The Missionary Church Association (MCA), founded on 29 August 1898 at Berne, Indiana, has been deeply influenced by Mennonite character and tradition, since a number of the founders came out of the Defenseless Mennonite Church (later the Evangelical Mennonite Church, now Fellowship of Evangelical Churches). Several of the early leaders in the Missionary Church Association, including Joseph E. Ramseyer, William Egle, Joseph Egly, David Roth, and Henry Roth, were ministers in the Defenseless Mennonite Church originally. A. E. Funk of Eastern Pennsylvania, a minister in the General Conference Mennonite Church and a close associate of A. B. Simpson in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was elected the first president of the Missionary Church Association in 1898. B. P. Lugibihl of the Church and Missionary Alliance, and D. Y. Schultz were also strongly influential leaders in the beginning of the MCA. John A. Sprunger, a General Conference Mennonite minister, also wielded an influence, but did not associate with the MCA at its founding. A number of people followed the early Mennonite leaders in establishing the first Missionary churches in Berne and Grabill, Indiana, Archbold, Ohio, Groveland, Illinois, and Elkton, Michigan. In addition to the Mennonite sources, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, through its early German Branch and the influences of its strong missionary and Bible conferences, played a major role in the formation of the new church.
Bethany Home and Bible Institute (the antecedent of the Fort Wayne Bible College) was established by the B. P. Lugibihls in 1895 in Bluffton, Ohio. J. E. Ramseyer, D. Y. Schultz, J. A. Sprunger, and others were engaged to assist in the Bible Institute at Bluffton. J. E. Ramseyer was principal for the first two years (1895-1897), followed by D. Y. Schultz (1897-1900). The Bible Institute was closed in 1901 after six years of ministry. In 1904, after wide investigation for a new and more advantageous site, the school was reopened as the Fort Wayne Bible Training School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The school was known as the Fort Wayne Bible College until 1989 with a strong and varied program of training. It was owned and controlled by the Missionary Church Association although operated under a broad inter-denominational policy. S. A. Witmer was president beginning in 1945. In 1989 Fort Wayne Bible College was named Summit Bible College; in 1992 the campus was sold to Taylor University and became the Fort Wayne campus of that university.
J. E. Ramseyer was the president of the Missionary Church Association for 44 years (1900-1944), and during that long period was its great and highly respected leader. He was also the president of the Fort Wayne Bible College 1912-1944. Other founders of Fort Wayne Bible College were D. Y. Schultz, B. P. Lugibihl, William Egle, David Roth, and Henry Roth.
From 1900 to 1907 most of the churches founded had some Mennonite background. These included Pandora, Ohio, in 1900; Elbing, Kansas, in 1902; Swanton, Ohio, in 1904; Archbold, Ohio, Pettisville, Ohio, and the First Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1905; and Woodburn, Indiana in 1907. After 1908 the church grew largely through other influences and sources which weakened the Mennonite character of the church.
The particular issues which led to the expulsion of the early leaders from the Defenseless Mennonite Church were the baptism with the Holy Spirit as a crisis experience following regeneration, certain truths related to eschatology, immersion as the only mode of baptism, and divine healing. J. E. Ramseyer brought the conflict in the church to a crisis by being rebaptized by immersion in August 1896. Others followed his example in baptism, and these with others became the nucleus of the new church.
In 1904 the official organ of the Missionary Church Association, The Missionary Worker, was established with D. Y. Schultz as its first editor 1904-1911. It continued as a bimonthly denominational periodical. The German organ, Botschafter des Heils in Christo, was founded earlier but was approved by the General Conference of the Missionary Church Association in 1903 as an official organ of the church. William Egle served as its editor until 1927 with the exception of 1919-1922, when H. C. Thiessen was the editor: The paper was discontinued in 1927.
The strong distinctives of the Missionary Church Association were its emphasis upon the deeper life and upon foreign missions. Separation from the world, nonresistance with some modification, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper were taught and practiced. Feetwashing, once quite widely practiced, died out.
The Missionary Church Association in 1957 had 113 local churches with approximately 7,000 members. There were 95 ordained pastors and 25 licensed ministers serving in churches. The churches were distributed as follows: Indiana 16, Ohio 24, Michigan 17, Illinois 9, Pennsylvania 3, Maryland 1, Tennessee 3, Arkansas 2, Missouri 1, Kansas 6, Nebraska 2, Colorado 1, Oregon 2, California 18, Arizona 3, Hawaii 4.
In 1957 foreign missionary work was carried on in sixteen countries around the world with a staff of 100 missionaries including 10 in the Hawaiian Islands. The Missionary Church Association operated its own fields in Sierra Leone, Africa; Ecuador, South America; Jamaica, Dominican Republic; Haiti, and the Hawaiian Islands. It cooperated closely with other boards, particularly the Christian and Missionary Alliance, in sending and supporting missionaries in other countries.
The Missionary Church Association had close relations for many years with the Evangelical Mennonites, the United Missionary Church, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Off and on there were special efforts at merger between the Missionary Church Association and the first two. Negotiations were in progress with the United Missionary Church in 1957. The Missionary Church Association was a member of the National Association of Evangelicals and its foreign department of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association since their inception.
The Missionary Church Association headquarters were located at 3901 South Wayne Avenue, Fort Wayne, Indiana, in a memorial building to J. E. Ramseyer, dedicated in 1950. J. A. Ringenberg succeeded J. E. Ramseyer as president in 1944, and Jared F. Gerig was elected to that office in 1952. -- Jared F. Gerig
A merger with the United Missionary Church was finally concluded in 1969, and resulted in the formation of the Missionary Church. The Canadian portion of the Missionary Church withdrew to form a separately structured Missionary Church of Canada in 1987. In 1993 it merged with the Evangelical Church of Canada to form the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada.
Engbrecht, Dennis D. "Merging and Diverging Streams: The Colorful and Complex History of the Missionary Church." Reproduced in Missionary Church. "History - Missionary Church 2006" Accessed 23 September 2006. <http://www.mcusa.org/editor/assets/Merging&Diverging1.rtf>
Lugibihl, Walter H. and Jared F. Gerig. The Missionary Church Association, Historical Account of Its Origin and Development. Berne, IN, 1950.
Ramseyer, Mrs. J. E. J. E. Ramseyer, Yet Speaking. Berne, IN, n.d.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 710-711. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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