Many issues helped to create the group called Old Order Mennonites in Ontario. The same issues had affected other parts of the Mennonite Church in North America, especially in Indiana and Pennsylvania. Indeed by the time the Old Order Mennonites identified as such in 1889 in Ontario, there had already been a division in Indiana, and one would soon follow in Pennsylvania.
Abraham W. Martin, the Mennonite bishop in the northern part of Waterloo County, could be identified as the spiritual leader of the Old Order Mennonites in Ontario. His leadership in resisting certain kinds of change, and his refusal to baptize converts who had experienced their change of life in emotional evening meetings, drew the line that separated the groups.
The article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) can be seen with bibliography at http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Martin,_Abraham_W._(1834-1902)
Abraham Weber Martin: bishop and farmer; b. 27 April 1834 near St. Jacobs in Waterloo County, Ontario to John and Anna (Weber) Martin. He was the second son and third child in a family of three sons and nine daughters. On 17 March 1857 he married Elizabeth Bauman (1838-1902). Soon after their marriage they took possession of the farm on which Abraham was born and they lived there the rest of their lives. Abraham and Anna had three sons and seven daughters. Abraham died 8 February 1902. Elizabeth died 30 April of the same year.
Little is known of Abraham Martin’s education, although it was certainly limited to the primary schools of the day. He was said to be of “medium height, well proportioned and rather fleshy,” with a “pleasing countenance” and an easy and dignified bearing.
On 1 September 1861 Joseph Hagey ordained Abraham Martin as the minister for the congregations in the Woolwich Township area north of the village of Waterloo. On 17 September 1867 Hagey ordained Martin as the bishop for these congregations—one of three bishops in the Waterloo County Mennonite community.
Abraham Martin can be considered the father of the Old Order Mennonite movement in Ontario. He corresponded frequently with leaders of the earlier conservative movement in the United States, and he took traditional positions on most of the contentious issues. In the 1870s he called a meeting of ministers and deacons at his home to discuss disputed issues within the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. The conservatives indicated that they would drop their objections to protracted evening meetings and English-language preaching only if Sunday schools were not continued in the conference. Their objections to Sunday schools included the following: 1) Sunday schools promoted associations with other churches that were not nonresistant; 2) teaching was often done from books or materials other than the Bible, and 3) Sunday schools usurped the parental role of teaching their children. This effort at reconciliation ceased, and conservative opposition on all these issues continued. Evening meetings and English preaching also encouraged relationships beyond the Mennonite community, and the emerging Old Order group ultimately rejected these innovations as well.
In 1885 preachers Noah Stauffer and Solomon Gehmen held evening meetings in Woolwich Township, the geographic area in which Abraham Martin was bishop. Thirty persons requested baptism because of their experience in the meetings, but Martin refused to give them instruction or to baptize them because of the nature of these meetings. Bishop Elias Weber later baptized the group, but this quickly led to a more formal schism in 1889 when the two factions within the Mennonite Conference of Ontario held separate annual meetings with their ordained leaders.
Despite his conservative theology, Martin was not as rigid as other conservative leaders. In 1885 he decried the “inflexible” discipline of the Stauffer Mennonites in Pennsylvania.
As bishop of the largest group of Old Order Mennonites in Ontario, Abraham Martin had enormous influence on the first years of the group’s development. He was not a flamboyant, charismatic leader, but he represented the theological views of a high percentage of those in congregations for which he was responsible.
— Sam Steiner