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.

America as a Religious Refuge - Persecution - German & Polish Schwenkfelders

The first group of Germans to settle in Pennsylvania arrived in Philadelphia in 1683, from Krefeld, Germany, & 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, & some German Baptist groups--and were fleeing religious persecution. William Penn & his agents encouraged German & European emigration to Pennsylvania by circulating promotional literature touting the economic advantages of Pennsylvania as well as the religious liberty available there.

Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig (1489–1561).

The Schwenkfelder Church is a small American Christian body rooted in the 16th century Protestant Reformation teachings of Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig (1489–1561).  A contemporary of Martin Luther, he engaged in many debates on religion with Luther. Gradually, he came to have a considerable following of men & women who believed as he did. This belief centered upon an Inner Light, which was to guide their conduct, & later was embodied in books that came into possession of George Fox of England, who adopted the ideas into his philosophy which emerged as Quakerism. In fact, some books call the Schwenkfelders German Quakers.  He was an aristocrat, writer, thinker, and courtier of the German states. By the middle of the 16th century, there were thousands of followers of his "Reformation by the Middle Way."  His ideas appear to be a middle ground between the ways of the Reformation of Martin Luther, John Calvin, & Huldrych Zwingli, + the Radical Reformation of the Anabaptists.

Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig (1489–1561).

Originally calling themselves Confessors of the Glory of Christ, Schwenkfeld's followers later became known as Schwenkfelders. These Christians often suffered persecution like slavery, prison, & fines at the hands of the government & state churches in Europe. Most of them lived in southern Germany & Lower Silesia (Poland). During the early 1700s, current Roman ruler Frederic Augustus II issued a mandate that the Schwenkfelder community choose between the Lutheran and Catholic churches. When they refused, he placed sanctions on burials and marriages, and refused to acknowledge Schwenkfelders as citizens of the state. 
By the beginning of the 18th century, the remaining Schwenkfelders lived around Harpersdorf. As the persecution intensified around 1719–1725, they were given refuge in 1726, by Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in Saxony. When the Elector of Saxony died in 1733, Jesuits sought the new ruler to return the Schwenkfelders to Harpersdorf.  With their freedom in jeopardy, they decided to look to the New World.  Although they were forbidden to emigrate, on Tuesday, April 20, 1734, a band of 176 persons deserted their homes, sailed down the Elbe River, and found refuge in Holland. Dutch Mennonites gave them food and shelter and paid for passage on the ship St. Andrew bound for Philadelphia, PA.

Landing of the Schwenckfelders from the St. Andrew by Adolf Pannash 1934

Six groups of Exiles, totaling 209 persons and 52 families, arrived in Philadelphia, 1731 to 1737, but the largest — the third — contained 44 families and 170 persons. The day after they arrived, the able-bodied men affirmed allegiance to the British King, George II, and the following day, perhaps in the nearby Friends meeting house, all of the group held a thanksgiving service for their safe arrival in a land of religious tolerance. Every year thereafter on the anniversary, a similar service has been held in one of the Schwenkfelder Churches. 

The immigrant members of the Schwenkfelder Church brought saffron to the Americas; Schwenkfelders may have grown saffron in Europe—there is some record that at least one member of the group traded in the spice. A group came to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1731, and several migrations continued until 1737. The largest group, 180 Schwenkfelders, arrived in 1734. The offer of religious tolerance in Pennsylvania was extraordinary. Fifteen year old 15-year-old Christopher Schultz documented the 1731 voyage in his journal. Schultz wrote, upon landing in Philadelphia: “People mingle like fish in the sea.” In Europe, Schwenkfelders and Jesuits were at odds. Once settled in Pennsylvania, the first Schwenkfelder settlers actually helped to build a Jesuit chapel.

Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig (1489–1561). Erste Amerikanische Ausgabe. 1859 frontispiece portrait of Schwenckfeld

Schwenkfelders inhabited in the Philadelphia area from Chestnut Hill to Lehigh County and did not extend further. One family only is known to have moved to Virginia. For the first 50 years (1731-1781) it was hard to keep all of the Schwenkfelders together and practicing religion. Lay pastors acted as circuit riders during this time. In 1782, the Society of Schwenkfelders was formed. The Schwenkfelder Church has remained small: as of 2009 there were 5 congregations with about 2,500 members in southeastern Pennsylvania. All of these bodies are within a 50-mile radius of Philadelphia.

They teach that the Bible is the source of Christian theology, but also believe it is dead without the inner work of the Holy Spirit. They also continue his belief that the divinity of Jesus was progressive, and that the Lord's supper is a mystical spiritual partaking of the body of Christ in open communion. Adult baptism and both infant baptism and consecration of infants is practiced depending on the church. Adult members are also received into church membership through transfer of memberships from other churches and denominations. Their ecclesiastical tradition is congregational with a strong oecumenical focus. The Schwenkfelder churches recognize the right of the individual in decisions such as public service, & armed combat.

America as a Religious Refuge - 1697 William Penn’s Plan of Union

In 1697, William Penn 1644-1718, founder of Pennsylvania, wrote one of the earliest plans for union of the colonies in North America.

William Penn 1644-1718

Plan of Union - A briefe and plaine scheam

How the English Colonies in the North parts of America Viz: Boston, Connecticut, Road Island, New York, New Jerseys, Pensilvania, Maryland, Virginia and Carolina may be made more usefull to the Crowne, and one anothers peace and safty with an universall concurrence. That the severall Collonies before mentioned, do meet once a year, and oftener if need be, dureing the Warr, and at least once in two yeares in times of Peace, by their Stated and Appointed Deputies, to Debate and Resolve if such Measures, as are most adviseable for their better understanding, and their Public Tranquility and Safety.

2.dly That in Order to [effect] it two persons, well Qualified, for Sence Sobriety and Substance, be appointed by each Province, as their Representatives or Deputies; which in the whole make the Congresse to Consist of Twenty persons.

3.dly That the Kings Commander, for that purpose specially appointed, shall have the Chaire, and Preside in the said Congresse.

4.thly That they shall meet as neer as Conveniently may be, to the most Centrall Colony for ease of the Deputies.

5.thly Since that may, in all Probability, be New Yorke, both because it is neer the Center of the Collonys, and for that it is a Fronteir, and in the Kings Nomination, the Governour of that Colony may therefore also be the Kings high Commander during the Session, after the manner of Scotland.

6.thly That their businesse shall be [to] hear and Adjust all matters of Complaint or difference Between Province and Province; as 1st where Persons quit their own province and go to another, that they may avoid their Just debts. Tho' able to Pay them. 2dly where Offenders fly Justice, or Justice cannot well be had upon such offenders in the Provinces that entertaine them. 3dly to prevent or cure Injuries in point of Commerce. 4thly To consider of wayes and meanes to support the Union and safety of these Provinces against the Publick Enemies; In which Congress the Quota's of Men and Charges will be much easier, and more equally sett, then it is Possible for any Establishment made here to do: for the Provinces knowing their own Condition and one anothers, can debate that matter with more freedome and satisfaction, and better adjust and ballance their affaires in all respects for their Common safety.

7.thly That in times of War the Kings high Commander shall be Genll or Cheife Commander of the severall Quota's upon service against the Common Enemy, as he shall be advised, for the good and benefitt of the whole.