Conservative Mennonites include numerous groups who identify with the more conservative or traditional element among Mennonite or Anabaptist groups but not necessarily Old Order groups. Those identifying with this group would drive automobiles, have telephones, electricity and some may have personal computers. They would also have Sunday School, hold revival meetings, and operate their own Christian day 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. Their website is http://www.cmcopublications.org. 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.
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 of the 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 geographically in Wayne, Medina, Columbiana, Richland County areas of Ohio 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, anabaptistmennonites.org would be one such example. Finding external links or publications of this group online are rare because of their various stands.
Mission outreaches of these groups can be found in Haiti, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, Mexico, India, Philippines, Bolivia and the beginnings of work in England, Tasmania, Australia, and Argentina/Bolivia.
This group would share similar beliefs and values as the Mennonite Christian Fellowship group and the more traditionally conservative group like the Tennessee Brotherhood Churches.
The most conservative groups operate the following publishing house: Rod and Staff Publishers in Crockett, Kentucky USA, offering both a full Christian (Conservative) 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 curriculum 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. EPMC 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.
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 the Free Will of Man (commonly referred to as Arminianism).
- Believer's baptism
- Separation of Church and State
- Non swearing of oaths
- Separation and Nonconformity to the World in many areas including clothing
- 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 in which they inhabit. This is in contrast to various Old Order groups which would 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 home schooling. They teach abstinence from alcohol (crudely referred to as Teetotalism) and tobacco as well as Temperance in all areas of life and have a strong work ethic. They frequently serve their communities voluntarily 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 would hold to the basic tenets of Creation science including believing in a literal 6 day creation.
Conservative Mennonites would 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 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.
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 Conference in June 1972. Others have formed from their withdrawal from the groups mentioned above. These would include much smaller groups like (but not limited to): Bethel Fellowship, Mid Atlantic Fellowship, and Midwest Mennonite Fellowship, and numerous unaffiliated congregations.
- Stephen Scott, An Introduction to Old Order and Conservative Mennonite Groups, Good Books, Intercourse, Pennsylvania, 1996, p. 159
- Scott, p. 167
- Daniel R. Lehman, Mennonites of the Washington County, Maryland and Franklin County, Pennsylvania Conference, Eastern Mennonite Publications, Ephrata, Pennsylvania, 1990.
- Schleitheim Confession. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
- Christian Fundamentals. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
- Scott, Stephen (1996). An Introduction to Old Order and Conservative Mennonite Groups. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.
- Conservative Mennonites (Swiss-High German, Pennsylvania) in Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.
- http://anabaptistmennonites.org/ Anabaptist Mennonites Worldwide