The One True Divisible Church

One of the most curious things I’ve found about the Anabaptist movement is that it started as a rebellion against Catholic homogeny and then viciously opposed internal dissent. One of the doctrines of Anabaptist sects is the notion of the One True Visible Church … which is why there are so many different Anabaptist sects.

"Excommunication" (detail) by Don Swartzentruber

"Excommunication" (detail) by Don Swartzentruber

When I recently discovered the concept of the “OTVC,” I was impressed with its breathtaking arrogance. It is the belief that there is one, and only one, correct way to be a Christian and any church that does not adhere to the correct expression is going directly to hell (do not pass GO, do not collect $200). Only an insular community bathed in the ignorance of an 8th grade education could have developed the idea that using horse-drawn transportation and dressing in the manner of 19th Century German peasants would somehow make the them plainer, more humble and more godly than thou. At some point, the parade passes you by, and you become the local freak show. It happened in Lancaster, and it has happened here in Southern Maryland.

Yet the fights over dress and technology continue to devolve the movement and the families who adhere to it. Those who dissent too strongly either start new OTVCs, if they are popular, or they suffer excommunication, known as the Bann. The Martyrs Mirror wastes no time in justifying this tradition. I found the first reference on P. 32.

Unfortunately, dissent runs strong in my family. According to a book written by my uncle (who obviously had an axe to grind), my paternal grandfather was harassed by the church for his use of a gas-powered tractor for farming. The old man had a bad heart, and the hard work eventually killed him. My maternal grandfather, whose name I bear, went far enough to earn the Bann-hammer when he decided to wire the house up for electricity, buy a car and abandon the church. Such bold action was not entirely the product of a principled stand, and it had consequences that I’ll get to later.

But I did find a ready example of the Bann’s power in the Holdeman Mennonite forum I’ve been reading lately. The Holdemans have moved past the transportation issue. It is the Internet with its vast quantities of heretical thought that is their problem today. And even the “progressive” Holdemans (Church of God in Christ, Mennonite) don’t tolerate much lip. One man told a tale of being “exed” for “spiritual adultery” (viewing porn or reading the Catholic Bible?). He said he moved 100 miles from the church, but it still hold something over him by prohibiting his extended family from communicating with him.

…They stole my family from me. I was talking to one of my [Holdeman] friends recently. He said, “Bryon, I feel that you hold more against me then I do against you.” I said, “You are exactly right.” I told him it’s like the school yard bully [who] is taking the younger boys lunch money by force. The little boy cries, and the bully asks, “Why are crying?,” in a concerned voice. “All you have to do is give me your lunch money, and I won’t hit you anymore.” The [Holdeman] church takes what is rightfully yours, and then acts all innocent and wonders, “Why are you hurt? Just submit to the ‘church,’ and you can have your family back.”

One of the strange contradictions of shunning and the Bann in the Stauffer Church is that those family members who never join the church aren’t subject to these punishments. In fact, much like the Amish, Stauffer Mennonite teens often spend a few years “running around” (Rumspringa) partying, driving, and often making accidental children before deciding to submit to the church’s rules. I recently read an excellent, if somewhat overly sympathetic, book on the subject. What I found disturbing about the tradition is that youngsters usually end up joining the church for its economic safety, since there are few job opportunities for the uneducated in the rural areas where they live.


8 Responses to “The One True Divisible Church”

  1. OriginalSinnick Says:

    It is possible that young adults return to the church of their youth for ecomonic reasons. I tend to think there may be deeper reasons. One of those being out of desperation for a lack of anything better in a spiritual sense. In other words, feeling the need to be delivered from the threat of the eternal barbeque thrust upon them by the angry God of their parents and church leaders.

  2. I am not now nor have I ever been a Mennonite or anything related to any such mess.
    As a young girl I was forced to give up my children for adoption and the state of Florida allowed the Mennonites to adopt them.
    21 years later I am now trying to get help educating my son because of their lack of doing so when he was a child.
    So I agree that it is out of desperation that the children return. In this day and age having a degree does not even get you a good paying job in most states. So a 6th to 8th grade poor education certainly wont get you much more than cleaning toilets and pushing a broom.
    What I can’t figure out about my particular situation with this ordeal is:1: If the Mennonites aren’t allowed to be involved in Gov. issues why were they allowed to adopt my kids and 2:The agency that took my children away said they were doing so because I would not be able to pay for special medical and educational problems one of my children would require—WHY would they allow people that have less education than I did at That time adopt them?
    Now that’s not even the good part….My son has been in more states and countries than most elected officials (With the Mennonites mind you) By traveling in cars-on boats and in plains.
    Now you tell me: Is our government involved in corruption or is the Mennonite (crap) just a cover up for something none of us have any real clue about?
    Are they taking our children and running tests on them?
    No I am not a nut case, I ask because my son is scarred for life from operations he has no memories of ever having.
    He was a normal active young child when he was with me and they have a mile long sheet saying he was never normal. Personally I think we the people have sat on our duffs long enough, It’s time that more people know what the —- is going on.
    When the government allows people that are old enough to be MY Grandparents to adopt 3 year olds-There’s a problem!
    Signed, REALLY Frustrated.

  3. OriginalSinnick Says:

    Careful Mystique, Unruh and Koehn are both Holdeman Mennonite names. They are snakes in the grass. Again, Be careful.

  4. Mistique Says:

    Blind I am not, Nor am I so trusting as to accept all words delivered to my ears and sights to mine eyes. Even a liar and a cheat must use some form of truth to be heard and believed. It is up to the receiver to know which is truth and which is not. Therefore I await a reply to see the true colors for there are many shades in the world.

  5. Del Koehn Says:

    mystique; sorry it took me so long to reply. This is what I wanted to share with you;

    Please read all of it. Hope this solves your difficult situation. I feel for you .

    God Bless – Del

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