Evangelical Mennonite Church (United States)
In 2003 the Evangelical Mennonite Church changed its name to Fellowship of Evangelical Churches. This article describes the group until 1987 under its former name.
Before 1948, the Evangelical Mennonite Church was known as the Defenseless Mennonite Church of North America and earlier popularly called the "Egli Amish". It was conceived about 1864 in Adams County, IN. Henry Egly, since 1858 a bishop of the Amish congregation near Berne, claimed to have experienced regeneration of heart, and began to urge the necessity of a definite experience of regeneration. He charged his group with formalism, lack of spiritual vitality and depth, looseness in maintaining the old customs, especially in regard to dress, and rebaptized those who had not experienced regeneration at the time of their first baptism in order that their baptism could be the answer of a good conscience toward God. No sooner had Bishop Egly made the announcement of his position than the congregation was divided, about half claiming they had had a personal experience of salvation either before baptism or after. These became adherents to Bishop Egly's teaching, and with these in 1866 he organized his own church.
The contention that arose under Bishop Egly's ministry in Adams County, Indiana spread to certain Amish congregations in Fulton County, Ohio, Gridley, Illinois and even to Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska, although the main centers have been Berne, Indiana, Archbold, Ohio, and Gridley, Illinois. He strengthened his cause in all these places and won many converts who later became leaders in the conference when it was organized. The early teaching was very strict in regard to discipline and dress. The prayer head covering (a black three-cornered veil) and bonnet were originally worn. Later the veil was made larger and longer and eventually was discarded for the costume of the general populace. The men commonly wore beards but did not practice wearing the collarless coat and did not wear ties in the early days. In place of this a sort of black kerchief was worn around the neck. The modern tie was, however, adopted later, although some of the older ministers never wore it. Wearing of ornamental jewelry was banned, as was the use of tobacco and strong drink. The holy kiss was in favor but gradually was dropped by the laity, being practiced only in the reception of members and among ministers. This is no longer practiced except that where the rite of footwashing is observed the two washing each other's feet exchange the token. At first the group was quite exclusive, lived independently of other religious organizations, and was conservative in its relations with other people. In the early years they had no musical instruments, but had singing schools; but finally organs were permitted and by the 1950s piano and other instrumental music were considered an integral part of the worship service.
The church services were conducted with singing and testimony for all the members and preaching by the minister, or by the deacons in the absence of the ministers, and sometimes in their presence. There were also special prayer and testimony meetings. At first German was spoken but later English was introduced and part of the service was in German and part in English. There were usually two services on Sunday, morning and afternoon. The early church had a kitchen and dining room attached so that members could stay all day, families taking turns in providing the meal, which consisted of bread and butter with syrup or apple butter and coffee.
The first Sunday schools were started in 1870-1874 and were conducted in schoolhouses. These schools were independent of the church, since they met considerable opposition. Their purpose was not fully understood and they did not last long. In 1880 the first official Sunday school was held in the meetinghouse and was generally accepted. During the first few years the classes were conducted in German. Jubeltöne was the songbook used, and the Bible was the textbook. The smaller children used a special German A-B-C book and the next classes Hübner's Biblische Geschichten, both of which were published by the Mennonite Publishing Company of Elkhart, Indiana. Children were taught to memorize verses of the Bible; later Sunday-school quarterlies of the Mennonite Publishing House of Scottdale, PA were used and some were still used in the 1950s. Services are now all in English.
The church membership was gained by preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins as a personal, definite experience. This was expressed in general or special meetings by the convert rising to his feet sometimes during the sermon and asking the church for their prayers, asking forgiveness of parents and friends, making wrongs right, and holding on in prayer until he received through faith in Christ's atoning blood the evidence that his sins were forgiven. Later opportunity was given at the close of the message for those wishing to be saved to raise their hands for prayer and also come forward and kneel at an altar. Conversions were confined to the immediate families but as years passed the spirit of evangelism reached outside the immediate Mennonite fold. Yearly, and sometimes oftener, special evangelistic services were conducted to reach not only the Mennonites but also those in the community who have no church home and were in need of salvation.
The first annual conference was held in 1883 although incorporation did not take place till 1908. This conference was confined to the discussion of the various doctrines of the church and transacted no business. Bishop Henry Egly was in charge. Others taking active part in the discussions were C. R. Egle, Peter Hochstettler, Detsch, Christian King, S. Leip, Joseph Rediger, Daniel Rupp, and Christian Zimmerman. Topics included Sinners and Unrighteousness, Justification, Repentance, Atonement, Baptism, Immersion, Adoption, Footwashing, Marriage of a Child of God, Oaths, and Nonresistance. It was another decade before another conference was held, but since 1895 there has been a yearly conference with routine business. Each local church was represented by one delegate for each 25 members. After 1948 each local church was represented by one delegate for each 35 members.
The church began missionary work in 1896 when the conference supported Matilda Kohm in Africa. Interest in this venture was stimulated by Joseph Rediger, elder in the Salem Evangelical Mennonite Church, Gridley, Illinois. She went out under the Christian Missionary Alliance Board to the Lower Congo just north of Boma. After her first furlough, on her return to the field in 1900 she took with her Alma Doering, and both worked under the Swedish Missionary Society in territory between the Congo and the Kasai. Missionary interest multiplied until finally the Congo Inland Mission Board was organized (1912) in cooperation with the Central Conference of the Mennonite Church, and in later years expanded its operations to include two other Mennonite conference representatives on its Board, with a total of 74 active missionaries on the field and 8 who were on the retired list in the 1950s. Also in 1949 missionary efforts were extended by the church to the Dominican Republic, where there were 7 workers in 1955.
In 1898 the Salem Orphanage near Flanagan, Illinois was founded by Daniel R. King and his wife, a childless aged couple, members of the Defenseless Mennonite Church, when they gave their farm of 100 acres, two miles south of Flanagan, for the cause. A charter was granted 22 December 1896, the name "Salem Orphanage" legally adopted, and a Constitution and Bylaws framed by the first six trustees. Since the Board of Directors have been chosen by the Conference. In 1905 Henry Broad of Flanagan also willed his farm of 160 acres, which lay within one mile of the Home. The churches of the Conference give monthly offerings for its maintenance. The name was changed to "Salem Children's Home" in 1945.
In 1897 the annual conference resolved to publish a paper in the interest of the Conference and orphanage under the name Heils-Bote. Its English companion was begun about the same time under the name Zion's Call, with D. N. Claudon as editor. This was published by the Salem Orphanage until a Conference resolution in 1913 made it the official organ of the Defenseless Mennonites. Later on 1 September 1921 the paper became a combination of Zion's Call and Good Tidings and was published under the name Zion's Tidings. After the merger of the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren and Evangelical Mennonite Church conferences the paper represented both of these groups and was called The Evangelical Mennonite.
In the last decade of the 19th century a group under the leadership of J. A. Ramseyer insisted upon immersion as the only mode of baptism and taught the infilling of the Holy Spirit to be an experience separate from regeneration, and became exceedingly zealous to do missionary work. As this was not generally accepted by the church, a split occurred, the Ramseyer group leaving in 1898 to form the Missionary Church Association. In the 1940's attempts were made to reunite the two groups, but without success. Finally in 1953 a merger was made with the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren to form the Evangelical Mennonite Conference. In 1954 the combined Evangelical Mennonite Church consisted of 19 congregations with a total of 2,103 baptized members as follows: Ohio—Archbold 437, Wauseon 184, Pioneer 41, Bluffton 62; Indiana—Berne 263, Woodburn 163, Grabill 144, Lafayette 70, Ft. Wayne 71; Illinois—Gridley 224, Groveland 153, Chicago 39; Kansas—Sterling 142; Tennessee—McMinnville 17, Smithville 18, Pomeroy 17, Sparta 3; Michigan—Adrian 34, Midland, 21 -- EER
In 1986 with 3,788 members in 25 congregations spread across Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Kansas, the Evangelical Mennonite Church in the United States is a small but growing member of the Mennonite family. Since its origin in 1865 in Berne, Indiana, it has moved from its Amish roots through the middle of the Mennonite family and into the Evangelical portion of the North American church spectrum. During the 30 years from 1955 to 1985, the denomination continued its struggle to relate the "evangelical" and the "Mennonite" aspects of its name and heritage.
During the 1950s the Evangelical Mennonite Church took serious steps toward merger with the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Conference (Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches). In the 1960s merger was considered with the Missionary Church Association, an evangelical church with Mennonite roots that eventually merged with the United Missionary Church. Neither merger took place, and in 1974 the denomination officially tabled all merger discussion.
That decision indicated a deliberate shift in denominational thinking and policy. The new tendency was to work from the assumption that the group would continue to exist as an independent organization. A third executive staff member was added to headquarters staff at Fort Wayne, Indiana (1974); a new headquarters building was constructed (1977); a short denominational history was published (1979); denominational mission work was established in other countries (Venezuela, 1980; Burkina Faso, 1983); and the denominational committee structure was overhauled (1986). These actions were seen as the kind of steps which an organization would probably not take while considering merger. Before 1974, merger was often proposed as a step toward more efficiency in denominational work and mission. Since then merger discussion has been seen more as a hindrance to mission, a waste of energy that should be channeled into direct ministry.
The form of ministry having most significance for the denomination's identity and future was the establishment of new congregations through church extension. Though there were a few failures, on the whole, efforts have been so successful that over half of the present attenders worship in congregations which are less than thirty years old, e.g., Grace (Morton, Illinois), Brookside (Fort Wayne, Indiana), and Upland (Indiana). Other congregations are being formed in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Kansas. None of the new churches are in traditionally Mennonite communities; all of them have a heavy emphasis on personal conversion. The rapid growth of churches with such shallow Mennonite roots naturally affects the way the denomination as a whole sees itself. The trend is toward separating the concepts of church planting and the Mennonite heritage, giving priority to church planting.
Overseas mission continued as a high priority of the denomination with 43 percent of denominational funds in the 1986-87 budget being designated for overseas work. The position of Director of Overseas Missions was made full time in 1982. A dwindling of career missionary personnel in the late 1970s had apparently been reversed by the mid-1980s. Missionary personnel were serving in Latin America (Dominican Republic and Venezuela) and, with the Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, in Africa (Burkina Faso and Zaire).
Though mission giving has remained high and church extension has also received large contributions, there has been a trend toward spending an increasing percentage of congregational income locally. Major building projects usually in the interest of better Christian education facilities, have been undertaken since 1975 at Archbold (Ohio), Berne (Indiana, USA), Brookside (Fort Wayne, Indiana), Grace (Morton, Illinois), Groveland (Pekin, Illinois), Lawton (Michigan), Pine Hills (Fort Wayne, Indiana), Sterling (Kansas), and Upland (Indiana). A second pastoral staff member has been added in numerous congregations, again usually for assistance with Christian education and youth work. In spite of these changes, the rate of denominational membership growth leveled off between 1981 and 1986, after showing an average gain of 8 percent every five years since 1960. This has caused serious reflection among current denominational leaders. There is a desire to see the Evangelical Mennonite Church become more effective in carrying out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
Doctrinally there have been no major debates or changes at the denominational level in recent years. Local and personal variations in theology are tolerated as long as they fall within the general position represented by such groups as the National Association of Evangelicals or those associated with the Lausanne Covenant.
Like other evangelical denominations, the Evangelical Mennonite Church has taken firm positions on issues controversial in the 1980s, including divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, (sexuality), and the ordination of women. A woman staff member who was employed as a Christian Education director in the Archbold congregation in 1982 was given the status of "licensed Christian worker," analogous to that of women who were overseas missionaries. A part-time Director of Women's Ministries has been employed at the headquarters since 1986 to stimulate women's involvement throughout the denomination.
In a denomination as small as this one, generational changes can be observed. The past 30 years have largely borne the stamp of five men representing the denomination's first generation of seminary-trained leaders—Reuben Short, Andrew Rupp, Milo Nussbaum, Charles Zimmerman and Charles Rupp. All were raised in Mennonite homes and communities; all have served throughout the period in a variety of denominational leadership positions; and all were recently retired or near retirement in 1987. The three full time executive members of the headquarters staff in 1987 were all under the age of 40, and none of them were raised in a Mennonite home or community. The years 1988-1993 are likely to be especially significant ones as the outlook of a new generation of leaders and members is clarified and implemented. -- SN
Annual report of the Conference 1883-1953.
Church Manual of the Defenseless Mennonite Church, Confession of Faith, Rules and Discipline, Revised and Adopted . . . Aug. 30, 1917, and again . . . Aug. 1936. Berne,IN, 1937.
Discipline of the Evangelical Mennonite Church. revised and adopted . . . Aug. 13, 1947 (replacing manuals of 1917, 1951) no publisher indicated: 1949.
Nussbaum, Stan. You Must Be Born Again: A History of the Evangelical Mennonite Church. Fort Wayne: Evangelical Mennonite Church, 1979. An official history booklet intended for general readership and membership classes.
Smith, C. Henry. The Mennonites of America. Newton, KS: 1950.
Weber, Harry F. Centennial History of the Mennonites of Illinois. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1931.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 264-266; vol. 5, pp. 276, 278. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Rupp, E. E. and Stan Nussbaum. "Evangelical Mennonite Church (United States)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/E936.html.
APA style: Rupp, E. E. and Stan Nussbaum. (1987). Evangelical Mennonite Church (United States). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/E936.html.