I. History to the Separation of 1882 and the Main Body or Conservative Dunkers since that Date.

Origin in Germany ( 1).

Emigration to America ( 2).

Development 1783-1882 ( 3).

The Ministry ( 4).

Creed, Government, and Present Condition ( 5).

The Division of 1882 ( 6).


II. The Progressive Dunkers.

Fundamental Cause of Separation ( 1)

Organization and Present Status ( 2)

Doctrine and Practise ( 3)


III. The Old Order Brethren



The Dunkers are a denomination of Christian Reformers which originated in Germany in 1708, and in 1719 and following years emigrated to America. The name is from the German tunken, "to dip," signifying their method of baptizing. Among themselves they are known as Brethren. The corporate and official name is German Baptist Brethren. Since 1882 there have been three branches: the Conservative Dunkers, Progressive Dunkers, and Old Order Brethren. For the Seventh-day Baptists, German, who were originally a secession from the Dunkers, see COMMUNISM, II., 5.


I. History to the Separation of 1882 and the Main Body or Conservative Dunkers since that Date: 1. Origin in Germany. Prior to 1708 there was a religious awakening in Europe, many earnest and pious people believing that the Lutheran Reformation did not reproduce the ideal Christianity demanded by the New Testament Scriptures. This condition prompted Alexander Mack (b. in Schriesheim--in Baden, 5 in. n.n.w. of Heidelberg--Germany, 1679; d. at Germantown, Pa., Jan. 18, 1735) and several others of like convictions, residing at Schwarzenau in Wittgenstein, Westphalia, to study the Scriptures independent of all creeds and to submit themselves wholly to the guidance of the Word. Mack was a Calvinist, and well-to-do miller at this time. Knowing of no religious body, accepting the teaching of the New Testament as it appealed to them, they agreed to enter upon a life of obedience to the Word as they understood it, form a society of religious believers, and trust the Lord for future developments. They accepted the Bible as the inspired Word of God and agreed to recognize the New Testament as their guide, but to accept new light as it came to them. Desiring to enter the covenant relation with Christ, they recognized that they must be baptized as he directed. This they understood to be trine immersion for penitent believers only. There were eight of them with Mack as their leader. The seven desired their leader to baptize them, but, as he believed he had never been baptized aright, himself, he declined to baptize others. It was then decided that one, to be selected by lot, should baptize Mack, and he the rest of them, which was done in 1708 in the river Eder. The eight then organized themselves into a society, chose Mack for their preacher, and commenced active work. The services clustering around the Last Supper became their model for the love-feast, hence they observed the rite of foot-washing, followed by an evening meal, and that by the loaf and cup; greeted each other with the kiss of charity; anointed their sick with oil; refused to take oaths or engage in lawsuits; held to the doctrine of non-resistance; became earnest advocates of plain attire; and refrained from attending places of amusement. Because of their claims of conformity to New Testament ideals, their zeal, and their simplicity, many were drawn to their ranks, and in the course of a few years there were hundreds of members, a number of ministers, and several churches in Germany, Holland, and Switzerland, the congregation at Schwarzenau being much the strongest.


2. Emigration to America. Though they were a peaceable and harmless people, persecutions soon arose and scattered and disheartened them, and they began emigrating to America, settling first at Germantown, Pa., where denominational headquarters were established. The first company, headed by Peter Becker, a minister of great piety, came over in 1719. A second and larger company, accompanied by Alexander Mack, landed at Philadelphia in 1729. In the course of a few years the entire membership found its way to the Western world, largely through the instrumentality of William Penn who offered the persecuted of Europe cheap lands in Pennsylvania, with permission to worship God as their conscience dictated. The first congregation in America was organized at Germantown Dec. 25, 1723, with Peter Becker in charge. Several settlements had already been formed in the vicinity of Germantown and Philadelphia, and some meetings held. Mack visited these communities with a view of promoting harmony, encouraging the Brethren, and confirming them in their faith and practise. John Conrad Beissel, a man of considerable ability and influence, holding mystical views, occasioned much trouble. He became convinced that the seventh day should be observed as the Christian Sabbath, that there should be community of goods, and that the celibate life was most pleasing to the Lord. He secured a considerable following and, notwithstanding Mack's earnest efforts to heal the breach, withdrew with his adherents and established the Ephrata Community (see COMMUNISM, II., 5). Mack died in 1735 and was buried in the Germantown cemetery. The small communities grew into large congregations, and these gave rise to other settlements in Virginia, Maryland, and other parts of Pennsylvania. Christopher Sower (or Saur) established a large printing plant in Germantown, published a weekly paper, printed many books, and brought out the celebrated Sower Bible (see SOWER, CHRISTOPHER); he also aided in establishing a high-school in Germantown, and printed Sunday-school cards for the use of the Brethren many years before the Sunday-school was introduced in England by Robert Raikes.


3. Development 1783-1882. During the Revolutionary War the Dunkers lost severely in property and prestige, but soon after the close of the war they again became active, and settlements were formed in Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, many of which grew into flourishing churches. Until the Civil War they continued to spread, passing into Illinois and west of the Mississippi river. They opposed slavery, were non-resistant, and hence took no part whatever in the conflict between the contending armies, though their sympathies were with the North. When peace was restored the churches on both sides of the Mason and Dixon line again came together and went forward as though there had been no national strife. Emigration resumed its course, and now they have churches from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Their first religious paper, the Gospel Visitor, a small monthly, was published in 1851. From this small beginning the publishing interest has grown until now the main body of the Church owns and controls a large, finely equipped printing plant at Elgin, Ill. The Gospel Messenger, a large religious weekly, is the church organ. There are many other publications, including a paper for young people, a missionary journal, a full supply of Sunday-school literature, and a large printing business is carried on. The profits from these sources are used in missionary work. Educational interests came to the front in the seventies, and there are now a number of educational institutions, extending from Maryland to California, including schools at Huntingdon and Elizabethtown, Pa.; Bridgewater and Daleville, Va.; Union Bridge, Md.; Canton, O.; North Manchester, Ind.; Mt. Morris and Chicago, Ill.; McPherson, Kans.; and Lordsburg, Cal. Foreign mission work commenced in 1876, when a mission in Denmark was opened. There are now churches in Switzerland, France, Sweden, and India. The most extensive foreign work is done in India, where twenty-five American missionaries are in the field. The conference of 1906 appointed the first missionaries for China.


4. The Ministry. From the beginning the society depended upon and encouraged the free ministry system. Mack, Meeker, and other early ministers received no compensation for their services. This gave rise to a system well adapted to the opening up of missions and founding of churches by emigration. Of late years many of the congregations are supporting their pastors, especially in the cities. Ministers are elected by the congregations in which they hold their membership, each member being entitled to a vote. The brother receiving the highest number of votes is declared elected and is installed in what is known as the first degree, where he has limited privileges. If he proves faithful and efficient he is advanced to the second degree, his duties and privileges being considerably enlarged. The bishops (or elders, as they are generally called) are chosen from the ministers of the second degree. They are set apart or ordained by the laying on of hands of the elders presiding at this ordination, and placed in charge of the churches as needed. There are also deacons, elected in the same way as ministers, whose duty it is to look after the poor and the sick, to visit the members, and to look after the church finances.


5. Creed, Government, and Present Condition. The Dunkers have no formal creed aside from the New Testament, but are aided and unified in their work by the minutes of the Annual Meeting, which has convened since about 1742. To this conference questions involving doctrine, church polity, and methods are brought, and the decisions made are the rule of the churches. This general conference is made up of delegates, lay or clerical, from the local congregations, and bishops from the State districts. The latter compose a standing committee, whose duty it is to select from their own number the officers for the conference. Only regularly ordained elders can serve on the standing committee, and no one can serve two years in succession. The local churches in each State are grouped into one or more State districts, and each district is entitled to one or more elders or bishops on the standing committee, the number being determined by the membership of the district. Church government is democratic. The Annual Meeting settles disputed points, and each member is expected duly to respect and live up to the conference decisions. The Conservative Dunkers make a specialty of plain dressing and avoid places of amusement unbecoming their profession. Their attire is neat, comfortable, and tidy, and there is a general uniformity about their style that renders them easily recognizable. In this respect they resemble the Quakers, and they are the most radical of temperance people.


The Conservative Dunkers now number about 100,000, and are increasing rapidly. Their movement began among the common people, and for generations they were found principally in the rural districts, most of them being industrious and thrifty farmers. They have long been noted for their skill and enterprise in establishing and building up ideal rural communities, with the finest moral, religious, and educational environments. Many of their places of worship, which are large and commodious, are in the country. They meet each Lord's Day for Sunday-school and preaching services. Once or twice a year they meet, always in the evening, for their love-feast. On these occasions there is first preaching on self-examination, followed by the service of foot-washing, the men and women occupying separate parts of the building; next, they eat together what they call the Lord's Supper, at the close of which they greet each other with the kiss of charity; then follows the communion of the loaf and cup, unleavened bread being used.


6. The Division of 1882. Until 1881-82 the Dunkers were a united people with one conference. For some time, however, there had been a growing desire for more advanced steps along educational and missionary lines. There was a demand for more liberty in dress and a growing disrespect for the decisions of the Annual Meeting. Two radical parties developed and became separated from the Church; a large majority took middle ground, and remained with the conference. The result was the separate organization of the "Progressive" and "Old Order" Brethren (see below). Since the separation the mother Church has made rapid advance. It retains all of its fundamental doctrinal and moral principles, while opening Sunday-schools, building up colleges, extending and endowing its mission work, and enlarging its publishing interests. The Conservatives and Progressives do not affiliate, but the unpleasant feeling that at first existed has practically subsided.



Bibliography: Sources are the Minutes of the Annual Meeting, 1778-1876, collected into one volume, Elgin, Ill.; Revised Minutes of the Annual Meeting, brought down to 1898, ib. For the history consult: Henry Kurtz, Brethren's Encyclopedia, Columbiana, O., 1867; M. G. Brumbaugh, Hist. of the German Baptist Brethren in Europe and America, Elgin, 1899; G. N. Falkenstein, Hist. of the German Baptist Brethren Church, Lancaster, Pa., 1901; H. R. Holsinger, Hist. of the Tunkers and the Brethren Churches, Oakland, Cal., 1901 (important for the later period); J. L. Gillin, The Dunkers. A Sociological Interpretation, New York, 1906 (gives valuable bibliography). For doctrine consult: A. Mack, Jr., A Plain View of the Rites and Ordinances of the House of God .... a translation of Kurz und einfältige Vorstellung der äusseren aber doch heiligen Rechten und Ordnungen des Hauses, Gottes .... last ed., Mount Morris, Ill., 1888; R. H. Miller, Doctrine of the Brethren Defended, Indianapolis, 1876.



II. The Progressive Dunkers: 1. Fundamental Causes of Separation. The ultimate and fundamental cause of the secession of those Dunkers commonly known as "Progressive" from the mother Church was the rapid growth and development of the north-central division of the United States. As the country increased in population, and new means of speedy communication with the world, with all that it implies, became available, the former isolation of the Dunkers in the wilderness was destroyed. Traditions and customs of the Church which could be defended neither by the Bible nor reason fell into disfavor, and dissatisfaction grew especially with the dogmatic type of mind characteristic of many of the older and more ignorant. The necessity was felt of bringing the Church as rapidly as possible into line with the knowledge and culture of the times. On the other hand, congregations and individuals isolated from the influences which affected the more advanced communities were controlled by traditional beliefs and usages, and aimed at uniformity on the basis of tradition all the more strenuously because they knew of differences which had grown naturally in widely separated parts of the Church. Thus the social conditions of the United States created two radically different tendencies in the Dunker Church; and by 1880 these tendencies had come into open conflict which resulted in the division.


2. Organization and Present Status. The immediate cause of the separation was sympathy with Henry R. Holsinger, of Berlin, Pa., because of what his friends considered ill treatment by the Annual Meeting of 1882. He was a radical "Progressive" and was expelled by the Annual Meeting, charged with speaking and writing disrespectfully of certain leading members of the Church and of the Annual Meeting. Large numbers of his sympathizers in many congregations went out with him, in some places the separation being made by mutual consent, in others the Progressives being expelled. The work of organizing Progressive congregations went on rapidly under a committee appointed for the purpose by a convention at Ashland, O., in 1882. Hope of a reconciliation with the Conservatives was finally dissipated by the failure of the Annual Meeting of 1883 to take steps looking to that end, and the Progressives then formally organized as the Brethren Church at a convention at Dayton, O., in June, 1883, representatives being present from about fifty congregations. In 1887 State organizations were formed and a national Sisters' Society of Christian Endeavor was organized. In 1892 a denominational Young People's Society was formed, which later was affiliated with the Christian Endeavor movement. In 1895 the General Mission Board was organized; it has city missions in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington. About 1900 a Foreign Missionary Society was organized, which maintains stations in Montreal, Canada, and Urmia, Persia. Following the Dayton convention the college at Ashland, O., was turned over to the Progressives on condition that they assume its indebtedness. It now has an endowment of about $60,000 and in 1905-06 had an enrolment of 150 students. The publishing house is at Ashland, O. In 1895 there were 138 congregations reported with a membership of 10,031. In 1905 the membership was 14,117 in 144 congregations in eighteen States of the Union. The States having the largest membership are Pennsylvania, 3,357; Indiana, 3,275; Ohio, 2,443; Virginia, 880; and Iowa, 841. The church periodical is the Brethren Evangelist.


3. Doctrine and Practise. In doctrine the Progressive Dunkers differ from the Conservatives in but few points. They hold that the decisions of no conference are binding upon the individual conscience. Hence, in church polity the Progressives are congregational. They differ from the Conservatives in refusing to conform to "the order," i.e. the style of dress and cut of the hair and beard prescribed by the Annual Meeting. They agree with the Conservatives in holding the general Evangelical doctrines, and in laying less emphasis upon orthodox theology than upon a pious life. They also hold with the Conservatives the doctrines (1) of the Lord's Supper consisting of foot-washing, the love-feast, or primitive agape, the communion in bread and wine, and the salutation; (2) of baptism for adults only and by trine immersion; (3) of non-resistance of evil, which includes opposition to war and avoidance of lawsuits; and (4) of opposition to the taking of any kind of oath.



Bibliography: Consult, besides the works of Holsinger and Gillin, ut sup., the files of The Progressive Christian, 1878-83; The Brethren Evangelist, 1883-date; The Brethren Annual, 1882-date; Reports of the Proceedings of the Annual Meeting; Classified Minutes, 1888; and the Revised Minutes.



III. The Old Order Brethren: These are the ultraconservatives who oppose all change and refuse to accept new methods. In 1881 they organized a yearly conference meeting in a barn in Montgomery County, O., following old traditions and customs as far as possible, and have continued as a separate society with no affiliations with either of the other bodies. They publish a monthly, the Vindicator, at Brookville, O., but have no colleges, high-schools, Sunday-schools, or missionary departments. They have no supported ministers. In dress and other ways they are extremely plain. In doctrine they do not differ materially from the mother Church. For alleged Scriptural reasons they object to being numbered, but are estimated to include about 4,000 members, chiefly in the States of Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.