Despite the cataclysmic changes Martin Luther´s 95 Theses brought to the Christian Church, some felt still more was needed to reform the Church. While Luther decried indulgences and many other practices of the Catholic Church that led the follower from the true gospel there was still a sterile intellectualism, internal disagreement and other issues that lessened its effectiveness.
Luther’s fellow German, Jakob Philip Spener in the late 1600s sought to imbue the Church with a moral and spiritual degree he saw missing in believers. Contrary to his contemporaries he preached the idea of the “priesthood of all believers”, where every Christian was called on to minister in the power and name of Christ. Rather than the centuries old division between laity and ministers, this simple but profound idea would forever change the spiritual and practical landscape of Christianity.
He encouraged pastors to form small groups for Bible Study, prayer, simple worship and mutual encouragement; so prevalent today but revolutionary for his time.
He encouraged pastors to form small groups for Bible Study, prayer, simple worship and mutual encouragement; so prevalent today but revolutionary for his time. Later, this "religion of the heart" and not just of the mind, profoundly influenced John Wesley, founder of Methodism. It was on a ship from England to American that John Wesley met Brethren ministers who introduced him to this type of faith and his "heart was curiously warmed". After that, the Wesleys would preach not only the intellectual contents of Scripture but the deep, spiritual truths that touched the heart as well.
Known in Germany as Pietism, it was instrumental in the phenomenon known as the First Great Awakening in America´s early decades. In the 1750s others would start the United Brethren Church. Its emphasis then, as today, is less on rigorous doctrinal analysis than on the inner spiritual life cultivated through prayer and Bible study.
Lifestyle of the Brethren is generally simple, unadorned and non judgmental of those who disagree with their convictions. This has caused a general, self-imposed separation from others in the American Church and society.
Brethren practice the Lord´s Supper, called a Love Feast, the washing of feet and plain, simple dress. Their refusal to take oaths, including before American courts, avoiding fighting in wars or sue others has caused them to appear peculiar to many. Yet, Americans have always been attracted to their dedication to their values while keeping a distance from actually incorporating them into their own.
Some also practice baptism employed commonly today in American Churches whereby the individual is immersed three times, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Historically, Brethren have attempted to balance Arminian and Calvinist theology but placing more emphasis on lifestyle than on doctrine.
Groups who consider themselves Brethren of one form or another include United Brethren, later to become grafted into what is today known as the United Methodist Church, Brethren in Christ Church, Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), Church of the Brethren, Church of the United Brethren in Christ, Evangelical Covenant Church, Evangelical Free Church, Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, the Moravian Church, Old German Baptist Brethren (aka Dunkers), and Unity of the Brethren
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