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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a society of Baptists in Holland, so called from Menno Simon of Friesland, who lived in the sixteenth century. He was originally a Romish priest, but joined a party of the Anabaptists, and, becoming their leader, cured them of many extravagancies and reduced the system to consistency and moderation. The Mennonites maintain that practical piety is the essence of religion, and that the surest mark of the true church is the sanctity of its members. They plead for universal toleration in religion, and debar none from their societies who lead pious lives, and own the Scriptures for the word of God. They teach that infants are not the proper subjects of baptism; that ministers of the Gospel ought to receive no salary. They also object to the terms person and trinity, as not consistent with the simplicity of the Scriptures. They are, like the Society of Friends, utterly averse to oaths and war, and to capital punishments, as contrary to the spirit of the Christian dispensation. In their private meetings every one has the liberty to speak, to expound the Scriptures, and to pray. They assemble, or used to do so, twice every year from all parts of Holland, at Rynsbourg, a village two leagues from Leyden, at which time they receive the communion, sitting at a table in the manner of the Independents; but in their form of discipline they are said more to resemble the Presbyterians.

The ancient Mennonites professed a contempt of erudition and science, and excluded all from their communion who deviated in the least from the most rigorous rules of simplicity and gravity: but this primitive austerity is greatly diminished in their most considerable societies. Those who adhere to their ancient discipline are called Flemings or Flandrians. The whole sect were formerly called Waterlandians, from the district in which they lived. The Mennonites in Pennsylvania do not baptize by immersion, though they administer the ordinance to none but adult persons. Their common method is this: The person to be baptized kneels, the minister holds his hands over him, into which the deacon pours water, so that it runs on the head of the baptized; after which follow imposition of hands and prayer.

Divine worship is conducted among the Mennonites much as among the churches of the reformed, or among the Dissenters in England, only with this peculiarity, that collections are made every Sabbath day, sometimes in the middle of the sermon, in two bags, one for the poor, and the other for the expenses of public worship. They have a Mennonite college at Amsterdam, and the ministers are chosen in some places by the congregation, and in others by the elders only. As they reject infant baptism, they refuse to commune at the Lord's table with any who administer the ordinance to children, unless resprinkled. They train up catechumens under their ministers, and, about the age of sixteen, baptize them, taking from the candidate, before the minister and elders, an account of his repentance and faith. In some parts of North Holland, young people are baptized on the day of their marriage. They baptize by pouring or sprinkling thrice.

With respect to their confession of faith, as it is stated by one of their ministers, Mr. Gan, of Ryswick, they believe that in the fall man lost his innocence, and that all his posterity are born with a natural propensity to evil, and with fleshly inclinations, and are exposed to sickness and death. The posterity of Adam derive no moral guilt from his fall: sin is personal, and the desert of punishment cannot be inherited. The incarnate Son of God is set forth to us as inferior to the Father, not only in his state of humiliation, but in that of his exaltation, and as subject to the Father: he is nevertheless an object of religious trust and confidence in like manner as the Father. With respect to the number of Mennonites in Holland, they are calculated at only thirty thousand, including children, and form about a hundred and thirty churches. In the United States of America, it appears, there are more than two hundred Mennonite churches, some of which contain as many as three hundred members in each. They are mostly the descendants of the Mennonites who emigrated in great numbers from Paltz.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Mennonites'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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