Mennonites - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. One of the most important points of difference between Anabaptism and the state churches in the sixteenth century was over the proper role of the church. The church was to be a voluntary association of believers who chose to freely but obediently submit to the community (Gemeinde). The church, they argued, must remain separate from the state and secular or worldly affairs. Special emphasis has been given to the ethical teachings in the New Testament and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount. Christians were to gather in communities, reject the outside world, war, violence, and refuse to take oaths. Life in the community was to be simple and individual differences in wealth and status deemphasized. Mennonites, however, rejected the radical Anabaptist teachings on the "community of goods," a practice among the Hutterites. Instead, they believed that followers should voluntarily limit their private property insofar as it undermined the common aims, faith, and practices of the Gemeinde; individual self-interest was to remain subordinate to the interests of the community. Mennonites interpret the Bible to mean that Christians may possess property, but it must be recognized that all things come from God; he is the one and only proprietor of goods—all that one can do is practice effective stewardship.
Religious Practitioners. Historically no particular consideration or training has been given to religious leaders. In Recent times, however, seminaries have been founded and clergy have received specialized training. The more Conservative groups retain a lay ministry.
Ceremonies. In addition to the ceremonies found in most Protestant religions, the Mennonites give special consideration to the rituals of baptism and footwashing at Communion. The rite of entrance into the community was symbolized by baptism, and footwashing (often the cause of some Controversy) was a way of symbolizing that no one person was better than another.
Arts. Music, among the Mennonites, has often been controversial. Some denominations exclude musical instruments and allow only singing (often without harmony), whereas others lay a strong emphasis on classical church music. Only among the more conservative groups is singing done in the German language.
Medicine. Late in the nineteenth century, some Mennonites adhered to what could be described as Galenic humoral medicine and extensively utilized midwives. Soon, however, most accepted the allopathic medical tradition, and today Mennonites are well known for their hospitals (medical and mental).
Death and Afterlife. Access to heaven was not predetermined. One is assured an afterlife only after having been a disciplined member of the community. Historically, some have given emphasis to the Gemeinde in their mortuary tradition by burying their members in the order of their dying—deemphasizing family membership.