The Lutherans and Mennonites are both Protestant churches with roots in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. The Lutherans were the first to separate from the Catholic Church, while Mennonites derived from a movement called Anabaptism. The main differences between the two churches are the practice of infant baptism, structure of the church and beliefs regarding secular government and society.
Overview of Lutheranism
Lutheranism can be traced to the distribution of Martin Luther's 95 Theses in 1517, which was a list of grievances against abuses of the Catholic Church. This is considered the start of the Protestant Reformation, and Luther eventually split from the Catholic Church. Lutheranism has much in common with the Catholic Church, but Lutherans stress the Bible over tradition, marriage over celibacy and the belief that humans beings are saved by faith alone -- apart from good works.
Mennonites and Anabaptists
Mennonite belief comes from the Anabaptist movement during the Reformation. The Anabaptists preached adult baptism, the removal of church hierarchy and pacifism. The Mennonites were a branch of Anabaptists that formed in 16th-century Holland, and they bear the name of their founder -- Menno Simons. The Mennonites are often known in relation to their more famous Anabaptist cousins, the Amish, who are cultural separatists who reject modern technology - two principles Mennonites have rejected.
Mennonites believe in adult Baptism, considering infant baptism illegitimate because it is not scriptural. This was fiercely opposed by Lutherans during the Reformation, and the Mennonite, or Anabaptist, position on infant baptism is specifically refuted in Article IX of the Augsburg Confession -- the most prominent of the Lutheran Confessional Documents. Lutherans chose to retain the tradition of infant baptism, claiming it fit with the Biblical mandate to "Baptize all nations."
Involvement in Government
Lutheranism retained many previous Catholic moral teachings, including the belief that war is sometimes necessary -- the Christian "just war theory" that derives from Saint Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and others. Lutherans are permitted to join the army and take part in government. Mennonites, however, are pacifists. The Anabaptist movement also preached the strict separation of church and state, so Mennonites do not take oaths or take part in government.
The Lutheran Church abhorred the office of the Pope, who is the head of the Catholic Church. It retained, however, many institutional hierarchies such as bishops and pastors. The Lutherans scaled back the church hierarchy, but the Anabaptists advocate removing the hierarchy entirely. For Anabaptists, a church is simply a group of believers, and they also believe someone could not be born into a church -- the believer had to join as a willing adult.
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