The Lutherans drew their name from Luther, the Calvinists (the Reformed Church) from Calvin and the Mennonites from Menno Simons (1496-1561), a Dutch priest who joined the Anabaptists in 1536. Menno Simons was the spiritual leader of little groups of believers who survived in secret, with great difficulty, after many years of persecution.
The movement really began in Switzerland around 1520. In Zurich, there was a dispute about the best way of promulgating the ideas of the Reform movement : some people, like Zwingli, wanted the civil authorities to be involved in the running of the Church. Others were opposed to this ; they considered that the evangelical principles of the New Testament implied the separation of Church and State and the baptism of believers.
In spite of the decree issued by the town council of Zurich, Conrad Grebel, one of the leaders of the radical group opposed to Zwingli, baptized an adult believer on 21st January 1525. This took place in the presence of some other “brothers”, in a private house. It led to his being sentenced to life imprisonment by the authorities but he managed to escape. The baptism was the cause of a definitive split with Zwingli, and from then on the Mennonites were called Anabaptists or the “rebaptisers”.
- The authority of the Scriptures;
- God’s Word revealed to mankind;
- Baptism only performed after a confession of faith and statement of personal commitment by the believer;
- Faith in God more important than obedience to the State;
- Renunciation of violence and military service;
- Renunciation of swearing an oath;
- The believer must love his neighbour and help other believers.
The arrival of the Mennonite Church in France
As they were outlawed and persecuted in Switzerland, the Anabaptists sought refuge all along the Rhine valley, wherever people were willing to receive them. Several Anabaptist communities were know to have settled both in Strasbourg and throughout Alsace, from the XVIth century onwards. They remained there until the end of the XVIIth century.
The Amish schism
Towards 1690, in Sainte-Marie-aux Mines, one of the “elders”, Jacob Amman, considered that the Mennonite communities were no longer faithful to the biblical principles of their founders. He called for a return to a simple life in opposition to the values of the world around them. A schism could no longer be avoided between the conservative Amish members and the more liberal Mennonites – almost all the Mennonite churches in eastern France became Amish.
They got into more trouble because they refused to take an oath or to fight. There were several waves of emigration to the United-States. The Alsatian Amish left the country, but those who remained in France gradually renounced Amish traditions and their strict costume.
The administration of the Mennonite Churches
The Churches are congregationalist, independent and sovereign in their Church structure and community. Usually, the spiritual life of each Church is led by a group of elders, preachers and deacons who are elected by all members of the community. Some Churches (7 in 2006) have full or part time pastors who receive a stipend. Other Churches manage with lay volunteers. The ministry of women is gradually being recognized. The separate Churches are grouped together in the Association des Eglises Evangéliques Mennonites de France (Association of Evangelical Mennonite Churches of France), which runs all their activities and charities.
Associations for Public Good Works
- Comité de Mission mennonite française : today they support and send out missionaries to Laos, Burkina Faso, China and to Chad.
- Charities : Les Amis de l’Atelier in Châtenay-Malabry (Hauts-de-Seine), l’Association du domaine Emmanuel in Hautefeuille (Sarthe), l’Association Fraternelle Mennonite et Servir Valdoie (Territoire de Belfort), who care for the handicapped, underprivileged children, the elderly…
- Emergency Aid : this gives help to the victims of famine and natural disasters such as flooding or earthquakes.
- Training : the Centre de Formation in Liestal (Switzerland).
- Centre mennonite d’étude et de rencontre in Saint Maurice (Val-de-Marne).
- Commission de Jeunesse – Joie et Vie (Mulhouse, Haut-Rhin) : this association organises “colonies de vacances”, (camps for children and teenagers), holidays for young adults and the elderly, training courses, special themed weekends, choirs…
- Editions mennonites Montbéliard (Doubs) : these publishers issue the monthly magazine Christ Seul and three-monthly publications about particular subjects.
- Association française d’histoire anabaptiste mennonite, in Ingersheim (Haut-Rhin) ; this association gathers together all the information about Mennonite assemblies. The annual publication : Souvenance Anabaptiste.
For a long time, the Mennonites were country people who were quite happy working on the land and living a simple life. However, by the beginning of the third millennium, there are not many farmers left : the Mennonites have come out of their isolation and learned to adapt to today’s society.
Mennonites in France and throughout the world
In France, there are about 2050 Mennonites, in 32 Churches – most of these are in the east of France but there are 3 in Paris.
Throughout the world (2003 data) there are 450,000 in Africa, 208,000 in Asia, 139,000 in Central and Southern America, 450,000 in the United States and Canada, 530,000 in Europe, making around 1,300,000 in all.
The International Mennonite Conference gathers together Anabaptist and Mennonite groups from all over the world.
Relations with other Protestant Churches
Talks are going on between the Mennonites and the Federation of French Protestants.
In Alsace-Moselle there is also dialogue with the Eglise de la Confession d’Augsbourg d’Alsace et de Lorraine (ECAAL) and in 1984 both Churches adopted decisions that had been made.
- Éditions mennonites, 3 route de Grand-Charmont, F-25200 Montbéliard;
- Centre mennonite d’études et de rencontre, 13 rue du Val d’Osne, F-94410 Saint-Maurice;
- Association française d’histoire anabaptiste mennonite, 9 rue du Château Geisberg, F-67160 Wissembourg.
- MATHIOT Charles et BOIGEOL Roger, Recherches historiques sur les Anabaptistes, Le Phare - Flavion, Namur, 1969
- NUSSBAUMER André et WOLFF Michèle, Histoire des Assemblées mennonites françaises à la veille de l’an 2000, Sepher, Herborn, 2003
- SEGUY Jean, Les Assemblées anabaptistes-mennonites de France, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, 1977
The radical Reformation in 16th century
The expression “radical Reformation” was given to a complex and multifarious movement that found the lutherans and the swiss Reformers not daring enough, and considered that the Reformation had only gone half-way.
The Baptist Churches
The Baptist Churches have been established in France since the beginning of the XXth century in certain regions (mainly in the North), but with the help of the English and American communities they spread all over France. The 40.000 members of the Baptist Church (who form part of the evangelical community), are scattered unevenly throughout the country.
The Evangelical Churches
The existence of Evangelical Churches in France goes back to the beginning of the XIXth century. There are at present 1850 Churches with 350.000 members and there are about 200 million Protestant Evangelicals in the world (this is not counting the Pentecostals). In the last twenty years the Protestant Evangelical movement has been expanding throughout the world, in Central America, South America, Asia and especially in China.
The Pentecostal Churches
The Pentecostal movement is the most successful Protestant denomination in the world today, with about 150 million members. Its presence in France goes back to the 1930s and its main Churches are the “Assemblées de Dieu” and “La Mission Evangélique Tzigane”.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church
The Seventh day adventist Church has its roots in the Reformation movement of the XVIth century and the Revival movement of the XIXth century ; the latter being the stronger influence. In 2005, it joined the Federation of French Protestants (Fédération Protestante de France) (F.P.F.). This minority protestant group holds its services on Saturdays ; it is active in the domains of health, education and several humanitarian causes.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of France
In 1808, quite a large Lutheran community in Paris consisting of foreigners became a Church which was connected to Strasbourg. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of France was established in France in 1872 after the Franco-German war of 1870. Today there are about fifty parishes and talks are under way to bring this Church closer to the “Eglise réformée de France”. The two Churches hope to unite, thus forming one Church.
French Reformed Church
The French Reformed Church (Eglise Réformée de France) was founded in 1938 ; its origins go back to the XVIth century to the reformed Churches which were set up by Jean Calvin, it has succeeded in surviving until the present day. At present, it has more than 350,000 members and belongs to the French Protestant Federation (Fédération Protestante de France).
Union of Evangelical Free Churches
The Union des Eglises Evangéliques Libres (UEEL) (Union of Evangelical Free Churches) was set up in 1849, because its members wanted to openly strengthen their links with the Reform movement and to prevent the State from having any control over its organisation or activities. When the Eglise Réformée de France (Reformed Church of France) was set up in 1938, they did not wish to become part of it. They have been confederate members of the Fédération des Eglises Evangéliques Baptistes de France (the Federation of French Evangelical Baptist Churches) since 1987 and also of the Fédération Internationale des Eglises Evangéliques Libres (International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches) ;they were also founder members of the Fédération Protestante de France (French Federation of Protestant Churches) in 1905 and in fact one of their most distinguished members, Edouard Gruner (who had studied at the “Ecole de Mines” in 1869) became its first president (1905 – 1927). At the beginning of the 60’s they chose to distance themselves from the Fédération Protestante de France (French Federation of Protestant Churches) ; however in 1996 they joined forces again.
The Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine (UEPAL, EPCAAL and EPRAL)
The Lutheran and Reformed Churches of Alsace and Moselle have been working towards unity for a long time. These efforts finally met with success when the Union des Eglises Protestantes d’Alsace et de Lorraine (The Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace Loraine) was set up in 2006. The Lutheran Churches still retained their own parishes and organisation as well as the Concordat system of church government.
The Protestants and baptism, be they Reformed, Lutheran or Evangelical Baptist
In Protestantism baptism and Holy Communion are the two recognised and practiced sacraments. Baptism signifies the unity of Christians in Christ’s death and resurrection. It testifies to forgiveness. It welcomes the baptised into the Church. It proclaims the Spirit and is practiced in the name of Jesus Christ.
The birth of the Amish community in Alsace
The Amish first appeared amongst the Anabaptist community in Alsace towards the end of the seventeenth century. The founder, Jacob Amann, demanded a community with a more rigorous discipline.
The Amish in Alsace in the 18th century
At the beginning of the 18th century, the Amish communities once more had to face persecution and were expelled from their lands. This dispersion, however, renews their strength. They are well-known everywhere for their excellent farming.