Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches - History

History

The Brethren (at the time called German Baptist Brethren) suffered a three way division early in the 1880s, and the more progressive group organized the Brethren Church. Led by charismatic leader Henry Holsinger, they maintained the standard Brethren doctrines, but wanted to adopt new methods, and desired more congregational autonomy and less centralization. These more progressive Brethren moved into the mainstream of Christian evangelicalism in America. Several events in the late 19th century and early 20th century, including the Bible Conference movement, emphasis on foreign missions, and the rise of fundamentalism, had an impact on the church. The Foreign Missionary Society of the Brethren Church was formed on September 4, 1900, in Winona Lake, Indiana.

But, also in the early 1900s, two different viewpoints began to emerge. As Robert Clouse writes about this event “the Progressives showed considerable agreement in what they opposed, but were less united in what they wished to create.” The Brethren Church had rejected classical liberal theology in 1921 with "The Message of the Brethren Ministry," written by J. Allen Miller and McClain. However the aggressive approach of fundamentalism, led by Louis S. Bauman and McClain, conflicted with the drawn out approach of traditional Brethrenism. The fundamentalist desired strongly worded statements of faith, the traditional Brethren stressed non-creedalism. The fundamentalist's classic dispensationalist belief largely disregarded the Sermon on the Mount as a law for an earlier age, while the traditional Brethren statement "the New Testament is our Rule of Faith and Practice" placed a high emphasis on this passage in Matthew 5–7. The fundamentalist were largely Calvinist, the traditional Brethren largely Arminian.

This tension finally erupted in 1936–37 with a growing controversy at Ashland College. Although the school was in the control of the Brethren Church, it was transitioning from a Christian denominational school to a secular school with more regional and less denominational focus. Because of a push to enlarge non-Brethren representation on the board of trustees and establish a "double standard" of conduct for regular college students and pre-seminary college students, Bauman and Charles Ashman, Sr. (1886–1967) resigned from the Ashland College board of trustees on June 1, 1937. The next day, professors Alva J. McClain and Herman Hoyt were fired from Ashland Seminary due to increasing tension between the college group and the seminary group. At a prayer meeting in the home of J.C. Beal that evening Grace Theological Seminary was born, where after prayer Bauman announced "I want to give the first gift to the new school."

In the next two years two groups emerged in the Brethren Church: those sympathetic with Ashland College and those sympathetic with Grace Seminary. Traditional Brethren, in part because of their drawn out approach and in part due to their distaste of fundamentalist theology, sided with Ashland College, while the fundamentalist led by Bauman and McClain, sided with Grace. In 1939, the Grace Seminary group formed the National Fellowship of Brethren Churches. The Fellowship incorporated in 1987 as the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches.

Another division occurred in 1992, led by former Grace Seminary professor John C. Whitcomb forming Conservative Grace Brethren Churches, International. The issue of dissension was open membership to individuals who had not been baptized by triune immersion, although the larger issue had more to do with Whitcomb himself. His strong personality along with beliefs such as "second-degree separation," which defines that Christians should not only be separated from "the world" and theological liberals, but also theological conservatives who cooperated with them, brought strife and, "Due to his insistence on issues such as this, his colleagues at the Grace Seminary found it increasingly difficult to work with him." He was dismissed from Grace Seminary in 1990, and consequently formed the Conservative Grace Brethren Association, which became the starter organization for the denomination to follow.

Read more about this topic:  Fellowship Of Grace Brethren Churches

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