Church of the brethren (dunkers)

Also known as Schwarzenau Brethren, German Baptists, and historically, as Taufer, Tunkers, Dompelaars, and Dunkards. The Brethren immerse the kneeling candidate for baptism three times forward in the water; their popular name is derived from the German word tunken which means to dip or immerse.

The Brethren movement originated in 1708 at Schwarzenau, Germany, as part of the Pietistic-Anabaptist protest against the established Lutheran and Reformed churches (see pietism; anabaptists). Seeking less formalism and dogma and more warmth in religion, they emphasized study of the Bible and right living. Their leader, Alexander Mack, Sr. (1679–1735), was baptized by trine immersion and in turn baptized seven companions in the same manner. When the early Brethren were persecuted in their homeland, some fled to Holland and eventually to the Germantown area in Pennsylvania; others came directly from Germany to America. The first Dunkers came to American shores in 1719, and Mack himself arrived with additional families in 1729.

In the 19th century, the Schwarzenau Brethren movement split into three groups. The first was the Old German Baptist Brethren or Old Order Brethren who objected to the liberalism of the other Brethren and established their own organization in 1881. They oppose missions, Sunday schools, a salaried ministry, and church-operated schools, and still wear plain garb. The Old German Baptist Brethren are found principally in Ohio and Indiana. A second group of Brethren, known as the Progressive Brethren, objecting to certain traditions and to the church's alleged disinterest in education, left in 1882. Calling themselves the Brethren Church, they preferred an Arminian to a Calvinist theology. In 1939 the Progressive Brethren split into two groupings. The splinter group called themselves the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches and favored Calvinism. The third group were the moderates who were left after the Old Order and the Progressive broke away. They are known as the Church of the Brethren.

Until recently most Brethren remained farmers; the largest concentration of adherents is still in Pennsylvania. They oppose participation in war, oaths, and secret societies. For many years the Brethren spoke only German and until around 1900 wore a distinctive, plain garb; the women were expected to wear veils in church. They reject creeds and follow only the New Testament. Parts of the Old Testament are rejected since they uphold war, slavery, divorce, and the idea of revenge. Its headquarters and publishing house are in Elgin, Ill.

The church follows a theology similar to that of the mainstream Protestant denominations. Although it baptizes by trine immersion, it now receives into its fellowship Christians who have been baptized in other ways. It recognizes four ordinances: baptism, the Lord's Supper, anointing of the sick, and imposition of hands on Christian workers. The love feast, observed once or twice a year, includes an evening fellowship meal, the foot-washing rite, and communion; many congregations hold additional communion services at other times. Voting delegates from each congregation meet for the annual conference, the church's highest authority. The church belongs to the National and World Councils of Churches.

Bibliografia: h. a. kent, 250 Years Conquering Frontiers: A History of the Brethren Church (Winona Lake, Ind. 1958). f. mallott, Studies in Brethren History (Elgin, Ill. 1954). d. f. durnbaugh, comp. and tr., European Origins of the Brethren: A Source Book on the Beginnings of the Church of the Brethren in the Early Eighteenth Century (Elgin, Ill. 1958, 1986). d. f. durnbaugh, Brethren Beginnings: The Origin of the Church of the Brethren in Early Eighteenth-Century Europe (Philadelphia 1992). c. f. bowman, Brethren Society: The Cultural Transformation of a "Peculiar People" (Baltimore 1995). d. f. durnbaugh, Fruit of the Vine: A History of the Brethren, 1708–1995 (Elgin, Ill. 1997).

[wj whalen / eds.]