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Brethren In Christ

This church originated in a society founded between 1775 and 1788 along the Susquehanna River near the present town of Marietta in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The initial group name was “Brethren.” Jacob and John Engel of Swiss Mennonite* ancestry were two prominent leaders. The Brethren synthesized into a new pattern concepts already present in the religious life of their community. To a personal, conscious experience of the new birth, as stressed by the eighteenth-century Pietistic awakening, they joined concern for discipleship and restitution of the visible church along NT lines, as emphasized by Anabaptist* tradition. Late in the nineteenth century they accepted Wesleyan perfectionism as the third principal element of their eclectic faith. After a century of relative quiescence and slow growth, the group burst into new activity. They began Sunday schools, orphanages, and a home for the aged, supported higher education, founded a church periodical (Evangelical Visitor), and launched into formal evangelism and missions at home and overseas. In 1970 more than one-third of their 17,000 members were in mission churches in India, Japan, Nicaragua, Rhodesia, and Zambia.

Soon after their origin, the Brethren in the USA became “River Brethren,” and in Canada, to which their faith was carried in 1788, they became “Tunkers.” About 1862 the River Brethren changed their name to “Brethren in Christ”; in 1933 the Canadian branch of the movement also adopted the latter name. Three other living churches-Old Order River Brethren (Yorkers), United Zion Children, and Calvary Holiness-share a common heritage with the Brethren in Christ. The first two emerged from divisions within the River Brethren movement in the mid-nineteenth century; the third separated from the parent stock in 1962.

The Brethren in Christ are affiliated with the Mennonite Central Committee, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the National Holiness Association. Their headquarters are at Evangel Press, Nappanee, Indiana, and their archives at Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania.

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