Brethren a German Baptist religious group. They were popularly known as Dunkards, Dunkers, or Tunkers, from the German for “to dip”, referring to their method of baptizing. The Brethren evolved from the Pietist movement in Germany. Alexander Mack, a miller who had been influenced by both Pietism and Anabaptism, organized the first congregation in the town of Schwarzenau, Germany in 1708.
Though the early Brethren shared many beliefs with other Protestants, issuers which separated them from the state churches included discipleship and obedience, reinstitution of the New Testament church, church discipline, biblicism, and nonresistance. They also shared their faith enthusiastically with others, sending evangelists to other parts of Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.
Due to growing persecution and economic hardship, Brethren began migrating to North America in 1719 under the leadership of Peter Becker. Most Brethren left Europe by 1740, including Mack, who brought a group in 1729. The first congregation in the New World was organized at Germantown, Pa., in 1723. Soon after this formation, the Germantown congregation sent missionaries to rural areas around Philadelphia. These missionaries preached, baptized, and started new congregations.
Their zeal, honesty, and hard work drew many new members into the Brethren faith community through the 1700s. New congregations were formed in New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. With the promise of inexpensive land, they moved into Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri after the Revolutionary War. By the mid-1800s Brethren had settled in Kansas and Iowa and eventually the West Coast.
Expansion across the continent and changes due to the Industrial Revolution caused strain and conflict among the Brethren. In the early 1880s a major schism took place resulting in a three-way split. The largest branch after the schism was the German Baptist Brethren, who changed their name to the Church of the Brethren in 1908.
From the Church of Brethren there have been separations into the Seventh-day Baptists, German Baptists, Church of God, Old German Baptist Brethren, and the Brethren Church. The local churches are united by an annual conference that elects a general board to supervise the national church program.
During the 20th century the focus areas of Church of the Brethren have included educating its young people by developing Sunday schools, camping and youth programs; strengthening its emphasis on service, foreign and home missions, and peacemaking; increasing its ecumenical involvement; and developing a new denominational structure. Today the Church of the Brethren maintains the basic beliefs of the first Brethren and seeks to find new ways to continue the work of Jesus in the world.
While the Church of the Brethren started in Germany, it has no congregations in Europe today. Instead, the denomination’s congregations stretch from coast to coast across North...