Temple Society

Jump to navigation Jump to search

1958 Article

The Temple Society (German, Tempelgesellschaft) (also known as Deutscher Tempel or Jerusalemsfreunde) was organized on 19 June 1861 by Christoph Hoffmann, a Lutheran clergyman, at a meeting of the Friends of Jerusalem at Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart, Germany. The movement rooted in Württemberg Pietism. Gottlieb W. Hoffmann, the father of Christoph Hoffmann, had founded the separatist settlement of Korntal near Stuttgart. Philipp M. Hahn influenced Christoph Hoffmann regarding the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth and called all true believers "out of Babel," to which he later added the notion of gathering them in Palestine in order to be enabled to "build the temple of God" (Ephesians 2:21-22; 1 Peter 2:51). Already in 1854 Hoffmann had started the paper Süddeutsche Warte, an "organ for the gathering of the children of God in Jerusalem."


First the group established a school at Kirschenhardthof, near Marbach, Württemberg. Close co-workers of Hoffmann were G. H. Hardegg and Christoph Paulus. In 1858 a delegation went to Palestine to investigate settlement possibilities. In 1860 five young men were sent thither as pioneers. In 1866 a settlement was established near Nazareth, and in 1869 the colony of Haifa was established. Jaffa, Sarona, and Rephaim followed. Christoph Hoffmann was the leader of the movement. When he died in 1885 he was succeeded by his son, Christian Hoffmann.

The Pietism of the Temple movement was soon given up and was replaced by a humanistic-rationalistic philosophy. Many of the former friends of Hoffmann turned their backs on him. The rationalism of the University of Tübingen which he had fought in his early days he now embraced. The emphasis on an undenominational, non-doctrinal enlightened Christianity, living a good life, remained with the Templers. They were good business people and promoted cultural endeavors.


The contact between the Temple movement of Württemberg and the Mennonites of the Ukraine was established through Nikolai Schmidt, who had traveled in South Germany and became acquainted with the school at Kirschenhardthof. As a result Johannes Lange of Gnadenfeld attended the school and became a teacher of the Gnadenfeld Bruderschule. His influence as a disciple of Christoph Hoffmann in the school as well as in the community was objected to. A long-drawn-out controversy took place in which the ecclesiastical and civil authorities and the government became involved. Johannes Lange was imprisoned in Halbstadt in 1863. Twenty Mennonites then signed a document organizing the Evangelische Mennonitische Gemeinde of Gnadenfeld which was the beginning of the Temple Church or the Friends of Jerusalem in Russia (1863). In 1866 representatives of this new group obtained permission and established a new settlement in the Kuban area. In 1868 a delegation rented an estate from Count Orbeliani for thirty years. The Gnadenfeld Templers were joined by those of Württemberg background living in Bessarabia and established the Tempelhof settlement. On the other side of the Kuma River, Orbelianovka was established by Württemberg settlers only. In addition two villages were established on the Kuban River named Alexanderfeld and Wohldemfürst. With few exceptions all Templers moved to these new settlements. Common names were Lange, Schmidt, Goerzen, Goerz, Arndt, Hausknecht, Rempel, Hübert, and Görke. The pioneer life was difficult, but soon some prosperity was achieved. Great emphasis was placed on education and the development of the cultural life. The two villages on the Kuban River were located adjacent to the Mennonite Brethren settlement. In religious matters the Mennonite Church, the Mennonite Brethren, and the Temple Church each went its own way, but they cooperated in matters pertaining to the economic and cultural life of the community. When Hoffmann published his five epistles in 1877-1882 which attacked the doctrines of the Trinity, preexistence of Christ, reconciliation, and justification in a rationalistic manner, most of his Mennonite followers deserted him. The periodical of the group, Die Warte des Ternpels, warmly defended "old evangelical" Mennonitism.

In 1896 the thirty-year lease of Tempelhof and Orbelianovka expired. In 1896-1897 the group then started the villages of Olgino and Romanovka near Sukhaya Padina, consisting of 30 farms with 4,860 acres.


Around 1870 some Temple Mennonites moved to Palestine. When in 1902 the Temple settlement Wilhelma near Lydda was established, Mennonites from Wohldemfürst and Alexanderfeld, including Heinrich Sawatzky, Jakob Friesen, Franz Friesen, Johann Friesen, Jakob Goerzen, and Peter Decker, joined this settlement. A photograph of the Temple Council in Palestine in 1935 shows the following members of Mennonite background: Heinrich Sawatzky (Wilhelma), Theodor Fast (Jerusalem), Nikolai Schmidt (Jerusalem), Kurt Lange (Bethlehem), Jacob Decker (Wilhelma). During both World Wars the Templers were interned as German citizens. During World War II the young families were deported to Australia. When the state of Israel was established the remainder had to leave. Of these, 49 persons were sent to Germany, while early in 1949, 223 persons landed in Melbourne, Australia, the remainder later going to Germany. In 1953, 1,230 Templers were in Australia, living in Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia. Templers of Mennonite background now live scattered in Germany, Australia, and Canada. Among the latter were particularly those who left Russia before World War I.

Friedrich Lange, the brother of Johannes Lange, was a teacher in Russia and Haifa and wrote Geschichte des Tempels (Jerusalem, 1899), a book of 941 pages relating the early history of the group. -- Cornelius Krahn

1989 Update

The German Temple movement grew out of the religious ferment in mid-19th century Württemberg. Under the influence of the Swabian Lutheran theologian J. A. Bengel (16871752) and the popular writings of Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817) the Pietist reaction against the modern historical-critical theology of David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874) was both strong and varied. Christoph Hoffmann (1815-1885), the theologically trained son of the founder of the separatist Pietist community at Korntal near Stuttgart (Wilhelm Hoffmann), was among the more vocal critics. He defeated Strauss in the election to the German constitutional assembly, the Frankfurt Parliament, of 1848, but lost faith in the political process there and returned to his other interest—teaching and missions. Together with the Paulus brothers (grandsons of Philipp Matthäus Hahn), he operated a school which attracted the attention of Nikolai Schmidt, a prominent Mennonite from Gnadenfeld (Molotschna), who in turn sent a young student, Johannes Lange, to this school.

At this school, located at the Kirschenhardthof (a property near Stuttgart), Lange, together with others, became a "friend of Jerusalem" (Jerusalemsfreund), as members of the movement came to be known. Hoffman had determined that the circumstances, bad economic times combined with new religious doubts, called for a drastic restitution of the "people of God" that would in effect constitute a rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. How literally or figuratively this was to be understood never became completely clear.

Earlier (around 1817) whole Swabian settlements had relocated to southern Russia and other eastern points, motivated by both hard times and eschatological teachings. The Temple idea appeared to be in line with these and, apparently, with the thinking of some Russian Mennonites, whose pilgrim theology led several groups to "places of refuge" (see Claas Epp). The educational emphasis of the German Templers should not be overlooked. It undoubtedly attracted some of the more intelligent young Mennonites and helped to bring about a second division within the "large" church at Gnadenfeld (the Mennonite Brethren had separated in 1860). Like the Mennonite Brethren, the Templers, who did not use the "Temple" name at the outset but were known as the "Evangelical Mennonite Church of Gnadenfeld," had to relocate along with these into the Kuban and Caucasus areas. In the Temple settlements which arose at Wohldemfürst, Alexanderfeld (Kuban) and Tempelhof and Orbelyanovka (Caucasus) Mennonites and non-Mennonites mingled, though Mennonites like the Schmidts and the Langes continued to play an important role and the Mennonite Templers continued to think of themselves as Mennonites, claiming from the Russian government the privileges of that group.

Friedrich Lange, brother of Johannes, became the first major historian of the Temple Society. The family of Nikolai Schmidt eventually built a house on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In later periods Russian Mennonite names (e.g., Dyck, Fast, Arndt) played a role in the all-too-eventful future of the Temple Society, as it came to be known. Severe dislocations resulted from the two World Wars and eventually the Templers were removed from the "Holy Land" to Australia and Germany, where they maintained a minor presence. -- Victor G. Doerksen

2010 Update>

The group's use of the name “Templer” refers to biblical texts that speak of humanity as God’s spiritual temple. The word does not refer to a building, or to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem nor to the Knights Templar of the crusades. The Temple Society’s motto is: "Set your mind on God’s Kingdom and His Justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well."  As a consequence of the two World Wars, the Templer congregations and settlements in Israel-Palestine, United States and Russia no longer exist. The Temple Society in 2010 consisted of two Templer regions, one in the Bentleigh suburb of Melbourne, Australia and one in Stuttgart, Germany. Both organizations were autonomous but were linked by their common aim and beliefs under one elected president. In 2001 Peter Lange was elected President of the Temple Society, Australia. -- Victor Wiebe

See also Apocalypticism.


Arndt, N[ikolas]. "Erinnerungen eines Olginoers." A 110-page typescript, Melbourne, 1977.

Doerksen, Victor G. "Eduard Wüst and Jerusalem.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 56 (1982): 169-78.

Doerksen, Victor G. "Mennonite Templers in Russia." Journal of Mennonite Studies 3 (1985): 128-37.

Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911: 87, 727.

Friesen, Peter M. The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789-1910), trans. J. B. Toews and others. Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature [M.B.], 1978, rev. ed. 1980:index.

Gesellschafts-Vertag und Satzungen . . . der Tempelgesellschaft. The Temple Society Central Fund: Jerusalem, 1922.

Görz, H. Die Molotschnaer Ansiedlung. Steinbach, 1951.

Grünzweig, Fritz. Die Evangelische Brüdergemeinde Korntal. Metzingen, 1958.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. IV, 294-295.

Hoffman, Chr. Mein Wegnach Jerusalem. 2 vv., 1881-84.

Isaac, Franz. Die Molotschnaer Mennoniten. Halbstadt, 1908.

Lange, Friedrich. Geschichte des Tempels. Jerusalem, 1899: 797.

Mennonitische Blätter, (1888): 139, (1890): 27, (1894): 5.

Rohrer, E. Die Tempelgesellschaft. 1920.

Sauer, Paul. Uns rief das Heilige Land. Die Tempel gesellschaft im Wandel der Zeit. 1985.

Sawatzky, Heinrich. Templer Mennonitischer Herkunft. Winnipeg: Echo Verlag, 1955; translation in progress.

Sawatzky, Heinrich. Mennonite Templers. Winnipeg : Published jointly by CMBC Publications, Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, c1990.

Urry, James. "The Closed and the Open: Social and Religious Change Amongst the Mennonites in Russia (1789-1889)." PhD Dissertation, Oxford University, 1978: esp ch. IX, 2.

Additional Information


Temple Society Australia

Tempelgesellschaft Stuttgart

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Victor G. Doerksen
Victor Wiebe
Date Published 2010

Cite This Article

MLA style

Krahn, Cornelius, Victor G. Doerksen and Victor Wiebe. "Temple Society." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2010. Web. 17 Apr 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Temple_Society&oldid=178153.

APA style

Krahn, Cornelius, Victor G. Doerksen and Victor Wiebe. (2010). Temple Society. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 April 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Temple_Society&oldid=178153.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 693-694; vol. 5, p. 878. All rights reserved.

©1996-2024 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.