So Who Was John Holdeman?

“He was married to Elizabeth Ritter by the Justice of the Peace Henry Selman on November 18, 1852 and five months later, April 1, 1853, she gave birth to their first child, a daughter Lavina. Undoubtedly this premarital relationship and the necessity to marry were the source of his despair in early 1853….”

This may seem petty, but the truth about John Holdeman is that he was a carnal young man who impregnated his girlfriend and was married by a justice of the peace.  Does this disqualify him?  Not necessarily.  However, it is an historical fact that is pretty much concealed when his praises are being sung.

It must be said that after his marriage, he fell under conviction for his sinful ways and was converted. He was baptized into the Old Mennonite Church, and sometime thereafter he began to feel a call to the ministry.  He also began to find fault with his church.  In his forthright and impetuous way he began to rebuke his church leaders for various lapses that he felt that he was seeing.  He began to rebuke them for laxness in child rearing.  Child rearing is one of the points that is often cited today as a reason for him separating.  Can you imagine if a young recently converted brother with a rowdy past would stand up in the Holdeman church and begin to rebuke the ministry?  Child rearing is an important matter of course, but not a corporate issue. It is totally and completely a family matter, to be addressed by the parents and the parents alone.  When did a church become responsible for the rearing of the members’ children?  Aside from that, Holdeman himself did not do well with childrearing, and it is a fact that none of his own progeny joined the movement that he started.  It is often stated that he traveled a great deal, wrote compulsively, and was financially so strapped that he had to declare bankruptcy.  At one point he was involved in a lawsuit because the expelled husband of a church member became angry when Holdeman and his friends encouraged the wife to withhold the marriage bed from her husband.  The husband became understandably enraged and filed a lawsuit and the Holdeman church was obliged to pay a monetary settlement.  I’m not of a mind to supply the source of this information right now, if anyone has a link to the web page that details the case, please feel free to supply it.

So, as regards childtraining, Holdeman did poorly.  One could say, “well, he was so busy doing the Lord’s work that he didn’t have time to be a father.”  Not a good excuse.  When one brings children into the world they should be the first responsibility.  He often was away from home for extended periods, leaving his poor wife alone to care for the offspring.  And yet he dared to rebuke the Old Mennonite Church on the issue of child rearing.  What did he want to see in the church he left?  Was he in favor of more severe punishment?   We know that he had a punitive heart, as is evidenced by the strict stand he took on excommunication and avoidance.  He believed apparently that the way to discipline was to be harsh and punishing.  He set this precedent for his followers, as we repeat, none of them included his own children.

We continue to try to turn your minds to the idea of what would happen if a young brother were to stand up today and rebuke the church.  Imagine him giving them an ultimatum and when they failed to come to his line of understanding, he announces that he is leaving and the candle stick goes with him.  He diverts the lineage of the true faith away from the present church and begins to cut a new channel for it.  Would he be admired?  Would any go with him?  Remember that John Holdeman left with a very few people.  He labored in vain for many years.  His upstart movement would have died out, and perhaps the candlestick with it, if he had not stumbled upon a cadre of disenfranchised immigrants who had no idea who the Old Mennonite Church was, nor the rather ignominious past and history of John Holdeman.  It is quite likely that the Russian/Polish immigrants that he brought into the fold were more qualified to be the founding fathers of this new denomination than he was.  They were simple men who loved God and were looking for a more sincere expression of that love. These men realized that perhaps they had never been converted and they began to seek God earnestly, and they were baptized and added to Holdeman’s church. As for a baptismal/ordination lineage, it perhaps came through these men more than John Holdeman.  Remember that he was never ordained. One of the men who joined up with him, a Tobias Unruh, I believe, defected from another Mennonite group and joined with Holdeman. He had been ordained in that group, so let us grant that perhaps some sort of continuity of ordination came through him.

While we are speaking of Holdeman’s failure to be ordained by the laying on of hands, let us examine the scriptural foundation for this sacrament.  ( I use the word sacrament loosely here, whether it is truly a sacrament or not is in question. The word sacrament literally means something holy.) John Holdeman was never ordained.  He claimed that he followed the precedent of the Apostle Paul, in  being called and ordained by God and not man.  This is quite an arrogant statement.  Imagine a young man making this claim today. One must, in all honesty, assign the same level of contempt to John Holdeman that one would give to anyone making this claim today.  In all honesty, what qualifies a man to make this claim for himself?

The laying on of hands basically confers on another the continuity of a blessing and commissions one to go forth.  1 Timothy 4:14 says “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.”  Acts 6:5-6 says “And the saying pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man of full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Niconor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:  Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid [their]   hands on them.

Acts 13:2-3 says “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid [their] hands on them, they sent [them] away.”

Furthermore, the question must be addressed as to whether Paul was ordained by man or not.  What do we make of the verse in 9:17 that says “And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, [even] Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”  How was the Apostle Paul ordained to his office of authority? Did God ordain him privately — secretly — without any human witnesses to the fact, or was he ordained BY THE HAND OF MAN?

It would seem from reading this verse that Ananias, a man full of the Holy Ghost, was sent by God to lay hands on Saul. This did not confer upon Saul the authority to preach, it merely facilitated his conversion and his being filled with the Holy Ghost.  Saul spent time alone for three years, during which time he was taught by Christ.  1 Corinthians 9:1 says “Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?”  1 Corinthians 15:8 says “And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” (Speaking of Christ.)  So from these verses we see that Paul actually saw and communicated directly with Christ.  I doubt that even  John Holdeman was audacious to make this claim.  So here we already see a divergence in the paths of John Holdeman and the Apostle Paul. John Holdeman never made the claim that he had gone to the wilderness and met Christ personally.

Acts 13:2 “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”  (note that at this point Paul was still known as Saul) verse 3…And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid [their] hands on them, they sent [them] away.”   We can  see from reading these verses that Paul was ordained by the laying on of hands. He was sent out to do the Lord’s work by the laying on of hands. In verse nine it says “Then Saul, (who also [is called] Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him,”   Here after his ordination we see him being called Paul.

So what do we make of Holdeman’s claim that he was privately ordained by God, in the same way Paul was?  It seems as though this claim does not hold water.  First of all, Paul put himself under the authority of other apostles, and it was not until he was ordained that he actually went forth preaching.  So, my friends, tell me, what about Holdeman and his ordination issue?  Does God really ordain men independently and secretly?

You may wonder why we labor at great length to discredit John Holdeman.  The entire Church of God in Christ Mennonite rests upon the foundation that he built.  If this foundation is faulty, then it is no wonder that over a hundred and fifty years down the road, the building is wobbling.  It is true that the structure may stand and appear to flourish for a while, but ultimately, given the passage of time and a bulky membership, there will be serious issues that cannot be ignored.  For one thing, 20,000 plus members can no longer be individually controlled. In order for Holdeman’s idea to work, all of the members must be under some sort of dictatorial control.  As has been stated in another post, when a group becomes organized, they create walls. God will not be contained within walls that man  has built. It matters not how loudly they proclaim that they have direct information from God that he himself builds the walls, the truth is that the fruit of this tree will soon be known.  When man begins to include some and exclude others, spirituality dies.  People begin to live by the law.  They begin to rely on history books that relate the teachings of their founder.  God wrote the guidebook, the Bible.  Any man who creates any other foundation is in direct conflict with what Christ taught.  These may be difficult sayings to comprehend and receive, and so all I can do is ask you to pray and see if God will enlighten your mind.  If what I have written here is false, then let it fall.  If there is truth, then let God enlighten you further.

In the pursuit of truth justice mercy and love,


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14 Responses to So Who Was John Holdeman?

  1. So in the preceding post we have debunked two of Holdeman’s claims, that of pioneering a new and more effective method of child rearing, and that of justifying his lack of ordination. There are others which we will address as well. He complained that the old Mennonite church was baptizing unconverted members. I think there is a fair amount of evidence of unconverted people being baptized in the present day Holdeman church. If one wished to focus on that particular aspect, there would be no shortage of examples. He complained that they were lax in discipline. There are examples of faulty discipline in the church today. Perhaps it could not be defined as lax, but rather as misapplied. These are issues that the Holdeman people still proudly proclaim, and yet where do they stand on them today? The foundation must be sure in order for the building to be sound. Is the building sound today? Ask yourselves in all honesty…”Is the building sound today?” If not, is the answer a more earnest return to the deluded musings of John Holdeman, or a return to a more scriptural foundation, the Word of God and the example of the early church. Not the historical early church, but the Biblical early church.


  2. There is some thought that one of Holdeman’s sons joined his church for a short time but left. I am waiting for someone to confirm this information. As usual, we stand to be corrected on any point that is inaccurate. It would still be true, however, that none of his bloodline stayed in his church. There are a lot of people out there “in the world” who can claim John Holdeman as their grandpa, and not a one of them in his church.

  3. The days in which we are living call for strong men, brave men, men who will face any hardship, tolerate abuse from power hungry leaders in order to live their Christian lives to the fullest. There are Christians in this world who deserve our respect and fellowship. To exclude them and discredit them is a terrible sin. To ask them to come to us instead of us going to them is contemptible. Brethren, do not deny yourself the blessing of fellowship of people who have suffered, endured, and who are quite possibly more spiritual and more sincere than any Holdeman church member that you know. The Holdeman church has become a culture. There is comfort and ease there, in the midst of the approval of the brethren. There is money, comfort, social life, but alas, far too often no partaking of the Lord’s supper. In order to enjoy the benefits, one must swallow the bitter taste of vomit and decide that the ministers know best and the confidence of the staff is more important than the comfort of the Holy Spirit. NO MAN can take that from you. NO MAN can stand between you and God and parcel his love, forgiveness and mercy out to you as he sees fit. NO MAN will be your advocate at the judgment bar. We are putting out the call to men to stand up. Let the puppet masters pull the strings in vain. Refuse to be under their power and control.

  4. According to Don Gable’s book about John Holdeman some of his family did join:

    JH’s father Amos joined his fledgling group, presumably in 1859.

    JH’s wife Elizabeth was “united” with his new group (presumably she
    was baptized by the Old Mennonite Church and her baptism would have
    been recognized by her husband JH.

    JH’s brother-in-law Frank Seidener was ordained by JH in 1862, but was
    later defrocked & excommunicated in the 1890s.

    JH’s daughter Anna was “united” with JH’s church at age 17, around
    1875, and remained “faithful til death”. (Presumably she would have
    been baptized by her father because this was after the baptism crisis
    of 1870 – 74.) Her husband Cornelius Gnagy was also a member of JH’s

    JH’s son Alpha was baptized into the Holdeman church but he seemingly
    became angry at JH and his itinerant preaching, being always gone.
    Minister Frank H Wenger claims that Alpha had a death-bed

    John Holdeman must have been pathetically shameless. Here is a brief
    quote from a letter he sent to his unconverted 14-year-old daughter

    “My dear Anna, I know that you could help me in the work of the Lord
    if you would give your heart to God by a thorough repentance instead
    of talking what you do to the young, would tell them how necessary it
    is to serve God. I also know that you are more or less hindering the
    work of God as long as you do not repent, for a Bishop shall have
    faithful children, obeying their parents in all honor due them.”

    In the “Histories of the Congregations” for Wakarusa, Indiana 1860 –
    1931, JH’s uncle David S Holdeman is listed as being “in full
    fellowship with Bro Holdeman from the beginning”…

    Also in the Wakarusa, Indiana profile, it is mentioned that JH’s uncle
    David S Holdeman & most of his family moved to Hesston KS in 1873.
    This was the first Holdeman Church presence in Kansas.

    David S Holdeman had a son John A Holdeman (a cousin to our hero, the
    most notorious John Holdeman) who was also part of the “True Christian
    Church”, and later became a minister in 1882…

  5. Hiram says:

    Well now that is interesting. Conventional Wisdom has always had it that none of his children joined. Here we see that under severe duress his daughter Anna joined and remained faithful til death. Thank you for this information. As usual, we stand to be rebuked, corrected and reproved! All in the interest of truth justice mercy and love.


    • In the Nov 16, 1920 edition of the Messenger of Truth is a reference
      to Anna, the only child of John Holdeman who was faithful to his
      church. (Anna married Cornelius Gnagy.) The passage in the MOT notes
      that “Brother and Sister CS Gnagy and the aged sister Holdeman are now
      located at 1301 10th St East Hutchinson, Kansas”.

      In the Apr 27, 1925 MOT there is an account by Peter P & Margaret
      Penner of Giroux, Manitoba of a Dec 29, 1924 visit to “brother and
      sister Cor. Gnaggy and their aged mother, widow of late Bishop John
      Holdeman where we were called to memory of the many goods deeds and
      zeal the late Bishop did for the Master; how that he endured so much
      for the cause. Sister Gnaggy was ailing and had been for years. We
      were so well pleased that we could visit the aged mother and the
      brother and sister…”

      In the terminology employed by the Holdeman church, a non-member would
      never be labelled a “brother” or “sister” so clearly Anna Holdeman
      Gnagy was a member of her father’s church at the time of these
      writings. Also note how John Holdeman is referred to as a Bishop.

  6. Godfather says:

    That letter that Holdeman wrote to his daughter really is shameless. The girl was 14 years old! He was trying to make a 14 year old girl take responsibility for him having credibility. He badgers a child to “repent.” This is blatant coercion. No wonder things stand the way they do today. I see that he wrote her a letter. No doubt he was out doing the Lord’s Work and hadn’t seen her for a few months.

  7. Kyle says:

    This site is spreading heretical propoganda. I have noticed that very few people are posting. This whole thing seems to be coming from a guy or guys that think God has given them new light and they are paranoid and delusional.Most of the propoganda is as they themselves say and I quote “Conventional Wisdom” and hearsay and is not based on truth. I think a good name for it would be “The Conference Inquirer”.I give this movement a couple of months at best and it will be history.Makes for hilarious reading though keep it up.

  8. Hiram says:

    Hello Kyle, We have a standard reply for people such as yourself. First of all, we always thank people for commenting and taking an interest in our blog. Beyond that, however we have to say that you seem like a classic troll. If you want to attack the content of the blog, please be helpful enough to point out the the things that you feel constitute heretical propaganda, and please correct us when we are showing ourselves to be paranoid and delusional. If you don’t do these things you yourself will have no credibility. You will seem to simply be afraid of Brother Hiram and making a desperate effort to discredit us. Ultimately you would appear to be enhancing our credibility by your inflammatory and unsubstantiated remarks. Thankyou.

    1. noun: troll
    One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument, simply for recreation and amusement.

    2, noun: troll
    One who purposely and deliberately (that purpose usually being self-amusement) starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers. He will spark off such an argument via the use of ad hominem attacks (i.e. ‘you’re nothing but a fanboy’ is a popular phrase) with no substance or relevence to back them up as well as straw man arguments, which he uses to simply avoid addressing the essence of the issue.

  9. catalyst says:

    Not a lot of people are commenting, but a lot of people are reading! That’s the important thing!

  10. Not So Certain says:

    Some serious thought needs to be given to what is being posted. I doubt Kyle’s approach will be very convincing (trying to poke fun) to those who have meditated on and searched these matters out. It would seem by the tone of Kyle’s post that he has not yet confronted the “monsters” lurking in organized religion. It is likely that he would quite quickly change his tune if and when he does. He is quite relaxed in his current position, not that deep, and although he has serious misgivings, he passes them off with humor and derision. When those who are at ease in Zion come face to face with the brilliant gospel of Jesus, and when they are given opportunity to meet some of God’s dear children who are not members of the Holdeman church, they will react differently. Christian life is not a farce.

  11. Hiram says:

    Not So Certain, you make an interesting point….”the monsters lurking in organized religion.” In these particular writings we are addressing the fallacies of John Holdeman’s grandiose claims, but the actual point is that all organized religion falls prey to the same issues. One person asked earlier if we were offering “viable solutions.” I think you make a point here that the answer simply is not in organized religion. It requires a true seeker to find the path that is away from the crowd. “The Brilliant Gospel of Jesus” is the only viable solution.

  12. holdemanzombie says:

    Kyle posted: “This site is spreading heretical propoganda. I have noticed that very few people are posting. This whole thing seems to be coming from a guy or guys that think God has given them new light and they are paranoid and delusional.Most of the propoganda is as they themselves say and I quote “Conventional Wisdom” and hearsay and is not based on truth. I think a good name for it would be “The Conference Inquirer”.I give this movement a couple of months at best and it will be history.Makes for hilarious reading though keep it up.”

    First of all, Kyle, (probably not your real name), some of us know WHAT and HOW to recognize the INNER CHRIST. You aren’t displaying the characteristics of that INNER CHRIST. You want to display an outer christ which has no inner power. Are you a lover of “TRUTH, JUSTICE, MERCY AND LOVE”?? Try sharing some new light you received from God instead of being un-Christ-like.

    Secondly, if this type of blog doesn’t enhance your christian experience (I understand why it wouldn’t) please find another site where your humor is appreciated. It’s lame and derisive. And, its transparent. Transparency is admirable, but not when it hurts others. I suggest you create your own blog and address YOUR inner cry for acceptance among your peers within the Holdeman church. It is obvious that someone has spent considerable time researching and sharing their passion for truth. I appreciate that unselfishness in Brother Hiram. Please reconsider your contributions here, and remember that others are searching for truth and authenticy how ever and where ever they find it.

    If you have found a safe and secure environment within the Holdeman church for yourself and your family, then be authentic. EMBRACE IT!!. This site is evidently not for you. Some have discovered the lack of safety. This site is a glimpse of the truth. It validates the questions we have had for many years. It gives credibility to our fears and holds out hope for our confusion.

    Kyle, your last comment “Makes for hilarious reading though keep it up” was scathing and bitter. A cheap shot that did not come from a pure heart that is filled with an INNER CHRIST. Anyone who labels this site “hilarious reading” has not understood the subject matter. It is not hilarious. Its what life is all about. Also, “the conference inquirer” has validity. Anything worth believing needs to be scrutinized. Inquire of God. “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

    “Not So Certain”, you made a very good point, “when they are given opportunity to meet some of God’s dear children who are not members of the Holdeman church, they will react differently.”

    I love truth, justice, mercy and love.

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