Brethren in Christ Church

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Brethren in Christ Church
TheologyRiver Brethren[1]
Radical Pietism[2]
Originc. 1778
Marietta, Pennsylvania
SeparationsCalvary Holiness Church (1964)[3]
Brethren in Christ U.S. logo

The Brethren in Christ Church (BIC) is an River Brethren Christian denomination with roots in the Mennonite church, Radical Pietism, and Wesleyan holiness.[2][4] They have also been known as River Brethren and River Mennonites.[1]


The Brethren in Christ have their headquarters 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 worship God in the 1770s, the people of this group who became known as the River Brethren searched early church history and developed a conviction that believer's baptism by triune immersion was the scriptural form of baptism. The River Brethren of the 18th century also held to a firm reliance on the centricity of Jesus in Scripture, especially the literal application of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5 - 7. As their Pietist lifestyles and their beliefs regarding evangelism and assimilation to follow societal norms continued to develop, they began to distance themselves from other Anabaptist denominations, such as the Mennonites and German Baptist Brethren, 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). The first confessional statement of this group was formulated around 1780, after the stressful time of the American Revolution.

During the American Civil War, when required by the Union government of the United States to register as a body that held peaceful, non-combatant non-resistance values, the name "Brethren in Christ'" was adopted. "River Brethren" remained the term of 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 social 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 replete with stories of conscientious objection.

About the turn of the 20th 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 Community of Schools (founded as Niagara Christian College, a Canadian preparatory school) in 1932 (Ontario, Canada).


The church's 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. The church believes that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit reveals Himself through the divine record of scripture, and that salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is received through the response of personal faith and repentance. Baptism by triune 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 had about 295 churches in the United States and Canada. As of 2001, in the United States there were 20,739 members in 232 churches.[5] Pennsylvania remains the hub of the denomination, with nearly half its congregations and a majority of its members.[6] However, there are numerous congregations in other states, particularly Florida, Ohio, and California.[6] Denominational headquarters is in Grantham, Pennsylvania, next to the Grantham BIC Church and Messiah University. 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 seven regional conferences (each represented by a bishop who sits on the Leadership Council) and one subconference. The conferences are as follows: Allegheny, Atlantic, 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, Canada, 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,[7] 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.

In 2012, the Canadian Conference of the Brethren in Christ and the General Conference of the Brethren in Christ recognized the advantage for both of being independent Churches. Recommendations were made to the Canadian Annual General Meeting and the BIC General Conference. These were approved by majority affirmations. The result was the development of BIC Canada and the BIC in the USA. Both continue to work collaboratively with one another and yet recognize their distinctive national identities and structures. The churches are provided leadership by Alan Robinson (USA) and Charlie Mashinter (Canada). In 2017, BIC Canada changed its name to "Be in Christ Church of Canada".[8]

Noted Brethren in Christ people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Climenhaga, Asa W. (1942). History of the Brethren in Christ Church. E. V. Publishing House. p. 45.
  2. ^ a b Shantz, Douglas H. (2013). An Introduction to German Pietism: Protestant Renewal at the Dawn of Modern Europe. JHU Press. ISBN 9781421408804.
  3. ^ Lewis, James R. (2002). The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions. Prometheus Books. p. 151. ISBN 9781615927388.
  4. ^ Carter, Craig A. (2007). Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective. Brazos Press. ISBN 9781441201225.
  5. ^ "Historic Archive CD and Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches". The National Council of Churches. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  6. ^ a b "2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Study". Glenmary Research Center. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  7. ^ "Board for Media Ministries Closes After 126 Years of Operation". Brethren In Christ Historical Society. August 5, 2013. Retrieved March 12, 2021.
  8. ^ Lester, Todd. "We Have A New Name | Westheights". Retrieved March 12, 2021.
  9. ^ Eurasian College: "Visiting Lecturers- Jay Smith" Archived March 16, 2015, at retrieved March 15, 2015
  10. ^ Christianity Today: "Unapologetic Apologist - Jay Smith confronts Muslim fundamentalists with fundamentalist fervor" by Deann Alford June 13, 2008
  11. ^ "Harold Albrecht - Overview - House of Commons of Canada". Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  12. ^ "Our History". Pathway Community Church. Archived from the original on February 12, 2019. Retrieved March 11, 2019.


  • 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 Obedience: 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.

External links[edit]