Mennonite Brethren in Christ

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Solomon Eby (1834-1931)

Mennonite Brethren in Christ (MBC) Church was the name from 1883 to 1947 of a religious denomination that was formed on 29 December 1883 by the union of two bodies, the Evangelical United Mennonites and a Brethren in Christ group in Ohio, known as the Swankites, who had separated from their mother body in 1838. The Evangelical United Mennonites in turn had been formed in 1879 by a union of the Evangelical Mennonite Society of East Pennsylvania (formed in 1857 from the Oberholtzer group [later General Conference Mennonites]) and the United Mennonites. The latter group had been formed in 1875 from two groups in Ontario -- the Reforming Mennonite Society (organized in 1874) and the New Mennonite Church of Canada West which had its origin about 1850. Daniel Brenneman, who had been expelled from the Indiana Conference of the Mennonite Church (MC) in 1874, had joined the Reformed group with his followers. It was this Ontario-Indiana-Ohio group which formed the backbone of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ from the beginning and continued to form the heart and majority of the United Missionary Church. The outstanding early leaders of the MBC were Elder Daniel Brenneman (1834-1919) and Elder Solomon Eby (1834-1930), Waterloo County, Ontario, who however left the group to join the Pentecostal movement in 1912.

The organized work of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ really got under way about 1879-80. Brenneman established the conference organ, the Gospel Banner, in 1878. The earliest foreign missionary, Eusebius Hershey, went out to Liberia in 1880, with private support to be sure, but organized foreign mission work was in operation long before the United Missionary Society was established in 1920. The first camp meeting, an institution which became a powerful spiritual influence in the group, was held at Fetter's Grove, west of Goshen, Indiana in 1880. The Reading Course for Ministers was first adopted in 1882. The first home mission was established in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1880.

In 1883 when the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church was formed, the three district conferences had the following statistics: Ontario, 43 appointments (congregations and mission points) with 909 members; Pennsylvania, 14 appointments with 286 members; Indiana-Ohio-Michigan, 22 appointments with 452 members, a total of 79 appointments with 1,647 members. In 1947, when the new name (United Missionary Church) was adopted and before the schism of the Pennsylvania conference, the total membership was 13,313, with congregations in Michigan, Iowa, Nebraska, Washington, and Alberta, in addition to the original locations.

The Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church represented in its beginning a breaking forth of new life in the Mennonite community, with emphasis upon evangelism and aggressive work, conversion and Christian experience with a warm, rather emotional piety, and a stronger supervisory organization. Actually it was the invasion of a Methodist type of piety and sanctification or holiness emphasis (entire sanctification, second work of grace) with a Methodist church organization with district superintendents and well-organized conferences. All this was in strong contrast to the slower moving, more stolid type of piety and less organized church polity of the Mennonite Church (MC), from which the Ontario and Indiana groups had come. The sense of distance between the new and the old groups has therefore been great, and no fraternization or rapprochement has ever taken place. In fact, although the traditional Mennonite distinctive principles and practices were taken over by the new group and long maintained, such as nonresistance and nonconformity, and feetwashing, these points have gradually received less emphasis, and the decision in 1947 to change the name to drop the name "Mennonite" is an index of a substantial move away from the historic Mennonite anchorage. The name Mennonite was finally felt to be a handicap because of its associations. Daniel Brenneman, however, before he died in 1919, is reported to have stated that if he had known that the old church would change so much and so rapidly into a more progressive pattern, he would never have left it.

Since the doctrines, practices, and church polity of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church were carried forward in the United Missionary Church, its lineal continuing body, a report on these points will be given in the article on the latter body. -- Harold S. Bender.

2013 Update

The Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church has gone through several name changes. In 1947, the denomination changed its name to the United Missionary Church. In 1969 the United Missionary Church merged with the Missionary Church Association to form the Missionary Church. This body continued until 1987 when the Canadian district and U.S. districts became independent denominations. In the United States, the Missionary Church has retained its name, while the Missionary Church of Canada merged in 1993 with the Evangelical Church of Canada to form the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, with Eastern and Western districts.


Doctrines and Discipline of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, editions of 1883, 1888, 1897, 1910, and 1916, et seq.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 96.

Huffman, J. A. History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. New Carlisle, Ohio, n.d., 1920.

The Test of Time, Indiana Conference 75th Anniversary booklet.

Author(s) Harold S. Bender
Richard D. Thiessen
Date Published May 2013

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. and Richard D. Thiessen. "Mennonite Brethren in Christ." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. May 2013. Web. 13 Jul 2024.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. and Richard D. Thiessen. (May 2013). Mennonite Brethren in Christ. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 July 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 603. All rights reserved.

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