What’s different about the Brethren Church? Read for yourself.
The Brethren Church
Years ago, when I came to the Brethren Church (offices in Ashland, OH.), I found a church that was devoted to the Word of God and not the traditions of men. I discovered a church that was totally devoted to Christ or was “Christocentric” in their thinking, and a church that upheld the Bible as their standard for worship and practice. Their only creed was the Bible itself, because the Bible, as God’s Word, has authority over their lives (Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig, p. 70). The Brethren Church is not so much a denomination as it is a body…and being congregational, there is room for each church to be unique, while remaining within Scriptural boundaries.
A few decades ago, I remember reading how the color of the carpet ended up dividing a large church. Half wanted this color, the other half wanted another, but how tragic to see a church split over something that in eternity does not matter. God is not concerned with the color of the carpet. He is concerned about the heart and having unity in the body. That’s one thing that attracted me to the Brethren Church. They’re not interested in the speculative aspects of Christianity that divide some, but in following in Christ’s footsteps of sacrifice and self-denial (Matt 25:35-36). They’ve always focused on evangelism and being a people of peace. They seek to compromise or seek a “middle way” or a middle ground on difficult theological issues, in order to avoid division within the body of Christ. The church has managed to avoid most of the controversial issues that divide many churches. Rather, the Brethren Church focuses on Christ and His commission as evangelists (Stoffer, p. 312), so for good reason, the Brethren frequently sought to distance themselves from issues that other churches would debate and divide over.
The Bible as a Creed
Another factor in declaring the uniqueness of the Brethren Church was the way that the Brethren approached Scripture. They learned it and then applied it to their lives. They didn’t need a creed because the Bible was their creed. Alexander Mack, the Brethren Church’s first pastor, said that “the Holy Spirit teaches us inwardly, just as the Scriptures teach us outwardly,” so it is the Outer Word (the Bible), and the Inner Word (the Holy Spirit), testifying about the Living Word, Jesus Christ (Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig, p. 68). The Brethren used Scripture as their rule of faith and believed (and still do believe) that we must apply Scripture to our own lives and that each generation must do the same. The Brethren have a “commitment to Word and Spirit” and that “makes us different from other groups” (Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig, p. 70), or I would say, unique. They call this a “generational mandate.” For example in Psalm 78:5-7, we are commanded to teach our children, and they in turn would teach their children, and so forth (Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig, p. 122).
The Brethren trusted the sovereignty of God so much that they could not, in good conscience, place their hand on the Bible and swear by it in court, or anywhere. They have read Jesus’ words, “Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God” (Matt 5:34). They simply affirmed that they were telling the truth. Besides, to swear that you are telling the truth doesn’t mean something is true or that it makes it true, when in fact, it’s not. It is either true or false, so “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt 5:37). The Brethren also understood that vengeance is not theirs but God’s. Although other denominations have taken a stance of non-resistance, non-conforming, and non-swearing, the Brethren were resolved to remain true to God’s Word, despite severe penalties (some by taxation) and abuse by the armies who were defending our nation. Many of the Brethren suffered greatly during the early American wars, often losing all they had, and some even being murdered for their uncompromising non-resistant stand. One of the greatest examples of suffering for his beliefs is Christopher Sauer II (Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig, p. 147). He showed great faith through severe adversity and deep sorrow, but many other Brethren paid a high price too (Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig, p. 172), however, not all Brethren have resisted the call to defend their nation. There have been many of the Brethren that have served and are serving in the military, and doing so with good conscience.
The Peoplehood Formula
The Brethren have certainly focused on a close, intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but they’ve also focused on the Peoplehood Formula. This is what Paul and dozens of other biblical authors have stated long ago…“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people” (Rom 9:25). When “God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name” (Acts 15:14), there was no more distinction between Jew or Gentile, but also between male or female, black or white (Gal 3:28). It has always been God’s desire that a “remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’” (Acts 15:17). God desires that all might come to Christ (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:8-9). We were once not a people of God, but children of the Devil; held captive by and blinded by the “god of this world” (2nd Cor 4:3-4). Now, we’re the children of God, knowing that God desires to have a people for Himself, but God had to make the first move. He loved us (1st John 4:19) long before (John 3:16) we ever loved Him. He loved us a time when we were wicked, ungodly enemies of His (Rom 5:6-10). He is the initiator of our salvation, He is the One Who called and brought Israel out of Egypt, very much like Jesus is the Captain and originator of our salvation. Through Himself, He is bringing many sons and daughters into glory (Heb 2:10). This is something that we ourselves could never do. It’s like asking Lazarus to resurrect Himself. Only Jesus has the power to resurrect and I believe that if Jesus had not mentioned Lazarus specifically by name, all who were in their graves would have come forth! Only God can bring to life those of us who were at one time, dead in our sins (Eph 2:1-2). It took the power of God through the gospel of salvation to bring us to Christ (Rom 1:16; 1st Cor 1:18), and the Brethren are typically involved in sharing Christ, being evangelists from the very beginning, with a desire to be used by God as a means to save some.
When God led Israel out of their Egyptian bondage, God told them “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex 6:7). Even today, God is seeking to be their God, if they will be His people. God has been moving through time and history to purchase a people for Himself by the Son of God Who gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He has already secured a people for Himself, but God’s not quite done yet redeeming a people for Himself.
Barnhart, Jason and Bill Ludwig. A Brethren Witness for the 21st Century. 2nd Ed. Ashland: The Brethren Church, Inc. 2014.
Stoffer, Dr. Dale R. Lectures of the History of the Brethren Church, Ashland, Ohio. 2016.
Stoffer, Dr. Dale R. The Background and Development of Thought and Practice in the German Baptist Brethren Churches. Diss. Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, MI; 1980.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is a Pastor and Prison Minister in the State of Kansas. Jack is also a writer at Christian Quotes and Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.