What Holds the Brethren Together

Photo by Glenn Riegel
Guy Wampler gave the address for the Brethren Press and Messenger dinner

“Some fear the current conflict over homosexuality will tear the church apart,” Guy Wampler told the Brethren Press/ Messenger dinner in his keynote address. “I think we Brethren can work through the current controversy.”

Noting that there is a difference among Brethren about whether we have split rarely or often, Wampler suggested there are several reasons to believe that the tie that binds us together is both historical and contemporary, and  grounded in Brethren beliefs and practices.

After noting that some congregations had experienced a discouraging and distressing year in the wake of the current controversy, Wampler said, “The year has been tough for progressives and conservatives and some wonder if the Brethren will remain intact.” However, he added,” Something holds the Brethren together.”

Part of that is tribalism, Wampler suggested. Recounting  positive examples of tribalism in the scriptures, he mentioned that belonging to a tribe fosters loyalty, idealism, and can be the source of one’s deepest convictions. The downside is that tribalism can cause a group to become ingrown.

Tribalism is endangered by mobility, globalism, and individualism, but the fact remains that “We are all part of a tribe.”  Brethren tribalism is grounded in Gemeindeschaft. Referring to an essay by Michael Frantz, in 1747, Wampler mentioned that Gemeindeschaft is best translated as ‘communion’ rather than ‘community.’

Wamper recently attended the conference at the Young Center at Elizabethtown College that centered on Alexander “Sander” Mack, Jr. He referred to two crucial examples of how his grace filled leadership kept the Brethren together. The 1763 Annual Meeting decision about Catharine Hummer’s visions of angelic visions counseled those who believed and those who disbelieved in her visions to forbear with each other in Christian love. And in an open letter on the subject of the proper order of feetwashing Mack suggested it would be ironic if Brethren, who cherished their love for each other, would split over a feast named after love.

Asking where the Sander Macks of today might be found, Wampler counseled that leadership is always more respected after the fact, and suggested that loving leadership is active today. Then, in charting how Brethren might remain together, he referred to Martin Grove Brumbaugh’s formulation about “No Force in Religion,” the Brethren belief in “No Creed But The New Testament,” and an emphasis upon Service Ministries accomplished by Brethren of different beliefs, acting together in the name of Jesus, might keep Brethren, who are every bit as polarized as the society at large, unified without uniformity.

Guy Wampler is a former Annual Conference moderator, a retired pastor, and a recognized authority on Brethren belief and practice.

— Frank Ramirez is pastor of Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren

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