Burkholder, Christian (1746-1809)

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Christian Burkholder, (born 1 June 1746, died 13 May 1809), an outstanding Mennonite (Mennonite Church) bishop of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was the son of Christian Burkholder, Sr., of Gerolsheim in the Palatinate, a prominent leader who did much to aid his afflicted brethren in the Upper Rhine area. While preparing for the emigration to Pennsylvania the elder Burkholder died (March 1755), leaving a widow with six small children, the oldest being Christian, Jr., then aged nine. [Burkholder's parentage is disputed in later research; his father is most commonly determined to be Ulrich Burkholder who also died before emigration. See SAGA reference.] The brave woman managed the voyage (then a difficult enterprise), and settled (1755) in Earl Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Christian grew up during the French and Indian War in this new Mennonite community which his father had partly planned and visualized. Before the Revolutionary War Christian married Anna Groff (died 13 November 1795), a granddaughter of the pioneer Hans Groff. They made their farmstead home north of Farmersville. He was a brother of Peter Burkholder (the father of the later bishop, Peter Burkholder, of Virginia) and of Ulrich Burkholder, preacher at Bowmansville. He himself was a successful preacher and the father of eight children.

On 12 August 1770 Christian was ordained at Groffdale, and was chosen bishop on 18 October 1778 for Earl and Brecknock townships. As such he was very active, traveling much and establishing new churches. He preached in the schoolhouse meetinghouse which had been built in 1755 on the land of Henry Landis (son-in-law of Hans Groff). The Weaverland Church (1766) was then the only other meetinghouse in his district.

About 1790 a German Methodist movement sprang up in Pennsylvania. In 1792 Jacob Albright began organizing the Evangelical Association, which had a center also at Hahnstown of Burkholder’s district. This movement proved to be a great temptation mainly to the younger generation to whom the revivalistic type of church movement strongly appealed. This most likely led Burkholder to counteract it in order to keep the youth in the Mennonite fold. The result is his renowned "Address to Youth Regarding True Repentance" (Nützliche und erbauliche Anrede an die Jugend von der wahren Busse), of 1792. We do not know whether these speeches were actually given (as might be assumed) or just written down for private circulation. In any case they were not printed until 1804. The address is a very strong and forceful appeal to loyalty to the time-honored and tested Christian way of the Mennonites, a teaching of the fundamentals of Christian living, and an exhortation to those of "faithful heart," showing them the true values of the faith of their fathers. It was an outstanding contribution to religious education, somewhat reminiscent of van Braght’s School of Moral Virtue (School der Deugd). Eight German editions and five English during the 19th century prove the vitality of this small book. The first edition of 1804 was published without naming the author. A second, enlarged and somewhat changed edition, now signed by 27 ministers (all of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference), was brought out later in the same year. It was probably adopted as an official church edition. Since 1839 the Anrede was printed as an appendix to G. Roosen’s Christliches Gemütsgespräch, with which it has much in common; and in 1857, when the latter was translated into English, Burkholder’s Address was also translated and again appended as Part IV to the Conversation on Saving Faith.

The book consists of three parts: (1) Concerning true repentance (this is the central theme of the entire book); (2) Concerning saving faith, and pure love of God and one’s neighbor (later this part was divided, and the section on love made an independent item exhorting people to yearn after true discipleship in brotherly love); (3) Concerning obedience to the Word of God and the full surrender of the soul into God’s hand. A smaller tract "Warning against Backsliding" followed. The second edition has a few new items of a more emotional, pietistic nature.

The book would still be profitable and attractive reading, formulating the Mennonite position over against that of the newer (revivalistic) churches. It is the last literary product of the "colonial period" of the Mennonites. I. D. Landis presents in his article on Burkholder a thorough analysis of its contents.


Bender, Harold S. "Literature and Hymnology of the Mennonites of Lancaster County." Mennonite Quarterly Review (1932): 160 ff.

"Bishop Christian Burkholder." SAGA (Swiss Anabaptist Genealogical Association) Genealogical Website. Accessed 6 July 2007 <http://www.saga-omii.com/tng/getperson.php?personID=I108&tree=hoover>

Friedmann, Robert. Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries: its Genius and its Literature. Goshen, IN: Mennonite Historical Society, 1949. Reprinted Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1976: 238-244.

Landis, Ira D. "Bishop Christian Burkholder of Groffdale (1746-1809)." Mennonite Quarterly Review (1944): 145 f.

Weaver, Martin G. Mennonites of Lancaster Conference: containing biographical sketches of Mennonite leaders, histories of congregations, missions, and Sunday schools, record of ordinations, and other interesting historical data. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1931. Reprinted Ephrata, PA: Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church Publicaiton Board, 1982: 125 ff.

Author(s) Ira D. Landis
Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1953

Cite This Article

MLA style

Landis, Ira D. and Robert Friedmann. "Burkholder, Christian (1746-1809)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 9 Aug 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Burkholder,_Christian_(1746-1809)&oldid=143506.

APA style

Landis, Ira D. and Robert Friedmann. (1953). Burkholder, Christian (1746-1809). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 August 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Burkholder,_Christian_(1746-1809)&oldid=143506.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 476-477. All rights reserved.

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