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A time of transition

A look at how 60 years ago, God transformed the BIC Church into a more welcoming and loving community

by Charlie B. Byers

Belonging to the community of faith: We value integrity in relationships and mutual accountability in an atmosphere of grace, love, and acceptance.

In the 1930s and 1940s, a strong evangelistic fervor spread across the Brethren in Christ Church in North America. Outstanding revivals and camp meetings became an important way for the Brethren to share the message of God’s salvation with the world.

Unfortunately, the BIC were very modest about inviting converts from these services to join the Church. In this era, the Church encouraged a deep commitment to a way of life separated from “the world” and put a strong emphasis on conservative dress, the peace position, and codes of conduct. If new converts would conform, they could join—but few were interested in taking our “plain way.”

Soon a rude awakening came to the brotherhood. We found that our sons and daughters, like our converts, were not as much in love with the Church and its doctrines as we had assumed. Some were leaving our fellowship! Thus, by the late 1940s, we had to accept the fact that, despite the great revivals of the past decades, our small membership was decreasing in size. We were unprepared to serve the present age. The time had come for our Church to give serious consideration to its position.

That consideration was sparked by an informal, unplanned meeting of some brethren—including myself— during a National Association of Evangelicals convention in 1950. There, we talked unofficially of things in the Church that should be reevaluated.

Out of that meeting eventually came a study committee appointed by General Conference. And as a result of the committee’s work, the brother- hood made some sweeping changes in Church life.

Initially, these included a move away from small districts to large regional conferences, and soon to a salaried pastoral system. More radical changes followed: the use of musical instruments in church services; the acceptance of church choirs; dress codes as guidelines, not requirements. In addition, the Church developed new ecumenical associations and greater mission outreach overseas and in cities.

As a result, the Brethren in Christ Church has doubled its membership since the late 1940s. Instead of being a spectator watching the parade of the world go by, it has become a participant in the battle for souls.

This time of transition has not always been easy; transition causes certain pain and tension. Yet the brotherhood is still the same in seeking to know, understand, and apply the word of the Lord. I believe that God raised up the Brethren in Christ Church 200 years ago for a purpose and, amid all this transition, He has been preparing the Church to more faithfully go out into the streets and lanes of our cities and towns to “bring in hither the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind”— to see His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven!

This article is based on “The Brethren in Christ Church in My Lifetime,” originally published in the June 1979 issue of the journal Brethren in Christ History and Life.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2011 issue of In Part magazine.
Charlie B. Byers

Charlie B. Byers (1908–1996) served for many years as a bishop, minister, and evangelist in the Brethren in Christ Church of North America.

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