Special Bible Term

Winter Bible Term with S.C. Yoder as teacher, ca. 1920.

On Monday, January 10, 1910, the first of the long-standing annual Special Bible Terms began. Sixteen students enrolled for the four-week term. J.B. Smith, who would join the academy faculty in the second year, and George R. Brunk, who was relocating from Protection, Kan., to Denbigh, Va., supplemented the teaching faculty. The term’s purpose was to provide Bible and doctrinal instruction for those who could not take regular course work. Bible Term students were also invited to sit in on regular classes, which included “a thorough drill in vocal music.” Tuition was free for ministers and spouses, and for all others $1 a week, or $4 for the term.

Smith and Brunk were collaborators in the campaign for a uniformly plain church as a mark of separation from the world. Wesleyan holiness theology taught that inner spirituality would be expressed in outer simplicity. Though he rejected much of Wesleyanism, Brunk had been impressed by its teaching on plainness. Attending a Free Methodist camp meeting with his brother Joe, George was convicted of the carnal nature of the necktie. He launched a vigorous campaign against the tie and other tokens of worldliness and carnality in Kansas-Nebraska Conference churches. “If the Free Methodists can be plain, Mennonites can be even plainer,” he quipped and he campaigned to make it so.

At length many, T.M. Erb included, were convinced. Erb’s children recalled their father announcing that he was going “to put the devil up the chimney,” before tossing all his neckties in the furnace. Satisfied that the West was “well established in conservatism and fully warned against the influence of Goshen men,” Brunk took his campaign to Virginia. Confirming Brunk’s perception, the conference, in the fall of 1910, reaffirmed their historic position on “Gospel simplicity,” but further resolved to promote “uniformity in attire…as a matter of distinguishing Christians from the world.” The Hesston faculty taught and modeled this emerging doctrine of uniformity, and so expressed its commitment to remain “in the order of the church.”

After 46 years the annual Winter Bible Term was discontinued. An enrollment of seven during the 1955-56 academic year indicated that its usefulness had passed. Hesston’s constituents were making the transition from a traditional rural character to a more urban society; the time when a farmer or farmer’s daughter could take four or six weeks off for a Hesston Bible term was a thing of the past.

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