Dunkard Brethren

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The Dunkard Brethren are a small group of primarily American conservative Schwarzenau Brethren, which organized in 1926 when they withdrew from the Church of the Brethren in the United States. In 1980 they had approximately 900 members in 25 congregations, primarily in mid-Atlantic and midwestern states that had been areas of German settlement in the colonial and later periods.


The name Dunkard or Dunker is derived from the Pennsylvania German word dunke, which comes from the German word tunken, meaning "to dunk" or "to dip". This refers to their preference for the immersion method of baptism observed by all of the various branches of Schwarzenau Brethren.


The Dunkard Brethren have their roots in a Protestant movement known as Schwarzenau Brethren or Dunkards. This movement began in 1708, when Alexander Mack and seven other believers conducted baptism of new members by immersion in the Eder river in Germany.

The Church of the Brethren represented the largest body of churches that descended from this original pietist and Anabaptist movement. For the history until 1926 see Church of the Brethren: Early history and Church of the Brethren: The Great Schism.

Early in the 20th century, some members of Church of the Brethren in the United States, the largest of the branch of the Schwarzenau Brethren, began to believe that there was a drift away from the old apostolic standards. Benjamin Elias Kesler (1861–1952), an Elder of the Church of the Brethren in Missouri, addressed these concerns in a monthly paper. It was 20 pages and called The Bible Monitor, which he first published in October 1922. In 1923, Kesler was refused a seat at the Annual Conference. His conservative sympathizers held a separate meeting in each of the next three years.

During the Annual Conference in 1926, concerns nearly identical to those of Kesler and his sympathizers were addressed by other members, but not resolved in a way that satisfied Kesler and his followers. Subsequently the Kesler group withdrew from the Church of the Brethren and in 1926 formed the Dunkard Brethren Church.[1]

Immigration to the U.S.[edit]

In 1719, led by Peter Becker, twenty families left Germany and immigrated to Germantown, Pennsylvania, where they settled in what was then a separate community outside Philadelphia. Alexander Mack led 200 other Brethren to the Netherlands in 1720; after living there for nine years, they found that religious conditions had deteriorated. They immigrated to Pennsylvania, joining the original Dunkard group.[2]

Belief and practice[edit]

Dunkard Brethren practice believer's baptism, that is, reserving baptism for a person old enough to commit to belief. A believer is immersed three times to represent the Trinity: once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Spirit. Most of the women of the Dunkard Brethren dress in a plain manner, which has been associated with the Old Order Brethren, and Old Order and Conservative Mennonites. Women are also expected to wear a plain white headcovering.

The Dunkard Brethren practice the holy kiss and the love feast with feetwashing. Divorce is not allowed for members of the church. They are discouraged from buying life insurance. Dunkard Brethren do not swear oaths to the state or organizations, and do not file lawsuits without permission of the church. The use of alcohol and tobacco is forbidden, as is watching television, or participating in gaming or gambling. Participation in politics, or labor unions, and membership in secret fraternal societies such as the Freemasons are seen as contrary to the Gospel and a pure heart.[3]

Members and congregations[edit]

In 1980 there were 1,035 members in 26 congregations.[3] The Dunkard Brethren Church has 25 congregations in the United States, with approximately 900 members. The majority of the churches are located in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, California, and Ohio. They support a mission among the Navajo Indians in New Mexico, and a mission in Africa.


The church's publication, a paper that has been published monthly since October 1922, is called The Bible Monitor.


  1. ^ Donald F. Durnbaugh (editor) The Brethren Encyclopedia, Volume I, Philadelphia, 1983, pp. 408/9.
  2. ^ Dunkard Brethren Church: History
  3. ^ a b Donald F. Durnbaugh (editor) The Brethren Encyclopedia, Volume I, Philadelphia, 1983, pages 409.

Further reading[edit]

  • Keith M. Bailey: They Counted the Cost: The History of the Dunkard Brethren Church from 1926 to 2008, Nappanee, 2009.
  • Donald F. Durnbaugh: Fruit of the Vine, A History of the Brethren 1708–1995, Elgin, Illinois, 1997.
  • Donald F. Durnbaugh (editor): The Brethren Encyclopedia, Philadelphia, 1983.
  • Cornelius J. Dyck, Dennis Martin, et al. (editors): The Mennonite Encyclopedia, Hillsboro, Canada, 1955-1959.

External links[edit]