Continuing the work of Jesus : Peacefully ~ Simply ~ Together


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Membership 101 Header

Compiled by Ronald J. Gordon ~ Published November, 2004 ~ Last Updated, October, 2020 ©
This document may be reproduced for educational purposes with full acknowledgement to the Author. It is not an official voice
on Church of the Brethren membership but rather an educational primer intended to augment membership class preparation.

Congratulations! You’re interested in learning about membership in the Church of the Brethren. If you are considering a first-time commitment to Jesus and the Christian church, you should contact a Church of the Brethren pastor to further explore your decision. Or, perhaps you are already a member and just want to reexamine this subject. In either case, this exercise does not presume to speak with an official voice about Church of the Brethren membership, but rather serve as a primer to outline and briefly explain some of the basic principals involved in becoming a member. You will learn about vows of membership which you would be expected to affirm during a Baptismal or Reception service, and also the more distinctive beliefs and practices that uniquely accentuate the Church of the Brethren from other denominations. Thank you for considering membership and may God bless your continued journey of faith. Italicized scriptural quotes are taken from the King James Version and the World English Bible and some words are underlined to help focus attention on the critical point of a citation.

    What am I Searching For?
    Who Is Jesus?
    What is Christ’s Purpose?
    Why join a Church?
    Why the Church of the Brethren?
    Who are the Brethren?
    What is distinctive about the Brethren?
    How do I become a member?
    We’re Number What?
    Deny Self
    Take Up One’s Cross
    Follow Me
    A Watery Grave
    Vows of Baptism & Reception

What am I Searching For?

Upon reaching a certain age, it seems natural for us to ponder questions such as, “Who am I and what is my purpose for being here?” Some people try to find meaning in life by pursing thrills but the exhilaration soon wears off. Some pursue relationships but affection is not always a two way street. Others attempt to find meaning in service to their fellowman. The latter is more noble but it still does not satisfy that inner longing to understand the deeper questions of life. There is great wisdom in the famous quotation of Augustine, the 4th century Bishop of the city of Hippo Regius who eloquently reflected on these pursuits: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” After searching for meaning along many different pathways, disappointment brought him to the ultimate conclusion that all searching can end when we discover the love of God. Mathematical genus Blaise Pascal said it differently, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man, which only God can fill through his Son Jesus Christ.” When that happens, we will finally discover true contentment. How does one explain the love of God? This love of God was demonstrated for us when God sent Jesus to carefully explain a New Covenant, or a new way that God wanted to interact with us. It is a Covenant of unmerited grace and mercy. God loves us so much that He allowed Jesus to die in our place so that we may have victory over sin and experience the joy of eternal life in heaven. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, 1 John 4:10; and, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for everyone, Hebrews 2:9. This sets Christianity apart from every other religion, in that our salvation has been accomplished by something which God has done for us, and not by what we might accomplish for ourselves. We are saved alone by God’s grace and mercy. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast, Ephesians 2:8-9; and For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved, John 3:16-17.

Who Is Jesus?- Matthew 16:13-17

If we answer this question subjectively (internally), there could be as many answers as there are respondents. A more reliable answer would be to examine the Bible and investigate what Jesus claims for Himself. Jesus claims to be God. Even a causal reading of the New Testament gives one a clear picture of the relationship between Jesus and God, for Jesus said a great deal about Himself, God, and their relationship. In speaking about His earthly mission Jesus said: I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me, John 14:6. Notice that He said the way and the truth and the life. Not a way, or a truth, or a life. Jesus made it very clear that He alone is the way. In speaking with His disciples Jesus says: I and my Father are one, John 10:29-30. The verb is 1st person plural indicative, or we are one. Jesus uses the plural We, not the singular I. The verb person and number reveals that Jesus sees Himself and God as the same person. We are One in essence. We are One in nature. We are One in attributes. This was a very courageous thing to say, for Jesus was making Himself not only equal with God but also as having the very same essence as God. His detractors had no difficulty in understanding this premise. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God, John 10:31-33.

Jesus lived in heaven but came to earth in the form of a baby, which is the Christmas story. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger, Luke 2:10-16. Christ is the Greek word for one who is anointed. Apostle Paul summarizes Christmas. Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross, Phillipians 2:5-8.

Jesus the Christ relinquished most of His divine privileges so that He could live on earth and personally explain that God wants to inaugurate a New Covenant whereby sins may be forgiven through God’s grace because of a better sacrifice. How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, since a death has occurred for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, Hebrews 9:14-15. Jesus became that better sacrifice. He was anointed by God to accomplish this special act of substitutional love. Jesus, the perfect God-Man would die for our sins. Jesus is God’s way of both demonstrating and inaugurating this New Covenant of love.

Jesus wants us to know who He really is. This passage from Matthew is one of the better scriptures for us to examine because Jesus is asking this very question of His own disciples. It was important to Jesus that they know who He was. In other words, Jesus wanted them to get it right. Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say you that I am? Peter replied: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus approvingly indicated that not only was Peter right but that the answer was given to him through divine inspiration: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. Jesus is the anointed messenger of God. Jesus was anointed or specially consecrated by God to redeem mankind from the problem of sin. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children, Galatians 4:4-5. We are those children who are being spiritually adopted by God through this New Covenant.

What is Christ’s Purpose?- John 1:29

Debt    Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John the Baptist made that divinely inspired statement. As Jesus was approaching him in order to be baptized, John called everyone’s attention to the fact that Jesus was more than just a mortal man; Jesus was God’s symbolic Lamb, to be sacrificed in order to remove the punishment for our sins. The Angel of the Lord proclaimed this purpose to Joseph: You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins, Matthew 1:21. Apostle Paul explains this in Colossians 2:14: Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross. That is what we call the gospel or good news. Jesus will take away our sins if we trust Him to be our Savior. Blotting out is different than crossing out because wiping away removes the existence of something and further denies future discovery of it, while crossing out still permits one to see that which was crossed out. In the two boxes at the right, the word Debt can still be seen in the top box, even though it has been CROSSED OUT. However, the past contents of the bottom box will never be known because it has been BLOTTED OUT. When Jesus died in our place to save us from the penalty of sin, our former record of sinful living was wiped clean. God tells us in Hebrews 10:16-17: This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them. And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. God does not forget - that is a weakness. Human beings forget. We forget phone numbers, and sometimes just after looking them up in the phone book. We forget where we put the car keys. We forget where we put our eye glasses. God does not have weaknesses. God does not forget. God is so powerful that He can choose not to remember something. If you think that is easy, just try it. Make the choice. Choose not to remember your own Zip-Code. This is wonderful news that our sins will not be remembered. Jesus established the Church to continue spreading this message of hope.

Why join a Church?- Matthew 16:18

The Church is an organizational unit that was established by Jesus to continue His earthly ministry: Upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Jesus chose twelve disciples to begin the foundational work of spreading this good news before He ascended into heaven. Jesus equipped the Church with divine gifts to accomplish this special work. Now you are Christ’s body and individual parts of it. God has appointed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then those who perform miracles, those who have gifts of healing, those who help others, administrators, and various kinds of tongues, 1 Corinthians 12:27-28. Joining the Church of Jesus Christ enables us to become an integral part of this marvelous work. The Church is Jesus’ instrument for continuing His ministry on earth.

Brethren in earlier times admonished prospective candidates to be more reflective on the gravity of their commitment and the important promises they would be making to God. Luke 14:28 has become an important Scripture to Brethren because it had significant historical importance at the time of their formation in Germany in 1708. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it One of the costs of joining the Church of Jesus Christ is that we then belong to Him and should be respectful of how Jesus would direct our lives. His death upon the cross has redeemed us from sin. We have been purchased. Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Joining the Church is a decision that requires us to be more intentional about fulfilling our small role in God’s master plan. The Church is not a building but rather a dedicated group of people who work together toward this common purpose. We learn from each other and mutually strive to accomplish the will of God.

Why the Church of the Brethren

We offer another way of Christian living. When you come to the conclusion that attending church is more like attending to doctrines, creeds, liturgy, rote practices, and theological confusion, we hope that you’ll discover we Brethren have something different. Our life pursuit is not following ritualistic form or racing toward hopeless horizons; but rather to know the living person Jesus and follow His instructions as outlined in the New Testament. We strive to be like Jesus and exemplify His love to others. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another, John 13:35. You won’t need to memorize a new creed because we don’t have one. The entire New Testament is our statement of faith. Learn more about us in the next section and discover Another Way of Living.

Who are the Brethren?

In 1708, Alexander Mack and seven others formed a new assembly that dedicated themselves to more intimately follow the teachings of Jesus. They baptized themselves in the Eder River near Schwarzenau, Germany, because they were influenced by the Anabaptists who strongly rejected infant baptism in favor of believer’s baptism, and the Pietists who held that the established state-churches had departed from a true commitment to Jesus. In the devastating wake of the Thirty-Years war (1618-1648), Europe was try to put itself back together again. The religious struggle that started the original conflict resulted in three big churches (Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed) that would not permit any other groups to form. Religious persecution was severe and forced these early Brethren to keep moving around Europe. Later they migrated to America beginning in 1719, where their zeal for Jesus quickly developed into a multitude of Brethren settlements. They were a simple people that were known for their honesty and religious distinctives. Brethren observed a full service of communion called the Love Feast which included feet washing, a meal, the Bread, and the Cup. Full immersion three times for baptism, greeting each other with a holy kiss, anointing and laying on of hands for the sick, and rejecting war as sin also set them apart from other denominations. Observing these ordinances became central to the Brethren way of life. Over the years, differences in opinions concerning life styles and mission priorities resulted in splits which now yield seven Brethren Denominations who trace themselves back to the original Schwarzenau Brethren. The largest group decided to call themselves the Church of the Brethren in 1908. Presently, they are affiliated with Six Colleges, Bethany Theological Seminary, and numerous missionary, peace, and service projects around the world.

What is distinctive about the Brethren?

Olympic Rings Distinctives are those qualities which uniquely identify something. The multicolored rings to the right are universally recognized by all nations of the world as representing only one thing, the Olympic Games. Mascots are distinctive of colleges and sports teams. White wigs are distinctive of British lawyers. The Empire State building is a distinctive feature of the New York City landscape. Crosses are distinctive of Christian church buildings. The Star of David is distinctive of anything Jewish. Golden Arches are distinctive of one particular restaurant. When you see any one of these while traveling or reading a magazine, your mind immediately creates a larger picture of what it represents. The Church of the Brethren also has several historical distinctives and following is a brief explanation of the more prevalent ones.

Trine Baptism by Immersion

We have long been known as the Dunkards because we fully immerse or dunk when we baptize. It comes from the German word tunken. 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. Our first label was the Schwarzenau T㴦er (Baptists) or Neue T㴦er (new baptists) because we wanted to distinguish ourselves from older Anabaptists bodies. While migrating through colonial America, we used the label German Baptist and then appended Brethren about 1836 and officially adopted German Baptist Brethren in 1871.

The Church of the Brethren practices trine immersion (Latin: trinus, of three) for believers baptism, one plunge for each member of the Trinity. We may never know the exact method used by Christ and His disciples but three immersions most probably stems from the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) where Jesus instructed the disciples: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Trine immersion was practiced from the earliest centuries for Augustine, the 4th Century Bishop stated in a Sermon to the Neophytes: Rightly were you dipped three times, since you were baptized in the name of the Trinity. Rightly were you dipped three times, because you were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, Who on the third day rose again from the dead. For that thrice repeated immersion reproduces the burial of the Lord by which you were buried with Christ in Baptism.? Thus, he infers that three plunges may also signify the three days of Christ’s burial. The Latin Catholic Church practiced trine immersion until about the Twelfth century when it gradually succumbed to aspersion or sprinkling. Tampering with this method of baptism would be regarded by many as severely redefining what it means to be Brethren.

Feet Washing and Love Feast
Bread - Cup

Our Communion Service closely follows the Last Supper of Jesus and His disciples. We have a meal, the feet washing service, the breaking of Bread, the Cup of Blessing, interspersed with the singing of hymns. Practices and emphasis may vary slightly from one congregation to another but observance of each segment is generally consistent. A few kindred denominations also have feet washing but not the meal. Brethren are unique in that our observance of communion is very complete, and usually a full evening service. Alexander Mack, our founding father, said: We indeed have neither a new church or any new laws. We only want to remain in simplicity and true faith in the original church which Jesus founded through His blood. We wish to obey the commandment which was in the beginning. Inscriptions and paintings on ancient walls called it the Agape Meal or love meal, a feast of love, or simply, a Love Feast, derived from Jude 1:12.

Attending the Love Feast in past generations was closely, if not strictly, monitored. In many Brethren congregations it was expected that Elders would examine members prior to the service in order to determine their scriptural appropriateness for participation. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body, 1 Corinthians 11:27-29; and Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils, 1 Corinthians 10:21. The possibility of being barred from Love Feast was not something regarded lightly. Communing, as it was often called, was popular and Brethren frequently traveled to other congregations in order to enjoy the spiritual benefits of this great service.

In former years, several congregations held the Love Feast in barns because their church buildings tended to be small and members from other congregations attending would be anticipated. Non-members, children, and the curious often watched from the hay loft. Some church buildings were large enough to accommodate these crowds, and had constructed pews that quickly converted the backrest into a table. Meal preparation for Love Feast was extensive. Brethren churches were among the first to have kitchens. For that reason, some congregations have great difficulty in accepting the more simple bread & cup communion that is more distinctive of high liturgical denominations. Tampering with this service is already regarded by many as severely redefining what it means to be Brethren.

Anointing for Healing or Restoration

Biblical references of anointing cover a wide range of purposes, such as physical anointing for healing (John 9:6), the consecration of priests (Exodus 29:7), commissioning of kings (1 Samuel 16), funeral rites (Matthew 26:12), and cleansing of lepers (Leviticus 14). There are also many references to spiritual anointing by the Holy Spirit, such as Isaiah 45:1, 61:1 and 2 Corinthians 1:21. Since the Brethren place a special emphasis on the teachings of the New Testament and the restoring work of Jesus, they especially recognize the ordinance of anointing the sick with oil in the name of the Lord as instructed in James 5:14-15, Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Usually this service is administered in private by the pastor, assisted by one or more deacons and occasionally a lay person. The person to be anointed is traditionally given opportunity for confession of sins as admonished by the Apostle James. Brethren interpret this act as restoration of wholeness, not as other denominations have administered it in the form of extreme unction or last rites. In recent years, anointing has become more public and frequently administered by one’s peers, such as at National Youth Conference where youth come forward to be anointed by other youth. Anointing may also be granted for commissioning of leadership and spiritual renewal. Brethren believe that God intends people to be whole in body, mind, and spirit. The anointing service recognizes that wholeness is experienced only as a person’s relationship to God and others is open and honest. One becomes whole as his or her relationship with God and the faith community is renewed, For All Who Minister, Church of the Brethren pastors manual. Tampering or devaluing the anointing service and its emphasis on wholeness would be regarded by many as severely redefining what it means to be Brethren.

Witnessing for Peace

Anabaptist denominations share a historic commonness in advocating peace, nonviolence, and reconciliation. Following the Reformation wherein Luther sought to purify the Church while retaining a policy of Church-State alliances that upheld just-wars, the more radical Anabaptists attempted to forge a new movement that would reclaim a holy Church and be pure of armies and national alliances. They renounced war and all forms of coercion. No force in Religion was their banner. These new radicals set themselves apart from the world, believing that loyalty to God was more important than allegiance to national borders.

From 1616 to 1748, the Rhine Valley of Germany was a continuous scene of bloodshed and enormous property damage from a series of wars including; the Thirty Years’ War, the French Wars, and the Wars of Frederick the Great. Each conflict progressively weakened the fabric of social enterprise. The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) ended the Thirty Years’ War but allowed the big three state churches, Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed to become a new monolithic force of domination and persecution. These prolonged conflicts left Germany in a quilted patchwork of local districts, knitted together by varying political relationships between the numerous governing princes. The new Big Three ecclesiastical bodies forthrightly denied all other religious groups the right to exist within the Empire. Citizens of each local district were forced to join whichever church was recognized by the local nobility, an administrative carry-over from the Peace of Augsburg of 1555. It is not over-simplification to frame the position of the Big Three to all other groups as: Convert, leave, or die. Brethren recognize that war is totally contrary to the teaching and example of Jesus Christ, a corporate refusal to go to war or train for it, a nonresistant readiness to suffer at the hands of others rather than to fight, advocacy of nonviolent ways for settling conflict rather than recourse to violence and war, and a resolve to live in the way and spirit of Christ amid the world’s confusion and strife, The Brethren Encyclopedia, Vol II, p. 997.

Apostle Paul explains that Jesus has broken down the wall that separated us from God. Through the death of Jesus, those who accept His substitutionary sacrifice are reconciled to God and to each other. We are fellow citizens in God’s kingdom. We are at peace with each other. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility thereby. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near. For through him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone, Ephesians 2:13-20. Brethren author and pacifist Dale Brown writes in Biblical Pacifism: Then I encountered Anabaptist interpretations of Scripture. This nonconformist stance held that because our citizenship is in Christ’s kingdom, all Christians are aliens and sojourners in the world. Jesus is our Lord. We are called to receive and live the first fruits of His kingdom coming. As a pacifist sojourner, I frequently have been aware how much I am an alien in a culture of violence, hatred, and the glorification of war, p. 14. Thus, real peace comes only through the Prince of Peace who renounced hostility and reconciled us to God, for there are many worldly peace advocates that champion atheism. Tampering with our understanding of peace would be regarded by many as severely redefining what it means to be Brethren. In fact, some Brethren have been humorously chided for regarding peace advocacy as the only essence of being Brethren.

Service Work & Disaster Response

These have been relevant issues with the Brethren from the very point of their origin in the womb of an economically fractured, war torn European landscape, a continuous scene of bloodshed and enormous property damage. With hunger and despair so prevalent, the Brethren had no shortage of opportunities to minister to the needs of hurting people. Upon their arrival in the New World they also found ample circumstances to serve the poor and indigent. During and after the Civil War, Brethren were present to alleviate suffering and volunteer in reconstruction. Although service work found happiness among the Brethren in earlier times, it was really the 20th Century that elevated it to a level of prominence. Social activists from within the denomination implored their fellow Brethren to become more involved in changing socially distressed conditions, not only for people in their own communities but in foreign lands as well. Unrelated groups of women encouraged the formation of sewing circles, temperance leagues, and missionary societies in the late 1880’s. The Sisters Aid Society was formed in 1910. Following the Spanish Civil War, the Church of the Brethren joined with the Mennonites and the Society of Friends to work at restoration in Spain. Out of this experience, Dan West formed The Heifer Project, a cooperative method of populating animals from one needy family to another. It eventually outgrew the denomination and Heifer Project International is now a separate ecumenical organization.

The Brethren Service Committee was formed in 1939. During World War II they were instrumental in acquiring work through the Civilian Public Service for over three thousand draft-age men who conscientiously objected to military service on religious grounds. In 1944, the Brethren Service Committee purchased the campus of the Blue Ridge College near New Windsor, Maryland. The name would change a few times in order to better clarify its Brethren service involvement or target the denomination’s ecumenical priorities, thus, it was known both as the Brethren Service Center and the New Windsor Service Center. Many people generally refer to this General Board owned complex of operation simply as New Windsor. It is also home to SERRV International, Emergency Response/Service Ministries, a Conference Center, On Earth Peace Assembly, and the denominations Information Service. In recent years, budgetary restraints have curtailed much of the operations, but the Center is widely known as the place were donated clothing is processed for shipment to needy individuals in all parts of the world. In full swing during the 1950s and 1960s, logo clad tractor & trailer rigs would regularly make scheduled rounds to District pickup locations, where boxes filled with all manner of apparel were loaded. Brethren from many congregations would affectionately go to New Windsor to volunteer their time and energy by helping to sort and pack clothing for world-wide shipment. In 1948, Brethren Volunteer Service was formed to offer youth an organization through which to focus their energy and vision.

A few of the Brethren Districts began holding Disaster and Relief Auctions to generate financial support for disaster victims. Not only do Brethren give money for victims but they also give of themselves to help in the cleanup and reconstruction following natural disasters. In 1972, Brethren volunteers flocked to many areas of central Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna River basin to cleanup after Hurricane Agnes which dropped 10-18 inches of rain in a three day period, killing 117 people and causing an estimated three billion dollars in property damage. Man-made disasters also capture Brethren interest. In 1997, following a rash of church burnings, Brethren volunteers assisted in the rebuilding of Butler Chapel A.M.E. Church in Orangesburg, South Carolina. Tampering or diminishing the emphasis on service work would be regarded by many as severely redefining what it means to be Brethren.

How do I become a member?

Membership in the Church of the Brethren is fairly uniform. Although practices may vary a little from one congregation to another, becoming a member is very simple. District Executive Herman Kauffman of Indiana Northern District has summarized the entire process in three easy to remember steps:

Deny, Take Up, Follow- Luke 9:23, Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34
No # 1

We’re Number One! We’re Number One! This phrase seems to be the current mantra of our society. How many times have you seen people at sporting events raising their first index finger which represents and celebrates a position of superiority? Novelty companies even make large foam mitts such as the one pictured at the right for enthusiastic fans to wave during the game. This is an icon that has been slowly defining our culture. It is so important for some people to always be first, but this is not the way of Jesus who said, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me, Luke 9:23. Deny is one of the most difficult words to admire in the English language because we strive to acquire more things and be more important. One person has defined Stuff as, That which you have in your closets while you’re out getting more of it. Our nation is one of the few countries in the world that has a voracious appetite to accumulate what eventually appears at yard sales, landfills, offshore dumping sites, and now eBay. Only in America could someone have envisioned and created eBay. We are overburdened with Stuff. There is a billion dollar industry to provide containers and shelving just to hold and better organize our Stuff. Novelty stores are burgeoning with gadgets, fads, gimmickry, and the useless. Our consumption of materials is steadily rising. We are a people that are driven to consume and inflate our opinion of ourselves. Reality TV shows thrive on this desire to be famous and overcome all opponents. Such programs have become so popular that executive producers are racing to dream up more of them. We are swimming in an ocean of selfishness. Jesus teaches us a different way of living. And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve, Luke 22:24,26. So the last will be first, and the first last, Matthew 20:16. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you, John 13:14-15. Our culture stresses the glory of being first while Jesus teaches us to disregard selfish motives for the opportunity to demonstrate His love through us while serving others. Brethren wish to introduce you to, Another Way of Living.

Deny Self

Sin motivates us to be self-centered. God wants us to do an about-face - a 180. He wants us to switch from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. The immediate effect of salvation is the forgiveness of our sins, but that doesn’t make us perfect for all time. We need to keep working at maintaining and improving our commitment to follow the teachings of Jesus. So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, Philippians 2:12. In order to follow Jesus’ teachings we need to concentrate everyday on seeking to discover what God wants for us. We need to deflate our inflated opinion of ourselves. One of our problems is that we are so self-sufficient and independent that it is difficult for God to communicate with us because we want to be running the show all of the time. Remember that ? I ? is in the middle of sin. We must also be willing to remove those things from our lives which grieves the Lord. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption, Ephesians 4:30. God wants us to love Him more than anything else. It grieves Him when we devote more time and attention to other things. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you, James 4:8. The road to spiritual maturity is traveled on a roadbed of selflessness.

Take Up One’s Cross

Bearing one’s cross has become a familiar phrase through the inspiration of sermons, songs, and poems but in Jesus’ day it would have sounded absurd. Anyone who picked up their cross was doomed. Their life was over. They were casting away any hope of staying alive. Before them lay the deepest humiliation and physical pain imaginable. Today, we think of a cross to bear as financial distress, marital problems, or work related pressures; but our cross is actually a decision, a willingness to recognize that our sinful life is over. We are casting away any desire to pursue alluring worldly pleasures. Before us is a decision to associate ourselves with Jesus and emulate His character, especially when it is not popular to do so. We too often want to comfortably leap from denying ourselves to following Jesus without paying any price for our decision. Picking up our cross means dying to our agenda. Carrying our cross means suffering humiliation, insulting remarks, embarrassing situations, and the injury of ridicule for choosing to be like Jesus. On the contrary, most people want a comfortable religion. One that affords good feelings without disapproval, rejection, or embarrassment. The late Christian ethicist and retired Duke University Divinity School professor William Waldo Beach agreeably noted that for some, Christianity is a pleasant weekend diversion. But great men and women of the Bible never thought of their faith as a diversion or something to be taken lightly. They were so committed to their faith that they were willing to die for it. By faith, Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill treatment with God’s people, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a time; accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he looked to the reward, Hebrews 11:24-26. Moses could have remained in Pharaoh’s home and enjoyed a very comfortable life but he rejected it so that he could be faithful to God. The reproach of Christ means the disapproval that we endure for associating ourselves with Christ. For Moses it meant associating with God’s people and suffering disapproval, hostility, and threats from his Egyptian friends. Taking up our cross daily means constantly rejecting inner promptings for a life of selfishness, to instead discover and embrace God’s plan for our life.

Follow Me

Following is a dangerous thing because we don’t know where the leader is going or what hardships might be encountered. We become prisoners or slaves of another person’s decisions. Following means surrendering predictability for uncertainty and convenience for the unaccustomed. It means confronting situations that we would rather avoid. This is a very difficult thing to do. Most people want to be the pilot of their own ship and chart their own course with God nearby only to protect and bless the journey, but it’s just the opposite. We must be willing to set aside our dreams of adventure for the uncertainty of God’s expectations. If you don’t know where someone else is leading you, anxiety sets in and raises questions about traveling, such as endurance, stopping for meals, or proper dress for weather conditions. The longer the journey, the more desperate our concerns. Jesus’ own disciples had trouble staying focused on following their Leader and frequently became side-tracked. After the resurrection, Peter decided to go back to his former occupation of fishing. Jesus said to Simon Peter, Do you love me more than these? ...what is that to you? ...You follow me, John 21:15,22. More than these? This was a type of reproach or test for Peter. He had professed to love Jesus more than anyone else (Matthew 26:33), yet he denied Jesus more intensely than the other disciples, excluding Judas. This is what can happen when we trust in our own leadership. Peter had learned through a very dreadful experience that one must follow Jesus, when it is unpopular, when the insults assail, when we feel threatened, and especially when our life may be in jeopardy. Christ said: I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and I’m known by my own, John 10:14. In other words, if a shepherd knows his sheep and cares for them, how much more will Christ care for us who are more precious to Him than sheep!

A Watery Grave- Romans 6:3-4

Water is both a symbol of life and of death: without it we cannot live and if submerged into it we would die. The baptismal fount is also a symbolic grave wherein we are buried as Christ was entombed after His death. We symbolically bury our former sinful life as we are submerged, dying to our past and then rising from this grave into newness of life. Apostle Paul stated: Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Cyril, the 4th century Bishop of Jerusalem further comments: You were led to the holy pool of divine baptism as Christ was carried from the cross to the sepulcher and each of you were asked whether you believed and made that saving confession and descended three times into the water and ascended again and that water of baptism was a grave to you. Baptism is a transformation of burying our past and rising up to face our future with Christ. We die in order to live. Jesus said: Most certainly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life will lose it. He who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life, John 12:24-25. As Christ was resurrected from a stony grave to live forever, so also are we resurrected from a watery grave to live a new life of holiness forever.

Vows of Baptism & Reception

Minister’s Manual

Baptism externally demonstrates an internal commitment. It is a symbolic act. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist to inaugurate His earthly ministry. Early Brethren quickly ran into problems with other groups, each of which baptized in a different manner. Some groups demanded infant baptism (Catholic), some practiced pouring (Mennonites), and some rejected baptism altogether (Radical Pietists). Most early Brethren literature is unfortunately overly consumed with debate on methods of baptism instead of articulating its importance. These Brethren did not believe that the mere restoration of the original mode of baptism was the most important need of Christendom. They did not mean to suggest that either the mode of baptism or even the very fact of baptism marked the center of the Christian faith ... Rather, correctly enough, they sensed that New Testament baptism carries implications regarding the fundamental nature of the church and the entire theology of Christian existence - indeed, that baptism is expressly intended as a symbolic portrayal of all this, Brethren Encyclopedia, Vol I, p. 83. For All Who Minister is the pastor’s guide for ministry in the Church of the Brethren. Let us examine the vows of membership that you would be requested to affirm. In the Church of the Brethren, members are received by baptism, by transfer of membership, and by reaffirmation of faith. With the deepest consideration for those being baptized, the manual states, The minister will do everything possible to help each applicant approach the baptismal waters without fear or embarrassment (p. 132) so that the applicant can maintain the highest echelon of spiritual concentration and more properly focus on the seriousness of the promises about to be made. This section of the manual offers the minister an option of using one of three different sets of questions for the applicant. Each one has slightly different wording that emphasizes different things. Each one is just as serious and binding as the others.

For All Who Minister: Parish Ministries Commission, Brethren Press, 1993.
Version A

Do you believe that Jesus is God’s Son and do you receive and trust him as your Savior and Lord?
Version B

Do you repent of your sins and confess and accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord?
Version C

Do you believe in Jesus Christ as the revealer of God’s love and purpose for the world?
I do.
I do.
I do.
Will you turn away from all sin and will you endeavor by God’s grace to live according to the example and teachings of Jesus?
Do you promise to live in keeping with the teachings and spirit of the New Testament?
Will you repent of sin, accept God’s forgiveness, and live by the teachings of Jesus?
I will.
I do.
I will.
Will you be loyal to the church, upholding it by your prayers and your presence, your substance and your service?
Do you promise to be a faithful member of the church, the Body of Christ?
Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, receiving our support and prayers and giving yourself freely to us?
I will.
I do.
I will.
Do you desire to seal these vows in Christian baptism?
I do.
The minister shall say one of the following:
Version A   Version B
______(name)______, upon your confession of faith made before God and these people, you are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.   ______(name)______, upon your confession of faith made before God and these people, you are baptized in the name of God the Creator, Jesus Christ the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer.
As each name of the Trinity is spoken, the minister shall immerse the candidate forward, pushing the head gently and fully into the water.

Vows for Receiving Members by Transfer of Letter and Reaffirmation of Faith

Minister: Friends in Christ, you have previously made confession of your faith and have been members of his church. We rejoice in your decision to become members of this congregation, in full covenant relationship with the believers who worship and serve God in this place. Do you now reaffirm your faith in and loyalty to Jesus Christ, our Lord, and his gospel?
Candidate: I do.
Minister: As you unite with this church, will you worship, serve, and share in its program, supporting it by your earnest prayers, regular attendance, loyal service, and faithful stewardship, as God gives you strength?
Candidate: With God’s help, I will.
Minister: Do you promise to live and share with us in the bonds of Christian fellowship, giving and receiving Christian love, sharing and bearing one another’s joy and pain?
Candidate: I do.
  • A Cup of Cold Water: The Story of Brethren Service - J. Kenneth Kreider
  • A People of Promise: Guide for leaders of Membership Classes - Floyd Bantz, Rick Gardner
  • Anabaptism in 16th Century Europe - Ronald J. Gordon
  • American, Brethren In - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Background and Development of Brethren Doctrines - Dale R. Stoffer
  • Becoming God’s People - Ken Gibble
  • Basic Beliefs Within the Church of the Brethren - Brethren Revival Fellowship
  • Biblical Pacifism - Dale W. Brown
  • Brethren Beginnings - Donald F. Durnbaugh
  • Brethren Life and Thought - Brethren Journal Association and Bethany Theological Seminary
  • Brethren Bibliography - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Brethren Card, The - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Brethren Dress: A Testimony to Faith - Esther Rupel
  • Brethren Encyclopedia
  • Brethren Glossary - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Brethren Groups - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Brethren Ordinances - Robert E. Tevis
  • Brethren Society - Carl Bowman
  • Church of the Brethren: Yesterday and Today - Donald F. Durnbaugh
  • Complete Writings of Alexander Mack, The - William R. Eberly
  • Counting the Cost - William Willoughby
  • Creeds and the Church of the Brethren - Frank Ramirez
  • European Origins of the Brethren - Donald F. Durnbaugh
  • European Origin ~ Church of the Brethren - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Fruit of the Vine: A History of the Brethren 1708-1995 - Donald F. Durnbaugh
  • Glimpses of the Past: A Study of Brethren Heritage - Harold S. Martin
  • Heart, Soul and Mind: Becoming a Member of the Church of the Brethren - Brethren Press
  • Heritage and Promise - Emmert Bittinger
  • Honors to Alexander Mack - William G. Willoughby
  • Invitation to the Journey - John David Bowman
  • Journey in Jesus’ Way - David Sollenberger
  • Logo : Church of the Brethren - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Love Feast and Communion - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Love Feast, The - Frank Ramirez
  • Meaning of Church Membership for Younger Disciples - Herman Kauffman
  • Meet the Brethren - Donald F. Durnbaugh
  • Membership Resource Box - Pennsylvania Southern District
  • Moving Toward the Mainstream - Donald R. Fitzkee
  • New Testament Baptism - Brethren Revival Fellowship
  • New Testament Beliefs and Practices: A Brethren Understanding - Harold S. Martin
  • Passing on the Gift: The Story of Dan West - Glee Yoder
  • Pietism in 17th Century Germany, Rise of - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Plan of Redemption - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Pocket Gospel, The - Ronald J. Gordon
  • Sign and Symbol in the Church of the Brethren - Patricia Kennedy Helman, Rosanna Eller McFadden
  • Texts in Transit II - Graydon Snyder, Kenneth M. Shaffer Jr.
  • The Beliefs of the Early Brethren - William G. Willoughby
  • The Love Feast - Compiled by Frank Ramirez
  • Timeline of the Brethren - Ronald J. Gordon
  • To Follow in Jesus’ Steps - C. Wayne Zunkel
  • Who Are the Anabaptists?: Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites - Donald B. Kraybill
  • Whatza Wissahickon: A Heritage Curriculum for Children - Linda Logan

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and
to see if he has enough to complete it?”
Luke 14:28