Reformed Mennonite Church
Reformed Mennonite Church, a body founded in 1812 by John Herr of Strasburg, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the son of Francis Herr, who had been a member of the Mennonite Church in West Lampeter Township, Lancaster County, but had been expelled for reasons no longer clear, probably about 1798. According to the son, John Herr, and Daniel Musser, chief historian of the later Reformed Mennonite Church and himself a member, Francis gave as his reason for leaving the church the fact that the Mennonites had departed far from the beliefs and practices of their founder Menno Simons and that the church leaders had become too lax in disciplining those members who had become careless in their religious life and social practices. The small group of sympathizers who had been expelled or had withdrawn from fellowship with the old church with Francis, finding no church with which they felt they could affiliate, and desiring to continue as Mennonites, continued to meet in their various homes for informal religious services consisting of praying, singing, and exhortations in which each took part, though Francis Herr was apparently the chief exhorter. Francis also preached the funeral sermons for members of the group. He always spoke in a sitting position, however, since he felt that only a regular ordained minister could properly speak while standing and preferably before a pulpit. These meetings had not gone beyond the informal state at the time of his death in 1810.
After the death of Francis, the son John Herr, 28 years old at the time, and before this not a member of any church but probably one of the informal group above mentioned, now assumed leadership of the group and continued his father's cause. It was not his intention at this time to start a separate church, but on May 30, 1812, at a meeting in his home, he was selected as pastor and bishop of a new church organization, even though not yet baptized. In this dilemma, the group followed the only course possible, and like the first two members of the original Anabaptist church in Zürich, Switzerland, in 1525, who baptized each other, so too Abraham Landis, who as a former member of the Mennonite Church had already been baptized, but now no longer regarded this baptism as valid, baptized John Herr, who in turn rebaptized Landis. The new group called itself Mennonite, the only " true" Mennonite Church. By others, however, in order to distinguish them from the old church they were sometimes spoken of as "New" Mennonites, occasionally merely as "Herrites" and later as Reformed Mennonites, which latter term finally became the official name of this group.
The new Reformed Mennonite movement began almost as a family affair. In addition to a few of Francis Herr's old associates, John's wife, five sisters, and three brothers-in-law, some of whom had never been members of their father's church, formed the first organized church. John Herr, who possessed some ability as a public speaker and writer, with a rather wide knowledge in church history, now began an aggressive campaign in behalf of his father's cause and his own religious views, and soon had organized a number of small congregations in Lancaster and several of the surrounding counties, as well as in several of the neighboring states. But with his death in 1850, expansion of the movement practically ceased. It is probable that it never reached a baptized membership exceeding 2,500 at any time.
John Herr wrote a number of books, in which he freely expressed his own religious views and especially assailed the old church in strong terms, insisting as his father had done before him that it was a "dead" church, and claiming that the Mennonite Church of that day had departed far from the traditions and practices of the original teachings and practices of Menno Simons. "Back to Menno" might well be called a fitting slogan of the new movement. Herr says, "So far as the evening is from the morning, of darkness from light, are [the Mennonites] separated from our first reformer's doctrine, or the community of Christ." Musser in the same strain says, "Those who departed from the distinctive features of Menno's profession are not fairly entitled to the name Mennonite."
Among the "carnal" practices of Mennonites of that day censured by the Herr following were voting at elections and taking part in political campaigns, foolish talking and jesting, attending county fairs, observing race-ridings, excessive drinking, and especially the failure of many members to observe feetwashing and avoidance of excommunicated members and the kiss of peace, and laxity on the part of the elders in admitting members and in disciplining unfaithful members.
The following statement of the doctrines, practices, and attitudes of the Reformed Mennonite Church in 1958 was supplied by two bishops of the church in Lancaster County, Pa., Jacob L. Kreider and J. Henry Fisher, both of Lancaster City.
"The Reformed Mennonites are a small body of people who adhere to the doctrines and principles of love taught in the New Testament, and practiced by true Christians in all ages since the church was established on the day of Pentecost. They are not a part or branch of any other organization. They believe that Menno Simons, from whom they derive their name, and with whose teachings they are in full agreement, was not a founder of the original Church of Christ. Likewise, John Herr, who in 1812 helped to organize the group now known as Reformed Mennonites, did not establish a new church. It was under his leadership that a number of persons, who could not at that time find an organization which they felt sincerely carried out the teachings of the New Testament, were drawn together to worship, and subsequently organized into church fellowship.
"The Reformed Mennonites believe the church is the effect of the power of the Holy Spirit, that there could be no true Christian organization without it, and that the continuity and succession of the church is dependent on the presence and guidance of God's Holy Spirit. They do not believe outward forms of religion can save anyone, but that the divine power or principle begotten within the soul by the combined influence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will result in repentance, regeneration, and a hope of salvation, bringing about love, unity, and peace among believers. Without love and unity in the church, the Reformed Mennonites feel it would be impossible to keep the commandments and observe the ordinances given by Christ. They practice adult baptism upon faith and the evidences of a consistent life, believing that baptism is an outward symbol of the spiritual baptism within the heart. Their communion, too, is closed, for to them communion signifies not only fellowship between God and the believer, but also with one another.
"They carry out the plain commandment of laboring with an erring one as explained in Matthew 18:15-17, even to the extent of applying the ban when there is evidence that the spiritual life has been lost, so that the church may be kept pure, and with the hope that such a one may become sensible of his situation, and penitently return to the Lord. The Reformed Mennonites believe this labor is a duty devolving not alone upon the ministry, but also upon each individual member of the church. This labor of love, as well as the original washing of regeneration and the daily need of forgiveness by the Lord, is exemplified for them by the ordinance of feetwashing, which is participated in by all the members of the church. The laity, as well as the ministry, also 'greet one another with the kiss of charity.'
"The Reformed Mennonites are entirely nonresistant and do not sue at law. They ask to be excused from military service; for this reason they do not vote or hold any office in government. They believe Christians are called out from the worldly kingdom into Christ's kingdom in nonconformity to the world. They try to live in simplicity, abhor strife, contention, and worldliness. Their manner of dress is plain, and the women wear a head covering at all times as commanded in 1 Corinthians 11:1-14. This head covering, as well as their clothing, is of generally uniform design throughout the church, both in the United States and Canada, where their congregations are located.
"They feel they cannot consistently and conscientiously participate in the worship of those who do not live in harmony with the doctrines of Christ, for in so doing, they would be bidding them Godspeed, as taught in 2 John 10, 11. Because of love for the souls of all mankind, they would not want to encourage anyone in a course at variance with Christ's teachings, but by withdrawal from all divided religious services, quietly but earnestly and firmly testify to their belief that the power of God's Spirit will lead regenerated persons in unity and love and away from the saying of 'Lo, here is Christ, and Lo there' manifest by the many professions of Christianity. They believe the Scriptures clearly indicate that there can be but one true Church of Christ in any one place because Christian love draws Christ's followers together into one, as was the case on the day of Pentecost. 'There is one body....' (Ephesians 4.4-6)."
In methods of church work the Reformed Mennonites confine themselves principally to Sunday morning worship services, having no Sunday schools, young people's work, or mission work, although they cordially invite others to attend their services. Their ministers are selected by vote and serve without pay. They have the threefold ministry of bishops, ministers, and deacons. In 1958 there were five bishops in the United States and two in Canada. The church has remained relatively unchanged in doctrine, practice, forms of dress and worship, and organization since John Herr's death in 1850.
Their children, however, so long as they are not members of the church, are permitted and expected perhaps to live the normal life of the young people of the community, and are in no way limited in their political, social, or cultural contacts with the rest of the community. The radical transformation from this free and easy way of life to the rather rigid regulations of membership no doubt accounts partially for the fact that so few of the children of Reformed Mennonite parentage join the church of their fathers.
The Reformed Mennonites, though very strict and very conservative, live up to their convictions unusually well. In their daily life they are an upright people, honest, industrious, conscientious, law-abiding citizens. Their religious exclusiveness does not extend to their business enterprise except that there are no partnerships with nonmembers. In this field they are frequently unusually successful. Among those in their line of descent, though himself never a member, was the late Milton Snavely Hershey (1857-1945), the Pennsylvania chocolate candy king, whose mother was a member. His grandfather, Abram Snavely, was a bishop of the church 1830-67. In the professions open to them, such as medicine and dentistry, they also succeed above the average.
A division took place in 1917 under the leadership of John Miller, minister of the Reformed Mennonite Church in Huron County, Ohio, in disagreement over conducting funerals in cooperation with non-Reformed Mennonite ministers and over the support of the American Red Cross during World War I. Three congregations formed the New Reformed Mennonite Church. They were located in Huron, Richland, and Lucas Counties, Ohio. There were also several members in Ontario. The last service was held in their church near Willard, Ohio, in August 1967. The last member, a minister named Harry Pittenger, died in 1985 at Willard, Ohio.
In 1975 Minister Willis Weaver and several Reformed Mennonite families withdrew from their church in Lancaster County, Pa., over personal differences with the other ministers. There were 17 members in this group in 1987.
The membership of the Reformed Mennonites has manifested a steady decline apparently throughout the past fifty years at least and probably longer. The Census of 1906 reported in the United States 2,079 members, that of 1936 only 1,044; in 1958 there were only 616. In 1910 there were 34 congregations with 29 meetinghouses and 1,655 members according to the Census, but in 1958 there were only 19 congregations with 616 members. The United States Census of 1890 reports 34 congregations with 1,655 members.
The 1948 distribution of Reformed Mennonite congregations was as follows: United States, 24 meeting places with 733 members; Canada, 6 congregations with 217 members, a total of 950 members. In 1958 there were only 616 members in the United States and 211 in Canada. Following is a list of congregations in 1958, with (where known) year of founding, year of building of first meetinghouse, and membership: Pennsylvania, 10 with 309, in Lancaster County 5 meeting places (all within 20 miles of Lancaster City) with a total of 221 members as follows: Landisville (1869), Lancaster (1864), Longenecker's (1812), New Danville (1830), Shirk's near Brownstown (1889) (including former Denver and Steinmetz); other Pennsylvania locations -- Hershey's near Hershey, Dauphin County (1833) 9, Worcester near Lansdale, Montgomery County (1864, meetinghouse 1890) 15, Falling Spring near Chambersburg, Franklin County (1841, 1847) 12, Middlesex near Carlisle, Cumberland County (1870) 28 (including former Plainfield, 1882 and former Winding Hill, 1870); Waynesboro, Franklin County (1827 beginning at Ringgold, Md., 1876 at Waynesboro) 24; Ohio, 5 with 150 as follows: Lauber Hill near Archbold, Fulton County (1852) 70; Bluffton, Allen Co. (1876) 47; Marshallville, Wayne County (1820, 1860) 24; Medway, Clark County (1872, now sold) 3; Whitehouse, Lucas County (1852) 6; Indiana, 1 at Valparaiso (1860) 24; Michigan, 1 at Shelby, Oceana County (1868) 52; Illinois, 1 at Sterling (1820, 1868) 52; New York, 1 at Williamsville, Erie County (1834) 29. In Canada there were 6 congregations with 211 members, all in Ontario as follows: Humberstone (1825) 44 and Stevensville (1835) 41, both in Welland County, Rainham near Selkirk in Haldimand County (1825) 5, Hostetler's near New Hamburg (1844) 52, and Kingwood near Wellesley (1850) 27, both in Waterloo County, and Amulree near Stratford in Perth County (1850) 42. The group operated two homes for the aged, known as Lancaster Church Home (in Lancaster City) and Waynesboro Church Home (in Waynesboro). The former was no longer operated by 1987. The only Reformed Mennonite church paper ever published was Good Tidings, published at Lancaster, Pa., July 1922 to July 1932. It is a 32-page, 12 1/2 x 9 1/2 inch quarterly, edited by Jacob Kreider. C.H.S., H.S.B.
As of 1 June 1987 this denomination had 412 members. Congregations were located at North Easthope (92 members) and Stevensville (63) in Ontario; Sterling, Ill. (44); Shelby, Mich. (24); Bluffton (30), Marshallville (9), and Wauseon (32) in Ohio; Memphis, Tenn. (9); Waynesboro (14), Longeneckers (68), and Middlesex (19) in Pennsylvania; and 8 members in other areas.
In May 2000 the denomination had 302 members, with congregations in North Easthope (73 members) and Stevensville (58) in Ontario; Sterling, Ill. (38); Shelby, Mich. (12); Archbold (18), Bluffton (28) and Marshallville (5) in Ohio; Oakland, Tenn. (5); and Chambersburg (8), Middlesex (17) and Longenecker's (40) in Pennsylvania.
Eshleman, Wilmer J. "History of the Reformed Mennonite Church" in Papers Read Before the Lancaster County Historical Society 49 (1945): 85-117, containing also a complete list of the 47 bishops and ministers ordained 1812-1940 in the Lancaster County Reformed Mennonite Church.
Funk, John F. The Mennonite Church and her Accusers. Elkhart, 1878.
Hartzler, J. S. and Daniel Kauffman. Mennonite Church History. Scottdale, 1905.
Herr, John. Complete Works (520 pp.) Buffalo, 1890.
Herr, John. Erläuterungs Spiegel. Lancaster, 1827.
Herr, John. The True and Blessed Way. Harrisburg, 1816.
Kraybill, Paul, N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, Ill.: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 373.
Musser, Daniel. The Reformed Mennonite Church, its Rise and Progress with its Principles and Doctrines. Lancaster, 1873.
Reimer, Margaret Loewen, ed., One Quilt, Many Pieces. Waterloo, Ont.: Mennonite Publishing Service, 1983: 24.
Rupp, I. D. An Original History of All the Religious Denominations in the United States. Philadelphia, 1844. contains a section (pp. 502-10) "The Reformed Mennonite Society," which had "the sanction of the Rev. John Herr of Strasburg, a Bishop of this Society."
Weaver, M. G. The Mennonites of Lancaster Conference. Scottdale, 1931.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 267-270; v. 5, p. 753. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Smith, C. Henry, Harold S. Bender and Delbert L. Gratz. "Reformed Mennonite Church." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 18 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/R4454ME.html.
APA style: Smith, C. Henry, Harold S. Bender and Delbert L. Gratz. (1990). Reformed Mennonite Church. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/R4454ME.html.