On scanning Mennonite confessions of faith

I’m scanning some Mennonite confessions of faith and booklets of instruction for new Christians, researching where we got the idea of 7 ordinances. It’s pretty frustrating. One moment you’re reading wonderful summaries of biblical truths, and the next moment you’re left wondering whether you are reading the same Bible.

Example: After quoting Rom. 12:2, we’re told “nonconformity to the world in the above passage refers primarily to the way we dress.” Hello? Did you forget to give Paul that memo? He never mentions dress in that passage… Then we get: “The church has the responsibility to design patterns of simple dress for her people, in harmony with Biblical principles. You will find this code written in the standards of the church. You ought to become acquainted with these standards and obey them willingly.” [Military salute. “Yes, SIR!!”] For some reason there is no Scripture reference given for this last paragraph. ??

Or, in another booklet, after a generally good paragraph on what “the Word teaches” about clothing, a move away from “the Word” to simply what “we believe”: “We believe that the principles of nonconformity, modesty and simplicity can best be maintained by uniformity [no evidence given, from “the Word” or otherwise], therefore, we believe uniform plain attire in the congregation is necessary” (a move from “best” to “necessary”).

Or this: “In this chapter we are going to study about the seven ordinances of the church [Pardon me? What seven ordinances? Which Bible passage lists these seven?] The word “ordinance” could mean any commandment or law [pretty close to the Bible’s use of the word, I believe], but in this chapter we will use it in a different [non-biblical?] sense.”

I’m starting to feel like I have when I’ve scanned Roman Catholic catechism books…

[Affirmation: I love my Mennonite brothers and sisters!]

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9 thoughts on “On scanning Mennonite confessions of faith”

  1. Dwight – I know this is a old post, but I too am intrigued by “7” ordinances, not 6, not 8, but exactly 7. Ultimately I figured that Daniel Kauffman (arbitrarily) listed 7, and in time this number worked its way into our thought patterns. I have wondered, what it he had happened to add 1 Tim 2:8 to the list? We would have codified lifting up holy hands into our communion service routine.
    Have you learned more on this subject since 2011?
    Paul A Miller

    1. Yes, Paul, I have an essay about 40 pages long on the topic that I’m taking far too long to complete. I keep thinking of new questions or theological concerns that I should consider before releasing my thoughts upon the world for others to assess. I added a lot of content this spring on both the early Anabaptists and developments in the Kauffman era, but would like to include more on the pre-Anabaptist era and more on implications for today. You may pray I find time and energy to complete it well! And wisdom about when to give up my perfectionism and take the risk of sharing what I’ve written…

      1. Hello Dwight,
        6 years later, is this essay complete? I would love to have access to it if possible. Thanks!

  2. Hello Dwight;
    Greetings from Elmira/St Jacobs Mennonite County Ontario!
    I found this page online re Feet-washing and I thought of you (your huge essay on the 7 Ordinances)


    Feet-washing has been practiced in Ontario since the 1800’s when the Mennonites came to Ontario from PA. The Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Conference group i grew up in, still practice feet-washing . After communion non-members and children can leave the meetinghouse and feet-washing begins. The Holy Kiss is also still practiced after feet-washing and also by the lay-leaders and ministry at formal occasions. Keep doing the good work on the Ordinances Essay.

    My personal position on the various Mennonite Churches is that the old order Mennonites are way too focused on traditions and the modern Mennonites are way too worldly.

    There was once this perfect Mennonite Brethren Church and then I walked in…This Church retained so many of the actual Bible Based Teaching and way of life COMBINED with a great zeal for the “Great Commission” Unfortunately I have personally witnessed this Mennonite Brethren Church that was well founded in Bible Truth Study and preaching be lead astray when the wiser older peaceful ones gave in/gave control to the younger “smarter” ones. Little step by little step (and sometimes in huge steps) everything got changed, to a point where the only thing that was still in place was the building itself and the Bible on the pulpit. ALL the changes IN THE WRONG DIRECTION broke my heart!

    Discernment tells me that you would understand my feelings and concerns, based on what you have written and where you came from…I believe you are on the right track and I want to be encouraging. 1. God 2. Jesus Christ 3. The Bible and 4. BIBLICAL Anabaptist and Mennonite ways and means. However, I believe what we have to always remember; is that Jesus came to this earth to divide (Luke 12:51) , while simultaneously satan is using ” divide and conquer” spiritual powers as the great deceiver, and he knows that the worlds system is coming to an end soon. Jesus came with the LOVE of His Father… satan came with hate of God.

    Always be careful and never give up.

    May God Bless US AND Protect us from evil!

    PS: I have included my little blog address below, I am a brand new blogger with only grade 8 (so please pardon unprofessionalness) I am just trying to stick to the TRUTH.

    1. Delmer, thanks for taking time to comment, and thanks for your kind words. I briefly scanned the contents of the link you provided. There is a lot of history and theology there to ponder, and I suspect I’ll return to read it more carefully when, God willing, I work more on my essay. I also scanned your new blog. You are quite a student of Anabaptist history! Much more than I am. If you think I’ve summarized any part of Anabaptist history inaccurately in my ordinances essay, or missed some crucial developments, please feel free to let me know.

      Yes, may God bless and protect us for his glory!

  3. Hello Dwight;
    Ah yes for HIS Glory indeed. I am passionate because the spiritual war is rapidly intensifying nowadays. I appreciate your type of very technical and source noted approach and report method. I have bookmarked your big essay because I absolutely love the detail…I too started working on the earliest confessions and then comparing it directly with my old church and my new churches positions in 1989 and UNLIKE you, I never got my information all documented and referenced and organized in time and my new church went sideways so fast I became “lost” in the process…I have since then, tried to stay focused from a macro perspective especially when I feel myself drifting … Due to your investment and progress into the progress (and what I feel is a very good grip on the micro-analysis) , can you tell me exactly which Mennonite Ministers Manuals you have, (year and Publisher?) (I will check my shelves as well)

    Do you have USA born and raised but Canadian Pioneer Bishop Benjamin Eby’s Manual from, I think 1840sh? aka “A Translation of Church Regulations Published by Benjamin Eby, Berlin, Canada, August 30, 1841” This Canadian Pioneer Bishop was from the Deacon Christian Eby 1734-1807 family in Hammer Creek PA and Benjie’s brother was the PA Bishop Peter Eby 1765-1843. This 1841 Regulations based on Biblical references was adopted in Canada and to this day all the “old order” and even some semi modern still use it to this day. According to my meeting with and handwritten notes from Deacon Amos B. Hoover of the current Weaverland PA, worked with deacons from my parents Conference here in Ontario and as per his note of June 14, 2002…Another very similar little black book which Amos gave me (as per Amos’s handwritten note) was written for the Weaverland Conference by a committee of 3 people Lester R. Sauder (Minister) and Roy Zimmerman (deacon) and by him Amos B. Hoover (Deacon) in council with 6 Bishops…and in the middle of this small black book is a section called Part 2 Old Order Mennonite Standards- Church Forms and Guidelines of the Weaverland Conference Mennonite Churches and in the preface it states partly “adopted by the Conference on October 5, 1995.” These were the result of practices handed down to us for numerous generations” also “taken from the 2nd part of our former booklet” translated from a book written in 1841 by Bishop Benjamin Eby of Canada…this 1995 publication”brings the Pennsylvania Old Order Standards and Weaverland Conference forms nearer in focus than of the older booklets which had a Canadian origin”

    I noticed in your essay you mention that Funk and Coffman drew on this same Benjamin Eby’s writings…

    Do you have copies of the different books entitled Conversion on Saving Faith For The Young in Questions and Answers? and or 1001 Questions and Answers On The Christian Life?
    From a historical perspective and based on my interpretation and understanding at this point in time I would like to offer up my basic thoughts; From c1700- to 1840 The average USA and Canadian Mennonites and I also believe the Amish …generally had basically only 2 important books in their homes 1. The Bible and a few of the wealthier layman had Martyr’s Mirror. From 1800-1875sh mostly only the leaders had copies of the 2 old Confessions of Faith (The Dort and Schle)

    The Lancaster Mennonites and the Franconian Mennonite group held earlier official conferences together up to at least 1725. (we must find out how long this continued , with details)

    My Own Findings
    The Franconian Conference was generally always more educated and more progressive and more apt to publish documents than the Lancaster Conferences. The more educated ministry gave more detailed and technically complicated Biblical information to their members at services. The less educated ministry appealed more to the “God of Order” approach and “well established Anabaptist Biblical understanding” in their Spiritual leadings and knowledge of The Bible. Personally I believe both sides of each Biblical Based dispute had valid points of concern and the ONE thing that was lacking MOST on BOTH sides was genuine Christian Love!!!

    I must be blunt here…What I have figured out about the period of 1800 to the present is the old order Mennonite congregations have done an incredibly good work (yes even Biblically) amongst themselves and they take care of the congregations and all individuals within the congregation real well…whereas the progressive Mennonites and the modern Mennonites have brought many more new converts into the church, at the expense of what were the earlier core memberships and leaderships. Many, separated congregations and even conferences may have been started up and became quite successful separately…but when analyzing those works compared to the Great Commission we not winning the spiritual battle like God intended.

    Just simply uniting Mennonites together by coercion or culture or uniting in Global religion churches, will not work either because a modern, lukewarm politically correct approach will ultimately fail everyone, including what we owe to our Heavenly Father AND even the most basic TRUTH from the Bible that most of us Amish and Mennonite already posses. In fact I am aware that satan has a plan where the end result would be that we Mennonites and Amish would accept him as our world leader of religion and law soon. What a farce as he is only a puppet being used by those in power who control “the world” thru mass manipulation of the very gift of FREEWILL God gave everyone.

    Since the 1847 Oberholtzer lead schism, the Franconian Group and newer Conferences were more apt to put Conference Resolutions in writing /Church Law and these resolutions were read out to all the members, whereas the Confessions Of Faith were to be studied more by the Bishops, Preachers and deacons, and some influential laymen…

    It is a fact that both the Lancaster and Franconian groups had schisms based on very similar issues. What is key is that in almost all of the pre-1950’s schisms, the actual separations were done/accepted WAY MORE to keep the order and facilitate ongoing communion service on both sides than anything else. Back in the old days consensus and potentially unanimous unity/union was FAR MORE IMPORTANT than democracy or votes, because the timing (sooner or much later) of the ministry and church member’s upcoming communion service was at stake. I realize that Christian Love was always considered… but more than anything it was the extreme desire to be able to partake in communion with those who were united and at peace, was at the heart of the separations into physically divided meetings/services. Furthermore due to the afore-stated one can just imagine the intense pressure on the leadership no matter what all their motives were. I believe most of the good hearted leaders of schisms were extremely concerned not only where? but when? their next communion service would be and who? and how many people? might actually be in that specific meetinghouse or dwelling or clearing in the woods with them???

    Here in Ontario “order” was kept in the congregations longer, (separations/loss of members and ministry leaving the original Conferences, including ratio of loss) simply because the congregations and conferences had not been independently in existence as long as in the USA (members and families and conferences were less independent of each other) In other words they were more dependent on each other for survival. In addition the less educated old order group communicated a lot using personal letters between leaders and when these ones had to articulate their thoughts into written words the results were usually pretty blunt and straight forward.

    As I have stated publicly so many times before (when I am feeling unbiased for either side of a schism ) I am convinced that the modern/progressive Mennonites are way to worldly and the old order Mennonites are not out in the world enough, doing the Great Commission. Mennonites and Amish have a huge dilemma on their hands especially nowadays no matter which group one belongs to. I see the macro and some of the micro Mennonite debates raging on all fronts and it is very scary, because so very little going on is making us better disciples OR making More disciples. Why is it that I feel safer with the Mennonites I came from, than the Mennonites I went with? AND at the exact same time I cannot simply just comply with old order rules not stipulated in the Bible for instance…You know, us Mennonites and Amish know so well that we are to judge the tree by the fruit it bears…well I guess I am a potato then and good communion is on hold.

  4. Delmer, thanks again for engaging.

    In answer to your questions: It has been nearly 5 years since I wrote this little blog post (initially on Facebook), so I don’t remember which statements of faith I was quoting here. I also have most of my books in boxes at present, since we recently moved, so can’t easily check to see what I have.

    But I don’t actually own many statements of faith. I have reviewed the 1963 Mennonite Confession of Faith most closely (not quoted here, I’m quite sure), and also possess others such as the Dordretch Confession of Faith and the 1921 Garden City Confession of Faith, in its 1964 revision form. I have also scanned a variety of documents online, often through gameo.org (such as here: http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Confessions,_Doctrinal). I can’t recall if I’ve actually read any of Bishop Eby’s confession, though as you say I have read of its importance.

    I do own the “1001 Questions and Answers” book, though I’m not sure of the one you mention just before that.

    You wrote this of the pre-1950’s Lancaster and Franconian groups: “More than anything it was the extreme desire to be able to partake in communion with those who were united and at peace, was at the heart of the separations into physically divided meetings/services.” I find that ironic and very sad! We divide brother from brother so we can experience “unity” in our communion services… Something is not right here.

    I don’t know history well enough to put this in context, but here is another sentence you wrote: “Since the 1847 Oberholtzer lead schism, the Franconian Group and newer Conferences were more apt to put Conference Resolutions in writing /Church Law and these resolutions were read out to all the members, whereas the Confessions Of Faith were to be studied more by the Bishops, Preachers and deacons, and some influential laymen.” If I understand you correctly, the general church membership was primarily taught what to do, while it was primarily the leadership that was taught what to believe, or why we do what we do. If so, no wonder by J.S. Coffman’s time he felt that most in the church had little idea why they were doing what they were doing. But again, my knowledge of history is too sketchy to know if this is a fair characterization of Mennonites at the time.

    I agree with you that weaknesses are evident as we survey the histories of both the more conservative and the more liberal streams of Mennonites. I have known for a long time that I will never be a great historian, so I aim to do my part to help us root ourselves more deeply in the guidance God has provided for his church in the scriptures.

    You say you are a potato. God made potatoes, too, you know. If you belong to Christ, then I trust you will find place to participate with his people in communion. Blessings to you, brother!

    1. Thank You so much for your response and I am so happy that you and I share a deep concern to know/understand The TRUTH!

      I just finished posting a summary “draft” of Mennonite Schisms History on my blog and i scanned and inputted a key part out of the middle of the little Benjamin Eby booklet and i inserted it in the 1632 section. It provides details on how difficult it was them to unite even way back in 1632…In the near future I hope to organize and scan in chronological order the Confessions and Ministers Manuals I have to show the progression directly from the 1632 Confession directly to complete acceptance of it in the 1725 Agreement signed by Joint Conference of the Conestoga/Lancaster PA Group and the Franconia PA Group and from that point on the Franconia Conference and The Lancaster Conference printed independent copies of Confessions and also independent Ministers Manuals and It will be interesting to compare them side by side with the later Weaverland PA ones and the very early Ben Eby ones and then finally compare with the old order ones in PA and here in Ontario and especially see which Scripture is referenced… for the various Commandments Of GOD to see exactly where unity was (which COMMANDS) based on Scripture (and which Scriptures) .

      According to a website called heraldhealth .com —-
      On average, a person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 breaths a day, 8,409,600 a year. Unless we get a lot of exercise. The person who lives to 80 will take about 672,768,000 breaths in a lifetime

      I Thank God for every blade of grass under my feet because I love freedom and so, how much more do I need to be thankful for every breath I have received because without it I would already be dead.

      Thank You for keeping in touch brother.

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