Holdeman, John (1832-1900)

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John Holdeman (31 January 1832-10 March 1900), founder of the Church of God in Christ Mennonite, was the son of Amos and Nancy (Yoder) Holdeman of Wayne County, Ohio. He married Elizabeth (Shriner) Ritter, 18 November 1852 . He became a member of the Eight Square (Chester Mennonite) Church in Wayne County, Ohio, at age 21. During the first year of his marriage he experienced spiritual tribulation followed by "joyful light and quiet conscience" and a series of dreams and visions that convinced him of a call to ministry.

Study of the Bible and Anabaptist writings (especially including Menno Simons, Dirk Philips and the Martyrs' Mirror) led him to assert that the (Old) Mennonite Church (later MC) could no longer be considered "the true church." There was little significant response to Holdeman's restitutionist agenda. He was not even among those who were nominated to be considered as a candidate for the ministry for election by lot. On 24 January 1858, he began to preach. In April 1859 a new congregation of four was formed in his father's home. His father joined; his mother did not. Between 1862 and 1879 he traveled widely, preached, and wrote earnestly while eking out an existence as a farmer. The cost of publishing his own writings and his frequent absences from farming operations resulted in severe financial crises. In 1883 he, his family, and the entire Wayne County Church of God in Christ congregation, moved to Jasper County, Missouri; in 1897 he moved to McPherson County, Kansas, where he had gained his largest following. He died at age 68; his wife outlived him by 32 years, reaching 98 years of age.

Holdeman's significance can be assessed from various perspectives. For the immigrants from Volhynia and the Kleine Gemeinde members who joined the Church of God in Christ Mennonite at a crucial juncture, his emphases and style were a Godsend in their frustrations and needs. He enjoyed particular success among the latter group in Manitoba. He enabled them to rise above their own history of rejection, confusion, and feeling of lostness. His historic fellow (Old) Mennonites, however, regarded him as a disillusioned, church-rejecting, church-splitter who had been frustrated at not being called to the ministry among them. Other historians identify him as a son of his times, authenticated for the impact he made by his typical 19th century characterizations with his revelations, dreams, and visions, and his revival meeting tactics, millennial views, nonconformity emphasis, and authoritarian leadership in the midst of America's democratization and the ideological upheavals of the times. His was one of many similar renewal movements of the 19th century--a number of them from America's (Old) Mennonite Church. In his own eyes, his chief concern was the restoration of the "true church of God."

Because he was bilingual (German and English), an avid reader, well-traveled and more broadly informed than many fellow Mennonites; because he came from Mennonite moorings, sympathetic to the feelings which the rejected felt, and appropriately accepting of some of the "new ways" (e.g., revival ism, publishing, etc.) he was uniquely suited to make his impact.

He wrote extensively, and edited the Botschafter der Wahrheit from June 1897 until his death. His published works included: The old ground and foundation (both German (1862) and English (1863); A reply to the criticisms of John Roseborough (1864); Eine Vertheidigung gegen die Verfälscher unserer Schriften (1865); A history of the Church of God (German (1875) and English (1876); A treatise on redemption, baptism, and the Passover and the Lord's Supper (1890); A treatise on magistracy and war, millennium, holiness, and the manifestation of spirits (1891); Eine gründliche Abhandlung von dem schriftwidrigen Entstehen der Siebenten Tag Adventisten und ihrer unevangelischen Lehre (1892); Ein Aufsatz von Unmöglichkeiten (1893); and his major work, Ein Spiegel der Wahrheit (1878; English, 1956).

Author(s) F. H. Wenger
Clarence Hiebert
Date Published 1989

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MLA style

Wenger, F. H. and Clarence Hiebert. "Holdeman, John (1832-1900)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 30 Jun 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Holdeman,_John_(1832-1900)&oldid=116545.

APA style

Wenger, F. H. and Clarence Hiebert. (1989). Holdeman, John (1832-1900). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 June 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Holdeman,_John_(1832-1900)&oldid=116545.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 789; v. 5, p. 386. All rights reserved.

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