History tells us that as societies become more and more industrial and technological they also tend to become more secular (less religious). According to a poll, 90% of Americans believe in God and life after death, but only 40% attend religious services weekly.
As a country of immigrants from all corners of the world, the US is home to different religions as a consequence. One interesting Protestant group is the Amish. They trace their origin back to the Protestant Reformation in Europe. One group of the reformers rejected infant baptism and became known as Anabaptists. They believed that only adults should be baptized.
In 1536, a young Catholic priest from Holland named Menno Simons united many of the Anabaptist groups through his writings and leadership. These groups became later known as “Mennonites.”
The Amish faith practices the ban or shunning. According to the New Testament, you are not to associate with a church member who does not repent of his sinful conduct. The purpose of this discipline is to help the member realize the error of his ways and to encourage his repentance, after which he would be restored to church fellowship.
The followers of Jacob Amman felt the unrepentant individual should be completely shunned or avoided by all church members. This belief, along with other differences, led to Amman’s split with the Mennonites in 1693. His followers were later called Amish.
These Anabaptist groups were severely persecuted throughout Europe and thousands were put to death by both Catholics and Protestants. To avoid this persecution many fled to the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany. This is where the Amish tradition of farming and holding their worship services in homes began.
Many Amish and Mennonites accepted William Penn’s offer of religious freedom as part of Penn’s “holy experiment” of religious tolerance. They settled in what later became known as Pennsylvania. The first group of Amish arrived in Lancaster County between 1720 and 1730.
Today, the Amish live in 23 states and in one Canadian province. Their settlement in and around Lancaster County is their second largest. Due to their high birth rate, the total Amish population has more than doubled since 1960 to over 85,000. Amish children who leave the church are exceptions.
The Amish and The Mennonites—Similarities and Differences
The Amish and Mennonite churches still share the same beliefs concerning baptism and basic Bible doctrines. They are different in terms of dress, technology, language, form of worship, and interpretation of the Bible.
Although the Mennonites hold many of the same beliefs, they tend to be less conservative than their Amish neighbors. They hold their weekly mass in their meeting houses. Most Mennonites have relaxed dress codes, and they work in other than farm-related jobs. Mennonite groups do permit the use of cars and electricity.