History of the Mennonites

The Mennonites were first known as Anabaptists. The group was formed in January 1525 in Zurich, Switzerland when a group of young radicals secretly baptized each other in the home of Felix Manz. In 16th century Europe, baptizing an adult was a defiant act of civil disobedience. They were called Anabaptists because they had been baptized twice – once as infants and then re-baptized as adults. They became severely persecuted by both the Catholic Church as well as the Protestant Reformers because they offered a third option: a belief that the church should be a group of voluntary adults, baptized upon confession of faith, and like the early Christian church separated from the world and the state. The group became known as Mennonites after a Catholic priest from the Netherlands, Menno Simons, joined the group in 1536. Because of his prolific writings and teachings he soon became a leader among the Anabaptists and they were nicknamed “Mennonites.”

Good introductions to Mennonite history are Through Fire and Water: an Overview of Mennonite History and An Introduction to Mennonite History.