The Plain People trace their origin back to the Protestant Reformation in Europe, where there was an emphasis on returning to the purity of the New Testament church. One group of reformers rejected the popular concept of infant baptism, and became known as Anabaptists. The Anabaptists believed that only adults who had confessed their faith should be baptized, and that they should remain separate from the larger society.
In 1536, a young Catholic priest from Holland named Menno Simons joined the Anabaptist movement. His writings and leadership united many of the Anabaptist groups, who later became known as “Mennonites.”
One of the teachings of the Amish faith is called the ban or shunning. This is based on the New Testament command not to associate with a church member who does not repent of his sinful conduct. The purpose of this discipline is to help the member realize the error of his ways and to encourage his repentance, after which he would be restored to church fellowship.
This excommunication was at first only applied at the communion table. However, the followers of Jacob Amman felt the unrepentant individual should be completely shunned or avoided by all church members. This belief, along with other differences, led to Amman’s split with the Mennonites in 1693. His followers were later called Amish
These Anabaptist groups were severely persecuted throughout Europe. Thousands were put to death as heretics by both Catholics and Protestants. To avoid this persecution many fled to the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany. Here began the Amish tradition of farming and holding their worship services in homes rather than churches.
Many Amish and Mennonites accepted William Penn’s offer of religious freedom as part of Penn’s “holy experiment” of religious tolerance. They settled in what later became known as Pennsylvania. The first sizable group of Amish arrived in Lancaster County in the 1720’s or 1730’s.
Today, the Amish can be found in 23 states here and in one Canadian province. Their settlement in and around Lancaster County is their second largest. Because of their large families, the total Amish population has more than doubled since 1960 to over 85,000. Very few of their children leave the church.
The Amish and Mennonite churches still share the same beliefs concerning baptism, non-resistance, and basic Bible doctrines. They differ in matters of dress, technology, language, form of worship, and interpretation of the Bible.
The Mennonites hold many of the same beliefs as the Amish, although they tend to be less conservative than their Amish neighbors. Worship services are held weekly in their meeting houses. Most Mennonites have relaxed dress codes, and have gotten away from farm-related occupations. While Old Order Mennonites still drive their all-black carriages, most Mennonite groups do permit the use of cars and electricity. However, some groups do require that car bodies and trim be painted black.