Anabaptists and The Mennonites

This is not the complete story of the Protestant Reformation, the Anabapists, or the Mennonites. It is a short history to explain their, and our, arrival in Germantown.

The Anabaptists

Anabaptists (Greek ανα (again, twice) +βαπτιζω (baptize), thus “re-baptizers”) are Christians of the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, and their direct descendants, particularly the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites. — Wikipedia

Anabaptists adhered to a literal translation of The Sermon on the Mount, which is found in the Book of Matthew in The New Testament of The Bible, and The Believer’s Baptism, sometimes known as credobaptism, or being baptized into faith because you believe in the teachings and you have professed it publicly as an adult. The term Anabaptist means re-baptized, or baptized again, because in Anabaptist religion it is not believed that a child should be baptized into a faith they know nothing about. Prior to and during the Protestant Reformation, infants were baptized into the Roman Catholic church at birth. If they chose to become Anabaptists as adults, they were re-baptized after they professed their desire to follow the teachings of Jesus.

The Anabaptists are the predecessors of the modern Mennonites and the group was formed during The Protestant Reformation which is said to have begun around 1517, with Martin Luther’s publishing of The Ninety-Five Theses that questioned the validity of the actions of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. The Protestant Reformation ended in 1648 with the two Treaties of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic.

The Origin of The Mennonites

The Mennonites were followers of Menno Simons (1496 – January 31, 1561), who was from Friesland in northern Nederland. He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in/about 1515 and then rejected the Catholic Church and the priesthood on January 12, 1536 after a period of studying the teachings of Martin Luter and Heinrich Bullinger. While still a priest, Simons came into contact with the Anabaptists when he was transferred to Witmarsum. In the beginning he thought them fanatical and strange, but after his brother Pieter, who was killed with a group of Anabaptists in 1535 near Bolsward, Nederlands, he suffered a mental and spiritual crisis, which made him question his beliefs.

The Mennonites in Europe

The Mennonites of Germany and Switzerland went through periods of persecution because of their beliefs, which, let’s just say, were not the beliefs of the Roman Catholics. The first Anabaptists were in Zurich. Zurich and other jurisdictions across Switzerland, Germany, and Austria made Anabaptism punishable by death. Because the Anabaptists believed in living like Jesus, and in being non-violent, many Anabaptists were thrown into dungeons or jail and summarily executed. This punishment was also extended to those who supported the Anabaptists in any way, by giving them food or shelter.

Emperor Charles V of Germany issued a general mandate against the Anabaptists on January 4, 1528, which was read from the pulpits of all cities, towns, and villages, decreeing that not only those who had received baptism but all parents who did not have their children baptized in good time were guilty of a criminal offense deserving death. Within a few years a number of imperial decrees followed. Not only were the Anabaptists to be executed by fire, but their dwellings also should be burned, unless they were located in towns or cities in which case they should be razed to the ground. In certain provinces their houses were not destroyed but confiscated. Speaking of northern Germany, Menno Simons relates that in 1546 a small house of four rooms was confiscated because the owner had rented it to Menno and his family. In the Tyrol even the houses in which an Anabaptist had been given temporary lodging were to be destroyed. — Mennonites in Europe

They would often times find a community, state, or a political leader that would allow them to practice their religion and beliefs because they were hardworking and peaceful in exchange for farming the poor insubstantial soil of their land. The Mennonites would farm and reclaim the land in exchange for exemption from military service, but would almost always find themselves in a cycle of being driven away once again, when the land became healthy, or a ruler or monarch changed names. Because they always seemed to be on the move, they came to lead a simple life, with few possessions, easy to pack and easy to carry to the next community that would take them in.

The exception to this would be The Mennonites in The Nederlands, who were able to live their lives in relative peace and quiet.

The Mennonites in Krefeld

It’s not certain when the first Mennonites came to Krefeld, but there was a Mennonite congregation in the town before the mid-17th century, and quite possibly at the end of the 16th. The first Mennonites known to have settled there were the op den Graeffs, who came to Krefeld around 1609 from Aldekerk. The head of the Krefeld Mennonites was Hermann op den Graeff (1585-1642). The Mennonites considered themselves to be a congregation by 1634. In the mid-17th century there wwas an influx of refugees from Jülich and Cologne into Krefeld, which boosted the church’s numbers. Another wave of refugees came in 1694 from Rheydt.

The support of these refugees and their final relief from persecution by the Mennonites of Krefeld and Holland are a monument of Christian charity. — Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia

The Mennonites of Krefeld were under constant complaint by the Reformed Church who couldn’t tolerate their “offensive public meetings”. Krefeld was under the sovereignty of The House of Orange who seemed to not mind that they were establishing themselves in Krefeld, especially so because they were contributing to The House of Orange with their trade skills in linen and silk weaving, and turning Krefeld into a major trade city.

In 1683, thirteen families left Krefeld to emigrate to Pennsylvania. Most of them were related and one of these families was the son of Herman op den Graeff, Isaac along with his sons and one daughter.

The Mennonites in Germantown

Persecution and the search for employment forced Mennonites out of the Netherlands eastward to Germany in the 17th century. As Quaker evangelists moved into Germany they received a sympathetic audience among the larger of these Dutch-Mennonite congregations around Krefeld, Altona-Hamburg, Gronau and Emden. It was among this group of Quakers and Mennonites, living under ongoing discrimination, that William Penn solicited settlers for his new colony. — Wikipedia

Germantown was the first permanent Mennonite settlement in America. The first thirteen families were from Krefeld and led by Francis D. Pastorius via a ship called The Concord that left from Gravesend in England. They arrived in Philadelphia on October 6, 1683 and Germantown was established three weeks later on October 24th. It was located about eight miles north of the newly settled town of Philadelphia.

Most of the newly arrived were weavers. It is said that they were poor, but coming from Krefeld, it is debatable as to whether they were poor or wealthy, persecuted or not. The one sure thing is that they did come to Pennsylvania for the purpose of practicing their religion freely. For a time the Mennonite settlers here met in homes and worshiped along with the German Quakers, who in the early years of the Germantown settlement made up a majority of the population. Then in 1708, they erected the first log meetinghouse and the Mennonites began worshiping on their own. In 1770 the log meetinghouse was replaced by a stone meetinghouse.

As far as the Mennonite religion in America is concerned, there were a number of firsts that happened in Germantown. The first Mennonite conference session in America was held at Germantown in 1725. At this session the Dordrecht Confession of 1632 was adopted as the official confession of the American Mennonites. In 1728 the Mennonite confession of faith was translated into English and printed by Bradford, in Philadelphia, and Jacob Gottshall was one of the signers testifying to the correctness of the translation.

The Mennonites of Germantown are still worshiping there to this day.

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