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1959 Article

The first Mennonite theological seminary was the Amsterdam Mennonite Theological Seminary, organized in 1735. Before this time the Dutch Mennonite ministers who secured theological training did so either at the Remonstrant Theological Seminary, or by private instruction from Mennonite ministers in service. The idea of establishing a seminary had been proposed as early as 1675, but met sufficient opposition to block it until 1735, when the Amsterdam Lamist and Toren congregation established it on its own authority and with its own support. When the congregation could no longer carry the seminary alone, the General Mennonite Conference (Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit) was organized in 1811, its main purpose being to take over the seminary. The seminary never had a full faculty, limiting its instruction to dogmatics, ethics, practical theology, and Mennonite history. The remaining subjects were taken by the students at the University of Amsterdam (theological faculty established in 1876) or its predecessor the Athanaeum. The full Mennonite professors (formerly two, in 1958 only one) were also professors on the university theological faculty. This seminary was on the graduate level, comparable to other European theological schools.

The Mennonites of Germany and of Russia considered establishing theological schools in the second half of the 19th century, but did not finally reach this goal. Such German or Russian ministers as secured training attended either the Protestant theological schools at the state universities, or Bible schools of lower academic rank, such as St. Chrischona (Basel), Switzerland, or the Baptist Theological Seminary at Hamburg, Germany.

The first attempt at a school for ministerial training in North America was in the General Conference Mennonite Church, which operated a training school for ministers at Wadsworth, Ohio, 1868-1878, called "Christliche Bildungsanstalt der Mennoniten-Gemeinschaft," (known as Wadsworth Mennonite School). It was not on the graduate level, and even though it had a department of theology, it was essentially a secondary school with a Bible department and a majority of course offerings in secular fields. The first graduate theological seminary was established at Bluffton College in 1914, when the institution's name was set as Bluffton College and Theological Seminary, operated by a board of trustees representing five Mennonite branches, although not all five were officially represented by their own appointed trustees. Actually the major part of the student body and faculty were from the General Conference Mennonite Church. The Mennonite Seminary was an integral part of Bluffton College until 1921, when it became a separate and independent institution under a separate corporation with trustees representing six Mennonite branches, again not serving as official representatives in most cases, and actually as predominantly a school serving the General Conference Mennonite Church. The organized school was now given the name Witmarsum Theological Seminary, and under this name it operated until 1931 as a standard graduate seminary offering the B.D. degree. It also had a department called the Theological College offering a combined four-year college and theology curriculum based upon high school and leading to the Th.B. degree.

The Goshen College Biblical Seminary (GBS) at Goshen, Indiana, a school of the Mennonite Church (MC) (until 1946 called Bible School), began in 1933 to offer a two-year theological course based on two years of college and leading to the Th.B. degree. In 1942 the theological course was enlarged to three years with the same degree; this course was discontinued in 1956. In 1946 the standard three-year graduate seminary course based upon college graduation and leading to the B.D. degree was added. The GBS was an autonomous division of Goshen College, with its own dean and academic faculty and student body, but integrated into Goshen College with a common president and financial administration. A separate set of buildings was erected for it in 1959 at the south edge of the Goshen College campus.

The next theological seminary was the Mennonite Biblical Seminary (MBS), which was opened in Chicago in 1945 as a new institution chartered by the General Conference Mennonite Church, but to be considered in a sense as a reorganized Witmarsum Theological Seminary, which transferred its assets in endowment, property, and library to the new school. However, during its stay in Chicago 1945-1958, the MBS was not a full seminary; even though it had its own headquarters, library, and residence halls at 4614 Woodlawn Ave. It was affiliated with the Bethany Biblical Seminary of the Church of the Brethren in such a way that the students were enrolled in Bethany Biblical Seminary and secured their degrees from it. The several members of the Mennonite Biblical Seminary faculty taught their courses as members of the Bethany faculty. This arrangement paralleled that of the Amsterdam Mennonite Seminary. The MBS also operated a college level department called the Mennonite Bible School, with a very small enrollment. In 1958 the MBS moved to a new campus at Elkhart, IN, where it began operations as a full seminary with a complete faculty and curriculum, offering its own degrees. This move was made in connection with affiliation with the Goshen College Biblical Seminary under a plan of co-operation called the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, which is described below.

The Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries was the name given to a group of seminaries which have agreed to an affiliation calling for a close co-operation in the academic program while maintaining full independence of government and financing. The plan called for a Joint Co-ordinating Committee representing the boards of control and a Joint Administrative Committee representing the schools. There was also a Joint Library composed of all collections of the associated schools. A certain number of joint courses would be offered, permitting students to take up to one third of the B.D. curriculum in such courses, in addition to the privilege of cross-registration in all associated schools. However, each school granted its own degrees. Two seminaries entered the plan initially, the Mennonite Biblical Seminary at Elkhart and the Goshen College Biblical Seminary at Goshen. It was hoped that other conferences would join the plan in the course of time so that the Associated Seminaries would become a center for Mennonite ministerial training in North America. The headquarters of the associated institutions in 1958 was the Elkhart campus of the MBS. The Institute for Mennonite Studies, operated jointly by the Associated Seminaries, and located on the Elkhart campus, was also a part of the program. The total program went into effect in September 1958.

The first graduate theological seminary in the Mennonite Brethren Church was opened at Fresno, California in 1955 as the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, offering the standard three-year graduate theological program leading to the B.D. degree. The Bible School at Tabor College was at that time discontinued, which had been offering the Th.B. and B.R.E. degrees for a two-year program of Biblical study based upon two years of college. The Mennonite Brethren Bible College at Winnipeg, Manitoba, established in 1944, offered a similar four-year Th.B. and B.R.E. program. The Canadian Mennonite Bible College of the General Conference Mennonite Church, also at Winnipeg, founded in 1947, also offered a similar four-year B.C.E. curriculum.

Eastern Mennonite College (MC) at Harrisonburg, Va., offered a Th.B. degree through its Bible School after 1938, first as a two-year theology course based on two years of college, increased in 1946 to a three-year course and in 1948 to a combined six-year course, of which two years were in graduate theology.

Grace Bible Institute at Omaha, Nebraska, founded in 1943 as an inter-Mennonite school, though largely General Conference Mennonite and Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, from the beginning offered the equivalent of seminary training on a college level, a four-year course with two years of theology, but gave only B.A. and B.R.E. degrees.

In 1950 the Indonesian Mennonite Church established a theological school at Pati, which was of secondary school grade, with teachers from Holland. In 1955 Pati was merged with the theological school of the Reformed Church of East Java in Malang under a combined Reformed and Mennonite board and with teachers from both groups.

In 1955 the Mennonite Biblical Seminary at Montevideo, Uruguay, was established under an inter-Mennonite South American board of trustees, but sponsored and supported by the mission boards of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite groups in North America. It was not a graduate theological seminary, but offered a three-year course based upon high school. It was designed to offer theological training in the Spanish and German languages for Mennonites from all over South America, especially Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil who plan to enter mission work or serve as pastors in Mennonite congregations in these countries. -- Harold S. Bender

1990 Update

The first Mennonite theological seminary was the Doopsgezind Seminarie (Amsterdam Mennonite Theological Seminary) begun in 1735 to educate for ministry in Doopsgezind congregations, in cooperation with the Theological Faculty of the University of Amsterdam, where Reformed and Lutheran churches also were involved. Before 1811 this seminary was sponsored by the Mennonite Church in Amsterdam, and since then by the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit (general conference of Dutch Mennonites). Through using university resources, work is offered toward master's and doctoral degrees. In 1987 three Mennonite professors, in pastoral theology, practical theology, and systematic theology and Anabaptist studies, together with the university faculty served approximately 35 students, including a growing number of women and students pursuing lay ministry preparation.

The largest center of Mennonite theological studies in 1987 was the program called the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Ind. This association since 1958 included Goshen Biblical Seminary, formerly Goshen College Biblical Seminary, of the Mennonite Church (MC), which developed first as a Bible school that was part of Goshen College. By 1946 it was called a seminary and began to offer a graduate-level seminary program. The other partner was Mennonite Biblical Seminary of the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM), preceded by the "Christliche Bildungsanstalt der Mennoniten-Gemeinschaft" at Wadsworth, Ohio (1868-78), the Witmarsum Theological Seminary at Bluffton College, Ohio (1921-31), and then Mennonite Biblical Seminary as affiliated with Bethany Biblical Seminary in Chicago (1945-58).  The two schools used a common campus in Elkhart, Ind. after 1969; they incorporated as one institution (Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary) in 1993. This program offers courses leading to a variety of master's degrees, including the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts (MA) in Peace Studies, and the Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Courses include biblical, historical, theological, and ethical studies, as well as studies in missions and evangelism and various pastoral leadership ministries. In 1987 twenty-eight regular faculty members served approximately 200 students, including a growing number of women and some who do not anticipate pastoral ministry. An Institute of Mennonite Studies provides sponsorship and supervision for numerous research projects and some publications relating to Mennonite faith, life, and work. A Mission Training Center gives special impetus to equipping people in mission, evangelism, church planting, and transcultural ministries.

Eastern Mennonite Seminary at Harrisonburg, Va., is an outgrowth of the Bible curriculum of Eastern Mennonite College (now Eastern Mennonite University). By 1948 postgraduate courses were being offered, by 1960 a full three-year graduate program was operating, and by 1968 the MDiv degree was offered. Master of Arts in Religion and the Master of Arts in Church Ministries degrees were added later. Fifteen full-time or part-time faculty members served ca. 100 students in 1987. A Center for Evangelism and Church Planting is an added feature.

The Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary at Fresno, Cal. has served the Mennonite Brethren since 1955. It offers MDiv and various MA degrees. In 1987 twenty-one full-time and part-time faculty members serve ca. 150 students. A Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies (1974) and a Center for Training in Mission/Evangelism (1985) are adjunct programs.

In 1965 a Council of Mennonite Seminaries was convened and organized as a channel of communication among Mennonite seminaries in the United States.

Canadian graduate-level Mennonite theological studies are offered at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont., at Canadian Mennonite Bible College, Concord College, and the Menno Simons College in Winnipeg; and at the Mennonite Center of Regent College in Vancouver, B.C.

Mennonites of Indonesia are served by the Akademi Kristen Wiyata Wacana (AKWW) Theological College and Seminary at Pati. This was originally a cooperative venture (founded 1965) of the Gereja Injili de Tanah Jawa (GITJ; Evangelical Church of Java) and the Persatuan Gereja-Gereja Kristen Muria Indonesia (GKMI, United Muria Indonesia Christian Church) with the support of the Europäisches Mennonitisches Evangelisationskomitee (EMEK) and Mennonite Central Committee. The GITJ had first opened a Bible school in Pati in 1950 which later developed into the larger seminary vision, which in turn encountered both problematic internal differences and external government regulation.

The Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana (Messenger of the Word Christian University) until the 1980s incorporated the Bale Wiyata Institute of Malang, East Java, which a number of Indonesian pastors had attended. Since 1988 it is known as Sekolah Tinggi Agama Kristen Wiyata Wacana (Disciple of the Word Upper School for the Christian Religion). Both GITJ and GKMI are constituent members of this university with each supplying several board members, numerous students, and at least one faculty member in Old Testament. This school is located in Yogyakarta, and is a cooperative venture with other denominations. (See Alle G. Hoekema, "Developments in the education of preachers in the Indonesian Mennonite Churches," MQR, 59 (1985), 398-409.)

Mennonites in South America, with some external assistance from North American Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite mission boards developed the Seminario Evangélico Menonita de Teología (Mennonite Theological Seminary) in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1955. While not functioning at full graduate levels it served in the training of congregational leaders, both in Spanish and in German, for Mennonites in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. For political reasons this seminary, after 20 years of significant ministry, was closed in 1974. In a modified form, under Paraguayan Mennonite leadership, another seminary has emerged in Asunción, and functions there in a theological training program known as Centro Evangélico Menonita de Teología Asunción (Mennonite Theological Center). Its 5 professors were serving 35 students in 1986.

The École de Théologie Evangélique de Kinshasa (ETEK, Kinshasa Protestant School of Theology) first opened in 1968 to serve theological and pastoral training needs, especially in Zaire, "with the purpose of edifying the Protestant Church that it may respond to African and universal needs." In 1970 it moved to its own new campus. This has developed into the Institute Supérior Théologique de Kinshasa (ISTK, Kinshasa Higher Institute of Theology) sponsored by six constituent conferences of which two are Mennonite (1986). Served by an international faculty, it seeks to offer authentically African Christian training in biblical studies, theology, history, practical theology, and Christian education. It emphasizes African studies, psychology and counseling, language studies, and modern methods of communication. It has university level courses leading to a Bachelor of Theology degree. Since 1982 it offers courses in library science leading to the Master in Library Science, and it has a Women's School offering "a comprehensive program preparing women for church-related ministries." Eleven full-time professors plus visiting professors and five teachers in the Women's School instruct nearly 100 students in Theology, 5 in Library Science and 55 in Women's School (1987). A discerned trend in this school is some shift from focus on pastoral education to a more general scope of training. Mennonites of Zaire are involved in faculty leadership as well as in the student body.

The Osaka Biblical Seminary in Japan was established in 1960 by the Baptist General Conference mission, the North American Baptist mission, and the Mennonite Brethren mission, its forerunner having been the Mennonite Brethren Bible School founded in 1957. It focused on the training of pastors, evangelists, Christian educators, and missionaries with much of its work done as in-service training. In 1971, however, the Mennonite Brethren Conference of Japan having decided to withdraw from OBS, began, with one student, their own school in the Ishibashi Church, calling it Evangelical Biblical Seminary. In 1987 it had a student body of 6-8 and a faculty of two, one of whom is an expatriate. It is notable that of about 25 pastors serving MB churches in Japan, all are graduates of this school, a base for remarkable unity. The seminary maintains a strong emphasis on spirituality and evangelism, and exhibits a unique blend of North American and Japanese characteristics in its program.

Listing Mennonite and Brethren in Christ leadership training programs covering Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean in 1986, Donald B. Jacobs makes it clear that the training of Mennonites for church leadership has become a worldwide phenomenon, that much of this is done at a Bible college or Bible institute level, that the development of theological education by extension (TEE) has become a useful design, and that such programs among Mennonites are to be found in Central African Republic, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as well as in Zaire in Africa; in India, the Philippines, and Taiwan, as well as Indonesia and Japan in Asia; and in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad as well as in Paraguay in Central and South America. Especially notable is the work of Seminario Ministerial de Liderazgo Anabautista (SEMILLA; Anabaptist Ministerial Leaders Seminary). -- Erland Waltner


General Conference Mennonite Church Handbook of information (1987): 140-43.

Mennonite Church Yearbook (1986-87): 126.

Mennonite Quarterly Review 59 (1985): 398.

Mennonite Reporter (23 May 1988): 10.

Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: the Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1978: 436ff.

Additional Information

Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary

Canadian Mennonite University

Columbia Bible College

Conrad Grebel College

Eastern Mennonite Seminary

Menno Simons College

Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary

Regent College


Author(s) Harold S. Bender
Erland Waltner
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. and Erland Waltner. "Seminaries." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 2 Aug 2021.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. and Erland Waltner. (1989). Seminaries. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 August 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 499-500; vol. 5, pp. 809-811. All rights reserved.

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