Church of God in Christ, Mennonite

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The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, also called Holdeman Mennonite, is a Christian Church of Anabaptist heritage. Its formation started in 1859 under its first leader John Holdeman (1832-1900), who was a baptized Mennonite. It is very similar to Conservative Mennonites but has stayed away from other Conservative Mennonites because of its "true church" doctrine and its practice of expelling.[1] In 2013 the church had 24,400 baptized members.[2]


Radical Reformation[edit]

The congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite are descendants of the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. Under the influential work of Menno Simons, many of the Anabaptists became known as Mennonites. But 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."

John Holdeman[edit]

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.[3]

The coming of the Mennonites from Russia[edit]

The spread of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite among other Mennonites and among the Amish was minimal until the arrival of Mennonite immigrants from the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine), so called "Russian" Mennonites who are of Dutch and German heritage and who settled in Canada, mainly Manitoba and in the USA, among other places in McPherson County, Kansas, starting in 1875. In 1878, Holdeman baptized 78 members of the McPherson County group. In 1881, he baptized 118 Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites in Manitoba who had migrated from southern Russia (now Ukraine) to North America some years before. With this group came Peter Toews, who led many Mennonite immigrants from Russia then living in Canada and Kansas into the Holdeman church.[4]

Church discipline in the 1970s[edit]

Economic trends in the 1970s led to an increasing defection rate, in addition to members who began to question the doctrine of the "true church." Church discipline concerns led to a "new way" of dealing with deviants, referred to as "paneling", which led to an exceptionally large number of members who were disciplined and excommunicated. In these years the growth of the church stopped and was even reversed. The practice has since ceased.[4]


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, that means that the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite is seen as the visible church.[citation needed] Baptism, by pouring, is the method by which born-again believers are admitted into the visible church.[5]

Soteriologically, the new birth is considered the "cornerstone" of the doctrine of salvation. It is described as an acceptance of the atoning work of Christ by faith and with true repentance, resulting in the redemption from sin and being born again. Those so affected will find their heart filled by God with peace, assurance of salvation, and grace. This new birth results in one's conversion from a sinful life to a life that "brings forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit."[5]

In Christology, the Holdeman Church denies that Jesus was made from the seed of Mary, trying to be close to the teachings of Menno Simons and Melchior Hoffman. Eschatologically, they hold to an historic Anabaptist amillennial view of Christ's kingdom and reign, teaching that the present dispensation is the only time in which salvation is offered.[4]

The church and the world are viewed as distinctly separate institutions and thus Christians are not to be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1-2). To maintain nonconformity to the world, Christians must not be "compromised by worldly dress, amusements, or other worldly attractions." Worldly entertainment provided by such things as motion pictures, musical instruments, radio, television, and the improper use of the internet are to be avoided.[5] Modesty in apparel is particularly stressed. Jewelry, "costly or fashionable attire", and bodily ornamentation detract from Christian simplicity.[5] Their beliefs also include an unwritten dress code. This dress code is most noticeable with the women, who wear mid-length dresses and head coverings.[citation needed]

Marriage is seen as divinely instituted between one man and one woman for the propagation, purity, and happiness of the human race. It is only permitted between church members.[5]


The church holds a strong Mennonite heritage which obligates its members to lead a life according to Mennonite principles. The members should pattern their lives after the belief in integrity in personal dealings and business, non-involvement in government, loving their neighbors, keeping the avoidance with love, inviting the sinner to repent, and emphasis on voluntary service. Non-resistance is standard practice, whether among individuals, regarding lawsuits, or concerning warfare among nations. Holdeman Mennonites do not vote, serve in the military, or in law enforcement professions.


Becoming a member is through child, and occasionally adult, baptism by pouring water on the believer's head. Communion is only for members and held with bread and unfermented fruit juice. 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 toward former members by not eating at the same table with them, shaking hands with them, or having any business partnerships with them.

Worship and service[edit]

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. Foot washing is practiced by ministers washing the men's feet and the wives of ministers and/or deacons washing the women's feet. The kiss of peace is also practiced.

Worship takes place in modest buildings that may contain air condition, carpet, and padded pews, but without any musical instruments. Singing is a cappella and in four-part harmony. Preaching tends to be topical, rather than exegetical.[4] Most congregations also hold summer vacation Bible school classes during the summer school holidays. These are open to any children, member or non-member in their communities.

Clothing and appearance[edit]

Simplicity and modesty in clothing, personal possessions, and homes is held as an ideal. Plain dress is mandatory, which for women means a plain one-piece mid-length dress always with sleeves (normally not bought off the rack), and a head covering. Men do not wear any type of necktie in formal dress and their appearance resembles the look of other conservative Mennonites, in that they are dressed in a way that does not reveal much skin.[citation needed]

The men, "by order of creation" wear a beard out of "respect for God’s order". Believing a devotional head covering is Scripturally commanded (1 Corinthians 11:1-16) as "an outward sign of submission to God’s order," the women wear a devotional head covering "for prayer and as a sign of submission."[5]


Modern technologies like automobiles, telephone, and other modern conveniences are allowed. However, television, radio, movies, musical instruments, and "the improper use of the internet" is not allowed.

Ministers and church organisation[edit]

Ministers are chosen from within the own ranks and formal training is not required.[4] 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 not public knowledge. 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 seven 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 all members present. 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.


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.

Nearly all congregations have their own private schools. Those that do not use some type of homeschooling. 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.

Adherents and congregations[edit]

From a small beginning, membership grew to around 750 at the time of Holdeman's death in the year 1900. In 1953 the baptized membership was 5,308, in 41 congregations in Canada and the United States. There were missions in Mexico and New Mexico with three ordained ministers of Spanish language, and also a mission station in Canada among indigenous peoples. 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.

In 2009, there were 14,672 members and 138 congregations in the United States.[6] In 2013 the church had 24,400 members, of whom 14,804 lived in the United States and 5,081 in Canada.[2]

Membership of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite[4][7]
Year United
Canada Other
1900 - - - ~750
1950 - - - ~5,000
1960 4,633 1,555 203 6,391
1970 - - - ~8,500
1980 7,478 2,420 875 10,773
1990 9,684 - - -
2000 12,144 4,132 2,061 18,337
2010 14,804 5,081 2,894 22,779

Kansas continues to contain the largest population of the denomination, with over 4,000 members.[8] Current membership still greatly reflects the growth of the church through the Swiss-German ancestry of those such as Holdeman, the Kansas-"Russian Mennonite" ancestry, and the Manitoba-"Russian Mennonite" 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, who are still ethnic Mennonites.

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.[2]


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.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stephen Scott: Old Order and Conservative Mennonites Groups, Intercourse, PA 1996, page 198.
  2. ^ a b c "Where we are". Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  3. ^ Wenger, F. H.; Hiebert, Clarence (1989). "Holdeman, John (1832-1900)". Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. GAMEO. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Hiebert, P. G.; Hiebert, Clarence (1990). "Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (CGC)". Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. GAMEO. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "What We Believe". Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  6. ^ "2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches". The National Council of Churches. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  7. ^ Church of God in Christ, Mennonite at ARDA
  8. ^ "2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Study". Glenmary Research Center. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  9. ^ "Publication Agencies". Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. Retrieved August 30, 2016.


  • John M. Penner: A Concise History of the Church of God, 1967.
  • Cornelius J. Dyck, Dennis D. Martin, et al. (editors): Mennonite Encyclopedia, 1990.
  • P. G. Hiebert: Principles of Faith, 3rd edition 1967.

External links[edit]