Kipfer, Johann (1858-1944)
Johann Kipfer, an elder of the Mennonite congregation of Langnau in the Emmental, Switzerland, was born 15 October 1858, at Oberfrittenbach in the Raingut not far from Langnau. As a youth he was converted by the preaching of the German revivalist Elias Schrenck. As a means of spreading the Gospel, Kipfer and some others founded the Zionspilger in 1882, which has been published in Langnau continuously since that time. Kipfer was also an instigator in building the meetinghouse and parsonage (Vereinshaus) at Kehr near Langnau in 1888. Kipfer became the editor of the Zionspilger following the death of Samuel Bähler, the first editor in 1890, holding this position until 1943, with the exception of 1898-1900, when Matthias Pohl served as editor.
In 1884 he was ordained as preacher of the Langnau Mennonite congregation. His deepest interest was, however, the promotion of the Evangelical Alliance, more than the development of the Mennonite congregations on the principles of their fathers. He therefore stressed Luther's doctrine of justification rather than that of discipleship as stressed by the fathers. This explains the dropping of articles on Mennonite history from the Zionspilger during Kipfer's editorship, contrary to Bähler's editorial policy.
In the 1890s Kipfer was ordained as elder of the Emmental congregation. In this office he sought especially to implant the message of salvation into the hearts of his catechumens. On the one hand his good judgment against extremist movements was greatly appreciated. On the other hand, he was sometimes intolerant toward other brethren in the conference. Mennonite tradition was for Kipfer a thing of the past; he sought so much the more after fellowship with believers of other circles, especially in the Free Churches, but also in the state church. The content of his theological thought can be summarized as "faith and grace." This was the keynote of the Zionspilger, which contained mostly articles written by non-Mennonites, e.g., Wilhelm Meili and Heinrich Kurz. For 60 years Kipfer worked along these lines, impressing this stamp on the Emmental congregation. Mennonite principles were given only partial consideration. This was true of the Confession of Faith of the Emmental congregation which Kipfer wrote in 1937. He presented this document for adoption by the other Swiss Mennonite congregations, but it was rejected on the ground that it went too far in involvement with the state church and in the recognition of infant baptism as being "in the spirit of the Scriptures." In 1943 Kipfer retired as editor, moved with his family from Kehr to Langnau, and died on 15 March 1944.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 178. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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