Church of The Brethren

One of the three major “peace churches” of the USA, the Brethren originated in 1708 at Schwarzenau, Germany, as part of the Pietist protest against the state church. They emphasized a warm enthusiasm as well as a study of the Bible and holy living. Their leader, Alexander Mack, Sr.* and seven companions were baptized by trine immersion and began to live by the Brethren practices. These included-in addition to believer's baptism by immersion three times forward-the love feast (including a meal, the Eucharist, and the washing of the saints' feet), anointing of the sick with oil, laying on of hands for Christian service; congregational church government; and opposition to war, oaths, secret societies, and “worldly” clothes and habits. Because of persecution many Brethren fled in 1719 to America, after a short period in Holland, and by 1729 Mack himself had come to the New World. During the American Revolution they refused to fight, but aided some of the German mercenaries who fought on the British side. Again they were persecuted and forced from the eastern urban centers to follow the frontier westward. At present the Church of the Brethren, with headquarters in Elgin, Illinois, and a membership of about 200,000, is the largest Brethren body, but because of a division in 1882 there are also Brethren churches with centers at Ashland, Ohio, and Winona Lake, Indiana (the Brethren Church and the National Fellowship of Brethren Churches respectively). In addition there is a group called the Old German Baptist Brethren or Old Order Brethren.

See H.A. Kent, Sr., 250 Years Conquering Frontiers: A History of the Brethren Church (1958).