Peace Church has been an active congregation in Portland since 1904. The congregation moved from north Portland to its present location in 1956. Other community groups use the building for meetings occasionally. Brethren beliefs include a passion for Peace and Justice.
Peace Church of the Brethren conducts itself through the Executive Board, which oversees activities through Witness, Nurture and Christian Education, and the Stewards. Generally, the Board meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at the church, and meetings are open to anyone who wishes to attend. The current Moderator of the board is Jim Mller. The Steward is Ed Rainey. Recording Secretary is Jean Keith-Altemus. Other board members include: Brent Carlson, Charles Smith, Sherry Fancher, Eileen Fiegenbaum, Patrick Fiegenbaum, Robert Dickinson and Eric Switzer. The Office Secretary is Bobbi Arriaga
Who are the Brethren? Brethren Beliefs
Heritage • Common Strands • Today • Open and Affirming • Commitment to Peace and Justice • Organization • Beliefs and Practices
An Open and Affirming Congregation
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.
Commitment to Peace and Justice
The Brethren commitment to peace and justice has been instrumental in establishing a number of ecumenical efforts:
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.
At Peace Church, as in other Church of the Brethren congregations, individuals are invited to join in membership through:
Beliefs and Practices
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 Brethren believe, not by 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.
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.
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.
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 out.”
The Brethren get a little uncomfortable when someone asks, “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.