The founder of the Apostolic Christian Church was Samuel Fröhlich, born 4 July 1803 in Brugg, Switzerland, where he received his early education. From 1820 to 1825 Fröhlich studied theology at several Swiss universities, but with little personal conviction. In 1825 he was converted and changed his life completely and continued to prepare for the ministry. He entered the ministry in 1828 but soon his religious views were questioned by the state church. In 1830 his ministry was recalled and in 1832 Fröhlich was excluded from the state church. He then began to organize a church of his own. His first followers were equally from the Reformed Church and from dissatisfied Mennonites in Switzerland. The first congregation was organized at Langnau in the Emmental under the name of Gemeinschaft Evangelisch Taufgesinnter. Because some of the first converts were Mennonites, when the new group settled near Amish communities in America it was sometimes called "New Amish," although there has never been any Amish element or influence in the group. In Switzerland they have been called "Neutäufer” on a similar basis. Without doubt, the Emmental Mennonite Church had considerable influence on Fröhlich's religious views. Christian Gerber, an elder in the Mennonite Church at Emmental, called Fröhlich's attention to the fact that his written statement of belief did not cover military service, and so objection to military service in a combatant capacity became one of the church's tenets of faith. The difficulties encountered because of a conscience against war caused many to emigrate to America.
The first Apostolic Christian Church in America was organized in 1852 among the Amish Mennonites in Croghan, New York. The Virkler family, the members of which were Mennonites, requested that Fröhlich send an elder to their community; so Benedict Weyeneth was sent from Switzerland in 1847, at which time services were begun. He later ordained Joseph Virkler as minister and organized an Apostolic Christian congregation at that place. Elder Weyeneth then went back to Europe but later came to Woodford County, Illinois, and soon found converts among dissatisfied Amish Mennonites there. Joseph Graybill, an Amish Mennonite, was one of the first converts and the first Apostolic Christian minister in Illinois. He was a very zealous member of the new sect and worked hard, but at first the church grew slowly. Members of the denomination from Switzerland began to settle in Ohio as early as 1848. Heavy migrations from Switzerland and lesser migrations from Germany and Alsace aided a touch more rapid growth in later years.
The church has had some divisions. The most widespread has been the defection of a group which is called the Apostolic Christian (Nazarean) in 1907. Many of the Ohio churches are of this group and there are also some strong churches in Illinois of the Nazarene group. In doctrine there is little difference and there is some fellowship between the groups. Numerous efforts have been made to get the two groups together. The division was caused largely because of the main body holding to the German language. The main body has long since given up the German language. Another small conservative group, located chiefly in Central Illinois, separated from the main body in the early 1930s under the leadership of Martin Steidinger of Fairbury, Illinois. Some of the New York churches have continued to call themselves locally "Evangelical Baptists," but this does not represent a division. The full official name of the main body is "Apostolic Christian Church of America." Locally, especially in Illinois, they are often called "New Amish," though without any historical justification.
At one time it was difficult to secure accurate statistics for the Apostolic Christians since neither group published a yearbook or other informational material, though information was available by the late 20th century. The U.S. Census of Religious Bodies for 1936 listed Apostolic Christians of America with 5,841 members in 57 churches (only 1,300 growth since 1906), and the Nazarene branch with 1,663 members in 31 churches. The 1952 Yearbook of American Churches reported from denominational sources for 1950, for the first group "inclusive membership" 7,300 in 56 churches and 56 "ordained clergy with charges," for the second group similarly 4,500 members in 50 churches with 100 clergy. This would make a total of 11,800 members in 106 churches in the early 1950s. There were organized congregations in Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Arizona and California. The largest church was at Bluffton, Indiana, with approximately 800 members. A number of Illinois congregations had 500 or more members each. In Europe the church has had a substantial growth. It was estimated that there were 70,000 members in the Balkan states, particularly in Hungary and Yugoslavia, where they are called Nazarenes. There are smaller groups in Switzerland, Alsace, and Württemberg (Germany). There were 94 Apostolic Christian Church of America congregations in 2009, with about 13,000 members. In 2005 the Apostolic Christian Church (Nazarean) had 57 congregations with 3,600 members.
Church government is largely congregational in form. There are general meetings of the brethren called periodically for discussing mutual problems; however, these meetings are only advisory. Fröhlich called the first of these at Hauptwil in 1836. In America the "Brotherhood Meetings," as they are called, convene biennially (1953, etc.), with elders' meetings falling in the intervening years.
The Apostolic Christian Church has its own mutual Brotherhood Aid Plan. The system is well organized and very effective. The plan covers both personal property and real estate.
Relief work has been carried on through AID, a relief agency within the church. It is a counterpart of "Hilfe," the European relief society organized in Zürich in 1921. Many European members, particularly in the Balkans, were put into prison during World War II because of military refusal. Relief work has been extensively carried on for these people and others who are not members of the church.
The chief benevolent institutions are old people's homes. The first of these was organized in Europe in 1856 and the aged members of the church are well cared for.
Doctrinally the Apostolic Christian Church is much like the Mennonite Church. Baptism is administered by immersion, but Fröhlich himself was baptized by sprinkling. The women wear a veiling during times of prayer. The members of the church enter only noncombatant service when drafted into the army.
In general, this religious group is very prosperous financially, and in Illinois particularly some very substantial business leaders are members of the Apostolic Christian Church.
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Apostolic Christian Church History I. Chicago, 1949.
Fretz, J. Winfield. "The Apostolic Christian Church." Mennonite Life 6 (October 1951): 19.
Fröhlich, S. H. Baptism: Who Shall and Who Shall Not Be Baptized (1854 edition translated from the French text into German by Henry Michel, and from the German into English by the publishers, Syracuse, 1929).
Glaubensbekenntnis der Neuen Deutschen Baptisten Gemeinde in den Vereinigten Staaten. Elkhart, 1880.
Michel, Henry. A Historical Sketch of the Apostolic Christian Church. Lake Bloomington, IL, 1947.
"Nazarenes" in Jugoslavia. Syracuse, 1928.
Rüegger, Herman, Sr., Aufzeichnungen über Entstehung und Bekenntnis der Gemeinschaft Evangelisch Taufgesinnter. Zürich, 1948.
Die Umtriebe der Neutäufer und ihre Lehre von der Kindertaufe. Bern, 1841.
|Author(s)||Tilman R. Smith|
Cite This Article
Smith, Tilman R. and Sam Steiner. "Apostolic Christian Church of America." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2009. Web. 2 Mar 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Apostolic_Christian_Church_of_America&oldid=74876.
Smith, Tilman R. and Sam Steiner. (2009). Apostolic Christian Church of America. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 March 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Apostolic_Christian_Church_of_America&oldid=74876.
Herald Press website.
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