Church of God in Christ, Mennonite
The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, a relatively small Christian group of Anabaptist heritage; a 19th-century offshoot of the Mennonite Church. Among Mennonite groups, they are often referred to as Holdeman Mennonites, due to the original leadership of John Holdeman.
The congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite are descendants of the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. In doctrine and practice they profess to carry on the faith of Jesus and His apostles. Holdeman Mennonites also recognize the faith of the Waldenses and other nonconformist groups of the Middle Ages as part of their spiritual heritage. They believe that "Christ established one true, visible Church, and through her He has preserved His faith and doctrine through the ages."
Under the influential work of Menno Simons, many of the Anabaptists became known as Mennonites. The earliest permanent settlement of Mennonites in America was at Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1683. In the mid 19th century some American Mennonites believed they saw in their church a spiritual decline and drift away from sound doctrine, and sought to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints". Among these was John Holdeman (1832–1900), who was born in Wayne County, Ohio to Mennonite parents. John's father, Amos Holdeman, was interested in the revivalist movement of John Winebrenner. John Holdeman became both an evangelist and a reformer. Issues he believed needed reform included the baptism of persons not giving sufficient evidence of conversion, less than diligent child training, and laxity of church discipline.
Holdeman and other concerned individuals began holding separate meetings in April 1859, resulting in a permanent separation from the Mennonite church and the eventual organization of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Holdeman wrote extensively and traveled widely, and new congregations were formed in the United States and Canada. Growth among the Mennonites and Amish was minimal until the arrival of Mennonite immigrants from Prussia, who settled in McPherson County, Kansas in 1875. In 1878, Holdeman baptized 78 of members of that group. In 1881, he baptized 118 Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites in Manitoba. They had migrated to North America from Russia. With this group came their leader, Peter Toews. From a small beginning to a membership of around 750 at the time of Holdeman's death, the church experienced slow but steady growth until the mid-1970s. During the later 1970s the growth slowed, then continued. Numerous new churches have been started because of the growth as members have sought opportunity in new locations, and churches have been planted in new states and provinces.
Faith and practice
The church holds a strong Mennonite doctrinal heritage. Simplicity and modesty in clothing, homes and personal possessions is held as an ideal. Men wear beards, and women wear a head covering. Baptism is observed by pouring water on the believer's head; closed communion is held with bread and unfermented fruit of the vine; and feet washing is observed with the ministers washing the men's feet and the wives of ministers and/or deacons washing the women's feet. Non-resistance is standard practice, whether among individuals, regarding suits at law, or concerning warfare among nations. Holdeman Mennonites do not vote, serve in the military or in law enforcement. In denying that Jesus was made from the seed of Mary, the Christology of this church is closer to the teachings of Menno Simons and Melchior Hoffman than any other Mennonite group.
Holdeman's teachings on salvation and the Bible probably reflect more evangelical Protestant (and probably pietist) influence. They believe that a person can lose his or her salvation, and leaving or excommunication from the Holdeman Mennonite church is usually considered to follow a loss of salvation, but they do believe there are Christians saved outside of the Holdeman Mennonite church. Excommunication from the Holdeman Mennonite church is the only accepted way to leave it. There are cases of membership annulment but they are rare. The Holdeman Mennonites practice "avoidance" on former members by not eating at the same table with them, shaking hands with them, or having any business partnerships with them. The new birth is described as an experience involving "faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, repentance, confessing and forsaking our sins, and a resulting change of life from sin to serving Christ." Emphasis is also placed on the convert receiving an emotional feeling described as the peace of God. Outstanding beliefs include nonconformity to the world which includes the banning of music, television, movies, excessive recreational activities, and an unwritten dress code that is most noticeable with the women. This includes the wearing of a plain one-piece dress. The men do not wear any type of necktie in formal dress, and their appearance would fit the look of most other conservative Christian cultures. The members largely pattern their lives after their beliefs in integrity in personal dealings and business, non-involvement in government, loving their neighbours, keeping the avoidance with love, inviting the sinner to repent, and emphasis on voluntary service.
Congregations meet weekly on Sunday mornings for Sunday school and worship. Each congregation has their own schedule for other types of meetings such as teaching, fellowship, bible study, and singing. Most congregations also hold summer vacation Bible school classes during the summer school holidays. These are also open to any children, member or non-member in their communities. Their ministers are chosen from within their own ranks and formal training is not required. Formal education beyond eighth grade is only reluctantly allowed in the congregations in the states of California and Florida (to the tenth grade to comply with compulsory school attendance laws in these cases where religious exemption has not been made) and in the case of job training such as carpentry, nursing, etc. Congregations in Canada teach grades K-9. All schools are tested and meet the education standards of the areas in which they are located. The schools teach young earth creation science, and they use curriculum viewed as Bible-based.
There are only two positions of office in the church and only men are eligible. Ministers and deacons from each congregation are chosen by the local membership by first asking a series of questions regarding a need for more staff, whether there is a gift for the position, and whether the members feel that it is the right time to elect a staff member. These questions are by show of hands and only if they all pass with a significant majority does a secret ballot vote take place. The vote is one ballot per member and there is no nomination process. The ballots are counted by the ministers already in office and, if a high enough percentage of the congregation votes for the same individual, he is elected. The percentages needed for a successful election or total number of votes cast for each candidate are never given to the laity. There are no salaried ministers and they seldom use prepared notes, but rather preach extemporaneously.
A General Conference made up of ministers, deacons, and other delegates meets every five to ten years (more often if necessary) for decision-making. An annual meeting is held yearly to provide a formal meeting for all business and corporate activities. The General Conference and Annual meeting is open to any members to attend. Matters at the General Conference are voted on by ordained staff members only and laity are often asked after a vote for a show of hands to support the decision. At each annual meeting a minister's and deacon's meeting is also held to discuss matters pertaining to spiritual life and practical issues and is sometimes, but not always a closed meeting to laymembers.
Nearly all congregations have their own private schools. Those that do not use some type of homeschooling. Attendance of any other school is not generally accepted. The majority of their teachers are unmarried women aged eighteen and up. These teachers have some basic formal training in education, and their secondary education varies from completion of a high school curriculum through correspondence to no further education than what they received within their private schools. The main requirement to teach is a solid standing as a member in the church and a reasonable skill set to be able to handle the grade that they will be teaching. This is determined in consultation with the applicant's minister and local elected school board.
The Messenger of Truth, which was begun in the early 20th century, is issued bi-weekly from the church headquarters in Moundridge, Kansas. Canadian offices are located in Ste. Anne, Manitoba, Canada. In addition to the United States and Canada, the Church of God has established congregations and mission work in various countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. In 2009, there were 14,672 members and 138 congregations in the United States. Kansas continues to contain the largest population of the denomination, with over 4,000 members. In Canada, the church had 5,053 members, and worldwide membership was 22,565. Current membership still greatly reflects the growth of the church through the Swiss-German ancestry of those such as Holdeman, the Kansas-Prussian ancestry, and the Manitoba-Russian ancestry. Yet, in some regions, like Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Eastern Ontario, there is a high percentage of believers who have recently joined the Church and do not have the same roots as the majority of the Holdemans in North America.
- See official site for detailed information
- "2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches". The National Council of Churches. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
- "2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Study". Glenmary Research Center. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
- A Concise History of the Church of God, by John M. Penner
- An Introduction to the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, Gospel Tract and Bible Society
- Handbook of Denominations in the United States, by Frank S. Mead, et al.
- Mennonite Encyclopedia, Cornelius J. Dyck, Dennis D. Martin, et al., editors
- Principles of Faith, by P. G. Hiebert