Written by Ronald J. Gordon ~ Published September, 1997 ~ Last Updated, May, 2019 ©
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Puzzled by all the Brethren denominations? There are so many Christian groups using the term Brethren, that questions frequently arise concerning their relationship with each other. The purpose of this work is to acquaint you with a basic, non-theological outline of denominations using the word Brethren and hopefully give you a better understanding of how we all fit together. One very common denominator which usually holds true for most Brethren groups is that each progenitive body originated in central Europe during the Fifteenth to Eighteenth centuries under moderate to severe religious persecution. There are eight main Brethren groups, and each sub-group is listed under their progenitor. When possible, links have been included to other web sites that offer additional material that will offer more information about that specific group. Reasonable consideration should therefore be exercised that opinions expressed are solely the responsibility of the editors of each site, and may not represent an official position of the governing denominational body. The basic outline of this document was first compiled by the late Richard M. Judy of Dunker Springhaus Ministries, Youngstown, Ohio. It was then further researched to include commentary on each group, additional information, brief histories, reference links to other web sites, and then graphically enhanced for the Web, by Ron Gordon, Church of the Brethren Network Administrator. Your questions, suggestions, or any corrections to this outline are most welcome.
Moravians, Moravian Brethren, Unitas Fratrum or Unity of Brethren
Provincial Elders' Conference, North, 1021 Center Street, PO Box 1245, Bethlehem, PA 18016-1245
The flame of reform was not extinguished by the death of John Hus in 1415, for a small group of Hussites gathered on the estate of Lititz, about 100 miles east of Prague, and organized a church in 1457. They later adopted the name Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren). In order to escape the Thirty Years War, they migrated into neighboring Silesia and Moravia but were nearly annihilated during the 1500 and 1600's by repeated forced conversions to Roman Catholicism. In 1722, some Moravian Brethren settled in Saxony on property owned by the reformer Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf and formed a community named Herrnhut. This group flourished and became a haven for many other Brethren. James Oglethorpe invited the Moravians to his colony of Georgia in 1735 but after experiencing many unexpected hardships, they later moved to Pennsylvania and founded Bethlehem and Nazareth. Zinzendorf later transported many other Brethren to America with the desire of uniting all German groups (including Mennonite, Lutheran, Reformed) under one religious and cultural roof. A dream which did not happen. Some groups moved to North Carolina in 1752 and founded Old Salem in 1766. Quakers and Scots founded Winston just north of Salem and the two cities grew together. The United States Postal Service merged the two post offices in 1899 and the hyphen first appeared between Winston and Salem. This locale is also the depository for many historical and genealogical records of the Moravian Church.
Hutterites, Bruderhof, Society of Brothers
Geographically separate communitarian groups
This is one of the first Anabaptist groups to organize following Ulrich Zwingli, Felix Mantz, and Conrad Grebel initialing the core movement in Switzerland in 1522. Pacifism was a central belief of Anabaptism. When persecution became intolerable in Switzerland and southern Germany, many Anabaptists found refuge in Moravia where a distinctive, more communitarian type of Anabaptism had emerged in 1528. The best known leader of this group was its founder, Jacob Hutter, a hat maker from the Tyrol (also Tirol) who was their guiding lightbearer from 1533 until his death in 1536. He and a few other Anabaptists practiced what can only be described as combative pacifism. In other words, they were willing to respond aggressively in the very most vociferous manner without actually becoming physical.
"Woe, woe! unto you, O ye Moravian rulers, who have sworn to that cruel tyrant and enemy of God's truth, Ferdinand, to drive away his pious and faithful servants. Woe! we say unto you, who fear that frail and mortal man more than the living, omnipotent, and eternal God, and chase from you, suddenly and inhumanly, the children of God, the afflicted widow, the desolate orphan, and scatter them abroad...God, by the mouth of the prophet proclaims that He will fearfully and terribly avenge the shedding of innocent blood, and will not pass by such as fear not to pollute and contaminate their hands therewith. Therefore, great slaughter, much misery and anguish, sorrow and adversity, yea, everlasting groaning, pain and torment are daily appointed you."
Van Braght, "Martyrology: Letters of Jakob Hutter," p. 151-153 R.J. Smithson, "The Anabaptists," London, 1935, p. 69-71 Also see "History of Civilization," Prentice-Hall, 1967, p. 481.
When persecution of Anabaptists in the Tyrol became fierce, Hutter went to Moravia in 1533, where other Anabaptists from the Pfalz and Silesia had also resettled. Hutter quickly and successfully united Anabaptists groups so much so that they began to flourish. However, in only two years, the Moravian government forcefully expelled all Anabaptists in 1535, regarding them as a heretical sect. Hutter returned to the Tyrol but was quickly arrested in November 30, 1535 in the city of Klausen. In December, Hutter was moved to Innsbruck where he was imprisoned until his execution before the Golden Roof on February 25, 1536. For many years, Anabaptists from these areas were simply on the run.
After near extermination when forced to accept Catholicism, Hutterites found refuge in Ukraine in 1595. They later emigrated to the United States in 1874-79 and then north into Canada in 1918. Each group of about one hundred persons lives in a Bruderhof (brothers place), a small colony with ownership of property held in common to all, following the example of early Christians (Acts 2:44). Their lifestyle is mostly conservative and simplistic, with a profound determination to resist political participation in any way. These agriculturally based communities of nondescript houses, barns, and sheds, are self-sufficient, growing most of their own food in an array of gardens, fields, and orchards.
Bruderhof colonies are managed by a spiritual leader working in harmony with an advisory board which is composed of a colony manager (financial obligations), a farm manager (work distribution), and two or three deacons. Education is completed within the colony in schools where students begin in nursery (2-5 years) and finish at grade 12. Because of mechanization and computerization, some colonies (Decker) permit students to attend college at Brandon University because each colony is expected to be self-sustaining, usually through agriculture or manufacturing.
Leisure time includes music, sports, crafts, and inter-colony visitation. Many Bruderhofs have their own choral group which perform in hospitals, retirement communities, and other social gatherings.
... is an entirely different group that was founded by Eberhard Arnold (1883-1935) in the early 1920's in Germany. When they were persecuted by the Nazis, they moved to Liechtenstein, then England, later Paraguay during World War II, and finally arriving in the United States in the early 1950's. Arnold sought to assimilate his group into the various Hutterite Bruderhof's and thus, appropriated Bruderhof Communities from the Hutterites as his own label. However, lacking a national organization, this became a matter of Arnold's flock being individually accepted by the different Hutterite communal groups. For a brief period, the Hutterite Bruderhofs and the Arnold Bruderhofs were cohesively aligned, interchangeably using each others label. Some Hutterites referred to the new arrivals as Arnoldleut (Arnold's People).
Then a rift started between different communal groups because of certain practices and beliefs. The Lehrerleut and Dariusleut Hutteritian groups no longer welcomed Arnold's People while some colonies of the Schmiedeleut attempted to maintain better communication, which resulted in predictable struggles for dominance.
When grandson Heini Arnold became leader of the Arnoldleut Bruderhof communities in 1961, a purge of nearly one-third of their membership ensued with numerous ex-members charging Heini of totalitarianism. These exiles have used a newsletter called KIT (Keep In Touch) to chronicle possible Bruderhof abuses, and encourage current members to leave ranks. Ongoing charges and counter-charges mixed with a few law suits have sustained hard feelings and blurred clear distinctions of each group, because the labels Hutterite and Bruderhof had been used so interchangeably by each group. Christoph, son of Heini Arnold, has, likewise, attempted to consolidate his influence by making further policy shifts, including a final break from the Hutterian Brethren.
Schwarzenau Brethren, Schwarzenau Täufer, Neue Täufer, German Baptist, German Baptist Brethren, Church of the Brethren, Ashland Brethren, Progressive Brethren, Brethren Church, Dunkard Brethren, Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, Conservative Grace Brethen Church International, Fraternity of German Baptists, Hoffman Brethren, Old German Baptist Brethren, Old 'Order' German Baptist Brethren, Tunkers, Tunkards, Dunkers, Dunkards
COB = Church of the Brethren BC = The Brethren Church DB = Dunkard Brethren OGBB = Old German Baptist Brethren OOGB = Old Order German Baptist Church FGBC = Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches CGBCI = Conservative Grace Brethen Church International
The names tunker, dunkers, and dunkards have been applied to many Brethren sub-groups because of their common practice of immersing or 'dunking' baptismal candidates. (see also the Brethren in Christ below)
Although modern Germans principally use the transitive verb tauchen (plunge, immerse) or eintauchen (dive into), the obsolete tunken was the moniker applied to the early Brethren. The later substitution of the ‘D’ for the ‘T’ thus rendering dunken is most probably a New World innovation, which itself, later evolved into dunkard, and backward also into tunkard.
Early members had no distinctive name but commonly referred to themselves as Brethren and occasionally as Taufgesinnten (baptist-minded). Outsiders started calling them Täufer) or Neue Täufer (New Baptists) to distinguish them from older Anabaptists bodies such as the Mennonites and Amish or Swiss Brethren. They were the Schwarzenau Täufer the Schwarzenau Baptists or the Schwarzenau Brethren. They later migrated through the New World using the label German Baptist so as to distinguish themselves from English Baptist groups. During the early part of the 19th Century when Brethren, who ordinarily met for worship and fellowship in private homes, started building meeting houses for their growing congregations, it became necessary to process legal papers with reference to a legal group name. The Annual Meeting of 1836 was petitioned by members to oblige them with some kind of legal denominational name to which was issued the first sanctioned label: “Fraternity of German Baptists.” There is still one church in North Carolina that reflects this decision, the Fraternity Church of the Brethren. The word Fraternity may have found acceptance in legal documents but there was a gradual move to include the word Brethren since this is the name that they had used of themselves from the earliest period. Some congregations started using the new unofficial label of German Baptist Brethren.
"So the Mumma Church took that new name (German Baptist Brethren). Why the Marsh and Sharpsburg churches used the old name isn't known (German Baptist)."
A Century of Faithful Service: The Sharpsburg Church of the Brethren, 1899-1999, p. 6. (This was a commemorative local church publication. The Mumma Church is also known as the Antietam Battlefield Church.)
The words “German Baptist Brethren” became so widely used in normal conversation that the Annual Meeting officially adopted it in 1871, the second official sanctioning of a denominational label. Variations of Tunker and Dunker have also been used by several Brethren groups beside this Schwarzenau body (see Brethren In Christ below). In fact, a 1926 splinter group from the Church of the Brethren actually uses the label Dunkard Brethren.
The short definition of Tunker or Dunker applies more properly to groups associated with the method of baptism through immersion.
Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Avenue, Elgin, IL 60120 The Brethren Church, 524 College, Avenue, Ashland, Ohio 44805 Old German Baptist Brethren ??? Old Order German Baptist Church ??? Dunkard Brethren ??? Fellowship of Grace Brethren, PO Box 384, Winona Lake IN 46590 Conservative Grace Brethen Church International ???
Established 1708 near Schwarzenau, Germany, by Alexander Mack who founded a community of eight believers through adult baptism. They were heavily influenced by Pietism, and Anabaptist conventions from an earlier century. Schwarzenau Brethren often experienced religious persecution, and found refuge among Mennonites, an older persecuted Anabaptist group who had establish havens over many years, such as Krefeld (Germany) and Germantown (Pennsylvania). Brethren were also influenced by them, and many beliefs and practices remain similar into the modern era. Following a resurgence of persecution, splinter groups evolved and the Mack party emigrated in 1729 to Pennsylvania in the wake of co-worker Peter Becker's earlier group in 1719. The first American congregation was founded near Germantown with adult baptisms on Christmas Day, 1723. Enjoying their new world freedom from religious persecution, Brethren gradually began spreading out from the Philadelphia area and established many new congregations.
Brethren in the new world were at first a loose knit confederation of settlements. Regular visitation and affirmations of their common faith and practices maintained a sense of community. These early Brethren were successful in creating a subculture that insulated them from most secular influences. Many were farmers or worked in occupations related to agriculture. At that time in history, farms were nearly self-sustaining. With only horses or mules to pull their machinery, farmers had little need to interact with the outside world. Most farm families wore homemade clothing. Brethren generally intermarried which contributed to sustaining their unique subculture. One of the first significant challenges to the new world Brethren was a theological conflict with an Elder of the Conestoga congregation. He had his own special beliefs and ways of doing things that led to direct confrontations with the Founding leaders of the Brethren at Germantown.
Johann Conrad Beissel, head Elder of the Conestoga congregation, renounces his Brethren affiliation in 1728 and later establishes his own communal living experiment with a Cloister near Ephrata in 1732. During his lifetime, Ephrata Cloister community flourished, but after his death in 1768, most residents gradually began moving away. In 1814, the few remaining dwellers incorporated themselves as the Seventh Day German Baptist Church which survived until 1934. With its future in limbo, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission assumed complete ownership of the grounds in 1941, instituting a program of research, historical interpretation, and restoration.
Three-way division of 1881-1882
Old German Baptist Brethren (OGBB), representing the more conservative wing as in dress, custom, and worship could not tolerate modern innovations of the Nineteenth century and left the church in 1881. Minor schisms followed this group with the Old Order German Baptist Brethren breaking away in 1921.
Progressive Brethren representing the more progressive wing desired modern innovations of the Nineteen Century and especially stressed a greater emphasis on evangelism. They left the main body of Brethren in 1882 to form the Brethren Church (BC) which experienced its own schism in 1939 with the departure of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (GB).
The central and largest group of moderates (then called Conservatives) realizing after two full centuries that few members speak German or embrace the former rural sub-culture, later adopted the denominational title Church of the Brethren (COB) in 1908.
Old Brethren (OB) 1913 leaves the Old German Baptist Brethren.
Old Order German Baptist Brethren (OOGBB) 1921 leaves the Old German Baptist Brethren.
Dunkard Brethren (DB) 1926 leaves the Church of the Brethren and minor divisions follow the DB in 1948 and 1949.
Fellowship of Grace Brethren Dunkard Brethren (FGBC) 1939 leaves the Brethren Church.
Conservative Grace Brethren Churches International (CGBCI) 1992 leaves the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches.
Old German Baptist Brethren New Conference (OOGBB) 2009 leaves the Old German Baptist Brethren.
Major divisions of the Schwarzenau Brethren are represented in the following chart, which does not include a number of minor Brethren groups known as: Hostetler, Honite, Shoemaker, Landisites, Mooreites, Bowman, Leedy, Freewill, New Testament, and Thurmanites.
United Brethren, Church of the United Brethren, United Christian Church, Evangelical United Brethren, UB, UCC, EUB
United Brethren in Christ, 302 Lake Street, Huntington, IN 46750
From the Pietist movement in the mid to late 1700's among German speaking folk in Pennsylvania. There was a fervor of spiritual awakening sweeping through Lancaster County in the 1760's. Many of these individuals professed the necessity of holiness and especially the assurance of "new birth" conversion as a real experience to be remembered. In 1767, German Reformed pastor Philip Otterbein attended an interdenominational "Great Meeting" near Lancaster, PA. Hearing the powerful conversion story of Mennonite speaker Martin Boehm, he embraced him, exclaiming: "Wir sind Bruder" (we are Brethren). This meeting later produced a group called the United Brethren, who trace their beginning to the Otterbein/Boehm meeting. There appears to be no formal structure to the United Brethren until 1800, when they officially organized themselves near Frederick, Maryland. They appended the words "in Christ," in order to distinguish themselves from the Moravians who were also called United Brethren from their Latin title Unitas Fratrum.
In the late 1700's, many United Brethren congregations were formed throughout Lancaster County, and generally bore names associated with their locality. One such congregation on the east shore of the Susquehanna River came to be called River Brethren, and would later evolve into the Brethren in Christ (see next article).
A Pennsylvania group of United Brethren ministers and laymen under Rev. George Hoffman, broke away in the late 1860's over doctrinal issues. First known as "Hoffmanites," they later organized in 1878 as the United Christian Church.
Great split of 1889
Progressive members gradually accepted more social latitude than conservative members, and the division finally resulted in a split in 1889. Main issues were involvement in secret societies (Free Masons, et. al.) and the proper method of changing their constitution. The Majority group known as New Constitution (Liberals) merged with the Evangelical Church (another Pietist German group) in 1946 and adopted the name Evangelical United Brethren Church. In 1968, the EUB merged with the Methodists to form the United Methodist Church.
The Minority group known as Old Constitution (Radicals) were led by Bishop Milton Wright (father of Wilbur and Orville Wright, see also the book, "The Bishop's Boys") and retained the former title of The Church of the United Brethren in Christ. This group is still in existence today, much to the surprise of many who incorrectly believe the 1968 merger with the Methodist Church involved the entire group. It did not.
Still In Business
The Church of the United Brethren in Christ is still in business! Many people mistakenly think that the UB was absorbed into the Methodist Church and no longer exists. Notice in the above section that it was only the New Constitution group which joined the Methodists. The Old Constitution group retained their full denominational title and continue to this day with congregations, camps, and agencies. Their official headquarters is located in Huntington, Indiana.
River Brethren, River Mennonites, United Zion Holiness, Old Order River Brethren, Yorker Brethren, Brethren in Christ, BIC
Brethren In Christ, 431 Grantham Road, PO Box 290, Grantham, PA 17027
Began when a fervor of spiritual awakening or revival was sweeping through Lancaster County in the 1760's. A revival movement having its origin in the German Methodist movement, when Otterbein and Boehm formed the United Brethren. Most groups came to be known by their locality, and the group north of the town of Marietta on the east side of the Susquehanna River were called the River Brethren. United Brethren leader Martin Boehm was the spiritual leader of this group until its congregation, principally of Mennonite background, began to withdraw from him because of his liberal views on baptism, and his relationships with non-Mennonite individuals.
Early formation is not well documented. Details are unclear. Most information has been garnered from the memories of participants who did not regard dates and events with importance. Jacob Engel is universally cited in BIC literature as one of the founders who were convinced that Trine immersion was the Scriptural method of baptism. Sensing alienation from the United Brethren and Mennonites over this issue, compounded by an unwillingness from several Dunker ministers to baptize outside their own circle, this group sought to establish its own identity. A tradition exists that a Dunker Elder, George Miller encouraged them to form their own group through a "mutual baptism" as was earlier performed by the Schwarzenau Brethren. This group event is thought to have occurred in the late 1770s with their first Confession of Faith appearing in 1780. The first General Conference of North American and Canadian churches was formed, to give overall guidance to local congregations.
They were known simply as River Brethren until the Civil War, when a military draft was instituted by the Union Government, requiring them to register in Washington as a non-resistant organization. It is believed that on this occasion the label "Brethren in Christ" was first used in 1861, although older members continued to use the term River Brethren well into the next century.
Their "theological DNA" is derived from Anabaptism wherein they emphasize community of faith, simple living, and pursuing peace. Brethren In Christ bear the distinct marks of Pietism as well, as they rejected the intellectualized expressions of faith of larger more secularised churches. They stress the importance of genuine conversion evidenced by a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and a warm affection for all of God's people.
General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches
Mennonite Brethren Executive Secretary, 4824 E. Butler Avenue, Fresno, CA 93727-5097
Birthed from the larger Mennonite Church in 1860 through a process of spiritual revival with a desire for closer fellowship, this group incorporated the title Brethren simply because of their spiritual kinship which was a outcome of meeting in small household groups for prayer and Bible study. There were two incidents which directly contributed to their breaking from the larger Mennonite body.
Many of these small home Brethren groups wanted a more sympathetic elder of the larger Mennonite church to officiate the Lord's Supper in their private home gatherings, in accordance with Acts 2:46-47. Some wanted to meet in this manner because regular communion included people who had not made a public profession of their faith. Elders refused these requests under the presumption that it would foster spiritual pride and lead to disunity in the church. In November of 1859, feeling rejected and disheartened, some of the groups decided to observe the Lord's Supper in a private home without an Elder in attendance.
The larger Mennonite body held meetings in order to discern the best way of handling these home groups. A few unsympathetic opponents verbally attacked the home group movement, and the latter responded to these adversaries in their defense.
On January 6, 1860, a select group of members from this home movement gathered for a charter meeting which formed the Mennonite Brethren Church. A document was drafted wherein they affirmed the teachings of Menno Simons and outlined abuses they saw in many different practices of the Mennonite Church.
There are many other denominations which incorporate the word Brethren in their title, but have no direct or schismatic relationship to any of the above main groups which principally originated from central Europe through German Pietism or Anabaptist influence. Each of the following articles are included purely for matters of research and topical completeness, because the exclusion thereof may invite speculation that a more direct relationship may exist.
here is at least one common element that does form a bridge with the former groups; in that a small group of Christians desiring to intensify their spiritual lives through direct application of biblical principles is hindered by an insensitive, hierarchical organizational structure.
Plymouth Brethren, Christian Brethren, Open Group, Exclusive Group, Newton Group, Raven Group, Taylor Group
John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was born in London to Irish parents when England struggled against Higher Criticism, a persuasion which questioned the truthfulness and inspiration of the Bible. Several fundamentalist movements arose to combat its effects, and the Plymouth Brethren was one of them. Darby became a priest under the Church of England and served in Ireland where he labored tirelessly to educate the peasantry in the Word of God. He grew dissatisfied with the established church and looked for affirmation from the outside. In 1827, he began meeting with similarly minded believers in Dublin, Ireland. Especially a group founded by Edward Cronin two years earlier, when he had also became disenchanted with the established church. Although Cronin started this particular group, it would be Darby who would give them visibility.
Believers in England heard of the excitement in Ireland, and Darby went to London in 1830 and later to the seaside town of Plymouth in 1832. This last group soon became the most well-known and it wasn't very long before the Brethren of Plymouth were simply referred to as Plymouth Brethren. A notable leader of this group was Samuel Tregelles who authored one of the better known critical edition of the Greek New Testament of the Nineteenth century.
OPEN Plymouth Brethren (moderates)
Open Brethren churches are "completely" independent without any form of higher governing body. Each church observes the ecclesiastical offices of Elder and Deacon, but not salaried ministry. "Gifted Brothers" officiate worship and communion services, and "Gifted Sisters" lead private Bible studies.
EXCLUSIVE Plymouth Brethren (conservative)
Exclusive or Closed Brethren shun the idea of independence and maintain circles of fellowship without a higher governing body. They do not have Elders but instead utilize the talents of "leading brothers."
Church of the Lutheran Brethren in America, CLBA
Church of the Lutheran Brethren in America, 1007 Westside Drive, Box 655, Fergus Falls, MN 56538-0655
During the 1890's, a widespread spiritual awakening occurred in the upper mid-western states where many Lutheran congregations felt the need to be more spiritually open, read the Bible with greater earnest, and stress the importance of missions and personal salvation. This was also a period when Sunday School was thought appropriate only for children, not adults. Predictably, existing Lutheran synods looked upon this activity with disdain, so in December of 1900, five Lutheran congregations joined with each other to form a new synod.
The Lutheran Brethren follow the "low church" route of no clerical robes or priestly vestments, no ritual Liturgical Service, enjoy gospel songs mixed with traditional hymns, and the unmistakable belief that salvation is a process of regeneration for individuals having reached the age of accountability, being aware of personal sin and forgiveness through God's unmerited grace in Jesus Christ. Lutheran Brethren also adhere to these confessional writings: the Apostle's Creed, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, Augsburg Confession, and Luther's Small Catechism.