Thursday, October 30, 2008

Conrad Beissel

Conrad Beissel was a convert to the Brethren baptized by Peter Beckerin 1724 at the age of 33. Becker then placed him in charge of the new Conestoga congregation. For the next few years enthusiastic evangelists from Conestoga continued to gain new converts. However, things did not go smoothly for the isolated congregation. Beissel soon indicated that he was observing the Saturday Sabbath as a matter of personal conviction, although he was not preaching it.

However in December 1728, Beissel made a complete break with the Brethren. The Conestoga congregation divided and Beissel moved to Ephrata. Beissel began to teach radical doctrines and to build up a following. He was a powerful preacher, a disciplined ascetic, and a driving taskmaster. Not all of those attracted to him were able to endure, but many did. From those he welded together a prosperous and self-supporting monastic community which came to be know as the Ephrata Cloisters. (More on this tomorrow)

Around 1745, Beissel and his associates established a printing press which sent a flood of devotional and religious materials into the homes of the German-speaking people throughout the colonies. Among the principles Beissel taught was the superiority of celibacy over marriage, communal property, mysticism, and the seventh day as the true Sabbath. He was tireless in proselyting. Among his converts were many Brethren, including Alexander Mack, Jr., and a number of other persons from the Germantown church. Beissel's power lay in his personality and in his ability to appeal to the Pietistic leanings of the Brethren. Also, he met them on their own ground of obedience to the Word.

Beissel rules the Ephrata Society with an iron hand. He banished those who did not yield to his regime. He introduced many monastic customs and gave comfort to all sorts of symbolism in Biblical interpretation. The result was an increased departure from the plain Gospel tenets of the people with whom he was for a time identified.

Sources: Heritage and Promise, Bittinger
The Brethren Encyclopedia
A History of the Brethren, Brumbaugh