Volume 22, Number 2
It is a well-known fact that if you want to get action out of a car battery, the connections must be fastened to the negative and the positive posts. Much of this kind of balancing approach is needed when thinking on moral and spiritual issues in the church today. The Brethren Revival Fellowship has had its share of negative expression over the past years, but in the current issue of WITNESS, we want to touch base with the positive side.
The year 1987 marks the time when the Church of the Brethren is 279 years old. We have been in existence long before George Washington was president of the United States. We appreciate the durability and witness that the Church of the Brethren has made over the years. We feel toward our denomination somewhat like the lady who was married to an archaeologist. She said, “The older I become the more my husband is interested in me!”
Actually, the Church of the Brethren was formed initially as a restoration movement, whereby the “eight” at Schwarzenau entered into a covenant fellowship to re-establish apostolic Christianity. This formation grew out of some significant revival movements in Europe. The Reformation countered the widespread corruption in the Roman Catholic Church and brought about fresh thinking regarding the important themes which underlie salvation. The Anabaptist Movement focused on obedient discipleship among believers and laid great emphasis on Scriptural authority. The Pietists concentrated on the inward dimensions of personal devotion and piety as a way of working at heart purity. What is good about the Church of the Brethren today, can, at least in part, be traced to the “good” combination of the religious awakening movements in Europe that influenced the early Brethren.
There have been some good areas of emphasis over the years. One of those good emphases has been that of temperance. Temperance has been defined as the moderate use of wholesome things, and complete abstinence from the use of things which are harmful. How well I remember the word “temperance” at the top of the page on many Sunday School lessons in the Brethren Quarterly. This helped to emphasize the fact that we should not use tobacco, that we should abstain from the use of alcoholic beverages, and that we should guard against over-eating.
Another good emphasis was the attempt to lead a nonconformed and simple life-style, avoiding fashions and fads, and extravagance and overconsumption. This concern for modesty and for helping to support the needy–has been a proper emphasis. The market today has literally exploded with an enormous array of faddish items that are almost considered a necessity by people whose bent is toward material things.
The way of nonresistant love has been a wholesome area of our faith. We have helped many to find a peaceful path of tranquility and meaning through the jungle of violence and destruction that is all about us. Many have learned how truly powerful the approach of defenselessness really is. May our world continue to know this kind of Brethren! What was said on the Mount of Transfiguration seems to fit now: “it is good for us to be here.”
What’s Good About
The Church of the Brethren?
By Harold S. Martin
The Lord speaks in the Bible in positive ways and in negative ways. Many of the Ten Commandments are “Thou shalt nots” (negative), but a number of Biblical instructions are stated in a positive form.
Brethren Revival Fellowship has the image of being a negative movement. The editor of the BRF WITNESS is sometimes looked upon as being super-negative. The theme of the article you are now reading has been chosen deliberately to help us do some self-evaluation and to keep our message in balance. And while this message will sound the positive note, BRF still continues to hold strong negative feelings about many of the aims, events, and directions that are so evident in the Church of the Brethren:
1) The repeated use of the historical-critical approach when interpreting the Scriptures.
2) The tendency to become a political-action group instead of soul-winning evangelists.
3) The unorthodox statements which are made in some of our Brotherhood-produced literature.
4) The failure to take a clear stand on such moral issues as abortion and human sexuality.
Thus, all that we say about positive aspects of life in the Church of the Brethren, does not mean that we ignore the concerns just mentioned, or that we have changed our minds about them, or that we think they are just going to quietly vanish away. These errors seem to overwhelm the Church, and we plan to continue to speak out against them. However, there are some good things about the Church of the Brethren, and our present relationship to it.
1. THE CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN HAS A GOOD SOLID BIBLICAL FOUNDATION
Historically the Brethren accepted the sixty-six books of the Bible as the written Word of God, and when the Bible speaks, the Brethren have almost universally attempted to respond in obedience to the Word of God. The Brethren were biblicists. If the Bible said it, they believed it and tried to practice it. This was the clear approach for well over 200 years of our history. This same thing was true about loyalty to Jesus Christ–who He is, what He taught the promise of His literal coming back to earth-all this ranked high in Brethren theology.
That is quite a sturdy foundation! The point is this: A structure does not fall as quickly if its foundation is sturdy and strong. If an older building has a poor foundation, a contractor will usually recommend tearing it down and starting over–but if the foundation is strong, he will most likely suggest rebuilding the existing structure.
Some say, “But once a denomination starts down hill theologically, it never recovers.” Such people have simply not examined the facts; their exposure to church history has been too limited. The Anglican Church, for example, has fallen into apostasy, and has bounced back again several times during its long history. We are saying that one of the good things about the Church of the Brethren is that she has a husky, hardy foundation-and that there is more hope for rebuilding when the foundation is good.
2. THE CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN HAS AN EXCELLENT PROGRAM OF SERVICE MINISTRIES
One cannot read the latter part of Matthew 25 without coming to the conclusion that the Lord places high priority upon ministering to the poor and the downtrodden of earth. The Lord describes a judgment scene and in connection with the picture of God’s judgment, He speaks about feeding the hungry, helping clothe the ill-clad, and visiting those who are in prison. And then, in verse 40 of the chapter, He says, “inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” Matthew 25 is not the total Bible message on the subject of judgment. It is our faith in Jesus Christ that provides salvation, and deliverance from the wrath of God– but the passage in Matthew 25 informs us that one of the criteria for judgment will be related to the matter of how we responded to opportunities for helping those in need.
The Church of the Brethren has a quality program for helping to resettle refugees from other countries, for helping to rehabilitate areas destroyed by natural disasters, and for rendering medical aid to those who are poverty-stricken in Nigeria, Sudan, and other parts of the world. Shipments of clothing, food, and health-care items are being sent each year (from New Windsor) to more than 130 countries throughout the world. When the leaders of the Jerusalem Church (in New Testament times) agreed that the Apostle Paul should go to the Gentiles, the one injunction laid upon him was that he should not forget the poor (Galatians 2:10). This stress upon giving practical help to impoverished and deprived people was one of the lovely characteristics of the early church, and this is one of the areas where we can give good marks to the Church of the Brethren.
3. THERE IS LIBERTY AT THE LOCAL LEVEL TO MAP OUT OUR OWN PROGRAMS
In the Church of the Brethren, people for the most part can determine the direction of their own local church ministries. You can do pretty much as you wish in your own congregations. There is no bishop breathing down your neck. There is no rigid pattern that every congregation must follow. The local congregation does not have to adopt all the resolutions and statements of Annual Conference.
To illustrate the point that each congregation can map out its own program, it is interesting to observe that some Church of the Brethren congregations do not receive members into their fellowship who are divorced and remarried–yet Annual Conference permits the remarriage of divorced persons, not only for members, but even for pastors. We have congregations in the Church of the Brethren that have the non-salaried ministry; some churches continue to ordain elders; some always kneel for prayer; some require that all female members wear the prayer covering; some have their own Christian Day School in the church building; some don’t use any instrumental music–and it would be easy to go on listing unique characteristics of our various congregations. The point is: In the Church of the Brethren, the normal practice is that our leaders do not infringe upon our freedom to plan the life and witness of the local church as we see best. In fact, they stress diversity and pluralism and “no force in religion”!!
The local church has wide latitude in developing its own program. You may ordain elders if you want to. You may observe the full three-part lovefeast if you want to. You may sing without a piano or organ if you want to. You may hire a pastor for a salary (or you may choose the free ministry style of leadership) if you want to. In many respects, this kind of latitude in the local congregation is one of the good things about life in the Church of the Brethren.
4. THERE ARE MULTITUDES IN THE CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN WHO LIVE EXEMPLARY LIVES
There are still many in the Church of the Brethren who sincerely seek to let the New Testament be their only “rule of faith and practice.” There are still many churches across the Brotherhood that stress revival and evangelism and soul-winning and pious living. Some of us have ministered in Churches of the Brethren in all twenty-three districts of the nation, and everywhere we have discovered small clusters of faithful people who love the Lord and are seeking to do His will. There are many who are living exemplary lives and who are letting a beautiful testimony for Christ. Not all Brethren are liberal and afraid to take a Biblical stand on moral issues. Multitudes have not bowed the knee to Baal! This is one of the good things about the Church of the Brethren.
There are still dozens of congregations in the Church of the Brethren where people are finding Christ as Saviour, and are being grounded in the Word of God, and are being nourished in Christian fellowship. Lest we be unfair in our evaluation of the Church of the Brethren, we must acknowledge that many congregations are doing many things right.
Remember that God has often used a small group to bring change among His people. God sent Nehemiah (with a handful of people) to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Jesus chose a mere dozen men (mostly fishermen) to be His disciples in the founding of the church. God sent a vacillating shepherd of Midian (a man named Moses) to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt. In the mysterious ways of God, He often chooses to use “the small things” to accomplish His purposes. It is our prayer that the Brethren Revival Fellowship might be a similar kind of small group which God will use to bring a new awakening in the Church of the Brethren.
One of the greatest things we can do for the upbuilding of the Church of the Brethren, is to engage in earnest prayer–in our homes, congregations, in our closets.
- a new spiritual awakening.
- doctrinal purity in the church.
- a spirit of love.
- pastors will preach the truth of God’s Word .
- those who are dissenters.
- local congregations.
- denominational leaders.
Ask God to bring repentance and revival and right attitudes to each of us. I cannot explain how it works, but I know that it does: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b).