ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF
THE CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST, MENNONITE
Original Draft of the Profile published and distributed to 200,000 by Watchman Fellowship in 2003--that link is www.watchman.org/profile/CGCM-Profile.pdf
PUBLICATIONS: The Messenger of Truth, the official bi-monthly publication. Conference Reports, the official rulebook updated each 5-10 years.
HEADQUARTERS: Moundridge, Kansas
COMMON TERMS: One True Visible Church, Unbroken Lineage of Unchanged Faith, United and Undivided Church of God, and Faith Once Delivered to the Saints.
Disgruntled with what he viewed as decay in the Mennonite Church and frustrated that his elders would not listen to his repeated opinions, 26 year-old layman John Holdeman split off from his Wayne County, Ohio congregation with his father and two others.1 Believing he was chosen of God through visions, he ordained himself and established what he claimed was a restoration of the One True Visible Church. Claiming a lineage of the true church through history, he believed his group now held the only candlestick and was the only possessor of all truth.2 He believed all other churches had been established to the displeasure of God. 3
Holdeman rejected the validity of baptism from other groups and insisted that all converts be rebaptized into the "true faith." 4 The only exception to this was converts from his former church who had been baptized while he himself was still a member. Holdeman reasoned that his presence as a member of the Mennonite Church secured their status as the true church, making its baptisms valid. After he left, taking the candlestick with him, his former church was guilty of rebellion against God by not joining him and so lost its status as the true church. 5Those who had been baptized after Holdeman left were required to submit to rebaptism to join his group, known as the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite (hereafter CGCM).
John Holdeman was regarded by many of his contemporaries as a church-splitting young rebel. 6 The validity of his self-ordination, breaking the "lineage" of laying on of hands, was often questioned.7 His own mother rejected John’s new denomination, causing him the embarrassment of a failed prophecy 8 in spite of his pleading and reprimanding. 9 Only one of his children accepted John’s movement; the rest rejected it.
Holdeman’s preaching gathered only 150 converts in twenty years. It may have died out like other spin-off groups during that era but for an influx in 1878 of immigrants from Russia that boosted the membership. As of 2002 this group numbers 19,278, with almost 90% in the United States and Canada. 10
GOD: The Holdemans believe in a triune God, but they deviate from historic Christianity by denying that Christ assumed human flesh from his mother Mary. They state He was true God and true man, but they reject the actual meaning of the hypostatic union. Their definition of "true man" is not the same as "true human being." Though Holdeman wrote Jesus was born and died as, or like, a human, members are cautioned against thinking of Jesus as a true genetic human.11 They embrace one of the tenets of the ancient view of Docetism fought by the early church Fathers. This view held that Jesus’ body was not actually human flesh, but rather was a specially prepared spiritual flesh that only resembled humanity. 12 The CGCM teaches that Jesus was merely incubated within Mary, taking no flesh from her and having no genetic connection to the human race. 13
Founder John Holdeman, whose faith the CGCM has pledged to follow,14 also taught a contradictory view of the deity of Christ. Stating that Jesus is God, he nevertheless describes a "three-fold birth" in which Christ is brought into existence in eternity.15
SALVATION: The CGCM teaches that humanity is born in sin and that the solution is faith in the substitutionary death of Christ. They speak of salvation by grace through faith and do proclaim a spiritual rebirth. However, in addition to simple trusting faith in the shed blood of Christ, they add other steps to the initial rebirth experience, resulting in a salvation by works. 16
One tract lists the steps to salvation as being conviction, sorrow, confession of sin, belief, restitution, obedience, and transformation. Confession and restitution are included in a CGCM tract "Can I Be Saved? What Must I Do?:"
Converts are publicly quizzed to verify a genuine new birth experience before baptism. Their testimonies usually recite condemnation, surrendering all to God, and making confessions and restitution before receiving peace. A frequently asked question of new converts is, "Have you made all your confessions?"
For church members, this obedience requisite for salvation includes obedience to their mandatory Conference Reports rulebook 17 and ministers’ councils, which prohibit shaving the beard; women appearing in public with uncovered heads, wearing slacks or jewelry (including wedding rings); owning two-colored vehicles, musical instruments, tape recorders, photographs, or radios; voting or serving in the military or any public office; attending high school or college; buying stocks and bonds or life insurance; and going to fairs, circuses, or amusement parks.
Articles in their official periodical also add instructions as detailed as where one may part the hair, what type and color of shoe may be worn, and what type of ring pattern one’s cell phone should have. Continued disobedience in any area is viewed as lack of submission and will eventually bring church discipline and excommunication, which is viewed as loss of salvation.
BELIEF IN THE CHURCH: The cornerstone doctrine of the CGCM is that it alone is the "One True Visible Church" on earth. Members believe that Christ has "other sheep which are not of this fold," i.e. Christians who are not part of the church, the Body of Christ, or the Bride of Christ. They call these "Kingdom Christians," but do not consider them brothers and sisters in Christ.18 Rejecting all other baptisms as invalid, they rebaptize all converts as the entrance into The True Church.19
Members of the CGCM also believe that a Christian who comes in contact with their church and becomes accountable through the Holy Spirit is disobeying God if he does not join their group. 20He will eventually lose his salvation if he remains in his former church.21
The CGCM believes that their church alone as the ground and pillar of the truth "is the supreme judge in all gospel matters" and has the authority to interpret Scripture. 22 Much emphasis is put on submission to the ministry and to the collective conscience of the group, called "laying down my light for the light of my brethren." To question group decisions or practices is labeled divisive. Independent thought, personal understanding of Scripture, or disagreement with any of the church’s doctrines can bring the very serious charge of deception, pride, heresy, and a foreign spirit. Members are directed not to listen to any "seducing spirits," i.e., anyone attempting to point out error in Holdeman doctrine.
The Holdemans’ extremely successful uniformity is achieved through enforced "blending." Members vow at baptism to give and take reproof, and the smallest deviation from the standardized dress, thought, or behavior code can be grounds for correcting one another. The ministry may also summon an individual to a staff meeting to reprimand minor deviations, such as ownership of a two-toned vehicle. More important issues, such as permission to marry, are always relegated to the ministry. Allegiance to all the officially interpreted doctrines is mandatory before partaking of Communion and is expressed in the required public declaration, "I am at peace with God and man. I love [or agree with] the Church and her doctrines."23
EVIL SPIRITS: Having an evil spirit is frequently spoken of in the CGCM. One can be accused of having a lying spirit, an independent spirit, a self-seeking spirit, an Internet spirit, a recreation spirit, a casual spirit, a fault-finding spirit, an intellectual spirit, a lawyer spirit—and many others. The type of spirit does not always have to be defined, for members can even be told, "Everything in your life seems in order, but we just feel in you a foreign spirit." Disharmony with any of the rules or doctrines results in an automatic diagnosis of an evil spirit, which is the most common reason given for discipline.24
EXCOMMUNICATION AND SHUNNING: Excommunication is one of the important practices of the CGCM. Often the fact that the group diligently practices excommunication and shunning is pointed to as being proof that they are the One True Church.
Fellowship with The Church is considered synonymous with fellowship with God. Once a person is baptized into their group, he is not allowed to withdraw without being excommunicated and shunned for life by friends and family members. Members are taught that anyone who is excommunicated from their church is lost 25and can never be reconciled to God unless he or she repents and reunites with their church, no matter how many years he lives his Christian life in another church. 26
It is estimated that 10-25% who have been raised in the church experience excommunication, but 75-80% of those eventually return. Of the outsiders who come "from the world," 95% leave never to return. During the 1970s when many CGCM members were beginning to doubt the doctrine of the One True Church and were showing a feeling of unity toward Christians in other churches, authorities initiated a practice called "The Purge" by many. To curb loss of their central doctrine, a panel of ministers traveled the U.S. and Canada with the goal of interrogating each of their members. Those who did not evidence a strong belief in the One True Church doctrine, as well as those who were lax in obedience, were expelled. It is estimated that 1,000 members were lost during a few years, including one entire congregation.27
================================================================================1 "Now we were divided: Four of us separated from you." John Holdeman in his letter to Bishop Shaum, A History of the Church of God, 125. (Note: All references are published or have been sold by Gospel Publishers, the publishing arm of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Moundridge, Kansas.)
2"This written lineage of the Church of the Living God is the place, pillar, or ground where God has always revealed the whole truth; it is contained alone as a whole in this Church [The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite], and He will never do it elsewhere." Ibid., 189. "The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, will lead us into all truth, but outside the true organized Church of God [CGCM] the whole truth has never been found and neither will ever be found outside of it. God will not recognize any other church than His own organized Church; and therefore He will not reveal the whole truth to any other church or to any man who is not willing to be one with God through espousal with Him…" John Holdeman, Mirror of Truth, 84.
3"All sects organized alongside of His Church [The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite] have not been endowed with heavenly wisdom; otherwise they would not have been established to the displeasure of God and His Church." John Holdeman, Mirror of Truth, 30.
4"As God has made no covenant with any other church, therefore no baptism is valid outside of this only visible church of God [The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite]." John Holdeman, A History of the Church of God, 20. "If 10,000 persons should receive remission of sin and join in fellowship with each other by organizing themselves into a body without baptism, we could not acknowledge them as the church of God. .. before we could acknowledge them, they must be willing to unite with the truly organized Church of God [The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite] baptism." Ibid., 183.
5"Since the time the Mennonites rejected us in laboring against us in an opposing spirit, no baptism they administered since we separated from them is valid." Ibid., 151.
6"There were other "young rebels" in the Mennonite churches in Pennsylvania and Ohio and John Holdeman was undoubtedly classed with them—youth who expressed rebellion because of contemporary religious influence and their own stormy, emotional experiences." Clarence Hiebert, The Holdeman People.
8"Now if that of mother was the only prediction I had, and failed, as it did, I should reject it: but as I have had hundreds of predictions and that they fulfilled….it cannot be shaken on account of this one case, to cast me away" (Letter from Holdeman to George Shaum March 17, 1885, a copy was placed in the files of Mennonite Library Archives, Bethel College, Newton, KS). Cf. Deut. 18:22.
9"Oh dear mother…I believe with all my heart that more guilt lies upon you than you are aware of…your life and death carries with it more responsibility than that of other persons." John Holdeman to his mother in a letter of which a copy was filed with Mennonite Library Archives, Bethel College, Newton, KS. 10 Mennonite Encyclopedia Herald Press Scottsdale, PA Vol. 5 154-157. Holdemans commissioned a man to work in harmony with the publication of this book: "Resolved. We empower our Historical and Doctrinal Writing and Proving Committee to meet the request of the Mennonite Lexicon or Encyclopedia compilers in so far as deemed advisable, with the privilege to call for help if needed. P.G. Hiebert, Hillsboro, Kansas, was chosen as our representative on the Mennonite Lexicon Editorial Council," Conference Reports article, 50 (23 November 1946). 11"Do we not need carefulness in bringing the human dimension into Christ?" Messenger of Truth, August 2002, 7.
12Speaking of Jesus’ human body: "Take note that this verse and the previous one point to the resemblance only." Messenger of Truth, August 2002, 5. "The body of Jesus was an eternal product from heaven." Bible Doctrines and Practice, 40.
13"He did not take His flesh from Mary." "The word was made flesh, not of Mary, but in Mary." Bible Doctrines and Practices, 40.
14"We unitedly pledge, before God and one another, to uphold the true faith, as delivered to the saints, and practiced by the apostles, and reformers like Peter Waldo, Menno Simons and John Holdeman, and upheld by the Church today according to the scripture" Centennial of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite 1959 page 20
15"Although He was God, He died as a human, rose again as God and was, is, and will remain the one inseparable eternal Son of God in the three births: Firstly, His inconceivable and indescribable birth in eternity. Secondly, His birth of the virgin Mary; and Thirdly, His resurrection from the dead whereby He became the Firstborn from the dead." John Holdeman, Mirror of Truth, 36.
16"Upon believing that Jesus’ suffering and death were for him, and promising complete obedience and loyalty to Christ, from henceforth, the sinner obtains the Father’s forgiveness." Bible Doctrines and Practices, 114.
17"Resolved, That conference decisions are mandatory" Conference Reports. Article 6, November 1974.
18"All who are saved are in the kingdom, but not everyone in the kingdom is in the church." Bible Doctrines and Practices, 169.
19"We consider all baptisms which are not officiated by the true ministers of the Gospel upon faith in God and His Church unevangelical." And, "We believe when a person unites with an organization outside the Church of God, receiving the symbol of water, it does not signify the truth." The Confession of Faith and Minister’s Manual, 34.
20"If they will not obey the call when they hear and understand it, they will find that Christ will slay them with the sword of His mouth: therefore, we cannot comfort anyone to stay in such churches." Holdeman, A History of the Church of God, 188.
21"There is no salvation where anyone will not unite with the Church of God against better knowledge." Ibid., 188. "It would seem that one cannot refuse the church and remain in the kingdom indefinitely." Bible Doctrines and Practice, 169.
22"We believe that the Church of God is the supreme judge which God has here on earth for gospel matters." The Confession of Faith and Minister’s Manual, 38. "One’s personal interpretation of scriptures should always be proven with the understanding of the Scriptures which the united body of Christ has." Ibid., 71.
23"Every member is given the opportunity to make his declaration, which includes whether he has peace with God and with men in as far as is possible; whether he is united with the doctrines of the Word and in submission to the ordinances of the Church" The Confession of Faith and Minister’s Manual, 66.
24"Generally, the grounds for asking repentance of a brother or sister would be an incorrigible spirit." Bible Doctrines and Practice, 187.
25"Excommunication is the church’s proving and declaration of the individual’s severed spiritual relationship with God." Ibid., 189.
26"Sometimes those under discipline reject the church’s proving of their spiritual need. They may claim fellowship with the Lord. This only substantiates their fall from spiritual discernment." Ibid., 190. 27Mennonite Encyclopedia vol. 5, Herald Press Scottsdale, PA 154-157. An expanded response can be found at http://www.abcompany.com/Loveletter. Additional resources are available from this website as well.
Christology: The two natures of Christ and the Eternal Son. A cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith is that in the one Person of Jesus Christ, through the incarnation two natures were united. One, the nature of perfect humanity, and the other the nature of deity (Heb. 2:14-17;Gal. 4:4; Rom 1:3;Acts 2:29-30; John 7:42). This is known as the hypostatic union. When the eternal Word took a human nature at the incarnation (John 1:14) the Son took a real human nature including human flesh. The Son has existed from all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1; 8:58).
Unity of the Body of Christ. The New Testament speaks of the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ: "All that in every place call upon the name of the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:2) "are the body of Christ" (12:27). The Bible says all who have faith in Christ are overcomers (1 John 5:5) whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 3:5). All whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life are part of the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:27).
Authoritarianism and Legalism. Scriptural teaching is clear that salvation comes by God’s grace through faith in Jesus death and resurrection, and that this is the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-8). The good works believers perform are done in thankfulness and obedience to Christ in response to saving faith and not the means to earn or retain God’s free gift of salvation (Eph. 2:8-10). The New Testament speaks strongly against legalism (Tit. 1:10-14; Gal. 2:4; 5:1,4; Col. 2:5,8).
The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuseby D. Johnson & J. VanVonderen. Churches are meant to be safe places where spiritual leaders help their members. However, some have become places of spiritual abuse, where leaders dominate others. Through subtle uses of misinterpretation, the church can become a place of legalism, guilt and spiritual enslavement. This book will shed much light on these abusive processes, 235 pgs. $12
Vital Christology Issues, Roy B. Zuck, General Editor. Essays by some of the best Evangelical scholars cover the whole range of biblical disclosure on the Savior. Articles cover the preexistence of Christ and the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. There is a thorough discussion of Gospel and Pauline revelations, as well as Jesus in Revelations. 171 pgs., Notes. $13
Love letter to the Holdemans:
Whether it be of God and No Proselytes in Zion--a Re-examination: (this is the original pamphlet sent to 2,000 members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite)
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