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Letter A Brethren Glossary Header Letter A

The following terms reflect the culture of the Church of the Brethren, a denomination grounded on the principles of Anabaptism and founded through the Pietist efforts of Alexander Mack, in the summer of 1708 near the small German village of Schwarzenau. This resource is not an exhaustive compilation of all denominational terminology, which might also be garnered from other Brethren works, such as the Brethren Encyclopedia, Brethren Bibliography, European Origins, Brethren in America, Ephrata Cloister, 19th Century Acculturation, Brethren Timeline, Brethren Groups, and Brethren Genealogy. You are encouraged to share your comments, suggestions, or corrections with the Web Administrator.


Letter A

(1) Schools that offer education at the high school level. In the early 1800s, there were very few cities in the United States with high schools in the modern sense, and most Brethren of that period typically did not approve of higher education. When the denominational mood began to change in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, some of the Brethren affiliated Colleges offered Academies during their formative years. These programs were later discontinued as each college expanded their facilities and sought accreditation to pursue other goals.

(2) In a more contemporary setting, this term also refers to the Brethren Academy, a joint venture between the Mission & Ministry Board and Bethany Theological Seminary, to establish a training school for continuing ministry. It encompasses Education for a Shared Ministry, Training in Ministry, Leadership Development, Continued Education, and the Reading Program.

Affirm (legal testimony)

One of the historic distinctions of the Brethren has been to refrain from taking an oath during a legal proceeding. It is based on the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:34-37: “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” Christ is stating that a person should not swear by an oath, or even add words to an anticipated yes or no response. The presumption being that anything beyond an expected yes or no is the result of a pretense to mislead. In other words, if a person is questioned for a truthful yes or no answer, then a simple yes or no response should be sufficient. Why should anything need to be added, unless one desires to mislead? Jesus plainly says that “whatsoever ... more” is rooted in evil. It should be noted that trial lawyers generally ask “yes or no” questions, to preempt the very opportunity for prevarication.

Affirmation is not limited only to the Brethren for U.S. President Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) chose to affirm rather than swear the Presidential Oath of Office. Pierce was Episcopalian.

Taking an oath during a legal proceeding may also imply or suggest, that one cannot be trusted to tell the truth without being under oath. Swearing allegiance is the whole idea behind enforcing an oath in the first place, to guarantee rightful testimony under fear of penalty. However, if one maintains that they can always be trusted to tell the truth, then a simple affirmation is all that should be necessary to establish that they are continuing to tell the truth now as at any other time. One of the distinctives of early Brethren was that: “A Brethren was as good as his/her word.” In other words, they could always be trusted to tell the truth, anytime.

But, is it possible to convey a false impression by telling the truth? The Ninth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” or “do not give false impressions” contains a stronger expectation. For example, if someone asks another person for a five dollar bill, and the second person declines with the statement that they do not have a five dollar bill, while actually possessing several ones and a ten dollar bill; they have given a false impression to the first person with a delivery of truthful words. The Ninth Commandment does not say: “Do not lie,” but rather, “Do not give false impressions.” There is a huge difference. Affirming means to emphasize that one can be trusted to tell the truth at this moment as well as any other moment.


Four primary Greek words convey the emotion of love: Agape (unconditional love regardless of circumstances), Eros (sexual passion between persons), Philia (affectionate regard or friendship), and Storge (mature or parental empathy). Ancient writers employed the use of Agape sparingly for their subject matter did not often match the quality of unconditional love. It is rendered in Latin as caritas from which charity is derived in English. Agape would need to patiently wait until New Testament authors would celebrate it to its highest echelon, because it so closely matches the patient love of God. God's unconditional love for humanity is precisely that of Agape. Jude refers to the experience of Communion in 1:12 as “... feasts of charity,” or feasts of love. Brethren have traditionally referred to the observance of Communion as the Love Feast, a time when brothers and sisters in the faith may share their Christian love for each other as God shared His love for us through the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ.

See also Feetwashing, Love Feast.
Alternative Service

Civilian service in lieu of military induction for persons who conscientiously object to government conscription of eligible persons through the enforcement of a draft system. This program was in effect from 1952 until 1972. Please review the following article, and sense the impact that Ted Studebaker has made in serving as a Conscientious Objector.


Conjunction of two Greek words: ANA (again) and BAPTISM (immerse, plunge), thus, to be baptized again. A doctrine that repudiates infant baptism, stressing that only a believer should receive baptism following an experience of repentance. Biblical references such as Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” or Acts 8:36-37, “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” The key wording focuses on the candidate believing the Gospel message that Christ has come as Savior - something which an infant is not capable of doing. Anabaptism began in Switzerland during the Sixteenth century when Ulrich Zwingli, Conrad Grebel, and Felix Mantz had concluded from a scrupulous examination of the New Testament that infant baptism was scripturally groundless, because only an adult with a mature comprehension of their decision should receive baptism. They also believed that the state church had become corrupt beyond repair; and should be replaced by a new church order which did not attempt to control believers with the sacraments of communion or the threat of eternal damnation.

Because the government perceived them as radicals, Anabaptists were routinely executed through drownings (mockingly called the 3rd baptism) and burned as human torches. The wanton slaughter of Anabaptists was severe, vitriolic, and offered as entertainment in some locations; but still they grew in number, and became even more resolute in their convictions and activities. History has witnessed few movements whose participants were as obdurate as those of Anabaptism. The nobility of Europe pronounced death to all Anabaptists at the Diet of Speyer in 1529, and within a few years most of the original leaders met with violent deaths. When the movement later spread into the more tolerant Netherlands, the Catholic ex-priest Menno Simons became a figurehead of a group of Anabaptists that would later adopt his first name (Mennonites), so as to distinguish themselves from a splinter group following the teachings of Jacob Ammon (Amish) during the schism of 1693. Alexander Mack founded another group of Anabaptists in 1708 when they rebaptized themselves in the Eder River, near the small village of Schwarzenau, Germany. The Church of the Brethren grew out of this body and required new members to be rebaptized through trine immersion until 1964, even if they were already a member of good standing in another denomination.

Modern devotees rarely perform re-baptisms because their children are not first baptized as infants, therefore a re-baptism is not possible. Youth generally receive baptism and membership when they reach that uncertain age where they are able to understand and accept the Gospel message centered on the teachings of Christ. Anabaptists in the modern era are chiefly known for their distinctive beliefs and cultural heritage. With little variance, they stress very closely the same doctrinal positions as their 16th Century advocates, such as, but not limited to:

  • Priesthood of all believers.
  • Separation of Church and State, with laws of God taking precedence.
  • Voluntary membership, unregulated by the state.
  • Baptism as a sign of a believers commitment.
  • Nonviolence and Nonresistance.
  • Discipleship being central to understanding the teachings of Jesus Christ.
  • Separation from sinful and worldly pleasures.
Andrew Center

Name changed to New Life Ministries in 1997, during the redesign process of the former General Board which later became the Mission and Ministry Board at Annual Conference in 2008.

Annual Conference
Richmond 2008

Originally called Annual Meeting, this gathering of delegates is the highest authority in the Church of the Brethren. It is a generous mixture of business, fellowship, and spiritual worship. Annual Conference convenes each year, usually around the last of June or the first of July. Brethren make this annual pilgrimage from all over the United States and several foreign countries, because they may be involved with one of the following: an Elected Officer, Congregational Delegate, member of Standing Committee, Music Program, Indoor Exhibit, Outdoor Exhibit, Brethren agencies and their staff, guests, volunteers for the Children's Program, technical support, Program & Arrangements Committee along with the Annual Conference office staff which plans and coordinates everything. The first Historical Record of a Brethren denominational meeting took place in 1742, when early leaders perceived a need to ensure doctrinal positions among the widely scattered Brethren settlements. Over the years, it has also become a time for renewing many friendships and strengthening new relationships. As the denomination continued to grow and administrative entities gradually evolved, several agencies and numerous boards were formed which have reported directly to Annual Conference. Currently they are the Brethren Benefit Trust, Bethany Theological Seminary, and On Earth Peace Assembly.

During the early period of the Brethren immigrations to America, there was no formal conference or representative body to interpret issues of doctrine or practice. Denominationalism as we understand it today, in an institutional sense, was completely foreign to them. Alexander Mack preferred the word Gemeinde (community) in his personal writings. It was fellowship through a mutual faith that best describes these early relationships. Congregations tended to be small and autonomous with infrequent visitations by Elders which helped to preserve harmony and unity. Because of this infrastructure of small dispersed congregations and the absence of elements precipitating controversy, there existed no compelling reason for the Brethren to meet in a large delegated body for purposes of deciding policy. This was about to change with the arrival of the Moravian leader Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf from Czech/Bohemia in 1741. He was especially desirous of uniting all German sects under one parent organization, and convened synods to homogenize individual characteristics among the different groups and layout an institutional framework to implement his vision.

Brethren attended these conferences but came away with fears of losing their unique identity, especially upon observing several converts being baptized through sprinkling. Reminded of the cost of their Anabaptist heritage by immersion, they perceived Zinzendorf's effort as a stratagem to return the spiritually naive to infant-baptism, under the very ecclesiastical order from which they had previously fled. From this experience, several Brethren leaders saw the need for a denominational meeting of their own, in order to maintain a uniform observance of their beliefs. In 1742, Martin Urner and George Adam Martin convened the first such meeting at Coventry (Urner was pastor of this congregation), to reaffirm the Brethren observance of adult baptism by trine immersion. This experience was a reaction to outward forces rather than a response to an inner congregational need. It was not convened on an annual schedule for another thirty years. When the conference began meeting regularly, it was held over the observance of Pentecost each year, as a manifest spiritual invitation for the Holy Spirit to once again come down upon the hearts and minds of this decision making body, hopefully to inspire each person to think, speak, and vote under the influence of divine guidance.

Following is terminology that describes the many components of Annual Conference.

  • Annual Conference Council

    This committee was later replaced by the Leadership Team at the 2008 Annual Conference in Richmond, Virginia. This Council was originally created at the 2001 Annual Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, to establish a uniform panel that would mitigate administrative and procedural conflicts arising from the General Board Redesign of 1997, and serve to relieve delegate overburden by interpreting polity and resolving misunderstandings between reporting agencies. The former Council was composed of the Annual Conference Officers (moderator, moderator-elect, secretary), the past moderator, another former moderator, and one district executive. (See Leadership Team below).

  • Delegate Body

    A person who is elected or appointed to represent the interests of another, usually authorized with power to vote for policy changes. Each congregation and district may send delegates to Annual Conference, which is the final authority in the Church of the Brethren. The number of elected delegates from each congregations is allocated according of the size of it's membership, and delegates elected from each District to the Standing Committee are calculated according to the size of the membership of that the district. This combination of voting delegates to Annual Conference from congregations and districts is referred to as the Delegate Body. Non-delegate visitors are permitted to express their opinions during business sessions, but are not allowed to vote.

  • Ex Officio

    The term (Latin, "from the office") refers to rights or powers granted to an individual because of an office held. An executive serving in one capacity may also serve on a committee or board as an additional member "by virtue of their office" rather than through elections. A common misconception is that the participatory rights of ex officio members are limited by their status. Rather, this term denotes only how one becomes a member of a group, not the scope of their rights, which is determined by the group. It is a method of being seated, not a class of membership. Unless bylaws constrain their rights, they are afforded the same rights as other members, including debate, making formal motions, and voting. Another misconception is that ex officio board members lack voting privileges, but the term has nothing to do with voting [Robert??s Rules, (11th ed.), pp. 483-84; p. 497, ll. 20-29]. Therefore, it is advisable that bylaws clarify the status of ex officio members to avoid commonly held assumptions or misconceptions.

  • Leadership Team

    This body replaced the Annual Conference Council at AC 2008 in Richmond, Virginia, and is composed of the Annual Conference Officers and the General Secretary. The duties are similar to the Annual Conference Council which it replaced.

  • Query

    To query is to pose a question that invites a response from a person, group, or computer database. Business items sent to Annual Conference are formated as a query to the Delegate Body that naturally expects a favorable response. Learn more about the development of Annual Conference, Development, Business, and Parlimentary Procedure from David Wine who was the 1997 Annual Conference Moderator.

  • Policy

    A definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives, in respect to given conditions that would best guide and determine present and future decisions for the sake of expediency. There is often confusion between the words policy and polity. Polity describes the framework in which policies abide. There could be a multitude of policies within the framework of one segment of polity. Changing polity can immediately have an effect on all the policies within that section. See also Polity.

    • What is the difference between Policy and Polity? Suppose that a couple is planning to build a new house. The couples Polity or structure requires a living room, bedroom, dining room, bath, kitchen, garage, and basement. Their Policies for the basement might include one for a workbench, one for storage, and still others each separately for a game room, a furnace room, and a water system. Polity or structure of the house states that there will be a basement, and Policy affects the entire scope of that area. Suppose that the couple later determines that they do not have enough money for a basement. This is a change in Polity or structure, and all the Policies for that area will be invalidated. This is why it is inadvisable to change Polity because it may affect numerous Policies to a greater extent than initially contemplated.

  • Polity

    An overall structure within which Policy operates (Greek: Πολιτεία, ??rule by citizens??): was originally a term used in ancient Greece to refer to the many city states that had an assembly of citizens as the core of the political process. Congregational polity (rule by members) is that form of church government in which final human authority rests with the local congregation in decision-making, regarding membership, leadership, doctrine, worship, conduct, missions, finances, property, and relationships. This is human authority that recognizes the lordship of Jesus Christ and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. See also Policy.

  • Review and Evaluation Committee

    This body was created at AC 1997 in Long Beach, California. It would eventually convene in the fifth year of each decade and report their findings to the Delegate Body in the seventh year of each decade. It is tasked with Reviewing and Evaluating the denominational organization and structure, and then offer recommendations that would improve the effectiveness of its various components. Additionally, it would further suggest long range goals for the denomination.

    After financial constraints in the 1990's resulted in a redesign of the then General Board (later Mission & Ministry Board), the Delegate Body authorized the formation, in the year 2000, of a new specialized committee to make an assessment of the new design progress. The first elected members were commissioned at AC 2000 in Kansas City, Missouri, to present an interim report on the new design at AC 2001 in Baltimore, Maryland. This group was then to be followed by a new elected committee at AC 2005 that would present a full report at AC 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio. See also AC 2001 Report. Brethren affectionately refer to this committee as Rev & Ev.

  • Standing Committee

    A continuously functioning committee officially established by an organization which provides its scope and powers, until subsequent official actions may restrict its functions or disband its existence. This is different from an Ad Hoc committee which is formed to achieve a specific objective, and usually disbanded after the achievement of its objective. Standing Committee is composed of delegates selected by Church of the Brethren districts to facilitate the business process for the delegate body of Annual Conference. Usually they number around forty. They meet a few days prior to the main Conference to review business items and make recommendations on each query of business or resolution, to expedite deliberation by the Conference delegate body. Standing Committee is also charged with adjudicating certain special matters or arbitrate disagreements involving discipline between districts, congregations, and members.

    The original ruling body was composed of Elders who governed the congregations. As the number of queries increased and more people began attending this annual meeting, a body labeled the General Committee was formed during the years just prior to 1848. The label was officially changed to Standing Committee in 1853 and their role was given greater clarification and structure during the 1860’s. Starting in 1868 each member was elected instead from the districts.

    If matters of polity are assumed to be affected by a new item of business, it is the duty of the Standing Committee to rule to the Conference delegate body that a two-thirds majority vote will be necessary. They also appoint a nominating committee from their own members to prepare a ballot for Annual Conference delegates. They may also appoint or recommend study committees to further research important matters. Because of their judicial role, Standing Committee is actually the highest authority in the Church of the Brethren.

  • Reportable Agency

    There are there three agencies that must report to the Delegate Body of Annual Conference, and function in compliance to Annual Conference official positions, statements, and resolutions. They are Brethren Benefit Trust, Bethany Theological Seminary, and On Earth Peace Assembly. See a graphical presentation at Annual Conference: Reportable Agencies.

Annual Conference Council

An ordinance for the sick as prescribed in James 5:13-16 with the application of oil to the forehead, as also cited in Mark 6:13. This practice was expanded by Annual Conference in 1963 beyond the original focus of healing, to include persons experiencing mental distress, emotional trauma, spiritual brokenness. Officiants perform this service with great reverence and solemnity because it usually involves the confession of sins by the recipient. Brethren observance should not be confused with extreme unction (last rites) associated with the Roman Catholic Church. Anointing is frequently employed during services of consecration for persons who are seeking greater service or mission work.

See also Laying on of Hands.
Association Of Brethren Caregivers (ABC)

A now defunct 501(c)3 organization, headquartered at the general offices of the Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Illinois. Association Of Brethren Caregivers had developed resources for promoting caring, healing and wholeness to the Church of the Brethren through nine ministry groups: Chaplains Network - Church and Persons with Disabilities Network - Deacon Ministry - Brethren Homes - HEAR (Health Education and Research Ministry) - Lafiya - Older Adult Ministry - VOICE (Valuing Openness, Inclusiveness and Caring for Everyone). Annual Conference 2008 combined this agency with the General Board to form the new Mission and Ministry Board.

Letter A

“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
Philippians 4:9

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