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Lot, a method for the selection of church officials. Although there is no documentary evidence of the use of the lot by Anabaptists in the selection of church officials (elders, bishops, preachers, deacons), and although the lot is not mentioned in any Mennonite confessions of faith, there is inferential evidence that it came into use fairly early among the Swiss Mennonites and was generally in use among them and their descendants in France, South Germany, Galicia, Volhynia, and North America throughout the 17th-19th centuries. It was uniformly used in the following groups in North America since the beginning of settlement here: Mennonite Church (MC, Old Order Mennonite, Old Order Amish, and Conservative Mennonite, but by no other North American groups. Although the practice disappeared in the Mennonite Church (MC) by the 1960s it remained in use among the more conservative Swiss groups. Apparently the lot was never used in any of the Dutch, North and East German, and Russian Mennonite groups in Europe, or in any of their descendant groups anywhere else in the world. The Hutterian Brethren have long used the lot in the selection of preachers, but not in the selection of Vorsteher and other officials. In the General Conference Mennonite Church the lot was used only in the congregations of Swiss background (not much after the 1870's) and in the Eastern District. W. S. Gottschall claims that he was the last to be ordained by this method (1904).

N. van der Zijpp reports that although there is probably no direct evidence that the lot was used for the selection of ministers by the Dutch Anabaptists and Mennonites, there is reason to believe that it was used on occasion. The pamphlet Lammerenkrigh (1655) contains the following: "Then three preachers and three deacons had to be chosen, which among us is always done by a majority of votes of the entire brotherhood." Cornelius Krahn quotes Menno Simons, "Servants of the holy Word shall be duly called either by the Lord Himself, or by means of the pious." (Writings, 665)" Others, born of the unblamable church of Christ, were chosen by lot as was Matthias." (Writings, 443)

The lot was customarily used in the following manner in the selection of men to be ordained. The vote of the congregation or district was first taken for candidates, one or more votes being required for admission to candidacy, the number of required votes being determined from time to time by conference rules or tradition, or local congregational decision. Thereupon the bishop in charge, usually assisted by one or more visiting bishops, placed on a table in the sight of the congregation a number of hymnbooks or Bibles equal to the number of candidates, in one of which he or an assistant had hidden a thin slip on which was written the following verse from Proverbs 16:33: "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." A special prayer for divine action was then offered. Each candidate in succession now took one of the books, which the bishop then opened in turn until he found the lot slip. It was assumed that the one in whose book the slip is found is the one whom God had chosen. The chosen one was then usually immediately ordained. In the Franconia Conference (MC) each book contained a slip, all being blank but the one "bearing the lot."

The practice of the use of the lot is grounded primarily on the example of the choice of Matthias to take the place of Judas in the company of the twelve apostles as recorded in Acts 1:23-26. There the apostles prayed, "You, Lord ... show whether of these two you have chosen." Those who use the lot believe that God operates through it to select the right person for the vacant office. The use of the lot usually goes with a high concept of the ministerial office as one conferred by God and not by men. It accordingly serves to elevate the chosen person above the congregation and gives him considerable prestige and authority. It also usually effectively eliminates factionalism and partisanship in the selection and later relationship of the chosen one to the congregation, since the choice is clearly not by vote. It also gives the chosen one a strong sense of direct call by God. In the older times one vote was enough to place a man in the lot for any office, although by the mid-20th century some groups required at least two or more votes for minister, one for bishop, or at least five from the entire bishop district.

Ordination by lot usually is a dramatic experience for a congregation. The service is loaded with tension, expectancy, and uncertainty. It is one of the few times when direct divine action can be visibly experienced, at least for those who sincerely believe that God acts through the lot, and it therefore intensifies the religious experience of the group practicing it. It is to be distinguished sharply from a mere drawing of straws or lots to break a tie.

The history of the use of the lot among Mennonites has as yet not been thoroughly studied. It was used in 1711 in Lancaster (Conestoga) to determine who should go to Europe to report to that community about the new colony. It was used in 1805 to determine the assignment of individual farm tracts to the purchasers of the Waterloo Township Mennonite settlement tract. It has been used in other Christian groups, among them in the Moravian Church in colonial Pennsylvania. In the first period of Moravian history at Bethlehem and other early settlements the lot was used for various decisions, among them the choice of marriage partners. In Lititz it was used for this purpose down into the 19th century. H.S.B.


Bender, Harold S."The Historical Background of our Present Ministerial Offices." Gospel Herald 42 (1949): 1051, 1061.

Gottschall, W. S. "The Lot." The Mennonite (1928): 3. .

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1955

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Bender, Harold S. "Lot." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 26 Jul 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Lot&oldid=143349.

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Bender, Harold S. (1955). Lot. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 July 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Lot&oldid=143349.

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