Bibelstunde (literally "Bible Hour," more accurately "Bible Study Meeting") was quite common into the 1950s among Mennonite congregations in Germany, Holland, France, and Switzerland, as well as in some areas in Russia, and among North American congregations of more recent immigrant background. Bibelstunden are meetings within the congregation apart from the regular services, held sometimes on a weekday evening, or Sunday evening, or on alternate Sunday mornings where regular services are held only biweekly, which have for their purpose a more informal indoctrinating and devotional study of the Bible. They were held before Sunday schools were introduced, and were still held where Sunday schools had not been established. In many American congregations the regular midweek evening meeting often partakes somewhat of the character of a Bible study meeting, although it is more commonly called a prayer meeting.
The origin of the modern Bibelstunde is obscure. The very beginnings of the Anabaptist movement, both in Switzerland and Holland, were anchored in Bible study meetings. The little group in Zürich out of which the first Anabaptists came was holding Bible meetings as early as 1522, where Andreas Castelberger was an active leader. Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz expounded the Scriptures from the Greek and Hebrew respectively in such meetings. "Bible readings" or Bible study meetings, where lay members were active participants, were characteristic of the early Reformation period in Switzerland and Germany, and no doubt generally. But it was in the Anabaptist movement, with its strong emphasis upon personal religious experience, adult baptism, and every-member participation in the life of the church, where no theological training was possible for the preachers and elders, who had to be chosen directly from the working laity, and where the emphasis upon brotherhood was strong in contrast to the state churches with their clerical emphasis, that Bible study meetings were most common. In fact, it was in these meetings, where every member had the right to ask questions about the Scripture content and to give testimony and exposition, that preachers got their "training." It is probable that in the 16th century these meetings were more characteristic of the Anabaptist movement than formal church services where only an ordained minister preached. In this custom the Anabaptists followed the common practice of earlier dissenting groups such as the medieval Cathari and Waldenses, who also kept alive and promoted their cause through lay meetings for mutual edification, admonition, and encouragement.
The Bible study meetings were continued among the Dutch Mennonites until late in the 18th century. S. F. Rues (Aufrichtige Nachrichten, 1743, 130 f.) calls them "Collegia biblica, where each was permitted to express himself," and adds that "thereby many were stimulated to diligence in study of the Word of God and to freedom of expression in order to learn how to speak in church." He reports that the meetings were held weekly at an appointed time in the church, where all who wished could come to discuss Scripture texts and their applications. He says that this had been formerly done in many Mennonite congregations in Holland, and that he found the practice still in use in Groningen and a few other places, although it had ceased in Amsterdam, where those interested in this kind of meeting went to the Collegiant meetings. He adds that it was the kind of meeting now practiced by the Collegiants in Holland and the Pietists in Germany. According to Isaak Peters (in Menn. Rundschau, 1906, No. 37), who discusses this question at length, G. J. van Rijswijk, a Dutch Mennonite preacher, as late as 1825 declared that he had been trained for the ministry in the Bible and devotional meetings of the Dutch Mennonites. Peters also cites the noted preacher Hans de Ries (d. 1638) as one who owed his preparation for preaching to these meetings.
While it is clear that the earlier Anabaptists and Dutch Mennonites had their Bible meetings long before the 17th-century Collegiants and Pietists arose, it is nevertheless probable that the modern 19th-20th century practice among the Mennonites of Germany and Russia was a reintroduction due to pietistic influences, for the above-cited Isaak Peters, who emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1874, states that this practice was something new in West Prussia and Russia and was opposed as a novelty when it was reintroduced. Certainly the weekday and Sunday Bible study meetings and prayer meetings were something entirely new when they were introduced among the (old) Mennonites and related American groups in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Such meetings are still altogether unknown among the conservative groups such as Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonites (Wisler), Old Colony Mennonites, etc., which is proof that the practice must have died out several centuries ago. The rigid Old Colony custom of having preachers deliver only written sermons copied from sermons of long ago is of course the opposite extreme from the free testimony and Bible exposition by all members of the original Anabaptist Bibelstunde.
The Bible study and devotional meetings introduced by Spener in 1675 and characteristic of all pietistic groups since that time apparently have no connection historically with the Anabaptist-Mennonite practice. Spener himself in his Pia Desideria (1675) specifically calls his meetings a revival of the "old apostolic custom," and cites 1 Corinthians 14 to support his proposal. It is in fact only natural that where there is a revival of lay interest and participation in the life and work of the church there should be a renewed interest in meetings for fellowship and testimony based upon Bible study. Wurster's Die Bibelstunde (Stuttgart, 1912), a historical study, fails to even mention the Anabaptists or Mennonites.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 216 ff.
|Author(s)||Harold S Bender|
Cite This Article
Bender, Harold S. "Bibelstunde." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 19 Aug 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bibelstunde&oldid=144828.
Bender, Harold S. (1953). Bibelstunde. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 August 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bibelstunde&oldid=144828.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 321-322. All rights reserved.
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