Table of Contents

 

Foreword

 

Today is built on yesterday. We are creatures of time, and although God has put eternity in the hearts of His people, each moment of time He gives us is lived out under the influence of what is past. . . history.

 

It is often said that the main thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn anything from history. There is a measure of truth in this over-generalization, reflected in the fact that some negative patterns of behavior are repeated generation after generation.

 

In addition to our chronic human failure to learn what we should from history, it appears that the influence of existentialism in the Western world has robbed us of an appreciation for history. History doesn’t make sense, the existentialists say. Admittedly, the complex events and obscure motives in any period of history, along with unknown or unavailable pieces of the puzzle, pose a great challenge to the student of history.

 

In the late 20th century mind-set, there is another ingredient to complicate things. The revisionist mentality distorts historical material in various ways with a political or ideological agenda that sadly destroys the integrity of transmission, and particularly hurts the upcoming generations.

 

All of this notwithstanding, there are many who value history. Whether we recognize and admit it or not, today is indeed built on yesterday. The past does influence the present and the future. Whether we are taken up with our “roots” or not, impulsive decisions as well as wise decisions are made in a setting of and are influenced by that which is past.

 

Bible-believing people have a particular respect for history. The Bible is a historic document. While it speaks with supernatural authority about the future, a high percent of the Bible is history. In Romans 15:4-6, the apostle Paul tells us that only with a strong foundation in what Scripture tells us about the working of God in the past, along with the hope Scripture offers for the future, can people be prepared to live in the present for the glory of God.

 

The introductory statements in the book of Acts add another important perspective. The recorded events in the early months and years in the history of the Church are seen as a continuation of what Jesus began to do and teach during His earthly ministry. Even though the canon of inspired Scripture was complete when the Apostle John concluded the book of Revelation, the history of the Church continued. The ascended Christ continues His work by His Spirit and by His Word throughout the history of the Church even to our present day. We may regret the ingredients of Church history that are not honoring to God and His Work but we must not underestimate the fact the the program of our Lord in this age is the accomplishment of that which He predicted when He said, “I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). Christ is building His Church, and the record of this eternally significant work is of great value.

 

There is a small and relatively unnoticed part of church history that is the focus of the book you hold in your hand. Classed by historians as a “nonconformist” movement,[1] with a beginning in England and Ireland in the 1820s, the Brethren movement has developed as part of the mainstream of evangelical Christianity in the last two centuries. Within thirty years this movement extended to North America, and has continued to be active to the present.

 

For those of us who identify with the Brethren movement, the primitivistic approach to church doctrine and function is significant. The attempt to duplicate the New Testament Church in modern times is a worthy commitment.

 

This historical work seeks to establish a record of the local assemblies, some no longer in existence, that are part of the Brethren movement in North America. There is a particular focus of those assemblies that are sometimes identified as Christian Brethren. Since these autonomous assemblies do not have an organizational “headquarters” to co-ordinate or control their activities, there has been no central record of historical details of their existence or function. In this book, Robert Peterson establishes such a record.

 

I am personally grateful for the efforts of Mr. Peterson and for many who assisted him by contributing information from various areas. Mr. Peterson has done much of his research in the archives of Brethren material in the library at Emmaus Bible College, and we at the College have encouraged him in this work. But this historical piece is his work, and we commend him for making a valuable contribution to recorded information about the assemblies of North America. May the readers of this document be motivated to renew their efforts to honor Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the New Testament Church in theory and practice.

 

Dan H. Smith, Ed.D.

President, Emmaus Bible College


Acknowledgments

 

Many people, for many years, have discussed the need for a record of the Brethren assemblies in North America. David Rodgers, long associated with Emmaus Bible College and assemblies in Iowa and elsewhere, is one of these, and is the person who has done most to promote and encourage the writing of this book. He has provided continuing encouragement and has been an invaluable help in identifying and contacting people who could provide information, and urging their cooperation.

 

Emmaus Bible College, in the persons of Chancellor Dan Smith, Librarian John Rush, and several of the faculty, has been indispensable to this project: the Chancellor with his encouragement; the Librarian with his willingness to put the resources of the library at my disposal and for answering lots of questions; and the faculty who in several ways have encouraged me along the way and critiqued portions of the manuscript at various stages of writing.

 

Many respondents to the questionnaires sent to them have done much more than provide information about their own assemblies; they have provided assistance in the form of information and contacts for other assemblies. Many people have patiently responded several times to my repeated questioning.

 

When I have been reasonably satisfied with a draft for a certain region of the continent, I have sent it to a reviewer for comments, corrections, and additions. The assistance provided by the reviewers has been invaluable. Many reviewers have supplied a great amount of additional information and have obviously spent a considerable amount of time and energy in doing so.

 

To all these people, indispensable to this project, I give my heartfelt thanks. Special thanks go to my wife Jane who has traveled with me on various tasks related to the gathering of information; she has helped in interviewing people and has been patient and tolerant as I have put this all together.

 

And finally, I give my thanks to my Creator and Savior, Who put it in my heart to undertake this task, and Who has sustained me during its progress.


Introduction

 

On several occasions, Moses told the readers of his book of Deuteronomy to remember – to remember what God had done for them, to remember from whence they had come, to remember the promises and covenants of God. As William Oliver[2] has phrased it, Moses wanted to encourage forward movement as a result of a backward glance.

 

That desire among many of us has given rise to this book.

 

Who is this book about?

 

The question is not simple to answer. Briefly, we are writing about the histories of a linked set of evangelical local churches that are autonomous but not independent, whose central teaching is that of the Bible, whose central worship is at the Lord’s Supper, and whose governance is by plural leadership.

 

The word ‘linked’ is important here. The churches whose histories are described in this book are part of a network of local churches that have no central governing body. They interact through shared speakers, Bible Camps, Bible Conferences, Bible Schools, and many publications. They follow a pattern of governance and worship similar to that found and espoused in the New Testament. They typically celebrate the Lord’s Supper each Sunday. They promote the New Testament principle of the priesthood of all believers; that is, neither clergy nor any others are required as intermediaries between God and the believer.

 

The characteristics mentioned in the first paragraph of this section are met by a great number of churches, such as some of the nondenominated Bible Churches. But many of these are not a part of the network of local churches discussed in this book, some because they are not aware of them, and some by choice.

 

This network of churches began in the 1820s in England and Ireland, and soon spread to the rest of Britain, the European continent, and the world. It was a ‘back to the Bible’ movement, a breakaway from the idea of a state church, and a repudiation of the legalism then prevalent among many of the independent churches.[3] It was a movement convinced that the Body of Christ should not be divided into sects or denominations.

 

Believers should take no name that tends to separate them. They are Christians, and brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus, these churches collectively prefer not to have a name. They are not a denomination, if by that term one means having a central headquarters controlling the local churches. Nevertheless, a name is practically inevitable when writing about a particular subset of Christians or churches. Many of these linked churches refer to themselves as ‘brethren.’ Although that term is very general, ‘brethren’ is the term I will use throughout the book to mean specifically the linked churches under discussion. These churches have a habit of calling their churches ‘assemblies,’ another very general term; in this book ‘assemblies’ always means these individual linked churches.

 

This book is about those linked churches in North America. A convenient directory is provided by Walterick Publishers of Kansas City and called Address Book of Some Assemblies of Christians.[4] That directory contains a listing of the great majority of these churches in North America and the Islands of the Caribbean.

 

The ‘brethren movement’ divided into two sections in the 1840s along church governance lines. One segment felt that a ‘circle of fellowship’ of local churches should exist to which those local churches were collectively responsible. Others disagreed with this, asserting that local autonomy is of greater importance, and these are the ‘open brethren.’ This book is about the ‘open brethren.’

 

The churches organized into circles of fellowships are sometimes labeled ‘exclusive,’ which refers to their concept that all churches except those in their circle are excluded from their intimate fellowship. I make no attempt in this book to chronicle the history of the ‘exclusive’ assemblies on this continent. However, interaction between the two groups has been significant in the past, and in several instances I find it necessary to include a brief discussion of some ‘exclusive’ assemblies.

 

However, even the ‘open brethren’ churches are not uniform in their attitudes and procedures. For purposes of this book, I have included any assembly considering itself to be ‘open brethren’ and which has responded to our request for information.

 

 

Why This Book?

 

This book is intended as a source book of the origins of some assemblies in the United States and Canada. It is nonjudgmental. I have chosen not to analyze or editorialize. This is primarily a book of names, dates, how individual assemblies formed, and ‘the way things were,’ though I have tried to make it readable as a story. At the end of this volume, I compile a few statistics gleaned from this study, but leave it to the reader to interpret.

 

Several books have been written about the history of the brethren, but none has been devoted to a history of individual assemblies in North America. Many people have lamented this lack, particularly about the pioneer assemblies, or those with interesting histories that soon may be forgotten.

 

David Rodgers, Assistant to the Chancellor of Emmaus Bible College, has felt and expressed this need perhaps as much as anyone. When he first approached me about undertaking the task of developing the histories of assemblies on the North American continent, my first reaction was to point to the book My People, by Robert Baylis, then recently published.[5] Soon we realized that Mr. Baylis’ book did not address local assemblies, but rather took a broad sweep, beginning with the origins of the movement in the 1820s in England and Ireland, discussing brethren philosophies, institutions, and personalities, and their successes and failures.

 

So I was not able to shrink from the task on the grounds that it had already been done. Then I pointed out that it had taken me two years, with my wife’s help, to write the history of just the Colorado assemblies.[6] And I threw up other objections: many assemblies will not want their history told; memories are inaccurate; people and assemblies will be hurt because they have been omitted or because I didn’t get the story right, or because I said too much or didn’t say enough. But these hesitancies gradually faded as I prayed and considered the project. And so at the beginning of 1996, I committed before the Lord to undertake the work.

 

When we first undertook the writing of this book, we (David Rodgers, myself, and others) felt that by contacting perhaps a few dozen key people who knew much about developments in past generations, we would have gotten most of the information we needed. But we quickly learned that this was not to be, for several reasons. Some of the people so identified claimed to be too old to help. Some did not reply. Some gave information at odds with that from others.

 

We realized that we had to greatly expand our information base, and so we have contacted, or attempted to contact, every assembly in Canada and the United States listed in the Walterick Address Book for 1998. We have also contacted assemblies listed in later editions and have contacted people from assemblies listed in earlier editions, assemblies no longer in existence. Many of the current respondents have supplied information about those assemblies. Much information has been obtained from journal articles, newspaper articles, and from books.

 

Though some portions of the book will read as a story, much of it is simply documentary, containing not much more than names and dates. The coverage is uneven and there are significant gaps.  About 45% of the assemblies contacted in the U.S. and about 38% in Canada have responded to our requests for information. That is why the word ‘some’ is used in the title. This book describes those assemblies that have responded to our inquiries, or that we have knowledge of from other sources. Among those who responded, some gave minimal information, while others sent much material. The latter naturally get the most space in this book. The space given here to a particular assembly is thus not necessarily indicative of the vigor or importance of that assembly.

Many respondents have sent me histories of their assemblies that were prepared previous to or concurrent with the present project. These are identified in the appropriate sections. The reader will find much more information in those histories than I have been able to put into this book, much of it quite fascinating. These histories may be available from their authors or their assemblies.

 

In many cases, knowing that I couldn’t improve upon the writing used in those histories or reports, I have used phrases or sentences taken from those histories, with little editing. Articles published in magazines such as Letters of Interest and Uplook have been consulted, and in some cases I have used wording that I found there.

 

 

Terminology and Titles

 

The brethren have developed their own words and phrases for many functions of the church, and so it is useful to identify some of these here.

 

Breaking of Bread, the Lord’s Supper, Remembering the Lord, the Remembrance Meeting are all ways of identifying what most churches call communion. In this book, I use initial capitals to identify this service of worship.

 

In fellowship is brethren nomenclature for those people who are accepted as ‘members’ of the assembly according to some standard, always with the understanding of a God-honoring life, but sometimes with a more restricted meaning. It is the near-equivalent of membership in other churches.

 

Commendation is similar to the idea of ordination as used by many churches, though ‘ordination’ there has a more formal connotation. Not all assemblies use the word ‘commendation’ in the same way. Commendation, at its root, means an expression of confidence by the leadership of the assembly that the person is suited to a task, having been identified by the Holy Spirit as such. In some assemblies, it means little more than that; in others it implies an obligation to provide at least some financial support and perhaps a requirement of accountability to the commending assembly. I use the word in this book if the responding assembly has used it.

 

In most cases, I do not identify by name the workers commended to foreign fields or to ministry on the continent, for several reasons: there are thousands of these workers and their names can be found in various missionary publications; on occasion commendations have been withdrawn; in many cases, the list of names sent me was stated to be incomplete. So I usually avoid giving these names. However, exceptions have been made in a few cases for well-known missionaries from earlier days or because some other connection made it seem desirable.

 

Many of the people in this history have the secular or theological title “Dr.”, which can refer to Ph.D., Th.D., Ed.D., M.D., or other degrees. In this book, all such titles are omitted. Within the Christian community, I believe we should not use such titles, for they tend to separate us into classes. I use the neutral designations Mr., Mrs., and Miss, and their plural forms.

Many of my respondents use the very acceptable terms “brother” and “sister.” I certainly have no objection to this, but repeated and continual use make the narrative seem stilted after a while. So I usually replace them with Mr., Mrs., or Miss, or use no designation at all.

 

The size of the various assemblies is of interest to many people. Exact size is difficult to measure, since most assemblies keep no formal membership lists. Sometimes different respondents have estimated differing numbers for the size of their assembly. The numbers can also change significantly from one year to the next. Nevertheless, I feel that the size of the assemblies collectively is of general interest, and in those cases where such numbers have been supplied, I use them, and attempt to say whether the number refers to average attendance or to those in fellowship. And when I say, for example, “About 100 are in fellowship. . .” it must be understood that this refers to the situation near the end of the 20th century.

 

Names of individuals were often presented to me with variant spellings, and I have attempted to use the spelling I think most likely. The starting dates of assemblies frequently differ by a year or two, depending on the respondent.

 

Without question, many errors will be found in this book, along with significant omissions. Readers are encouraged to contact the author with such information. If a sufficient number of significant changes and additions become available, a published (paper) edition may be created at a future date.

 


About the Author

 

Robert L. Peterson lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife Jane. They have five grown children and many grandchildren. Mr. Peterson is an elder at Fairview Bible Chapel, east of Boulder, and is the author of several books and articles on Christian themes.

 

He obtained a Metallurgical Engineer degree from the Colorado School of Mines in 1952, followed by a Master of Science degree from Lehigh University in 1954. He was then drafted into the U.S. Army in which he served for two years. He returned to Lehigh and received a Ph. D. in theoretical physics in 1959.

 

He joined the faculty of Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland in 1959, and then the research staff of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado in 1963. He is the author of some 60 scientific papers on topics in magnetism, optics, semiconductors, and superconductors.

 

He retired from his research career in January 1996, and has continued his career in writing.



[1] Carins, Earle E., Christianity through the Centuries, Zondervan Publishing House, 1954, pp. 436-437.

[2] William Oliver, in Our Heritage: Assembly History in the Philadelphia Area, March 7, 1999; audio tape

[3] There are many books about the origins of the brethren. Two among the more recent ones are The Origins of the Brethren, by Harold H. Rowdon, Pickering & Inglis (1967); and History of the Brethren Movement, by F. Roy Coad, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1968).  The biography of Robert Chapman by the author, Robert C. Chapman, A Biography, by Robert L. Peterson, Loizeaux Brothers Publishers, New Jersey (1992) also has useful information about origins.

[4] Address Book of Some Assemblies of Christians, Walterick Publishers, Kansas City, Kansas; published annually.

[5] My People, by Robert H. Baylis, Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, IL (1995).

[6] Christian Assemblies on Mountain and Plain, a History of the Brethren in Colorado, by Robert L. Peterson, self-published, Boulder, CO (1992).

 

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