History and faith heritage

Historical sketch

The university was founded in 1899 as Central Mennonite College, an institution to educate the young people of the Middle District of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Soon related groups in the United States and Canada were included in its constituency. Today Bluffton University is one of five Mennonite colleges and universities affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Although Bluffton is a Mennonite institution, from the very beginning it has been open to all worthy students irrespective of sex, color, nationality or church affiliation. Now, as in the past, the university adheres to this policy and, in fact, the majority of Bluffton University students represent faiths other than Mennonite.

In the early years the school functioned primarily as an academy. Courses on a junior college level were introduced and by 1915 the first baccalaureate degrees were conferred. Meanwhile, in 1914, Central Mennonite College was reorganized as Bluffton College. A theological seminary was added as a corporate part of the college, and from 1921 to 1931, it functioned on the campus as an independent institution, Witmarsum Theological Seminary. In 1995, Bluffton began offering graduate programs. On August 1, 2004, Bluffton College was renamed Bluffton University, in reflection of its evolving educational program.

The institution has had ten presidents: Dr. N.C. Hirschy, 1900-1908; Dr. S.K. Mosiman, 1910-1935; the Rev. Dr. A.S. Rosenberger, 1935-1938; Dr. L.L. Ramseyer, 1938-1965; Dr. Robert S. Kreider, 1965-1972; Dr. Benjamin Sprunger, 1972-1977; Dr. Elmer Neufeld, 1978-1996; Dr. Lee F. Snyder, 1996-2006; Dr. James M. Harder, 2006-2018; Dr. Jane M. Wood, 2018-present.

Bluffton's Mennonite heritage

The Mennonite people originated in the Anabaptist movement of the Reformation period. The early leaders, including Conrad Grebel in Switzerland, 1525, and Menno Simons in the Netherlands, 1536, sought to recover a New Testament view of the church and the Christian life. The Anabaptists and their Mennonite heirs have been at one with other Christians in the great affirmations of the faith: God becoming human, the servant lordship of Christ, the reconciling power of the Gospel of Christ, the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, the ecclesial reliability of the Scriptures.

The Anabaptists made the interpretation and practice of the Bible central to their lives together. From this flowed convictions that: 1) the church is a community composed of believers; 2) the essence of Christian life and faith is discipleship, apostleship, servanthood; and 3) the ethic of love should control all relationships. In the Mennonite heritage, this has led to visible practices of social witness. The Christian is called to a life of love, reconciliation and peacemaking. Life is to be lived with material simplicity. Nature is considered a gift of God and to be cherished with a sense of gratitude and stewardship. One cannot separate faith from life. Loving, sacrificial service is the highest expression of faithfulness to Christ.

These and other convictions have shaped the minds and the lives of many who serve and have served Bluffton University as teachers, students and friends. The convictions of other Christian traditions also are valued in the university's life and thought. While it is not assumed that all faculty, staff and students will be of one mind on all issues of faith and practice, it can be expected that the Christian church and the affirmations of Christian faith and life will be addressed seriously, responsibly and with conviction.

The most recent systematic expression of faith for Mennonites is the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, adopted in July 1995. For more information on various Mennonite position statements, see

Faith lived out at Bluffton University

While Bluffton University aims to help Mennonite students grow in an appreciative response and commitment to the fundamental elements of this heritage, it also believes that the Christian insights in this heritage have value for people of other backgrounds. It aims, therefore, to make its program and facilities equally available to all scholastically qualified students who accept and respect its objectives and standards.

Bluffton's motto is taken from the words of Christ in the Gospel of John: The truth makes free. On a daily basis, this truth finds expression at Bluffton through the four enduring values of discovery, community, respect and service.

  • Discovery embodies the explorative nature of our academic offerings and cross cultural requirements, the development of new relationships and experiences, and the uncovering of personal spirituality and faith.
  • Community represents the rich collaboration among faculty, students and staff, the residential and intimate nature of our campus, and the importance of the shared experience for discerning direction and meaning of life.
  • Respect encompasses and symbolizes our sensitivity to diversity within our community and to our commitments to peaceful resolution of conflict and to environmental stewardship.
  • Service personifies our heartfelt community outreach to meet the needs of others and offers a means for helping to achieve a more fully reconciled, peaceful world.

May 2019