The Anabaptist Vision Page
by Leonard Gross
(19 July 1897-21 Sept. 1962).
Harold S. Bender was the leading worldwide Mennonite spirit in
his time, ca.1930-1962. He remains best known for his essay,
"The Anabaptist Vision" (1944)--a vision of faithful
disciples gathered in the name and spirit of the Christ of peace.
This vision permeated Bender's life and thought throughout his
lifetime. (See G. F. Hershberger, ed., The Recovery of the
Anabaptist Vision, 1957*)
Bender was born in Elkhart, Ind.
to George Lewis and Elsie (Kolb) Bender. At the time, Elkhart
was at the hub of the Mennonite Church (MC), thanks to John F.
Funk's periodical, Herald of Truth, and the other programs
in publishing, relief work, mission work, mutual aid, and education
that developed there in the 1880s and 1890s.
Bender graduated from Elkhart
High School (1914), Goshen College (Bachelor of Arts, 1918),
Garrett Biblical Institute (Bachelor of Divinity, 1922), Princeton
Theological Seminary (Master of Theology, 1923), Princeton University
(Master of Arts, 1923), and the University of Heidelberg (Doctorate
of Theology, 1935). He attended the University of Tilbingen,
1923-24. In 1923 he married Elizabeth Barbara Horsch; their children
were Mary Eleanor (b. 1927) and Nancy Elizabeth (b. 1933).
Bender taught one year at the
high school in Thorntown, IN (1916-17) and two years at Hesston
College (1918-20). From 1924 to 1962 he was professor at Goshen
College in church history, Bible, and sociology. He was dean
of Goshen College, 1931-44, and dean of Goshen College Biblical
Bender's birth coincided with
the Mennonite renaissance or awakening of the 1880s and 1890s,
which was, in part, the result of a shift in language from German
to English. Mennonites during this era began accepting much within
their new English-speaking, North American culture, including
higher education and a renewed interest in missions, at home
and abroad. Bender's own interest in education should be understood
in this light.
Bender's formative years, on
the other hand, came during a new era of Mennonite Church (MC)
leaders who attempted to establish a new Mennonite orthodoxy
in doctrine and dress, with a certain codification of both, and
imbued to some degree by Fundamentalism. Daniel Kauffman was
the major leader at the time (ca. 1898-1930). His Manual of
Bible Doctrines (1898, 1914, 1928) became the definitive
word for many within the church at that time.
The significance of Bender's
work may be seen in part in terms of how he dealt with these
new trends, both Fundamentalist and Liberal, within the church.
Bender chose a route and approach to vision that differed from
both. It stood in contrast to the Kauffman view of doctrine and
dress, not so much in criticizing it directly, but rather by
circumventing it. Bender chose to express the Christian faith
through the historical process and attempted to rediscover the
Anabaptist vision of biblical faith and life. Bender believed
he was not creating a new theology but was returning to and recovering
an old faith, the faith of his own forebears. In 1927 he created
a journal, Mennonite Quarterly Review (MQR), and in 1929
he founded a scholarly series, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite
History, writing the first volume himself (Two Centuries of
American Mennonite Literature). A dissertation on Conrad
Grebel, one of the founders of Anabaptism (1935, published 1950);
a biography of Menno Simons (1936); Mennonite Origins in Europe
(1942); "The Anabaptist Vision" (1944); The Mennonite
Encyclopedia (4 vols., 1955-59); Biblical Revelation and
Inspiration (1959); These Are My People (1962), indicate
the scope of his efforts to bring about a return to the Anabaptist
faith as he understood it. Throughout all these decades he edited
the MQR and published many shorter essays therin, , as
well as in other scholarly journals and in church papers.
Bender's leadership in the life
of the Mennonite Church (MC), worldwide Mennonitism, and in ecumenical
contacts was evident, in part, through the long list of committees
and organizations in which he was active. Central in Bender's
vision, on all levels of interaction, was his concern for the
way of peace and love as integral to the path Christians should
* The Recovery
of the Anabaptist Vision has been reprinted in "The
Dissent and Nonconformity Series," No. 22, (Number One Iron
Oaks Drive, Paris, Arkansas 72855: The Baptist Standard Bearer,
Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 66-67. All rights reserved.
Order the Mennonite Encyclopedia
frrm the publisher, Herald Press.