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Bender, Harold Stauffer
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 Seminary, 1944-62.

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 take.

* 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, Inc., n.d.).

Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 66-67. All rights reserved. Order the Mennonite Encyclopedia frrm the publisher, Herald Press.

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