The Brethren in Christ is an evangelical Christian body with roots in the Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan holiness traditions. It has a very unique protestant history and its history and development worthy understanding. having come to know the Lord through the BIC and raised as such, I have inseparable love for the body of Christ. The BIC are within the mainstream of Christianity as can be seen from their statement of Faith. They do, however, have a unique combination of emphases. They emphasize the life of holiness; possessing a Christ like character, which they trace historically to the Wesleyan revivals in England in the late 1700s. As well, they stress the need for Christians to function in close community and to live a life of peace, an emphasis which has its roots in the Anabaptist movement in Reformation times.
Because the Brethren in Christ believe strongly that God has a unique way of presenting his message of love to each country and culture, Brethren in Christ fellowships work alongside Christians from many other traditions in Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Columbia, Spain, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi, India, Japan and the United Kingdom. There are also Hispanic, Navajo and French speaking Brethren in Christ fellowships in the United States and Canada, in addition to the many English speaking congregations.
The Brethren in Christ Church (BIC) is an Anabaptist Christiandenomination with roots in the Mennonitechurch, pietism, and Wesleyan holiness. They have also been known as River Brethren and River Mennonites. Therefore, the Mennonites and the Brethren In Christ Church have the same roots and that is why to date they still collaborate in all their works.
The Brethren in Christ Church began sometime between 1775 and 1788, and the place of origin was near the present town of Marietta in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It loosely shares an early connection with the United Brethren back to 1767. The Brethren in Christ trace their denomination back to a group of Mennonites who lived just north of Marietta, Pennsylvania on the east side of the Susquehanna River. For the most part, the founding mothers and fathers had an Anabaptist background and were deeply affected by the revivals of the great awakening of the eighteenth century and the Pietistic movement, which was spread in America by the Moravians and German Baptists. These revivals emphasized a personal, heart-felt conversion experience.
The earliest Brethren in Christ called themselves simply “the Brethren.” Outsiders often referred to them as “River Brethren” since they lived, for the most part, along the Susquehanna River. We know that by 1788 a group of “the Brethren” immigrated to Canada and became known there as the “Tunkers,” a reference to their practice of baptism (from the German word meaning “to dip”) in Tunks at that time.
As they met to study the Bible and to experience God, the people of this group (who became known as the River Brethren) developed a conviction that believer’s baptism(triune immersion) was the scriptural form of baptism. The River Brethren of the 18th century also held to a firm reliance on the centricity of Scripture. As their Pietistlifestyles and their beliefs regarding baptism continued to develop, they began to distance themselves from other Anabaptistdenominations such as the Mennonitesand German Baptists, of which groups they had previously been a part. Jacob Engleis noted as one of the early leaders (sometimes considered the “founder” of the BIC Church) who promoted this position. The first confessional statement of this group was formulated around 1780
Discipleship for “the brethren” was expressed in practical ways. It involved the avoidance of “worldly” activities such as politics and certain amusements such as card playing. Dress was simple and unadorned by jewellery, bright colours, or frills. Their plain uniform dress made them stand out in their communities which suited their belief of being a separate people called out by God. The fact that they were farmers and spoke German likely affected both their simple theological stance and their desire to be separated from the world.
The early Brethren in Christ took their name seriously – they believed and practiced that they were a brotherhood in Christ. Their manner of meeting was symbolic of the concept of brotherhood. For most of the first 100 years of our church, worship services were held in the homes of members. And even when the Brethren began to construct buildings referred to as meetinghouses, they kept them simple with pews surrounding on three sides and an un-elevated pulpit. Thus the Brethren met in common around the Word of God. Very early in our church’s history, members began to move and take their beliefs with them.
It is known that by 1788, a group of “the Brethren” immigrated to Canada. Other Brethren in Christ moved westward from Pennsylvania, settling in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and California.
About the turn of the century, the Brethren in Christ embraced the teachings of Wesleyan holiness. Members of the Brethren in Christ Church founded Messiah Collegein 1909 (Grantham, Pennsylvania), and the Niagara Christian Community of Schools(founded as Niagara Christian College, a Canadian preparatory school) in 1932 (Ontario, Canada).
During the American Civil War, when required by the Union government of the United Statesto register as a body that held non- resistancevalues, the name Brethren in Christ was adopted. River Brethren remained the popular usage into the 20th century for the American members of the denomination while “Dunkers” was the popular moniker given to the Canadian denomination members until the 1930s. In 1879 the North American Church (US and Canada) was formed into a General Conference, which gives overall guidance to the regional and local churches. The formation of a General Conference made systematic evangelism a possibility. In 1894 a home mission work started in the city of Chicago, and in 1898 the first foreign mission work began in the African nation of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Today, Brethren in Christ churches can be found all across the United States and Canada, and in more than twenty-three countries around the world.
Tracing the BICC Theological History
The current Articles of Faith and Doctrine were adopted in 1986. They emphasize the understanding of the inspired scriptures by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the “centrality of Christ” in the divine revelation, the necessity of holiness, nonviolence and the importance of community. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveals Himself through the divine record of the Scriptures. Salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is received through the response of personal faith and repentance. Baptism (by triune immersion) and the Lord’s supper are considered ordinances of the church. Foot washing, the dedication of children, prayer for the sick, laying on of hands, and anointing with oil are important accepted practices, but are not called ordinances.
A unique aspect of the Brethren in Christ Church is the rich blend of theological traditions that make BIC what it is today. Specifically, preaching and teaching in the churches is shaped by three emphases within the wider Christian community: Anabaptism, Pietism, and Wesleyanism.
The theological roots of the Brethren in Christ Church reach back to the Protestant Reformation. At that time, reformers called Anabaptists stressed the importance of a personal responsibility toward one’s baptism (believer’s baptism), as well as the importance of discipleship, and obedience, the separation of church and state, the practice of non-resistance, and the necessity of community. This Anabaptist strain within our church’s “theological DNA” shows itself most particularly in our emphases on the community of faith, to serving compassionately, to living simply, and to pursuing peace.
The Brethren in Christ draw a portion of their identity from certain German believers who, in the seventeenth century, rejected the overly intellectualized expression of the Christian faith that had become popular within certain segments of the church. The Pietists stressed the importance of genuine conversion and a warm, personal experience of renewed life in Christ. This awakening experience swept through Europe and on to America. For Brethren in Christ, the Christian faith is a relationship with God that is to be enjoyed with the heart, even as it is affirmed with the head.
The Brethren in Christ have also been deeply influenced by the teachings of the eighteenth-century British scholar and preacher, John Wesley. The Wesleyan movement in America – also known as the Holiness movement – emphasizes conversion as a conscious acceptance of God, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and daily growth in holiness. Brethren in Christ value the free gift of salvation in Christ Jesus and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and we are unashamed in sharing the Good News of the Gospel with others.
For more than 200 years, the Brethren in Christ have expressed an understanding of living in relationship to Jesus shaped by these renewal movements. What began in the 1750’s in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, has since spread across North America and, through an overwhelming receptivity to our missionaries, around the world.
Other forms of the BIC
Other divisions of the River Brethren include the Old Order River Brethren (org. 1843), the United Zion Church (org. 1855), and the Calvary Holiness Church. The Calvary Holiness Church began in 1963 when the Philadelphia Brethren in Christ congregation (org. 1897) withdrew from the Brethren in Christ, rejecting perceived changes in the denomination’s faith and practice. The body incorporated in 1964, and had two congregations with about 40 members in 1980.
The Brethren In Christ Church In Africa.
It all started from Zimbawe in 1897 as part of pursuit for piety and obedience to the Lord. In 1897, the first Brethren in Christ missionaries left New York for Zimbabwe in late November. Since they arrived just two years after the end of the second war of resistance to white colonial rule, the missionaries were viewed by the locals as having the same ideals and culture as the colonists. The missionaries soon proved themselves and eventually the Zimbabwe Brethren in Christ Church spread to Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa.
In Zambia Mrs Anna Engle rod on a scot cart to start the work at a mission in Macha. In South Africa it was established in 1988 near the capital city of Pretoria. The original congregation consisted of four different tribal groups that evangelized by hosting tent revival meetings and ministering in prisons and hospitals. The pastor and organizer of this first church was Rev. Hamilton Madlabane. Anna Engle, who was a missionary working to translate scriptures, first introduced Madlabane to the Brethren in Christ Church. Madlabane then left for the United States and attended Messiah College.
In The United Kindom
The work in the UK was actually as a result of a combination of mission efforts from Africa supported by the USA. Missionaries from Zimbabwe and Zambia had a heart for reaching the UK. The establishment of the Brethren in Christ Church in the UK was preceded by assigning Dr Kenneth Hoover, in 1979 to carry out a three month feasibility study for the BIC churches of USA, Zimbabwe and Zambia to determine whether it was necessary to launch such a ministry in the UK as a denomination. The feasibility study was in response to a request from BIC members resident in England. One of them being Auntie Ivy Nkala, who challenged the denomination when she said, “time was up that they (North America and the African Churches) needed to stop flying over England to Africa or to the USA, but that they “stop and plant in the United Kingdom as the UK needs God.”
On April 6, 1980, at 2:30 p.m. the first Forest Gate BIC worship service was conducted at the London Mennonite Centre, 14 Shepherds Hill, a High Gate N6. After introductions, the newly posted Pastor (E.Moyo) gave greetings under three persuasive points: “If the London ministry is to succeed:
1. Each member must be committed to Christ
2. Each member must be committed to people who are God’s creations
3. Each member must be committed to the great commission.”