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Jacob Ammann?: You Will Recognize His Group

Many people are familiar with the Amish. Just mentioning the name conjures up mental pictures of horses and buggies, plain clothes and lifestyles, and all the men with hats and the women with headcoverings. But not as many people are as familiar with the group out of which the Amish came, the Mennonites. So, letís look at both the Mennonites and the Amish. Plus, who in the world is Jacob Ammann?

The Mennonites are followers of Menno Simons (1496-1561). He was one of those who broke from the Catholic Church in the Protestant Reformation period (1500s). He was originally a follower of the Anabaptists, those who believed that baptism should come after a commitment to Christ had been made. He was able to bring various Anabaptist groups together, and eventually many became known as "followers of Menno" instead of "Anabaptists." Thus, today the more common name is "Mennonites."

The Mennonites also believed that the members of a congregation should be dependent on each other almost as extended family members, that church members should not take part in the government, in pacifism, and in shunning someone who did not conform to the ideals of the Mennonites.

The Mennonites were unique in the Reformation period because, unlike Luther in Germany, Calvin in Switzerland, and Henry VIII in England, the Mennonites did not have one country to call home. Therefore, they were scattered throughout much of central and northwestern Europe.

Yet even as they were persecuted, the Mennonites also found friends. In fact, the Mennonites were so moved by those who helped them that they gave them a name, "True-Hearted." Some Mennonites began to believe that the True-Hearted could be Christians just as the Mennonites were. And therein lay the problem.

The leader of those Mennonites in Switzerland who held to this belief was Hans Reist. The crux of the matter for all Mennonites was the practice of shunning (or avoiding) anyone who was not Mennonite or was a Mennonite but had become disobedient. Reist believed that these people should excluded from communion, but not otherwise.

On the other hand, Jacob Ammann (1644-early 1700s), another Mennonite leader, believed the Mennonites should shun all non-Mennonites (which included the True-Hearted) and those Mennonites who were disobedient. Ammann called a meeting in 1693 in order to debate with Reist. Reist and like-minded Mennonite leaders refused to attend. In response, Ammann placed them under the ban (thus shunning them because he believed them disobedient). In reaction to some Mennonites at the meeting who questioned Ammannís response, Ammann placed them under the ban as well.

This caused a split in the Mennonite communities of Switzerland and southern Germany. After several years, Ammann and some of his followers attempted to rejoin the larger Mennonite community, but were denied. Thus those who followed Jacob Ammann became known as the Amish. And eventually they as a group were drawn to the colonies of America, and especially Pennsylvania with its unique religious freedom. (Out of all the colonies, Pennsylvania most strongly encouraged different religious groups to settle there. And that is why many Amish live in Pennsylvania today.)

©2006 Mark Nickens

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