- The Mennonites emerged in the 1540s to consolidate and carry on the tradition of the Swiss Brethren and the first generation of Anabaptists. The movement had been rocked by the martyrdom of most of its founders, the failed revolt led by Thomas Münzer (c. 1490-1525), the violence at Münster (1533), and the apocalyptic preachings of Melchior Hoffman (1500-45). At that critical juncture, Roman Catholic priest Menno Simons (1492-1561) converted to the Anabaptist faith and began to provide the movement with the steady and theologically sound leadership it needed.Simons embraced the idea of the believers' church; only those who had experienced faith and were ready to live disciplined Christian lives could belong. in response to the Münster incident, he called for a life centered on love and nonresistance to evil, which to him implied complete pacifism. Within the church, the ban (disfellowshipping) became the means of exercising authority. Simons was able to locate havens for Mennonite believers in Holland, Germany, and Denmark, which allowed the group to ride out the worst periods of persecution.The Mennonites have produced several confessions of faith, of which the Dordrecht Confession of 1632 is the most authoritative. originally written to unite the Dutch and Swiss Anabaptists, it also found approval among the Amish, a strict branch of Mennonites that split off in Switzerland in the 1690s under the leadership of Jacob Amman. The confession affirmed traditional Christian doctrines of God, Christ, and salvation, but highlighted some distinctive practices such as the ordinance of foot washing and the separated life. Mennonites are not allowed to swear oaths or inflict pain, harm, or sorrow upon anyone; they are required to shun those who have been disfellowshipped.Mennonites tended to be farmers and artisans. They tried to live quiet lives with as little contact with the secular government as possible. They often confronted crises when rulers tried to press them into military service, which led many of them to migrate to North America.As the 21st century begins, there are an estimated 850,000 Mennonites in the world, the largest numbers in the United States, Canada, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than a third of all Mennonites now reside in Africa and Asia. in popular reference, the Mennonite label often covers the closely related Amish and Hut-terites, and even the other classical pacifist churches, the Quakers and Brethren.in the 20th century, an attempt began to build closer fellowship among the geographically scattered and doctrinally divided Mennonites. This resulted in the formation of the Mennonite World Conference. Mennonites have been prominent in efforts to bring world peace.See also Radical Reformation.Further reading:■ Cornelius J. Dyck, An Introduction to Mennonite History (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1993)■ Ross T. Bender and Alan P. F Sell, eds., Baptism, Peace and the State in the Reformed and Mennonite Traditions (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1991)■ Leo Driedger, Mennonites in the Global Village (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000); , and Donald Kraybill, Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1994)■ C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 1995)
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.