"How a Church left
Leaving Anabaptism by Calvin Redekop, published by Pandora Press U.S., 1998, is the story of the small denomination now called the Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches. It was founded in 1889 as the Conference of United Mennonite Brethren of North America.
Under the pressures of Word War I, it changed its name to Defenseless Mennonite Brethren in Christ of North America. In 1937 it became the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren. It adopted its present name in 1987.
The group was founded by two ministers of the 1874-75 migration of Mennonites from Russia to the U.S. prairies. One of these, Isaac Peters, had started a new congregation in Pordenau, Molotschna because he was concerned about the unregenerate life of many in his old congregation. In 1874 he came to Henderson, Neb.
The other minister, Aron Wall, also from the Pordenau congregation, came to Mountain Lake, Minn., in 1875. Wall is Calvin Redekop's great-grandfather, which explains Redekop's interest in this history.
Peters and Wall were concerned about the "loose living" in their communities in America. They "withdrew and organized a group that would consist of [believers] . . . willing to subscribe to higher standards requiring the new birth and the separated life."
The two ministers, with representatives from their respective areas, met in Mountain Lake in 1889, wrote a rudimentary constitution, and launched the new denomination.
The first decades after the 1870s immigration were a fluid period. Many Mennonite families moved from one settlement to another for religious reasons. Concerned for these scattered flocks, the early leaders of the new denomination followed them, establishing congregations in Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan, and elsewhere.
Not all of the new congregations survived. In fact, of 26 congregations begun between 1913 and 1945, mostly on the prairies, only three survived.
During this time, the leaders of the denomination, while remaining true to their Mennonite roots, bought heavily into the American evangelical faith and practice in evangelism, revivalism and mission.
Perhaps the most influential of the revivalists, according to Kevin Enns-Rempel of Fresno Pacific University, was George P. Schultz, associated with the denominations Chicago mission.
During World War II the denomination honored its nonresistant heritage, although it had by then dropped the name Defenseless Mennonite Brethren. About 60 percent of its young men were conscientious objectors, a record better than that of the Mennonite Church.
After the war, however, the denomination entered an era of identity problems. Having fewer than 2,000 members in 1950, the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, as they were then called, sent their young people to many Bible schools and supported them under many mission organizations. An interdenominational fundamentalist mentality infiltrated the denomination.
Church leaders began to promote distance from Mennonite Central Committee, cast doubt upon Mennonite colleges and pressed for abandonment of the Mennonite name.
Much of this happened in connection with the founding of Grace Bible Institute, now Grace College, in Omaha, Neb. Grace was founded mostly by dissident General Conference Mennonites, but its first president was J. R. Barkman of the EMB mother church, Ebenezer, in Henderson. Unofficially, Grace became the denomination's college and Omaha its headquarters.
In tracing the story of this denomination, Redekop notes how different the outcome might have been. In his earliest years, founder Peters had considered bringing his fledgling denomination into the Mennonite Church, thanks to the friendship of John F. Funk. But he didn't.
In later years there were meetings with leaders of the Evangelical Mennonite Church, even a three-way meeting in 1949 that included the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren. But the KMBs refused to compromise on the issue of immersion baptism, so the EMB and EMC groups went it alone, affiliating in 1953 as the Conference of Evangelical Mennonites. But this too broke off in 1962.
The, "a 25-year debate on the conference identity was settled on July 16, 1987, when the conference (by a 74 percent vote) changed its name to the Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Conferences. In 1987 the conference consisted of 36 congregations with a total membership of 4,538," wrote Arnold Schultz, son of George P. Schultz.
Now, with the embarrassment of the "Mennonite" name removed, the church could grow. Interestingly, according to the church's yearbooks, membership in 1991 had dropped to 4,035 and by 1997 had risen to only 4,039.
Redekop observes that there is a tension between mission and separation from the world. The earliest leaders of the church described here sought both. In the course of this denomination's history, however, it got so fixated on mission that it forgot other believers' church distinctives.
Leaving Anabaptism orders:
|Click here to join a Pandora Press U.S. e-mail list and receive occasional updates.|
© 1999 by Pandora Press U.S.