Formerly it was the custom in the congregations of the American Mennonite (Mennonite Church) and Amish Mennonite groups having the plural ministry to have all the ordained men sit on "the long bench" behind the pulpit on the pulpit platform throughout the service and at the close of the sermon to have each in order of seniority, from a seated position, give a brief "testimony" to the sermon. This consisted normally of a few general comments of appreciation, endorsement, and emphasis. The first to testify concluded with the phrase "further liberty," which was an invitation to the next in order. Sometimes the testimony included a statement of disagreement with the sermon, or it might have been the simple statement "I can say yea and amen to the teaching," or "The message we have heard from the brother is according to the Word of God." The custom is still followed to some extent in the morning services in the Lancaster Mennonite Conference and the Washington County, Maryland - Franklin County, Pennsylvania Mennonite Conference and in two congregations of the Franconia Mennonite Conference. It is uniformly followed in the Old Order Amish congregations everywhere. Among the latter it is expected that a senior layman or two will also briefly state his endorsement of the sermon, if he can sincerely do so. In some cases individuals were named by the Amish bishop to give testimony. After the testimonies, the minister who preached the main sermon leads in prayer. The custom was formerly followed also in the Volhynian Swiss churches in Kansas and South Dakota in the General Conference Mennonite group. In Virginia (Mennonite Church) usually only one minister "testified."
An anecdote is told of an Amish congregation in Johnson County, Iowa, which occurred about 1900, when a layman was called upon who had been sleeping during the sermon and who honestly stated: "I am sorry that I was sleeping and would not want to be responsible for what I did not hear, but what I heard and understood was in accord with God's Word."
The intent of the custom is clearly to (1) give united and strong support to the teaching offered, and (2) furnish a check of the content of the preaching of any one minister by all the others. Information is not available as to the antiquity of the custom or its practice in other groups, but it must have been brought from Europe to America in the earliest times, and probably goes back to the beginning of Anabaptist history, at least in Switzerland and South Germany. In Sappemeer, Holland, in the Old Swiss congregation "after the preacher had finished his sermon other brethren spoke briefly to express their agreement with the sermon or to add a few words from the Bible."
The universal custom in the Mennonite (Mennonite Church) conferences of having "testimonies" given to the conference sermon, both in the district conferences and the general conference sessions, by a number of ministers selected by the moderator, is a direct descendant of the testimony in the congregational services. It is strongly maintained in the conference sessions even though it has been dropped in the congregations.
Gingerich, Melvin. "Chapter XVII: Church Services" in The Mennonites in Iowa. Iowa City, 1939.
|Author(s)||Harold S Bender|
Cite This Article
Bender, Harold S. "Testimony." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 24 Oct 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Testimony&oldid=78081.
Bender, Harold S. (1959). Testimony. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 October 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Testimony&oldid=78081.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 700-701. All rights reserved.
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