Anabaptists have a distinctive set of beliefs based on our plain reading of Scripture.
However, many Anabaptist churches, especially those that are considered Conservative Anabaptist (see the definition in this article), have church standards (called Ordnung by the Amish) over and above the New Testament requirements. Sometimes these are written rules; sometimes they are unwritten. These rules are part of what helps to maintain obedience among the believers to New Testament principles.
These rules have some value when properly used, but of course can also become Pharisaical when abused. Currently many Anabaptists are leery of these rules, since many of us have seen abuses in the past.
Groups are typically considered to be more conservative if they have more of these rules, since many of these rules are carry-overs from the ways of life of past generations. As the world changed, many Anabaptists felt that it was safer to stick to the tried and true ways of life rather than to accept practices that seemed like they might disrupt the church’s values and lifestyle. Having more rules can make it harder for someone from non-Anabaptist background to join a church. However, many of the rules can serve a valuable purpose. Over the last hundred years, one of the most notable debates among Anabaptists has been about how we should weigh the opposing concerns.
Are These Rules Necessary for Christians?
Most Anabaptists (at least most thoughtful Anabaptists) do not consider these rules to be necessary. They are merely helpful practices in living the Christian life. I think it’s quite clear that these standards are not necessary, although some can be very helpful.
Sadly, many Anabaptists do live as though they believe these rules to be necessary for Christians, and they refuse to associate with those who do not practice these rules. This has seriously marred the Anabaptist witness for many sincere seekers.
Typical church standards can include the following:
- No cars, electricity, or other technology. Such rules are often found among the Amish and Old Order Mennonites, but not among the groups typically called Conservative Anabaptist. However, these groups do have technology of some kinds. Sometimes they have tractors. Sometimes they can have electricity for their jobs. Sometimes they can have gas-powered or air-powered tools or appliances.
- Limiting internet and entertainment. Many groups limit the types of entertainment or the level of internet access that members have.
- Dress standards. Many groups have specific modest dress styles that they require of their members.
- Smoking, alcohol, and drugs. Most groups are against smoking and drug use. Many are also against alcohol. The most conservative and the least conservative groups tend to allow alcoholic beverages in moderation.