7 Positive Themes in Brethren History

We’ve looked at why and how to study the history of our movement, and seen a few misconceptions some have held about the early days. Now let’s consider some of the many positive things to keep an eye out for when looking at our past. Some are obvious and others are not.

The idea here is not to boast in ourselves (let all our boasting be in the Lord! 1 Corinthians 1:31), nor is it to say that we are the only Christians with these characteristics. My purpose is twofold: to help us see the positive threads that weave their way through our story and to appreciate our heritage afresh.

This is just a handful, and there are others (such as simplicity, flexibility, the emphasis on Christ’s authority, etc.). Each one could merit its own article!

  1. A very high view of and devotion to Scripture. A profound love and respect for the Bible and a deeply intimate knowledge of it has characterized the brethren since the beginning. This has led hundreds of brothers among us (and some sisters) to have a great impact on others outside our circles through their writings and even teaching positions at many Bible colleges and seminaries. And did you know that a large number of pastors and leaders in various denominations have roots in the assemblies?
  2. A deep love of the gospel. Since the very early days, the gospel has been central in the hearts and minds of the brethren. It has been emphasized in our meetings, writings, prayers, songs, and outreaches. Whether through illustrations, stories, or Bible quotations, the brethren have always loved telling the good news.
  3. A fervency in evangelism. Through Gospel meetings, Gospel wagons, literature and tract distribution, street corner preaching, prison ministry, nursing home hymn sings, Sunday schools, kids clubs, vacation Bible schools, hobby class, Bible camps, and many other innovative and unique ways, the brethren have been highly active in spreading the gospel.
  4. A massive impact in missions. From the very get go, the brethren movement has been strongly focused on missions. Some of the early brethren were pioneers of the “faith missions” movement, and many missionary organizations and movements, both past and present, have strong historical ties to the brethren. We have had a direct influence on global missions through the scores of missionaries we’ve sent out. Thirty five years ago, Frederick Tatford published a 10 volume history of brethren missions, and who knows how many volumes could be added to that now!
  5. Generosity. Throughout the years, the brethren have been characterized by a spirit of great generosity to the Lord’s work and the less fortunate. Many committed most of their income to the Lord’s work, and others gave land and other gifts in kind. Personal histories and written biographies overflow with countless examples of this generous spirit and extraordinary hospitality.
  6. Humility. This is another positive theme we find, starting at the very beginning. As we read about the brethren in every era, it’s not hard to see the humility so many of these faithful men and women had despite all their qualifications and accomplishments. Many were humble enough to prefer anonymity over recognition.
  7. Unity. Yes, despite our ability to divide, the brethren have had an insatiable desire for unity. It has been a major concern through every division and the goal of every attempted reunion (whether any of these is wrong or right, you’ll need to decide). The emphasis on unity and the practical out working of it have been a positive thread throughout the years and in every group. 

As we explore these themes in our history, it all begs the question: how are we still characterized by these themes today? Which could use some shoring up?

Gordie Hanna
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