Who are the Brethren?
• Common Strands • Today
• Open and Affirming • Commitment
to Peace and Justice • Organization
• Beliefs and Practices
We are affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, a church that understands
itself to be continuing the work of Jesus: peacefully, simply, and together.
Simply put, we are a Christian community that believes in doing what Jesus
did: helping people meet the practical and spiritual needs of day-to-day
life. Using the New Testament as our creed and guide, we encourage a faith
rooted in relationship with Christ and respectful of each person's voice;
we maintain an unflagging commitment to peacemaking and reconciliation;
and we reach out to all people as God's children, our brothers and our
sisters. We are a church and a people who put faith into action, who seek
to live for the glory of God and our neighbor's good.
The Church of the Brethren originated in Germany in 1708 when a small
group of believers committed themselves to put into practice the teachings
of the New Testament. The Church of the Brethren is one of the historic
peace churches along with the Quakers and Mennonites, begun in oppotistion
to the rigid state churches in Europe and claiming Anabaptism and Pietism
as its theological roots. Within 25 years most of the early Brethren had
emigrated to colonial Pennsylvania for greater religious freedom.
"We think of ourselves as a family, and we continue to recall that
which binds us to one another. We see beauty in the tapestry of Brethren
diversity and identify dominant threads that hold the design together
and make it unique.
"Conviction. We don't all describe our faith the same way. Some
of us have difficulty voicing it at all. Yet repeatedly Brethren have
sacrificed homes, work, and life itself to do what they believed discipleship
required. Brethren are a people of conviction.
"Covenant. We insist you cannot be Christian alone. Our name was
chosen to express the deep ties that bind us to one another as brothers
and sisters in the faith family. Allegiance to Christ is central. Brethren
are a people of covenant.
"Compassion. We love to quote Matthew 25:40, 'Just as you did it
to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it
to me' (NSRV). That text has inspired a remarkable record of human service.
Brethren are a people of compassion.
"Conversation. We stubbornly defend our cherished beliefs and practices.
Yet we insist believers must regularly gather around the Word to discover
the fresh truth the Spirit reveals. Open discussions of all aspects of
faith and practice shape our life. Brethren are a people of conversation.
"Conviction, covenant, compassion, conversation-these are the common
strands in the Brethren fabric. They show what is essential and singular
about Brethren and offer a design for describing what we say and do."
(Who Are These Brethren?, by Joan Deeter, Brethren Press, 1991, 1995.)
The Church of the Brethren has congregations in Nigeria, the Dominican
Republic, Brazil, and the United States where there are 150,000 in 1000
congregations. Peace Church is one of the 16 congregations in the Oregon
Washington District. The denominational headquarters are located in Elgin,
Illinois. Our denomination sponsors Bethany Theological Seminary (Richmond,
IN), six colleges, 25 retirement communities, and 30 camps. Regional conferences,
national young adult conferences, international work camps for youth and
young adults, camping programs for all ages, and district and national
church gatherings regularly provide times for worship, reflection, fellowship,
and service. As a congregation and a denomination, we cooperate locally,
nationally, and internationally with those of other Christian denominations
and other faiths. The Church of the Brethren is a member of the National
Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.
Peace Church is a member congregation of the Supportive Congregations
Network (SCN), a group of Brethren and Mennonite congregations which are
publicly "open and affirming." Open and affirming congregations
welcome the full membership and participation of lesbians, gays, bisexual,
and transsexual persons. Peace Church also participates in Portland's
Community of Welcoming Congregations.
The Brethren commitment to peace and justice has been instrumental in
establishing a number of ecumenical efforts:
- Civilian Public Service (for conscientious objectors)
- Church World Service/CROP (providing hunger relief world-wide)
- Heifer Project International (for agricultural development)
- International Christian Youth Exchange (sponsoring student exchanges)
Denomination-based efforts to reach out to those in need throughout the
- Brethren Volunteer Service
- Disaster relief efforts, including disaster child care
- SERRV (markets for crafts from artisans' cooperatives from around
- Global Food Crisis Fund
- Global mission partnerships
- Youth/Young Adult Workcamps
Peace Church is served by an Executive Board, guiding its decisions and
actions. The congregation is affiliated with Ecumenical Ministries of
Oregon and the Community of Welcoming Congregations.
The final authority of the Church of the Brethren rests with its members.
Each year delegates from every congregation and every district gather
together at Annual Conference as a deliberative body under the guidance
of the Holy Spirit. Annual Conference is the highest and final legislative
authority in the Church of the Brethren. Delegates and other attenders
receive reports, review policies and papers, worship and pray, and engage
one another in formal and informal sessions. Annual Conference elects
a General Board to oversee denominational staff and carry out the wishes
of the delegate body.
Districts are organized by geographic regions to deliver information
from Annual Conference to the local church and back again. Districts are
charged with recognition and support of licensed and ordained ministers
and operate camps for year-round activities. Peace Church if a member
congregation of the Oregon Washington District with two camps-Camp Myrtlewood
located in the southern coastal mountains near Coos Bay, OR; and Camp
Koinonia in the foothills of the Cascades near Cle Elum, Wa.
At Peace Church, as in other Church of the Brethren congregations, individuals
are invited to join in membership through:
- Transfer of membership, or
- Reaffirmation of faith
We baptize by immersion. We refer to our practice as "believers'
baptism" because this is a rite reserved for people mature enough
to understand the meaning of choosing to follow the way of Jesus Christ.
Baptism is the beginning of a person's life of faith, an outward sign
of an inward conviction. Some people who are baptized as children choose
to re-baptize in this way, but this is not necessary to become a member.
If you have already been baptized in another church, you can join Peace
Church through transferring your membership from another congregation
or through publicly reaffirming your faith.
Membership classes are available for anyone at any time upon request.
All who are interested are welcome to explore church membership regardless
of gender, race, sexual orientation, marital status, or any way in which
one may be differently-abled. Please see the pastor if you are interested
in joining us.
- Baptism One of the central practices of the church, baptism, got the
Brethren into serious trouble. When the Brethren movement was new three
hundred years ago, church officials in Germany asked us to bring our
babies for baptism, but we refused. Why? Don't little children belong
to the church just as lambs belong to the flock? Of course, they do,
but, as Brethen believe, not my baptism. IN the New Testament, to be
baptized was to enlist in a very dangerous service, and it cost some
people their lives. Jesus warns us to "count the cost" of
faith (luke 14:28) before we make such a serious commitment. So if baptism
is risky, the Brethren reason, the decision to be baptized ought to
be made with great care by adults. The warning to "count the cost'
took on special significance in the early days of our denomination when
people were fined, imprisoned, and sometimes tortured for going against
the law to be baptized as adults. While Brethren are no longer tortured,
baptism is till an important decision that only people at the age of
reason can make freely. Enlisting as a disciple of Jesus means taking
stands that may be unpopular in our time and culture, so Brethren don't
ask to be baptized until we have a good idea what we are asking for.
Baptism is, after all, a commitment to live as a follower of Jesus,
not an insurance policy against eternal punishment. While little children
are not considered members of the church, they "belong" to
the church from an early age. We celebrate their presence in the church
with a rite of child consecration in which parents offer their children
to God and to the care of the congregation. In response the congregation
pledges its support to rear the children of the church, guiding them
toward a decision for faith.
- Simplicity There are Bible verses that convince Brethren that the
Christian life is the simple life (Matt. 5:37, Phil. 4:11, Rom. 12:2).
We call it "nonconformity," that is, nonconformity to the
ways of the world. Maybe it would be better to call the simple life
"conformity," conformity to the gospel. At one time Brethren
believed that to live simply meant to dress simply. In those days we
had a uniform style of dress, but that was not the true meaning of simplicity.
In another era, we defined simplicity as possessing few material things,
but that did not get to the heart of the matter either. Our nickname
said it best. At one time, we were called a "peculiar people,"
meaning that we were distinct from others. We stoof apart. We tried
to be nonconformists, rejecting the materialism and notoriety that the
world prizes. As our society becomes more and more complex, the search
for the simplicity of God and faith becomes increasingly more important
to us. It is easy to look around and see that there are sharp differences
between what the world values and what the gospel values. But it is
not so easy to know how best to define the different way of living to
which we feel called. Although our search for simplicity has led us
down some blind alleys, it has also shaped our lives in good ways. Brethren
have shunned formal titles, cared for the environment, furnished our
houses of worship simply, prized peace over prosperity, and valued relationships
over things. We have stopped trying to legislate the simple life; instead,
as Jesus has taught us, we have tried to instill in our community of
believers a view of the world that values the essential things over
the quantity of things. Concentration on the essential things leaves
us less time to worry about things that don't matter. In that way we
are more likely to live the simple life by default than by design.
- Jesus Who is Jesus? We Brethren like to think we are, at least in
the sense that we are the hands and feet of Jesus, carrying on his work
in the world. It is this emphasis on doing the work rather than believing
alone that distinguishes the Brethren. Beliefs are important, but they
alone do not define faith in Jesus Christ. What we know about Jesus
comes from the New Testament. Like other Christian groups, Brethren
see scripture that Jesus is both human and divine, but Brethren are
careful in the way we talk about Jesus, avoiding definitions that are
too narrow. The New Testament uses many different titles for Jesus and
many metaphors to describe him. The various New Testament writers even
seem to have different beliefs about Jesus. Somewhere in the midst of
these is a fuller picture. And because the New Testament allows mlany
understandings of Jesus, Brethren are also tolerant of a variety of
ways of seeing Jesus. Of all these images and definitions, Brethren
rely most heavily on the example Jesus set for us in his life and ministry.
"I have set an example that you also should do as I have odne to
you" (John 13:15). If we take Jesus seriously, we are to live our
lives following in the footsteps of the Master (1 Pet. 2:21). In these
images of Jesus, we see the fully human Jesus showing us what it is
to be a full human being. We also understand something about the nature
of God from the life and death of Jesus, so we claim that Jesus was
divine as well, though we admit we can't spell out just exactly how
this blend of divine and human works in Jesus. We remember all to clearly,
however, that lives were lost when, in the fourth century, Christians
fought each other over definitions of the nature of Jesus. Brethren
have refused to adopt any certain definition of Jesus. Nor will we test
the faith of others by whether or not they agree with our view of Jesus.
It is hard enough to follow the way of Jesus, his service to others,
and his call to draw nearer to God. IN the end, we believe Jesus called
us to trust him and to follow him, not to define him.
- Creeds When asked about our creed, Brethren say, "We have no
creed but the New Testament." Brethren are not opposed to reciting
creeds in worship, but we have always been reluctant to make official
creedal statement. We believe what many other Christians believe. So
why do we resist stating our beliefs as official doctrines of the Brethren?
Do Brethren lack conviction? To the contrary, Brethren have solid convictions
and deep faith. But Brethren put more emphasis on obedience to the teachings
of Jesus than on specific doctrines, more emphasis on doing than on
saying. After all, the most frequent command on Jesus' lips was, "Follow
me!" We have nurtured a general suspicion that an overemphasis
on creeds has a tendency to skew the Christisn faith away from obedience,
making faith into an intellectual proposition only. The very idea of
turning Christianity into intellectual doctrines and then fighting about
them is detestable to Brethren. ON that score, Brethren speak from experience,
having been on the receiving end of persecution because we refused to
accept the creeds of other churches three centuries ago. It became apparent
to us that creeds are often used not to confess our faith, but to test
someone else's faith. One thing we can confess freely is that we do
not understand everything perfectly. To create a creed may "freeze"
our thinking at an imperfect level. As one early Brethren put it, "We
might have new light tomorrow." We feat that forming a creed will
represent an end to greater insight along the road of faith. Perhaps
not having a creed puts us at a disadvantage; when asked about our beliefs,
we cannot recite a handy formula. But, in another way, the absence of
a creed is an advantage. Who can improve on the New Testament? We offer
it as our only creed and say, "Let's get together and figure it
- Salvation The Brethren get a little uncomfortable when someone aske,
"Are you saved?" This is not an easy question to answer in
the moment, because Brethren understand salvation as an ongoing process.
We identify with Paul in the Bible when he says, "Not that I have
already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press
on to make it my own" (Phil. 3:12). Life is a pilgrimage, a journey,
an experience of daily drawing closer to God. To claim that we are saved
is to cut short the journey and stunt our spiritual growth. When it's
all said and done, salvation is a mystery that belongs to God. It is
God's business whether we are saved or not. It is our business to respond,
to obey, God, to live as followers. WE trust that God will be just and
loving when we're judged, but when we are asked if we are actually saved,
our response can only be, "That's God's decision." With any
other answer, we would be assuming too much for God. There is a story
of a woman who walked around with a bucket of water and a flaming torch.
When asked what she was doing, she replied that she wanted to put out
the flames of hell and burn up the rewards of heaven so that people
would worship and serve God not to save themselves, but for the sheer
joy of God alone. Brethren want to be drawn into the pilgrimage toward
God by the sheer beauty of God, the deep joy in the Spirit, and the
clarity of the call of Christ. Promises of salvation are almost irrelevant.