The Schwarzenau (German Baptist) Brethren, originated in Germany, the outcome of one of many Pietistic movements of the 17th century. In Germany they became known as Neue Täufer (New Baptists), in distinction from the older Anabaptist groups. In the United States they became popularly known as Dunkers, Dunkards or Tunkers, corruptions of the German verb tunken, to dip.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Beliefs and Practices
3 Divisions
4 Brethren World Assembly
5 Unrelated Brethren
6 References
7 External links
8 The Brethren Card


The Schwarzenau Brethren was founded in 1708 by Alexander Mack (1679-1735) of Schwarzenau, Germany, and seven of his followers. They believed that both the Lutheran and Reformed churches were taking liberties with the literal teachings of the Scriptures, and rejected infant baptism. The Brethren were compelled by persecution to take refuge in Holland. In 1719 Peter Becker brought a group to Pennsylvania. In 1720 forty Brethren families settled in Surhuisterveen in West Friesland. They settled among the Mennonites and remained there until 1729, when all but a handful emigrated to America. The first American congregation was organized at Germantown, Pennsylvania on December 25, 1723 by Peter Becker. In 1743 Christopher Sauer, an early pastor and a printer by trade, printed the first Bible published in America in a European language. In 1782 the Brethren forbade slaveholding by its members. These Brethren adopted the title German Baptist Brethren at their Annual Meeting in 1871. From Pennsylvania they spread chiefly westward, and by 1908 were most numerous in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and North Dakota.

Alexander Mack and his followers were influenced and encouraged by Ernest Christopher Hochmann von Hochenau, a traveling pietist minister. Mack, while living in Schriesheim, invited Hochmann to come and minister there. Hochmann considered the pure church to be spiritual, and did not believe that an organized church was necessary. This was the main point of difference between Hochmann and Mack, who believed in the necessity of the visible church with clergy and ordinances.

Beliefs and Practices

The beliefs of the Schwarzenau Brethren include one self-existing supreme ruler of the universe; the Godhead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; trine baptism, which provides that the candidate kneel in water and be immersed, face first, three times in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the New Testament as the infallible guide in spiritual matters; communion service celebrated in the evening, accompanied by the love feast; the ceremony of the washing of feet; the salutation of the holy kiss; prayer and anointing with oil over the sick; and non-resistance. See also #The Brethren Card below.

The church officers are bishops, ministers, teachers, deacons, and deaconesses, though this may vary slightly in the various branches. Elder (or bishop) is the highest office in the church. Ministers and deacons are elected by the members of the congregation where they hold membership. Ministers preach the word, baptize, assist elders in anointing, solemnize marriages, and officiate at communion. Deacons serve the church in the capacity of stewards.


The first schism from the general body of German Baptist Brethren occurred in 1728. They became the Seventh Day Dunkers, whose distinctive principle was that the seventh day was the true Sabbath. They were founded by Johann Conrad Beissel (1690-1768). In 1732 a semi-monastic community with a convent and a monastery was established at Ephrata, in what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The monastic feature was gradually abandoned, and in 1814 the Society was incorporated as the Seventh Day German Baptist Church (which continued until 1934). A group called the Church of God or New Dunkers withdrew in 1848, and disbanded in 1962. The "Old Order" Dunkers opposed Sunday Schools and the foreign missionary work of the Brethren, and stressed the old customs of dress and worship. They formed the Old German Baptist Brethren in 1881. In 1882 the Progressives, who stressed evangelism and objected to distinctive dress and to the supremacy of the annual conferences, formed the Brethren Church. The largest body continued as German Baptist Brethren until 1908, when they adopted the title Church of the Brethren.

In 1913 the Old Brethren withdrew from the Old German Baptist Brethren and the Old Order German Baptist Brethren broke with the OGGB in 1921. Because of what some felt was a gradual drift away from apostolic standards, a small group of conservatives withdrew from the Church of the Brethren and formed the Dunkard Brethren Church in 1926. The Brethren Church experienced a schism in 1939 with the departure of those who formed the National Fellowship of Brethren Churches (now Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches). In 1992, due to doctrinal disagreements in the FGBC, the Conservative Grace Brethren Churches, International was formed (with headquarters in Mansfield, Ohio). In the 21st century there are seven or eight bodies descended from the Schwarzenau Brethren of Germany.

Brethren World Assembly

Six Brethren bodies presently (2003) meet together in the Brethren World Assembly - Church of the Brethren, Conservative Grace Brethren Churches, International, Dunkard Brethren, Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, Old German Baptist Brethren, and The Brethren Church. The first Assembly was held in Pennsylvania in 1992. They met at Elizabethtown College and celebrated the 250th anniversary of the first known Brethren Annual Meeting, which gathered near Conestoga in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1742. The second Assembly met in 1998 at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia. The third Assembly was held by Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana in 2003. This represents some 600,000 members around the world.

Unrelated Brethren

There are several Brethren groups that are not related to the Schwarzenau Brethren movement, such as the Plymouth Brethren that arose in England and Ireland early in the 19th century, and the United Brethren originating in 18th century Pennsylvania with William Otterbein and Martin Boehm. The River Brethren movement evidently learned the view of trine immersion from the Schwarzenau Brethren.


  • History Of the German Baptist Brethren in Europe and America, by Martin Grove Brumbaugh
  • Meet the Brethren, Donald F. Durnbaugh, editor
  • The Brethren Encyclopedia, Volumes 1-4, Donald F. Durnbaugh, editor
  • The Dunkers: A Sociological Interpretation, by John Lewis Gillin

External links

The Brethren Card

Brethren beliefs are commonly found in the statement of faith sometimes known as the "Brethren Card". The following Card is one belonging to the Church of the Brethren group:

  • 1. This body of Christians originated early in the eighteenth century the church being a natural outgrowth of the Pietistic movement following the Reformation.
  • 2. Firmly accepts and teaches the fundamental evangelical doctrines of the inspiration of the Bible, the personality of the Holy Spirit, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the sin-pardoning value of his atonement, his resurrection from the tomb, ascension and personal and visible return and the resurrection, both of the just and unjust (John 5:28,29; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).
  • 3. Observes the following New Testament rites: Baptism of penitent believers by trine immersion for the remission of sins (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2: 38); feet-washing (John 13:1-20; 1 Tim. 5:10); love feast (Luke 22:20; John 13:4; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Jude 12); communion (Matt. 26: 26-30); the Christian salutation (Rom. 16:16; Acts 20:37); proper appearance in worship (1 Cor. 11:2-16); the anointing for healing in the name of the Lord (James 5:13-18; Mark 6:13); laying on of hands (Acts 8:17; 19:6; 1 Tim. 4:14).
These rites are representative of spiritual facts which obtain in the lives of true believers, and as such are essential factors in the development of the Christian life.
  • 4. Emphasizes: daily devotion for the individual,and family worship for the home (Eph. 6:18-20; Philpp. 4:8,9); stewardship of time, talents and money (Matt. 25:14-30); taking care of the fatherless, widows, poor, sick and aged (Acts 6:1-7).
  • 5. Opposes on Scriptural grounds: War and the taking of human life (Matt. 5:21-26,43,44; Rom. 12:19-21; Isa. 53:7-12); violence in personal and industrial controversy (Matt 7:12; Rom. 13:8-10); intemperance in all things (Titus 2:2; Gal, 5:19-26; Eph. 5:18); going to law, especially against our Christian brethren (1 Cor. 6:1-9); divorce and remarriage, except for the one Scriptural reason (Matt 19:9); every form of oath (Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12); membership in secret oath-bound societies (2 Cor. 6:14-18); games of chance and sinful amusements (1 Thess. 5:22; 1 Pet. 2:11; Rom. 12:17); extravagant and immodest dress (1 Tim. 2:8-10; 1 Peter 3:1-6).
  • 6. Labors earnestly, in harmony with the Great Commission, for the evangelization of the world; for the conversion of men to Jesus Christ; and for the realization of the life of Jesus Christ in every believer (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16; 2 Cor. 3:18).
  • 7. Maintains the New Testament as its only creed, in harmony with which the above brief doctrinal statement is made.

The teachings of the other groups are similar to this, but differ mainly in emphasis and scope. Several of the groups use as a motto the clause, "the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible". Significant emphasis is placed on careful exegesis of the Bible, especially in the Grace Brethren groups. Several of the groups now maintain a larger "statement of faith" (in lieu of the above Card), but only for the purpose of clarifying their Biblical position; they maintain that the Bible is the sole authority and revise their statement of faith if they perceive any difference between it and sound Biblical doctrine.