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What Is the Covenant Brethren Church

Editorial
November/December, 2020
Volume 55, Number 6

 

The Brethren Revival Fellowship began over 60-years ago as a loyal concern movement in the Church of the Brethren. As stated in our founding documents, the BRF’s mission has been, “To help stem the tide of unbelief in the Church of the Brethren, and to encourage a return to an evangelical biblical position…(as historically interpreted by the Church of the Brethren).” And over the past 60-years we have labored earnestly to that end. It has always been BRF’s intent to be “leaven in the lump,” meaning that we wanted to be an influence in the Church of the Brethren. But we did not want to become the lump! We were not interested in becoming a part of the structure and machinery of the church.

However, in the past year, a new group has emerged, not as a loyal concern movement in the Church of the Brethren, but rather as a separation movement from the Church of the Brethren. The new group of evangelically minded persons, has come to the conclusion that because of theological reasons, they no longer want to be a part of the Church of the Brethren, and instead have formed their own new denomination entitled, Covenant Brethren Church (CBC).

This new group is not a BRF denomination. Although BRF is sympathetic to many of the concerns and beliefs of this new group, we are however separate and distinct from it. And so, moving forward, it is the intent of the BRF to continue to be an influence and resource in the Church of the Brethren (as long as we are welcome) and to expand our ministry to include the Covenant Brethren Church. We intend to continue to have a presence at the CoB Annual Conference, as well as publishing the Witness and providing the annual Brethren Bible Institute (BBI), along with the other programs that BRF currently offers. And so, rather than decreasing our ministry, we are seeking to grow our ministry.

Please read this informative article by Brother Craig Alan Myers about the newly formed Covenant Brethren Church.

— Eric Brubaker


What Is The Covenant Brethren Church?

By Craig Alan Myers

The Covenant Brethren Church (CBC) movement began with a vision cast in July 2019, as about 50 Church of the Brethren leaders–pastors, ministers, District Executives, Standing Committee members, and other District leaders from thirteen Districts–gathered in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to pray, discern, and discuss a new vision for Brethren in the Twenty-first Century. This meeting was to pray and ponder what could be done to heal the CoB of its recent ills, which consist:

– of an increasing rejection of Biblical authority;
– of a CoB agency (On Earth Peace) rejecting Annual Conference authority on homosexuality;
– of the inability of Annual Conference to discipline On Earth Peace;
– of the official introduction and affirmation of a lesbian pastor and her “spouse” on the platform
of Annual Conference;
– of the affirmation of same-sex unions by pastors and congregations across the denomination;
– of forty years of wrangling over homosexuality with no end in sight, and distraction from the
real work of the Church;
– of many Brethren and their congregations deciding to depart from the Church of the Brethren. Between May 2018 and September 2020, at least (39) congregations representing over 6,200 members have left the Church of the Brethren, many of them establishing independent congregations. This is the largest departure from the Church of the Brethren since the 1880’s.

The key issues precipitating this new movement were those of:

Biblical Authority – Does the Bible as the Brethren have historically understood it serve as the controlling standard of the Church?
Accountability – Are our stated positions – both Biblical and Annual Conference — upheld by ministers, congregations, and the larger church and its agencies? And, are there consequences for not doing so?

After several hours of vigorous discussion and earnest prayer, the group nearly unanimously agreed to “explore the process to separate from the denomination” over these three primary concerns:

1. The need to provide a haven for congregations who are making the decision to leave the CoB, but want to retain their Brethren values, and do not want to be independent.
2. The failure of the denomination to stand strong on Biblical Authority.
3. The recent Compelling Vision process that completely skirted around the homosexual issue and will likely do little, if anything, to bring closure to this major point of division. See BRF Witness, Volume 55, Number 3 (May/June 2020) for more information on the Compelling Vision.

A six-member Temporary Executive Committee was named out of the group as well as several task teams who began researching all aspects of this move. The initial Temporary Executive Committee consisted of Grover Duling, Chairman (Oak Dale Church, West Marva District Board Chair, and Standing Committee member); Eric Brubaker, Secretary (Middle Creek Church, BRF Secretary); Larry Dentler (pastor, Bermudian Church), Scott Kinnick (Southeastern District Executive), Jim Myer (minister, White Oak Church), and Craig Alan Myers (pastor at Blue River Church, and BRF Chairman).

The task teams appointed were:

Editorial — to develop a statement of faith based on the Brethren Card;
Legal – to do necessary research to develop bylaws, seek incorporation, secure nonprofit recognition, and other formal aspects of organization;
Prayer – to engage in and call others to pray by sending out monthly prayer reminders to interested persons;
Name – to research and present suggestions on an appropriate name;
Location – to determine optimal location for a central office;
Structure — to develop an appropriate structure for the group.

The exploratory movement first was announced publicly at the BRF General Meeting in Blountville, Tennessee, on September 14, 2019. The news was gladly though cautiously received by the group gathered there.

A public, informative meeting was held at the Calvary Church in Winchester, VA in September, 2019. And then another at the Antioch Church in Woodstock, VA in November, 2019. Church of the Brethren officials and representatives attended these meetings, as well as representatives from sixteen Districts. These larger meetings affirmed the work of the Temporary Executive Committee and the task teams. Members of the Temporary Executive Committee also met with members of the CoB Leadership Team to discuss the movement.

At the Antioch meeting in November 2019, the name Covenant Brethren Church was adopted, and the location of an office in North-central West Virginia was agreed to. Previews of the Statement of Faith and Bylaws were considered. The Statement of Faith contains a strong endorsement of Biblical authority and Biblical marriage, as well as affirming the historical understandings of the Brethren. The Bylaws incorporate the Statement of Faith as a key aspect of the fellowship’s organizational understanding.

On February 1, 2020 at Fairmont, WV, the larger Covenant Brethren leadership team again met with Church of the Brethren General Secretary David Steele and Annual Conference Moderator Paul Mundey, for amicable discussion and sharing. At the conclusion of those talks, the Covenant Brethren leadership agreed to continue the development of the new group. The Statement of Faith received final approval, as did the CBC Bylaws. After final review by an attorney, articles of incorporation were submitted and Covenant Brethren Church was incorporated in West Virginia on May 22, 2020. A website at covenantbrethren.org and Facebook page presence continue to grow.

Since that time, an official logo was designed and approved, while office space was secured in Fairmont, WV. Fifteen congregations so far (as of October 30, 2020) have been received as members of Covenant Brethren Church, and ordination or licensing credentials of several dozen ministers also have been received and are now recognized as CBC ministers.

After two delays from restrictions due to COVID, the first Annual Meeting and Worship Conference was held October 23-24, at the Antioch Church in Woodstock, Virginia. In all these meetings, much time was spent in prayer, asking for God’s direction, and in allowing the entire group to ask questions and share insights that will help to shape the future of this movement. These larger meetings have focused on being Christ-centered, Brethren-flavored, and Bible-based movement of Brethren for the Twenty-first Century and beyond.

The Covenant Brethren Church embraces the heritage of the Brethren, and the larger orthodox and evangelical understandings of its forebearers regarding the Bible, God, salvation, and the church. It fully affirms Biblical authority, the sanctity of marriage as expressed in Genesis 2 and affirmed by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 19, the sanctity of human life from conception, and the historical New Testament ideals and practices held by the Brethren since 1708. It further embraces accountability by asking all ministers, pastors, and congregations forthrightly to affirm the Covenant Brethren Statement of Faith.

The Annual Meeting and Worship Conference is to be a gathering of local congregation delegates and others, keeping business at a minimum, and focusing on worship, spiritual growth, practical workshops to equip congregations to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A simple nine-member executive board, elected by the Annual Meeting and Worship Conference, will direct the ongoing activities of the new denomination. In addition, regional clusters of congregations will serve for ministerial training, camping, and church planting efforts. Already the CBC Southern Region has been organized by congregations in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

While some may argue that this new movement is just about homosexuality, it does not appear to be so. Homosexuality is just the presenting issue that calls into question Biblical Authority and shows the weakness of Church of the Brethren accountability.

Ministerial credentials are being handled in this fashion: COB ministers joining CBC will transfer at their current level of either ordained or licensed minister. New ministers will be called by the congregations, and vetted by a national ministerial committee and approved by the Executive Board.

Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) leadership is actively working with CBC to provide pensions and ancillary insurance coverages. BBT promises to provide a seamless transition for those already involved in the pension and insurance programs through the Church of the Brethren.

Since congregational property issues vary by state, congregations who have expressed interest in joining CBC have been urged to work with District leadership and to consult an attorney in their states with expertise in this issue. Covenant Brethren Church has also exhorted congregations who have inquired about joining CBC to work at unity within the congregation, and relate graciously with Church of the Brethren leadership, as far as it is possible.

Each Covenant Brethren congregation holds full title to its own properties. The national or regional CBC organizations will not hold congregational properties or assert any “trust” clauses or relationships. Each congregation is left to its own decisions and program; covenantal agreement with the Statement of Faith is the key aspect of joining CBC. Pastoral placement will be up to each congregation, with assistance from the CBC office. All ministers and pastors must affirm the CBC Statement of Faith.

There are no fees or assessments required to join or participate in Covenant Brethren Church. While it is expected that congregations, ministers, and individual members financially support the work of CBC, that is entirely on a “free-will” basis.

Congregations who have joined CBC report that they now can be a part of something they can positively embrace, not merely tolerate. They are part of a group of like-minded congregations. They no longer need to distinguish themselves from other [progressive] Churches of the Brethren. The Statement of Faith is clear, yet grants congregational liberty. And they do not lose the fellowship and sense of the distinctive Brethren New Testament witness, and the connection with Bible-believing Brethren of like precious faith. CBC will provide avenues for cooperation in missions, service, minister training, and pastoral placement, etc. Already Covenant Brethren Church is in conversations regarding new church planting and overseas missions opportunities.


History of the CBC Organization Process

July 2019
The “Chambersburg Meeting” at which about 50 persons from 13 districts — District Executives, Standing Committee members, prominent pastors — gathered in an “exploratory meeting” to evaluate the concerns for the direction of the Church of the Brethren and how to respond. After several hours of vigorous discussion and earnest prayer, the group agreed to “explore the process to separate from the denomination.”

A ten-point vision was proposed. A Temporary Executive Committee was named out of the group as well as several sub-committees who are to begin researching all aspects of this move.

August 2019 – February 2020
The subcommittees selected at Chambersburg had numerous meetings in person and by phone/ZOOM to research, discuss, and propose to the Temporary Executive Committee, the various details of location, faith statement, bylaws, name, and structure. All of these activities were bathed in prayer.

September 2019 and February 2020
Face to face meetings of the Temporary Executive Committee with the Church of the Brethren Leadership Team. While these meetings were useful for communication, they bore no fruit as to repairing and healing the Church of the Brethren.

September 2019
A larger meeting of about 160 persons met at Calvary Church in Winchester, VA, to follow through with reports and further suggestions for the subcommittees.

November 2019
A yet larger gathering of about 200 persons met at the Antioch Church in Woodstock, VA, to hear more information, and choose a name and a preferred location for a central office. The name Covenant Brethren Church was selected from three proposals, and the Fairmont/Clarksburg, WV area was chosen as the preferred location. The Statement of Faith and the Bylaws were reviewed with further input from the gathering. An official Facebook page and website – www.covenantbrethren.org – were established.

January 2020 – present
The Temporary Executive Committee members responded to requests for more information from congregations and clusters of congregations in Indiana, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. CBC leadership responds as it is invited. There is no official recruitment or proselytizing.

February 1, 2020
Meeting of Temporary Executive Committee and subcommittees to approve the Statement of Faith and the Bylaws. The Bylaws incorporated the Statement of Faith as an integral part. The group formalized the decision to incorporate.

February – October 2020
Planning for first Annual Meeting. It was delayed twice due to COVID-19.

May 22, 2020

After technical formatting and revisions of the Bylaws, the State of West Virginia approved theformal establishment of Covenant Brethren Church, Inc. as a West Virginia non-profit religious corporation.

May 29, 2020
A logo for CBC was revealed, with the Cross as central, its roots in the Brethren heritage, and its commitment to be led by the Word of God as illumined by the Holy Spirit.

July 15, 2020
Denominational insurance secured.

July 17-18, 2020
First congregations received as CBC members and first credentials received for CBC ministers in meetings at Hawthorne Church in Tennessee and Brummitt’s Creek Church in North Carolina.

July 2020
Informational pamphlet with Frequently Asked Questions developed. Publication of separate Statement of Faith and Bylaws Pamphlets. Office space secured at 503 Morgantown Avenue in Fairmont, West Virginia.

September 2020
More ministers and congregations received.

October 23-24, 2020
The first Annual Meeting and Worship Conference of the Covenant Brethren Church. A permanent Executive Board was elected, reports were heard, and the CBC officially was launched.

October 27, 2020
More congregations and ministers received. CBC now has 15 congregations and several dozen ministers.