Sharing about the life, work of Elmer Martens


Colleagues, former students and friends reflect on their memories of Elmer Martens and how Martens impacted them personally and professionally. Martens, who served MB Biblical Seminary as a president and faculyt member, died September 21, 2016, at the age of 86.

You are invited to share your stories and reflections of Elmer via email to the CL editor ( or by using the comment feature at the end of this entry. Once your comment has been reviewed by the editor, it will be published.


India holds memorial service: email from Paul Gandham

A thanksgiving meeting in memory of our beloved brother in Christ, Rev. Dr. Elmer Martens was held at MB Church Jadcherla  in India on September 28, 2016. Rich tributes were paid to the eminent scholar for his services in India MB Conference. As a mark of remembrance of Elmer's simplicity, humility and faithfulness in Christ and his service, "Washing of the Feet" was observed. The theological fraternity in MB India is privileged to associate with Elmer and extend their prayers and condolences to the family in this moment of sorrow. However, the blessed hope we have in Christ and the Comforter we have in the Holy Spirit will endure us and the bereaved family. To God be the glory.



A blessing to India: Rev.B.I.Premaiah

Dr. Elmer is very simple and humble. He had a great passion for the Church in general and India Church in particular. Whenever he visited India, apart from teaching, he used to visit churches and conduct seminars for pastors. I had the privilege of participating in some of his seminars which was personally enriching. 

His tireless efforts in the ministry was blessing to many people in India. Elmer Martens is a man of commitment, dedication and discipline.  He was my mentor and well-wisher. He was guiding me in my PhD dissertation. During our morning walks and other times in the Bible College, he always used to discuss relevant theological issues and inspiring sermons. When I was going through a time of discouragement, he stood by me, encouraged and comforted me.

With Elmer’s motivation, I was able to co-author  “Knowing and Living your Faith – A Study of the Confession of Faith” with Dr. Lynn Jost. Elmer used to encourage stimulating interactions in the classes.  His FORMAL method in exegesis enabled the students to approach the text with confidence. His death is a great loss to the theological fraternity. As it is rightly mentioned in M.B. Herald, Elmer A. Martens was a  great scholar, teacher, administrator and pastor.

It is nothing but a divine providence that Phyllis joined Elmer in glory. She was an able partner, godly in all aspects and exhibited motherly treatment to all the people she interacted in India alongside Elmer. She was a gifted artist and a prayer warrior.

May God comfort the bereaved family and continue to use them to further the cause of Christ all across the Globe.   

Rev.B.I.Premaiah is assistant professor of Old Testament at MB Centenary Bible College in Shamshabad, India.


Appreciation for international contributions: David Wiebe
Elmer was passionate about the church and that included the global Mennonite Brethren family. The deployment of his teaching and leadership gifts contributed to our movement in ways too great to measure. But there is one we would like to highlight as a direct contribution to the International Community of Mennonite Brethren (ICOMB): his vision for a commentary on the International Confession of Faith that had been completed in 2004. He recruited authors from around the MB world to write commentaries and lessons on each segment of the confession. It has been translated and published into 15 languages and forms the foundation of every new ICOMB member. His invaluable work in this specific project will impact our global movement for decades.
We thank God for Elmer Martens — for his love and his energy generously given to us in so many ways. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. May the Lord grant him a rich entrance into the kingdom.

David Wiebe is the executive director of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren.


Contributions as a scholar, friend: Douglas B. Miller

I met Elmer Martens in the spring of 1980 when I traveled from my home in Phoenix to visit Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary (then MB Biblical Seminary). I still can recall sitting in on the Old Testament exegesis class for which Elmer was the professor. He was welcoming, enthusiastic and clearly loved the Hebrew Bible.

Over the next eight years, I had several encounters with Elmer when he participated in research projects of which I was an assistant. I started to get a glimpse of the diversity of his interests, his keen mind and his collegial relations with a variety of other scholars. Upon starting to teach at Tabor College, I began to use in my classroom, and thus to better appreciate, the riches of his contributions to Old Testament scholarship, perhaps most significantly his biblical theology published as God’s Design (now in its 4th edition, 2015).

Somewhere around 1990, in his role as Old Testament editor of the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, he invited me to consider writing the volume on Ecclesiastes. Then six years after that, he invited me to apply to replace him as editor of that series. (When I accepted that role, he kindly came back to see my own volume through to publication.) That was also about the time when he wished to step back from his role as editor of Direction, the Mennonite Brethren academic journal. I stepped into both those editing roles, with the way well-plowed before me by his able scholarship and creative energy.

As I reflect on my interactions with Elmer over the past twenty years, several things stand out. He was always quick with encouragement. (“Just to drop you a note of congratulations!”) I also remember his gentle reproofs (“My editor’s eye could not help but notice….”). He regularly requested prayer for himself and others regarding projects in which he was participating, for the place of academic gifts in the church and for Christians around the world. (I still have an email in which he recounted sharing the gospel with Chinese interrogators who interrupted his teaching of underground church leaders in China, January 2008.) Elmer was a bridge-builder in numerous cooperative ventures both within and outside of the academy, always seeking to strengthen the church, always promoting the gospel and eager to hear how things were going.

Every time I saw Elmer, he seemed to have just as much energy as always. In fact, rumors may have begun to circulate that Elmer would not die before the Lord came again! My last personal fellowship with him happened early this past summer when he called to say he was in the area and wondered if I was home. He and Phyllis dropped by and we caught up. My last email from Elmer was on July 19, in which he excitedly mentioned heading for Branson for a family reunion celebrating his and Phyllis’s 60th anniversary. He also enthusiastically accepted an invitation to write an essay reflecting on his academic life and ministry, a piece I now fear we will never read.

I am confident that as a result of his passing I will hear many more stories of his adventures, his graciousness, his love for God and people, and the ways God used and blessed him in the mission of God’s kingdom. Several persons have been significant in my academic faith journey, but Elmer stands out among them. He will be greatly missed.

Douglas B. Miller is professor of biblical and religious studies at Tabor College, the Mennonite Brethren-owned college located in Hillsboro, Kan.


From a colleague and former student: Jules Glanzer

There are a handful of men that have greatly impacted my life. One of these is Dr. Elmer Martens, Old Testament professor at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary. Yesterday he was called to his eternal home where today he is singing with Jesus and has a new understanding of God's Design. 

For those of you who might not know, Dr. Martens' work, which culminated in his book God's Design, is one of the foundational texts used by our Bible department at Tabor College in shaping the lives of our students.  His work was also the core of my doctoral dissertation on leadership.  But his impact was so much more than ideas communicated through lectures, articles and a book. 

Dr. Martens, or Elmer, as we called him, taught me to love the Scriptures, embrace scholarship and consider the context of the stories.  I learned from him how to love and preach from the Old Testament. I will always recall my first day in seminary when I took Old Testament Survey.  As he discussed literary genre, archeology, form criticism and the Hebrew script, my mind exploded and my faith was put to the test.  With tenderness and humility he brought the Scriptures to life, and I learned how my story intersected with God's story. 

In recent years, when he would visit Tabor, his alma mater, we would talk about presidential things. He, being a former president of the seminary, had great empathy for the challenges and decisions that a college president faces. His warmth, affirmation and insights always invigorated me. When I was with him, I always felt like I was once again a student learning from one of the great scholars of the faith. Hearing his affirmations and encouragements always inspired me to reach for new heights.  My bucket always felt full when I left his presence. 

In September of 2013, Elmer and Phyllis visited campus and I gave them a tour using the newly acquired golf cart.  At the end he said he wanted to bless me.  He quoted Psalm 27 and encouraged me to "Be Strong." It was so meaningful. It encouraged my heart. It was just what I needed to hear.  And coming from him, a former president and also someone who taught me so much, it had a special meaning. 

Dr. Martens, thank you for investing in me, in Tabor and in making the world more as God wants it to be. You will always be remembered with fondness. 

Jules Glanzer is president of Tabor College, the Mennonite Brethren college in Hillsboro, Kan.

PHOTO: Elmer Martens, fourth from left, stands with individuals who were all at one time president of a Mennonite Brethren institution. The photo, provided by Jules Glanzer, was taken at a recent Tabor College President's Dinner in California.


Remembering a neighbor and colleague: Tim and Jill Schellenberg

Elmer Martens was a leading Old Testament scholar, author, pastor, seminary president, professor and conference leader. However those incredible accomplishments were only a part of Elmer’s life. He poured his love into his neighbors. Until recently he went around the neighborhood and collected wood that he cut up and brought to people who had fireplaces. He was well known for inviting people to church and it was fun to see him sitting in the pew on Sunday with an assortment of people. Elmer was immensely generous, helping neighbors and acquaintances in financial and practical ways.  He had a worldwide and local missional interest. In these last years he traveled to China and India teaching and preaching. He returned with a burden and a joy for various projects that he supported and now wanted others to support as well.

Along with his personal discipleship, he was a volunteer in various restorative justice programs. He volunteered his time with victim offender reconciliation program (VORP) and mediated between juvenile offenders and their victims. He spent time weekly working with Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) for high risk sex offenders. Why would such an accomplished scholar, seminary president and professor cut up wood for neighbors, mediate with juvenile offenders and work with sex offenders? He always wanted to live out his faith to the best of his ability.

Elmer was one of the best examples we can think of when it came to making their faith known in everyday life. He is a great inspiration to us. We have lost a pillar of the faith. If Elmer were here he would demur from the praise and turn the question on you. What are you doing to live out your faith? Our job is to live our lives for Christ in the same way Elmer did. He will be very missed.

Tim and Jill Schellenberg, currently residents of Hillsboro, Kan., previously lived in Fresno, Calif., where they and Elmer and Phyllis Martens attended North Fresno MB Church. The lives of both couples were also connected in a variety of other ways including community service through VORP and COSA and as neighbors of Elmer's children. Tim is currently a chaplain with Good Shepherd Hospice in Newton, Kan., and visition pastor at Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro. Jill is assistant professor of criminology and restorative justice at Tabor College as well as the director of the TC Criminology and Restorative Justice Program.

Negotiating church and school: Jon Isaak

Elmer Martens (1930-2016) was one of my favorite seminary professors. His remarkable presentation style, vibrant Christian testimony, and advocacy for students was exemplary and inspiring. I recall with fondness how excited he could become over one of my ideas, often seeing potential long before I did, ready with suggestions for turning a paper into a publication.


For many, negotiating the gap between the academy and the church proves to be a challenge. Not so for Elmer.  He modeled a happy relationship between scholarship and pulpit ministry. Whether writing a journal article, a church newspaper column or a Sunday sermon, his prose always sparkled with clarity, elegance and well-chosen words. Known as an exceptional preacher (someone who memorized his manuscript and preached without notes), his preaching was appreciated in his home congregation and at national/international gatherings.


Elmer’s energetic personality gave him a competitive edge. Whether it was to argue a theological point, to secure a better financial arrangement or to make a game-winning move, Elmer loved the “cut and thrust” of debate. This sort of sparring was the “stuff of life” for Elmer, and life would be “oh-so-boring” without it. As one who came to cherish him (and still to disagree with him at points!), I found his rigor to be both stimulating and motivational.


I am especially grateful that he stopped in Winnipeg for a visit in July, when he and Phyllis were on a long road trip through Canada and the U.S., celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. As we said goodbye after lunch together, he prayed for me and recited a Psalm of blessing for my encouragement. It was classic Elmer. I thank God for mentors like Elmer; and I will miss him deeply.


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