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Brethren History – Glimpses From Bowman

by on January 9, 2014

Brethren History – Glimpses From Bowman

Carl Bowman wrote the story of the Brethren. Brethren Society, written in 1995, is an honest appraisal of the story of the Brethren. From a historical and sociological perspective, Bowman honestly and accurately tells us our own story. In readable style, he finds and details how the Brethren experienced the “Cultural Transformation of a Peculiar People.” Best that you should read the book. However, for those who choose to not read the book, here are some glimpses from Bowman’s work.


The reconstruction of Brethren culture – p.405-406.

The reconstruction of Brethren culture was not the work of conservatives; it was the handiwork of twentieth century liberal modernism. The assumptions of progress, personal liberation and universalism (as opposed to particularism) underlie every symbolic translation that was made. Noncreedalism, no force in religion, freedom of conscience, and openness to new light – championed today as the essence of the heritage – are in fact magnifications and distortions of one side of that heritage, a side that was balanced historically by countervailing emphases upon sacrifice, obedience, accountability, separation from the world, internal consensus, and a straightforward Biblicism that searched Scripture with the goal of discerning the mind of Christ and reproducing the practices of the primitive church.

These old assumptions have been packed away in the Brethren cellar, and the liberating motifs displayed in the parlor, for so long that little memory remains that “it wasn’t entirely that way.”

For years, conservatives have sensed that openness and noncreedalism were only part of the Brethren story, but not being experts in church history, they had neither the confidence nor the grounding to challenge liberal revisionism.

So, today …the same person praises liberal openness with one breath and laments the loss of “Brethren distincitves” with the next.

My note – Brethren were balanced with openness on one side and obedience on the other. Obedience was placed in the “Brethren cellar” and openness and liberalism were “displayed in the Parlor.” This resulted in the “reconstruction of Brethren Culture.” Conservatives allowed the educated liberals to tell their story. This has resulted in a one-sided story line – a “distortion of the story.”

Today, all Brethren groups want to claim the best of the Brethren world – a world that is struggling to survive. Read Bowman. Take his observations to heart and make decisions that will preserve the real Brethren story.

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