The Lure of Fundamentalism

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Charles Darwin and his son in 1841. Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

In the latter part of the 19th century theological tension arose in the Protestant evangelical churches in North America. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution created strong reactions.

Many Protestant leaders in “mainline denominations,” in their belief in historical progress, thought evolution was one of God’s ways of working. With an emphasis on truth and reason, they maintained the kingdom of God could be achieved on earth. They emphasized Jesus’ humanity more than his divinity and began to reframe the conversion experience from an instantaneous emotional experience to a gradual quickening of one’s moral life.

Perhaps even more divisive within the churches was the beginning use of historical-critical methods in studying the Bible. This approach led many to challenge the historical reality of some events recorded in scripture. Large segments of the Presbyterian, Anglican, and Methodist denominations incorporated this new thinking by the first decades of the 20th century. Opponents called this path liberalism or modernism.

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James Orr, one of the authors of The Fundamentals. Photo by George Eyre-Todd (1862-1937) via Wikimedia Commons

The opposition to the modernist direction in Protestant circles came to be known as fundamentalism after the publication in 1909 of a series of booklets called The Fundamentals that endorsed shared Christian beliefs on things like the nature of Jesus and the historical reliability of the Bible.

In the years prior to and after World War I, late 19th-century holiness theology and early 20th-century fundamentalism, but not modernism, influenced the two most culturally comfortable Ontario Mennonite groups: the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. The influence of Moody Bible Institute and Toronto Bible College on these groups through the training of men and women who became leaders has already been noted.

The more separated Mennonite groups, however, remained outside the doctrinal debates that began to consume these two more assimilated groups. The Amish Mennonites did begin to invite Mennonite preachers with a fundamentalist theology into their pulpits, and a few Amish Mennonite young people began to attend the Ontario Mennonite Bible School in Kitchener, which had a fundamentalist orientation.

Amish Mennonites who moved into Kitchener for employment began to join churches like First Mennonite Church. Even so, in this time period most Amish Mennonites remained focused on the local church community and the extended network of family relationships. As for the Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonites, and the Reformed Mennonites, they had explicitly rejected assimilation, and this included theological assimilation with either modernists or fundamentalists.

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William Jennings Bryan. Photo by James E. Purdy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The fundamentalism that took shape in North American Protestantism before and during the first part of World War I was attractive to Mennonites on another score—it was not especially patriotic, particularly among fundamentalists with a strong dispensational position. Dispensationalists believed World War I signaled the rapidly approaching return of Christ, and they were generally anti-political in their views. William Jennings Bryan, a strong fundamentalist generally appreciated by Mennonites for his anti-evolutionary stance, resigned from Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet as secretary of state over war policy. Even the Moody Bible Institute magazine published a defense of nonresistance in 1917, though it stated it disagreed with the position.

Fundamentalist patriotism increased markedly in 1918, but Mennonites remained attracted to the “two kingdom” implication of dispensational theology, with its heavenly and earthly kingdoms and its emphasis on not being unequally yoked with the world.

The holiness (and later fundamentalist) influences took the Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ and Mennonite Conference of Ontario in quite different directions. The former group markedly decreased its emphasis on separation from the world, while the latter group enforced a new emphasis on separation through implementation of uniform dress codes.

This melding of visible separation with fundamentalist theology was a unique Mennonite hybrid response to the lure of fundamentalism.

Next week we’ll look at how this hybrid found the Mennonite Conference of Ontario focused on seemingly (in today’s world) narrow issues of how women dressed.

You can learn more about these themes in In Search of Promised Lands.

C. N. Good–Firebrand in a small package

Cyrus N. Good was a little man with a big personality. He served as a minister and evangelist in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination (today the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada) for almost 50 years.

He and his second wife, “Livy”were generous hosts to many Mennonite immigrants from the Soviet Union in the 1920s, putting on Christmas parties for some of the families hosted by the Bethany Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church in Kitchener where he was then pastor.

The article and bibliography of “C. N.” Good can be read in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO).


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Cyrus N. Good. Photo from Gospel Banner (9 March 1967), p. 15

Cyrus Nathaniel “C. N.” Good: Mennonite Brethren in Christ pastor and church leader, was born on 19 November 1869 at Clarinda, Page County, Iowa to Jacob G. Good (9 March 1840-17 November 1914) and Rosina Frank Good (18 October 1842-29 June 1935). He was the third child in a family of two sons and two daughters. On 23 May 1894 he married Lovina Schneider (13 February 1873-16 February 1899); they had no children. On 2 October 1900 he married Olivia “Livy” C. Hallman (19 February 1877-22 December 1942); they had two sons and two daughters. After Livy’s death, on 3 October 1945 C. N. married Lina Brothers Sinden (1889-1954), the widow of fellow Mennonite Brethren in Christ pastor, Charles I. Sinden. C. N. Good died 17 February 1967 in Kitchener, Ontario.

Jacob and Rosina Good, who had lived earlier in the Roseville, Ontario area, returned to Ontario with their family in 1870 six months after Cyrus’s birth. Jacob was a blacksmith, and worked in a variety of villages around Waterloo County. According to the 1871 census the family was affiliated with the Evangelical Association. Cyrus had the usual elementary school education. He was always a short man, being five feet, four inches in height. Cyrus had a conversion experience at the age of 18 and became a member of the Bethany Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church in Berlin, Ontario, where the family began to attend in 1879 after moving to town. He worked for a time in the grocery business, but felt a call to ministry. C. N. (as he was always known as a minister) began to preach locally in 1893, and received a “Probationer’s” license in 1894 that saw him serve as a helper (assistant pastor) in the Bethany and Breslau congregations. In 1896 he was appointed to serve the Port Elgincongregation, and was also ordained as a minister. Over the years he also pastored the Conestoga, Elmwood, Aylmer, Toronto West, and Markham congregations. He held the first meetings in Hanover in 1901 that led to the formation of the Hanover congregation several years later. During his years in Markham, C. N. revived a congregation badly divided by the Pentecostal movement of the day. Good retired from active congregational ministry in 1943.

C. N. Good also served the Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ conference in many capacities. In 1913 he became President of the City Mission Committee, serving for six years at that time. Overall he served 20 years as the leader of the city mission work. He was a Presiding Elder for seven years, and chaired the annual conference four years. He also served as secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Conference for 13 years. He was a part-time or full-time evangelist for 18 years. He attended the Ontario district conference annual meetings 64 consecutive years (1895-1957). During his 50 years of active service he attended 2,829 Sunday school sessions, 3,469 prayer meetings, preached 9,434 sermons and made 22,084 pastoral visits. His average annual salary was $773.35. He was a popular preacher, and served widely in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination as an evangelist. C. N. and Livy Good are buried at the Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener.

— Sam Steiner

John Bear – 19th Century Mennonite Builder and Religious Innovator

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John Bear’s tombstone. Photo by Allan Dettweiler.

John Bear was an early settler in Waterloo County, Ontario, being born there in 1804. He was a farmer and a carpenter, and was a significant contractor as a young adult. Later, his sons, John and Benjamin, gained local historical fame for building the West Montrose Covered Bridge.

John was attracted by the new pietistic theology that came to Ontario in the 1830s, and ultimately embraced it fully, becoming an early leader in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ movement.

The GAMEO article on John Bear, recently slightly updated, can be seen with bibliography at http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bear,_John_(1804-1894)


John Bear: minister and building contractor; born 15 May 1804 near Preston, Upper Canada to Martin Bear (1774-ca. 1845) and Catharine (Gingrich) Bear (ca. 1783-ca. 1849). He was the oldest child in a family of six sons and seven daughters. On 11 February 1827 he married Anna Pannabecker (23 April 1812-16 February 1875); they had 10 sons and three daughters. John died 24 December 1894. He is buried in the Wanner Mennonite Church cemetery.

By vocation John Bear became a carpenter and builder. One of his projects was the Union Mennonite/Tunker school and meetinghouse of 1829 that predated the Wanner building of 1837. This building was used as a school until 1848. He did much of his construction work between 1823-1835. He also farmed between Preston and Hespeler (both now part of the city of Cambridge).

John Bear was baptized as a member of the Mennonite Church in 1833; on 2 December 1838 he was ordained as a minister by Benjamin Eby particularly for service in the Wanner/Hagey area of the conference. He was widely read, but had only the basic primary education of the day. He was a second generation minister in the conference; his father had been one of the first persons ordained as a minister in the Waterloo region.

When Daniel Hoch challenged Mennonite traditions in the late 1840s, and called for prayer meetings and personal conversion experiences, Bear briefly joined Hoch’s movement, but confessed his divisive behavior and rejoined the conference in 1851. His theological leanings towards a pietistic faith remained, as indicated in a letter to European Mennonites in 1858 in which he lamented that too many Canadian Mennonites were “satisfied with baptism without a change of heart.”

When doctrinal conflicts again arose in the Ontario Conference beginning in 1869, John Bear was asked to lead an party of three ministers to investigate revival activities in Solomon Eby’s congregation at Port Elgin, Ontario. Bear’s group brought back a positive report in early 1870, but a division ultimately could not be averted. Bear then joined the new “Reforming Mennonites“; a group that ultimately became part of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination (later known as the Evangelical Missionary Church). He served as a minister in that denomination until his death. He was ordained as an elder in that denomination on 4 March 1888 by Menno Bowman.

Bear’s departure from the Ontario Mennonite conference was very significant because of his longstanding leadership role in the conference. As leader of the investigation committee to Port Elgin he carried the respect of his fellow ministers, and his loss to the conference was keenly felt.

— Sam Steiner

Who Were the Mennonite Brethren in Christ?

For almost 70 years , the Mennonite Brethren in Christ was one of the most vibrant Mennonite bodies in Ontario. Indeed, in 1901, it was the largest Mennonite group in Ontario. Who were these folks, and why did they change their name after World War II?

In one sense you could have called them German Methodist Mennonites. When the Mennonite Brethren in Christ emerged in the 1870s and early 1880s, they patterned themselves very much on the theology and structure of the Evangelical Association. Who was the Evangelical Association? They were a German-speaking, Methodist-style renewal movement that was aggressively evangelistic in outlook, and held clear views on social issues like temperance, use of tobacco and avoidance of secret societies. Today in Canada the Evangelical Association is part of the United Church of Canada, and in the U.S. it is part of the United Methodist Church.

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Solomon Eby. Courtesy Missionary Church Historical Trust.

There were two founding leaders of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ movement. Daniel Brenneman was a fiery leader in Elkhart County, Indiana. He was influenced by, and found common cause, with a middle-aged Ontario leader named Solomon Eby. Eby pastored a small Mennonite church on Lake Huron in Port Elgin. Eby had been selected in 1858 for ministry by lot, but he did not really feel called to church leadership. He tried to withdraw from his position, but was influenced to continue. Finally in 1869 Eby and most members of his congregation were “converted” at an Evangelical Association camp meeting to a faith that brought them assurance of their salvation.

Ontario City Mission Workers Society, early 1900s.

Ontario City Mission Workers Society, early 1900s. Courtesy Missionary Church Historical Trust.

Eby (and Brenneman) began preaching a Methodist-style path to salvation, while retaining bedrock  Mennonite values like non-participation in war, non-swearing of oaths, and emphasis on a simple lifestyle. They attracted many followers, both within and outside the Mennonite community.  The Mennonite Brethren in Christ were the first Ontario Mennonites to begin a mission outreach in Toronto (1897) and the first to support an Ontario Mennonite in overseas mission work (William Shantz to China in 1895). They established a City Mission Workers Society of “ministering sisters” who founded and provided leadership in many urban mission settings. Janet Douglas was the first of these ministering sisters. And the Mennonite Brethren in Christ were deeply involved in the formation of the Non-Resistant Relief Organization in 1918.

But gradually the influence of outside theological forces began to change the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. Their holiness theology receded in favor of a more fundamentalist theology that cared less about the formerly bedrock Mennonite doctrines. In World War II a significant number of their young men served in the military, and following the war the denomination came to believe the “Mennonite” name hindered their outreach and no longer sustained their theology.  And so they changed their name to the United Missionary Church. Today, after a couple of mergers, in Canada they are known as the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada. In the United States the group is known simply as the Missionary Church.

See the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) for more information on Solomon Eby, Daniel Brenneman, and the Mennonite Brethren in Christ.

To learn more about the influence of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ on other Ontario Mennonite bodies read In Search of Promised Lands.

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19th Century Mennonite Women Pastors

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Janet Douglas. Photo courtesy Missionary Church Archives, Mischawaka, Indiana

When Mennonites consider the history of women in congregational leadership, they generally assume this began in the last quarter of the 20th century. I was surprised to learn the first female pastors in Ontario Mennonite congregations served almost one hundred years earlier – in the 1880s.

The Mennonite Brethren in Christ (now known as the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada) began in the 1870s, and were deeply influenced by the holiness movement. One feature of the holiness movement was early acceptance of women in leadership roles.

The very first of these women pastors was Janet Douglas, a young woman born near Brussels, Ontario in 1863. When she was a young girl her family moved to Michigan. There she was converted in a Mennonite Brethren in Christ evangelistic meeting. When she was 21, she began to help lead prayer meetings and evangelistic services, and was recognized as an evangelist by the Indiana conference of that body.

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Kilsyth Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, founded 1887. Building erected in 1888.

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Kilsyth Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, Date marker, 1888

She visited Ontario in 1885 and preached in many Mennonite Brethren in Christ congregations and at summer camp meetings. The following year, when she was 22, she established a church in Dornoch, Ontario (south of Owen Sound) and served as its first pastor. The next year she established another church at Kilsyth, even closer to Owen Sound.

Janet Douglas was never formally ordained, but she was recognized as a minister, and attended ministers’ conferences for several years. As others followed her example they became known as “ministering sisters” in the denomination, and founded many small churches that became cornerstone congregations in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination.

Her picture, as a pioneer woman minister, is on the cover of In Search of Promised Lands.

More can be learned about Janet Douglas at: http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hall,_Janet_Douglas_(1863-1946).