Brethren Movement

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The Brethren Movement (not to be confused with the Brethren Congregation or the Brothers' Association ) is a free church movement that emerged in the 19th century , the local congregations of which are fundamentally independent, but closely connected in terms of teaching and practice. Around the world there are about a million people in the movement; in Germany the number of followers is estimated at around 40,000 to 45,000. Part of the German communities united in 1942 with the Baptists to the Federation of Evangelical Free Churches .

The origins of the Brethren movement can be found in Irish house groups that met for Bible study and the Lord's Supper in the 1820s in anticipation of Jesus' return . They wanted to do this independently of every church and denomination , emphasized the unity of all Christians, but later parted in different directions. In Germany, they are divided mainly into federal parishes (Protestant-free church), federal -free and closed parishes.


Originally, the Brethren movement refused to give itself an official name, as it did not see itself as a particular denomination , but as “neutral ground” outside of all existing churches and free churches , as a mere “representation” of God's worldwide church in one place. Any name would have made her one of many groups according to her self-image and thus separated her from members of other groups, which she - like all characteristics of a specific group identity - tried to avoid at all costs. However, since the movement hardly differed from other free churches outwardly and also had specific group-typical characteristics, it was soon given various external names. In addition, over time it split into several groups, e.g. T. mutually agreed their legality. In this respect, further designations were necessary, for example to distinguish the "open brother communities" from the "closed" ones.

The following names for the Brethren Movement or some of its parts are used today in German-speaking countries:

  • "Brethren Congregations", "Brothers Assemblies"
  • "Christian assembly (s)" or just "assembly" (after the translation of the Greek word ekklesia in the Elberfeld Bible )
  • "Christian community" (in connection with the place name of the community, e.g. Christian community Darmstadt )
  • "Darbysten" (after John Nelson Darby , one of the founding fathers of the Brethren Movement; this term is rejected by those concerned because they do not want to be named after a person and the word is also often used derogatory)
  • "Exclusive Brothers" (in Germany an often derogatory term for the "closed" congregations of the Brethren; in the English-speaking world, "Exclusive Brethren" mainly refers to the Raven Brothers , a trend that emerged from 1890 with tight international leadership and extremely strong segregation from those who think differently)
  • "Christians without special designation" or "without special denomination" (earlier self-designation used especially in dealing with authorities; now rather seldom)
  • "Plymouth Brethren" (after English "Plymouth Brethren"; Plymouth was an early center of the English Brethren movement; also rarely used in German today, in English as "Plymouth Brethren Christian Church" since 2012 the official name of the Raven Brothers )

The word "Brethren Movement" was probably used in the 1920s in "open" circles based on the English model. "Brethren Movement" formed; as a generic term for the movement as a whole, it has now largely established itself. The "closed" wing still officially adheres to the original idea of ​​namelessness.


John Nelson Darby
Georg Müller
Julius Anton Eugen von Poseck
Carl Brockhaus

Ireland and England

Germ cells of the Brethren movement were several small groups of Christians in Ireland Dublin who regularly for Bible study and supper gathered. The focus of the teaching was that Christians should come together freely and independently of denominations , examine the Word of God, isolate themselves from the world, and at the same time await the return of Jesus. The fragmentation of Christianity into many different denominations was rejected and the desire was to express the unity of the believers, which nevertheless existed before God ( Eph 4,4  ELB ), by giving up administrative organization as much as possible and simply as "Living organism" came together. Every staunch Christian was welcome, no matter what denomination he came from. In 1829 at the latest, one of these circles, which also included the dentist and later missionary Anthony Norris Groves , dared to celebrate the Lord's Supper for the first time because it was not tied to an institution. Groves believed "that believers who gather as disciples of Christ are free to break bread together as their Lord admonished them." The Anglican clergyman John Nelson Darby soon found contact with this circle, which was to become the origin of the Brethren movement, through the lawyer John Gifford Bellett .

Within a few years, similar gatherings took place in Great Britain . Through Benjamin Wills Newton , Darby came to Plymouth together with George Vicesimus Wigram , the later editor of Concordances on the Biblical Basic Text . There was a naval evangelist named Percy Francis Hall with whom they teamed up and started a church in January 1832. Plymouth soon became the center of the movement, which is why the Brethren Movement was long known under the name "Plymouth Brethren". Occasionally there was hostility from church circles.

In the course of time, Darby gained great influence and became the informal leader of the sanctification and segregation branch of the Brethren movement. In contrast, Georg Müller and Henry Craik , who had gathered in the Bethesda Chapel in Bristol , England, since 1832, emphasized the aspects of unity, mission and diakonia more. While Darby wanted to gather the “Philadelphian” congregation ( Rev 3 : 7-13  ELB ) beyond all Christian denominations around one table, Müller and his congregation placed more emphasis on meeting and working with active Christians from other denominations . Both currents of the Brethren Movement initially remained connected and exchanged ideas in the preaching service.


The break occurred in 1848 over the question of the supra-local binding force of community exclusions as well as Newton and his teachings on the sufferings of Christ. The Darby brothers demanded close ties between the congregations, including the unconditional recognition of the resolutions of other congregations. The Bristol congregation, and many others in its wake, did not share this view, however, and gave every congregation the right to act independently. In addition, in contrast to the brothers around Darby, they were ready to admit Christians from other circles to the Lord's Supper without special testing, which is why they were soon called "open brothers"; the churches that followed Darby's views, on the other hand, were referred to as "closed" or "exclusive brothers". This separation basically exists worldwide to this day.

Shortly before and after Darby's death (1882), several leading personalities of the "closed" wing (1881 William Kelly, 1884 Frederick William Grant, 1885 Clarence Esme Stuart) were expelled from the community and formed separate groups, which later largely united with one another or absorbed in other groups. In 1890 there was a further separation over the teachings of Frederick Edward Raven , which were accepted by the majority of "closed brothers" in England, but only by a small minority on the European continent.


Both the “closed” and the “open” brother movement found their way to Germany.

"Closed Brothers" in Germany

The names Julius Anton von Poseck and Carl Brockhaus were at the beginning of the German “closed” brother movement . The Düsseldorf lawyer Poseck translated the writings of John Nelson Darby and other English "brothers" into German from 1849 and from 1851 also founded communities in the Rhineland based on the English model. The Elberfeld teacher Brockhaus was initially active as an evangelist in the framework of the Evangelical Brothers Association , but resigned from it at the end of 1852 with some employees and became the leading figure of the German "closed brothers". In 1853 he made contact with Darby, who visited Germany eight times between 1854 and 1878.

From Elberfeld, the Brethren Movement spread quickly, first in the Bergisches Land , Siegerland , Dillkreis and Wittgensteiner Land , where Brockhaus was able to connect with the Evangelical Brothers Association. However, Brockhaus also traveled to teaching through Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland , so that new congregations emerged in many places (in part with hostility from church circles). By 1900 there were an estimated 20,000 followers in the “closed” congregations.

Together with Darby and other collaborators, Brockhaus published the Elberfeld translation of the Bible , which tended to have concordant words (NT 1855, Psalms 1859, AT 1871).

Carl Brockhaus, who after founding his publishing house in Elberfeld published extensive instructional and edifying literature, was considered the recognized “leading brother” within the “closed” brother movement. His son Rudolf Brockhaus continued to run the publishing house in the spirit of his father and until around 1930 determined the thinking and acting of the roughly 700 "closed" brother assemblies in Germany.

“Open Brothers” in Germany

The story of the German “open brothers” began in a certain way as early as 1843 with a visit by Georg Müller to Stuttgart ; later a community was founded in Tübingen . However, larger numbers of "open" brother congregations only emerged from the end of the 19th century. The “open brothers” were related to the evangelist Friedrich Wilhelm Baedeker , who, through his numerous missionary trips, became the decisive church planter of the “open” brother movement in Western and Eastern Europe. The “open brothers” also sought encounters and cooperation with other Christian churches and communities in Germany. You took part in events of the Evangelical Alliance , got involved in the "Association of Believing Officers" and were co-founders of the Allianz Bible School in Berlin , today's Forum Wiedenest in Oberbergisches Land.

The Brethren Movement in the Third Reich

On April 13, 1937, the "closed" congregations of the Brethren were banned by the Nazi state , as they were assumed to have an anti-state (and thus anti -Nazi ) attitude due to their strong emphasis on isolation from the world (which, however, did not apply to most of them). As early as May 1937, the majority of the "closed brothers" were able to reorganize themselves as the Union of Free Church Christians (BfC) with the permission of the authorities . This union, whose statutes expressly included the commitment to the National Socialist state, also joined the "open brothers" in November 1937. In 1942 the BfC merged with the Union of Baptists to form the Union of Evangelical Free Churches in Germany (BEFG).

Between 5 and 12%, especially of the "closed brothers", refused to accept both the BfC and the BEFG and gathered underground during the Nazi era.

Post-war period and current situation in Germany

Assembly building of the "closed brothers" on Borkum

After the collapse of National Socialism, freedom of assembly was guaranteed again. Many members of the BEFG (soon also whole congregations) returned to the "closed brothers" (this direction is still called the "old assembly" - colloquially "AV"). Others who had also joined the covenant without inner conviction, however, did not want to go back into the "narrowness" of the "closed" fraternity and formed a third group in 1949, which became known as the "fraternal brothers" or "Free Brethren Circle". As a result, the Brethren congregations in the BEFG shrank to the smallest "Brothers" group: in the mid-1980s they made up only 18% of the Brethren movement in the former FRG, while 45% were "closed Brothers" and 37% were "Free Brothers" were.

Since the 1990s, a number of "closed" congregations - some voluntarily, some compulsorily - separated from their group and took a more "open" position. The background to this was primarily disputes over exclusion procedures and questions about admission to the Lord's Supper. In this way a number of so-called “non-aligned brothers” came into being.

So there are today (if one disregards the numerically insignificant Raven Brothers and other splinter groups) four groups of Brethren congregations in Germany:

  • The “federal parishes” that belong to the BEFG and, through the VEF and the Evangelical Alliance, also have close relationships with other free churches and work with them. Historically “open”, these congregations gradually give up “brother-specific” peculiarities in teaching and practice and are moving closer to the other evangelical free churches. The number of parishes is around 130 with around 9,000 members.
  • The “non-federally congregations” (“Free Brethren Circle”) do not belong to any superordinate congregation association, but maintain good relationships with the Brethren congregations in the BEFG and - depending on the congregation - with other free churches; partly one works with the Evangelical Alliance. Federally free municipalities typically represent “open” teaching principles. There are around 190 parishes with around 14,000 members.
  • The "non-aligned municipalities" are also not part of a supra-local association; they maintain relationships with non- federal municipalities, but no (any longer) contacts with "closed" municipalities. Some of them work in alliance-oriented campaigns. This group includes about 60 parishes with about 4000 members.
  • The "closed assemblies" have no parish relationships with churches and free churches, only with other "closed" assemblies. However, private contacts with believers from other directions are maintained. They categorically reject participation in alliance-oriented campaigns; The Lord's Supper is seldom practiced by guests from “non-closed” congregations. There are currently around 205 parishes with around 16,000 members.

Since around 1980, there has been an increasing number of new congregations which are generally oriented towards the fraternal congregation. These congregations mostly have no relation to the history of the Brethren movement, but agree with the Brethren congregations in a large part of the doctrines and seek fellowship with them in conferences and works. The works that promote such church planting include the German Inland Mission (DIM) and indirectly the Conference for Church Planting (KfG). There are now around 60 churches of this type with around 4,000 members.

Teaching and practice

In their doctrinal understanding and in parish life, the Brethren congregations conform in many ways with other free church groups. In the following, only the essential differences are presented.


Many brother congregations outside the Federation of Evangelical Free Churches reject fixed congregational organizational structures. The time of the biblical church offices (especially the office of elders ) is irretrievably over in accordance with their dispensationalistic view of church history . One of the reasons: there are no more apostles ; only they could - according to some brother communities - be called to the office of elders. For the present only the word of Jesus applies: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst” ( Mt 18:20  ELB ). Church life issues are often discussed in so-called “brotherhood hours,” which include those brothers who have responsibilities in the local congregation. Unanimity is sought in the resolutions. "Proven" and talented brothers are assigned by the congregation to carry out the results of the discussion.

Since a certain degree of organization is required by the state in the field of asset and real estate management , a sponsoring association is established within many fraternal communities that takes on the tasks mentioned. This association is mostly recognized as a non-profit organization and can also issue the necessary donation receipts . In the non-federal municipalities, the “Foundation of the Brethren” is a supra-regional, supervisory form of organization.

The supraregional connection between the individual local congregations is promoted primarily through Bible conferences that take place several times a year. Well-known conferences of the BEFG communities were / are, among others, the Berlin-Hamburg and Cologne-Elberfelder conference; in the case of the "Free Brothers' Circle" it is the Dillenburg conference (since 2016 in Haiger ), in the case of the "closed brothers" it is the Hückeswagen and Dillenburg conferences. In the youth sector, the Wiedenest Conference at Whitsun and the “Reher Jugendtag”, later called the “Dillenburg Youth Days” and, since 2017, the “STEPS Conference” at the beginning of May are very popular with “open” Brethren. Meetings of the youth conferences in Dillenburg-Frohnhausen on Whitsun and Sankt Vith in April. Travel preachers who are permanently employed by several Brethren also contribute to the networking of the congregations and the standardization of teaching.


In the German Brethren, Christian baptism - often incorrectly called adult baptism - is practiced almost entirely . Here the individual consciously chooses to believe in Jesus Christ and reports to trusted brothers in order to be baptized. The only exception are the Raven brothers , who baptize infants , provided they come from a parish family and their Christian upbringing is guaranteed. This baptism practice, which goes back to John Nelson Darby, is practiced in France and in French-speaking Switzerland by the "closed brothers", while it was not able to prevail among the German "closed brothers".

A child baptism that has taken place among parishioners is recognized in most parishes with the practice of believer baptism . To be baptized again (as is the case with Baptists ) is possible, but not required.

The baptism takes place in a larger pool in which the person to be baptized is completely submerged. These pools are often found in the community meeting room; however, the baptism can also be performed in a swimming pool, in open water or in the bathtub of a private apartment.

Last supper

The Lord's Supper every Sunday - the Brethren call it "breaking bread" based on Acts 20.7  ELB - traditionally forms the spiritual center of community life. In both “open” and “closed” fraternal communities, the Lord's Supper usually takes place every Sunday in a “first hour”, which is also known as the “hour of worship”. It usually precedes the sermon (so-called “second hour”). The design of the celebration of the Lord's Supper is not subject to any fixed liturgy , but often has the following elements: The congregation gathers around the Lord's Supper table , on which there is bread and wine. The two substances of the Lord's Supper are understood as signs of the death of Jesus Christ, but also as “signs of God's love”. Not people, but the Holy Spirit should shape the celebration. In the opinion of the “brothers”, he moves various men in the community to help shape the celebration. Free prayers are said in an unspecified order , songs to be sung together are suggested and Bible texts are read, sometimes brief explanations are given. The climax of the hour of worship is breaking bread itself.

In many brotherhoods, only those who have been approved can take part in the sacrament. This presupposes personal faith in Jesus Christ and, if necessary, a conversation with the brothers who propose those concerned to the church. If there are no concerns, the person concerned can take part in breaking bread. In “closed” congregations, participants from outside the Lord's Supper must submit a letter of recommendation from their (“closed”) home congregation when they visit for the first time, or at least give a credible assurance that they will also participate in breaking bread there.

“Open” congregations of brothers usually maintain an open communion to which all “born again ” Christians, including those of other denominations, are invited.


Brethren congregations usually do not have a pastor or permanent preacher . The sermon is given by members of the congregation who feel able, as well as guest preachers. It is rare for the same preacher to preach on two consecutive Sundays (excluding small congregations). One would like to correspond to the biblical principle of the variety of gifts and the freedom of the spirit ( 1 Cor 14 : 26–33  ELB ). In addition, the changing responsibility for preaching prevents the preaching from narrowing down to a one-sided teaching. In many brotherhoods there is no prior agreement as to who will be serving in the field.

Position of women in the community

In “closed” congregations as well as in parts of the “non-aligned” congregations and the “Free Brethren Circle” women only take part in church service gatherings in singing, but not in preaching or prayer. 1 Cor 14.33–34 ELB ( requirement of  silence) and 1 Tim 2.12  ELB (prohibition of leadership by women) are used as a justification . In the services of the “closed” direction, the difference between the sexes is also expressed by a separate seating arrangement. In addition, women wear there in church services and worship similar events because of 1 Cor 11,5-13  ELB a head covering .

In other congregations, women now take part in prayer, scripture reading, Bible interpretation, and Bible discussions. In the BEFG communities in particular, women are increasingly being included in the organization of services.

outer appearance

Above all in “closed” circles, value is attached to the fact that women display a “modest appearance” ( 1 Tim 2,9  ELB ). This includes, for example, largely avoiding eye-catching jewelry such as chains, bracelets and, above all, earrings. In addition, the hair should not be excessively shortened and the clothing should not be body-hugging. The wearing of "unfeminine" clothing - especially pants - is also largely rejected.

There are no comparable regulations for men. However, in her case, too, a “modest appearance” is assumed and an excessively conspicuous clothing style is not welcomed; the "problem" of conspicuous jewelry does not exist here for men.


Darby's ideas of the rapture of all true believers before the Great Tribulation have been adopted by many evangelical theologians beyond the Brethren movement. Influenced by the ideas of the Brethren movement is u. a. the Scofield Bible , edited by Cyrus I Scofield , which made the dispensationalist model of salvation history known to a wider public.

Fields of activity (plants) and institutions in Germany

"Open Brothers" (BEFG, Free Brotherhood, "non-aligned" congregations)

Community center of the AGB community Wuppertal, Else-Lasker-Schüler-Straße (formerly Baustraße)
Forum Wiedenest

"Closed Brothers"


  • Gerhard Lehmann: The wind blows where it wants ... model of a revival . Verlag für Jugend und Gemeinde Reinhard Kawohl, Wuppertal 1974, ISBN 3-88087-405-0 , esp. Pp. 218-230 (also dissertation, University of Mainz 1973).
  • Ulrich Bister : The Brethren Movement in Germany from its beginnings to the ban in 1937 - with special attention to the Elberfeld assemblies . Dissertation, University of Marburg 1983.
  • Gerhard Jordy: The Brethren Movement in Germany . R. Brockhaus Verlag, Wuppertal 1979-86.
  1. 19th century. English origins and development in Germany . 1979, 2nd edition 1989, ISBN 3-417-24060-3 .
  2. 1900-1937 . 1981, ISBN 3-417-24072-7 .
  3. The development since 1937. With an appendix on the development of the Brethren in the GDR by Gerhard Brachmann. 1986, ISBN 3-417-24073-5 .
  • New edition in one volume: The Brethren Movement in Germany. Complete edition . Christliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Dillenburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-89436-948-4 .
  • Gerhard Jordy (Ed.): 150 Years of the Brethren Movement in Germany . Christliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Dillenburg 2003, ISBN 3-89436-356-8 .
  • Andreas Liese: Forbidden - tolerated - persecuted. The National Socialist religious policy towards the Brethren Movement . Jota publications, Hammerbrücke 2002, ISBN 3-935707-12-6 ( plus dissertation, TU Berlin 2001).
  • Andreas Steinmeister: … but you are all brothers. A historical representation of the "Brethren Movement" . Daniel-Verlag, Lychen 2004, ISBN 3-935955-34-0 .
  • Henry Allen Ironside: The Brothers Movement - A Historical Outline . Translated from the English by Günther Schwalb and Alois Wagner. CLV, Bielefeld 2018, ISBN 978-3-86699-288-7 ( PDF ).
  • Mark R. Stevenson: The Brothers and the Teachings of Grace. How did the brother movement of the 19th century feel about the Calvinist doctrine of salvation? CLV, Bielefeld 2019, ISBN 978-3-86699-391-4 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Heinz Voigt: Free Churches in Germany (19th and 20th Centuries) , Leipzig 2004, p. 60.
  2. ^ Stephan Holthaus: denominational studies. Handbook of the Churches, Free Churches and Christian Communities , Hammerbrücke 2008, p. 189.
  4. ^ Gerhard Jordy: The Brothers Movement in Germany , Vol. 1, Wuppertal 1979, p. 15.
  5. Ulrich Bister: The Brethren Movement in Germany from its beginnings to the ban in 1937 , Marburg 1983, p. 8ff.
  6. From this period dates also given out by BEFG Songbook community songs for common prayer and communion celebrations of Baptists and "brothers."
  7. Cf. Gerhard Jordy: The Brothers Movement in Germany , Vol. 3, Wuppertal 1986, p. 316.
  8. ^ Dillenburger Jugendtage: Christians should be more forgiving ,, message from May 6, 2016.
  9. Christian Briem: I am in their midst. The church according to the counsel of God and how it presents itself . 3. Edition. Christian publication, Hückeswagen 2008, ISBN 978-3-89287-317-4 .
  10. See e.g. B. Christoph J. Berger, On the lower value of clothing. Thoughts in the Light of Biblical Tradition (2019).
  11. Christian Publishing Company
  12. Christian bookstores
  13. concepcion Seidel
  14. ^ Jota publications
  15. media C
  16. Burgstädt Bible School
  17. Barmer tent mission
  18. Mission for South-East Europe
  19. ^ Christian senior citizens' homes in Lützeln
  20. Friedenshort retirement home
  21. Werk- und Lebensgemeinschaft e. V.
  22. ↑ Help for those at risk, change course
  23. Christian youth care e. V.
  24. ^ Eulenberg leisure home
  25. Berthelsdorf Bible Home
  26. Black Forest Mill Besenfeld
  27. ^ Christian guest center in the Westerwald, Rehe
  28. Reiherhals leisure area
  29. ^ Mission House Wrist
  30. ^ Hotel El Berganti
  31. ^ CRG Travel
  32. ^ Foundation of the Brethren
  33. ^ Dillenburg Conference
  34. Christian Scripture Distribution
  35. ^ Ernst Paulus Verlag
  36. ^ Beröa publishing house
  37. Dissemination of the Holy Scriptures
  38. ^ Good message publisher
  39. Siegen Bible Collection
  40. Bethanien Home for the elderly
  41. Emmaus retirement home
  42. ^ Retirement home and care center Eben-Eser
  43. ^ Retirement home Deuz
  44. Spread of the Christian Faith eV (VCG)
  45. , , , , , , , , , ,

Web links