In the history of the Christian faith, there is perhaps no more intriguing time than the radical Reformation of 16th century Europe—a response to the Roman Catholic Church’s corruption. As a growing Protestant movement focused on facets of a more biblical faith, the Anabaptists were formed, with their name meaning re-baptized. Their most notable difference from the other groups was their rejecting of infant baptism and rather supporting a believer’s baptism, where one is baptized only when able to make a personal confession of faith. Anabaptists were the early formation of the Amish, Brethren and Hutterites—as well as the Mennonites, a group named after an early Anabaptist leader, Menno Simons (1496-1561).
Persecuted heavily in the 16th and early 17th centuries by both Protestants and Roman Catholics for their radical beliefs, many Anabaptists migrated to the Netherlands, Poland and the Ukraine, but were later driven to Germany, France and especially North America. The United States and Canada are home to many Anabaptists today, while numerous also reside in Africa, Asia, South America and Europe. In 2009, there were an estimated 1.6 million practicing Anabaptists, with about 40% living in North America.
Using the Bible as their only guide for faith and living, these revolutionaries not only dismissed infant baptism but also abandoned other Christian practices—such as wearing wedding rings, taking oaths and participating in civil government. Early Mennonites lived in complete separation from the world around them, establishing their own communities. Most are now somewhat integrated with non-Mennonites, but still live with an obvious representation of their non-conformity to societal norms.
The focus of Anabaptist Christianity is to live with Jesus at the center of your life and your faith, to commit yourself not just to Christ but also to fellow church members, taking a non-resistance approach by avoiding violence and war. These three core values are the foundation for many of their religious practices today—and their beliefs have had a profound influence on culture. For example, Anabaptists were the early advocates of a free Church and the separation of the church and state. This would have been a radical idea at its time. When this concept was first introduced in the 16th and 17th centuries, religion independent of government was unthinkable by both spiritual and government leaders.
Still an active form of Christianity, Anabaptists are quite easy to spot. Their simple way of living by the Bible is evident through they way they dress, how they interact with the outside world, and their spiritual conviction. Across North America, you can find rural areas that are home to clusters of Mennonites or Amish. The communities that are close to these Anabaptist settlements have adapted the towns and roadways to accommodate this lifestyle by providing horse and buggy parking, keeping the shoulders of the roads wide for horse and buggy travel and welcoming the many Mennonite businesses that provide quality goods and services. Their less complex lifestyle represents reliance on Jesus, not adapting to the ways of the world.
As a student in my public school years, I never really “got” history. It was only in my adult years that I developed a love for the way of days gone by. I wrote this article a number of years ago for an online magazine (no longer running) when I lived about twenty minutes from Elmira, Ontario, an area highly populated with Mennonites. I really have a special admiration for their way of life—of so visibly “not conforming to this world.”
—Steph Morrison, living in Apsley, Ontario – Instagram Profile