Quotable Brethren: The 5th Brethren World Assembly in Soundbites

“Quotable quotes” from the 5th Brethren World Assembly give a flavor of the three days of presentations, panels, sermons, and more:

“Brethren have been spiritual people even if they have been slow to write about spiritual practices.”
— Jeff Bach, director of the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College.


“What in the world is spirituality, anyway? No other word has been the subject of so much misunderstanding and useless argument.”
— William Kostlevy, director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at the Church of the Brethren General Offices.


“Like a precious gem (spirituality) has many facets…. Brethren (of the 19th century) did not distinguish between doctrine and spirituality or doctrine and practice…all of this shared a single purpose: growing in Jesus.”
— Dale R. Stoffer, an elder in the Brethren Church and professor of Historical Theology and former academic dean at Ashland Theological Seminary.


“We tend to make Jesus into the image of ourselves.”
— Brian Moore, a Brethren Church elder, longtime pastor, and two time national moderator of the Brethren Church, in his presentation on “The Place of Jesus in Brethren Spirituality.” He added that “following Jesus was of first importance (to the early Brethren) regardless of the cost…. Basic radical discipleship then was the trademark of the Brethren. This trait has been the anchor of our persuasion.”


“It’s a tough act to follow Jesus.”
— Brenda Colijn an elder in the Brethren Church and professor of Biblical Interpretation and Theology at Ashland Theological Seminary, whose presentation on “Word and Spirit in Brethren Spirituality” followed Brian Moore’s. Colijn spoke about the way that, for Brethren, “both the outward Word and the inner Word (Spirit) testify to the Living Word of God.”


“Community was not casual or haphazard but intentional.”
— Jared Burkholder of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, associate professor of History at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. He spoke on “Community, Family, and Individual in Brethren Spirituality.”


“We live in perhaps the most crucial age of history since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus…. Our job is enormous. This is not a time to twiddle our thumbs. This is a time to pray.”
— Roger Peugh, a longtime missionary in Germany now teaching missions at Grace College and Seminary, a school of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Church. He preached on the importance of prayer for the Thursday evening worship service.


“There’s something uniquely American about demanding unlimited choice, and that goes for religion as well.”
— Aaron Jerviss, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Tennessee, with a special interest in the history of peace churches. He gave presentations on the spiritual writings and poetry of Alexander Mack Jr., son of the founder of the Brethren movement, who chose to leave the church and join the Ephrata community for a decade before coming back to the Germantown congregation. Jerviss suggested that Mack had as much right to go “church shopping” as anyone else.


“Cosmologies some years ago told us that the universe is shrinking. Now they tell us it’s expanding. It seems to me that you could say the same thing about worship practices in the Church of the Brethren.”
— Michael Hostetter, pastor of Salem Church of the Brethren, tracing the changes in his home church. Whereas 30 years before his birth all songs were sung acapella, by the time he was born the church had an organ, piano, and choir that sang antiphons and responses throughout worship. “We are informed and nourished by the wider Christian community,” he noted, chronicling the adoption of the observance of seasons such as Lent.


“Since the beginning, ordinances have stood at the heart of Brethren Spirituality…. The ordinances blend the spiritual with concrete action.”
— Denise Kettering-Lane, assistant professor of Brethren Studies at Bethany Theological Seminary and a licensed Church of the Brethren minister. Her presentation on Brethren ordinances chronicled the Brethren search for the correct way to perform the ordinances based on a Christ-centered and biblically oriented combination of discipleship and obedience. Ordinances like the love feast and feetwashing serve a teaching function, she noted, and become, through the experience of personal suffering, a memorial to Jesus.


“It is a tension that goes on among us, how we give form to the movement of the Spirit…. Form without Spirit becomes dead, yet Spirit without form is like a fire without boundaries.”
— Robert Alley, a former moderator of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference and retired from longterm ministry at Bridgewater (Va.) Church of the Brethren. He preached the closing sermon of the assembly, calling the congregation to think about their answers to the question, “What now?” after such a gathering is over and participants head for home. “As pilgrims, we journey toward Christ,” no matter our earthly destination, Alley assured the Brethren.


“What a time it will be when all of God’s children sit down to supper.”
— Keith Bailey of the Dunkard Brethren, explaining how his community spends significant time in spiritual preparation for and carrying out the love feast, feetwashing, and communion.


“I remember at the end of one of these gatherings a ballot was taken and the Fellowship of Grace Brethren was noted the least Brethren. We’ve earned that.”
— Jim Custer of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, speaking about the traditional ordinances and how some in his community have moved away from them in favor of an emphasis on evangelism and world missions.


Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
A table set for the love feast meal, at the Brethren Heritage Center in Brookville, Ohio.

“The Love Feast is a Christian celebration. It’s not just a Brethren thing.”
— Paul Stutzman, a Church of the Brethren minister and student in the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, who carried out a survey of practices among Church of the Brethren districts.


“The Brethren have never tried to be uniquely Brethren. They have tried to be authentically Christian…. To be authentically Brethren is to be radically obedient to Jesus.”
— Bill Johnson of the Brethren Church.


“I think there’s a real hunger for authentic Brethren witness, especially with regards to community…and obedience to Jesus.”
— Jay Wittmyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren, during a panel on spirituality as a witness to the world.


“We’ve grappled with this issue of going into all the world and being in all the world.”
— Curt Wagoner, Old German Baptist Brethren-New Conference


“Everyone of us has a responsibility and a duty to witness to Jesus Christ.”
— Ike Graham, Conservative Grace Brethren Churches International


“We make sure everyone in the EYN takes the Great Commission seriously.”
— Musa Mambula of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), during a panel discussion on world missions. He listed the many stages new converts go through before being fully integrated into an EYN congregation, adding that it is important for Nigerian Brethren to understand and respect the larger Muslim culture and to work with local leaders in order to make evangelism effective. Asked how Nigerians do love feast, he described the EYN version as a potluck in which everyone shares, and to which everyone is welcome whether are not they are able to bring a dish to the table.


“The Bible tells us who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he expects of us…. We believe the Holy Spirit is still at work.”
— Dan Ulrich, professor of New Testament Studies at Bethany Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren.


“It was in the Bible that I met the Lord Jesus Christ and I praise God that he gave me the grace to seek his truth.”
— Curt Wagoner of the Old German Baptist Brethren-New Conference.


“Each time we divide and re-form, about three days later we come up with the same problem.”
— An assembly attendee describing the schisms within the Brethren movement, and how the same issues seem to re-occur in the new bodies created by the divisions that have happened over the course of Brethren history.



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