What do you think about the Church of the Brethren and the way they follow the beliefs of the Bible?
The Brethren are a fairly small denomination of Christianity which is historically directly connected to the Reformation in Northern Europe in the sixteenth century.
There were three principle lines of theology and practice which emerged from the Protestant Reformation. One is that begun by Martin Luther. He emphasized salvation by faith alone, belief based on the Bible alone and the need for the common people to have access to the scriptures. Luther did not reject infant baptism. Neither did he reject the joining of church and state. In fact, he viewed infant baptism as the rite by which one became part of the Church as a whole, and therefore part of the political church entity.
The second major strain of the Reformation was that begun by Ulrich Zwingli and continued by John Calvin. Their teaching became known as Reformed Theology. This wing of the Reformation stressed much in common with Luther, such as salvation by faith alone, the authority of the Scripture and the need to study the Bible in order to discover Christian truth. Like Luther, they practiced infant baptism, although for a slightly different reason, as they did not agree with baptismal regeneration (salvation occurring in the baptism of the infant). They also had a different belief on the Lord’s Supper, rejecting the idea of the “real presence” in the bread and wine. Instead they taught that the Lord’s Supper is simply a memorial and a sharing, but not a participation in the death and life of Jesus. Also, the Reformed branch of Protestantism taught a stronger version of Original Sin and predestination. Like Luther’s followers, they definitely accepted the idea of joining church and state into a kind of theocratic Christian rule.
Less well known are the Anabaptists, also known as the Radical Reformation. This group rejected the idea of joining Church and state. They believed that salvation is an individual matter and supported freedom of conscience. They believed that salvation is based on faith, and concluded that such faith can only be found in an adult. For this reason, they rejected infant baptism. They believed that salvation occurs at the point of baptism (which Luther also believed), but reached the rather obvious conclusion that only an adult can have real faith, and therefore taught adult baptism. They said that infants baptism was invalid and those who joined them were therefore “rebaptized.” Of course, they did not see this as a rebaptism but simply as a baptism. The name Anabaptist comes from their enemies who called them rebaptizers (Anabaptists). Because the Anabaptists rejected the joining of church and state, they were considered traitors and rebels by the Catholic Church, by the Lutherans and by the followers of Zwingli and Calvin. This put them in a terrible position. They were viciously persecuted and tens of thousands were executed for their biblical faith. This is a terrible mark on the record of the other Protestant (as well as Catholic) groups.
Several churches emerged from these highly persecuted Anabaptists. Such groups include the Amish, the Mennonites, the Hutterites and the Brethren. All of these groups support the idea of salvation by faith, but not necessarily by “faith alone.” They believe that our faith and submission to baptism are required for salvation. Like the Lutherans and those of the Reformed churches, they stress the authority of the Bible. They emerged principally from Zwingli’s movement, so, like Zwingli, they believe that the Lord’s Supper is a remembrance and a communion with one another, but they reject the transubstantiation of Roman Catholicism and the consubstantiation of Lutheranism. These groups are closer to being biblical Christians, in general, than most other Protestant groups. However, we should be careful to not over-generalize and should take each group and each individual believer one at a time. Another feature of the Christian groups which emerged from the Anabaptist movement is that they tended to be suspicious of government and of “the world” in general. The Amish and the Mennonites withdraw radically from the world as a whole. They have become culturally isolated, and therefore have relatively little influence on the world as a whole and also have very few converts. Their weakness tends to be in their lack of successful evangelism.
As already mentioned, the Brethren come from this Anabaptist history. They emerged in Germany and Holland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the way, the Mennonites and the Amish were formerly known as the Swiss Brethren, so there can be some confusion about terminology, but most calling themselves Brethren today are related to the Amish and Mennonites historically, but are not part of these groups. The Brethren emphasize holy living and non-involvement in worldly pursuits. They tend to emphasize the spirit and lifestyle of Christ over concerns about doctrine. They are less separated from the world than the Amish and the Mennonites. If you go to the home web site for the Brethren (http://www.brethrenchurch.org/), you will find it difficult to find what their doctrine is—not that they do not have doctrines, but that they downplay doctrinal matters. Personally, I am a member of the International Churches of Christ, which evolved from the Churches of Christ, which evolved from the Restoration Movement in the US and Great Britain in the early 1800s. This was a back-to-the-Bible only movement with some similarity in theology and practice to the Anabaptists. The most important early figure in the Restoration Movement was Alexander Campbell. He was influenced by the Brethren. Those in Restoration churches will find similarity in their beliefs and practices with the Brethren. As with the Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites, the Brethren have remained fairly small. This is due in part to their fairly radical rejection of things in the world, even things in “the world” which are not obviously sinful, such as modern technologies.