In a climate of centuries of religious turmoil in Europe, and especially Germany, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Cathedral door in 1517. What followed were many reactions one of which resulted in the Protestant Reformation. Emerging from this
turmoil were the three State Churches: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvanists.
A fourth group was the Waldensians, a common people who first appeared in the 14th century. During the 16th century, a group emerged from the Waldensians and lived in fear of persecution in Moravia. These people, known as the Moravins. The
Moravians later came to America where they had a settlement in Zoar, Ohio (in the northeastern part of the state).
In the 16th century, the Hutterites arose from the Anabaptist group in Moravia, Slovakia, and Transylvania. After 100 years, they fled to Russian Ukraine for religious freedom, where they lived for 100 years, then moved to America and Canada in the 1870's.
In the early 16th century, the Reverend Monsignor Menno Simons, a Catholic Priest, became disturbed by the slaughter of Protestant "heretics" and began to preach according to his conscience. His followers became known as Mennonites.
In 1793, at Markirch (St. Marie-aux Mines), Minister Jacob Amann caused a division in Mennonites. Those who followed Amann were called the "Amish Mennonites". They resided in Waldeck, Germany. Both the Mennonites and Amish constantly looked for a location where they could freely practice
their religion. They remained devoted to their faith, even when the authorities demanded otherwise. Their reputation as excellent farmers served as a real benefit since noble and landlords frequently choose them as lease managers for their estates.
As early as 1652, a Baron Von Venningen, came to Upper Alsace to enlist lease managers among the Anabaptists who had fled from Switzerland. These deserted Anabaptist estates had been depopulated during the Thirty Year War. The Prince Bishop of Basel and the Counts of Moempelgard (Montbeliard) welcomed
Swiss Anabaptists within their territories, where Mennonite congregations remain today.
The Elector of the Palatinate also cooperated with Mennonites, granting them certain freedoms under the Concession of 1664. However, this was retracted by his successor. The reluctant government accepted religious outsiders because their territories needed people to rebuild the war-torn villages.
When Alsace became part of France, the, owners of the County of Rappolstein, came under the sovereignity of the "most Christian" King, Louis XIV of France, who around 1712 decreed the expulsion of the Anabaptists. Special treatment was shown to the Mennonite tenants of the
Zweibruecken-Wittelsback family at that time, and it continued for generations.
Some 18th century noble families showed affection toward the Mennonites and other religious outsiders and granted asylum to them. One such example was the Counts of Sayn-Wittgenstein, in whose small territory at the southern edge of the Rothaargebirge in the 18th century numerous religious refugees
(among them Amish-Mennonites) sought asylum.
The Amish, at about the close of the 17th century, urged a much stricter obedience to the rules and regulations originally adopted. Some of the membership had become indifferent to the matter of washing feet, avoidance of those excommunicated, and had a tendency to adopt an occasional new idea which
was deemed too worldly. Today we have the Amish and the Mennonites in America in many communities.
These people are quite populous in Lancaster County, and Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Other groups live in Ohio, Indiana, and Canada. The first families who settled in what is now Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1683, coming here from Crefeld, Germany.
The first known Mennonite meeting house in America was built in Germantown in 1708. From birth to death, their lives are ordered by "ritual" which others think unnecessary, or even foolish. But these people prefer their lifestyle to anything the rest of the world has to offer. Many even avoid everything outside their own circle, as they would a plague. They are a group which hold their own in a would where around them there is much strife an discord. Among most of them there is peace, pleasure, and plenty. The earliest Amish Congregation in the
United States was established along North Kill Creek, Berks County, Pennsylvania in 1735. The Indians subsequently crowded then southward, where today they are firmly rooted.
In 1708, in the Village of Schwarzenau, Germany, eight souls met on the Eder River. After much study, taking God and their Bible as their guide, these eight souls were baptized by trine immersion and chose Alexander Mack as their leader. In Donald F. Durnbaugh's book, European Origins of the
Brethren, the separatist John Christopher Edelmann describes the Schwarzenau Valley: "It lies one-and-one half hours from Berelburg in a pleasant valley, surrounded by delightful hills and forests, through which runs the Eder River and other cool brooks...they must have lived as if in a cloister in this solitude because there were only the manor and
a few small houses to be seen...For people who loved solitude, it was most delightful to live there."
Alexander Mack was born in 1679 into the Presbyterian (Reformed) faith. Mack came to America, he was accompanied by his wife, Anna Margaretha, and three sons, John Valentine, Johannes, and Alexander. Two young daughters, Christina and Anna Maria had died in Europe. Like all Anabaptists, the
Brethren were weary of war, persecution, torture, and harassment. They came to America in two groups. In 1719, twenty Brethren families emigrated under the leadership of Peter Becker, a minister from the Crefelt congregation. Alexander Mack, as leader of about thirty Brethren families, sailed from Rotterdam, Holland, in the ship Allen, on July 7th; "and
after a tempestuous and perilous voyage of 71 days," they landed at Philadelphia on September 15th, 1729.
Nearly everything the Brethren held as belief was directed toward an action or practice. Being a member meant not only believing the truth as the New Testament revealed it, but living it directly. Their convictions were an element of a lifestyle which the Brethren believed Christ called for. They ruled the members' practical relations with
each other, with the civil government, and with the secular society. Their lives showed their beliefs as derived directly from the New Testament. H.R. Holsinger looked back on the Brethren in 1901 and wrote: "In the first place, what they believe and teach may be comprehended in the statement that they accept the New Testament as their creed and
discipline. That is, the New Testament as it is, and not as they would have it, or as they understand it, but as it reads. They believe that the Book is inspired by God, has been preserved by His almighty power, and translated into various languages through his direct instrumentality; that the Book means what it says, and says what it means, nothing more and
nothing less, and is not be added to nor taken from, and will suffer no deviations. That is Tunkerism, briefly but accurately stated." The Brethren were very concerned with the duty of the church to ascertain from the New Testament how the Christian should liveand then to live out their faith. Uniformity in
practice tended to produce consensus on doctrine.
Peter Nead wrote in 1834: "I have stated that it is the duty of the believer to unite himself to that church which has no other rule for her government but the New Testament, not in word only, but in deed; for there are many who say they have no other rule but the New Testament, and yet do not keep house in the church agreeably to that
Having said that the New Testament was at the heart of their faith and Jesus Christ was the focus of their faith, the Brethren had many important beliefs. This was one of their virtues, for they had nothing out of which to create a fanatical religion.