Neff, Christian (1863-1946)
Christian Neff was an outstanding leader of the Mennonites of Germany, longtime (1887-1939 and 1940-1943) pastor of the Weierhof, Palatinate, Mennonite Church, and scholar and Mennonite historian. He was born 18 February 1863 on the Hemshof near Ludwigshafen, one of the six children of Peter and Barbara Schowalter Neff. He was married on 28 December 1889 to Babette Lydia Krehbiel of the Weierhof. One son and three daughters survived the parents. He attended the elementary school in Ludwigshafen, then the Weierhof school 1874-1875, the Latin School in Ludwigshafen 1875-1879, and the Gymnasium at that place 1879-1883. He studied theology at the universities of Erlangen, Berlin, Tubingen, and in the fourth year Erlangen again, being influenced more particularly by Professors Zahn and Frank at Erlangen, and Kaftan and Treitschke in Berlin. He was also influenced strongly by Prof. Tobias Beck.
On 11 December 1887 Neff was ordained to the ministry in the Weierhof congregation, serving there as the beloved pastor for almost 55 years, and for much of this time also as a teacher in the Weierhof school where he taught religion for many years, but also for some years German and history. He soon became a widely influential Mennonite leader not only in South Germany but also in the entire country and beyond. He was the outstanding leader of the Conference of the South German Mennonites organized in 1887, of which he was for 40 years (1903-1943) the chairman. He likewise was for many years an active leader in the Vereinigung der Mennoniten im Deutschen Reich, from 1905 a member of its board of directors. He was also the initiator and leader of the Mennonite World Conference, and planner of its sessions of 1925 (Basel, Switzerland), 1930 (Danzig, Germany), and 1936 (Amsterdam, Netherlands). From 1892 he was the secretary of the Palatinate-Hesse Mennonite Ministers' Conference; soon elected its chairman, he served in this office for decades. He was an active supporter of foreign missions and from 1913 on was for many years a member of the Dutch Mennonite Mission Board. He was the initiator of the Youth Commission of the South German Conference (1919) and frequent contributor to its monthly journal, the Mennonitische Jugendwarte (1920-1939).
As an able writer, editor, and historian, Christian Neff was almost constantly in literary production throughout his active career. He was a member of the editorial board of the Christlicher Gemeinde-kalender from the beginning (1892) and in virtually every year of its issue contributed major articles, often of outstanding historical research and literary quality. He was an associate editor of the Mennonitische Blätter from 1891 to its end in 1941. An extraordinary contribution were his numerous articles in the Mennonitisches Lexicon, of which he was co-editor and publisher, with Christian Hege, from 1913 until his death. He was the editor of the excellent hymnal of the South German Mennonites, Gesangbuch der Mennoniten (Ludwigshafen, 1910), and author of three pamphlets in the series Schriften der Konferenz der Süddeutschen Mennoniten; namely, (1) Was sind Mennoniten? (1913); (2) Die Mennoniten Keine Wiedertäufer (1914); (3) Die Mennoniten keine Baptisten noch Methodisten (1914). He was the editor of the reports of the Mennonite World Conferences of 1925, 1930, and 1936, and of the book Gedenkschrift zmn 400-jährigen ]ubilaum der Mennoniten (Ludwigshafen, 1925), for which he wrote a substantial article on Conrad Grebel. He edited the Mennonitisches Adressbuch (Karlsruhe, 1936). In 1925 he was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Theology by the University of Zurich, Switzerland, in connection with the first Mennonite World Conference. In 1913 he spent several weeks on a visit to the North American Mennonite churches, attending the first All-Mennonite Convention. A complete bibliography of his writings is found in Beiträge zur Geschichte der Mennoniten (Weierhof, 1938) 89-96, with a supplement in Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter VI (April 1949) 11-13. He died 30 December 1946, and was buried in the Weierhof Mennonite cemetery.
Krahn, Cornelius. "Christian Neff (1863-1946)." The Mennonite 62 (14 January 1947): 6 f.
Schowalter, Paul. "Christian Neff, Ein Lebensbild." Mennonitischer Gemeinde-Kalender (1951): 17-39.
Schowalter, Paul. "Zum Gedenken an Christian Neff." Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter 6 (April 1949): 2-11.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 820. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Bender, Harold S. "Neff, Christian (1863-1946)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 19 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/N450.html.
APA style: Bender, Harold S. (1957). Neff, Christian (1863-1946). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/N450.html.