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UNITED BRETHREN IN CHRIST.
BY THE REV. WILLIAM HANBY,
This denomination took its rise in the United States, about the year 1755, and is distinguished from the Old United Brethren or Moravian Church, by the additional phrase of “In Christ.”
In 1752, William Otterbein, a distinguished German divine, came to America, being at that time a minister of the German Reformed Church; he soon became convinced, after his arrival in this country, of the necessity of a deeper work of grace being wrought on his heart than he had ever, as yet, received. He accordingly rested not, day nor night, until he found the Lord precious to his soul, in the full and free pardon of all his sins. He immediately commenced preaching the doctrines of a spiritual and holy life. After having been persecuted for some years, for preaching the doctrines of the Reformation, he virtually withdrew from his mother church, and commenced labouring for the conversion of souls in connexion with two German divines by the name of Beohm and Geeting, who had also deeply engaged in the work of Reformation. In 1771, Messrs. Asbury and Wright, came over from England, under the direction of the Rev. J. Wesley, and commenced as co-workers with these German brethren; and so united were they at that time, in their labours of love, that one branch was called “ Methodist,” and the other "German Methodist;" though the German brethren, at that time anticipated an organization of their own. In 1784, at the request of the Rev. F. Asbury, William Otterbein, assisted Dr. Coke, in his (Asbury's) ordination, who was the first bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church in America.
The number of German Brethren increased rapidly, and numerous societies were formed, and the gracious work spread through the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. 'Great meetings were appointed annually, and on these occasions Otterbein would lay before the Brethren, the importance of the ministry, and the necessity of their utmost endeavours to save souls.
At one of these meetings, it was resolved that a conference should be held, in order to take into consideration, how, and in what manner they might be most useful.
The first conference was accordingly held in the city of Baltimore, Md., in 1789. The following preachers were present :
William Otterbein, Martin Beohm, George A. Geeting, Christian Newcomer, Adam Lohman, John Ernst, Henry Weidner.
In the mean time, the number of members continued to increase, and the preachers were obliged to appoint an annual conference, in order to unite themselves more closely, and labour more successfully in the vineyard of the Lord; for some were Presbyterians or German Reformed, some were Lutherans, others Mennonites, and some few Methodists. They accordingly appointed an annual conference, which convened in Maryland, in 1800. They there united themselves into a society which bears the name of " United Brethren in Christ," and elected William Otterbein and Martin Beohm, as superintendents or, bishops; and agreed that each should act according to his own convictions as to the mode of baptism. The rapid increase of members and ministers was such, that the want of some general regulations, by which all should be governed, was deeply felt, for, as yet, they had no Discipline. It was resolved that a General Conference should be held to accomplish that object, in a manner not derogatory to the word of God. The members of this conference were to be elccted from among the preachers, by a vote of the members throughout the whole society in general.
The conference was accordingly held in 1815, at Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, and after mature deliberation, a Discipline was presented containing the doctrines and rules for the government of the church.
As William Otterbein was the principal instrument under God, in founding the Brethren Church, a few remarks in reference to this good man, may not be out of place here. He was born in Nassau Dillingburg, Germany, on the 6th day of March, 1726, and died November 17th, 1813, in the 88th year of his age. He resided 26 years in Germany, and 61 years in America; all of which latter term he laboured in the ministry. He was considered a ripe scholar in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Philosophy and Divinity. The following is a specimen of the exalted views entertained by Bishop Asbury, of this divine: “Is father Otterbein dead? Great and good man of God! An honour to his church and country; one of the greatest scholars and divines that ever came to America, or born in it. Alas, the chiefs of the Germans are gone to their rest and reward—taken from the evil to come.” (Asbury's Letter, under date of Nov. 1813.)
The same reverend gentleman, in preaching the funeral sermon of Martin Beohm, in the same year, speaks thus of Otterbein: “ Preeminent among these, is William Otterbein, who assisted in the ordination of your speaker, to the superintendency of the Methodist Episcopal Church. William Otterbein was regularly ordained to the ministry in the German Presbyterian Church. He is one of the best scholars and greatest divines in America. Why then is he not where he began ?” (alluding to his having to leave his old church because of persecution.) “Alas for us,” says the bishop, “the zealous are necessarily so, those whose cry has been, ' Put me into the priest's office, that I may eat a morsel of bread ! Osterwald has observed, Hell is full of the skulls of unfaithful ministers!' Such was not Beohm, such is not Otterbein ; and now, his sun of life is setting in brightness ; behold, the saint of God leaning upon his staff waiting for the chariots of Israel.”
The doctrines of the Brethren Church, may be summed up in the following items :
1st. They believe in the only true God, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; that these three are one, the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father, and the Holy Ghost equal in essence or being with both. That this triune God created the heavens and the earth, and all that in them is, visible as well as invisible, and sustains, governs and supports the same.
2d. They believe in Jesus Christ, that he is very God and man; that he became incarnate by the Holy Ghost in the Virgin Mary, and was born of her; that he is the Saviour and Mediator of the whole human race, if they with full faith accept the grace proffered in Jesus. That this Jesus suffered and died on the cross for us; was buried and rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God to intercede for us, and that he shall come again at the last day to judge the quick and dead.
3d. They believe in the Holy Ghost; that he is equal in being with the Father and Son; and that he comforts the faithful, and guides them into all truth.
4th. They believe in a Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
5th. They believe that the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments,
is the word of God; that it contains the only true way to our salvation; that every true Christian is bound to receive it with the influence of the Spirit of God, as the only rule and guide ; that without faith in Jesus Christ, true repentance, forgiveness of sins, and following after Christ, no one can be a true Christian.
6th. They believe that the fall in Adam and redemption through Jesus Christ, shall be preached throughout the world.
7th. They believe also, that the ordinances, namely: baptism and the remembrance of the sufferings and death of Christ, are to be in use, and practised by all Christian societies, but the manner of which ought always to be left to the judgment of every individual. The example of washing the saints' feet is left to the judgment of all to practise or not.
As brevity is desired, a few extracts, in substance, from the Constitution and General Rules of the Church, will be sufficient for present purposes.
1st. All ecclesiastical power, to make or repeal any rule of discipline, is vested in a General Conference, which shall consist of elders elected by the lay members of the whole church.
2d. General Conferences shall be held every four years, the bishops to be considered members and presiding officers.
3d. The General Conference shall at every session elect one or more bishops, who shall serve as such for four years only, unless reelected.
4th. No rule shall be passed at any time, to change the Confession of Faith as it now stands, or do away the itinerant plan.
5th. No rule shall be adopted that will deprive local preachers of membership in annual conferences.
6th. Free-Masonry, in every sense of the word, is totally prohibited and in no way tolerated in the Brethren Church.
7th. All slavery, in every sense of the word, is prohibited. Should any be found in our church, who hold slaves, they cannot continue as members, unless they do personally manumit or set free such slaves.
8th. The vending or distillation of ardent spirits is prohibited in our church, for medical and mechanical purposes excepted; should any members be found dealing in the unholy traffic, they must desist or cease to be members.
The Brethren Church have three orders of Conferences, to wit: quarterly, annual, and general. A quarterly conference meets every three months; and is composed of all the class-leaders, stewards, exhorters, local and travelling preachers within the bounds of a circuit or station, with the presiding elder at the head, as president.
Annual conferences meet annually, and are composed of all the preachers within the specified bounds thereof, with the bishops as presiding officers. At annual conferences, the labours and moral de. portment of all the preachers are examined, the boundaries of circuits and stations defined, applications to the ministry received or rejected, presiding elders elected, preachers stationed, and elders ordained..
General Conference is the highest tribunal in the church, is the law. making department for the whole body, and is composed of elders elected by the laity of the church. Each annual conference district is allowed to send three delegates to General Conference.
The Brethren Church recognises but one order in the ministry, only that of ordained elders, who, by virtue of their ordination, administer the ordinances of God's house, and solemnize the rites of matrimony.
Numerous offices are recognised in the church, such as class-leaders, stewards, preachers-in-charge, presiding elders, and bishops.
It is the duty of leaders to attend strictly to the classes assigned them, and meet them once a week for prayer or class meeting, and to admonish their members to lead a holy life.
The duty of stewards is to attend to the pecuniary wants of the ministers.
A preacher-in-charge, supposes two preachers to be on one circuit, and that he has the oversight, and it is his duty to attend to the general regulations of his circuit.
A presiding elder is an officer elected by the annual conference from among the ordained elders, and it is his duty to travel over a specified number of circuits, and hold, as president, quarterly con
All candidates for the ministry, after having received license to preach, must stand a probation of three years, before they can be ordained as elders.