Many people confuse the cultural and religious practices of the Mennonites and Amish. In some ways this is understandable, as both come from a Protestant tradition called the Anabaptists, which began in the 16th century. Although the Amish and Mennonites agree on basic doctrine, there are differences in how each of these groups lives and expresses its religion.

Historical Commonalities

Anabaptism – meaning "to be baptized again" – is a Protestant religious tradition that began in the 16th century. Anabaptists separated from the state-ordained churches of the day because they felt like those churches forced religion on people. Anabaptists instead believed that the desire to become a Christian should be a conscious choice, and that this choice should be reflected in every aspect of an adult's life. To be an Anabaptist was literally to be baptized again, as the state-sponsored church of that time practiced infant baptism. At the founding of Anabaptism, there was no separation between the Mennonites and Amish. This distinction came later as people began to differ on the extent to which Christians should separate themselves from the world.

The Origins of the Amish

In 1693, a Swiss Anabaptist leader named Jacob Ammann began preaching that the church's leaders were not clearly separating themselves from the secular world. Ammann felt that true Christians need spiritual renewal and should therefore shun the world. Ammann and his followers separated from the larger Anabaptist movement and became known as the Amish. The original Anabaptists are today known as Mennonites.

Amish Practices

Many of the customs set out by Ammann in the early days of the Amish faith persist to this day. The Amish tend to be traditionalists, and this is reflected in their refusal to use electricity, modern technology or automobiles. Thus one major way to distinguish the Amish from the Mennonites is to observe their cultural practices. Amish men normally wear untrimmed beards, all Amish wear plain clothes without distinctive patterns and young Amish children are rarely seen in public apart from their parents.

Mennonites

Unlike the Amish, Mennonites do not appear to be outwardly much different from anyone else. The religion embraces members of many different ethnic backgrounds, and they express their faith in good works, stewardship and community work. While Mennonites do agree with the Amish that one should live a life devoted to God and free from secularism, they do not shun technology, modern conveniences or society in general.