Baptismal Instruction

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1953 Article

North America

American Mennonite groups vary considerably in their attitudes toward and in their use of catechetical instruction. Among the major groups who in the early 1950s did not officially provide such instruction are the Mennonite Brethren Church, the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (Holdeman), and the United Missionary Church (formerly Mennonite Brethren in Christ). These groups strongly emphasized a crisis conversion experience as a prerequisite to church membership and tended to minimize the benefits of an instructional period, although some leaders in these groups indicated a personal appreciation of such instruction and reported that in some local churches of their groups efforts were being made to provide it. In the Mennonite Brethren Church, for example, a booklet called Fundamentals of Faith in Question and Answer was published in 1943 under the direction of The Board of Home Missions of the Southern District Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America. This was designed for use "in church Bible classes, in our Bible schools, and vacation Bible schools." The preface, however, expressed the concern that "the learning of its contents may never be substituted for regeneration or a personal experience of religion."

Two conferences of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ petitioned their General Conference in 1924 for a "Book of Instruction" for the youth of the church. As a result a committee was appointed and in 1930 a "Book of Religious Instruction" was published by the executive committee. Containing 110 pages, the book was compiled and edited by Elder Samuel Goudie, a district superintendent of the Ontario Conference. This catechism was used in several churches in various conferences but was never employed by the church as a whole into the 1950s.

The Old Order Amish, who generally oppose Sunday schools, do provide catechetical instruction for those who desire to unite with the church. This usually occurs between the ages of 14-18. Instead of following a catechism book, however, the instruction usually consists of direct teaching of the Bible and of the orders and rules of the church, arranged and presented by the minister.

The Old Colony Mennonites also give instruction before baptism, which usually occurs at about the age of 19. They use their own edition of the Katechismus oder Kurze und Ein fache Unterweisung aus der Heiligen Schrift. The memorization method of instruction is generally used.

Catechetical instruction patterns among the (Old) Mennonites was apparently not standardized in the 1950s. Usually candidates for baptism, between the ages of 11-17, were instructed in from four to twelve sessions, sometimes longer. Some congregations still used the Dordrecht Confession of Faith with the traditional catechism as the basis for instruction. Daniel Kauffman's One Thousand Questions and Answers (1908) was long in use in the East and was still used in some quarters in the 1950s. In mid-20th century Chester Lehman's Junior Catechism and Instruction to Beginners in the Christian Life, edited by John L. Horst, came into use. Other materials were still in the process of preparation.

In the General Conference Mennonite Church catechetical instruction was almost universally employed but the patterns were not uniform in the 1950s. In German-speaking churches the General Conference edition of the Katechismus was employed, while in the others the English catechism (revised 1937) was in most common use. Some churches, however, used A Guide to Christian Teaching by Arthur Rosenberger, while some local churches worked out their own courses of instruction. Another innovation was the publication of a pupil's catechism workbook, edited by Walter Gering, to supplement the use of the catechism and to introduce better pedagogical procedure. -- Erland Waltner


From the beginning of Anabaptism in Holland until 1670 religious education was the task of the parents. The oldest catechism, that of Pieter Jansz Twisck, Catechismus, 1633, was intentionally composed for the purpose of instructing parents how to teach the Mennonite principles and doctrines to their children, but about 1670, as the interest of the parents in instructing their children decreased, the churches took over the task of religious education. At this time the church boards of many congregations ordered their ministers to instruct the children, but many ministers thought it wrong. In 1692 E. A. van Dooregeest, the Mennonite preacher of de Rijp, wrote that this was not the task of the preacher, but that parents should educate their children in the teachings and admonition of the Lord; and as late as 1760, K. de Vries, a Lamist minister of Amsterdam, warned from the pulpit against religious teaching by the ministers.

But gradually it became the practice for the ministers to give the instruction. Only in the Old Flemish branch did the parents continue to give religious instruction until the middle of the 18th century. In both the Lamist and Zonist congregations the teaching by the ministers at first took place on Sunday morning after the regular church service, all the children being at first assembled in the church at the same time. But soon the boys were separated from the girls, and also the younger ones from older. Later the catechism classes were held on a week day, usually Wednesday. In the early 1950s the young people, divided into groups according to age (from about the 12th until at least their 18th year), had an annual course of instruction. During the last year of this course they were prepared for baptism. In former times the teachers generally used a catechism book, of which there were from 1633 until the 1950s more than 140 different compilations. In mid-20th century ministers often composed their own catechism. -- Nanne van der Zijpp

Remainder of Europe

In Germany the Dutch-speaking congregations in the North (Danzig and surrounding area, Hamburg-Altona, Emden and region, and Krefeld) followed the example of the Dutch churches and used Dutch materials. Gradually German catechisms were published, such as Georg Hansen's Glaubensbericht at Danzig 1671, G. Roosen's justly popular Christliches Gemüthsgespräch of 1702 at Hamburg, and the widely used Elbing-Waldeck Kurze und einfältige Unterweisung aus der Heiligen Schrift (1778 in Elbing, 1797 in Waldeck). The very first German catechism was the 1690 Kurze Unterweisung aus der Schrift, published most likely at Danzig. This booklet was used in Russia where it was reprinted first in 1853. The South German Mennonites produced their own catechisms in the 19th century; for the Palatinate Molenaar's Katechismus der Christlichen Lehre of 1841, and for the Badischer Verband the Christliches Lehrbüchlein of 1865.

Apparently the South German Mennonites, being of Swiss origin, were much slower to introduce catechetical instruction, as was evidenced by the late appearance of their books. The Amish Mennonites never produced a catechism of their own, but used the Prussian Elbing catechism widely (editions Waldeck, 1797; Strasbourg, 1801; Giessen, 1834; Zweibrücken, 1855; French translation, Montbéliard, 1822). The Swiss Mennonites were very slow in adopting the catechetical method, introducing the Lehrbüchlein of the Baden Conference toward the end of the 19th century. The Alsatian congregations had done the same thing somewhat earlier. In the 1950s the catechetical method was almost universal among the German- and French-speaking churches of Europe. The only exception was the Mennonite Brethren churches of Russia.

South America

The newly established colonies in Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay followed the model of their European or Canadian mother churches.

For a more detailed bibliography see the article Catechism. -- Harold S. Bender

1987 Update (North America)

The Kauffman and Harder study, Anabaptists Four Centuries Later (1975) reported that the median age of baptism was 14.0 in the Mennonite Church (MC) and 16.4 in the General Conference Mennonite Church. A survey in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec (MC) in 1979 indicated a median age of 17.5.

Accompanying a trend toward baptism at a later age, many congregations have moved from baptismal instruction during the Sunday school hour to a period of instruction at a separate time for those who are ready to step forward in the public act of confession of faith in Christ and identity with the church. Baptism continues to be understood as a entry ritual into the faith community.

A greater understanding of faith development and covenant-making in the midst of the congregation underlied The Foundation Series Sunday School curriculum produced by the General Conference Mennonite Church, the Mennonite Church (MC), and the Brethren in Christ. Greater attention was given baptism as a conscious decision of "crossing over" to saving faith for those who have been nurtured by the congregation.

Baptismal instruction classes vary in length from four or five sessions to 13 weeks or a year. Bible study, other reading materials, group discussion, and personal visits are used, with attention given to the relational aspects of church membership. Often a mentor or partner-in-faith from the congregation, as well as the pastor, is involved. The content of instruction includes key themes in biblical theology, basic understandings of Christian faith, unique perspectives of the Anabaptist movement, historic confessions, and contemporary statements of faith.

The earlier article on catechism traces the influence of the Elbing catechism on baptismal instructional material for the Amish in America, the Mennonites (MC), the General Conference Mennonites, the Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches (formerly Evangelical Mennonite Brethren), and the Evangelical Mennonites.

Widely used baptismal instruction materials in the late 1980s included: Russell Krabill Beginning the Christian Life (Scottdale, 1958), a 12-lesson book for upper elementary grades; James H. Waltner, This We Believe (Newton, 1968), a reading book for high school age youth on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith; Paul Erb, We Believe (Scottdale, 1969), a commentary on the 20 articles of the 1963 Mennonite Church (MC) Confession of Faith; Preparing for Church Membership (Scottdale, 1971), materials including a devotional guide (Off to a Good Start), a historical and doctrinal resource book (Experiencing Christ in the Church), and a study of the Sermon on the Mount (The Christian Way); Focus on Faith (Newton, 1978), a loose-leaf manual of materials from catechism classes of 12 General Conference Mennonite Church pastors; Helmut Harder, Guide to Faith (Newton, 1979), a reading book on concepts of the Christian faith written for grades 11 and 12; Frank Keller, Preparation for Covenant Life (Newton, 1979), a study book on the Bible as the salvation story of God's people, for the young adult level; Paul Lederach, A Third Way (Scottdale, 1980), a reading book on Mennonite understandings of Christian faith; Bruce Yoder, Choose Life (Scottdale, 1984), a study book for youth on basic faith and discipleship issues; and Kenneth G. Bauman, Invitation to Life (Newton, 1986), a leader's guide with student worksheets. -- JHW

See also Christian Education


Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1868): 107-110; (1869): 94, 102, 104.

Doopsgezind Jaarboekje (1850): 107-110.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 469-471.

Jeschke, Marlin. Believers Baptism for Children of the Church. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983.

Kauffman, J. Howard and Harder, Leland, eds. Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: A Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations. Scottdale, PA : Herald Press, 1975.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland: Gemeentelijk Leven 1650-1735. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1950: 4-7.

Martin, Maurice. Identity and Faith. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981: 77-97.

Martin, Maurice with Helen Reusser. In the Midst of the Congregation. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1983: 12-19, 70-81.

Poettcker, Henry. A Study on Baptism. Newton, KS: Faith & Life Press, 1963.

Strege, Merle D., ed. Baptism and Church. Grand Rapids: Sagamore Books, 1986.

Waltner, James H. Baptism and Church Membership. Newton, KS: Faith & Life Press, 1979: 23-26.

Yoder, Gideon G. The Nurture and Evangelism of Children. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1959.

Zijpp, Nanne van der. Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Nederland. Arnhem : Van Loghum Slaterus, 1952: 127 f.

Author(s) Erland Waltner
Nanne van der Zijpp
Harold S. Bender
James H. Waltner
Date Published 1987

Cite This Article

MLA style

Waltner, Erland, Nanne van der Zijpp, Harold S. Bender and James H. Waltner. "Baptismal Instruction." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 23 Feb 2024.

APA style

Waltner, Erland, Nanne van der Zijpp, Harold S. Bender and James H. Waltner. (1987). Baptismal Instruction. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 February 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 527-529, v. 5, p. 55. All rights reserved.

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