I am very much aware of the unfamiliarity most of my readers claim as regards my denomination: The Brethren in Christ Church. So, I thought a quick overview here and there would be beneficial. The following is the first in what will be a continuing series of informative posts re: the B.I.C.
The people of the Brethren in Christ Church (”Brethren” = Community, not Male Priority) swim in the confluence formed by the convergence of three theological streams: Pietism, Anabaptism, and Wesleyanism.
Pietism: Pietism began as a Christian renewal movement in Germany. It began as a movement within Lutheranism; it also found a welcome reception within Protestantism, generally speaking. Particularly important for the Brethren in Christ Church was the influence Pietism had upon Anabaptism and John Wesley. Wesley is, of course, the Anglican who founded the Methodist Movement (Wesleyanism), which separated from Anglicanism after Wesley’s death. Pietism tenets include: 1. Christianity is so much more than a list of beliefs and/or doctrines. It is a personal relationship with God. It is a relationship into which individuals are ushered by a heart-felt experience based upon repentance and conversion. Said differently, each of us must be transformed by Christ, have faith in Christ, and rest assuredly in the sufficiency of our salvation. 2. Bible Study, prayer, and Christian fellowship were stressed for spiritual growth. 3. Good works, Holiness, and missions were stressed.
Anabaptism: Anabaptism is a Christian expression born in the radical wing of the 16th Century Christian Reformation. Anabaptists, historically, were aligned neither to Catholics, nor Protestants. In fact, Anabaptists were misunderstood, hated, and persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants. Anabaptist tenets include: 1. Orthopraxy (i.e., the Bible was to be lived, in real-time practice). 2. New Testament priority over Christian tradition, in terms of ecclesial practice. 3. A sustained separation between the Christian Church and the State. 4. Love as the superior response to all neighbors, even if it means suffering. 5. Christian believers must willingly choose to be baptized. 6. Pacifism and/or Non-Violent Resistance. 7. No oaths (law-courts). 8. Faith and Works. Salvation by faith alone was not sufficient, according to the New Testament. A life of daily and conscious obedience (discipleship) to Jesus Christ was/is also required.
Wesleyanism: The American Holiness Movement is largely a result of John Wesley’s Methodism and circuit preaching. Wesley proclaimed the necessity of a life totally consecrated to God. The result of a life totally consecrated to God was a culminating experience aka “Christian Perfection,” or “Sanctification.” This experience completed the inner work begun by Christ at the moment of the believer’s conversion. Said another way, Sanctification is the believer’s ultimate “Yes,” or his/her complete surrender of his/her will to God. This is slightly different from the Anabaptist dedication to discipleship. The Anabaptist dedication to obedience to Christ is an outward devotion (Discipleship); the Wesleyan dedication to Sanctification is an inward devotion (Personal Holiness). Sanctification is a direct result of the indwelling (filling) presence of the Holy Spirit.
In conclusion, I must say, that the theological product of the above synthesis is radical, relevant, and mightily alternative. The day in which we live calls for a theological expression that goes well beyond the tired din of America’s religious left and right. Too, the day calls for a theological expression that actually demands something from adherents, spiritually speaking. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not an invitation to cheap spiritual living. No, not at all! The Gospel is an invitation to authentic and deep personal and social challenge, change, activism, journey, and adventure. No, not everything going on in the world is a good thing! Everything is not edifying! A lot of things out there are very edifying, and good, but not everything out there is edifying and good. Theology needs to draw intentionally disciplined but lovingly open lines. I believe that the theological synthesis upon which the Brethren in Christ is founded is intentionally disciplined but lovingly open. I believe the B.I.C. is the alternative many, many people are searching for today. I’ll not claim it as the only one, but it is one of the most solid.