The early years in Europe:
How the Protestant Reformation generated the Free Church movement, which led to the Mennonite movement from which the
The Protestant reformation and emergence of the free churches:
During the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, John Calvin, Martin Luther and
Ulrich Zwingli broke from
the Roman Catholic Church to form separate Christian faith groups. They promoted the concepts
|Salvation by the grace of God, rather than through church sacraments.|
|Greater individual freedom of belief.|
|The priesthood of all believers; no priest or other intermediary was needed between
believers and God.|
|Close integration of church and state.|
|Reliance on the Bible alone, with little attention paid to church
In what has been called "the
radical reformation", some additional religious reformers took these beliefs to a
logical conclusion; they preached that the believers should form "free churches"
-- quite different from the highly organized state churches which were typical at the time.
They separated themselves from all
secular activities, including the state, and formed independent, informal, religious groups.
These were much like the Christian congregations in very early Christianity.
A small group of Swiss Christians, led by Conrad Grebel and Fexix Manz formed
a study group intending to recommend changes to the state Protestant church.
Their reforms were rejected both by Zwingli, the church head, and by the
Zurich City Council. In 1525 CE, they formed the first Swiss Brethren
congregation in Switzerland. They baptized each other into membership in their "believers
church" -- a crime for which some were banished; others were executed by
drowning or burning at the stake. At the time, the Swiss state church was no
more tolerant of what they regarded as heresy as was the Roman Catholic Church.
Religious toleration developed later in Europe. A key belief of the Brethren was
that only adults should be baptized. The normal practice at the time was to
baptize newborns and infants. The name "Anabaptist," which meant re-baptizer,
was first used as a nickname to describe this and similar groups.
The name stuck.
The Anabaptists promoted the concept of church as a self-governing , loose
association of adults, not
including children. Worship services held in homes rather than at in a church
The Anabaptist leaders met in secret during 1527 in Schleitheim on the
Swiss-German border. They developed what was originally called a declaration of
"Brotherly Union" and is now referred to as the "Schleitheim Articles."
7 It consists of seven
- "Believers baptism" was only performed during adulthood, after repentance
and a confession of
faith. They practiced antipedobaptism -- opposition to the baptism of infants. They believe
that a child does not have the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, they cannot
sin and would not benefit from baptism.
- Members who slipped and fell into error were to be warned twice in
private. If they persisted, the would be warned publicly in front of the
congregation and banned from the group.
- Only fellow believers who were baptized as adults were allowed to attend
the Lord's Supper.
- They pledged to separate themselves from the evil in the world. They
were pacifists and pledged to reject violence.
- The leaders in the church, called shepherds, were to be of good
character, competent to preach to the congregation.
- They advocated church-state separation. They generally withdrew from the world, which they regarded as
a corrupting influence. They would not hold public office or engage in civic affairs.
- Members were not to give oaths. Their word is to be sufficient.
These seven principles remain the basic guidelines used by the Swiss Brethren
and Amish to this day.
Some radical Anabaptists who expected an imminent end of the world attempted to create a theocracy in Münster,
Germany by force in 1534. Many governments viewed all Anabaptists as a potentially
serious danger to the social order. The groups suffered extreme persecution.
Many of their leaders were rounded up
and executed. Programs of
genocide were organized by various governments,
by Protestant groups under Luther and Calvin,
and by the Roman Catholic church. Some city-states employed "Anabaptist hunters" who were
paid by the head to locate and arrest believers. 1
Anabaptists grew in number, in spite of the persecution. They became a
Bible-oriented church." 2
The Mennonites are named after Menno Simons (~1496-1561 CE), a Dutch
Anabaptist leader who had left the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1536. He felt
that the Catholic church had lost touch with the Gospel message by concentrating
on "...legends, histories, fables, holy days, images, holy water, tapes,
palms, confessionals, pilgrimages, masses, matins and vespers...purgatory,
vigils and offerings." 6
as a leader of the Anabaptist movement in Holland, and was able to unify the
various diverse groups. Like most
Anabaptist groups, Simons taught "rebaptism, pacifism, religious toleration,
separation of church and state, opposition to capital punishment, opposition to
holding office, and opposition to taking oaths." Finally, in 1577, the
country instituted a policy of religious tolerance, and the Anabaptists there
were given the freedom to practice their religion without oppression.
In 1632, Simon's followers met at Dordrecht in the Netherlands to formally
set down their beliefs in a document called the Dordrecht Confession of Faith. It
recorded their beliefs in the Trinity, the incarnation and
atonement of Christ, the primacy of the
salvation, adult baptism, etc. The Lord's supper and foot washing were observed as
ordinances; they were regarded as symbolic acts, not as church sacraments. Foot
washing was based on the Bible passages in which "Jesus did not only
institute and command the same, but did also Himself wash the feet of the
Other Christian faith groups at the time imprisoned, executed, or committed
non-conformists. The Mennonites rejected these approaches, using non-violent means
-- banning and shunning -- to enforce
discipline. Banning involves excommunication:
severing the relationship between the member and the group.
Shunning, called "Meidung" in German, was less severe. It had three purposes: to encourage the
sinner to repent; "to protect the rest of the community from possible
contagion, and to maintain the community's reputation." 3 Shunning requires that church
members temporarily sever all communication with the sinner, including eating
together, until they recant. This practice was based on Paul's writings in:
|1 Corinthians 5:11: "....if any man that is called a brother be
a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an
extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." |
|Matthew 18:15-17: "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault
between thee and tell him alone...But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or
two more...And if he shall neglect to hear them, then tell it onto the church: but if he
neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican."|
|Romans 16:17: "...mark them which cause divisions and
offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them."|
Shunning has generated great difficulties within families, particularly where one
spouse is to be shunned by the other spouse and the rest of the family.
The Amish began as a small group of reform-minded Mennonites along the
southern Rhine River and in Switzerland. They split from the main
movement in 1693. The name of their group comes from their founder: Jacob Amman
(~1664 -1720). 5 He was an
obscure reformer about whom little is known. He felt that the Mennonites had drifted away from their
original beliefs and practices. He wanted them to return to a stricter
observance of the
writings of Simons and on the 1632 Mennonite Dordrecht Confession.
split with the Mennonites was mainly over:
|The frequency of communion: Amman advocated twice a year instead of once.
Believers preceded communion with a time of spiritual introspection. Amman
felt that this might help the membership to be more diligent in their
Christian life if it were performed every six months.|
|The practice of foot washing, which Amman reintroduced. It had fallen out of
use by most Mennonite groups.|
|The process of shunning of non-conforming members. Amman
felt that the Mennonites were too lax and had allowed the practice to fall into
disuse. He treated shunning very seriously and took it one step further. He required the spouse of a person under the ban to
neither sleep nor eat with the sinner, until they had repented and changed their behavior or
beliefs. Hans Reist, a leader of the main Mennonite body, argued that Jesus had
socialized with known sinners and had kept himself pure; he reasoned that
Christians in the late 17th century could do the same without resorting to
After a few years as a separate organization, Amman and his supporters
attempted to reconcile with the main Mennonite movement. This was
unsuccessful. Since then, the two groups have been separate. However, they
generally retain close ties and often cooperate on joint projects.
Starting in the early 18th century, many of the Amish migrated to the U.S. Most of the members
who remained in Europe rejoined the Mennonites. Few Amish congregations existed
by 1900. On 1937-JAN-17, the last Amish congregation -- in Ixheim, Germany --
merged with their local Mennonite group and became the Zweibrücken
Mennonite Church. The Amish no longer existed in Europe as a organized
The Amish and Mennonites have retained similar beliefs to this day. They differ mainly in some
- Steven Nolt, "A history of the Amish," Good Books, (1992), Page 11
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- J. Gordon Melton, ed., "The Encyclopedia of American Religions,"
Volume 1, Trimph Books, (1991), Page 51. Currently out of print.
- D.R. Elder, " 'Es Sind Zween
Weg': Singing Amish children into the Faith Community," at:
http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/ You may need software to read these PDF
files. It can be obtained free from:
- "Jacob Amman," WorldHistory, at:
- "Where the Name 'Amish' Comes From," at:
- Menno Simmons, "The complete writings of Menno Simmons," ed. J.C.
Wenger, Herald Press (1956), Page 165. Quoted in Ref. 7
- John A. Hostetler, "Amish Society, Fourth Edition," John's
Hopkins University Press, (1993), Page 30.
- Ibid, Page 34
Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2009-MAR-25
Author: B.A. Robinson