We acknowledge that the name “Church of the Brethren” is historically and traditionally significant and is a name that is part of our heritage and identity. We also acknowledge that the name is recognized and associated with our role in the Christian community. Nevertheless, based on conflicting understandings regarding the denominational name, the following query is offered:
Whereas: the Church of the Brethren has been known by many names over the course of its history; names which have been changed over time to better signify its heritage, identity, mission and practice; and
Whereas: a name has the power to reflect a community’s identity, vision, and values; and
Whereas: the lack of common understanding of the term “Brethren” has in some circles been a hindrance to church growth and outreach, and has led to misunderstandings concerning other groups carrying the title “Brethren”; and
Whereas: due to changes in language, the term “Brethren” has become archaic and no longer conveys the sense of familial love and community of agape it is meant to convey; and
Whereas: for some, the name “Church of the Brethren” does not adequately honor the God-given gifts of women in the church; and
Whereas: the 1993 Annual Conference Standing Committee called for continued dialogue regarding the name of the denomination, following a report from a Pre-Committee which studied the name of the Church of the Brethren;
Therefore, we the members of the La Verne Church of the Brethren, gathered in council meeting on May 20, 2001, petition the Annual Conference through Pacific Southwest District Conference to appoint a committee to promote a denomination-wide dialogue and discernment process concerning our denominational name. We hope that such a committee will be charged to foster conciliatory discussion, invite feedback, provide resources and materials for study, and seek God’s guidance in this most important matter.
|Al Clark, Moderator, La Verne CoB||Chris Meek, Clerk, La Verne CoB|
Passed to Annual Conference by the Pacific Southwest District on October 6, 2001.
Sherlo Shively, Moderator, Pacific Southwest District
Doris Dunham, Clerk, Pacific Southwest District
Action of the 2002 Annual Conference: Standing Committee’s recommendation for this query was included in its recommended answer for Query: Denominational Name, so no separate delegate action was required.
Query: Denominational Name
Whereas: The name Church of the Brethren may hinder evangelism, church growth and the planting of new churches, especially in areas where our denomination is not well known;
Whereas: the name Church of the Brethren, in our present secular society, does not clearly convey that Jesus Christ is the center of our faith;
Whereas: the name Church of the Brethren does not lift up our major emphasis of discipleship, peace, service, and simple living that grow out of our dedication to Christ;
Whereas: the word “Brethren” in our present cultural context, no longer implies the biblical emphasis on the whole people of God gathered as one family; and may, in fact, have unwanted connotations;
Whereas: some members do not feel included in the name Church of the Brethren;
Whereas: the Church of the Brethren, in the past, has been willing to rename itself to more effectively communicate its identity;
We, the church council of Ivester Church of the Brethren, meeting on March 25, 2001, petition Annual Conference through Northern Plains District to appoint a committee to study the issue of our denominational name and bring recommendations to Annual Conference.
|Pearl A. Miller, Moderator||Phil L. Miller, Acting Clerk|
The Northern Plains District Board meeting at the Cando Church of the Brethren in Cando, North Dakota on April 28, 2001 voted to endorse the query from the Ivester Church of the Brethren.
|Lois M. Grove, District Board President||Karen Schmidt, Acting Secretary|
Approved by action of Northern Plains District Conference meeting at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa on August 4, 2001.
|Judy Epps, District Moderator||Diane Mason, Recording Secretary|
Action of the 2002 Annual Conference: Harold E. Yeager, a Standing Committee member from Southern Pennsylvania, presented the Standing Committee recommendation that a study committee of five be elected by Annual Conference to respond to the queries on denominational name by promoting a denomination-wide dialogue and reports its progress to Annual Conference in 2003. The delegate body adopted the Standing Committee recommendation, and subsequently elected Benjamin S. Barlow, Jeff Carter, Alberto Gonzalez, Shawn Kirchner, and Shirley McCracken Spire to the study committee.
Report to the 2003 Annual Conference
12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)
The 2002 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, received two queries on Denominational Name as items of new business. The delegate body adopted a recommendation from Standing Committee that a “study committee of five be elected by Annual Conference to respond to the queries on denominational name by promoting a denomination-wide dialogue and report its progress [back to Annual Conference].”
Our first committee meeting took place in mid-January when we began discussing ways to carry out our charge. In keeping with Annual Conference direction, we desire to foster a spirit of dialogue, promoting understanding rather than debate. Through a number of means, we hope, over the next year, to explore the varying understandings of the denominational name, nurture a sense of trust through an open and fair process, and articulate our findings in such a way that unity surrounding the issue may be achieved.
The committee is making a concerted effort to engage as many members and friends of the Church of the Brethren as possible in the discussion. A “Framework for Conversation” has been designed as a tool to be used in different forums to foster dialogue and understanding. The framework will also serve as a questionnaire for individuals. Questions included in the framework include:
A partial list of proposed conversation partners and events:
In an effort to reach as many people as possible, additional information will be available on the Annual Conference website (www.cobannualconference.org) and future developments in this conversation will be highlighted in Messenger and in Agenda.
We invite your participation in these efforts and we appreciate your prayers as we carry out our responsibilities.
Church of the Brethren Denominational Name Study Committee
Jeff Carter, chair
Action of the 2003 Annual Conference: The delegate body received the progress report of the study committee and granted another year to complete their work.
Report to the 2004 Annual Conference
The 2002 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, received two queries on denominational name as items of new business. The queries noted conflicting understandings and concerns regarding the name Church of the Brethren and sought opportunities to discuss the issue further. The delegate body adopted a recommendation from Standing Committee that a “study committee of five be elected by Annual Conference to respond to the queries on denominational name by promoting a denomination-wide dialogue and report its progress back to Annual Conference.”
For two years, the Denominational Name Study Committee facilitated conversations exploring the varying understandings of the denominational name, seeking to foster a spirit of dialogue, promoting understanding rather than debate. In addition, the study committee sought input from denominational members, pastors, congregations, related church agencies, and ecumenical leaders. Understanding the charge of Annual Conference to promote a denomination-wide dialogue focused on the denominational name, the study committee sought to embrace the Brethren value of community as it carried out its responsibility.
The New Testament provides for the Brethren a rule of faith and practice. This rule is essential for an understanding of community that respects individual conscience and favors communal interpretation. The New Testament “moves us as a faith community towards a respectful manner of conversation that recognizes there will be differences, but points us toward a higher expectation that there will be agreed-upon understandings and practices that reflect our unity in Jesus Christ.”i
Brethren unity in Jesus Christ comes from a willingness to follow in his example and way. At the Last Supper, Jesus speaks to his disciples of the love they are to have for each other: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).ii Jesus’ command instructs the disciples on the importance of their relationship with one another, a theme continued throughout the New Testament.
The Apostle Paul, writing to a struggling church in Corinth, admonishes its many members to be one in Christ, as the many parts of the body are connected as one: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). The Apostle Paul encourages the many members, diverse in their backgrounds and opinions, to value those who have differing gifts, to give respect to those who lack respect, to give honor to those who feel dishonor. In this manner, the many members of the body maintain a unity that is of Christ, dissension is eased, and members are encouraged to have the same care for one another. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).
The early Christian church exhibited a strong sense of community. The writer of Acts describes the first church in this way:
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day-by-day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:44-47)
As the early Brethren explored their understandings of faith, they relied heavily on the account of the early Christian church recorded in Acts. Eventually, prayer and study led to the Brethren’s prohibited act of re-baptism in 1708 and the establishment of a congregational community, or gemeinde, their “covenant of good conscience with God.”iii As the early Brethren movement grew, the concept of community was of fundamental importance.
In their study of the Bible, [they] became convicted of the necessity of a gathered, disciplined community of believers for a life of full discipleship. They accepted the Anabaptist vision of the church in which … members are expected to … commit their whole lives both to God and to each other. For the Brethren the church was not a building, a meeting, or an institution, but community (Gemeinschaft), fellowship, koinonia.iv
Consistent with that view of the church as community, the first Brethren called each other brothers and sisters in response to their recognition of being one in Christ and members of the same household.
Taking no formal name, the Brethren made their faith and living the identifiers for their movement and referred to themselves in many ways. In 1711, the first minister of the Brethren, Alexander Mack, informally referred to the group as Täufer, translated Baptists;v in Basic Questions,vi the first major statement of Brethren beliefs, published in 1713, Mack referred to the group as Neu Täufer, the New Baptists (as opposed to the Old Baptists, the Mennonites).vii While Brethren may not have taken a formal name for themselves, outsiders used several names to refer to the new community. The term New Baptist was one used by outsiders to distinguish the Brethren from the Mennonites, with whom they were closely identified. Names such as Schwarzenau Täufer and Dompelaars (a Dutch term meaning “dunkers” or “immersers”) proliferated. While names attached to the early Brethren by outsiders focused on their distinctive practices, whether as immersers or Anabaptists, the terms members used to refer to their community focused on their relationships with one another, Brüderschaft.
In the colonies, and later, the United States, the eighteenth and nineteenth century transition from the German Brüderschaft, meaning fellowship, to the English Brethren was quite natural. As had been the case in Europe, outsiders used various terms to refer to the American Brethren. English-speaking outsiders called them Dunkers, Dunkards, Tumblers, Tumplers, and Tunkards, all referencing the strict adherence to baptism by trine forward immersion. In 1836, when circumstances in the country dictated that the community establish a formal name for legal purposes, Annual Meeting recommended the name Fraternity of German Baptists. After 1836, the group often was referred to as the German Baptist Brethren, marking a transition from the use of the word Brethren as an informal way of referring to each otherviii to the use of Brethren as an actual name of the larger church. The change in ways of referring to the church body paralleled a larger change in perceptions of how the church was structured and how it should operate in the world.
In 1871, the church name, by action of Annual Meeting, was changed to German Baptist Brethren for legal purposes. Following the schisms of the tumultuous 1880s, a number of queries were sent to Annual Meeting regarding a name change. The reasons given for changing the name of the church yet again were varied. Many members wanted to account for a cultural shift, especially the gradual language transition from German to English.ix Others were interested in securing an identity for a church that had lost many of its conservative and progressive identifiers in the schisms. From 1902 to 1907, Annual Meeting appointed several consecutive committees to consider a name change, received legal council on changing a corporate name, and studied the possibilities of changing the name.
At the 1908 Annual Meeting, on the 200th anniversary of the movement’s founding, Church of the Brethren was adopted as the official name of the denomination. Following the 1908 decision, the name was widely accepted and placed into regular usage. During the twentieth century, changing understandings of the name entered the denomination’s consciousness. In the late 1980s, questions concerning the denomination’s name began to appear in the formal process of the church.
In 1991, a query was sent to the officers of Annual Conference to consider sending a query to Annual Conference. A year later, Standing Committee appointed a “pre-committee” to determine whether a committee should be formed to study the name of the church. In 1993, the “pre-committee” made a presentation to Standing Committee, concluding:
As we have received responses it is clear that some segments of the church feel urgency about our name being a hindrance in terms of church growth and evangelism. Some see it as an issue of fairness, including women as well as men in the name of the church. Some see it as an issue of clarity, saying that in the language of today, our present name no longer reflects who we are just as the name German Baptist no longer reflected the identity of the church at the turn of the 20th century. On the other hand, many say that the name Church of the Brethren has served us well in the past and continues to do so. Some say that “Brethren” is an inclusive word and should be recognized as such.x
The “pre-committee” report was accepted, the committee dismissed, and the formal discussion ended. Although the formal process ended, discussion regarding the name Church of the Brethren continued in some sections of the denomination, leading to the two queries coming before Annual Conference in 2002.
As evidenced by the two presenting queries, current understandings of the name Church of the Brethren differ, presenting an increased need for clarification and purposeful study. While the name Church of the Brethren is largely accepted and used throughout the denomination, some congregations have responded to concerns about the denominational name by adapting it to meet their ministry context.
Approximately twenty of the most recently planted congregations in thirteen districts have been organized under names other than Church of the Brethren. These new church projects have sought to attract people with no prior knowledge of the Church of the Brethren and have used names that are thought to be more accessible to non-Brethren than the official denominational name. The Church of the Brethren connection is still acknowledged by these congregations, but the name is not “front and center.” Apart from these twenty congregations, three recent church plants in two districts are known to be using Church of the Brethren as a central part of their name.
In addition, fifteen established congregations in seven districts have adapted their traditional congregational name such that Church of the Brethren is no longer a central component of their name. Sometimes this renewal process has involved relocating to a different area of the community, and a new name has been part of this revitalization. As with the recently planted churches previously mentioned, the Church of the Brethren connection is still acknowledged, although it may be found in small print, as a subtitle, or as indicated by the Church of the Brethren symbol.
At least seventeen congregations in eight districts that are affiliated with another denomination or have federated with another congregation of a different denomination do not have the complete phrase Church of the Brethren in their main title. Seven of these congregations have names containing the word Brethren, but the other ten have adopted new names that don’t contain the key words of either denomination.
While the name Church of the Brethren is universally acknowledged as the denominational name, some local congregations have nonetheless adapted their local name to better represent themselves to their community and to suit their ministry context.
Report and Findings
To accurately represent and assist in the exchange of differing opinions, the Denominational Name Study Committee sought to systematize the process of gathering information and exchanging perspectives by designing a Framework for conversation (see appendix A). Through use of the Framework, the study committee attempted to foster a sense of understanding rather than debate, allowing time for sharing, listening, and imagining differing viewpoints.
The following list represents those groups and individuals invited to participate in the process.
As companion documents, guidelines for using the Framework (see appendix B) and a feedback form (see appendix C) were made available so that an accurate report of Framework usage could be compiled for the writing of the final report.
Statistical Report of Respondents
The following is a statistical list of reported responses.
The study committee is aware that additional discussions took place that were not reported.
Framework for Conversation Responses
Grounded by the words of the Apostle Paul to the early church in Corinth, the study committee sought to strengthen the unity of the body while valuing its many members. Although the answers to the Framework questions were numerous and varied, the following listing includes the questions and the most common responses (paraphrased), followed by committee reflections.
1. What are you hearing about our denomination’s name?
Committee Reflection: Many responses highlighted suspicion and questioned the motivation of the study committee and/or the process. The overwhelming number of responses assumed the committee was not a name study committee but a name change committee.
2. Do you have any positive stories or experiences to share about the name Church of the Brethren?
Committee Reflection: The positive stories were a mix of personal stories as well as stories of other people’s understandings of the name both locally and internationally. Many of the stories reflected strong personal affirmation for the name.
3. Do you have any negative stories or experiences to share about the name Church of the Brethren?
Committee Reflection: Frequently, the negative stories were shared with some hesitancy. At times, the stories were difficult to share and were accompanied by strong emotion.
4. Can you imagine why some might have differing perspectives about the name Church of the Brethren? If so, what would those be?
Committee Reflection: Many of the participants were open to imagining a different perspective and were willing to talk about the feelings associated with views that they might not share themselves.
Storytelling was a critical part of imagining another viewpoint; sharing personal experiences allowed others to hear and empathize while not having the same perspective. Of the five questions, question 4 posed the greatest challenge to participants. Some respondents said they could imagine differing perspectives, but did not acknowledge the appropriateness of someone holding that different perspective.
5. How can we acknowledge differing perspectives while maintaining unity in the body?
Committee Reflection: The majority of the responses were positive and reflected a willingness to seek ways of strengthening the church community and promote greater unity.
Overall, the study committee found an overwhelming affirmation for the name Church of the Brethren. However, despite broad affirmation for the name, some members voiced concern and/or dissatisfaction with the denominational name. The committee’s process revealed the challenge our community faces when its members’ differing perspectives are accompanied by strong emotions. The committee, recognizing this challenge, found the Framework for Conversation to be a helpful tool in enabling healthy and mutually beneficial understanding.
Among the participants, there was general affirmation of the Framework for Conversation. Although opportunities for discussion like those promoted by the study committee are not always easy or welcomed, such opportunities, when planned with intention and care, are helpful attempts at community. As affirmed by the 1998 Annual Conference statement, “The New Testament as Our Rule of Faith and Practice,” “some issues require lengthy and careful background study.”xi The two-year commitment of the study committee and its one-year formal study proved to be beneficial in clarifying the attitudes and perspectives of a broad cross-section of the denomination. Moreover, dialogue with the express intention of understanding can be a way of showing love and respect for each member while building up the body of Christ. Let us be reminded of what the Apostle Paul encourages the church everywhere: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12).
In light of the above process and findings, and considering the Denominational Name Study Committee’s charge from Annual Conference to “respond to the queries on denominational name by promoting a denomination-wide dialogue and report its progress,” the study committee recommends Annual Conference update the 1988 Annual Conference statement, “A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues,”xii taking into consideration the 1999 Annual Conference schedule change, direction provided in the 1998 Annual Conference statement (“The New Testament as Our Rule for Faith and Practice”), and the insights gained through the Framework for Conversation process initiated by the Denominational Name Study Committee. Such a revision of the 1988 Annual Conference statement could provide a tangible tool for Annual Conference when faced with difficult and potentially contentious issues.
Church of the Brethren Denominational Name Study Committee
Framework for Conversation
Church of the Brethren Denominational Name Study Committee
Guidelines for Facilitators of the Framework for Conversation
The facilitator’s role consists of:
(The facilitator’s guidelines were provided by Bob Gross of the Church of the Brethren’s Ministry of Reconciliation.)
Church of the Brethren Denominational Name Study Committee
Framework for Conversation-Facilitator’s Reflection Form
(This form may also be completed and sent online at the Annual Conference page of the Church of the Brethren website, www.cobannualconference.org)
Location of Event ________________________________________
Approximate Number of People Attending _______________________
Description of those in attendance (age, gender, etc.):
The committee appreciates your time and efforts in facilitating this valuable conversation and sharing your reflections.
Please return this form to:
Denominational Name Study Committee
1451 Dundee Avenue
Elgin, IL 60120
i Anne Myers, “The New Testament As Our Rule of Faith and Practice,” in 212th Annual Conference Minutes 1998 (Elgin, IL: Annual Conference Office, 1998), 769-774.
ii All biblical quotes taken from the NRSV.
iii William R. Eberly, ed., The Complete Writings of Alexander Mack (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1991), 3.
iv Donald F. Durnbaugh, ed., The Brethren Encyclopedia, vol. 1, Community, (Philadelphia, PA, and Oak Brook, IL: Brethren Encyclopedia, Inc., 1983), 329-330.
v Alexander Mack, “Letter to Count Charles August,” in The Complete Writings of Alexander Mack, ed. William R. Eberly (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1991), 19.
vi Alexander Mack, “Basic Questions,” in The Complete Writings of Alexander Mack, ed. William R. Eberly (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1991), 39.
vii Donald F. Durnbaugh, European Origins of the Brethren (Elgin, IL: The Brethren Press, 1958), 343.
viii John Kline, “Sermon by Peter Nead,” in Life and Labors of Elder John Kline the Martyr Missionary, ed. Benjamin Funk (Elgin, IL: Brethren Publishing House, 1900), 42.
ix Donald F. Durnbaugh, Fruit of the Vine (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1997), 326.
x ”Pre-Committee” for Standing Committee, “Committee Report for the Study of the Name for the Church of the Brethren, Special Item #10A,” (Indianapolis, IN: Pre-Committee for Standing Committee, 1993).
xi Anne Myers, “The New Testament As Our Rule of Faith and Practice,” in 212th Annual Conference Minutes 1998 (Elgin, IL: Annual Conference Office, 1998), 769-774.
xii Phyllis Kingery Ruff, “A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues,” in 202nd Annual Conference Minutes 1988 (Elgin, IL: Annual Conference Office, 1988), 674-681.
Action of the 2004 Annual Conference: The recommendation of the committee that Annual Conference update the 1988 statement, “A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues”..... was adopted.