Friday, November 6, 2015

America as a Religious Refuge - Persecution - German Dunkers, New Baptists, Brethern

The first group of Germans to settle in Pennsylvania arrived in Philadelphia in 1683 from Krefeld, Germany, and included Mennonites and possibly some Dutch Quakers. During the early years of German emigration to Pennsylvania, most of the emigrants were members of small sects that shared Quaker principles--Mennonites, Dunkers, Schwenkfelders, Moravians, and some German Baptist groups--and were fleeing religious persecution. William Penn and his agents encouraged German and European emigration to Pennsylvania by circulating promotional literature touting the economic advantages of Pennsylvania as well as the religious liberty available there.

'Dunker' Meeting House in Maryland was probably built in the 1750's

The Dunker movement was an offshoot of the German Pietist movement of the late 17th century. The movement began in Germany in 1708 as part of the spiritual awakening called Pietism. In that year a small group led by Alexander Mack (1679 - 1735) baptized one another by immersion, face down, in a flowing stream: this form of Baptism became a distinctive practice. The Neue Täufer, or “New Baptists,” as they initially called themselves, believe in trine baptism, which involves fully immersing someone three times, representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This led to widespread mockery, and the nickname “Dunkers” for adherents to this sect.

Mack and his followers migrated to Pennsylvania from Germany in 1719. Persecuted by the state church in Germany, other Dunkers immigrated to America from 1719 to 1729. Their first church in what is now the United States was organized in 1723. The Dunkers are most numerous in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, and North Dakota.

German Baptist Meeting House in Pennsylvania

Dunkers were more commonly known as the German Baptist Brethren. The term Brethren identifies several Christian groups of common origin, at an earlier date frequently called "Dunkers," of which the Church of the Brethren is today the largest. The Church of the Brethren is one of the historic "peace churches" in the United States. In doctrine the Brethren adhere to the New Testament and accept no creeds. They hold the Bible to be the inspired and infallible word of God and accept the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice. They believe in the Trinity, in the divinity of Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and in future rewards and punishments. Faith, repentance, and baptism are held to be the conditions of salvation. In practice the Brethren closely follow the teachings of the Bible and observe the primitive simplicity of the Apostolic church.

At the basis of their belief is a commitment to peace. They enjoin plainness of dress, settle difficulties among themselves without civil law, affirm instead of taking oath, oppose secret societies, and advise against the use of tobacco and the manufacture, sale, and use of intoxicants. As early as 1782 the Brethren prohibited slavery and vehemently denounced the slave trade. A traditional ban on participation in politics has been relaxed somewhat in recent years.The Eucharist is celebrated in the evening, after the serving of a simple common meal. Before this meal the ordinance of foot washing is observed, and afterward the members extend the right hand of fellowship and exchange the kiss of peace. Bishops (or elders), ministers, and deacons are elected by the congregations. Congregations are organized into state districts; both units elect delegates to the annual conference.

Dunker Love Feast 1883

The appearance in Pennsylvania of so many different religious groups made the province resemble "an asylum for banished sects." Beginning in the 1720s significantly larger numbers of German Lutherans and German Reformed arrived in Pennsylvania. Many were motivated by economic considerations.

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