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The Brethren are a number of Protestant Christian religious bodies using the word "brethren" in their names. In some cases these similarities of name reflect roots in the same early Brethren groups, and in others the adoption of "Brethren" as part of the name reflects an independent choice to evoke the concept of religious brotherhood (especially fraternal religious or military orders).


Schwarzenau Brethren groups

The Schwarzenau Brethren groups originated in 1708 in Schwarzenau, Germany, in the Palatinate. Early leaders included Alexander Mack, Peter Becker, and John Nass. The Brethren were at one time called Dunkers or German Baptist Brethren.

After enduring persecution for a time (see Anabaptist), the Brethren migrated to North America in three separate groups from 1719 to 1733. There they established themselves at Germantown, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and from there moved south and west along with other pioneers.

The Brethren Church shares its early unstable heritage with the Church of the Brethren but was separated in 1883, being the most progressive of the three groups resulting from this split at the time of H. R. Holsinger.[citation needed] The most conservative of the groups (the "Old Order", centered in Dayton, Ohio) is now known as the German Baptist church. The current Church of the Brethren found itself representing those parishoners who constitute the "middle ground" on matters of doctrine and practice as Christians. They continue to represent Christian fundamnentalism in their interpretation of doctrine, but compared to the initial religious refugees seeking freedom from persecution in Europe centuries ago, the Church of the Brethren now represent the middle ground (albeit still a "conservative" group).

Initial reason for separation of sects

The initial split within the Church was not about doctrine at the time, (though the groups later drifted apart since for other reasons), but over such things as the starting of Sunday Schools, the holding of revival meetings, and the use of an indoor baptistry rather than running water in a creek or river. The "progressive" group, now called (Brethren Church) includes a denomination with headquarters in Ashland, Ohio.


More rifts in the Church

In 1939 the "Progressives" split into two denominations, with those seeking an open position to the issue of eternal security maintaining the name Brethren Church, and those seeking a firm affirmation of eternal security becoming the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC), commonly called the Grace Brethren Church, headquartered in Winona Lake, Indiana. The Grace Brethren experienced a split in the 1990s (primarily related to the connection between water baptism and church membership), with a minority of churches forming the Conservative Grace Brethren Churches, International (CGBCI). In 2007, families from both the FGBC and CGBCI formed yet a new fellowship calling themselves the Brethren Reformed Church.

Other Brethren groups

The following Brethren bodies are not related historically to the Schwarzenau groups descended from Alexander Mack.

See also

External links


  • Brethren Encyclopedia, Vol. I-III, Donald F. Durnbaugh, editor
  • Brethren Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, Donald F. Durnbaugh and Dale V. Ulrich, editors, Carl Bowman, contributing editor
  • Gathering Unto His Name, by Norman Crawford (on Plymouth Brethren)
  • Encyclopedia of American Religions, J. Gordon Melton, editor
  • Handbook of Denominations in the United States, by Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill, and Craig D. Atwood
  • Mennonite Encyclopedia, Cornelius J. Dyck, Dennis D. Martin, et al., editors
  • Profiles in Belief: the Religious Bodies in the United States and Canada, by Arthur Carl Piepkorn
  • Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States (2000), Glenmary Research Center


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary






  1. (archaic) Plural form of brother.
  2. (figuratively) the body of members, especially of a fraternal, religious or military order

Usage notes

The plural "brethren" is generally used for members of an organization, especially a religious body, whereas the plural "brothers" is used in the familial sense as well as for larger groups.


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

See also


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