The New International Encyclopædia/German Baptist Brethren
GERMAN BAPTIST BRETHREN, The. A considerable body of Christians, also known as Dunkers, and among themselves as Brethren, whose faith and practice are not generally known outside of the localities in which they live. Thus the reiterated statements that they are celibates, that they discourage marriage, that they do not marry outside of their own fraternity, that they keep the seventh day as the Sabbath, that they live in communities, and other similar errors set forth in the books, always have been without foundation. The movement which resulted in the closer organization of the German Baptist Brethren grew out of the great religious awakening which occurred in Germany in the latter part of the seventeenth century, when large numbers, becoming dissatisfied with the lack of spirituality in the State Church, withdrew from its communion. They organized at Schwartzenau, Germany, in 1708, with Alexander Mack as their first minister; but in no way do they regard him as the founder of the Church.
Driven by persecution to Wittgenstein, they rejected all human creeds, and accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ as their rule of faith and practice. The Church suffered from persecution, and finally emigrated (1719-29) to America, settling near Germantown, Pa., where the first church in this country was organized in 1723. Among the early emigrants was Christopher Saur, who was the first in America to print the Bible in a European tongue. From this nucleus the Church spread southward and westward, and flourishing congregations are now to be found in most of the States. They are, however, most numerous in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, and North Dakota. At the annual conference held at Lincoln, Neb., in 1901, twenty-five States and five foreign countries were represented. They now number about 100,000 communicants, have 720 congregations, with 2600 ministers, who, as a rule, serve without salary. They are largely engaged in agricultural pursuits. Seven colleges receive a fair support. These are located at Bridgewater, Va.; Uniontown, Md.; Elizabethtown and Huntingdon, Pa.; North Manchester, Ind.; Mount Morris, Ill.; and McPherson, Kan. Missions have been established in Denmark, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Asia Minor, and India. The Missionary Society has an endowment fund exceeding a quarter of a million dollars. A large and well-appointed publishing house, located at Elgin, Ill., is owned by the Church. The Gospel Messenger, the Church paper, has a circulation of over 20,000, and other publications enjoy a large patronage.
In doctrine the Brethren are strictly orthodox. They hold the Bible to be the inspired and infallible word of God, and accept the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice. They believe in the Trinity, in the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Ghost, and in future rewards and punishments. In the subtleties of speculative theology they take but little interest. Faith, repentance, and baptism are held to be the conditions of salvation. These three constitute true evangelical conversion, and upon them rests the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost. In practice they follow closely the Scripture teaching, and observe the primitive simplicity of the Apostolic Church; hence they regard nonconformity to the world as an important principle. They enjoin plainness of dress, settle their difficulties among themselves without going to law, affirm instead of taking oath, refrain from taking a prominent part in polities, are opposed to secret societies, advise against the use of tobacco, and have a rule more than a century old against the manufacture, sale, and use of intoxicants. As early as 1782 they prohibited slavery, and pronounced in strong terms against the slave trade. They baptize believers only, dipping them face forward at the mention of each name in the Trinity given in the baptismal formula in Matt. xxviii. 19. Communion is observed in the evening, after a full meal called the Lord's Supper. Before the supper the ordinance of foot-washing is observed, the brethren washing one another's feet, and the sisters performing the same service among themselves. After supper, before the communion is taken, the sexes extend the right hand of fellowship and exchange the kiss of peace. Bishops, or elders, ministers in the first and second degree, and deacons, are elected by the congregations. Ministers are advanced from the first to the second degree, and bishops are chosen from the latter, and ordained by the imposition of hands. Congregations are organized into State districts, and both elect delegates to the annual conference, which is the chief ecclesiastical body. Here the fullest and freest discussion of all questions coming before the assembly is permitted. The final decisions are rendered by a two-thirds vote of the delegated body, and are binding on all the churches. Women are eligible to serve as delegates in conference.
In 1881-83 the Church suffered the loss of about 8000 communicants by a division in its ranks, resulting in the secession of two parties, known as the Old-Order and Progressive Brethren. The former objected most seriously to the advance the Church was making in educational, missionary, and Sunday-school work, while the latter insisted strenuously that the Church was too conservative, that the rules laid down by the annual conference were oppressive, and that greater liberty should be enjoyed in matters of dress. After some years of contention, these parties withdrew from the mother Church and formed separate organizations. The Old-Order Brethren now number about 4000. They determinedly oppose higher education, missionary work, Sunday schools, and revival services. They publish a paper, the Vindicator, which has a small circulation. In 1890 the Progressive Brethren numbered 8000, and have since then increased, claiming 13,000 in 1900. They have a college at Ashland, Ohio, where their publishing house is also located. The Evangelist, their Church paper, circulates generally among the members of their body. For the German Seventh-Day Baptists, an early offshoot of the German Baptist Brethren, see Baptists.