Volume 13, Number 3
On January 12, 1978, the Brethren Revival Fellowship Committee met with the new General Secretary of the Church of the Brethren, Bob Neff. The meeting was initiated by the Brethren Revival Fellowship as an attempt to continue to keep communication lines open, and to share concerns. We appreciate Brother Neff’s willingness to arrange a time to meet with us so early in the tenure of his new position. He seems to enjoy vigorous theological discussion, which some of the rest of us don’t mind too much either! We felt that our dialogue over issues in the Church of the Brethren was wholesome and constructive in spite of some differences of opinion.
To help us keep to the point, the BRF Committee prepared a paper entitled, “Concerns for the Church of the Brethren,” which was the basis of our discussion. Bob and we agreed that we would be free to share the main features of this witness. We felt that our readers would be interested in knowing the concerns that we shared. Nearly all of the items were discussed in depth. This event serves to uplift one of the major functions of the Brethren Revival Fellowship – that of confronting Brotherhood leaders with the validity of the historic Brethren understandings of the faith.
Sometimes the BRF is charged with being a new splinter group that is taking people away from the Brotherhood. Such persons need to be reminded that every one of the beliefs and positions held by the BRF can easily be seen in the Brethren history books! We are not starting a new movement. We are instead pleading for revival – for a return to real Brethrenism. One of the evidences of the validity of our claim to be historically Brethren, is the Brethren Card which is reprinted on the following page. The Brethren through the years have been noncreedal, frequently stating that the New Testament is the only rule of faith and practice. But earlier Brethren were willing to summarize in very short form what they believed. The Brethren Card is a concise summary of teachings which the Church of the Brethren has historically held, and the BRF agrees with each statement on the Card. When you compare this Card with what has happened in modern Church of the Brethren congregations, it isn’t hard to see who the historic Brethren are, and who started a new movement. If additional copies of the Brethren Card are desired, they may be obtained free of charge by writing to the BRF address.
THE BRETHREN CARD
The Brethren Card is presented here for the benefit of each brother and sister in Christ. In former years, each issue of the Gospel Messenger carried a printed copy of this summary of beliefs. Donald Durnbaugh says, in the book, The Church of the Brethren Past and Present, 1971; “A brief compilation of Brethren beliefs was prepared and distributed in the early twentieth century by the Tract Committee. In 1922-23 this statement was revised by request of Annual Conference delegates, and approved for circulation with the understanding that it should not be considered a creed” (page 160). The revised statement (approved by Annual Conference for circulation) is commonly called The Brethren Card and appears below:
The Church of the Brethren
Formerly Called Dunkers
1. This body of Christians originated early in the eighteenth century, the church being a natural outgrowth of the Pietistic movement following the Reformation.
2. Firmly accepts and teaches the fundamental evangelical doctrines of the inspiration of the Bible, the personality of the Holy Spirit, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the sinpardoning value of his atonement, his resurrection from the tomb, ascension and personal and visible return, and the resurrection, both of the just and unjust (John 5:28, 29; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).
3. Observes the following New Testament rites: Baptism of penitent believers by trine immersion for the remission of sins (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38); feet-washing (John 13:1-20); 1 Tim. 5:10); love feast (Luke 22:20; John 13:4; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Jude 12); communion (Matt. 26:26-30); the Christian salutation (Romans 16:16; Acts 20:37); proper appearance in worship (1 Cor. 11:2-16); the anointing for healing in the name of the Lord (James 5:13-18; Mark 6:13); laying on of hands (Acts 8:17; 19:6; 1 Tim. 4:14). These rites are representative of spiritual facts which obtain in the lives of true believers, and as such are essential factors in the development of the Christian life.
4. Emphasizes daily devotion for the individual, and family worship for the home (Eph. 6:18-20; Philipp. 4:8, 9); stewardship of time, talents and money (Matt. 25:14-30); taking care of the fatherless, widows, poor, sick and aged (Acts 6:1-7).
5. Opposes on Scriptural grounds: War and the taking of human life (Matt. 5:21-26, 43, 44; Romans 12:19-21; Isa. 53:7-12); violence in personal and industrial controversy (Matt. 7:12; Romans 13:8-10); intemperance in all things (Titus 2:2; Gal. 5:19-26; Eph. 5:18); going to law, especially against our Christian brethren (1 Cor. 6:1-9); divorce and remarriage except for the one Scriptural reason (Matt. 19:9); every form of oath (Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12); membership in secret, oath-bound societies (2 Cor. 6:14-18); games of chance and sinful amusements (1 Thess. 5:22; 1 Peter 2:11; Romans 12:17); extravagant and immodest dress (1 Tim. 2:8-10; 1 Peter 3:1-6).
6. Labors earnestly, in harmony with the Great Commission, for the evangelization of the world, for the conversion of men to Jesus Christ; and for the realization of the life of Jesus Christ in every believer (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16; 2 Cor. 3:18).
7. Maintains the New Testament as its only creed, in harmony with which the above brief doctrinal statement is made.
The Brethren Card has for many decades served as a set of guidelines to which most Church of the Brethren congregations adhered. It was a helpful tool that became the skeleton outline for most instruction classes for new converts. The Brethren Minister’s Manual (Brethren Publishing House, 1946) says; “Elders and pastors should take great care in instructing for church membership. Our historic ideals should be emphasized. The applicant should make a definite commitment on these great principles in the presence of the officials of the church” -and then is printed in full detail, in the 1946 Brethren Minister’s Manual, the Brethren Card just as it is printed in this issue of the Witness.
The Brethren Card is not a creed, nor was it ever intended to be so. It does not exhaust the whole message of the Bible. That is why Brethren have always said that “The entire New Testament is our creed.” It was not intended to set a limit beyond which faith cannot go. On the other hand, the Brethren Revival Fellowship believes that insofar as these statements extend, they are a true presentation of the sound doctrine taught in the Scriptures, and these teachings are therefore binding upon us as Christian disciples.
We ask that all members of the Church of the Brethren, who love the truth, unite in an effort to teach and practice the truths which the inerrant Word of God sets forth. Let us seek to reinstate in our churches those practices which have been cast aside. Let us dedicate ourselves anew to the task of earnestly contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
BRF Dialogue with Bob Neff
Editor’s Note: The following list of concerns within the Church of the Brethren, along with a statement of appreciation for those things which are wholesome within the Church, formed the basis for a four-hour discussion period between Robert W. Neff, Church of the Brethren General Secretary, and a number of the members of the Brethren Revival Fellowship Committee. The meeting took place at the home of the BRF Witness editor on January 12, 1978.
The Brethren Revival Fellowship is committed to the Church of the Brethren. We are for everything in the Church that is Scriptural and right. We appreciate a number of benefits that accrue to us by virtue of our membership in the Church of the Brethren. We appreciate the historic position of the Church and the excellent heritage which has been handed down to us; the Church’s concern for oppressed people and the clear evidence of a keen social consciousness; the privilege of conducting post-evening sessions at Annual Conference; the thoughtfulness in allowing us time to speak with the General Secretary; and the opportunity to train a BVS group annually. We are grateful for the excellent work in the areas of relief and rehabilitation; for the generally efficient operation at the Elgin offices, and for the fact that each congregation may function as it sees best without interference from denominational headquarters. These things makes us glad that we are members of the Church of the Brethren. On the other hand, we have some sincere concerns. They seem to overwhelm the church.
1. Departure from the plain interpretation of the Bible, and the constant evidence of bowing to the higher critical views of Scripture.
2. The imbalance between the emphasis on social and spiritual issues, with undue weight on social change and political liberation.
3. The lack of church discipline and order especially as it relates to nonconformity, the observance of the New Testament ordinances, and Christian discipleship.
4. The lack of a strong evangelistic thrust, and the decline of interest in overseas missions in their historic sense. (Also, the broad understanding that is attached to “mission”).
5. The secular trends in our colleges, especially in the use of alcohol, co-ed dorms, and teaching that is flavored with the theory of evolution.
6. The breakdown of moral, domestic, and social relationships – particularly the breakdown of the sanctity of marriage among set-apart ministers.
7. The types of pastors that Bethany Seminary is producing, and the apparent failure in districts to use biblical guidelines to screen candidates for leadership positions.
8. Educational materials that reflect current liberally-oriented religious thought, rather than our historic Bible-centered Brethren -Anabaptist heritage.
9. The apprehension that on the horizon general approval will be given toward homosexuality.
10. The stress placed upon the arts and drama which tend to take the place of simple doctrinal, topical, and expository preaching.
11. The fact that likely not one person on the staff (or even on decision-making bodies of the Church) wholeheartedly supports the point of view held by the BRF. Many attempts are made to recognize the world’s minorities, but minorities concerned about the spiritual climate in the Church are overlooked.
These concerns are priorities for the Brethren Revival Fellowship because of our aim to help the Church maintain obedience to Jesus Christ and loyalty to the Word of God.
Our conversation with Brother Neff was conciliatory, but at times was marked by vigorous debate. The purpose of the meeting was not to get commitments nor to seek concessions from the General Secretary of the Church of the Brethren, but simply to share the deeply held concerns which are listed above. We did not come to any definite conclusions and thus we cannot spell out results of the meeting in any clear way. The BRF Committee nevertheless felt the exchange was constructive and worthwhile.
” STOP LOVING THIS EVIL WORLD and all that it offers you, for when you love these things you show that you do not really love God. For all these worldly things, these evil desires – the craze for sex, the ambition to buy everything that appeals to you, and the pride that comes from wealth and importance – these are not from God. They are from the evil world itself. And this world is fading away, and these evil, forbidden things will go with it, but whoever keeps doing the will of God will live forever. “