What the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Stands For
Written exclusively for the Times [Bethlehem Globe Times, 1915]
by Pastor W. S. Hottel, of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, Bethlehem, Pa.
The former pastor of the Bethlehem Church, the Rev. C. H. Brunner, has furnished the writer with the following extracts of history. The Mennonite Churches, originated with Menno Simon, who was born in Friesland in 1492, the year of the discovery of America, and died in 1559. He was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest in 1515. When Sicke Freerkes was burned at the stake in 1531 for advocating adult baptism, he compared the writings of the Church Fathers with the Scriptures, and resigned his office as Priest in 1536 and became the head of a Church which soon spread far and wide. At present congregations of Mennonites are found in Germany, France, Switzerland and North America.
During their terrible persecutions from 1635 to 1710 many thousands left Europe and, a William Penn offered them perfect religious liberty, many immigrated to America, founding their first settlement at Germantown, near Philadelphia in 1683.
Upon the invitation of Catharine II, many German Mennonites emigrated to Russia, until in 1871 they numbered about 20,000, settled in very prosperous agricultural colonies. That year, June 4, Russia issued an edict bereaving them of exemption from military service, giving them ten years to arrange their affairs. Then many of them came to America and settled in Kansas and other Western States. There are now about 200,000 Mennonites in the United States and Canada, comprising about thirteen bodies.
In 1856 Rev. William Gehman, who is still preaching and a number of others were ex-communicated from one of the older branches for holding public prayer meetings. They organized themselves into a congregation, calling themselves the Evangelical Mennonite and two year later built their first church near Zionsville, Pa. From here others church soon sprang up through eastern Pennsylvania, until in 1879 they united with the United Mennonites of the Western States and Canada, and changed the name to Evangelical United Mennonites. In 1883, this body united with the Brethren in Christ and adopted the present name.
So then, it is at once discernible that the name "Mennonite" has been adopted and is held to merely for the sake of distinction and historical continuance. With the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, it is no barrier to prevent the incoming of new light from God, by way of advance knowledge, because of a deeper and clearer insight in to Divine revelation. The Mennonite Brethren are not a church bound down to the traditions handed down from their forefathers, others than those which are in full and strict accordance with the Scriptures. They always welcome new light from God, upon his word, gladly following and obeying it. Their apparent narrowness is not Godward but manward; they holding with a firm and tenacious grip of faith to the divine Authorship and Authenticity of the Scriptures. To them the Scriptures are the ground of faith, their creed, and also the rule of life. Whatever in word, principle and spirit the Scriptures enjoin, they hold it to be carried out and obeyed in every day life and practice. In short, they stand for the spiritual illumination of the mind, its transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the truth, so that the principles of God's word are inwrought into the mind, will and character of man, so that those who really and heartily accept the divine "form of doctrine" became living epistles "known and read of all men."
From this very fact the Mennonite Brethren in Christ stand for a complete separation from the world, its ways, habits, maxims, principles and customs. Whatever does not agree and harmonize with the principle of the doctrine of Christ and His apostles, is to be shunned, to be turned away from as being at once Christ dishonoring and harmful. "THE CHURCH" they maintain is not an organization but a living organism, formed by the Holy Spirit, and is as its original Greek name implies, ecclesia (ek - "out of," kaleo- "to call"), an assembly of called out ones. Its present character is best described by a pilgrim life, its present sphere is heavenly, being not of this world (kosmos, order and arrangement), but being heavenly in birth, citizenship, calling and nature.
The preaching of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ pre-eminently and absolutely centers in Christ. Christianity, they hold, is no religion, no creed and no certain dogma of belief, but a life, the life of Chris, received by receiving Christ. As a consequence of this, they maintain that all mere outward reformation, culture, religiousness and human goodness will utterly fail in bringing salvation. God's supreme and only test for mankind during this age is their acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. The only principle upon which God does anything for man, during this entire period of time, is the principle of grace. This, because under every preceding test, in each preceding period of time and dispensation, man proved to be an utter and absolute failure in himself. So the, what God does for man, must be on the principle of unmerited favor. Salvation then, is all of grace, while future rewards are determined by present service and the believer position in the coming kingdom is determined by his faithfulness here.
Again, the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church stands for the super-natural in salvation. They maintain that the work of the Holy Spirit is to make experimentally real in the heart and life of the one who really accepts Christ, all that God in Christ has provided for man. The Spirit Himself indwelling the believer, brings the "earnest" and "first-fruits" of his future inheritance and possession. They therefore hold that salvation is not a mere matter of acold intellectual belief, a mere matter of hope so, but a blessed, present, conscious possession. The Holy Spirit they hold calls, qualifies and sends into the ministry of the Gospel, those whom the ascended Lord chooses as such. The ascended Christ bestows Spirit-gifted men, as a gift upon His body, the Church of Christ. There the Holy Spirit qualifies, uses and directs.
In conclusion, the Mennonite Brethren in Christ hold to the Personal, Literal, Imminent, and Pre-Millennial second Coming of Christ. This hope is the vital energy to separation from the world, and , to personal purification and a holy and godly life. This hope gives impetus and zeal to missionary enterprise and evangelization. The Mennonite Brethren in Christ, like the primitive Church, are Pre-millennial in doctrine and evangelistic in practice. The early church was a witnessing church, an evangelistic church, and were also constantly looking for the return of the Lord. None of the early disciples and apostle believed in the conversion of the world during this period of time but held that the purposes of God in this period of time were selective and elective. Their efforts were Christ governed and directed, being to reach the uttermost parts of the earth witnessing for Christ, to the gathering out of a people for His name, from among all nations of the earth. This also is the underlying principle of the missionary enterprises of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, which comprise a strong "Home" and "Foreign" missionary agency. Since the year 1891, when the Church first awoke to her responsibilities in the direction, the strides made in the forward direction are rapid and astonishing. From that date until the annual Conference, held in October 1914, the offerings of the Pennsylvania Conference alone, for the Foreign mission cause, amounted to $80,159.37. The Conference supports one missionary abroad to every one hundred members at home. The average contributions for Foreign Missions per member for 1914 was $4.08.
The offerings for the Missionary cause of the Bethlehem congregation, during the year 1914, as reported at the last Annual Conference in October, amounted to $2348.29; including "Home" and "Foreign" missionary offerings. The inspiration and impetus to such noble self-sacrifice and aggressive missionary effort, can only be Divine, and speak of a real vital, living and practical Christianity. This inspiration and impetus are the hope of the second coming of Christ, with all its associated blessing and accompanying glories.