Statement of Faith
What We Believe:
- We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God. It is the final authority in all matters of faith and conduct.
- We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- We believe in Jesus Christ, His deity, His virgin birth, His sinless life, His miracles, His substitutionary and atoning death through His shed blood, His resurrection, His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and His personal future return in power and glory.
- We believe that a person is saved from the guilt and condemnation of sin by being justified by God. This justification is the result of his or her individual and personal faith in Jesus Christ alone, apart from any human merit or works. Good works are the natural and expected result of salvation, not the cause of it.
- We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling, a Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
- We believe in the resurrection of the dead, the believer to eternal joy, and the unbeliever to the resurrection of judgement and eternal punishment.
- We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, and that this unity is most effectively realized within the following framework:
- In the essentials: unity
- In non-essentials: liberty
- In all things: charity (love)
Jude 1:3 - Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
About the Brethren
The people known today as "Brethren" trace their roots back to Schwartzenau, Germany, and the year, 1708. This spiritual family, which began with eight people, eventually grew into what is today a movement which includes at least six major groups in the U.S., including the Church of the Brethren. In addition, there are other fellowships around the world which have resulted from missions. (adapted from Finding Our Focus, p.1)
Two particular groups influenced the founding Brethren: The Anabaptists and the Pietists. While the Protestant Reformation made many steps in the right direction, both the Anabaptists and the Pietists saw a serious need for further reforms.
The Anabaptist movement ("Anabaptist" literally means "one who rebaptizes") arose out of concerns about the condition of the post-reformation Protestant church, which they viewed as having become dangerously connected to the state. Certain laws had been put in place to force uniformity among Christians. One example was state-mandated infant baptism. As a result, those Christians who were convinced that the Bible teaches "believer's baptism," chose to be baptized after they had personally trusted Jesus Christ as Savior. Because of this, they were labeled by their opponents as "Anabaptists" (rebaptizers), and were considered to be in violation of accepted state practice.
Anabaptists believed in a "free church" (religious liberty), based upon the New Testament model of a local church, separate from government control. They also called for a lifestyle which sought to follow the will of God rather than the sinful practices of the world. Because of their strong convictions, "thousands of them were burned to death, decapitated, drowned, or tortured and martyred in other ways. They considered suffering to be one of the marks of the faithful church." (The Brethren Encyclopedia, vol.1, p.28)
The Pietists also had concerns about the health of the Protestant church following the reformation. Pietists emphasized the clear need of the "new birth" (John 3:3), as well as continuing spiritual growth in the life of each believer. This would bring about a clear and visible transformation in the life of the believer, which would create an example within the church and a powerful testimony to those outside the church.
When it came to their source of authority, the Pietists held the Bible to be their unquestioned standard of faith and practice. They believed that even the details of Scripture were to be heeded and faithfully practiced to produce fruitfulness for the cause of Christ. They also regarded Christian fellowship as being vital to the spiritual health of both the church and individual Christians.
Out of this background of Anabaptist and Pietist influence, Alexander Mack (considered by most to be the founder of the Brethren), along with a handful of others, began to meet together for Bible study and prayer. They established "the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible" as their source of authority for both faith and practice. (Brethren Beliefs and Practices, p.45)
As a result, some time in August of 1708, eight individuals (five men and three women) gathered at the Eder River in Schwartzenau and took part in believer’s baptism, thereby becoming the "charter members" of our church. Choosing not to name the group after any leader of their day, they simply chose to be referred to as "Brethren" (a Biblical term used to describe fellow-Christians). In spite of persecution, by 1715, a sizable congregation formed in Schwartzenau and another arose in Creyfelt (and produced several leaders). Other congregations were also established at that time.
Not long afterward though, the persecution intensified and eventually led to two major waves of the Brethren to America; the first in 1719, and the second in 1729. Many of them were responding to an offer by William Penn, who had received a grant of territory in America and offered complete religious freedom to everyone who settled there (in what is now Pennsylvania).
The early Brethren were referred to by various names. They were called "Tunkers" (German for "dunkers"), because they baptized by immersion (going completely under the water). They were also called "dompelaers," which was Dutch for "baptizers" or "dippers." In addition, some referred to them as "Anabaptists" (rebaptizers), along with others who had rejected state-mandated infant baptism in favor of believer’s baptism.
The Church of the Brethren in the United States currently has a membership of approximately 120,000 in around 1,000 congregations. Among some of the beliefs and practices historically associated with the Church of the Brethren are: The sanctity of all human life, believer’s baptism by trine immersion, the three-fold communion service, the anointing service, and the priesthood of all believers.
The Church of the Brethren is a mixture of congregational and representative church government. Local churches are autonomous, plan their own ministries, and select their own leaders (Acts 6:3,5). Pastors and others in set apart ministry, however, receive their ordination (or licensing) from their Brethren district board. Positions and issues of importance are addressed as needed each year by the (national) Annual Conference, consisting of delegates from each congregation. Resulting statements or positions are issued as guidelines for local churches to follow (Acts 15:2, 16:4). (adapted from Major Bible Doctrines, Part 2: The Church: It's Nature and Practices, p. 7) Note: See the specific Statement of Faith of our local church, First Church of the Brethren, at the top of this page.
Within the Brethren churches of the United States, one may find great variation from congregation to congregation. The same holds true for many other existing Christian denominations, as well "independent" and "non-denominational" churches. For this reason, the two most important questions facing prospective members in any church are:
1) "Where does this local congregation stand in essential areas of faith and practice?"
2) "Am I of sufficient agreement with the beliefs, practices, and purpose of this congregation, that I desire to become a growing and active member of this local church family?"
Those who have made First Church of the Brethren their church home have answered, "yes" to that final question!
Sources Quoted or Consulted
Durnbaugh, Donald F., Editor, Meet The Brethren. Elgin, IL, The Brethren Press
Etling, Harold, Our Heritage: Brethren Beliefs and Practices. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books
Kent, Homer A. Sr., Conquering Frontiers. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books
Martin, Harold, Major Bible Doctrines 2: The Church: It’s Nature and Practices. York, PA, Brethren Bible Institute
Plaster, David R. Plaster, Finding Our Focus: A History of the Grace Brethren Church. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books
The Brethren Encyclopedia, Vol. 1. Philadelphia, PA, and Oak Brook, IL: The Brethren Encyclopedia Inc.