The Brethren in Christ Church
(often abbreviated BIC) is an Anabaptist Christian
denomination with roots in the Mennonite
, and Wesleyan holiness
. They have also been known as River Brethren
and River Mennonites
The BIC Church began about 1778 in Pennsylvania
. It loosely shares an early connection with the United Brethren
back to 1767. The Brethren in Christ trace their denomination back to a group of Mennonites who lived just north of Marietta, Pennsylvania
on the east side of the Susquehanna River
. As they met to study the Bible and to experience God, the people of this group (who became known as the River Brethren) developed a conviction that believer's baptism (trine immersion
) was the scriptural form of baptism. The River Brethren of the 18th century also held to a firm reliance on the centricity of Scripture. As their Pietist
lifestyles and their beliefs regarding baptism continued to develop, they began to distance themselves from other Anabaptist
denominations such as the Mennonites
and German Baptists
, of which groups they had previously been a part. Jacob Engle
is noted as one of the early leaders (sometimes considered the "founder" of the BIC Church) who promoted this position. The first confessional statement of this group was formulated around 1780.
During the American Civil War, when required by the Union government of the United States to register as a body that held non-resistance values, the name Brethren in Christ was adopted. River Brethren remained the popular usage into the 20th century for the American members of the denomination while "Dunkers" was the popular moniker given to the Canadian denomination members until the 1930s. The denomination still holds strongly to its pursuit of peace, but within the denomination there are many different interpretations of how this peaceful lifestyle should be lived out. Many live out pacifism, while others do not view Christ's call to peace as an antiwar statement, but as a call to live peacefully on an interpersonal level. The history of the denomination is rife with stories of conscientious objection.
About the turn of the century, the Brethren in Christ embraced the teachings of Wesleyan holiness. Members of the Brethren in Christ Church founded Messiah College in 1909 (Grantham, Pennsylvania), and the Niagara Christian Collegiate (a Canadian preparatory school) in 1932 (Ontario, Canada).
Articles of Faith and Doctrine
The current Articles of Faith and Doctrine were adopted in 1986. They emphasize the understanding of the inspired scriptures by the illumination of the Holy Spirit
, the "centrality of Christ
" in the divine revelation, the necessity of holiness, nonviolence and the importance of community. God
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveals Himself through the divine record of the Scriptures. Salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is received through the response of personal faith and repentance. Baptism
(by trine immersion) and the Lord's supper
are considered ordinances of the church. Foot washing
, the dedication of children, prayer for the sick, laying on of hands, and anointing with oil are important accepted practices, but are not called ordinances.
At the denomination's 2006 General Conference, the Brethren in Christ Church in North America (U.S. and Canada) had about 295 churches. As of 2000, The U.S. membership was over 20,000 in 216 churches. Denominational headquarters is in Grantham, Pennsylvania
, next to the Grantham BIC Church
and Messiah College
. There are 1,100 churches in 23 countries with a worldwide membership of around 80,000. The BIC church maintains some connection to its Mennonite-influenced heritage by partnering in ministry with the Mennonite Central Committee
. The church organization is divided into eight regional conferences (each represented by a bishop who sits on the Leadership Council) and one subconference. The conferences are as follows: Allegheny, Atlantic, Canadian, Great Lakes, Midwest, Pacific, Southeast, and Susquehanna; the subconference is centered around Miami, Florida
and focuses on Hispanic
Ministries. Messiah College
in Grantham, and Niagara Christian Collegiate
in Fort Erie, Ontario
, are affiliated with the BIC. The church is also has affiliations with a number of camps, conference centers, and ministries, as well as Evangel Publishing House
in Nappanee, Indiana
, and Christian Light Bookstores
in Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Other divisions of the River Brethren include the Old Order River Brethren (org. 1843), the United Zion Church (org. 1855), and the Calvary Holiness Church. The Calvary Holiness Church began in 1963 when the Philadelphia Brethren in Christ congregation (org. 1897) withdrew from the Brethren in Christ, rejecting perceived changes in the denomination's faith and practice. The body incorporated in 1964, and had two congregations with about 40 members in 1980.
The Brethren in Christ group usually known as Christadelphians have no doctrinal or historical links with the Brethren in Christ Church.
- Encyclopedia of American Religions, J. Gordon Melton, editor
- Handbook of Denominations in the United States, by Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill, and Craig D. Atwood
- Profiles in Belief: the Religious Bodies of the United States and Canada, by Arthur Carl Piepkorn
- Religious Congregations & Membership in the United States (2000), Glenmary Research Center
- Quest for Piety and Obeidence: The Story of the Brethren in Christ, Carlton O. Wittlinger (1978)
- Two Hundred Years of Tradition and Change: The Brethren in Christ in Canada, E. Morris Sider (1988)
- Brensinger, Terry L., ed. Focusing Our Faith: Brethren in Christ Core Values. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Pub. House, 2000.