Monday, August 04, 2008

The Brethren and Schwarzenau

Address by Desmond Bittinger, Moderator

August 6, 1958 - Schwarzenau, Germany

We are pleased that after two hundred fifty years it is the privilege and the opportunity of the Church of the Brethren officially to return to Schwarzenau. Here in this lovely, quiet valley of the Eder ... we reverently commemorate our anniversary.

Why do we cross an ocean to conduct this pilgrimage?

We have come back to pay our respects to the memories of our forefathers who, in this valley, established themselves into a fellowship and in this river were baptized as the founders and disciples of a new church, the Church of the Brethren. We come, also, to pay our respects to you who have continued to live here, to you whose ancestors made the inception of this church possible, and to you who through two centuries have kindly welcomed those of our people who have visited here.

But even more than for these reasons, we have come back to this valley ... in order to take stock of ourselves and to reappraise the continuing work which we as a church should undertake to do. We have returned to this valley to seek further guidance from God and to seek for a recommission from Him as we move forward into the unfolding future. ...

What happened in this valley that has significance for the Church of the Brethren?

Here some earnest seekers after truth found a part of what they sought. Their descendants have sought to conserve and to add to that truth. But of major significance was their attitude toward truth. ... Two hundred fifty years ago, here in this valley, ...persecutions were allayed; an unusual freedom was allowed to those who were searching for truth and who sincerely arrived at differing understandings of God.

As a result of this, many who wished to pursue the quest for truth found their way here. Alexander Mack, sacred to the Brethren, was among these. Surrounded by other individuals, he knelt before the open Bible and asked God to give all of them further insights into His truth. Their prayer was for open hearts and minds, which would remain open. Through prayer and searching they came to believe that they had discovered new truths, truths which were not embodied in any other existing denomination as fully as they thought necessary. For this reason they went into the River Eder and by trine immersion established the Church of the Brethren.

What were these new truths which they believed they had discovered?

First was the determination to keep open the door through which they had come into existence: the right of a continuing, prayerful, openminded search for truth. In order to assure this they determined from the first that the New Testament would be their perpetual textbook; they would not restrict it with a creed. Discipleship, study, prayer, and growth toward Godlikeness would be their goal. ...

A second aspect of the Brethren findings was that they resolved to follow the ordinances of the Bible as teaching devices. Through such observance the Christian could better grow in grace and in the knowledge of God, they believed.

What happened to this church subsequently?

It fell under persecution from the very first....

The Brethren are still searching for the truths of God ....

Where shall the Brethren go from here?

The Brethren have not become a large denomination. They have not turned the world upside down. They have sought with earnestness, however, to give a testimony to simple, openhearted, helpful, Christian living. They have sought to keep their minds and hearts open so that Christ can indeed live, in the fullness of love, within their lives and use them for His Kingdom's purposes.

This should be their commitment for the future. It is a simple commitment: openness to God's increasing and indwelling; complete surrender to God's will and to God's use; complete dedication to the Master's prayer for the world, "That all may be one."

Love is the ultimate weapon against any or all conflict; love alone can cast out fear. God himself is love. The Brethren wish to be wholly dedicated to love.

May God bless this anniversary pilgrimage. May His Spirit bless this valley, and the people who dwell here. May God bless the members of the Church of the Brethren and make of them His servants as He leads us from this valley and from this day into an unfolding and growing future.

Source: The Adventurous Future