The Uniqueness Of The Brethren Church

The Uniqueness Of The Brethren Church April 8, 2019

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.

Controversy Avoidant

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).

Non-Swearing

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.

Conclusion

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.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • pud

    “When God led Israel out of their Egyptian bondage”

    WRONG! Absolutely never happened. Not one word of this mythological story is actually true. Not one.

    “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”

    Total bullshit and infantile make believe nonsense. We’ve been over this stupidity many times janitor jack. A “god” sending himself as a human blood magic sacrifice to himself as a loophole for a system he himself set up is ABSURD!

    How can you function jack? How can you so completely lack any critical thinking skills?

    “The Brethren have certainly focused on a close, intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ”

    No…Totally psychotic….You cannot have a “relationship” with an invisible undetectable thing. Only small children and the psychotic have invisible undetectable friends. You CAN have a relationship with another actual person who exists, even a pet..but you cannot have a “relationship” with a book, a corpse, a rock, Bigfoot or a unicorn.

    You and your cult are by every objective standard mentally ill. Clinically delusional.

    Get some help jack…you’re a sick man

  • pud

    “I found a church that was devoted to the Word of God and not the traditions of men.”

    WRONG as always….Your “book” is entirely the “word” of MEN. Stupid, ignorant, religious barbaric superstitious lunatics. You do NOT follow any “god” you simply and mindlessly follow an absurd ancient BOOK. A book written by no name authors that is entirely and demonstrably wrong about EVERYTHING that you accept by FAITH which is THE most dishonest position it is possible to have.

    “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.”

    More lies and self delusion. Do you stone adulterers as commanded? Do you suffer witches to live against your marching orders to kill them? NO…you cherry pick what you want and ignore the rest….as dishonest and self delusional as it’s possible to be.

    “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”

    Demonstrate the existence of either….come on! Show it. Prove it. Demonstrate it.

    “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! ”

    Bullshit. Pure voodoo absurdity, baseless mindless claim asserted without reason and defended against all reason.

    Everything you babble is nonsense. Pure willful ignorant indoctrinated nonsense

  • Aren’t there differences of interpretation in the Church of the Brethren including inerrancy of the bible, women’s ordination and homosexuality? The Brethren Revival Fellowship is following a rear guard action against these modern trends. Don’t some of your churches support the World Council of Churches? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/church_of_the_Brethren.

    • Monty

      Christians have differences. Some are quite stark. It is how differences are dealt with that matters. It is a tragedy that so many Christians are denying the plain teachings of God’s word, especially regarding homosexuality. We are commanded to resist the world, not to be moulded by it. We do not have to descend into hatred, malice or judgementalism. That just compounds the problems that false teachings introduce.

  • pud

    NEVER HAPPENED!! Read it! Study it! Proof positive that you are all a delusional cult.

    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Evidence_for_the_Exodus

    This article examines the Young Earth creationist and Biblical literalist claims regarding the historical reality of the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt, as well as the evidence relating to such claims.

    Mainstream history and archaeology now consider the Exodus never to have happened, and the story to be an entirely fictional narrative put together between the 8th and 5th centuries BCE.[1] Christian and Jewish literalists do not accept this.

    Despite ALL the evidence the entire MYTH is stupid on its face! A genocidal “god” run amok! How gullible and stupid can you be?

    Clearly INCREDIBLY GULLIBLE, foolish, ignorant, delusional and hopelessly indoctrinated in a vile and dishonest CULT!

    William Dever, an archaeologist normally associated with the more conservative end of Syro-Palestinian archaeology, has labeled the question of the historicity of Exodus “dead.” Israeli archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog provides the current consensus view on the historicity of the Exodus:[5]

    “”The Israelites never were in Egypt. They never came from abroad. This whole chain is broken. It is not a historical one. It is a later legendary reconstruction — made in the seventh century [BCE] — of a history that never happened.
    Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology Eric H. ClineWikipedia’s W.svg also summarizes the scholarly consensus in his book Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (published by Oxford University Press and winner of the 2011 Biblical Archaeology Society’s “Best Popular Book on Archaeology”);[6]

    Despite attempts by a number of biblical archaeologists — and an even larger number of amateur enthusiasts — over the years, credible direct archaeological evidence for the Exodus has yet to be found.

    While it can be argued that such evidence would be difficult to find, since nomads generally do not leave behind permanent installations, archaeologists have discovered and excavated nomadic emplacements from other periods in the Sinai desert.

    So if there were archaeological remains to be found from the Exodus, one would have expected them to be found by now. And yet, thus far there is no trace of the biblical “600,000 men on foot, besides children” plus “a mixed crowd…and live stock in great numbers” (Exod. 12:37-38) who wandered for forty years in the desert.

  • tovlogos

    Wow, excellent post, Jack — I have heard about this Assembly but never looked into it.
    This group really seems to have its place in God’s scheme of things — I will try to take a closer look — Thank you.

    • Jack Wellman

      Thank you my friend. This Bible-centered, Christocentric church is what attracted me to them.

  • Hi Jack,

    Aren’t you viewing your denomination through rose coloured glasses? The homosexual issue has been a hot potato in your denomination for some time. Progressives agree to same-sex marriage and Fundamentalists deny homosexuals the right to marry. It seems as if everything is not honkey dory in your denomination like you make it out to be. Otherwise why would there need to be a Brethren Revival Fellowship to maintain the kind of views that you believe in?

  • Adam

    Jack, I’m from the Church of the Brethren. We honor shared theology, common ancestry, and common divisions. Your description of the Brethren Church as one that doesn’t divide on issues other denominations divide on seems a little… forgetful. The Church of the Brethren and Brethren Church split over issues of Sunday School, higher education and conflicts of personalities. Alexander Mack himself broke with not only the state church, but also with other brothers in Christ who he shared these same tenets of belief. He wouldn’t join the Mennonites because they allowed sprinkling in baptism. He broke with Hochmann who urged Mack to be cautious about legalism. To be sure, there is much I am grateful for in our shared heritage. Jesus-centered, Bible based faith that impacts the community of faith in practical ways is a wonderful legacy. I’m not sure we can make the claim that it has helped us avoid controversy.

  • camainc

    Is this the same group that also goes by the name “Plymouth Brethren?”

    • No.

      The Plymouth Brethren were founded in 19th C England and based principally on the Dispensational theology of John Nelson Darby. The Church of the Brethren are a group that is based on a synthesis of Anabaptist and Lutheran theology, if I recall correctly. But Jack is better placed then me to describe his denomination.

  • Rod Bristol

    Uniqueness satisfies tribal instincts by pointing (usually downward) to all the others from whom one’s tribe is distinct. Perceived uniqueness typically corresponds to perceived righteousness. When you look at the ways in which other groups regard themselves as unique, you probably see clearly how their uniqueness is grounded in a fundamental error. That makes a useful mirror.

    Until we rest in the uniqueness of what God has done through his unique Son, we will be constrained by our self-interest and self-righteousness. As God reconciles us to himself, he overcomes our mutual hostilities. (2 Cor. 5, Eph. 2:16)