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Brethren

BRETHREN

BRETHREN (often nicknamed Dunkers) originated in central Germany in 1708. They were former Reformed and Lutheran Pietists (largely from the Palatinate), dissatisfied with state-linked churches. Pietism sought to complete the reformation of doctrine with a reformation of life. Earnest Christians gathered in small groups to search the Scriptures for guidance. Those who participated often suffered expulsion from their homes.

These religious refugees found temporary haven after 1700 in the county of Wittgenstein. As they continued their Bible studies, they became aware of passages that called for resolution of difficulties by appeal to the church. At that point having no such organization, five men and three women considered how to proceed. They were influenced by Anabaptism (rebaptism), a radical movement of the sixteenth century. Anabaptists differed from larger Protestant bodies by their concerns for a covenanted church formed through the baptism of adult believers, religious liberty, and pacifism. The Wittgenstein settlers were attracted to these beliefs because they understood them to be biblical. However, they did not wish to join contemporary Anabaptists known as Mennonites, because (in their view) after long decades of persecution, these Anabaptists had lost their original vitality.

The original group of eight therefore proceeded to organize themselves as an Anabaptist congregation, choosing a former miller, Alexander Mack Sr. (1679–1735), as their minister. The Brethren were so evangelistic that from this modest start their numbers increased within twelve years to about five hundred adult members. They initiated daughter congregations in Wetteravia, the Palatinate, Switzerland, Hamburg-Altona, and the lower Rhine region.

Emigration and Expansion

This expansion drew opposition. The Wetteravian body was expelled in 1715, finding refuge in Krefeld on the lower Rhine. However, when these members continued to evangelize, they again were prosecuted. The first band of Brethren emigrated from the lower Rhine area to Pennsylvania in 1719. After settling there, they reorganized in 1723 in Germantown, near Philadelphia. Once again they reached out to baptize others, soon founding new congregations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The original congregation in Wittgenstein, some two hundred in number, relocated in 1720 in Friesland but moved on as a body to Pennsylvania in 1729, led by Alexander Mack. By 1740 there was no organized Brethren activity left in Europe.

Upon arrival in Pennsylvania, Mack found that all was not well with the Brethren in America. A charismatic mystic named Conrad Beissel (1691–1768) drew many Brethren (and others) into the Ephrata Cloister. Its artistic and musical achievements won international fame. Despite this schism, by 1770 there were some 1,500 adult members, with congregations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas.

During the national period, Brethren moved westward with the expansion of the frontier, among the earliest settlers in Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, and Kansas. The first Brethren reached the West Coast by 1850. Unity was preserved by traveling elders and an annual meeting that brought large numbers to a central location for joint worship and business meetings. Most Brethren were farmers and sought fertile lands where they settled in rather isolated, German-speaking enclaves. By the end of the eighteenth century, Brethren had adopted a uniformly styled plain dress, with beards and broad-brim hats for men and form-concealing dark dresses and bonnets for women. This plain style persisted, despite increasing resistance, until 1911, when congregations were allowed to relax these guidelines. By 2000, only a few congregations in southeastern Pennsylvania and Maryland persisted with this costume.

Division

After 1850 new methods of church work began to make inroads, with resultant tensions within the church, now known as the German Baptist Brethren. These included periodicals, Sunday schools, higher education, revival meetings, and financial support for ministers (who were self-supporting). Conservative leaders opposed these innovations and also the growing calls for sending missionaries to isolated rural areas and cities (home missions) and to other nations (foreign missions). They (correctly) predicted that the latter programs would result in more rationalized organization to raise funds, recruit personnel, and administer overseas projects.

These tensions led to a three-way split in the early 1880s. The most conservative took the name Old German Baptist Brethren, the most progressive, the Brethren Church, each numbering about five thousand. The much larger middle grouping (about 50,000) retained the name German Baptist Brethren until 1908, when it was changed to the present Church of the Brethren. In 1926 a small number of conservative members branched off to form the Dunkard Brethren. In 1939 the Brethren Church divided with the formation of the Fellowship of Grace Churches, which in turn split with the emergence of the Conservative Grace Brethren Churches by 1991.

Outreach and Organization

The Church of the Brethren began in the 1940s to become increasingly ecumenical, with active membership in national and world councils of churches. As one of the Historic Peace Churches (along with Mennonites and Friends), Brethren wish to work positively for peace. During World War II, the church began large-scale social-action projects on an international basis, sponsored by the Brethren Service Commission. Several of these are well known, such as the Heifer Project International and the Christian Rural Overseas Program (CROP). Brethren helped to create the International Voluntary Service program, a direct forerunner of the Peace Corps. The Brethren Volunteer Service program has placed thousands of younger Brethren and others in social projects in the United States and abroad since 1948.

In polity, Brethren have balanced congregational independence with a strong connectionalism. The final authority in matters of church doctrine and practice is the Annual Conference, a delegated body meeting in late June and early July with sites rotated around the nation. Delegates elect a general board of twenty, who employ staff to execute the programs of the church; they are largely based at offices in Elgin, Illinois, and New Windsor, Maryland, but are increasingly dispersed. Agencies related to the Annual Conference are the Association of Brethren Caregivers, Bethany Theological Seminary, Brethren Benefit Trust, and On Earth Peace Assembly. The approximately 1,030 congregations are organized into twenty-three districts.

Although noncreedal, Brethren share basic Protestant convictions, and their worship services are similar to those of other Protestant churches. The central liturgical observance is the "love feast," consisting of an examination service, foot washing, fellowship meal, and commemorative bread-and-cup Eucharist. A distinguishing feature is the manner of baptism of professing converts, a threefold forward immersion in the name of the Trinity.

In 2001 the Church of the Brethren numbered 137,000, the Brethren Church 11,000, the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches 34,000, the Conservative Grace Brethren Churches 2,500, the Old German Baptist Church 6,000, and the Dunkard Brethren 1,050.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bowman, Carl F. Brethren Society: The Cultural Transformation of a "Peculiar People." Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. A sociological study.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. Fruit of the Vine: A History of the Brethren, 1708–1995. Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Press, 1997. A social history.

Durnbaugh, Donald F., ed. The Brethren Encyclopedia. 3 vols. Philadelphia: Brethren Encyclopedia, 1983–1984.

Kraybill, Donald B., and C. Nelson Hostetter. Anabaptist World USA. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2001. Contains statistics.

Donald F.Durnbaugh

See alsoPietism .

Revolutionary War Statement

A short and sincere Declaration, To our Honorable Assembly, and all others in high or low Station of Administration, and to all Friends and Inhabitants of this Country, to whose Sight this may come, be they ENGLISH or GERMAN. …

Further, we find ourselves indebted to be thankful to our late worthy Assembly, for their giving so good an Advice in these trouble-some Times to all Ranks of People in Pennsylvania, particularly in allowing those, who, by the Doctrine of our Saviour Jesus Christ are persuaded in their Conscience to love their Enemies and not to resist Evil, to enjoy the Liberty of their Conscience, for which, as also for all the good Things we enjoyed under their Care, we heartily thank that worthy Body of Assembly, and all high and low in Office who have advised to such a peacefull Measure. …

The Advice to those who do not find Freedom of Conscience to take up Arms, that they ought to be helpfull to those who are in Need and distressed Circumstances, we receive with Cheerfulness toward all Men of what Station they may be—it being our Principle to feed the Hungry and give the Thirsty drink;—we have dedicated ourselves to serve all Men in every Thing that can be helpful to the Preservation of Men's Lives, but we find no Freedom in giving, or doing, or assisting in any Thing by which Men's Lives are destroyed or hurt. We beg the Patience of all those who believe we err in this Point.…

This Testimony we lay down before our worthy Assembly, and all other Persons in Government, letting them know, that we are thankfull as above-mentioned, and that we are not at Liberty in Conscience to take up Arms to conquer our Enemies, but rather to pray to God, who has Power in Heaven and on Earth, for US and THEM.

The above Declaration, signed by a Number of Elders and Teachers of the Society of Mennonists, and Some of the German Baptists, presented to the Honorable House of Assembly on the 7th day of November, 1775, was most graciously received.

SOURCE: Donald F. Durnbaugh, ed. The Brethren in Colonial America. Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Press, 1967, pp. 362–365.

Excerpt from the diary of John Kline (1797–1864), a Virginia elder assassinated by Confederate irregulars during the Civil War

Thursday, February 22 [1849]

Hear the distant report of cannon in commemoration of the birth of George Washington, which is said to have occurred on the twenty-second day of February, 1732. It is presumable that those who find pleasure in public demonstrations of this sort are moved by what they regard as patriotic feelings and principles. Let their motives and enjoyments spring from what they may, they have a lawful right to celebrate the anniversary of his birth in any civil way they may choose. But I have a somewhat higher conception of true patriotism than can be represented by the firing of guns which give forth nothing but meaningless sound. I am glad, however, that these guns report harmless sound, and nothing more. If some public speakers would do the same, it might be better for them and their hearers.

My highest conception of patriotism is found in the man who loves the Lord his God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself. Out of these affections spring the subordinate love for one's country; love truly virtuous for one's companions and children, relatives and friends; and in its most comprehensive sense takes in the whole human family. Were this love universal, the word patriotism, in its specific sense, meaning such a love for one's country as makes its possessors ready and willing to take up arms in its defense, might be appropriately expunged from every national vocabulary.

SOURCE: Benjamin Funk, ed. Life and Labors of Elder John Kline, The Martyr Missionary, Collated from His Diary. Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Publishing House, 1900, p. 246.

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Brethren

Brethren, German Baptist religious group. They were popularly known as Dunkards, Dunkers, or Tunkers, from the German for "to dip," referring to their method of baptizing. The Brethren evolved from the Pietist movement in Germany. The first congregation was organized there in 1708 by Alexander Mack. Persecution drove them to America where, under Peter Becker, they settled (1719) in Germantown, Pa. From that and other settlements in Pennsylvania they spread westward and into Canada. The Brethren oppose war and advocate temperance, the simple life, plain dress, and "obedience to Christ rather than obedience to creeds and cults." The original group, at present the largest in the United States, is the Church of the Brethren (Conservative Dunkers); the local churches are united by an annual conference that elects a general board to supervise the national church program. From the Church of the Brethren there have been separations into the Seventh-Day Baptists, German Baptists (1728; see Beissel, Johann Conrad); Church of God (New Dunkards, 1848); Old German Baptist Brethren (1881); and the Brethren Church (Progressive Dunkers, 1882). The Brethren baptize by trine immersion, the candidate being immersed once for each member of the Trinity. They practice foot washing and the love feast.

See also River Brethren (for Brethren in Christ, River Brethren, and Yorker Brethren); Christadelphians (for Brethren of Christ); Hutterian Brethren; Moravian Church.

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brethren

breth·ren / ˈbre[voicedth](ə)rin/ • archaic plural form of brother. • pl. n. fellow Christians or members of a male religious order. ∎  used for humorous or rhetorical effect to refer to people belonging to a particular group: our brethren in the popular press.

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brethren

brethren pl. of BROTHER.

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brethren

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