never interacted with old order or Amish Mennonite groups. I’d say that the only commonalities that exist are the list of values from question #2 and that we both emerged from the radical reformation. Things like shunning and extreme exclusivity are unique to Amish and Hutterite groups for the most part.

Note: Check out Janet Oberholtzer's response to this question in the comment section. Janet grew up Old Order Mennonite in the Lancaster, PA area and can shed some light on that particular sect.

From Russell: What are some great Mennonite Authors and Influential members that have helped you in life?

There are some great books by Anabaptist authors! Let me list a few of them:

From Rachel E.: What exactly is the Mennonite name game?

Question: What do you call 3 naked Mennonites in a blizzard? Answer: Wiebe – Friesen – Fast (We Be Freezing Fast!)… this is an introduction to the game. Basically, in the Mennonite world, names mean something.

For instance, my last name is Willems. This is a well-known Mennonite name. On the other side of the family, my last name is Penner… another Mennonite name. Basically, whenever I find myself in the presence of a fellow Mennonite (especially those who know the history well), we find that we are connected some how. Either we are related or this person knows someone who is related to me.

In the process of playing, you find out some interesting things. For instance, I once met my second cousin for the first time at a non-Mennonite’s apartment in college. We never knew we were related! Or, there was the time I dated a girl with whom I shared a mutual second cousin. Of course this mutual cousin was related to each of us through different sides of the family, so this girl and I were not directly blood relatives. Then, there’s the fun stories about folks who get married and find out that they are second cousins after the fact. Mennonites (until recent times) marry Mennonites. The product… a family wreath instead of a family tree! This is why the “Mennonite game” is so easy to play. Luckily, I married outside so there is not a chance that my wife and I are related.


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Thanks to Kurt for taking so much time with these questions and providing us with so many additional resources. Check out the rest of the interview series:

Ask an Atheist
Ask a Catholic
Ask an Orthodox Jew
Ask a Humanitarian
Ask a Mormon


Do Mennonites believe in once saved always saved? ›

While Mennonites hold tightly to the belief that we are saved through God's powerful gift of grace, we don't subscribe to the “eternal security,” or “once saved, always saved” theology.

Are Mennonites allowed to swear? ›

In fact, those of us of the Anabaptist (Mennonite and Amish) and Quaker faiths do not swear oaths on any occasion and are protected by law to refrain from doing so, instead being allowed to affirm only.

How can you tell if someone is Mennonite? ›

Both Amish and Mennonite women wear a head covering, although they vary a lot in style and size. Usually, the more liberal they are, the smaller the size of the covering. The Amish women wear a darker, solid color cape dress and apron. But most of the Mennonite women do not wear aprons, only a caped dress.

What race is a Mennonite? ›

Mennonites have historically operated within an ethnicity framework, emphasizing their Swiss-Germanic ethnic roots, but de-emphasizing their racial identity as a white church.

Do Mennonites use contraceptives? ›

Other Christian denominations that support contraception include the United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalists, Mennonite Church USA, and Church of the Brethren.

Do the Mennonites celebrate Christmas? ›

Mennonites celebrate Christmas, albeit not in the same way that much of society does. For example, they focus on material simplicity and prayerful reflection. However, what's most important to them is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and doing so with family and friends.

How do you say hello in Mennonite? ›

Your PA Dutch Minute: Greetings - YouTube

What do Mennonites do on Sunday? ›

Sabbath: Mennonites meet for worship services on Sunday, following the tradition of the early church. They base that on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. Salvation: The Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation, who moves people to accept this gift from God.

What are Mennonites allowed to have? ›

Unlike the Amish, Mennonites are not prohibited from using motorized vehicles. In addition, Mennonites are also allowed to use electricity and telephones in their homes. When it comes to their beliefs, the Amish and Mennonite faiths are very similar. The differences lie mainly in the outward practice of those beliefs.

Can Mennonites date non Mennonites? ›

Historically, Mennonites were forbidden to marry non-Mennonites and, in some cases, members of other Mennonite groups. Presently, only the more conservative ones proscribe marriage outside the group.

Who is more strict Amish or Mennonite? ›

Both Amish Mennonites and Mennonites are Anabaptists. Apart from this they are very different. Where the Amish Mennonites have come to observe very strict and traditional practices the Mennonites have established a reputation of being very strict followers of non violence. Mennonites are also known as the peace church.

What colors do Mennonites wear? ›

Many Mennonites usually wear black or other plain, dark colors. In most sects, there is no regulation against wearing bright colors, but many opt for dark colors. Clothing is generally loose-fitting and simple. Black is an important clothing color to Mennonites because it is a simple and dignified color.

Why do Mennonites say once? ›

Mennonites say “once” as an expression of politeness. The phrase is common to Mennonite and Amish practice, and its intended meaning depends upon the context. Some people use it as a replacement for the word “please.” In other instances, it insinuates the present period.

What kind of food do Mennonites eat? ›

Common ingredients in Russian Mennonite dishes include cabbage, potatoes, sausage, and a range of dairy products. One common dish is zwieback, which is roasted and dried to become two-layered white buns. Zwieback can be stored for several months and was the main food eaten during Mennonite migrations.

Can Mennonites drink? ›

Other Mennonite denominations are the polar opposite. They see alcohol as an absolute violation of Christian values, and it's explicitly forbidden in all forms except rubbing alcohol.

Do Amish shave their legs? ›

According to the Schwartzentruber Amish Ordinance Letter, Amish women are not permitted to shave their legs or underarms. Amish ordinances also forbid women from cutting their hair.

Are Mennonites exempt from paying taxes? ›

Do Mennonites Pay Taxes? Yes, Mennonites pay taxes, just like Amish pay taxes. However, just like the Amish, the Mennonites are a qualifying religious group who can meet the religious Social Security tax exemption.

Why can't Catholics use condoms? ›

A Mortal Sin

On New Year's Eve 1930, the Roman Catholic Church officially banned any "artificial" means of birth control. Condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps were defined as artificial, since they blocked the natural journey of sperm during intercourse.

Can Mennonites accept gifts? ›

POLICY: 1. Employees shall not accept gifts or cash from residents, families, and others. 2.

Can you take pictures of Mennonites? ›

Mennonites have no problems or issues with photography - this is well established. Wherever you got your information is either outdated or incorrect. What you say is in general true of Amish but not of Mennonites.

Why do Mennonites have beards? ›

Amish men wear their beards with pride, as signifiers of their commitment to their religion, their wives, and their families. Just don't ask them to match it with even the slightest fuzz on their upper lips.

Why do they call Mennonites nappers? ›

What Makes People Call Mennonites “Nappers?” The short answer is simple: Mennonites have a reputation in some areas for napping through Sunday church services.

Do Mennonites cover their hair? ›

Thousands of Mennonite women living today at one time wore a covering on their heads and no longer do so. Thousands of Mennonite women living today still wear coverings on their heads.

What do Mennonites believe about divorce? ›

According to Mennonites, married people are expected to leave their parents and live together as a separate social entity until death. Divorce is discouraged, and in some Mennonite communities people who have divorced from their spouses are disciplined, except in cases of prolonged physical abuse.

Why do Mennonites wear dresses? ›

Under Mennonite beliefs, modesty includes covering one's body and treating it as sacred. For that reason, Mennonite women may wear pants, slacks, or shorts, but they will generally be long and loose.

Can Mennonites drive? ›

Transportation. Almost all Amish use horse-drawn buggies. There are, however, car-driving, English-speaking so-called Amish-Mennonites, also known as Beachy Amish (after early leader Moses Beach). Some Mennonites also depend on horses for transportation, but most drive cars.

What language do Mennonites speak? ›

You may know that Pennsylvania German, also known as Pennsylvania Dutch (PD), is the primary language of most Amish and conservative Mennonite communities living in the United States today. What you may not know is that most PD speakers are ethnically Swiss.

Can Mennonites use cell phones? ›

Their more progressive attitudes toward technology led to tensions and a split from the Old Order Mennonites. Today, they cautiously use cell phones and computers, but not televisions or radios.

What is a beachy Mennonite? ›

Administrative history: "The Beachy Amish Mennonites are a conservative Anabaptist denomination with Old Order Amish origins. They have supported the 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith and also maintained a set of distinctive practices and limits on lifestyle choices.

Do the Mennonites and Amish get along? ›

In general, yes. While people may disagree on an individual level, the Amish and Mennonite groups generally coexist peacefully and will work together to support the needs of their local communities.

What age do Mennonite girls get married? ›

The Amish Community and Dating

Dating among the Amish typically begins around age 16 with most Amish couples marrying between the ages of 20 and 22.

Do Mennonites wear wedding rings? ›

The Mennonite Interpretation – Simplified (+/-)

Men and women should not wear any precious metals.

How old do Mennonites get married? ›

Furthermore, in the United States Mennonites tend to marry earlier than the rest of the population. The average age at marriage for men in 1989 was 23.2 and women 21.3 (Kauffman and Meyers 2001). In contrast the average for males and females in the general population was 26.2 and 23.9 (Eshleman 1997).

Why do Mennonites not use rubber tires? ›

They explained it keeps their farms small, and it keeps families at home working together. Members who disobey this ruling could face excommunication.

Do Mennonites use buttons? ›

Buttons are frowned upon because of their potential for ostentation, and such things as Velcro and zippers are banned. Instead, clothes are fastened by pins or hook-and-eye closures. Slightly smarter clothes, such as capes, are used for religious services.

What religion do Mennonites follow? ›

Mennonite, member of a Protestant church that arose out of the Anabaptists, a radical reform movement of the 16th-century Reformation. It was named for Menno Simons, a Dutch priest who consolidated and institutionalized the work initiated by moderate Anabaptist leaders.

What are Mennonite dresses called? ›

Cape dresses are traditionally worn by female Anabaptist Christian church members, such as Mennonite, Brethren, Amish and Charity women.

Do Mennonites grow beards when married? ›

Until a man is married, however, he cannot grow his beard out without shaving. This is a rule that most Amish communities live by practice in their day-to-day lives. Since beards are only grown out by the men who are married, not having one signifies that you are single.

Do Amish wear bathing suits? ›

Amish and Mennonites

People might wear a suit and some people might wear shorts and tops or whatever,” she said. “There's quite a bit of variety.” Also, Nolt said, young children are able to wear more modern swimwear, as they are not yet official members of the church.

Which denominations believe once saved always saved? ›

Eternal security, also known as "once saved, always saved", is the belief that from the moment anyone becomes a Christian, they will be saved from hell, and will not lose salvation.
  • 2.3.1 Catholicism.
  • 2.3.2 Orthodoxy.
  • 2.3.3 Lutheranism.
  • 2.3.4 Anabaptism.
  • 2.3.5 Classical Arminianism and Wesleyan Arminianism.

Is once saved always saved in the Bible? ›

The doctrine of “once saved, always saved” teaches that it is not possible for a child of God to sin in such a way that he will be lost. Many people, who undoubtedly are very sincere and possess a desire to do what is right, find tremendous comfort in this doctrine. This doctrine, however, is not taught in the Bible.

How do Anabaptists achieve salvation? ›

Anabaptist denominations teach: ... salvation by faith through grace, but such faith must bear “visible fruit in repentance, conversion, regeneration, obedience, and a new life dedicated to the love of God and the neighbor, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

What do Amish believe about salvation? ›

We believe that the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, and also empowers believers for service and holy living. We believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, a free gift bestowed by God on those who repent and believe.

Does the Lutheran Church believe once saved, always saved? ›

Do Lutherans believe in once saved always saved? Lutherans don't believe in “once saved always saved” when the term is used to describe someone who feels so secure in their salvation that, no matter how much they sin in life, they are guaranteed to go to heaven when they die.

What is conditional salvation? ›

The conditional preservation of the saints, or conditional perseverance of the saints, or commonly conditional security, is the Arminian Christian belief that believers are kept safe by God in their saving relationship with him upon the condition of a persevering faith in Christ.

Is there predestination in the Bible? ›

In the New Testament, Romans 8–11 presents a statement on predestination. In Romans 8:28–30, Paul writes, We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

What is the unforgivable sin in the Bible? ›

One eternal or unforgivable sin (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit), also known as the sin unto death, is specified in several passages of the Synoptic Gospels, including Mark 3:28–29, Matthew 12:31–32, and Luke 12:10, as well as other New Testament passages including Hebrews 6:4–6, Hebrews 10:26–31, and 1 John 5:16.

Does Judas go to heaven? ›

It is one step, but looking to Jesus as the crucified, risen Savior for one's soul is what brings salvation, assurance of being in heaven for eternity. So from what Jesus said in Matthew 26:24, it would certainly appear that Judas is not in heaven.

Can you lose your justification? ›

The Reformed tradition generally holds that justification can never truly be lost: for those who have been justified by grace, will certainly persevere through faith until the return of Christ himself.

Are Anabaptists heretics? ›

Anabaptists: A sect of heretics who maintain that it is not necessary to baptize children before the age of discretion, or that at this age their baptism should be done over, because according to them children should be in a state of reason in their faith in order to receive this sacrament validly.

Are Anabaptists Calvinists or Arminians? ›

The soteriological doctrines of Arminianism and Anabaptism are roughly equivalent. In particular, Mennonites have been historically Arminian whether they distinctly espoused the Arminian viewpoint or not, and rejected Calvinism soteriology. Anabaptist theology seems to have influenced Jacobus Arminius.

What are Anabaptists called today? ›

Today the descendants of the 16th century European movement (particularly the Baptists, Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Brethren in Christ) are the most common bodies referred to as Anabaptist. Taken from: Anabaptist. (2007, May 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

What is the Amish Bible called? ›

Many communities use an ancient hymnal known as the Ausbund. The hymns contained in the Ausbund were generally written in what is referred to as Early New High German, a predecessor to modern Standard German.

Do Amish believe in doctors? ›

The Amish religion does not restrict people from seeking modern medical care. For the most part, Amish use local doctors and dentists and will go to specialists and hospitals as determined.

Do the Amish celebrate Christmas? ›

Yes, they do, although their customs are much simpler than our “English” customs. They are oriented toward the family and the religious meaning of the holiday.


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