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How did Brethren in Christ respond to Evangelicalism in the early days of its influence on our community?

In “Born-again Brethren in Christ1,” Devin Manzullo-Thomas, a BIC member and scholar, describes three ways that Brethren in Christ reacted to the Evangelical movement.

RATIFICATION

Report from the BIC committee appointed to study affiliation with the NAE, 19482

[The National Association of Evangelicals] demonstrates the essential unity of Bible-believing and Bible-loving evangelical groups. . . . [J]oining the Association . . . would keep our people more aggressive and alive regarding fundamental issues of our Christian heritage as they relate to worldwide problems.

BIC leader, 19503

For the first time in most of our lives, we began to fellowship with [Evangelicals . . .] in a setting where we felt the velocity of [the Evangelical movement]. . . . [W]e found that they had a peculiar liberty and an opportunity for ministry that we did not have. We had closed the door on ourselves. . . . It wasn’t a case of finding fault with the Brethren in Christ Church. . . . it was a case of finding a . . . ministry.

C. N. Hostetter, Jr., 19584

For the Brethren in Christ . . . fellowship [with Evangelicals] has helped to fire the hearts of bishops, ministers, and laymen, to make our Sunday schools more effective, . . . and to fan and fuel the flame of evangelism and personal testimony.

RESISTANCE

Leah Dohner, 19475

[As a result of interacting with] workers from other denominations who do not teach holiness . . . coverings will get smaller and smaller, bonnets [will] become more like hats, and dresses [will be] cut on more fashionable lines. How must this look in God’s sight? Isn’t this trying to serve God and the mammon of fashion at the same time?

Emma Etterline, 19526

[If we modify our] unalterable . . . standards [of nonconformity], will we not forfeit our witness to the unsaved?

REFORMATION

C. N. Hostetter, Jr., 19547

The inclination of Evangelicals is to take for granted that the Bible approves participation in war and [to] classify all opposition to it as identified with the pacifism espoused by liberals. The Evangelical fellowship should be better informed.

Carlton O. Wittlinger, 19708

The hope of some of us is that the Brethren in Christ will take stock of the degree to which we are in danger of being acculturated into mainline evangelical Protestantism. We would like to see [our] group become more of a “voice” and less of an “echo.”

Ron Sider, 19709

In interdenominational associations such as the NAE, we [BIC] ought to be . . . prayerfully prodding and pushing for a more biblical division of time and resources. My prayer is that we be given the courage to risk being called modernists (by fundamentalists) and old foggies (by liberals) precisely because we dare to be evangelical—that is, to take seriously the total teaching and example of our Lord.

1 Presentation by Devin Manzullo-Thomas at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College (March 2013)

2 General Conference Minutes, 1948

3 Quest for Piety and Obedience (1978) by Carlton O. Wittlinger, p. 480

4 “NAE and the Church,” Evangelical Visitor (June 16, 1958)

5 “Dangers that threaten the Church,” Evangelical Visitor (April 21, 1947)

6 Letter to Henry N. Hostetter, dated March 5, 1952

7 Letter to Carl F. H. Henry, dated December 14, 1954

8 Letter to John N. Hostetter, dated February 25, 1970

9 “Dare we be Evangelical?” Evangelical Visitor (April 25, 1970)

This article originally appeared in the fall 2013 issue of In Part magazine.

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