Nappanee Christian Church History
History of the Christian Church from the Perspective of Nappanee, Indiana, N.A.
Jesus was born into a Jewish world and became the seed rather than the founder of Christianity. His message that God was a loving father of all life, his rejection of patriotism, bonds of family loyalty, all private wealth and personal advantage, were revolutionary. Jesus never gave much claim to being the Christ, he broke the Sabbath saying it was made for man.
Paul, the 13th Disciple, who never saw Jesus in the flesh, was the architect of the Christian church. Christianity was a cult that soon, under Paul's leadership, developed into a religion by adopting practical methods of the popular religions of the times. He buried much of the original teachings of Christ under familiar pagan customs. Christian priests adopted the garment of Egyptian priests, Sunday was taken from Mithraism and Mary came to be worshipped in the guise of Isis, the queen of heaven.
Jesus had called for men and women to renounce self, however the line of least resistance for the convert was to intellectualize himself away from this plain doctrine, and into complex theories and ceremonies that would leave his essential self alone. By the 4th century the church was so involved with arguments about the nature of God that the simple teachings of charity, service and brotherhood were largely ignored.
The church, as we recognize it today, emerged after the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire in the year 312 A.D. Constantine saw the church as a uniting factor, a universal organization including the entire population by birth and baptism. Yet in its attempt to create a kingdom apart from the world, it became a worldly kingdom. By the Middle Ages the church required so much money to finance monumental projects like the building of
St. Peter's Basilica, that the Pope's representatives began selling indulgences, as insurance against the penalties of sin, to raise cash.
At the same time man's world was expanding and changing rapidly. Copernicus discovered astronomy, Columbus landed in America, and the Crusades exposed Europe to other cultures. The inventions of the printing press and gun powder, the rise of cities and the middle class, plus the release of wealth in the form of money and trade, all became major forces of social change. As the quest for knowledge became the right of all men, they wanted their religious competence recognized. Rome failed to adjust to this new world, and the secular powers of the emerging states began to feel their power developing.
From a religion viewpoint all of these pressures became focused on the activities, beginning in 1517, of one German Catholic priest, Martin Luther. He is popularized as the leader of the Protestant Reformation, yet he did not consider himself a radical. Luther's 92 theses which he nailed to the church door listed the reforms which he considered essential to cleanse the church. He wished to retain all the elements of Catholic practice which were helpful, transfer control of the church from Rome to the state, and sided with the princes during the Peasants' Revolt. Luther retained the universal church, but brought the Bible with a faith in the priesthood to the common man. He sought to restore a simpler purity to the church which had never been. He hated the authority of the church because it was slack, not because it was too strong.
Huldrych Zwingli was Luther's contemporary counterpart in Zurich, Switzerland. Like Luther he retained the state church concept, yet within several years began making changes in the worship service Luther had not perceived. Zwingli felt religious practices should be limited to what is commanded by the Bible. Therefore he began removing all images and crosses from the church, minimized the ritual, silenced the organ and musical instruments, and made the sermon the center of the service. Luther, Zwingli and John Calvin became the leaders of the classical Protestant state churches.
Out of Zwingli's more intense spirit of change, came the most radical of the reformers. A small group of Zwingli's followers began to visualize a truly free church, a visible, suffering minority of believers. The group's leader, Conrad Grebel, probably performed the first adult baptism since the early church, and thus began the wing of the reformation which we know today as Mennonites, then known as the Swiss Brethren. The new group of Brethren was labeled Anabaptist, a derogatory term brought forward from Roman times by their detractors.
When combined with the church's demand to be separate from the state, the Anabaptists, a name they never called themselves, were considered too radical to be tolerated by the established and emerging state churches. Because they were the first truly free Protestant church with no national boundaries, they claimed a mission field closed to all others. The distinctive doctrines of the Swiss Brethren made them a threat to social order. Their unwillingness to bear arms or swear oaths, their refusal to serve in government affairs and the rejection of infant baptism, brought severe persecution from both Catholic and Protestants churches. Immediately the death penalty was applied to Anabaptists by the states. In five years 2,000 Anabaptists were executed, and in just 15 years Anabaptism had been snuffed out in the cities.
But in the countryside, where the peasants had been deceived by Luther's lack of support during the Peasants' Revolt, they became receptive to Anabaptist evangelizing. The converted spread throughout Europe as land owners offered protection in return for farm labor. Because they were always near persecution, the Anabaptists developed a strong sense of community and reverence for their martyrs. Soon Anabaptist commissions were given authority to arrest all Anabaptists, confiscate their goods, annul their marriages and declare their children illegitimate. They were often refused a place in the communities' economic life and burial in cemeteries.
The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 legitimized Lutheran and Reformed, or Calvin, churches, along with the Catholic Church, outlawing all other forms of religion in the Roman Empire. By 1682, across the Atlantic Ocean, laws were passed in the Colony of Pennsylvania granting complete religious freedom. Within one year the first Mennonite settlement in America was homesteaded in Germantown, six miles north of Philadelphia.
By the mid 17th century the early evangelical posture of the Anabaptists had been replaced by total withdrawal from the world. Into this setting came the Amish Division from the Swiss Brethren. It was Jacob Amman, a Swiss Brethren Bishop, who sparked the disagreement and brought about shunning, or avoidance, which should be practiced against the excommunicated, or banned brethren. Amman felt need to observe avoidance in the most strict sense, to include ones' own family, breaking all social, economic and religious contact. He supported his view in I Corinthians, chapter 5:11. In addition Amman began calling for uniformity in dress, an untrimmed beard, and strict adherence to other rules of conduct. The development of these unwritten rules of living have come to be defined as the Amish Charter and together with shunning make up the distinctive place of the Amish in society today.
The Amish movement in Europe spread but was never allowed to prosper. Other Anabaptists began to migrate to America, spurred on by the winter of 1709-10 which was so bitterly cold that animals froze in their tracks, fruit froze in the bud and few crops were harvested. Less than 30 years after their split, Amish began their migration to America as early as 1720, refusing to sail on the same ships with other Anabaptists.
America has prevented the extinction of the Amish. For it was the combination of tolerance plus the wide open spaces of the new country that allowed them to settle in cohesive groups of close farms. The desire for, and the promise of, cheap land led the Amish, as well as other Anabaptists, to seek settlements outside Pennsylvania, thus setting the stage for the settlement of Ohio and Indiana, specifically in Elkhart County. Indiana was part of the Old Northwest Territory which was secured for the United States by George Rogers Clark two hundred years ago. The Indiana section of the territory became a state in 1816 and this area of northern Indiana became a county in 1830. Settlement here was late because the huge Black Swamp in Northwest Ohio diverted a direct land route west. It was easier to pass through Canada and into Indiana from the north, which may account for the probable influence of the Canadian town of Napanee, Ontario, on the naming of Nappanee, Indiana.
By 1850 the U.S. Census listed 24 religious denominations in Indiana, with just four dominating the other 20. The Methodists were the largest, Baptists second, followed by the Presbyterians, and Disciples of Christ, an offshoot of the Baptists. Indiana also had fair numbers of Episcopalians, Congregationalists and Quakers, all denominations of older American stock. The battles of church membership were being fought in revivals in these early years, as the day of the circuit rider was drawing to a close. Businesses would often close when the revival came to town and set up camp meeting. The Methodists were the best organized and most aggressive revivalists, holding one in Indianapolis from December to March in 1850. The Presbyterians began to look at prosylting as below their station and therefore lost members to the more aggressive groups, and began to decline relatively.
The other side of the Indiana Protestant church development came after the potato crop failures in Germany in 1846-47 and '52-'55 which resulted in migration of many Germans directly to Indiana. Shortly, Germans made up 53% of the foreign born, yet only 31% of the total population. Most of the Germans were Lutheran. They came from Bavaria and other sections of Germany where dancing and beer drinking were a way of life. They were blamed for reducing the Sabbath to a day of recreation. In the same time period most of the Catholics in Indiana were also German, most of the priests French, and Irish influence was being felt as they rode into the state as railroad builders. One Father Sorin came by boat in 1841 accompanied by "a number of German Protestants and a company of French Comedians." He was the visionary father of the University of Notre Dame near South Bend, Indiana, converting pagan Pottowami Indians to Christianity in his small log chapel.
But there was a third group of Germans also coming to Indiana who were related to those from areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio. They were primarily of Swiss South German and German Pietism background. We have traced the Anabaptists and ensuing Amish Division development to America (few Dutch Mennonites came to America, because of liberal toleration for them there). The Pietists, on the other hand, came out of Lutheran areas, from a small group who introduced a personal and emotional piety to the otherwise rigid, legalistic religion of the Anabaptists and state churches. The German pietists became known as Dunkers, because of their belief in trine immersion as the only true method of baptism. The Dunkers, later known as German Baptists, and now the Church of the Brethren, developed in such a parallel manner to the Anabaptists they were often indistinguishable to outsiders.
Between 1830 and 1850 the plain Germans in Elkhart County included the German Baptists in Goshen in 1830. The first group of River Brethren (Brethren in Christ) in Indiana, which came from Canada, were living south west of Goshen by 1839, and the Amish arrived in two separate groups within a year of each other, one in Elkhart County where the town of Nappanee was founded, the other east of Goshen. Mennonites were concentrating just west of Goshen, near South West (possibly Harrison) along the Goshen-Plymouth Indian trail. United Brethren congregations were in the towns and represented German Protestants with Methodist leanings. They were prevented from using the German language in Methodist service, thus were forced into separate denominations.
Before the coming of the B&O Railroad in 1874 Nappanee did not exist as a town. What is today Market Street (U.S. Highway 6, The Grand Army of the Republic Highway) running east and west parallel to the railroad tracks, was a water shed. Water run-off to the north of this line flowed northward through Turkey and Baugo Creeks to the Elkhart and St. Joseph Rivers and on into Lake Michigan. Across the water shed to the south was a tamarack swamp over a mile wide and stretching seven miles to the west to a sand hill called Bremen, in German Township of Marshall County. This swamp formed the head waters of the Yellow River which flowed south of Bremen into the Kankakee and Illinois Rivers through the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.
The water shed was popular deer hunting ground because it was the cross over point from the South Swamp to the dense north woods. Straying cows were often lost in the south swamp. Locke was the nearest village to the area. It had been laid out with 40 lots in 1867, (it was known as Wisler town as early as 1863.) By 1873 the thriving town had 200 inhabitants. When the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad decided to link up Chicago and Sandusky, Ohio, the shortest most direct route skirted the headwaters swamp to the north. Chicago was only serviced by one eastern rail line at the time. The swamp was the last leg of the line laid, linking up east and west somewhere between what was to be Nappanee and Bremen. The town of Nappanee was platted by three men who combined their farmland on December 12, 1874. Henry Stahly, Sr., Daniel Metzler, and John Culp, Sr. founded the town six days after the first train puffed through. There were three log cabins and four frame farm houses in the platted area at the time. Two of the frame houses still stand.
The churches established in the area at the founding of the new town included the Turkey Creek Church of the Brethren, at Gravelton organized in 1838 and built on the present site in 1850. It was the third church of the Brethren organized in Indiana. Four miles northeast of the new town was the Union Center Church of the Brethren built in 1859. The first sermon preached in Union Township was delivered by a Dunker preacher. Just west of Locke was the South Union Church, the first meeting house in the township, built in 1871. It was a community church serving all the congregations of the Locke Village; although the United Brethren constructed a church in the South West corner of the village within the same year.
A small group of Mennonites, an outpost of the Olive Congregation north of Wakarusa, was meeting in the Culp School. The Amish had been worshipping in homes since the early 1840's riding for a short time by horseback to Clinton Township for service. By 1854 a local split had occurred which saw a progressive group of Amish begin the Amish Mennonite Church with the remaining Amish gaining the label Old Order.
In just two months after platting, several hundred dollars had been collected to construct a United Brethren Church in the new town, and within one year the building was complete and was shared by the Methodists, Dunkards, and Mennonites. The Amish Mennonites built their first permanent building on West Market Street in 1878. It was cut off from the town square by part of the swamp which made access to the new church from the east often impossible. Worshippers would walk the raised railroad bed to reach church on many Sunday mornings. Later several of their funerals were held at the Dunkard Church on the east side of town when the water was too high to pass. By 1883 the Dunkards had the first brick church in place, a decade later the North Main Street Mennonites replaced their remodeled school house church with a new building which has come to be one of the largest Mennonite Congregations in the United States.
The Methodists in 1888, Missionaries (Reformed Mennonites) 1898, Brethren Church (Reformed Dunkards) 1897, Evangelical 1892, Presbyterian 1899 and Lutheran Church in 1901 round out the denominational development in Nappanee up to the turn of the century. Of these original 11 churches in Nappanee, 9 are German in origin and 8 have Anabaptist background. In contrast, of the six churches in nearby Bremen, none were Anabaptist, yet three were German, two were English, and one Catholic. (Nappanee didn't have a Catholic church for 85 years.)
Bremen was an established town when the predominately Catholic railroad crews finished their work between the two areas. (Some stayed and made their homes there.) Of the 5 churches in Wakarusa (seven miles to the north) prior to 1900, 3 were English in origin, 2 were German, only one of which was Anabaptist. Therefore the distinctiveness of the German Anabaptist influence in the origins of Nappanee are obvious. The Nappanee area was settled very late, was abundant in timber and fertile land, but had the problem of water control. Optimistic pioneers chose to settle the area because it was available and less expensive.
Small Sects Denomination Development
All denominations which made up the twelve (12) churches in Nappanee prior to 1900, except two, are classified as small sects, by religious historians, even including the Methodists. Excluding the Methodists, the current combined membership make up only 1/10th of 1% of total Protestant membership. By 1650 there were 180 sects all based on the Bible. (Each now capable of priesthood.) Today there are over 400 religious denominations in the U.S. and only seventy (70) are of foreign or racial origin. Just two are American, the Mormons and Christian Scientist. The vast majority are derivative from other denominations. No church anywhere, non-Christian as well, has been able to avoid splinter groups, or small sects from developing. It is surprising that the Catholic Church has experienced the most division. And the Methodist Church alone has been the mother of nearly 50 sects.
The small sects have experienced the greatest growth, especially in the United States. The Methodists and Baptists have developed into the two largest Protestant denominations with over 10 million members each. Sociologically most sects arise among the religiously neglected poor because they find the conventional religions of their day unsuited to their social and psychological needs. (Christianity itself was 300 years old before it attracted considerable numbers of socially well placed followers.)
The poor revolt and draw apart into more congenial groups where they feel comfortable with each other. They elevate the necessities of their class into moral virtues. Frugality, humility and industry, are all required to survive in their station of life. On the other hand, they regard as sins practices they are barred from embracing because of their economic and social position. Theatre going, card playing, the wearing of jewelry and costly apparel are considered morally wrong. Therefore, religious acceptance or rejection of standards of conduct are invented from the simple life they are forced to lead.
Those who find comfort in small sects see heaven as an escape from this life, a place of comfort. They wait patiently for the judgment day when they will trade places with the rest of society when those who are comfortable and prosperous on earth now will be living in hell then. Sects never recognize these social or economic factors, but instead blame their departure on theological differences, often looking backward at something the church has lost. We have to look at the next generation to see how sects beget sects. The frugality and industry which are religiously practiced often produce prosperity. The reasons for the revolt which were so real, disappear, and thus the lifestyle against which father rebelled, becomes a reachable goal for their children. Soon a sect is transformed back into a church; and the stage is now set for the less successful to again develop rationalization for this position through theological differences. And another sect is born.
This is not to underestimate the role played by the strong, personally motivated leader. Cults are more strongly devoted to a leader, where as sects are splinters of established churches. Many sects began as cults, as did Christianity itself. We will see in the case of the Amish Division a nearly perfect case of the leader's influence in the development of a small sect. Several attempts have been made to classify the small sects into types. One approach, although not universally accepted by historians, lists seven distinct groupings:
1. Pessimistic - The world ends tomorrow.
2. Charismatic - Speaking in tongues, seeing visions, and experiencing involuntary motor reactions.
3. Communistic - Shakers, Amman Colonies, House of David, New Harmony, Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and the Hutterites.
4. Ego Centric - Physical comfort, freedom from pain.
5. Mystical - Hinduism.
We are most interested in the remaining two:
6. The perfectionist or subjectivist.
7. The legalist or objectivist.
These two viewpoints can be illustrated by a personal example. When daughter Jane asks if she can take piano lessons. Her mother analyses the situation subjectively and says yes because cousin Mary takes them. Her father analyses the situation objectively and says no because we don't have a piano.
The perfectionists are best characterized by the Methodists who in the developmental years depended on the personal and emotional religious experience. The legalistic are, for our purposes, the Anabaptist influenced groups who place emphasis on rules, and rituals performed which are essential to true religion. Often these rituals are rejections of some practices, following taboos as interpreted from the Bible. These clear classifications become less defined as we progress through American church development and add the influences of evangelism and pietistic factors. The Anabaptists were the forerunner of all small Protestant sects that developed out of the reformation. Although the early Moravians predated the reformation by over a hundred years, and espoused separation of church and state, non-resistance and rejection of the oath, they were an ancient church.
Earlier we identified the dominance of German influence in our local history. There are only two important stepping stones between Europe, Elkhart County and Nappanee. They are Lancaster County of Pennsylvania and Holmes County in Ohio. To Lancaster County can be added Somerset County, to Holmes can be added Wayne. The term Pennsylvania Dutch is simply a mispronunciation of Deutch, the German word for German.
The legend that William Penn invited Mennonites to Pennsylvania is incorrect. It is accurate however, that he envisioned Pennsylvania as a refuge for the religiously oppressed and because his Quakers controlled the colonial government, tolerance was protected. (In 1681 King Charles paid off a debt to Penn's father by giving him the colony) William, for his views, was expelled from Oxford and banished to the European Continent. Germantown established in 1683 six miles north of Philadelphia, today absorbed into the suburbs without identity, was the first permanent Mennonite settlement in America. This settlement eventually died out because Mennonites were not city people.
The Pennsylvania German culture is made up of three groups:
1. The church people or gay Dutch, the Lutheran and Calvin reformed state church people.
2. The Moravians (The revived pietistic church.)
3. The plain people.
3.4 Brethren in Christ
Nearly 5,000 Anabaptists emigrated to America. Germans only made up 50% of Pennsylvania by 1750 and the vast majority of the Dutch were the church people, only 10% were plain people. Into this crucible came the Dunkers soon after their development in Germany bringing Alexander Mack with them.
Out of the heat generated between the Mennonites and Dunkers came the River Brethren. Soon United Brethren and Evangelicals were here promoting Methodist ideas. Germans came to Pennsylvania to escape religious persecution from Catholics in the case of the church people, from the Catholics and Protestants in the case of the Anabaptists.
Just one example will remind us of the no-choice position the Anabaptists were put in their homeland. The 1639 Anabaptist commission in Zurich was empowered to:
1. arrest all Anabaptists
2. confiscate all goods
3. annul all marriages
4. declare all children illegitimate
Soon the Germans began leaving Pennsylvania, not for religious reasons, but for cheaper land and improved economic opportunities. However, widespread migration did not begin in earnest until after the war of 1812 made the North West territory safe from Indians. Several early Mennonite and Amish settlements were snuffed out, even in Pennsylvania, by Indian raids.
New areas were usually settled after scouting parties had found suitable locations. The hilly terrain of Ohio, not as ideally flat as either the flood plains of Southern Germany or the Lancaster Valley, made further western migration a goal of many German Anabaptists. The selection of the Elkhart Prairie was an understandable choice. One quickly discovers that within Elkhart County lies the center of the Mennonite church, the second largest Amish settlement in the world, the publishing center of the River Brethren, and the largest concentration of The Church of the Brethren in Indiana.
The Methodists were very late to become established in America arriving just prior to the revolution in 1774. John Wesley came to America as a missionary in Georgia. Although not successful he made friends with the Moravians who had established their first American settlement there. Upon his return to England Wesley reported to Peter Bohler, the American Moravian leader, who convinced Wesley and Brother Charles they would not be true Christians until they had experienced genuine conversion.
So...What is a Moravian? To confuse the issue, there were two Moravian churches. The ancient church, first known as the Bohemian Brethren established before the Reformation in 1457. Although it held many beliefs of the later Anabaptists including separation of church and state, adult baptism, and they were a medieval church. This church was revived in 1722 primarily as a German, pietistic church.
So...What is a Pietist? It is a movement of the late 1600's which rejected all formalism in religion to be replaced by a personal experience. Original pietistics rejected the church as an institution. Christianity as a religion could only be experienced between God and you. This theology was translated into a church setting by the founding of the church of the Brethren in 1708, the first pietistic church to reach America.
The United Brethren church was founded in 1789 by Germans who were influenced by the evangelism of the Methodists. They were prevented from speaking German by Francis Asbury, the first Methodist Bishop in America. The United Brethren was founded by a Mennonite preacher and a Reformed preacher. It was considered a new version of the religious impulse that a century before created the Church of the Brethren and a century and one half before that had started the Mennonites. The Evangelical Church was another German Methodistic Church which mediated the revivalistic spirit of the Methodists to Mennonites. Both of these denominations wore plain clothes in the beginning. The two subsequent mergers concluding in the United Methodists brought over 800,000 members into the Methodist fold who had direct Anabaptist German background.
Let's next look at the Dunkers, a very distinctive denomination to our area. The Church of the Brethren, known as the German Baptist Brethren till 1908, was made up of German Reformed and Lutherans. Dunkers and Mennonites argue loudly about any relationship between each other and there is no direct connection between the Anabaptists and the Dunkers. However the Dunkers in addition to their pietistic character, took for their own the doctrine and ideals of the Anabaptists, finding new historical connection to the early church. They shortly came to Germantown and organized in the Mennonite Church in 1719. The Dunkards today have no creed other than the New Testament. Because of their evangelistic leanings relative to the Mennonites, who had lost any such zeal over a century before, the aggressive Dunkards were successful at conversion. Whereas only 200 Dunkards emigrated versus 3,000 Mennonites from Europe in the colonial period, today Dunkards form a larger denomination than the Mennonites.
The similarities in the Mennonites and Dunkards, which include their beliefs, and patterns of settlement, have made them often confusing to outsiders. Differences seem only noticeable in the method of Baptism and Pietistic influences. Those influences include church choirs with four (4) part singing, Sunday schools and evening meetings, missions, plus informal worship service. This Pietism allows us today to greet each other during the worship service, permits the minister to speak informally from the pulpit, and maintains a lot of activity through the importance of good works, which Luther always feared because it produces human self righteousness, and he wished to make the sacraments independent of human wishes.
In grouping the sects, much overlapping takes place, and in many ways all sects are more alike than not. Most sects are pessimistic, foreseeing an end to the world order, placing little importance in social advancement to achieve their ends. Nearly all sects are legalistic in that the Bible is regarded as objective law. The technical differences in many sects are trivial, so it is more informative to look at the general characteristics nearly all sects share.
Refuge of the poor. Religion has always been attached to revolts of the poor and labor struggles until modern times. Strikes are now secular in nature. Pre millenarianism is a defense mechanism of the disinherited. Wesley predicted that prosperity would rob the Methodists of their religion and stop the revival. His prediction was correct. He even suggested giving the money they earned. Although sects harbor the poor, none have any programs of social reform except thou shall not smoke or drink. Many prevent voting or the holding of public office. They are resigned to await the millennium and peace in the hereafter. The resignation is most evident in their hymns. Early Methodists sang the following songs: "A land that is fairer than day" "Where sickness and death never come" "We shall meet on that Beautiful Shore" "Without thee how could Earth be Trod?" The larger denominations, as they become economically and socially established, turn their attention instead to developing religion to result in human brotherhood and the correction of social ills.
Puritan morality. Austerity of life, self denial of things and simplicity are moral fundamentals. The social effects of indulgence have little to do with the opposition; they simply can't be afforded by individuals or as a church, church organs, clothing, entertainment. History shows as sects can afford these luxuries, they go buy them.
Emotionally starved. Only the sects preserve the revival techniques. Naive and simple people believe that an emotional reaction is proof that he has come into a direct relationship with God. That's all that is needed. Today the catch word for this experience is that you are "Born Again." Today battlefields of emotional evangelism have been elevated to the sophisticated levels of the hot medium of television, where you can now experience your emotional revival in the comfort and safety of your own living room.
The Craving for objectivity. On the other hand many people not only don't value emotionally personal experiences, in fact they are temperamentally incapable of very deep feeling. Instead they crave something they can do, a rite they can practice by observing these outward rituals. Religious life becomes easy and certain. Because most sects regard the Bible as infallible. It is the objective authority from this book comes the things you should not do. Two sides of very important questions can easily be defended with the Bible. Justification can be found in the Bible for baptism to be in both running and calm water, for immersion to be forward and backward, and for plunges to be once to three times. What helps sects flourish is the human ability to select from the Bible a few positive or negative commands, while disregarding all others, equally plain.
Conservatism. Conservatism which rejects change of any sort is a clear sectarian mark. They believe it is their duty to reproduce the primitive church of the first century. Sects with as few a several families insist that all Christians save themselves have departed from the true course.
Modern scholarship and science are not only suspect but considered so threatening as to draw violent reaction. Darwin stands as only the most visible of the whipping boys of the continued search for knowledge and truth. Distinctive principles are lost with growth. As sects grow in size, diverse backgrounds of new people must be taken into account and their beliefs must be broadened accordingly. With size comes the need for authority to maintain order and direction. With size comes the need for more money, the emphasis on collections, and thus greater influence from the prosperous.
Big Award Fantastic Leaders proclaim themselves divine. Groups prove from the scriptures that Jesus was black. Formulas are developed which pinpoint the end of the world. Marjoe Gortner, ordained as a child, performed his first marriage at 4. And of course Jim Jones, the Kool Aid Kid, has topped them all. So far.
Local Church Development
The church of the Brethren (German Baptist Brethren) Dunkers, according to the local editor, first showed up in Goshen in 1830 as a city congregation. Dunkard churches developed in almost all Mennonite communities. We find parallels in family relationships, similarities in doctrine and practice, customs in dress, and rural life. The Dunkers found new historic justification for Anabaptist doctrine in the primitive church. Trine immersion was chosen as the method of baptism because of its use in the early church, although the practice had been discontinued in all but the Eastern Orthodox church.
The Turkey Creek congregation was organized south of the creek in Gravelton in 1838. It was the mother congregation of the later Nappanee church. Union Center was organized in 1859. I repeat the first sermon preached in Union Township was by a Dunker. The first split in the Dunkers came locally 10 years after nearly identical splits in the Mennonite church. It was a split first of those who felt the core church was becoming to liberal. This offshoot became the German Baptist Brethren wing and today are primarily near Wakarusa. This group today drives cars but live and dress very plainly. Their dress is characterized by a capped dress, tied prayer cap, yet small subtle print fabrics.
Within a year, a progressive wing developed which is today known as the Brethren church. Today the Brethren Church has two headquarters. Winona, Indiana, and Ashland, Ohio. The Winona evangelism of Billy Sunday represents the evangelical nature of the Brethren split. Grace College is also an outgrowth of the Brethren Church. The mainline church of the Brethren in this area sought to get into the education business and set out to establish a college at the turn of the century. Several communities became involved. Among the front runners were Nappanee and Greenville, Ohio. The church asked for $15,000, and Nappanee had offered it. Manchester College had earlier been started by the United Brethren Church. Manchester in trying to get started was having a difficult financial time.
They placed faith in a sugar daddy that ended up an empty wrapper. The Dunkers saw an opportunity to buy the distressed property and withdrew from the Nappanee location although land had already been committed adjacent to the church, and the seal was already in existence. As the final incentive the town of Manchester bought a farm, divided it into lots, sold them and used the profits to pay a pledge to the college. The Nappanee paper made fun of North Manchester's methods, received a reply in the form of an editorial entitled, "Sour Grapes" which pointed out Nappanee was resentful. So much for Nappanee College.
1926 brought an additional conservative split which is today a very small denomination today known as Dunkard Brethren near Wakarusa in Harrison Township who today still drives horses and buggies. To my knowledge this group worships in their homes. The Brethren Service Center in Nappanee is symbolic of the Church of the Brethren's commitment to mission work and the relative importance of the Nappanee area to the general church.
The River Brethren, a group developed in Pennsylvania by Mennonites who wished the trine immersion of the Dunkers without the liberal Pietistic excesses of the Dunkers. Today a small denomination of only 17,000, the River Brethren did not formalize until the 1860's when the Brethren in Christ denomination was formed to legalize the non resistance status of the Brethren in relation to the Civil War. The first River Brethren congregation in Indiana was began in Union Township at Union Grove, two miles east of the Union Center Church of the Brethren. The group worshipped in homes for many years. In the early 1900's a second congregation was begun in Locke in the former United Brethren Church. The congregation remained there until their present building was built in 1960 on highway 19 one mile north of Nappanee.
Again the Evangel Press and the Christian Light Bookstore are symbols of the Nappanee connection to the larger denominations. V. L. Stuckman became the editor of the denominations' publication and began the press as a method of making a living while performing his editorial duties. Today Rev. Zercher edits the publications and Rev. Thomas runs the printing plant. The bookstore was begun as a retail outlet for the press. Today it is a separate division. Today the Brethren in Christ Church participates and cooperates with the Mennonite Relief agencies, but has no other connection.
Three basic Anabaptist settlements were established in Indiana prior to the Civil War. The first was one of the few direct Swiss settlements at Berne. Today the Berne Mennonite Church is the largest in the world. The Amish settlement later south of Berne retains distinctive Swiss customs which differ from the South German Amish were familiar with. They drive open buggies, make dandelion wine, yodel, and wear puckered sleeves and black aprons, prayer caps, and turned brim hats. There is much more swagger to the Berne Amish male costume in color and fit.
The second Mennonite settlement was west of Goshen in Harrison Township in the mid 40's. The first service was held in a school house north of South West on Ascension Day in 1848 with 16 people. By 1861, just 13 years later, 600 persons partook communion at the Yellow Creek Mennonite Church, the outgrowth of that first service. Yellow Creek became the congregation from which the other area congregations developed. Holdeman Mennonite Church west of Wakarusa 1850, the Olive Mennonite Church 1862, which had the 1st Sunday School in it, were both served by ministers from the Yellow Creek Church. Probably the roots of the North Main Street Church one of the largest in U.S., referred to as Locke Mennonite Church, was served by the same circuit. The earliest city Mennonite Congregation was the Prairie Mennonite in Elkhart.
In 1853 the only Dutch Mennonite settlement to come to America settled west of New Paris, worshipping in Rev. Smid's log house until 1889 when the Salem Mennonite Church was built from the remnants of the Dutch. That log cabin is today relocated at Amish Acres. A newspaper was found glued to the interior of the cabin which was from Holland, Michigan. The original group was from the Balk in Friesland. By 1880 there were 2,000 Mennonites and Amish in Indiana.
Today there are two main Mennonite conferences. The Mennonite Church with a membership of 90,000. It is the historic conference which traces itself back to Germantown in 1683. Today the denomination leadership is centered in Goshen and Elkhart. At the turn of the century the county, particularly in the persons of John Funk and J. S. Coffman revived the dormant, uninspired, persecuted church into the modern Mennonite Church we know today through such outward institutions that include Goshen College and the popular Mennonite relief sale.
John Funk was a publisher in Chicago, moved his presses to Elkhart in 1867. He was influenced by D.L. Moody, Chicago Evangelist. He founded the Prairie Street Church. The Funk of Funk and Waggels is a direct descendant. He introduced many pietistic features into his church without losing sight of the historic character of the Mennonite Church. He introduced the first Sunday school, first relief agency, first foreign missionaries, aid Plans. He brought to the area progressive younger Mennonites who helped found Goshen College. He held the first evangelistic services in the Mennonite Church. The other denomination is the General Conference Mennonite Church. This more liberal conference which includes the Berne Church which is 60% of GCM in Indiana, and the first Mennonite Church in Nappanee. West Market Street Church, is centered in the Western Mennonite settlement in Kansas.
The Nappanee congregation which began as the Amish Mennonite church, to the right of the North Main Church, now is more liberal as a member of the General Conference. Only 7 churches in Indiana are affiliated with the G.C., a denomination of 35,000. The Yellow Creek Church suffered identical corresponding splits that we saw experienced by the Dunkers.
In 1871 Jacob Wisler, who was the first Mennonite Bishop ordained in Indiana, began to feel uneasy about the outside influences creeping into his church. Progressive institutions including Sunday schools loss of the German Language, and evangelistic meetings. Thus the Old Order Mennonite separation became in Indiana and Ohio known as the Wesley Mennonites. Although they eventually accepted cars they were known as the Black Bumper Mennonites for their practice of painting out the chrome Detroit added to the base-less carriage.
Just as the Dunkard Brethren later split from the conservative German Baptists, so in 1908 did the Wisler group split in two over the use of telephones and later automobiles. For many years the two groups alternated weeks with the Wislers between the frame Yellow Creek Church and the Blosser Church north east of Nappanee. Today the Old Order group has three buildings. Blosser, just west of the Yellow Creek and the county line church building. The original Yellow Creek congregation now worships in a large brick colonial building having little resemblance to the simple buildings of the past.
One year after Wisler departed because of a fear of progressive changes, so did Daniel Brenneman leave Yellow Creek because it was not progressive enough. His first congregation, the Bethel Reformed Mennonite Church, has through several mergers with similar progressive splits become the Missionary Church, formerly the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. Brenneman who was associated and influenced by John Funk, he did not retain appreciation for retaining the historic character of the Mennonite Church. They set out organizing through the Methodist tactics of the Camp meeting, primarily at Fetters Grove, evangelizing many outsiders.
Congregations were established in the surrounding towns Bremen, Wakarusa, Nappanee, Oak Grove, South West, Foraker. Bethel College in Mishawaka belongs to the Missionaries The impact of this evangelism with in the Mennonite fold is a good example of how mobility with in the churches began to spread South German names among other denominations. My great grandfather was a Mennonite living in Harrison Township attending probable Yellow Creek and Olive Mennonite Churches. The author's grandfather was a blacksmith just one half mile north of the Bethel reformed church attended this progressive Mennonite church. By the time he moved to Wakarusa and became a merchant, the way was clear for him to make the jump to the Methodist Church which reflected his new economic role more than the reformed Mennonites. And the author finds himself sitting in the United Methodist church, a member, telling you about it. To maintain your curiosity and heighten the drama, we're going to return to Switzerland in the early 1690's to look at the Amish Division and its separate growth in the Nappanee, Indiana area.
Amish and Swiss Brethren Division
By then Anabaptism had developed and spread for over 160 years. Grebel and Mary, the founders of the movement, were dead within two years. The mantel of leadership was assumed by a Swiss preacher named Hubmair. During the peasant revolt he was forced to flee to Moronia where in the relative tolerant atmosphere Anabaptism developed until spread by persecution. The movement assumed great proportions when the failure of the Peasant Revolt left the lower classes distrustful of the Lutheran cause. In the parts of Europe which were still Catholics, Anabaptism superseded Lutheran.
The Anabaptist expansion came from three centers, the Swiss, South German, and Alsace. In Switzerland development centered in the Alps. In fact in the foothills in a small village called Scheitheim near the Alsatian border, one of the first villages entered by the Anabaptists where the first confession of faith was held. The seven points agreed upon were: Baptism, separation from the world, non resistance, Oath, excommunication, the Lord's Supper, shepherds.
By 1690 strong inspired leadership had long ago been snuffed out. The early evangelical fervor had been replaced by the mid 17th century by total withdrawal from the world. Those who remained in Switzerland were peasant farmers of the most simple sort. They were willing to farm the most meager ground and developed a sense of community which allowed them to achieve self sufficing under these conditions. Mennonites had been in America for 10 years, the Dunker Brethren would become a sect in less than 10 years. The Pietistic environment prevailed.
Gone in addition to its sense of evangelism, was its creative and intellectual character. In this spiritual vacuum, we find the stage set for the only major split suffered by the Swiss Brethren, the separation of the Amish, followers of a Bishop by the name of Jacob Amman. We shall see how an excellent example of sect development following the required steps in clockwork fashion. Amman and his group established specific theological differences from the main body, enthusiastic leadership, a leader willing to assume authority for right and wrong, by one claiming inspiration, a sense of urgency to the settlement disagreements, set specific goals and established cultural separation from the larger group.
Although the Anabaptists seldom kept records of historical importance, most of the original documents of this conflict have been preserved. And there is little evidence of any human traits being involved other than pettiness and stubbornness. Historian agree that the main if not only point of contention concerned avoidance, or shunning, of one who has been excommunicated or banned from the brotherhood. The Dutch Mennonites and Men Simon practiced avoidance the Swiss Brethren never had, and it was the only difference between them. It is not sure whether Ammon had access to Simon's writings but it is possible. Amman started his invitations by holding communion twice a year rather than once. Next he also introduced foot washing which was not practiced in the Swiss Congregations. Amman began demanding from preachers their stand on avoidance. Hans Reist, bishop, became the leader of the majority and resisted Amman's advances. Amman tested the waters further by excommunicating several preachers who would not agree with his strong stand.
Avoidance as defined by Amman amounted to total social ostracism of the excommunicated. Finding scriptural support in I Corinthians 5:11 which says not to eat, not to keep company. Avoidance is mentioned in Romans 16:17. It included for Amman total martial and economic avoidance, and over the centuries has proven to be the single most effective tool which has kept the Amish Society in tact amid the increasing pressures from the outside world.
Amman called meetings throughout the area, usually in members' barns, demanding agreement with his stand or face excommunication by him. He had the most success in drawing followers in Alsace rather than Switzerland, Alsace was at the time part of Germany but became attached to France shortly thereafter, and Amman proceeded to move there. The dissension was bitter. As Amman felt his power increase he made additional demands on the followers. He introduced uniformity in dress, he said the beard should be untrimmed, there is some evidence he made the use of tobacco unacceptable, and attending services at a state church was considered a sin.
Records show that there were numerous attempts to heal the split by compromise. All failed. It is most interesting that nearly 5 years after the division began, the Amish themselves, felt they had over done it, placed themselves under the ban, and asked to be received back into the larger church. Nothing came of it as both sides refused to bend on any of the points separating them. The Amish then became the most inflexible wing of a very inflexible church. And as if frozen in ice, they have been transported in time to this country to become our neighbors giving us an unprecedented reproduction in this era of Einstein, of a culture of the 1690's in Switzerland. Of the 69 ministers known to have taken sides, 27 sided with Amman. 23 lived in Alsace, 26 Germany, 20 in Switzerland.
From this point of final division from the main body, the Amish took the final step to become not just a religious sect, but an integrated folk culture. The new group found support only in the the region of the Palatinate in Germany. Thus in Europe the Amish influence was restricted to pockets in Switzerland, Alsace, and Hesse. The movement in Europe never prospered. Because of the density of population and the lack of available land. The Amish did not have the space they needed to develop their distinctiveness and within time were reinstated into the larger groups. There are no Amish in Europe today. There were only 2 settlements left in Switzerland in 1710.
It took the lure of America to provide the combination of factors needed for the Amish to survive and prosper. They began their migration as early as 1720, less than 30 years after their creation. (Prevented the eventual extinction of the Amish.) In Europe the Amish were too mobile, too scattered, and too persecuted to constitute a folk culture. They refused to sail on the same ships with Swiss Brethren. A combination of the toleration they found in Pennsylvania plus the wide open spaces of the new country that allowed them to settle in cohesive groups of close farms and latter put distance between those subgroups with differences. Through their inherited and refined trait of stubbornness has come one of their saving techniques. Among the Amish there is no compromise. When differences arise they are solved by migration of the minority. Thus Amish are spread today across nearly half of the continental United States not only because of economic opportunity and advantages, but also to keep distance between potential factions. Today there are 112 settlements only 17% of which existed before 1900.
A major split occurred in the Nappanee Amish community in the late 1890's which illustrates this principle. It became known as the Windmill Controversy and centered on the acceptance of windmills to pump water, the use of manure spreaders, hay loaders, grain binders and other mechanized farm machinery which were to revolutionize American agriculture. The more conservative group removed themselves to Harper and Reno County, Kansas. The two main strains of Amish migration were the early 18th century migration from Switzerland and the Palatinate and the larger 19th century migration from Alsace-Bavaria and Hesse during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Elkhart County and Nappanee settlements are from the newer period. The Nappanee settlement we'll see was in two distinct groups who came at the same time. The controversy mentioned above found the community split primarily along lines of regional origin with the Alsasian group making the majority of those going to Kansas. Of the 47 common Amish family names of Hession origin, 61.7% are recognizable as being Amish in our community. Names like Borkholder, Chupp, Gingerich, Graber, Helmuth, Hochstetler, Mast, Miller, Mullet, Nissley, Slabaugh, Schmuchker, Stutzman, and Yoder. On the other hand of the 52 common Amish names of descendants of the Alsation group, only 9.6% are in our community and only one-Yutzi is today Amish, Reingenberg, Slagel, Smith, and Stahley, as an example have long ago been lost to the Amish society, at least in our locale.
The first split in the Amish Church came locally in the 1850's when the progressive wing became the Amish Mennonite Church. In 1878 they built their first church building and have gone onto become affiliated with the General Conference Group. One would guess the reason might be traced to the Swiss background of the original families and the proximity to the influence of the Berne Church. However that is only a hypothesis of mine. Harold Bender estimates that 50% of the Amish have reunited with the mainline Amish Church since 1916. This first break brought the introduction of the name "Old Order" to describe those who stayed with the traditional pattern, about 1/3 of Amish became Old Order Amish.
Later splits of the conservative Amish Mennonite and the Beachy Amish give use a resemblance even among the Amish of the type splits which took place in the Mennonite and Dunker Churches before. The Amish were unable to design a split which would be more conservative than they already were. Although districts vary from locale to locale in their degrees of conservatism. You may know that the length of hair, their use of rubber tires, the acceptance of traffic triangles, is governed by each bishop. But all old order groups remain strictly congregational, support no missions, reject autos and have no church houses.
Pennsylvania Dutch (Deitsch) is a first cousin to the German language. It is estimated that 900,000 people in America at the turn of the century spoke the dialect; 70,000 Amish in North America remain the primary speakers of the language today. Deitsch is a rural language of work and worship, living and loving. There are no business or technical terms in it. It developed in what is now southwestern Germany, eastern France and most of Switzerland. Low German means the language was spoken in the lowland, rather than the highlands of Germany. Little of the language is written.
So in the Amish we have living testimonies of the success of the American experiment in religious freedom. They have been allowed to be as stubborn as they wish, and every time the government forgets just how stubborn they can be, it introduce things like photos on drivers licenses (Beachy as well as Old Order who are licensed for their jobs), school influence, or mechanical refrigeration for milk, they run into a buzz saw. Possibly if more of us felt strongly about our rights, maybe we'd by left alone, too.
© Richard L. Pletcher
January 7, 1987
Revised May 11, 1995
Revised March 10, 1997
Reviewed May 4, 2006