Ella M. Rydzewski is editorial assistant at Ministry.

In the early 1900s when my grandfather left the peaceful farmland of Juniata County, Pennsylvania, for Michigan, he turned from his Mennonite identity. Gradually, the family's connection with that church dissolved. Discarding cultural standards, his daughters stopped wearing traditional head coverings and his sons drove cars with unpainted chrome bumpers (their branch of Mennonites felt chrome to be too decorative). But basic Mennonite values remained. My father, for instance, never expressed racial prejudice. He continued to be a pacifist and embraced many Mennonite standards when he joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In an increasingly secular world, Seventh-day Adventists and others struggle to uphold Christian standards, morals, and values. How can a church meet this challenge and minister to the spiritual needs of all people? I have examined three non-Adventist groups to see how they are coping with the problem of standards and what we can learn from them. We will see that one group treats standards as a means of identity, another views standards in a conservatively progressive manner, and the third attempts to present standards solely in the context of Christian love.

The Mennonites

We find 19 Mennonite groups in North America, the largest and oldest being the Mennonite Church. The Mennonite Confession of Faith, adopted on August 22, 1963, relates the distinctive standards followed by the denomination today.

Article 9 states: "The church should witness against racial discrimination, economic injustice, and all forms of human slavery and moral degradation."

Article 14 states: "Symbols of man's headship are to be his short hair and uncovered head while praying or prophesying, and the symbols of woman's role are her long hair and her veiled head."

In article 16 Mennonites are instructed to refuse an unequal yoke with unbelievers and manifest only love to ward other races, cultures, and economic levels. They must avoid harmful drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Adornment as beauty of spirit is expressed in modest, economical, and simple attire. Recreation should be consistent with the Christian walk.

Article 17 forbids taking oaths and op poses membership in secret societies. Article 18 prohibits participation in military service or in law enforcement. 1

Mennonite history—uniqueness as survival

In the early 1500s a group of Anabaptist men met in Zurich, Switzerland, to discuss the rediscovery of the Bible truth of adult baptism. For the next 150 years the sect suffered persecution and excommunication for this and other beliefs. Many fled to other parts of Europe and to America. The more conscious the group became of being strangers in alien lands, the more they emphasized conformity in dress, language, and ethnic customs for the sake of survival.

A schism among seventeenth-century Swiss Anabaptists occurred between Jacob Ammann and moderate leaders. Ammann insisted on consistent application of the ban (shunning) on persons violating church standards. His followers became known as the Amish. Other Dutch and Swiss Anabaptists took the name Mennonites (followers of Menno Simons). This event set the stage for one way this church has dealt with differing ideas in doctrine and lifestyle—by merely forming other Mennonite churches. Since then there have been 25 schisms, many concerning the "issue of plain dress." 3

In the 1920s, men ruled on women's restrictive dress codes. In 1921 not one woman served on the committee that drew up a statement on "dress." Wearing the wrong headgear became grounds for excommunication. Ministers refusing to excommunicate these women lost their jobs. Not until the 1950s did the situation change. 4

Threatened by a changing society, the church in 1956 reaffirmed its positions. Simplicity characterized both personal lifestyle and corporate worship. Neither men nor women wore jewelry. The church forbade theater attendance, smoking, and drinking. They rejected oath-taking, lodge membership, participation in politics of war, membership in labor unions, and divorce. Women always appeared in prayer veils. Musical instruments had no place in worship. Two decades later the list remained intact, though with some prohibitions no longer observed. 5

The Mennonite Church today

Today a different climate exists for North American Mennonites than for their seventeenth-century forebears for whom uniqueness meant survival. Contacts with other Christians have opened Mennonites up to other aspects of the Christian faith. But Mennonite customs and attitudes have caused barriers to communication.6 The article that sparks the most disagreement today is number 14, which implies that women must have long hair and must veil their heads during worship. According to Daniel Hertzler, editor of the Gospel Herald, the denomination's primary journal, "liberated" Mennonite women consider this problematic. He feels that members widely support the other articles on behavior and relationship to social and political orders.

Studies published in 1975 by J. H. Kauffman and Leland Harder indicate that most Mennonites do observe church standards. These two scholars concentrated on the five largest Mennonite groups in North America. Their study does not include cultural standards, such as the wearing of jewelry and the prayer veil, which vary in the five groups. The accompanying table gives the results of a portion of this study. The results are similar to what researchers discovered in a study done among Adventist students in 1984. 7

Variables cross-tabulated with age, residence, education, and income in the Mennonite study show that age makes the biggest difference in members' reaction to church standards. Increasing age means greater restrictiveness, except that teenagers are more restrictive than young adults in their 20s, who hold the most lenient views.8

In a comparison with Lutheran racial attitudes, the Mennonites show significantly less racial prejudice. Attitudes against premarital sex and abortion predominate. The former varies with educational level. Overall, 84 percent state that sex between unmarried persons is never justifiable. The proportion of those who believe this varies from 90 per cent of those with an elementary school education to 75 percent among those who have attended college. Most favor abortion only if the mother's health is threatened (73 percent). About half approve of legalizing abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape or when the baby is likely to be defective. Strong opinion dominates against legalizing abortion for economic or personal preference reasons. 9 Mennonites draw attention to ecological issues in the church press with a fervor sparked by their religious views. "It is time to scrap the consumer society and build the conserver society ... to bring our influence and actions, our way of life and use of resources, into harmony with the mind of God in creation," 10 writes one author in the Gospel Herald. However, some feel that increasing influence by conservative fundamentalists threatens the Mennonite emphasis on social concerns. 11

High standards produce stress if not balanced with faith. According to Al Dueck, a professor at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California, Mennonites experience depression at a greater-than-average rate. A case presented at a psychologists' conference found one individual's depression related to her belief that her church's rigid ethic did not allow for creativity and individuality. Guilt and perfectionism may also contribute to depression. Another factor may be that rituals of forgiveness have been de-emphasized in Mennonite churches, resulting in forgiveness not being felt on an emotional level. 12

The Nazarenes

While Mennonites have shown a tendency to divide into new churches, Nazarenes have a history of adding new groups to the main body. Nazarene history goes back to the Wesleyan holiness idea of entire sanctification.

The movement grew out of organizations begun in the eastern United States in the 1880s that promoted this doctrine. In 1885 Phineas F. Bresee and J. P. Widney, M.D., formed a small holiness group called the Church of the Nazarene in Los Angeles, California, with 135 members. In 1908 groups from the East and South joined with them to form the denomination as we know it today. By 1958 seven other holiness groups had joined.

Nazarene Church standards and values

The 1985 Manual of the Church of the Nazarene includes general church standards in its constitution, section 26.2. Members shall evidence their commitment to God "by avoiding evil of every kind, including: taking the name of God in vain, profaning the Lord's Day, sexual immorality, health-destroying habits, quarreling, returning evil for evil, gossiping, slandering, and dishonesty; the indulging of pride or immodesty in dress or behavior; or music, literature, and entertainment that dishonors God."13

A "Special Rules" section discusses avoiding the motion-picture theater and certain types of television programs, lotteries and gambling, membership in secret societies, dancing, use and trafficking in alcohol or tobacco, and unprescribed use of drugs. Subsequent sections condemn homosexual practices and uphold marriage (divorce and remarriage being allowed only in the case of adultery). Abortion is permissible only if the mother's life is endangered. 14

An appendix section examines current moral and social issues such as racial discrimination, tobacco, dancing, pornography, etc. Members may register as conscientious objectors in the military. The Manual urges exercising Christian judgment in the matter of swimming or sunbathing in public places. 15 In accordance with the requirement of simplicity as interpreted at the time of their origin, Nazarenes did not wear jewelry for many years. But this restriction never appeared in the Manual.

The General Assembly is the doctrinal and lawmaking body of the Church of the Nazarene. This grass roots group, com posed of ministerial and lay delegates, meets every four years. The Manual, regularly updated to include new issues, contains decisions of that assembly.

Nazarenes today

Talking to those involved with youth provides valuable insights about the life and direction of a religious organization. An interview with Ronald Fox, director of admissions at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego, discloses recent trends in the Nazarene lifestyle. Several years ago this college moved from the more conservative Pasadena area to the casual atmosphere of San Diego. The change in environment altered dress codes to a more casual style. "It would be inappropriate," Fox says in discussing regional standards, "to dress in the Midwest the way students dress here the climate and the atmosphere of the community are different."

Regional differences indicate that some standards are cultural. Robert W. Smith, assistant professor of religion, noted that as a child he never played sports or ate out on Sunday, as most Nazarenes in southern California do today. "Sunday-keeping practices are very regional," he says. He personally feels one should allow Sunday to be unique by cur tailing activities that direct away from God.

Is there a loosening of morals among Nazarene youth as in society? Fox replies: "We are more open in discussing issues than in the past. We have no secondary school system, and some students come from public schools with a problem accepting authority." Fox noted the trend beginning in the early 1970s. "There are a lot of young people with psychological problems traceable to humanistic public education."

Nazarenes take a stand against movies. However, only 43 percent of the students at Point Loma are Nazarene, and the school does not dictate to non-Nazarene students on the subject. Fox speculates that a revision of the movie policy will possibly come soon and will include a rating system.

Nazarenes make their strongest stand against alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Persons using them may not attend Point Loma. The school offers counseling to students caught using alcohol. If students refuse help, they are asked to consider leaving; after two or three infractions, the school demands that they leave. Drug users must leave the campus immediately, and the school attempts to work with them in their home situations. Fox does not believe drug use is widespread on the campus.

The practice of not wearing jewelry has gradually changed. When Fox was ordained in 1971, pastors did not wear wedding bands, but a short time later all of them did. Except for some members over 65, jewelry is no longer an issue. Fox does not believe the change has had any effect on the spirituality of the church. "There is definitely no correlation," he states emphatically. Actually, in recent years he has observed increasing spirituality and enthusiasm for religious subjects among students.

The Catholic reformers

Historically, rigidity and isolation characterize the Catholic orders, while the laity's behavior reflects current culture. Despite their worldly actions, human beings have a spiritual dimension. A recent survey of Catholic youth revealed that they desire an active prayer life, a more peaceful world, and understandable teachings from their church. The survey also revealed that only 44 percent believe that God answers prayers, 19 percent believe that sex belongs only in marriage, and 47 percent believe that Christians have an obligation to the poor. Yet 53 percent believe in the Second Coming. 16

With its moral influence waning and its effectiveness in fulfilling spiritual needs questionable, this cumbersome church is experiencing a number of renewal movements. The Little Brothers and Sisters of Charity is a lay group seeking to meet people's needs while remaining true to a moral, obedient, simple, and joyful lifestyle. Founded in the early 1980s, their sponsoring organization is the Little Portion Hermitage (LPH) in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. LPH takes the Bible and the life of Saint Francis of Assisi (who took a vow of poverty to preach and pray with the people) as their guides. John Michael Talbot, a religious musician and writer, founded Little Portion in the late 1970s. Started primarily as Catholic organizations, both groups are open to Christians of all denominations. People join because they share a vision that in nearly all ways runs counter to modern American materialism.

At retreats participants wear minimal makeup; modest, simple clothing; and little jewelry except religious symbols. No one smokes at these gatherings. Some from the Hermitage wear the traditional plain monk's garb. An observer might assume that this group has a list of specific rules to promote such simplicity. But we find their only rules in the "rule for life," on which Talbot and his wife, Viola, collaborated. It consists solely of Bible scriptures. Devoted to a common cause, members seek to live a simple and wholesome existence in the manner of their Saviour.

"Simplicity starts with cutting back a little," states Talbot. Though he writes extensively about simplicity, he does not lay down specific rules. He permits each individual to decide how to live, based on where he or she is in his or her spiritual journey. "Our wants are killing the needy," he declares, expressing his belief that a radical change of lifestyle and a biblical view of history is vital to Christianity.

The group at LPH hopes to bring more people—Catholics and non-Catholics—into a more intimate relationship with Christ. They encourage personal standards based on love for Christ and humanity. They promote ecological concerns and sponsor sacrificial programs to feed the hungry. The principles of chastity, prayer, worship, religious study, and obedience to God are to pervade the life. These practices seem to result in behavioral changes, such as simplicity in diet and dress and increased apostolic service. At least in this first phase of their development, there is a strong sense of community.


In studying Mennonites and Nazarenes, we find a consensus on decidedly moral issues and practices relating to good health. Differences occur regarding appearance. Mennonite dress codes have their roots in an ethnic background that sought identity and survival in appearance. As with Adventists, Nazarene standards relate to the church's origin in the nineteenth century. Its theological understanding of complete sanctification also plays a significant role. The Nazarene Church is undergoing a gradual but balanced change, often regionally based, and the church regularly updates its Manual to include new issues. Both groups show generational differences in accepting change.

Studies reveal nonconformance among some Mennonites on some important values. This may reflect a dissatisfaction with the church's rigidity concerning less significant behavior. The church is struggling to guard the tradition of the fathers without becoming static. 17 Members holding more liberal cultural views than their present church may join another Mennonite group without denying their basic faith. Many Amish become Mennonites for this reason.

Despite their ethnicity, Mennonites have a great sense of responsibility to others. A social consciousness, complemented by high moral and ethical standards, makes a unique and admirable faith.

Christ-centered reform movements within the Roman Catholic Church are a cause for rejoicing, but only time will tell how much influence they will have. Will a group such as LPH maintain its enthusiasm? Some of their concepts deviate from current Catholic interpretation. This causes observers to wonder how long LPH can remain true to its vision and still be acceptable to the Catholic Church. Or if a time of decision comes, will loyalty to a church organization finally cause a loss of vision?

If we as Seventh-day Adventists added to our high moral standards the greater social concern of the Mennonites and the openness to cultural change of the Nazarenes, and presented these principles in the Christ-centered manner of the LPH reformers, we might have less problems with standards.

The focus of simplicity must be Christ. All three groups share a belief in His soon coming. No doubt because of its "newness," LPH puts more urgency into this teaching, for, as Talbot states, "troublesome times are coming upon the earth," and "Jesus is the answer." This was the final answer that went beyond denominations for my grandfather, and it is the answer for each one of us.

1 Mennonite Confession of Faith (Scottdale,
Perm.: Herald Press, 1963), Articles 9, 14, 16, 17,
and 18.

2 Thomas Finger, "Why We Have Been Skeptical,"
Gospel Herald, May 19, 1987, p. 339.

3 J. Howard Kauffrnan and Leland Harder,
Anabaptists Four Centuries Later (Scottdale, Penn.:
Herald Press, 1975), p. 34.

4 Elaine Sommers Rich, Mennonite Women
(Scottdale, Penn.: Herald Press, 1983), p. 228.
Kauffman and Harder, p. 35.

6 Finger, p. 339.

7 Roger Dudley, "Adventist Values: Flying
High?" Ministry, April 1985, p. 4.

8 Kauffman and Harder, pp. 128, 129.

9 Ibid., pp. 141, 180, 181.

10 Keith Helmuth, "Some Theological Implications
of Acid Rain," Gospel Herald, May 12, 1987,
p. 325.

11 Kauffman and Harder, pp. 340, 341.

12 "Church News," Gospel Herald, May 12,
1987, p. 328.

13 1985 Manual, Church of the Nazarene (Kansas
City, Mo.: Nazarene Publishing House, 1985), pp.
34, 35.

14 Ibid., pp. 41-48.

15 Ibid., pp. 279-283.

16 James Breig, "The Young and the Restless:
What Catholic Teens Think About Their
Church," U.S. Catholic, December 1988, pp. 10-

17 Kauffman and Harder, p. 33.

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Ella M. Rydzewski is editorial assistant at Ministry.

October 1989

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