Brethren History – Condensed – Part II
III. Extra-Biblical training required
The District Meeting report of 1935 encouraged ministerial growth by an approved reading course, which later was made a requirement for ordination to the ministry. Extra-Biblical training was now required for ordination. While some requirements have been adjusted, liberal extra-Biblical material was, for years, required for ordination. Responsibility for ordination was taken away from the elders and placed under the control of the district.
According to reports from new ministers over the years, men and women who “do not believe the Bible” were teaching new ministers from the conservative congregations. These ministers brought home stories of sitting under instructors who “did not believe the Scripture.” For many of them, the Brethren minister’s classes were their first exposure to liberal thinking.
Even in Volunteer Service, leaders attempted to exert liberal influence on the youth who came from conservative congregations.
Defending what is wrong
These practices are defended with the argument that “we need to be submissive to our authority and that authority is the COB.” The implication in that argument is that we will be loyal to the system, whether it is right or wrong, with all of its changes.
The venerable Durnbaugh closes his Fruit of the Vine with this comment, “The Schwarzenau eight in the first decade of the eighteenth century sought their identity through studying the Bible and church history.” That is the Biblical Brethren way of the past and it is the only way for the future. It is your choice today. The future of the Church is in the balance. (Durnbaugh. p.593).
IV. Regrets – What have we done?
Sometimes it is useful to look back and see the results of decisions after several years have gone by.
Mallott says, “Today (1954) some who helped break down the garb in the twenties and thirties sincerely wonder what they did. It was eloquently argued in those days that the peculiarity of God’s people was to be in manner of life and in zeal for missions, educational endeavor, and the like, and such things were independent of a form of dress.” (Mallott p. 264).
Notable are the words of Otho Winger. Winger was a very powerful Brethren leader in the twenties and thirties. He convinced the conservatives to back down from their own convictions and occasioned the loss of the Dunkard Brethren in 1926. In his later years he will say, “I doubt whether there is a denomination in the world that is going faster toward worldliness and a form of Christian paganism than our own church.” (Schwalm p. 181).
Where are we?
Since the mid 1960s the Brethren have lost about eighty thousand members. During that same time, some conservative Anabaptist groups have grown dramatically. Why are Brethren not asking questions? Why are Brethren not seeking genuine revival? Why are conservative Brethren not joining together to restore our strong Biblical heritage? Why?
Why are some conservative Brethren speaking against those who have courage to seek Biblical revival and return to the historic Brethren practices? Why must the most conservative people be placed on the defensive? In a group once known for absolute dedication to the Scripture; Why?
God has been faithful. There have been prophetic voices among the Brethren. They have been silenced by accusations of disloyalty. They were the objects of high-level gossip and were marginalized. Many of them acquiesced to the pressure to accommodate to the system. “Do not split the church.” Loyalty replaced truth and integrity. Real prophets were disenfranchised. Like the Old Testament prophets, Like Jesus, like Stephen, like Martin Luther, they were seen as troublemakers.
V. Revival – Where do we go from here?
Brethren today must learn from the past. Revival will require that actions and positions that are not Biblical be repented of and replaced with Biblical practices. Liberal practices replaced the historic Biblical beliefs that faithfully directed the Brethren through hundreds of years of history. The current, continued loyalty to a system must be replaced by an absolute commitment to the Scripture as directed by the Holy Spirit. That is the only way for Spiritual blindness to be overcome. Anything less will continue Spiritual blindness and the failed patterns of the past.
We need unity. There is only one way – that way is Truth. Philippians 3:16 says, Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. There is nothing like unity for the sake of unity. Unity must be based on something. If we walk by the same rule and mind the same thing we will have unity. For the Brethren historically, that was the Scripture. It must be so again if we are to have unity. Peace at all costs is not unity. Unity must have a basis. That basis is the truth of the Word of God.
Loyalty vs. integrity and truth
Willingness to compromise to keep the family together has produced a loyal church system. This, unfortunately is not a sustainable approach. Revival means a return to integrity and truth. Loyalty is only valuable if it is preceded by integrity. When loyalty is primary, truth is lost. We dare not allow that to happen.
As with the early Church, the Anabaptists and the early Brethren, the Scripture must be the final authority, not a man-made system of any kind. That is the call of God on our lives and the life of the Church today. Count the Cost and act faithfully. Alexander Mack did that in 1708. We must do that today.
I am calling on the conservative Brethren today to band together and build a strong community into the future. We can and we must. It is time to stop the polarizations and join together on the basis of the Bible and the Brethren heritage. It is time to stop the politics. It is time to stop speaking against the most conservative people. The compromise option is available everywhere. It is time to reinforce the conservative approach for the sake of our children and our witness to the world. It is time to Count the Cost. It is time. Now.
Sources of info:
Otho Winger – V. F. Schwalm
Studies in Brethren History – Mallott
History of the Church of the Brethren, Eastern Pennsylvania – 1915-1965- Committee
Fruit of the Vine – Durnbaugh
Brethren Society – Bowman
March 16, 2015