Old German Baptist Brethren

Old German Baptist Brethren

Old German Baptist Brethren (OGBB) descend from a pietist movement in Schwarzenau, Germany, in 1708, when Alexander Mack founded a fellowship with seven other believers. They are one of several Brethren groups that trace themselves to that original founding body. These emerged from the German Reformed and Lutheran Churches, and are historically known as German Baptists rather than English Baptists. Other names by which they are sometimes identified are Dunkers, Dunkards, Tunkers, and Täufer, all relating to their practice of baptism by immersion. They are part of the post-reformation Anabaptists (which include, among others, the Amish and Mennonites), who rejected baptism of infants as a biblically valid form of baptism. Because of persecution, many Brethren emigrated to America, with the greatest influx being between 1719 and 1729.



The first American congregation was founded near Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1719. Originally known as NeuTäufer (new Baptists), in America they used the name "German Baptist" and officially adopted the title German Baptist Brethren at their Annual Meeting in 1871. The Old German Baptist Brethren represent a conservative faction that would not tolerate certain modern innovations of the 19th century. In 1881, they broke away from the main body in order to maintain older customs, dress, and forms of worship. OGBB are noted for several ordinances like believer's baptism by trine immersion, feet washing, the love feast, communion of the bread and cup, the holy kiss, and anointing of the sick with oil. Baptism is by trine forward-immersion in water. They hold an Annual Meeting associated with Pentecost, and cooperate in publishing a monthly periodical called The Vindicator. According to the 2009 Directory of Officials,[1] the Old German Baptist Brethren had 6,149 members in 56 churches at the end of 2008. The largest concentration of congregations is in Ohio (16), followed by Indiana (9), California (4), Kansas (5), Pennsylvania (5), Virginia (4), Washington (3), Florida (2), Wisconsin (2), Georgia (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), Montana (1), Oregon (1) and West Virginia (1). Almost 54% of the members live in Ohio and Indiana.

From 1881 to 1883, the Old German Baptist Brethren and the The Brethren Church left the German Baptist Brethren over several matters including Sunday Schools, higher education, plain dress, revivalism, and church discipline. The German Baptist Brethren changed their name to the Church of the Brethren in 1908.

The advance of modernity is connected to two early 20th century divisions among the Old German Baptists. In 1913, a group broke away in Indiana and formed the Old Brethren. In 1915, another congregation of Old Brethren was organized in California. The issue which is often given as the cause for the division was the acceptance of telephones and automobiles by the Old German Baptist Brethren; but generally, the Old Brethren also wanted a more uniform adherence to annual meeting decisions and wanted to uphold the old order form of annual meeting which was simpler than had developed among the Old German Baptists. After 1930, they placed less stress on annual meeting authority than did the parent body, believing it to be more for edification and teaching. Moral persuasion rather than legislative decisions of annual meeting is the basis for adherence to the church's order. Their membership, among three congregations (California, Indiana, and Ohio), in 2000 was 250. As the original Old German Baptist Brethren body became more accepting of automobiles, another group withdrew in 1921 to become the Old Order German Baptist Brethren. They do not use automobiles, electric power or telephones. In 2000, the Old Orders numbered 125 from one congregation in Ohio. Two other minor divisions occurred in the 1990s resulting in three congregations of 185 total members. While each conference has an "official" name, members of all conferences refer to themselves generally as old order German Baptists. They do not officially support use of the Internet.

There are several different Brethren groups that are not related to the Schwarzenau movement, such as the Plymouth Brethren that arose in England and Ireland early in the 19th century through the labors of Edward Cronin and John Nelson Darby. However, the teachings of Darby—called Dispensationalism—have been influential among many in the OGBB.

The OGBB are the root of several other Brethren denominations, including the "Old German Baptist Brethren (New Conference)" (see below), Old Order German Baptist Brethren (Petitioners), Old Brethren German Baptist (Ledyites), the Old Brethren Church, and the German Baptist Brethren (a later and more conservative group). Other denominations with roots in the German Baptist Brethren/Church of the Brethren are the Dunkard Brethren, The Brethren Church, the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC), the Conservative Grace Brethren Churches, International (CGBCI) and the Brethren Reformed Church.

Theology and worship

The theology of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church is not well documented, largely due to their lack of literary works and tightly-knit interaction. In general, the theological position of the OGBB can be diverse, and often represented geographically. A Doctrinal Treatise was published in 1952, primarily for the sake of young men who went abroad in Civilian Public Service camps or other work programs, and it presents many doctrinal distinctives of the OGBB, but it is not a creed or formal statement of faith to which members must subscribe, as members interpret and apply some of its various points differently. When asked for a creed, most Old German Baptist Brethren claim that the New Testament is the closest thing they have to a creed.

Generally, the OGBB believe in Free Will, and that faith and baptism in the Lord Jesus Christ is required for salvation, to be followed by a life of literal obedience to His word (the result of that faith). When there is a question of applications for a specific issue or area of life for which Scripture has no clear mandate, the members gather once a year at their Annual Meeting and consider the issue in light of Scripture, past practices, and current contexts, then voice (or vote) on it. While the Brethren strive for unanimity in any decision, such a reality is difficult with several thousand individuals, and often the vote is decided by a very strong majority voice. If such cannot be reached, the issue is laid down (closed) or deferred until the following Annual Meeting. These decisions are kept on record as "Minutes of the Annual Meeting", and referred back to for consideration when there is any significant deviation from them. They touch on many things, including but not limited to: dress, permissible use of technology, political involvement, entertainment, and more.

Historically, the theological position of the OGBB was largely established by Peter Nead and William J. Shoup, both of whom were prolific Brethren authors and preachers. Nead, in particular, was a schooled Lutheran who converted to the Brethren and brought a refined system of teaching to the fellowship.

OGBB historically believe in baptismal regeneration, while individual members may differ somewhat in personal belief.

The OGBB are a non-resistant sect, whose young men usually file as conscientious objectors in times of war. Members of the church do not believe in defending themselves against physical attacks outside of war, either. Members do not file lawsuits, defend themselves against lawsuits, or use liens to collect debts.

The form of worship is fairly consistent from church to church, with acappella singing, kneeling in prayer, sermons by congregationally-elected ministers (called the plural ministry due to having several ministers in each congregation), and provision for divided seating with women and men assembled on opposite sides of the meetinghouse. The OGBB use their own hymn book, of which most members maintain a personal copy. The hymns have been written by both OGBB members and many well-known authors from the 18th and 19th centuries. The style of singing is generally started and led by a congregationally elected deacon, and consists of slow, singing in polyphony or unity. All singing would be considered slow by contemporary standards, but there is some diversity in speed and usage of harmonies. The more conservative in practice a district may be, the slower the singing tends to be; and conversely, those of a more liberal stance tend to sing somewhat faster, though the difference may not be very obvious to visitors.


In 2009, a sizeable schism was a result of the rejection, by a minority of members (approximately 2,300),[2] of a committee report [3] adopted by the 2009 Annual Meeting held near Waterford, CA. The report stated in part, "Members of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church in full fellowship and in good standing with the Church, believe and agree that the Old German Baptist Brethren’s interpretation of NT doctrine is scriptural and has been prompted by the Holy Spirit and it is their mind to remain in this fellowship and to teach, support and promote the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It will be expected that members hearing the reading of this report will be willing to accept the same." If effect, the report was asking for an affirmation of loyalty to traditional church teaching and conservative interpretation in general. No positions on questions of doctrine or church practice before the Conference were addressed in the report. Conference representatives were sent to each district (congregation) in the brotherhood to determine the willingness of each member to accept the report. Those who refused to accept the report gave their names, which were recorded and sent to the secretary of the standing committee for processing, and they were disfellowshipped (put out of the church). Members who refused were given 60 days to reconsider their decision without repercussion. Those who remained silent or did not attend the meeting were assumed to be in agreement or willing to submit to the decision, and were retained as members.

A majority of the disfellowshipped members participated in the organization of a new body, which was organized at a July 3, 2009, meeting in Troy, Ohio, called the "Old German Baptist Brethren: New Conference". Several fundamental disagreements identified by New Conference schismatics [4] included: a perceived violation of the traditional Brethren doctrine/principle of nonresistance (whereby the majority chose to forfeit the membership of the minority rather than continuing to work toward unity through regular Conference process), allowing group Bible studies outside of the worship setting; permitting open outreach & mission efforts; use of email and the Internet; and Scriptural interpretation of the application of Matthew 18. The New Conference Polity Statement[5]], declares that "the church must never be elevated to a place of equality with Jesus Christ," reflecting the New Conference's more individualistic approach to faith (in opposition to the parent body's stronger emphasis on unity through mutual practice and theology), and a serious concern regarding the undue emphasis on the authority of conference decisions based upon the claim of the 2009 Conference Report for the Spirit's authority for all conference decisions. Most of the remainder of the disfellowshipped members have joined similar existing groups such as the Old Brethren or Dunkard Brethren, or moved on to more mainstream church fellowships.

Recent Events

Following the separation, the majority that remained with the Old German Baptist Brethren (often referred to by others as the "Old Conference") decided at their 2010 Annual Conference to continue the ban on email and the internet. They agreed to allow very limited use for member businesses already online, with the understanding that they discontinue use within three years.[6] An increasing adherence to traditional patterns of dress has become more evident among the members. A trickle of members moving to the more traditional horse and buggy groups (primarily Old Brethren German Baptist) may also have slowed. Increasing conservatism in the OGBB has also had a bearing on the decision of a majority of the former members of the Phillip Hess faction of the German Baptist Brethren to join the Old Conference of the OGBB after the dissolution of that group in September–October 2010.[7]


  • Anabaptist World USA, Donald B. Kraybill and C. Nelson Hostetter, (2001) Herald Press
  • Roots by the River, Dr. Marcus Miller, (1973) Independently Published
  • Brethren Society: The Cultural Transformation of a Peculiar People, Carl F. Bowman (1995) Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Brethren Encyclopedia, Vol. I-III, Donald F. Durnbaugh, editor (1983) The Brethren Encyclopedia Inc.
  • Brethren Encyclopedia, Vol. IV, Donald F. Durnbaugh and Dale V. Ulrich, editors, Carl Bowman, contributing editor (2006) The Brethren Encyclopedia Inc.
  • Fruit of the Vine, A History of the Brethren 1708-1995, Donald F. Durnbaugh (1997) Brethren Press
  • On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren, Donald B. Kraybill and Carl D. Bowman (2001) Johns Hopkins University Press.
  1. ^ The Old German Baptist Brethren Church January 2009 Directory of Officials, Miami Valley Press, Inc.
  2. ^ Cold Waters to a Thirsty Soul, Sept. 2009
  3. ^ Minutes of the Annual Meeting of The Old German Baptist Brethren Church May 30-June 2, 2009. Published by "The Vindicator"
  4. ^ Charter-Agreement Old German Baptist Brethren Church (New Conference)
  5. ^ Polity Statement, Old German Baptist Brethren Church (New Conference) July 3, 2009
  6. ^ Minutes of the Annual Meeting of The Old German Baptist Brethren Church May 22–25, 2010. Published by "The Vindicator".
  7. ^ "The Vindicator"

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