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Mennonite Spiritual Formation in 1897.

January 30, 2012

My memory is failing me on this, but some years ago a family member gave me a copy of a Mennonite Catechism. I was (at the time) the only Menno in the family, and this person felt I would enjoy having it. I opened it up and was immediately surprised by a few things:

  • There was a Mennonite Catechism?
  • It was published in 1897. When this book was printed Nap Lajoie was playing second base for the Phillies. For those thinking, “Nap who?”-just think, “a long time ago.”
  • It was in terrific condition for being over a century old.
  • It was very similar in design to the Heidelberg Catechism. I have a few copies of the HC which are the same age or older then this, and the look and size (about 3.5″ x 6″) is similar. The Mennonite version is smaller, doesn’t include nearly as many questions, and the answers are a little more succinct.

From what I have learned so far, this particular catechism was first known as the Elbing Catechism. It originated in Prussia in the late 18th century, but eventually made its way to North America and was published and translated into English by the Eastern District Conference. It was used by congregations in the General Conference Mennonite Church, among others.

A catechism is a teaching tool highlighting the beliefs and practices a religious group sees as most important (for students to learn), in a question/answer format. It is interesting to look at the list of topics that were included in this version. We might be able to infer then, that in 1897, these were the theological issues that at least some North American Mennonites were most concerned with. In the GAMEO article titled “Catechism” the comment is made,

“Theologically the various catechisms reflect the current climate in the Mennonite churches where they were composed.” (1)

Taking a look at documents like this can help us gain a picture of what Mennonites were thinking about in terms of theology and spiritual formation at a particular place and time. If you like the entire text of the catechism can be found here (honestly, it’s not too long). As you observe the subjects listed in the Table of Contents what stands out to you? Is anything missing that you would have expected the Anabaptist/Mennonite community to focus on? Does the overall structure of this teaching tool tell us something about the spiritual life of the community at that time?

(1) Neff, Christian and Harold S. Bender. “Catechism.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 30 January 2012. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C4574ME.html.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2012 4:42 am

    afternoon everyone im looking for peter monkton is he still posting here
    a beilin

  2. May 22, 2012 12:28 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard lyrics such as whroes reach out for another lover or lay me down with the liars ’cause I’m no better in any other Christian music, which is one of the reasons I really like your stuff. It is challenging and human and genuine. Definitely not cliche.I also really like the fact that you’re not overly evangelical by which I mean you are who you are and you try to live according to what you believe in as honest a fashion as possible. Your posts are always thoughtful and you never try to shove anything down anyone’s throat about what they should or shouldn’t believe. You just get on with it. I am so often challenged by your blog, humbled, intrigued, or given the opportunity to investigate something further. Thank you

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