Ontario, Canada; Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, USA
Conservative Mennonites include numerous groups that identify with the more conservative or traditional element among Mennonite or Anabaptist groups but not necessarily Old Order groups. Those identifying with this group typically drive automobiles, have telephones, and use electricity, and some may have personal computers. They also have Sunday school, hold revival meetings, and operate their own Christian schools/parochial schools.
"The first of these conservative withdrawals from the Mennonite Church occurred in the 1950s, and they continue in the 1990s. Many independent single congregations developed from this exodus."
The main body of what are termed Conservative Mennonites have their origin from withdrawals from the main body of the (Old) Mennonite Church Conferences in the United States and Canada. "Independently and almost simultaneously, conservative minorities in widely scattered regional Conferences of the Mennonite Church came to the point where they had had enough of what they considered compromise and apostasy. They were disenchanted with the Conference structure and its failure to deal with drift. They decided to launch out on their own." Beginning in late 1958 through 1960 a large number of individuals and congregations withdrew from various Mennonite Conferences, forming congregationally governed or independent Mennonite congregations. These later informally began what is called the Nationwide Fellowship Churches. In Ontario a group formed what is called the Conservative Mennonite Churches of Ontario or CMCO. These individuals and congregations felt that the mainstream Mennonite churches were no longer holding to the traditional and conservative values of the Anabaptist Mennonite tradition.
These are sometimes referred to as Distinctives
- Authority of the Scriptures
- Their view of Christ
- Distinctive view of the Christian
- High view of the Church including discipline
- The two kingdom concept
- Liberty of conscience
- Voluntary Church membership
- Belief in free will (closely associated with Arminianism in the Protestant tradition). (See also Free will in theology).
- Believer's baptism
- Separation of Church and state
- Non swearing of oaths
- Separation and nonconformity to the world in many areas including clothing (See Modesty).
- Innocence of children
- Evangelistic zeal
- Victory in the Christian life is possible
- Closed communion
- Simplicity in lifestyle
- Simplicity of worship. This includes A cappella singing, segregated seating and kneeling prayer.
- Lay leadership and the plural ministry
- Christian woman's veiling: 1 Corinthians 11:1–16 still applies today. (See Christian headcovering).
Conservative Mennonites characteristically conduct worship services in the language of the country which they inhabit. This is in contrast to most Old Order groups which still conduct their services in German. They differ from the Old Order groups mainly in their acceptance of certain technologies or modern inventions, are evangelical, and conduct missions. The more conservative groupings also operate their own private Christian day schools (operated by free will offerings) in preference to promoting homeschooling. They teach abstinence from alcohol (crudely referred to as teetotalism) and tobacco as well as temperance in all areas of life. They have a strong work ethic and frequently serve their communities and other areas in times of natural disaster through organized work programs, for instance Hurricane Katrina disaster relief. Conservative Mennonites along with Old Order Mennonites, and Amish hold to the basic tenets of Creation science including believing in a literal six-day creation.
Conservative Mennonites uphold the following confessions of faith: The Schleitheim Confession of Faith (1527), the Dordrecht Confession of Faith (1632), The Christian Fundamentals (1921) adopted at Garden City, Missouri (commonly called the Garden City Confession), and the Nationwide churches also use The Hartville Restatement of the Christian Fundamentals (1964).
Conservative Mennonites believe in a three-office ministry working together in what is called a plural ministry. They ordain deacons, ministers, and bishops from within their congregations by a process called the lot. The ministry are unpaid, and are self-employed as farmers or work in other related occupations.
The Washington County, Maryland and Franklin County, Pennsylvania Conference, Ohio Wisler Mennonites, Conservative Mennonite Churches of York and Adams Counties, Pennsylvania, and the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church operate under a form of administration called a conference where each congregation has a common discipline (standard or constitution). The churches may be grouped in a district with one or two bishops sharing responsibility jointly or in part over a number of congregations within the district. This is a characteristic shared in common with most Old Order Mennonite groups. The Nationwide Fellowship churches are more congregational and whenever feasible a bishop will serve over one congregation but may assist with others and most congregations having their own unique discipline with elements in common. This congregational emphasis characteristic is shared in common with the Old Order Amish, Mennonite Christian Fellowship, Beachy Amish, and Tennessee Brotherhood churches.
There are a number of congregations which have splintered or moved away from these beginning groups and have formed different fellowships. The earliest group began to be associated informally together in what was called the Conservative Mennonite Fellowship beginning in 1956. Most of these congregations were of Amish Mennonite origin, coming from the Conservative Mennonite Conference. They began the earliest mission work among the conservative groups in the early 1960s in Chimaltenago, Guatemala (on the Eastern side). What remained of these congregations joined the Nationwide Fellowship Churches in 1997.
Another group was the only conference to remain conservative, namely the Washington County, Maryland/Franklin County, Pennsylvania Conference (founded in 1790) centered mostly around Hagerstown, Maryland. Their history to 1960 has been published.
A third grouping peacefully requested to withdraw from the Lancaster Mennonite Conference (located centrally in Lancaster, Pennsylvania) in 1968 requesting to keep the 1954 discipline that was being revised. This group bears the name Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church.
Another group geographically centered in York and Adams counties in Pennsylvania withdrew later from the Lancaster Conference in the early 1970s under the direction of their bishop Richard Danner. They are called the Conservative Mennonite Churches of York and Adams Counties, Pennsylvania.
Another group located in the Ohio counties of Wayne, Medina, Columbiana and Richland have their origin in the Wisler Conferences of Ohio and Michigan (an Old Order Mennonite grouping). In more recent years they have identified with the values of the Conservative Mennonites. They are called the Ohio Wisler Mennonites.
Over the years there have been various regroupings among these groups, with numerous independent congregations forming and reforming.
The most conservative groups do not have television or radio and shun or do not use the Internet. There are some websites nevertheless arising among those following this group; pilgrimministry.org is one such example. Finding external links or publications of this group online is rare because of their various stands.
Mission outreaches of these groups can be found in the Bahamas, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, India, Philippines, and the beginnings of work in England, Tasmania, Australia, and Argentina/Bolivia.
Conservative Mennonites share similar beliefs and values as the Mennonite Christian Fellowship and Ambassadors Amish Mennonite Churches groups and the more traditionally conservative groups like the Berea Amish Mennonite Fellowship and the Tennessee Brotherhood Churches.
England and Ireland
In Ireland, there is a Beachy Amish Mennonite Church in Dunmore East. They are not affiliated directly with Conservative Mennonites but share similar beliefs. Their website is http://www.anabaptistireland.org/about-us/ it includes downloadable sermons.
- United Kingdom Mennonite Ministry, Shropshire Hills Mennonite Church, meet, on Sundays, (about 30 people), at the village hall, Aston on Clun,near Craven Arms, Shropshire, (and, once a month, at Old Sodbury near Bristol). The Americans here are under sponsorship of the (North Central) Nationwide Mennonites from Wisconsin (USA). Members are operating Shepherd Hills Christian Bookstore Unit 3, Station Court, Shrewsbury Road, Craven Arms, SY7 9PY. They also sell high quality wood furniture in Shrewsbury and Craven Arms. Their annual Conference is attended by about 200 people and is held at Cefn Lea for weekend in early December.
In Australia, there is a congregation in Deloraine, Tasmania. They sponsor annual weekend meetings in February of each year. There is also a plain Mennonite congregation in Queensland called the Australian Christian Brotherhood.
Intermediate and Moderate Conservative Mennonite Groupings
These groups do not share the same level of strictness as the most conservative ones mentioned above but have similar origins or have withdrawn from the groupings above (like making the use of the radio optional or allowing more usage of the internet).
Southeastern Mennonite Conference officially began upon their withdrawal from Virginia Mennonite Conference in June 1972.
Others have formed from their withdrawal from the groups mentioned above. These include much smaller groups like (but not limited to): Bethel Fellowship, Mid Atlantic Fellowship, and Midwest Mennonite Fellowship, and numerous unaffiliated congregations.
The most conservative groups operate the following publishing house: Rod and Staff Publishers in Crockett, Kentucky, offering both a full conservative Christian curriculum for home and traditional classroom settings as well as a complete bible study/Sunday school curriculum and periodicals. They also publish numerous reading materials for all ages. They publish mostly in English and Spanish with some German language publications. Rod and Staff was the first modern publisher of Christian school and homeschooling curricula beginning in 1962. Lamp and Light Publishers offers free Correspondence Courses in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. They are located in Farmington, New Mexico. Neither publisher has a website.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church operates its own publishing house offering curriculum for home and traditional classroom settings and other books and are located in Ephrata, Pennsylvania — Eastern Mennonite Publications. They offer Spanish publications and Bible Studies through their Spanish publishing house in Guatemala – Quetzaltenango Mennonite Publishers QMP. The Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church publishes a monthly paper called The Eastern Mennonite Testimony.
The Washington/Franklin Conference has in recent years also begun publishing under the name Brotherhood Publications. They publish a quarterly publication called The Brotherhood Builder.
Christian Light Publications is a publishing house in Harrisonburg, Virginia, operated by a 9-member board and 15-member advisory board from many of the conservative conferences and fellowships: Southeastern, Mid-Atlantic, MidWest, Beachy, and others. They offer a full line of grade school, high school, Sunday school, and bible school curricula as well as periodicals, trade books, and more.
- Scott (1996), p. 159
- Scott (1996), p. 167
- "Schleitheim Confession". Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
- "Christian Fundamentals". Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
- Daniel R. Lehman, Mennonites of the Washington County, Maryland and Franklin County, Pennsylvania Conference, Eastern Mennonite Publications, Ephrata, Pennsylvania, 1990.
- Scott, Stephen (1996). An Introduction to Old Order and Conservative Mennonite Groups. Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books.
- Burkholder, David G. (2011). Distinctive Beliefs of the Anabaptists. Ephrata, Pennsylvania: Eastern Mennonite Publications.