The Brethren Church is one of several groups that traces its origins back to the Schwarzenau Brethren of Germany. In the mid 1800s, the church began to struggle over modernization. Progressives stressed evangelism, objected to distinctive dress, and objected to the supremacy of the annual conferences. In 1882, progressive leader Henry Holsinger, who was the publisher of The Progressive Christian, was disfellowshipped from the Annual Meeting. He and others organized The Brethren Church in 1883 at Dayton, Ohio with about 6000 members. The Progressive Christian was renamed The Brethren Evangelist and is still published quarterly by the church. Ashland College, which had been founded in 1878, came under the control of the Brethren Church.
The early years after the division were difficult for the new body, yet they quickly went about emphasizing and developing positions that had estranged them from the more conservative Brethren - education, theological training for ministers, the ordination of women, and home & foreign missions. Like many mainstream denominations, between 1913 and 1920 the Brethren Church suffered from the fundamentalism versus liberalism controversy. This was ended in 1921, when the church adopted a conservative statement of faith and practice. Many liberals withdrew to join other denominations more favorable to their positions. The fundamentalist strength developed and played into a later division. Perhaps the most important issue was that the conservatives/fundamentalists wanted to convert Ashland College into a Bible college, while the "traditionalists" wanted it to remain an accredited liberal arts college. In 1939 the denomination divided almost evenly, with the new body becoming the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches.
The Brethren Church is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals. They operate Ashland University and Ashland Theological Seminary (org. 1906) in Ashland, Ohio, where they also maintain international headquarters. In 1999 there were 13,227 members in 118 congregations. The geographical center for the body is Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.