United Brethren in Christ
United Brethren in Christ the full title of a body of evangelical Christians in this country.
I. Origin. — In the year 1752, the Rev. Philip William Otterbein (q.v.), a distinguished scholar and missionary in the German Reformed Church, emigrated from Dillenberg, in the Duchy of Nassau, Germany, to America. Not long after his arrival in his new field of labor, he became deeply impressed with the necessity of a more thorough work of grace in his heart than he had ever before experienced. Lancaster, Pa., was his first pastoral charge, and, early in his ministry there, on a certain occasion, he passed' from his pulpit to his study, and there remained in earnest prayer until God, in his mercy, poured upon his soul the spirit of grace and power. Mr. Otterbein, from this time forth, preached with an unction which neither he nor his people had realized before. Having now entered, as it were, upon a new life, he was eminently fitted for a leader. He was calm, dignified, humble, and devout. After six years of service at Lancaster Mr. Otterbein transferred his labors to Tulpohocken, Pa., at which place he introduced evening meetings, and in them read portions of the Bible and exhorted the people to flee from the wrath to come. At this time there was not a Methodist society in America. The German churches of the land, especially, were sunken in lifeless formality. The "new measures" of Mr. Otterbein brought upon him severe criticisms, if not actual persecution. While Mr. Otterbein was engaged in enforcing experimental godliness at Tulpohocken, the Rev. Martin Boehm, a zealous Mennonite, was led into the light of a new life. These men were ministers of churches widely different in doctrines and modes of worship. Two awakenings were now in progress-one under the labors of Mr. Otterbein in Tulpohocken, the other led by Mr. Boehm in Lancaster County, Pa. During a "great meeting" held in a barn in that county, these two ministers met for the first time. Mr. Boehm preached the opening sermon in the presence of Mr. Otterbein. As the heart of the preacher warmed with his theme, it kindled a flame in the soul of the other. At the close of the sermon, and before Mr. Boehm could resume his seat, Mr. Otterbein arose, and, embracing the preacher in his arms, exclaimed aloud, "We are brethren." These words afterwards suggested the name which the denomination now bears.
From this time these godly men became co-laborers, and traveled extensively through Eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. In the meantime other German ministers of "like precious faith" were raised up through their labors, and numerous societies were formed in the states mentioned. It seems to have been no part of Mr. Otterbein's purpose to organize a new church. He only sought to impress upon' the consciences of the people generally, and of formalists in particular, that a vital union with Christ is essential to a religious life. Providence so shaped circumstances that Mr. Otterbein, without his own seeking, was placed' at the head of a new denomination.
The eminently Christian character of Mr. Otterbein, and his usefulness in founding this Church, make it proper that a few sentences more be written of him. He was born at Dillenberg, Germany, March 6, 1726, and resided in his native land twenty-six years, and in America sixty-one years, dying Nov. 17, 1813, having continued his ministry to the close of his long life. He was an eminent scholar in classical attainments, and in philosophy and divinity. He was held in high esteem by bishops Asbury and Coke of the Methodist Church, and assisted, by special request, at the ordination of the former. On hearing of his death, bishop Asbury said of him." Great and good man of God! An honor to his Church and country; one of the greatest scholars and divines that ever came to America, or who were born in it." As the work thus begun grew to considerable proportions, it became very important to consider the best means of perpetuating and extending it. Conferences were therefore annually held for this purpose, beginning at Baltimore in the year 1789. In 1800 the societies gathered were united in one body, under the name of the "United Brethren in Christ," and elected Mr. Otterbein and Martin Boehm their superintendents or bishops. At that time there was little uniformity among them as to doctrine. Some were German Reformed, others were Mennonites or Lutherans, and a few were Methodists. 'In regard to the mode of baptism, probably to meet the wishes of the Mennonites, they agreed that each man should act on his own convictions. From 1800 to 1815, the growth of the Church was steady, but not speedy. Several new conferences were formed, and the work extended westward of the Alleghany Mountains.
At a conference held in Ohio in 1814 it was resolved to call a general council for the purpose of agreeing upon some system of discipline. It was also determined that the members of this council should be elected from among the preachers by the vote of the people throughout the whole Church. Under this order the first General Conference was convened on June 6,1815, at Mount Pleasant, Pa.
II. Doctrines. — At this conference the following summary of doctrines was adopted, and remains unchanged to the present time:
In the name of God, we declare and confess before all men that we believe in the only true God, the Father, the Son, and the 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 furthermore sustains, governs, protects, and supports the same.
We believe in Jesus Christ; that he is very God and human; that he became incarnate by the power of the Holy Ghost in the Virgin Mary, and was born of her; that he is the Savior and Mediator of the whole human race, if they with full faith in him accept the grace proffered in Jesus; that this Jesus suffered and died on the cross for us, was buried, arose 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 the dead.
We believe in the Holy Ghost; that he is equal in being with the Father and the Son, and that he comforts the faithful, and guides them into all truth.
We believe in a holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
We believe that the Holy Bible, Old and New Testament, is the word of God; that it contains the only true way to Our salvation; that every true Christian is bound to acknowledge and receive it, with the influence of the Spirit of God, as the only rule and guide; and that without faith inn Jesus Christ, true repentance, forgiveness of sins, and following after Christ, no one can be a true Christian.
We also believe that what is contained in the Holy Scriptures to wit, the fall in Adam, and redemption through Jesus Christ shall be preached throughout the world.
We believe that the ordinances, viz. baptism, and the remembrance of the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, are to be in use and practiced by all Christian societies; and that it is incumbent on all the children of God particularly to practice them; but the manner in which ought always to be left to the judgment and understanding of every individual. Also the example of Washing feet is left to the judgment of every one, to practice or not; but it is not becoming for any of our preachers or members to traduce any of their brethren whose judgment and understanding in these respects are different from their own, either in public or private. Whosoever shall make himself guilty in this respect shall be considered a traducer of his brethren, and shall be answerable for the same.
III. Organization: and Government. — The polity of the Church is outlined by the following constitution, established in 1841: We, the members of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, in the name of God, do, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, as well as to produce and secure a uniform mode of action, in faith and practice, also to define the powers and the business of quarterly, annual, and General conferences, as recognized by this Church, ordain the following articles of constitution.
Art. I, § 1. All ecclesiastical power herein granted to make or repeal any rule of discipline is vested in a general conference, which shall consist of elders elected by the members in every conference district throughout the society; provided, however, such elders shall have stood in that capacity three years in the conference district to which they belong.
§ 2. General Conference is to be held every four years; (he bishops to be considered members and presiding officers.
§ 3. Each annual conference shall place before the society the names of all the elders eligible to membership in the General Conference.
Art. II, § 1. The General Conference shall define the boundaries of the annual conferences.
§ 2. The General Conference shall, at every session, elect bishops from among the elders throughout the Church who have stood six years in that capacity.
§3. The business of each annual conference shall be done strictly according to Discipline; and any annual conference acting contrary thereunto shall, by impeachment, be tried by the General Conference.
§ 4. No rule or ordinance shall at any time be passed to change or do away the Confession of Faith as it now stands, nor to destroy the itinerant plan.
§ 5. There shall be no rule adopted that will infringe upon the rights of any as it relates to the mode of baptism, the sacrament of the Lord's supper, or the washing of feet
§ 6. There shall be no rule made that will deprive local preachers of their votes in the annual conferences to which they severally belong.
§ 7. There shall be no connection with secret combinations, nor shall involuntary servitude be tolerated in any way.
§. 8. The right of appeal shall be inviolate.
Art. III. The right, title, interest, and claim of all property, whether consisting in lots of ground, meeting-homuises, legacies, bequests, or donations of any kind, obtained by purchase or otherwise, by any person or persons, for the use, benefit, and behoove of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, are hereby fully recognized and held to be the property of the Church aforesaid.
Art. IV. There shall be no alteration of the foregoing constitution unless by request of two thirds of the whole society.
Membership in the Church is conditioned upon a belief in the Bible as the Word of God, the experience of pardon of sins, a determination by grace and a good life to save the soul, and a pledge to obey the discipline of the Church.
Only one order of ministers is recognized by the Church, viz. that of elders. The bishops of the Church are only elders elected for a term of four years as superintendents of the whole field.
Her ecclesiastical bodies consist of official boards, quarterly, annual, and general conferences. The latter meet quadrennially. Her officers are, superintendents of Sabbath-schools; stewards, who attend to the finances of the churches; class-leaders, or sub pastors, who have charge of classes for spiritual instruction and worship; preachers in charge, who have the pastoral care of a mission, circuit, or station; presiding elders, who are elected by the Annual Conference from among the ordained elders, and who travel over a certain number of fields of labor, preside at the quarterly conferences, and see that all the laborers in their respective districts faithfully perform their duties; and bishops, or general superintendents of the whole Church, who preside at all the annual and general conferences.
The method of supplying the churches of the denomination with pastors is that known as "the itinerant system." Pastors in charge are subject to removal or reappointment at the end of each conference year by a committee constituted by the Annual Conference, composed of the bishop, the presiding elders of the past and the present year, and an equal number of local elders or preachers. A minister cannot remain in the same charge more than three years, except by the consent of two thirds of the members of the Annual Conference.
Presiding elders have no limit as to the time they may serve on a district, subject only to the option of the Annual Conference. Bishops may be re- elected every four years indefinitely by the General Conference.
The General Conference of 1877 made provision for lay representation in the annual conferences, leaving it to the will of the several annual conferences to accept or not. A considerable number of conferences have adopted it, and its introduction is believed to be advantageous.
IV. Numbers, Operations, and Sphere. —The statistics of the denomination in 1889 show 49 annual conferences, 3 mission districts, 1455ministers, 4265 organized churches, 213,851 members, 2728 houses of worship, 444 parsonages, 3462 Sabbath-schools, 243,009 officers, teachers, and scholars in Sabbath-schools. During the year 1879 the Church contributed for the support of the Gospel and for connectional purposes $965,023.51.
During the past thirty years the denomination has been active in the educational work, and has now fourteen colleges and seminaries and one theological school. The latter is located at Dayton, O., and wholly under the management of the General Conference.
The Missionary Society of the Church is thoroughly organized, and since its origin, in 1853, has gathered and expended for the spread of the Gospel nearly two millions of dollars. The missionaries of the Church are scattered over many portions of the United States and territories, in Canada, Germany, and Western Africa. There are in the foreign work 53, in the frontier department 140, and on home missions 240 missionaries.
A Women's Missionary Society was established in 1877, and has founded one mission in Germany and one in Africa.
A Church Erection Society was organized in 1869 by the General Conference. The object of this organization is to aid feeble churches in erecting houses of worship. Already many congregations have been assisted by funds raised by this society.
A Sabbath school Association was established in 1869, and gathers by systematic annual collections a liberal sum each year to aid Mission Sabbath-schools in all parts of the denomination and in heathen lands. The Church is deeply interested in the work of saving the children, and no appliance useful to this end is withheld from them. The literature of the Church is found chiefly in strictly denominational books and periodicals. It has a publishing house at Dayton, O., under the supervision of the General Conference. Its net capital on the 1st of April, 1880, was $144,606.10. It is out of debt, and has a handsome balance of cash in the treasury. Its periodical literature is of a high moral tone, and compares well with the best of its kind everywhere. The house issues ten periodicals, with an average aggregate circulation of 175,000 copies.
The Church of the United Brethren in Christ is not an offshoot of any other Church or churches, but bears the impress of a providential upraising for the accomplishment of a special mission. It presents no new doctrine, and is distinguished mostly as an organization in which the ministry and people have an equal proportion of power, and the rulers hold office only by the authority and consent of the governed. Its history has been marked by radical reformatory ideas, which have doubtless in some degree retarded its growth in numbers. Slavery, the use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and the making and trading in ardent spirits, Freemasonry, and other secret societies are entirely prohibited on pain of excommunication. Its field thus far has been mainly among the rural populations of the land. Its ministers and people are striving to maintain the old landmarks of a vital and experimental religion, insisting upon the witness of the Spirit and a holy heart and life. (W.J.S.)