Monday, June 30, 2008

Daniel Long Miller

D.L. Miller (1841-1921) was a writer, editor, and counselor. Born and raised in Maryland, he would move to Illinois as a young man. The 1870s found D.L. Miller prospering in the butter, eggs, and grocery business in Polo, Illinois. In 1879 he became part owner, secretary, and business manager of Mt. Morris College. He served as president of the school, 1881-83. In 1882 he joined Joseph Amick in publishing Brethren at Work which became The Gospel Messenger in 1883. He served as office (managing) editor from 1885-1891 and editor-in-chief from 1891 until his death in 1921.

D.L.'s boyhood was in the main a normal one, characterized by some of the pranks and mischief common to boyhood. There was one such incident which he never forgot. He, with four of his school companions, caught a frog and prepared it for the frying pan. This was done is a none-too- humane way. The incident being reported to the teacher he placed the boys on a slab seat in front of him. Taking his knife from his pocket, he proceeded to sharpen it on a whetstone, at the same time telling the boys of the suffering which the frog had experienced. Each boy was assured in his own mind that he, like the frog, was going to lose a leg or two. Each had been asked to roll his trouser legs above his knees, presumably to make the operation more convenient and successful. D.L. later said, "There was weeping and mourning in concert. When the exhibition was over and we escaped with our legs, we were a happy lot. I learned a lesson which I never forgot. Teachers used the rod in those days freely, but the rod never gave me a lesson as did the teacher with his knife and whetstone."

Sources: The Brethren Encyclopedia
Sidelights on Brethren History
, Freeman Ankrum

Sunday, June 29, 2008

You Must Hear About Voloungou

"He had come to Yaloke station as a stonecutter and bridge builder shortly before our party arrived on the field in May, 1925. Every morning he had listened to the Gospel, but without much inclination toward it. Then one day in December, when the other missionaries had left the station to go to a conference at Bassai, he heard a sermon preached by a novice [Mary L. Emmert] on the subject of the new birth and Nicodemus. It had not been clear how to say, 'You must be born again,' for there is no passive voice, properly speaking, in their language, but the LORD showed how to turn the phrase and He took it home to the hearer .... Others had sown, and one without skill or experience had been allowed to witness the miracle of sudden conversion....

"That the conversion was genuine was soon evident, for the 'babe in Christ' overturned his huge pots full of beer, broke the pottery, and refused to drink any more, although the sermon had not touched upon that subject....

"The miracle of the conversion is all the more evident through an incident that occurred in the converts' class the day this man accepted the LORD. I asked him some question in his native language, but he could not get what I was saying. He apologized politely by saying that he had talked Sango, the trade language, so much of late years that he scarcely understood his mother tongue! He should have added, 'as spoken by a new missionary!' So it was certainly not the messenger nor skill in presenting the message, but the Holy Spirit working in spite of all these handicaps that won this man to the Lord."

Source: The Brethren Encyclopedia
Adapted from M.L. Emmert, Some African Links

Saturday, June 28, 2008

News from the Oregon Territory 1853

The first Brethren in the Oregon Territory arrived from Indiana in 1850. They were followed in 1853 by eighteen more. The Gospel Visitor, which was begun in April 1851, played a role in connecting those on the Pacific Coast with the larger church.

In the July 1853 issue, Editor Henry Kurtz addressed the Oregon Brethren: We rejoice to learn that the Gospel Visitor is welcome in your remote parts, and we should like to know as much as possible of your interesting country. There are some friends and brethren, here in the East, who are particularly interested & desirous, to be informed about what prospect there is or would be, when the Gospel would be preached in its purity and simplicity with you? Whether there are any preachers among you? And, if not, whether there is a desire for them....

The December 1853 issue included this letter from Jacob Wigle, dated August 8, 1853.

Dear brother in the Lord. I have thought it necessary to drop you a few lines for the Visitor, ... George Wolfe is my mother's brother; so I was brought up under the protection of the Gospel, and in the early days of my life I thought it fit, to join myself to the body. ...

But in the spring 1852, on account of circumstances taken place, I and two of my brothers set out for Oregon Territory. I was told before I started by father Wolf, that our crossing the plains was a denial of the faith, because we would have to travel under military form. Which we did not do; for we found no need of it, but the Indians were no hindrance to us, and rather were entirely friendly to us.

Through much affliction we all got through, and once more restored to good health, and hoping that these few lines may reach you and find you all well. ... I only set out for the purposes of finding a milder climate, which I have found ... But this does not satisfy my desire.

...We are 7 in number, 3 brothers and 4 sisters, there were 3 more crossed the plains, but settled about one hundred miles from us. Now we have no one among us with any church- office but myself. The church appointed me in the office of a Deacon. ... As my whole desire and prayer is for the welfare of the church, and I rather think, if we were in an organized condition, there might be some growth amongst us ....

So nothing more at present, but remaining your lonely brother and may the grace of God abide with you is my prayer. Amen. Jacob W. Wigle

Source: Studies in Brethren History, Floyd E. Mallott

Friday, June 27, 2008

Looking Unto Christ

In 1954, several years before the Church's 250th Anniversary, Dr. Floyd E. Mallott who had served as Professor of Old Testament and Church History at Bethany Biblical Seminary since 1928, wrote a book Studies in Brethren History. The following excerpt - Looking Unto Christ - is taken from the concluding chapter of his book.

But the boat was now in the midst of the sea, distressed by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night he came unto them, walking upon the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a ghost; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee upon the waters. ... And they that were in the boat worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God. (Matthew 14:24-28, 33)

This scripture is a parable of the Christian life and a graphic vindication of the Church of the Brethren today. ...

That company of tossing, rowing, sweating and disturbed disciples may stand as an image of the institutional Church. In recent times the winds of social change and environmental upheaval have risen stronger and grown more boisterous. The Christian Church everywhere has felt the impact. ... we have observed the waves of environment beating upon that company of Christian believers whom we call the Brethren. The Brethren have not taken refuge in the ivory tower of metaphysical creedalism. They have insisted ever that religion be applied to the affairs of daily living.

But that presupposes a standard. The standard is Jesus. As Peter could walk across the waves while he had his eyes on Jesus and then began to sink when he looked downward, so the Church. The Brethren have no message for the world except to tell men to keep their eyes on Jesus. They have insisted on this for themselves. ...

The call of the Brethren to look at Jesus only has commonly taken the form of emphasizing certain ethical teachings of Jesus which tend to be overlooked in the Christian world. In a former day, Brethren felt that nonswearing and simplicity or "plainness" were principles which they needed to emphasize before their fellow Christians. In recent years the great burden of the Brethren testimony has been peace and effort looking toward a peaceful world. We have sought to direct the eyes of Christians to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Again, the Brethren testimony to the non-Christian world has been the message and spirit of Jesus. Our mission work has been heavily buttressed by hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and various forms of co-operative effort. We have endeavored to make out of non-Christians the highest type of practicing, ethical Christians.

A thread of continuity has run through this history. The purpose to live according to the New Testament, set forth at Schwarzenau, has been the vital core of this fraternity's life. Brethren have been struggling with their environment. ...

To appraise the degree of ultimate success is impossible and unnecessary. Life is not a finished product. The Church has never been assimilated in the purposes of the unregenerate world-society, even though it has at times seemed to accomodate its forms to contemporary social life. The Church is not of the world, but the Church militant is always in the world. It is in the world for a purpose - to serve the Lord Jesus and to carry His Word. ....

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Throwing Out the God Pot

Another Nigerian mission story is this one told by John B. Grimley in his Annual Conference Bible Study on June 22, 1958.

Up on the side of Wamdi Mountain in northeastern Nigeria there are several grottoes formed by the way in which gigantic boulders were rolled together in ages long gone by. In these grottoes I viewed the Margi "engagement paintings." They had been done in red ocher on the grey rocks, daubed from the painted bodies of the young men who made the paintings during their engagement ceremonies. In the main they were stick-figure drawings of men and horses and spears - spears of the old iron-shafted and iron-spangled type. According to my guide, a Margi man, these paintings had been made on these rocks from "as far back as men first took wives."

But something new had been added. On the ancient and crumbling rock, also painted with red ocher, some Margi lad had printed J-O-H-N followed by the number 1957!

Yes, on the crumbling rock of pagan animistic religion and culture a new message had been written - the message of Jesus Christ and His church. My guide reached up and pointed to one of the paintings and said, "That one is mine, the one I painted thirty years ago." That was just about the time that Brother H. Stover Kulp first arrived in Margiland, traveling close by that very mountain.

... On the way down from the mountain we passed several old "god pots." They had been thrown out at the time of their owners' deaths. And I said to my guide, "Do you have one of these in your house?" (Every Margi man must have such a shrine.) Quickly he looked up and answered, "Oh, no! I threw mine out some time ago. I'm a Christian now."

Grimley concludes: Something new had come into his life. Figuratively speaking, he had already died, died to the pagan way of life. He had thrown out his little "god pot" and had taken in the New Man, the living Lord, Christ Jesus.

The question remaining for each of us is this: "Have we dismantled our shrines and thrown out our little "god pots?"

Source: The Adventurous Future, chapter 24

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

BVS Witness in Greece

Another Desmond Bittinger story from his days as President of McPherson College.

A young man from Greece came some time ago to a Brethren college. As he came to our door and we greeted each other, we asked him before we sat down, "Son, why did you come all the way from Greece to our college? Why did you pass up the colleges of other nations, and pass by the large, well-known universities and colleges of the East, to come to a little town in the Midwest to a little college like ours?"

His answer was clear and concise. He said: "I met, in Greece, some young men and young women who were digging a tunnel through a Grecian mountain to drain a valley. They were doing this in order that the valley might become fertile and food might be grown to feed my people. They were digging, not because they were paid, but because they loved people. They loved us whom they had not known and whose language they could not speak. I joined these people in digging this tunnel, and after they were gone, I followed them to find whence they came; I wished to find for myself what it was that made them love people that much."

Brethren Volunteer Service workers making a difference in the world, in Greece, and in the lives of individuals by the manner of their living.

Source: The Adventurous Future, "And How Shall the Brethren Be Recognized?"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Story from the Nigerian Mission Field

Desmond Bittinger served as a missionary in Nigeria from 1930-1939. He shared the following story as part of his 1958 address to the 1958 Annual Conference, "And How Shall The Brethren Be Recognized?"

One day in an aboriginal Nigerian setting there came rushing up the hill to our house, which was located on a shelf of the hill, twenty or more panting young men. They were not members of the tribe among whom we lived, but had crossed the tribal boundary and come hurrying to call upon us, from a neighboring tribe.

..."Teacher, get your horse with three legs and quickly follow us! We have a great surprise for you." As we turned to comply, they added with just as much excitement, "And don't forget to bring the Book that has in it the mind of God."

We got the horse with three legs - a motorcycle with a sidecar - and they ran before us, showing us the way. When we came to the end of the existing road, part of their surprise for us became apparent. With their own hands they had extended the road for many miles .... at the end of some bouncing and wearisome miles, we drove into the center of the village. The second part of the surprise now became evident. At the one side of their spreading council tree, with much labor they had built a church.

Their chief was waiting. Many of the villagers had gathered. They said with dignity and pride, "We have dug this house of God from the earth; we have laid it up handful by handful of adobe construction; we have crowned it with a roof of grass. We have invited you to come to place within it the Book which has in it the mind of God. Now together we shall present the house to God, for it is God's house. It is the biggest and best house in the village; that is the kind of house God should have."

But before we turned to go into the house, we looked across the open space to the other side of the spreading council tree where we saw in operation an ancient aboriginal practice.... A young girl, comely and beautiful, approaching the age for marriage, was kneeling in the sand. Crouching above her was a priestess, so intent upon her responsibility that she had not stopped, even amidst all the excitement of the coming of the motorcycle and the shouting of the multitude.

Before this young woman could be married it was necessary that the marks which distinguished her tribe be carefully cut into her body. With a knife shaped like a fishhook, the inside of it sharpened as a cutting edge, this priestess was digging into the body of the girl, cutting from side to side and from shoulder to hip, making forever sharp and clear the marks which would reveal the tribe to which she belonged. Blood from the cutting stained the ground. The priestess rubbed ashes into the cuts so that they would heal in a raised condition. Henceforth, anyone seeing this woman even at a long distance could know her tribe by the marks which she bore cut into her body. The young girl accepted this as necessary. It was important that all people know the group to which she belonged.

We looked with increased interest upon the multitudes of people who surrounded us. All, without exception, who had reached the age of puberty, boys or girls, men or women, bore upon their bodies the marks of their tribe ... which distinguished them.

Silently, we turned and went toward the church. The thing about which I should speak as we dedicated the church was changing and forming in my mind. On one side of the tree was in operation the ceremony of cutting the marks of the tribe into the very body of a tribal member; on the other side of the tree stood the church. These people wanted to become members of the church and to have in their place of worship "the Book which has in it the mind of God."

What are the markings on this side of the tree which should always distinguish all Christians? What are the burned-in, inerasable marks of the follower of Christ?

Paul said, "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus."

... When Alexander Mack was asked the question, "And how shall your members be recognized?" his answer was clear. He said, "They shall be recognized by the manner of their living."

An aboriginal girl knelt on one side of the council tree, while the marks of her tribe were being cut in. As long as she lived the marks would remain. We knelt in the church on the other side a few minutes later and prayed that the marks of Christians, the marks of Brethren, might similarly be cut into our very lives so that they would forever remain a part of us.

Source: The Adventurous Future, chapter 15

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Brethren and Destiny

The final Anniversary address at the Des Moines 250th Anniversay conference came on Sunday evening, at "The Church Convocation." Calvert N. Ellis, President of Juniata College, spoke on "The Brethren and Destiny."

I feel very humble to speak about the Brethren and the future. It would be much easier to glorify the past or even to analyze critically what has gne before. However, I am thankful that the mood of the Brotherhood is not to look back but to move forward. This two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary celebration has a Call attached!

I pray that each of you will ... ask yourself the questions I have asked as I thought of the Brethren in the years ahead. What is the mission of the Brethren in this hour? How and where can we make the largest contribution to the church of Christ? We have learned that it is not our church in the sense that we make the rules; it is His church - the church of Jesus Christ. We are His witnesses and His servants. We have discovered the vast riches of grace, the love of God in Christ, which we share with all who are His, whatever their creed or color. ... The gospel is not something to protect or preserve; it is good news to share in life and word!

We Brethren have been thrust out into the world. We may nostalgically look back to the isolation of the nineteenth-century farm home - but we can't go back!

... This then is my faith and my hope - that the destiny of the Brethren will be a ministry of reconciliation. Here is our contribution to the church of Jesus Christ; it is the thread that runs from Schwarzenau to Des Moines and is the Brethren ideal of life regardless of how far short we have fallen in our witness.

... It is my hope that this ministry of reconciliation will be our destiny. May we be known as Brethren with a concern for men and women! Whether we are pastors, teachers, businessmen. mothers, farmers, students, or whatever we are, may we be known as Christians who serve their community in the name of Christ.

Source: The Adventurous Future, chapter 26

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Brethren Under the Lordship of Christ

On Sunday morning, June 22, 1958, Paul Robinson who was President of Bethany Biblical Seminary preached on the topic "The Brethren Under the Lordship of Christ" to the Annual Conference worshippers.

It is most significant that in this anniversary year we have directed our thoughts to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Here we come to the central affirmation of the Christian faith.

The earliest statement of faith in the New Testament church undoubtedly was the simple clause, "Christ is Lord." ... After more than nineteen hundred years of Christian experience, and in this two-hundred-fiftieth year of the Church of the Brethren, we can express Christian truth no more profoundly or make no confession more demanding than to say, "Christ is Lord."

... This is the beginning of discipleship, but it is only the beginning. It is not enough simply to say, "Christ is Lord." It is possible for us to declare our loyalty to Christ with out lips but to be utterly lacking in the testimony of life which bears witness to his control. ... Becoming a Christian meant many other things, Alexander mack and the small band of earnest seekers after truth in Schwarzenau restored this basic principle to the heart of their spiritual pilgrimage. For the Brethren, Christianity has always been discipleship. The primacy of this fact has influenced the life of the church beyond measure. Across these two and one-half centuries of our existence, we have not been very articulate in setting forth what we believe in any kind of systematic statement. But like the first-century disciples, we would rather say, "Come and see. We will show you what we believe by what we do."

...we stand in this dramatic moment in our history. Ours is a dynamic mission. To us as to all the church has been entrusted a gospel that is the power of God and the salvation of the world. As we begin the second quarter of a millennium of our history, the Church of the Brethren will stand daily at the crossroads of our destiny. Will our heritage become for us an asset or a liability? ... will we dare to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ? ... Only we and our children, and our children's children, can answer. But answer we must!

Source: The Adventurous Future, chapter 25

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Brethren and Their Interpretation of History

On June 21, Warren Groff addressed the 1958 Annual Conference on "The Brethren and Their Interpretation of History." Groff suggested several clues to the Brethren understanding of history - its origin, meaning and direction.

The chief clue, according to Groff, is Jesus Christ. The early Brethren stand with the New Testament witnesses in testifying that the cluster of events connected with Jesus of Nazareth, the "anointed" of God, has had a unique impact upon life. This segment of history illuminates the rest. Jesus Christ has changed the way we look at life. ... His coming, as Alexander Mack would put it, has brought into history a dramatic and decisive call for a life of loving obedience to God.... It is to Jesus Christ that we turn for primary insight into history's dynamic, pattern, and goal.

Groff continues, When Jesus Christ serves as our primary clue, history is seen as personal, purposeful, and providential. History is personal. The Brethren would agree with the over-all Biblical view that historical events are not simply the result of blind fate. They are bounded by the intention, ordering, and continuing activity of God. ...

History is purposeful. In and through Jesus Christ, the inaugurator of the "new covenant," ... God has declared His interest in and pattern for history. As understood by the Biblical witnesses and the early Brethren, history is purposeful as the arena of divine-human encounter. That which basically gives meaning to historical events is the coming of God to man.

Groff goes on to suggest that a third basic theme in the interpretation of history ... is at least implied in the life and thought of the early Brethren, informed as they were by the Biblical proclamation: History as the drama of man's encounter with God reveals the ever-present realities of judgment and renewal.

Warren Groff concludes his address with questions of where we stand today as Brethren.
  • Do we live so as to acknowledge the sovereign activity of God as the primary power in the world, today and tomorrow?
  • Are we oriented toward life as obedient disciples under the Lordship of Christ?
  • Are we really oriented toward God's coming action in Jesus Christ or ... is our faith most deeply in the might and power of our own hand?
  • Have we as Brethren adopted the idolatrous substitute of our own righteousness and program of good works?

Source: The Adventurous Future, chapter 23

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Brethren and the Ecumenical Church

On Friday evening, June 20, 1958, Kurtis Naylor addressed the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference meeting in Des Moines, Iowa on "The Brethren and the Ecumenical Church." Naylor was pastor of the Prince of Peace Church of the Brethren in Denver, under appointment as Church of the Brethren representative to the World Council of Churches and director of Brethren Service in Europe.

Elfan Reece of the World Council of Churches recently told of visiting the refugees in the Middle East. In talking with one of the men he asked him, "What would you most like to have?" The man paused a bit and then said, "I would most like to have a key." "A key?" said Dr. Reece in surprise. "Yes," said the man, "a key to a house, that I might have a home."

Tonight the question facing us is: "Do we have a key to give to the men of the world that they might have a home?"

It is just in this situation that we must face the fact that God calls His church, His people, that they might be His ministers to the men of the world. ... We, the Church of the Brethren, in this two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary year, are called to expect great things of God. This is the "Day of the Lord." ... We are called to expect a great summons from God rather than to protect ourselves, or to enshrine our heritage, or to harden it into an idol for our own worship.

As we gather here in this Annual Meeting, it may be necessary that we concern ourselves with program and problems, with the planning and the progress of what we have and are to do. But we must never forget that this concern with our inner life and the outward work of our labor in the "vineyard of God" is to be always in the light of the call of God in order that the world might believe that Jesus in the Christ.

Naylor continues by addressing two passages of Scripture: (1) God's Call to Abram (Genesis 12) and God's Call to the Church (John 17); before concluding with (3) God's Call to the Brethren Today.

Our task in this anniversary year of the Church of the Brethren is threefold. First, we must call the church to a new acceptance of her missionary task to the whole world. Secondly, in obedient answer to the prayer of our Lord we must do everything in our power to extend the areas of co-operation between all Christians in the fulfillment of that task by seeking to draw all into fellowship with Him and through Him, being united each to the other. And, third, we must see that it is time for the Church of the Brethren to press with all vigor the necessary steps, the encounter, and the discussion leading to full organic and visible union with some other church in the family of God, so that the day may be hastened when all the family of God shall be united to Him....

Source: The Adventurous Future, Chapter 22

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Brethren and Their Culture

June 19, 1958 - The Church of the Brethren were gathered in Des Moines, Iowa for Annual Conference and a celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the Brethren. On Thursday evening, Kermit Eby spoke on The Brethren and Their Culture. Eby's early life was influenced by growing up in the Baugo congregation in Northern Indiana. His book, For Brethren Only, published in the same year reflected on what he had learned in those earlier years. In 1958 he was a professor of social sciences at the University of Chicago.

As I have written on other occasions, one of the most exhilarating intellectual experiences of my life occurred when I received the insight that the founders of our church were as much the product of their time and environment as of divine inspiration. Furthermore, I was fascinated to discover that the problems our ancestors faced were not dissimilar to our own.

The Brethren, then, came into historical being because events brought about their existence. When the state persecuted them, they rejected it! Being victims of force and violence, they made reconciliation their goal. Confused by the state's interpretation of religious truth, they stressed a fellowship of believers. All of this, of course, is common knowledge. It is Brethren history and as such has been repeated many times.

...the thesis of this paper is not new. Those who espouse Christ cannot be wedded to the world. One cannot, as the Bible states, serve both God and mammon. (If I may be personal at this point, I would point out that this is my life witness. The most profound sadness I know lies in the fact that I realize that Baugo, my home church, exists now for me only in memory. Thus, since I cannot return there, I devote my energies to building a world true to Baugo's image. This, no doubt, is as old as the desire of man to build a city of God....)

Our ancestors' greatness lay in their uniqueness - in belief, character, and witness. The uniqueness of a Dunker, at its best, involved more than his mode of dress. As much, it included the "queerness" of the man who lived in the world by otherworldly standards. Such men are always unique!

For years I have been writing about Baugo, the church of my boyhood. I have intimated that it no longer exists except in my memory. Today, those who worship at Baugo go to church on Sunday morning, and then follow their separate ways. When I was a boy, the service ritual had meaning, for the brotherhood of the love feast was expressed in he necessities of life. In order to get certain tasks done, we had to exchange labor. But not so today. Now, the market is more significant in its impact on life than is the neighborhood. The market is impersonal; the neighborhood was intimate.

Again, this point need not be elaborated. It is enough to repeat that (1) the Brethren came into historical prominence because of their uniqueness; (2) they maintained their identity by institutionalizing a way of life; and (3) their survival was uniquely contributed to by the way they lived and earned their living. Today, all these factors have changed. We are "respectable," assimilated, and urbanized, and we are becoming more so daily.

So, if we would survive - and I think we have much to give and so should survive - it is necessary for us to understand that the church must be reborn with each generation. To accomplish this, I would deliberately set out to make every Brethren child conscious of his roots and his heritage. I would begin with that which is uniquely Brethren - peace, reconciliation, and stewardship of life and property.

Source: The Adventurous Future, chapter 20

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How Shall the Brethren Be Recognized?

Desmond Bittinger, President of McPherson College, was Annual Conference Moderator of the Church of the Brethren in 1958 when the church gathered in Des Moines, Iowa to celebrate the 250th Anniversary. His moderator's address was "And How Shall the Brethren Be Recognized?"

A story comes down to us out of the past that after Alexander Mack had founded the church by baptism in the Eder River two hundred fifty years ago, one of his neighbors asked him, "And how shall your members be recognized?" I ask that important question as we look forward from two hundred fifty years of having been Brethren. My question is: "How shall the Brethren in the next decade, the next century, the long future, be recognized?"

  1. The Praying, Searching, Open Mind. I would place at the very center of the Brethren of tomorrow, as a major distinguishing mark, this prayerful, open, continuous sharing search for truth. It is my hope that the Brethren ... will spend much time on their knees. ... Prayerful searching for truth, with the open Bible central among us, is ... the first mark of the Brethren of the future.
  2. The Loving Heart. A second mark of the Christians, or of the Brethren of the future, is that they will be baptized - indeed, completely immersed - in love. Instead of praying for themselves or centering at all upon self, their prayer will be that they might be like Christ, that Christ might dwell within them.
  3. Serving Hands. When the searching minds and hearts of the Brethren of the future have discovered and become a part of the love of God, the thrusts of their lives will be outward. ...being filled with the love of God and being like God, they will be impelled to serve all others.
When Alexander Mack was asked the question, "And how shall the Brethren be recognized?" his answer was clear. He said, "They shall be recognized by the manner of their living."

We pray that the marks of the Brethren ... would forever remain a part of us:
  • An open mind which is engaged in a continuous searching for the will and mind of God;
  • A loving heart, a prayerful yearning to be immersed in love, to grow up to be like God;
  • Serving hands which engage in a compelling outward thrust that makes us share all that we know and have with others, in order that the peace of God might come to us all....
Source: The Adventurous Future, chapter 15

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Brethren and the Modern State

The opening session of the 1958 Annual Conference celebrating the church's 250th Anniversary was on June 17 with Dan West speaking on "The Brethren and the Modern State.

The Annual Conference of 1908, celebrating the bicentennial of the Church of the Brethren, began with thinking about the problem of government. The first address then had to do with church polity or government within the church. ... But this time the thought is to be government outside the church - the relation of the Brethren to the modern state.

Brethren always live under tension. The more we try to live our doctrines in the modern world, the more the tensions increase and the heavier they become. of the heaviest for the Church of the Brethren comes in relation to the American nation-state. We Brethren always love our country, respect many of its customs, and obey its laws. But we have some doubts about the actual state. (For present thinking, the word
state refers chiefly to government officials - persons who are authorized to act for the state.)

  1. We Brethren believe in government as a matter of principle. We have Scripture for it: "The powers that be are ordained of God" And Brethren have always accepted the governments they find - sometimes too well. We have never been political revolutionaries.
  2. The State is a wonderful servant, but a very hard master. And the tendency is alaways too much control and too little real responsibility. ...every decade will bring Brethren and all other Christian groups under more controls and into heavier tension with the state.
  3. With the prospect of present tensions increasing and newer and greater ones developing in the future, it may be helpful to look at all possible ways of meeting them. There are two main types - running away or staying by. ... Brethren must help make America a state with which God can be pleased. ... This means living in the modern state, but keeping spiritually clean. ... whenever it comes to the choice between transforming the state and keeping the conscience unspotted from the world, "we must obey God rather than man." This is the major responsibility of Brethren in the modern state.
  4. State and church should recognize that both are needed in a good society. ... It is the church's job to hold the state's head up - on honesty, on religious liberty, and on world planning for human welfare. ... We Brethren have a long way to go ourselves, but we have the task of doing more than our share to keep tension on the state toward Christian brotherhood as the highest form of order. ... It is the duty of the Brethren and all churches to keep at this unfinished task until "the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ."
Source: The Adventurous Future, chapter 18

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Brethren and the Adventurous Future

We have just concluded a review of the Brethren Bicentennial addresses in June 1908 Des Moines, Iowa. We now turn to the Church of the Brethren 250th Anniversary year. Annual Conference was again held in Des Moines, Iowa June 17-22. Once again, the Anniversary Year addresses, including those at Annual Conference, were collected and published in a book titled The Adventurous Future, compiled by Paul H. Bowman. Preceding the opening of Annual Conference, Harry K. Zeller, Jr. shared a sermon by the same name at the opening session of Standing Committee. An outline and excerpts of that sermon follow.

Anniversaries are weighted with danger. The predispose us to look backward rather than ahead. Not even the parable of Lot's wife is sufficient to shake us out of the nostalgia by which we are drawn to the past and hesitant about embracing the future.

The first problem posed by the adventurous future at a two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary is our concept of change. Our eyes will turn to the past as we observe our history; they may even be glued to the past! ... Spiritual values especially venerate the past. "The new is never holy," as Edith Hamilton reminds us. ...This anniversary ought to be the time when we remind ourselves that Alexander Mack was quite an innovator.

Let us push wider the door to the adventurous future by suggesting that this anniversary be regarded as the midpoint in our existence. We are now halfway between what the church has been and what it can be. ... Let us make a beginning toward this adventurous future by confessing that we do not yet know fully what it means to be Christian. We allow that God has more truth in store for us than we now know. We believe that the future may show us as much more about God as the past has revealed.

...a unity of spirit as we have in our oneness in Christ in no way lessens the need for our individual interpretations of truth as we understand them in Christ. We are required to give our particular tint or color to the whole canvass which is Christian revelation. ... As a church we are a fellowship of those whose religious traditions and insight have provided us with unique aptitudes which we are morally bound to share with other Christian people.
  1. We shall continue our emphasis upon the genuine life.
  2. As devoutly as we may wish it to be true, the present arrangement of human affairs does not permit us to regard war as finished. ... Our unique thrust in Christendom, our peculiar witness in the world, and the special genius of our message in the adventurous future must continue this interpretation of the gospel of Christ, as our special portion of the larger Christian witness.
  3. In the adventurous future we shall find anew that the answer is Christ. The Church of the Brethren will come to its own in the family of God by "following Jesus." In such an hour of this, as at the hour of beginning two hundred fifty years ago, the church is drawn again to Christ. In the providence of God it is not permitted us to know what of marvel or surprise lies in the unknown tomorrow for our church fellowship.
Source: The Adventurous Future, Chapter 16

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Anniversary of John Kline's Death

We are thankful to Frank Ramirez for this account of the murder of John Kline on this date in 1864.

John Kline (1797-1864) of Linville Creek, Virginia, was one of a kind. Although it was not unheard of for Brethren elders to travel back and forth among their scattered flock, sharing news, praying, and preaching in their homes, Kline was exceptional. Over the course of his life he traveled by his record over 100,000 miles, on foot, by train, but most of all on his faithful horse, Nell.

His sermons, as they are recorded, include humor as well as a strong biblical foundation. When asked, he defended the faith with his pen, writing an essay and a short book on the topic of baptism. But Kline was not only a preacher, he was also a farmer, a doctor and a carpenter. He was a much beloved visitor among the Brethren, especially the children, for whom he always kept some candy with him.

Kline's life was not without tragedy. He and his wife, Anna, lost their only child at birth. She suffered from incapacitating mental illness.

Had the Civil War not intervened, Kline would still have been remembered as one of the towering figures among the 19th century Brethren. But southern Brethren faced many hardships because of their unwavering stance against slavery and violence. They were victims of theft, persecution, and even murder. Early in the war Kline was arrested and imprisoned along with other Brethren and Mennonites for his refusal to take part in the so-called "Glorious Cause."

And as one of the few Brethren on either side of the Mason-Dixon line who refused to honor the boundary between the two sides, he drew particular ire. He was elected Moderator of the Annual Meeting from 1861 to 1864, in part as recognition of the great risk he took in traveling to the northern states.

By 1864 his friends and relatives were pleading with him to stay home because of the rumors of his impending murder. He refused. On May 19, 1864, as he journeyed back from his last Annual Meeting, Kline said, "Possibly you may never see my face or hear my voice again. I am now on my way back to Virginia, not knowing the things that shall befall me there. It may be that bonds and afflictions abide me. But I feel that I have done nothing worthy of bonds or of death; and none of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God."

John Kline was ambushed and killed by cowards masquerading as soldiers on June 15, 1864. Although sometimes referred to as Confederate guerillas, those who did not serve in the army had usually found a way to avoid duty in order to swagger about and give orders to the few left at home. It is said that everyone in the Linville Creek area knew exactly who had murdered Kline, but no one was ever brought to trial, making the whole community complicit in the murder.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

One Hundred Dunkers for Peace

One Hundred Dunkers for Peace was an informal association of young adults organized in 1932 dedicated to social justice and reconciliation or, in a phrase often used by them, the "Moral equivalent of war." They met at irregular intervals to learn about peace, provide each other with support in the face of antagonistic public opinion, and urge the denomination to greater peace action. Members took part in peace caravans and work camps. The publication Brethren Action kept members informed of mutual interests. The movement was one of the sources of the Brethren Volunteer Service program, founded in 1948. [Brethren Encyclopedia, pp. 974-975].

Dan West had become national director of young people's work in 1930 and wrote an article in The Gospel Messenger in June 1931 in which he raised the question: "Shall we try to keep our young people safe in the nest, making them believe exactly as we do? ... or shall we do as the eagles - push them out of the nest." His article advocated five programs for which he worked most of his life. One of his provocative statements: "When I see so much that the war makers are doing and so little that the peacemakers are doing, I wonder why the difference. Find me one hundred young persons between the ages of twenty-one and thirty who will give as much for peace as a soldier gives for war, and we will change the thinking of Congress in three years' time." [Passing On the Gift: The story of Dan West]

Kermit Eby would later recall the birth of the "Hundred Dunkers" at Winona Lake (Indiana). Dan West, John and Ben Stoner and I were convinced that the church which nurtured us has much to give the world which it was not giving. We decided that it was ours to see that it did - without the benefit of hierarchical blessing. [The Adventurous Future, 1958 Annual Conference address by Eby]

According to Glee Yoder, Dan West's biographer, "Dan was trying to keep within the church-fold young students who (1) were vitally interested in peace, (2) would need support against the pressure of public opinion in a time of national crisis, and (3) had become increasingly disgusted with the apparent impossibility of getting enough action through established channels."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kurtis Naylor

Our thanks to Frank Ramirez for sharing the following account as his Tercentennial Minutes for June 15.

In 1959 Kurtis Friend Naylor was called to be the director of the Brethren Service Commission in Europe and also to be a representative to the World Council of Churches. He had already succeeded in establishing a relationship with Christians in the Soviet Union. In 1961 he was present at the All-Christian Peace Assembly in Prague, and worked to reach out to another enemy of the United States. At midnight before the assembly opened he was visited by Bishop K.J. Ting of China who was cordial but delivered a stinging attack on the U.S. At 2:30 in the morning another visitor gave him a copy of the speech Ting would deliver the next day in the assembly, which was even more fierce than their conversation. Naylor would speak after Ting.

Times being what they were, with the Cold War in full swing, Naylor knew that Ting would have to deliver the official position of the Communist Chinese government. Ting himself had said to him privately in their midnight meeting, "We're political people - you and me." showing he assumed that Naylor would be delivering the official position of his government as well. Only one of them was right.

The speech by the Chinese representative was given on June 13, 1961. A report later noted that the assembly was "thunderstruck" at Ting's address which labeled the United States as the leading obstacle to peace in the world. Naylor then rose. In the midst of a "ghastly dead silence" he commended Ting for quoting Matthew 18, a favorite of the Brethren, and assuring him that everyone would listen carefully to his address and where they were wrong they would ask for forgiveness. But he also listed several ways that both the churches of the United States, as well as the government, had worked for peace. He ended by commending the Bishop from Russia for quoting from Ephesians 2:14 (For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.).

Naylor finished to sustained and thunderous applause.

No one else but Naylor saw Bishop Ting wink as the two shook hands.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

How Then Shall We Dress?

One year after the Brethren Bicentennial, the 1909 Annual Meeting received three queries on dress which were referred to a committee for a study. After an interim report in 1910, the Committee brought its full report to the 1911 Annual Meeting in St. Joseph, Missouri June 6-8.

The stenographic, or verbatim, report of business proceedings contains 45 pages of discussion.

Those favoring prescribed dress argued that the church had a right to interpret Scripture and make rules for its members. Advocates of prescribed dress insisted that the unity and strength in the church and humility and spirituality in members which was promoted by the order of dress would be lost by discarding it.

Opponents of prescribed dress replied that plain and modest dress was scriptural but that no specific form should be required, since both Christ and the apostles wore the dress common to the first century. By adopting rules, the church was legalistic. Opponents of prescribed dress insisted that each generation must deal with the dress issue in the context of its own time.

The report adopted by Annual Meeting in 1911 superseded all previous action on the issue. It presented both scriptural and historical grounds favoring a form of plain dress that differed from worldly apparel. Ministering brethren and their wives were to dress in the prescribed order as exemplary members. The church was to teach members and discipline offenders. Prescribed dress was ideal, but should not be made a test of membership. Members who dressed simply were to be retained within the fellowship and nurtured in spiritual matters until they saw the joy of conforming to the gospel and adopted the order. Members who dressed fashionably were to be disciplined to keep the church pure. Later attempts to alter the decision of 1911 had only slight effect.

Among the specific items included in the report of the dress committee were the following:
  • That the brethren wear plain clothing. That the coat with the standing collar be worn, especially by the ministers and deacons.
  • That the brethren wear their hair and beard in a plain and sanitary matter. That the mustache alone is forbidden.
  • That the sisters attire themselves in plainly-made garments, free from ornaments and unnecessary appendages. That plain bonnets and hoods be the headdress, and the hair be worn in a becoming Christian manner.
  • That the veil be worn in time of prayer and prophesying. The plain cap is regarded as meeting the requirements of scriptural teaching on the subject.
  • That gold for ornament, and jewelry of all kinds, shall not be worn.
  • That no brother be installed into office as minister or deacon who will not pledge himself to observe and teach the order of dress.
Sources: Brethren Encyclopedia and Minutes of the 1911 Annual Meeting

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Higher Spiritual Life of the Church

The Bicentennial of the Church of the Brethren in Des Moines, Iowa ended on Thursday evening, June 11, 1908. Over a period of nine days the Brethren had endured 23 addresses on some 15 topics, in addition to another 15 devotional exercises opening each of the sessions. There were also the annual business sessions which were held on the final three days.

The concluding address came from Albert Cassel Wieand on "The Higher Spiritual Life of the Church. A.C. Wieand had been a co-founder of Bethany Bible School in Chicago in 1905 where the first buildings were built in this same year of 1908. Bethany was formally recognized by the church the following year in 1909.

A.C. Wieand must have known the size of the topic on which he had been asked to speak for he suggests in his introductory remarks: It will be necessary of those who are vitally interested in this matter to read again and again what is said here in outline, and to study the subject with the utmost care, - most especially the scriptures relating to the subject.

Wieand address follows four major outline points:

I. The Essential Nature of the Higher Spiritual Life

II. The Manifestations of the Higher Spiritual Life

III. The Culture and Maintenance of the Higher Spiritual Life

IV. The Church of the Brethren Considered in the Light of This Ideal

The following excerpt comes from the final part of the outline.

When the church was started, I thank God, the Church of the Brethren was born in a prayer meeting and a Bible School. Men and women gathered to pray God to lead them into his truth and light, willing to follow that word as far as it would take them and wherever it would lead them. We have that spiritual life of the higher grade and type right there, and all the way down the history. I have not time to refer to it. But in the Revolutionary War, in the Civil War, all down through the ages, how our Brethren have taken their stand on what they saw of the truth and the light of God, and stood there, no matter what they must suffer, believing that God would deliver them.

This very day in the Conference assembly we took our stand on the question of Secret Orders and Labor Unions in the teeth of a very difficult situation, suffering and sacrifice and persecution. Why? Rather than to violate a principle of God's word. When God hath spoken, "There is not to reason why, There is not to make reply, There is but to do and die," if need be, because God hath spoken. That is what I call the higher spiritual life.

There are so many misconceptions of the higher spiritual life. The Brethren have always been misunderstood on this subject because we do not make much noise about it, we do not get excited, we do not make much fuss about it; but I tell you, the test of the higher spiritual life is, how much sacrifice are you willing to make, and how firmly are you willing to stand by the right when it costs something to stand by the right? The practical demonstration of love and character is what tells whether or not a man is spiritual minded. ... Brethren, I believe that our church is the most spiritual church in the world today. ... But brethren, it ought to be very much better, far higher than it is.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Church and Moral Issues of Civilization

On June 10, 1907, Daniel Hays addressed the Brethren attending the Bicentennial Conference held in Des Moines, Iowa on "The Church and Moral Issues of Civilization." He began his address with this statement: Modern Civilation with all its embraces in culture, invention, science and art, may be traced to three sources: (1) The Classical; (2) The Hebrew; (3) The Teutonic. Hays then begins a lengthy examination of civiliation from the time of apostolic church through the Reformation.

Following that lengthy introductions, Hays brings us to the beginning of the Brethren in 1708 in Schwarzenau, Germany. The following excerpt provides a flavor of his address.

After John Wyclif had given the English Bible to his countrymen (1384); and John Huss of Bohemia did at the stake, because he had based his reform of the church upon conscience and Scripture (1415); after Martin Luther had kindled the fires of the Reformation (1517) and the reformers under him and after him had differed so much among themselves as to persecute each other and those whom they sought to reform - after these wonderful energies had arisen with increased light and wider experiences and had prepared the way for men to think calmly and to act deliberately, in the year 1708 at Schwarenau, Germany, a remnant of persecuted men and women of God organized a system of religious truth at once, simple, profound and comprehensive, and gave to the world the Revival of Primitive Christianity.

When Grecian Philosophy gave its ethical culture to the world, it taught in part man's duty to man, but it ignored his duty to himself and to his God. When Rome gave laws to the world, she held the nations under the iron heel of military power. When the schoolmen revived the peripatetic philosophy and attempted to reconcile revelation and reason, faith and philosophy, it was made the tool of ecclesiastical discipline. And when the Reformation had reached a period of combating the corruptions of Rome, and in turn became intolerant even unto moral hatred by stress of law and force of arms; the revival of Primitive Christianity gave to the world, in 1708, the New Testament as the standard, socially, morally and religiously - a pure life in a faithful, loving service to God.

Thus the Reform Movement reached a climax in the revival of Primitive Christianity in 1708. God in his own time and way was going to plant a great and free nation in America and he chose a people from among the Germans to carry the standard of light and truth to the New World. They were by nature and training fitted to stamp the conscience and morals of society, a mighty force in the development of American Civilization. It was not by accident that the Brethren at the invitation of Wm. Penn came to America, and settled at Germantown near Philadelphia in 1719-29. It was here that they gathered union, strength and character for the wider field which opened before them, and the wonderful activities which followed.

It was here in the year 1754 during the education struggle in which the English planned a system of schools to take from the German his language and his religion, and under the leadership of Christopher Sower, the Germans nobly won ....

It was here in 1777-8 that the struggle for religious liberty occurred between Elder Christopher Sower, as the leader of the Peace people, and the colonial authorities, which resulted in seeming disaster to Brother Sower and the cause of Peace. But God overruled it all, and, in the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, it ended in a triumphant victory for suffering humanity - "absolute religious liberty," and the entire separation of Church and State. This was the greatest triumph for the cause of civilization in history, and the Brethren under the providence of God took an active part through much suffering and persecution in securing full civil and religious liberty for the American people.

Near the end of his lengthy address to the Brethren on the evening of June 10, 1908, Hayes concludes: it said in all meekness and humility, that the church in her separation from the world, and the high standard she has raised for pure morals and a pure life in the practice of primitve Christianity, has led up to all that is good and desirable in modern civiliation.

Source: Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren: Bicentennial Addresses

Monday, June 09, 2008

What the Church Stands For - Her Doctrines

June 9, 1908 found the Brethren focus for the Bicentennial Celebration on Church Doctrine. This session was held in the evening. Earlier in the day on June 9 - 100 years ago today - the church that had gathered as the German Baptist Brethren took official action to change its name to the Church of the Brethren.

After such a monumental day in the bicentennial year, H.C. Early addresses the Brethren on "What the Church Stands For: Her Doctrines." Early begins by stating: It cannot be expected of any one to discuss all the doctrines of the Church within the period of one address ... Therefore the doctrines peculiar to the Church of the Brethren shall be brought forward and emphasized.

Early begins by affirming that the Protestant churches, for the most part, agree on the large and fundamental doctrines of the new Testament ... and the Church of the Brethren [note the name change became official earlier in the day] would be understood as believing and teaching them with all her heart.

Among the distinctive doctrines of the Church of the Brethren, Early names are these:
  • The law of membership. Faith, repentance, and baptism by trine immesion are held as conditions of membership....
  • Trine Immersion. It is held that the New Testament teaches Trine Immersion with face-forward action as baptism, that it teaches only this mode.
  • The communion service. Feet-washing, the Lord's Supper, and the bread and cup, as instituted by Jesus with the disciples ... is sacredly held.
  • The anointing of the sick.
  • The Simple Life. Simplicity of life and honesty of purpose are jealously maintained. ... In keeping with this general principle, the members of the church dress plainly, after a manner that easily distinguishes them from the world. ... As a means to the end of maintaining the principle of plainness in the church body, a form of dress, known as "The Order" is taught.
Sources: Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren, chapter 5

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sunday School, Missions, and Publications

June 8, 1908 was the 6th day of the Brethren Bicentennial Celebration in Des Moines, Iowa which would continue for three additional days which would include the business sessions. The morning session was focused on Sunday Schools, the afternoon on Missions, and the evening focus was Publications. We will try to include a few excerpts from this day's addresses.

I.B. Trout, "The Importance of the Sunday School Work"

When, a few years ago, I stood in the midst of the great wheat fields of the Northwest and contemplated the harvest that was at hand, the hundreds of millions of bushels of grain that must soon be gathered or else lost to the owners of the soil, I wondered from where the army of harvest hands, needed in so great a work, would come. Then the answer was, that train-load after train-load would come from the thickly-populated places in the East and the work would be quickly and easily done.

When I, today, stand and look out over the Lord's harvest fields, that are whitening to the harvest, when I consider the infinite value of this harvest and the dreadful loss sustained when only one soul is lost, when I consider what a multitude of workers is needed to save this harvest, the question arises, From what source shall these laborers be supplied? The reply is, From the ranks of the Sunday school, the source from whence come all the best workers in the church.

Elizabeth Myer, "Growth of the Sunday School"

There are few, very few local churches existing today that do not have an organized Sunday school. But listen! ...the enrollment of our schools is not over half of our membership as a church. Of the enrollment a half or more are children, and others not in the church, leaving but a fourth of our members active in church work through the Sunday school. ... In a live church eighty to ninety percent of the membership ought to be regular at Sunday school....

Galen B. Royer, "Development of Missions"

Thus the church has wrought under the blessings of God through the past quarter of a century or more. If she has been slow to take this first purpose of her existence she has awakened with a pace commendable. What might be done if every one sought first the Kingdom, as the Master commands, no human heart can foretell. If every member were a real missionary somewhere, - if for every member at home there were a missionary on the field, some might be fewer in dollars, but richer in grace....

William M. Howe, "The Influence of Missions on the Church"

What then have missions done for the church? Be very sure that when we seek to enrich others we at the same time enrich ourselves. Missionary effort, like mercy, is twice blest. ... Not only are our numbers and our territory thus enlarged but active mission work gives the church vision.

Source: Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren, chapters 10 & 11

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Church History

June 7, 1908 was a Sunday and the Brethren gathered in Des Moines, Iowa for the Bicentennial Celebration devoted the entire day to reflect on the church's history from Germany to Colonial America and on to the Mississippi and the Pacific. Six addresses were given - two in the morning, two in the afternoon, and two in the evening. M.G. Brumbaugh led off the addresses on Sunday morning speaking about "The Conditions in Germany about 1708."

After speaking to some of the conditions, Brumbaugh introduces us to the earliest Brethren:
The little gathering at Schwarzenau, living perhaps in huts on the hillside, spent years discussing the right thing to do. In this discussion they were guided not only by a careful study of the Bible, but also by the great history of the church written by Gottfried Arnold, and by the wise counsels of such men as Hochmann and Jeremias Felbinger, so that when they were ready to take the initial step for the formal organization of the church they were profoundly schooled not only in the Book of Truth, but in the history of the church and in the doctrines of protest....

They formulated a plan which divorced them from all other Pietistic friends and determined upon an organized church. ...those who counted the cost determined that they should know only the Bible as their guide, and turning to this, they evolved doctrines now so well known and so well cherished.... They were not Pietists. They left the Pietistic movement just as the Pietists before them had withdrawn from the state religions ... Mack and his followers could not endorse the excesses of the radical Anabaptists ... They are, therefore, a church founded upon no tradition, and caring not at all so much for the apostolic succession in the priesthood as they did care for the apostolic succession in doctrine.

...The church is thus a church of protest, and such a church is always a minority church. ... A church of protest cannot long exist nor can it successfully grow without resting upon thoroughly educational training. Hence the need of schools and the broadening activities in foreign and home missionary work; in the Sunday-school and Bible study, and all other activities that build the individual and the church strong on the religious side.

...Alexander Mack was a great scholar, and his profound knowledge of the Bible and the knowledge his Brethren shared with him are of such commanding influence that they joined with others in producing the memorable Bible with far-reaching commentary data known as the Berleberg Bible published from 1726 to 1742; and his youngest son, Alexander Mack, Bishop of the mother church at Germantown, wrote more important religious guidance than any other leader of American colonial thought.

We began an educated and powerful church. Let us try with all our energies to restore the church to its early and its splendid history. We shall thus best serve our day - best serve our church - best serve the great head of the church, the Son of God.

Source: Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren, Chapter 1

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Voice of God Through the Church

On June 6, 1908, at the Bicentennial Celebration in Des Moines, Iowa, the topic of the day was: The Voice of God Through the Church. The topic for the day included two addresses. The first, by L.W. Teeter was "What the Church Has Heard from God." Teeter stated that To tell what the church has heard from God is nothing less than to tell what God has said to the church. Teeter's address was summarized here on March 3.

The second address on the topic was by J. W. Lear: "What the Church Has Done with the Message." Lear began his address with the reminder that Christ is the head of the church. The church is his body existing in the world through the church. Therefore Christ is still incarnate in the world through the church.

After providing some church history, Lear brings us up to 1708 when eight of these honest, simple-hearted people bonded themselves together after careful meditation, prayer and fasting, to start an organization founded upon no other creed than the New Testament. ... Their great desire to unfurl a banner upon which was inscribed: "The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth," is the only apology that need be offered for this action. They were fearless in the proclamation of this great Pauline truth. They were zealous in their belief and anxious that all men would join them in the propogation of the Gospel as understood by themselves, yet they maintained that membership in the church of Jesus Christ was to be had on the ground of faith, love and obedience, rather than on the material platform of compulsion....

Lear goes on to share about the spread of the churches in the eighteenth century to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and early in the nineteenth the Gospel as understood by the Brethren was preached in Ohio, Illinois and Missouri and membership within the first 100 years exceeded 75,000. Lear continues, We are now eagerly setting our faces toward Europe, Asia, Africa and the islands of the sea to help reclaim these lands for Christ.

Lear moves on toward his summation: The church has already acomplished much, and it is impossible to calculate what might be wrought if it were not for the unawakened souls in the church that are applying the brakes of indifference on this mountain climb. If every member was spirit-filled and fully consecrated, our efficiency would be much greater. Commercialism is clogging the wheels of progress. Too many of our members are laying up treasures at the wrong place. Thousands will be disappointed on the great day of awards.

... God is willing to save all that call, but how much of the sending are we willing to do? We, who claim to preach a whole Gospel, and fault others for not doing so, ought to be exceedingly zealous in carrying the beautiful story to all that we can.

Source: Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren, Chapter 4

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Pioneer Preachers

On June 5, 1908, J.H. Moore addressed the bicentennial on "Our Pioneer Preachers."

It requires a strong man to go out on the frontier and command the attention and respect of people who have been trained to do their own hard thinking, especially so when the purpose is a moral or religious information.

Moore regrets his lack of time to tell of some of the earliest pioneer preachers in Pennsylvania and Virginia. I must leave practically untouched the labors and achievements of these God-fearing men, who braved the hardships and privations of pioneer life, that they might open up a new country for civilazation and education, and lay the foundation for churches that would bear aloft the banner of King Emmanuel.

I now proceed to tell you of a typical pioneer preacher, who did much in opening up the West to our people, and left behind him an influence that is still molding sentiment. I refer to Elder George Wolfe.... Wherever he went, he impressed the people as one of a higher type than the common run of even intellectual men -- one entitled to more than ordinary attention and respect. ... Though a man of little schooling ... he could talk on the most difficult mental problems with the ease and grace of an accomplished scholar. He knew his Bible as few men understood the Book, was a close and an extensive reader, as well as a profound reasoner and a born logician. As an orator, in the pulpit or on the platform, he is said to have had but few, if any, equals in all this western country.

... Eld. Wolfe was not only a pioneer preacher, but he was a pioneer citizen. He helped to open up the great West, helped to lay the foundation of the State of Illinois, and then he helped to build up churches at a time when there were but a few able ministers in the country. He was happily equipped for nearly every department on the frontier life, and nobly did his part in making the world better than he found it when he cast his lot in the Far West.

Source: Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren, chapter 15

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Work of Women

On June 4, 1908, the bicentennial theme was The Work of Women in the Church featuring addresses by T.S. Moherman and Adaline Hohf Beery.

Moherman references Sarah Major and then lists the following women given the right to preach in more modern times: Mattie Lear of Illinois, Cassie Beery VanDyke of Chicago, and Bertha Miller Neher of Milford, Indiana. He summarizes his address with this paragraph:

We can find no happier point than this to sum up the work of our sisterhood for the church the past two hundred years, setting the pace for her younger sisters the coming centuries. May we not say that she has abhorred evil more, loved righteousness more, journeyed more amid perils, suffered more, prayed more, and wept more for Jesus and humanity than her big stronger brothers of the faith.

Beery notes two synonyms in addressing The Work of Women in the Church. She notes the Church is a bride ... pledging herself to undying loyalty and loving service to the Lord, her Betrothed. And then the Church is a mother. She gathers all her family around her knee, and instructs them in the virtues of her house.

Beery adds: The highest, and the humblest, position in the Church is that of minister. Highest, because he is the mouthpiece of God; humblest because he is servant of all. The ministry includes teaching; and teacher is of common gender. When the assembled church breaks into little circles for Bible study, in the center of each circle you will find, more than often, a woman teaching. I do not know whether it has ever been explained why men minister mostly in the pulpit, and women in the Sunday School, but the fact is patent to all....

... Woman usually has a genius for pastoral work. She is naturally inclined to visiting, more than man, and with a few words she gets hold of the situation, and her intuition tells her the rest. With a cheary leaflet, a pretty print, or a bunch of garden poisies, she soon wins the confidence of the entire family....

Beery concluded her address with these thoughts: "...And so we come around again to our opening remark, that this is a discussion of synonyms. Wherever there is work, there are women; and most women are scarcely on speaking terms with anything else. And the Church is a mother, with her hands exceedingly full. And since there are more women than men in the Church, it makes more work for both women and preacher, to rend the garments of self-complacency and expose the bare souls of the men to the keen thrust of the Spirit's sword.

The prayers and presence of the women keep the Church stanch. There may be other pillars, but the women are stones in the basement all. Therefore, we have the following equation: Work plus women plus the Church equal a splendid upheaval of righteousness in the forbidding Sahara of universal sin.

Source: Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren, Chapter 9

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Church Polity

On June 3, 1908 at the Bicentennial I.D. Parker addressed the church on Church Polity.

... Church Polity embraces:
  1. The exercise of authority in the church.
  2. The control of the church over her members.
  3. The direction she gives in carrying on her work.
  4. The liberty to enjoy the good and restraint from evil.
  5. The administration of the laws and rules by which the church regulates....


To have a Church Polity that God will approve, four things must be carefully observed:

  1. The authority exercised must be divine.
  2. It must be exercised in a Christlike spirit.
  3. The work directed must be in harmony with all the principles of the Gospel.
  4. The restraint of the church must not be greater nor her liberties more extended, than the teachings of Jesus allow.

... If we have had some success above some others in perpetuating primitive Christianity (and I believe we have), it is chiefly due to two things:

  1. That our forefathers planted the church in America with the Holy Scriptures as their only written creed, and made their final appeal to this on all questions of difference.
  2. That these pioneers organized their work in harmony with the New Testament Church Polity.

Parker goes on to distinguish "New Testament Church Polity" from four other forms of church polity: Monarchial, Episcopal, Presbyterial, and Congregational. He goes on to describe "New Testament Church Polity" as that which binds all congregations and individual members of Christ's body in one government. "It may be called an Ecclesiastical Democracy, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Source: Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren, Chapter 6

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bicentennial Celebration - 1908

A Bicentennial Celebration was planned for the 1908 Annual Meeting to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Brethren. The Bicentennial was held June 3-11 at the Des Moines, Iowa Annual Meeting. The planning committee prepared an ambitious list of fifteen topics covering all aspects of the Brethren movement in the past and in the present. The topics were to be addressed by twenty-four speakers chosen from among leaders of the church and its colleges. These addressed were published in a substantial volume titled Two Centuries of the Church of the Brethren.

The meetings at which the addresses were given were largely attended and it was the general consensus of opinion that the Conference of 1908 with its bicentennial program was one of the most interesting and at the same time deeply spiritual Annual Meetings held within the memory of those present.

During the next nine days we will provide brief summaries of these addresses given one hundred years ago on June 3-11. We will not be able to summarize all 24 addresses but we will focus on nine primary topics to provide insight into our church in 1908 at the bicentennial celebration.

Postscript: When the Brethren gathered in Des Moines, Iowa for their Bicentennial Celebration in June 1908, the Brethren offices were located in Chicago. On June 2, the Chicago Cubs had the best record in Major League Baseball and went on to win the World Series in 1908. They have not won the World Series since. One Hundred years later, the Church of the Brethren offices are located just west of Chicago in Elgin, Illinois, and in this the Tricentennial year of the Church of the Brethren the Chicago Cubs have the best record in Major League Baseball at the beginning of June for the first time since 100 years ago. Will they go on to win the World Series in the Church of the Brethren Tricentennial year?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

D. P. Sayler

D.P. Sayler was an active and leading church during the latter half of the 1800s. He was ordained as an elder in 1850 shortly before his 40th birthday and by the time of the Civil War he was one of the outstanding leaders in church. Sayler was an early and active promoter of missionary activity and a prolific contributor to Brethren periodicals.

In 1859 Sayler was the first person to be referred to as moderator of the Annual Meeting. The term was first used in the 1850s and initially those who served as moderator were not named in minutes. Sayler also served served as moderator in 1860 and again in 1877. Sayler also served on a number of Conference committees, including "investigating committees" assigned to visit congregations that were having difficulties. He vigorously defended the policies of Annual Meeting.

Although Sayler was evidently sympathetic with the Old German Baptist Brethren in many ways and some of them assumed he was on their side, he refused to join them when they separated from Annual Meeting. In 1882 he argued vigorously that the report of the Berlin Committee which recommended the disfellowship of H.R. Holsinger must be accepted in order to maintain the integrity of the Annual Meeting.

At the same Annual Meeting, Sayler was responsible for the so-called "Mandatory Resolution" which required all Brethren congregations to follow the decisions of the Annual Meeting. This was an issue the church had been dealing with since at least 1842. There were those who felt that the authority of Annual Meeting should be more binding, while on the other hand, there were others who believed that congregational autonomy must be respected. The old German Baptist Brethren withdrew from the main body of the church in 1881 when their insistence on a rigid enforcement of the decisions of Annual Meeting had failed. In 1882, during the Progressive and Old Order Brethren withdrawal, the mandatory character of Annual Meeting decisions was affirmed. Nine districts came to the 1883 Annual Meeting with requests for modifciation or repeal, but no change was made.

By the time Sayler left the Annual Meeting of 1882, he was exhausted and ill. He never fully recovered and died June 6, 1885.