Amish or Mennonite…What’s the Diff?

Nearly every week I get reader email telling me how much my Amish books are enjoyed. I always smile. It’s nice when a reader enjoys the books. Then I think, “But I write Mennonite.” Not meant to be an insulting thought at all, but an observation. We tend to put all “traditional” religious groups into the Amish designation. But they aren’t all the same.

First, a little history…

In the 1600s, the Mennonite and Amish once were all part one Anabaptist group (Anabaptists believe baptism should come after a child is old enough to make a profession of faith rather than as an infant, which was the accepted practice in Europe–their belief led to persecution). In 1693, a disagreement arose concerning “saved by grace” or “faith without works is dead.” A minister named Jacob Amman, who felt the Mennonites were not living their faith strictly enough, chose to separate from the Anabaptists. Those who followed him became known as the Amish.

AMISH live very simplistic lifestyles, resisting all forms of technology (although they might have electricity or a telephone in their barns, and they might drive tractors) to avoid becoming encumbered in worldliness. Their clothing is also simplistic–plain colors, very modest. The married men wear beards and the women let their hair grow long and then coil it beneath a covering. Generally women wear white coverings during the week and black to worship, but this can vary from group to group. The Amish choose to worship in a member’s home rather than in a church or chapel. This encourages kinship within the community. Singing is more like chanting, and no musical instruments are included.

Each Amish community has it own ordnung, or ordinances, to follow according to the sect’s preferences. Thus, one Amish group might allow tractors with iron tires and another tractors with rubber tires while yet another only allows horse-drawn implements.

Education generally ends no higher than ninth grade, with the children then being given an opportunity to explore the “outside world” before joining the church and becoming a part of the fellowship.

The common denominator for Amish groups is no technology, no violence (including going to war), and a life lived set apart from the world.

When I was growing up and someone found out I was MENNONITE, the first question was always, “Where’s your cap?” When it comes to clothes, you’d be hard pressed to identify Mennonite Brethren or General Conference Mennonites from the Baptists, Methodists, or Presbyterians in the room. (The pic at the left was taken at a Mennonite Central Committee conference in California. Yes, they are Mennonites.)

It’s a little easier to spot the Old Order Mennonites because they, much like the Amish, require a specific type of clothing. Again, modesty is stressed (the women in the picture below wear the “caped” dresses to which I refer in my contemporary Mennonite stories). Depending on the group, the men might be clean-shaven or wear neatly trimmed beards. Women tuck their long hair beneath caps, and the caps might be white with ribbons, white without ribbons, merely a scarf pinned to the hair, a small white or black cotton covering over their bun… Variety abounds!

You might see an Old Order Mennonite using a cell phone. Electricity is rarely forbidden any longer in the Old Order lifestyle, but uses of other technology–telephone, television, modern vehicles, etc.–vary from group to group.

Mennonites worship together in a church building from simple to elaborate. And–not meaning to be braggadocios here–no one sings like the Mennonites! Depending upon the church they might sing a capella, they might have piano or organ accompaniment or even an entire praise band, but when Mennonites sing in four part harmony it’s so beautiful it’ll give you chills.

Most Mennonite youth, with the exception of some Old Order groups, graduate from high school and have the opportunity to attend college. A peaceful lifestyle–no violence–is encouraged in Mennonite teaching, and during the required drafts young Mennonite men entered the military as medics rather than fighters so they could serve their country while maintaining their faith.

Mennonites are mission-minded–they desire to reach out to the world at large. The Mennonite Central Committee sends workers to help during disasters whether in the U.S. or abroad. They raise money to build schools and churches in other countries. Mennonite missionaries serve around the world, and Mennonite churches have been formed in every European country as well as in Asia and Africa.

As you can see, both the Amish and Mennonite groups show their inward faith in an outward manner.

Of course, what you’ve received here in the way of information is only a sliver of the entire pie. But I hope it gave you a glimpse of what makes the Amish and Mennonites similar and different.

I am very proud of my Mennonite heritage. I enjoyed drawing upon my M.B. heritage to writeFields of GraceWaiting for Summer’s Returnand Where the Heart LeadsI also enjoyed featuring the Old Order Mennonite lifestyle for the Katy Lambright Series, the Sommerfeld Trilogy, and When Hope Blossoms. I come from a long line of people who stood firm against persecution, refusing to abandon their faith. I was given a strong foundation of Biblical teaching that sustains me today, and I pray my grandchildren will carry the faith of my forefathers into the next generations.

Now, let me ask you a question… Look at the photo at the very top of my post. Are those children Amish or Mennonite? Answer the question in your comment. One lucky commenter just might receive something “Mennonite-ish.” :o)

God bless you muchly as you journey with Him! ~Kim