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Brethren History – Reformed Protestant Influence

by on August 30, 2013



The Schwarzenau Brethren began at the confluence of four major religious streams:

1. Reformation theology

2. Pietistic awakening

3. Mystical connection with God

4. Anabaptist understanding of the Church.


Reformed theology gave the Brethren a very high view of the Scripture and provided a stabilizing influence in a Pietistic age. Scripture was the defining source of understanding of life for them. They placed obedience to Scripture above obedience to any earthly authority whether civil or religious.

The Brethren, however, also processed Reformed theology in the crucible of Scripture. Therefore, they did not just accept Reformed confessions without the scrutiny of the Word of God . Some Reformed concepts had to be challenged.


Brethren rejected three points of Reformed theology:

1. Justification by faith alone

2. Swearing oaths

3. Infant baptism


The theology of the Reformation came from the teaching of Augustine in the 400s. It was processed by Martin Luther, and later by John Calvin in the 1500s. It was, however, challenged by Menno Simons and other Anabaptists who refused to accept it without a thorough examination by Scripture. The Brethren accepted and adopted the Anabaptist understanding of the Bible and the Church.

In the modern world, the teaching of fundamental Protestantism has been the primary religious influence on the conservative Brethren for several generations. This pervasive influence has produced Protestant thinking among the Brethren. It primarily comes through Christian radio and Christian publications.

By way of contrast, Dale Stoffer, the current Brethren historian/theologian, has written Brethren Doctrines. In this book he explains historical and theological Brethren/Anabaptist beliefs. This book should be required reading for every Brethren leader. The liberal training many of them have received at the hands of liberal Brethren teachers is very harmful. Stoffer’s book will bring correctives and will give historical and theological understandings.


Following is an example of his writings:

… the Brethren disputed the doctrine of imputed righteousness, that we are justified based solely on the righteousness that is imputed or credited to us by Christ’s obedience even unto death. The problem that the Brethren had with this teaching was that it created a “legal fiction.” The person who simply believes is viewed perfectly righteous because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to him or her. But in actual fact, this person may continue to lead the same kind of unrighteous life that he or she led before confession of faith in Christ. For the Brethren, righteousness and holiness are not merely objectively credited to us as believers by Christ’s atoning death; they are to be true of us in actuality, or subjectively, because we are becoming more holy and righteous through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

Excerpted from “The Brethren, Creeds and the Heidelberg Catechism”

By Dale R. Stoffer, Old Order Notes, No. 22, Fall-Winter 2000. p. 16.


Augustine and Luther were men who were not able to conquer their proclivity to sinful living. They had to formulate a manner to resolve their dilemma. Augustine found that eternal security was his answer. Luther finally believer that being a saint and sinner at the same time was the only answer to his dilemma. Stoffer’s statement makes it clear that such teaching is foreign to Brethren.

Protestantism emphasizes human inadequacy in dealing with sin. So far so good. However. The indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to keep men and women from sinning is not given its place. Romans seven is presented as normative experience too many times. Eternal security is the obvious and only way to resolve that issue. But, that is not part of Brethren understandings.

Protestant teachings emphasize sin and salvation by grace. Scriptures are emphasized that show only one side of the salvation experience. Jude does say, “Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling.” But Jude also says, “ Keep yourselves in the love of God.”

Brethren/Anabaptist teachings emphasize walking in newness of life by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Romans 8 becomes normative for Brethren/Anabaptists. One does not need to think in terms of being a saint and sinner at the same time. One can live above the sin and rise above temptations by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

As Anabaptist/Brethren in the modern world we need to take care not to be drawn into beliefs and teachings that are not Biblical.

Read and study Anabaptist and Brethren history and theology. It takes a bit of effort but is worth the investment so as not to be drawn away from our historic, Biblical beliefs and practices.

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