The Origin and Perpetuity of the Baptists
The Baptist Examiner

Distinction Between The Ancient And
Modern Mennonites


(In preceding chapters reference has been made to the Mennonites as ancestors of Baptists. The ancient Mennonites—so called after the name of their outstanding leader, Simon Menno—are not to be confused with the modern Mennonites. The following article, taken from D. B. Ray’s Baptist Succession, will show the true historical and doctrinal distinction.)

Menno Simon, a native of Frieseland, a Romish priest, renounced the Catholic Church and joined the Baptists in 1536. His wonderful success as a Baptist minister brought down the hatred and persecutions of all Pedobaptists upon him. And from him the opponents of the Baptists began to call them Mennonites. Mosheim, the historian, in his account of the Baptists, heads the chapter, "The History of the Anabaptists or Mennonites." The question has lately been raised as to the Baptist character of the Mennonites. The confusion on this point has arisen from a failure to discriminate between the original strict Mennonites, and the modern Mennonites. Menno himself was a strict Baptist. It is known that all Mennonites profess to practice believer’s baptism, but the recent Mennonites are known to practice pouring for baptism.

J. N. Brown, the author of the Religious Encyclopedia, states; upon; the authority of Mr. Ward, that, "The modern Mennonites plead the authority of Menno for the use of pouring and sprinkling as baptism. But in reality, it is a wide departure from the views of Menno, who says, ‘After we have searched ever so diligently, we shall find no other baptism but dipping in water, which is acceptable to God and approved in his Word’" (Rel. Encyc., p. 797).

And Mr. Benedict remarks that: "Menno was, indeed, a distinguished teacher among the Anabaptists during the whole of his ministry, but Mosheim’s account of his gathering up the fragments of the society after their dispersion, and reorganizing them upon new and better principles, is not at all sustained by anything that appears in their own relations. They were the some people in policy and practice before Menno came among them, as afterward." (Benedict’s His. Bapt. p. 124).

These quotations go to prove, that Menno held the Baptist doctrine of immersion and that he joined the Baptists, who were denominationally the same people before and after his reception among them.

Mosheim, the historian, settles the fact, that the original Mennonites were thorough immersionists. Speaking of the particular Baptists of England, he says: "The Baptists of the latter sect settled chiefly in London, and in the adjacent towns and villages; and they have departed so far from the tenets of their ancestors, that, at this day, they retain no more of the peculiar doctrines and institutions of the Mennonites, than the administration of Baptism, by immersion, and the refusal of that sacrament to infants, and those of tender years; and consequently they have none of those scruples relating to oaths, wars, and the functions of magistracy, which still remain among even the most rational part of the Mennonites." (Mosheim’s Church His., p. 500).

Here we have the testimony that the "Administration of baptism by immersion, and the refusal of that sacrament to infants," are "peculiar doctrines" of the Mennonites. And though this historian would make the impression that the English Baptists differed from the Mennnites, yet that difference had no reference to church organization or ordinance, but only related to their views concerning oaths, bearing arms, etc.

Mosheim further states the doctrine of the Mennonites, as follows: "The opinions entertained by the Mennonites in general, seemed to be derived from this leading and fundamental principle, that ‘the kingdom of Christ established upon earth, is a visible church or community, to which the holy and the just are alone to be admitted, and which is consequently exempt from all those institutions and rules of discipline that have been invented by human wisdom for the correction and reformation of the wicked.’ This fanatical principle was frankly avowed by the ancient Mennonites: their more immediate descendants, however, began to be less ingenious; and, in their public confessions of faith, they either disguised it under ambiguous phrases, or expressed themselves as if they meant to renounce it. To renounce it entirely was, indeed, impossible, without falling into the greatest inconsistency, and undermining the very foundation of those doctrines which distinguished them from all other Christian societies. And yet it is certain that the present Mennonites, as they have, in many other respects, departed from the principles and maxims of their ancestors, have also given a striking instance of defection in the case now before us, and have almost wholly relinquished this fundamental doctrine of their, sect, relating to the nature of the Christian church." (Mosheim’s Church His., p. 497).

In this extract we have exhibited the purity of the ancient Mennonite doctrine concerning the church, and also the fact that the modern Mennonites have departed from these original principles.

A controversy originated among the Mennonites concerning church discipline. This began about the middle of the sixteenth century. One party favored the rigid execution of church discipline, while the other was more moderate. Speaking of these parties, Mosheim remarks: "These two sects are, to this very day, distinguished by the denomination of fine and gross, or to express the distinctions in more intelligible terms, into rigid and moderate Anabaptists. The former observe, with the most religious accuracy, veneration, and precision, the ancient doctrine, discipline, and precepts, of the purer sort of Anabaptists; the latter depart much more from the primitive sentiments, manners, and institutions of their sect, and more nearly approach those of the Protestant churches. The gross or modern Anabaptists consisted, at first, of the inhabitants of a district in North Holland, called Water Land; and hence their whole sect received the denomination of Water Landrians." (Mosheim’s Church His., p. 496).

This needs no comment. It was the gross Mennonites—for the historian uses the words Anabaptists and Mennonites interchangeably—that departed from their original principles of purity in doctrine and practice. The present Mennonites who pour for baptism, are the descendants of the Water Landrians, and not of the original Mennonites. And when it is now stated that the Mennonites practice pouring for baptism, or that they are not Baptists, we must understand the allusion to be made to the descendants of the gross Mennonites.

The departure of modern Mennonites from the principles held by their ancestors, is confirmed by other historians. Isaac Backus, speaking of this country, remarks that: "The Mennonites also came from Germany; and are of like behavior, but they are not truly Baptists now. Their fathers were so in Luther’s day, until confinement in prison brought them to pour water on the heads of the subjects, instead of immersion; and what was then done out of necessity is now done of choice, as other corruptions are." (Backus’ Church His., p. 227).

Mr. Benedict acknowledges that part of the Mennonites have departed from their original custom of immersion. It is evident that some of our writers have conceded too much when they intimate that the original Mennonites were not immersionists. The original Mennonites, who were called Anabaptists, passed in shoals into England, where they are known under the name of Baptists. And those who now retain the name Mennonites, have entirely departed from the original doctrine of Menno and the "Anabaptists,"

—The foregoing appendix is taken from D. B. Ray’s
Baptist Succession
, pages 397-400.