History of Bluffton North Apostolic Christian Church

Although its founder was not directly related to the Protestant Reformation, the roots of the Bluffton North Apostolic Christian Church start there. When Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Fives Theses on the church door in 1517, he began a revival that affected the liturgy and legislation of Christendom. This change was brought about by an emphasis on three key points: Scripture is the only authority for Christians (sola scriptura), Christians are saved through faith, not works (sola fide), and all Christians have equal access to God through Jesus Christ (priesthood of all believers). In the midst of this reformation, another group of men and women sought to go further than the Protestants and worked to restore the church to a simpler form.

Eight years after the famous Theses sparked the Reformation, a more radical form of transformation began in Switzerland. These people were considered radical due to four core beliefs: all Christians should vote on church matters (congregationalism), the government should not force its citizens to adopt a certain faith (separation of church and state), Christians are to meet violence with non-violence (pacifism), and baptism should only be given to those who are old enough to repent of their sins (believer’s baptism). The fourth aspect of their teaching unintentionally gave them a new name. Because of their rejection of infant baptism, the Radical Reformers were re-baptized after their confession of faith. As a result, their critics labeled them Anabaptist (ana–again/ baptized). Tragically, many critics went beyond slander and brutally executed Anabaptists. The peace-loving Radicals were caught between a power struggle as various Christians sects battled for political control in Europe. It was into this world that the founder of the Apostolic Christian Church was born.

Although the state church worked against God’s message, church leaders continued preaching the Gospel, and traveled through Switzerland establishing congregations: this was the beginning of the Apostolic Christian Church (originally called Evangelical Baptist). In the years that followed, state church magistrates persecuted members of the church, so many traveled to America for spiritual freedom.

Among the many immigrants to America were Isaac Gerhing (from Switzerland) and Joseph Bella (from Hungary). Although strangers in Europe, they met in America and became close friends. This relationship eventually led two other friends to start the Bluffton Apostolic Christian Church.

In 1851, two men, Ulrich Kipfer and Matthias Strahm along with their families emigrated from Switzerland to America. Both were from Anabaptist congregations and eventually settled around an established Anabaptist congregation in Indiana. One year later, when the leader of their new congregation passed away, the church fell into years of confusion and conflict. Ulrich and Matthias remembered a congregation of the Apostolic Church in Sardis, Ohio, and walked 260 miles to visit it.

Although Ulrich and Matthias’ stay in Sardis was brief, it created a lasting legacy. They met Isaac Gerhing and Joseph Bella and discussed the Christian faith. Both men committed their lives to Christ and joined the new church. They traveled back to their home and eagerly told their friends and family what they had learned. Later, Joseph Bella traveled to Indiana to reunite with Ulrich and Matthias. While there, he baptized 18 people, and the Bluffton Apostolic Church was born. In the years that followed, it experienced great growth.

The original church met in houses until it built a small church in 1867. This church became too small, and a new church was built in 1897 with a seating capacity of 450 people. In 1949, the church once again became too small for its congregation, and a new church was built to seat 1,500 people. When in 1981 the congregation once again outgrew their building, they elected to build a separate church a few miles away and start a new congregation.

This new 25,000 square-foot church was built on what was then the northern edge of the city of Bluffton. In order to distinguish it from the Bluffton congregation, it was dubbed Bluffton North. The new congregation held its first services on Thanksgiving Day, 1982. While Bluffton North is a separate congregation than the Bluffton church, the two churches remain close to this day.

Following the Eldership of Orville Ringger, Bluffton Country, Phil Stettner was ordained as the first Elder at Bluffton North on 2/05/1984. On April 13th of 2008 Phil was succeeded by Steve Ringger as Elder.

Looking to the future, the members of Bluffton North seek to spread the same powerfully simple truth that: although we are natural-born sinners, Christ offers us forgiveness and fellowship with the Holy Spirit.