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Resilience Story: Creation of a Denomination  (Part 1/2)

Covenant Brethren Church is the product of a difficult, yet gratifying, decision. Its existence is the result of churches splitting away from the Church of the Brethren denomination. The people and churches involved came together in unity, making their mark in history by aiding in the creation of a new denomination.  

The Covenant Brethren Church denomination is the direct result of division over Biblical perspectives. Its creation came from the growing disputes in the Church of the Brethren, another denomination in the Christian religion. Scott Kinnick was a previous executive district board member for the Southeastern District of the Church of the Brethren before he and many others split from the denomination. According to him, the decision to leave the Church of the Brethren stemmed from not recognizing the authority of the Bible. 

“The very main issue why we left the Church of the Brethren was there was no accountability,” Kinnick said. “A Biblical authority was not recognized, and people were not held accountable.” 

Kinnick said that the history of the Church of the Brethren was also important as to why many people left the denomination. According to the Church of the Brethren’s official website, their history can date back over 300 years to Schwarzenau, Germany. Kinnick said that this was during the Protestant Reformation in Europe, which is when the Anabaptist and Pietist movements began. The Anabaptist movement meant being “rebaptized,” and the Pietist movement focused on a person’s relationship with God. 

“In those years, people became Christian through being sprinkled as children,” Kinnick said. “It was infant baptism by being sprinkled. When Bibles became public and people read scripture, they felt the Bible was teaching adult baptism. That’s how the Anabaptist movement started. So, the Church of the Brethren has roots and foundations in that movement.” 

Kinnick said that the Pietist movement was just as influential to the Church of the Brethren’s history. This movement encouraged people to study their Bible and dedicate time to prayer in order to have a strengthened relationship with God.  

Though these movements helped shape the Church of the Brethren’s beliefs, it started to become clear that the Bible was not being upheld as the authority throughout the denomination’s districts. Kinnick said that this disparaging from the Bible could be seen in the 1970s before it more recently came to a head with the creation of Covenant Brethren. 

“Questions came about, about how to interpret the Bible,” Kinnick said. “A divide really came about in the Church of the Brethren about how should people interpret scripture. Is it to be considered the Word of God that we must live by? Or shall we use our personal conscience to guide us and see the Bible as more literature that tells us about history, but not the Word of God? And so that is where the divide happened.” 

The lack of Biblical authority throughout the districts of the Church of the Brethren was often challenged at the annual conferences. The annual conferences had representatives from all 24 districts of the Church of the Brethren denomination. The representatives for each district were on their district’s board, and each church in the district had to send delegates to the conference. The representatives and church delegates at the conference were given time to talk amongst themselves about any concerns in the churches of the denomination.

Kinnick said that some of these concerns were raised because preachers of the churches denied the autonomy of Jesus Christ and allowed same-sex marriages in the churches. However, despite these controversies, he stressed that the lack of Biblical authority was what caused problems to arise. 

“If we understand that the Bible teaches one thing and then we don’t accept that, then we’re throwing out Biblical authority,” Kinnick said. “What was happening was some of the districts were just disobedient, and they allowed these things to keep happening. And so, a call came out to hold everybody accountable.” 

Kinnick said that after the call to hold people accountable was made, a paper came out that instructed each of the districts to hold each other to the Biblical standard that the Church of the Brethren was meant to follow. However, the paper was never enforced, allowing situations to grow worse. The authority to discipline someone that may have disobeyed church guidance was left up to the district they were in; there the lack of consistency in the Church of the Brethren started to become increasingly noticeable. Kinnick and other board members of the Southeastern District attempted to help in solving the unrest in the Church of the Brethren, but to no avail. 

“We were very active in trying to correct what we saw as failures in the Church of the Brethren,” Kinnick said. “We wrote letters. We would call the church to prayer. We would have days of prayers and fasting. And it just kept getting worse and worse.” 

Kinnick noted that the annual conference that caused many people and churches to want to leave the Church of the Brethren was after a new congregation was accepted with a female pastor in a same-sex relationship. At the end of the conference, many individuals decided to leave the Church of the Brethren, and some churches decided they also needed to explore outside of the denomination.

Kinnick said it was then that many people in leadership, himself included, felt it was important to discuss the separations and concerns happening with the Church of the Brethren. A meeting was called and 70 nominated delegates and leaders from around the nation in Church of the Brethren met to go speak with the overarching National Board of the Church of the Brethren.(continued in Part 2)


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