A Conservative Anabaptist denomination with roots in the Schwarzenau Brethren tradition, characterized by a commitment to simplicity, nonconformity, and the practice of adult baptism.
Origin and Development
The Dunkard Brethren Church emerged from the larger Schwarzenau Brethren or Dunkards, an Anabaptist tradition that began in 1708 when Alexander Mack and seven other believers conducted baptism by immersion in the Eder River in Germany. Originally part of the Church of the Brethren, the Dunkard Brethren formed as a separate entity in 1926 in the United States. This separation was precipitated by concerns over perceived departures from traditional practices and standards within the Church of the Brethren. Key figures in this movement included Benjamin Elias Kesler, who voiced these concerns through his publication “The Bible Monitor.”
Beliefs and Practices
The Dunkard Brethren Church upholds several key Anabaptist and Pietist tenets:
- Adult Baptism: They practice trine immersion baptism, where believers are dunked three times forward, reflecting their name “Dunkard” or “Dunker.”
- Foot Washing at Communion: This practice symbolizes service and humility.
- Conservative Lifestyle: Members are known for their simplicity and nonconformity to the world, embodying the principles of Anabaptism.
- Other Ordinances: These include the love feast, the holy kiss, head covering for women, and anointing of the sick.
Growth and Current Status
The Dunkard Brethren Church, while maintaining a relatively small presence, is committed to its mission work and evangelical activities. As of 2001, it had approximately 1,035 members in 26 congregations. The church emphasizes revival services and Sunday School in addition to evangelism and missionary work.
Emerging from the Radical Pietist revival, the Dunkard Brethren were influenced by a blend of Pietism and Anabaptism. Pietism brought an emphasis on the new birth and personal holiness, while the Anabaptist influence reinforced the importance of obeying Christ’s commands. The Dunkard Brethren Church stands out for its commitment to the simplicity and purity of the early church, as reflected in their practices and organizational structure.
Immigration and Expansion in America
The movement saw significant immigration to America in the early 18th century, initially led by Peter Becker to Pennsylvania and later joined by Alexander Mack. This migration was largely due to persecution in Europe. The group expanded across North America, adapting to changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution and societal shifts.