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So far in these posts on pietism and the holiness movement, we have read about the history of pietism with regard to Lutherans, the Moravian effect on Wesley, the Wesleyan holiness movement and how this developed into Pentecostalism.

A good site for helpful summaries about various Christian denominations is Deus Vitae’s A Study of Denominations, which I have added to my Resources section.  I have borrowed heavily from it below.

Even before dissatisfied Lutherans in Germany latched onto pietism, the movement already existed in Middle Europe. In fact, Jan (‘John’) Hus started the movement in what is now the Czech Republic in the 1450s.

Hus organised his pietist groups as the Moravian Brethren. Their name comes from the region of Moravia. Most of their congregations use the name ‘Brethren’. Over the centuries they passed on their own practices and also absorbed influences from Anabaptists, then Baptists and Methodists.  This brought about more Moravian denominations, which developed over time because of modern versus conservative disagreements about religious practices.

Moravian religious characteristics include a focus on the works of the Holy Spirit in personal holiness and a literal interpretation of the Bible.  We have already seen how this evolved in various Protestant denominations to the present day.

The Anabaptists originated in 1525 and also called themselves ‘Brethren’. They did not want to be known as a ‘church’.  Their beliefs of non-conformity, pacifism and ‘believer’s baptism’ (only for adults) went against not only the Roman Catholic Church but also the Swiss Reformers Calvin (Geneva) and Zwingli (Zurich). Religious leaders of state and city-mandated denominations objected to their depriving children of Baptism. Civil leaders objected to the pacifism. As a result, Anabaptists were often persecuted and some were put to death.  This is history some modern-day adherents do not hesitate to bring up today in discussions about established churches in Europe.

This helpful chart, also from Deus Vitae (click to enlarge), shows how the Anabaptists developed from the early 16th century to the present day:

The Swiss Brethren were the first group of Anabaptists. A second group, calling themselves Anabaptists, began in Germany as a result of Swiss Brethren evangelising there. Another German grouping, formed by Hans Hut, was called the Hutterian Brethren, sometimes known as Hutterites. The Hutterians never experienced schism and still have a number of colonies today.

Menno Simons (Minne Simens), a former Catholic priest, who left the Church over a disagreement over transubstantiation, was responsible for the spread of Anabaptists in the Low Countries, from which three regional groups of Brethren developed: the Dutch, the Frisian (Simons’s region) and the Flemish. They became known as Mennonites.

Whilst he was serving as a priest, Simons thoroughly studied Scripture, which he had not done before, even at seminary. This left him to conclude that infant baptism went against the New Testament. He then read the works of Martin Luther and Heinrich Bullinger. Simons was transferred to another parish, where he met a group of Anabaptists.  They preached ‘believer’s baptism’.  His brother Pieter had become an Anabaptist in the meantime and was later killed as a result of religious persecution.

Whilst Menno Simons did not agree with everything the Anabaptists taught, he admired their love of the Bible.  After his brother’s death, Menno prayed that he would become holy and that Christ would forgive him his sins.  Menno Simons left the Catholic priesthood to become an Anabaptist in 1536; he was rebaptised. He became a very well known and respected Anabaptist preacher and, in the Low Countries, was considered as influential a theologian for Anabaptism as John Calvin was for Calvinism in Geneva. He died in 1561 in the region of Holstein and was buried in the garden of his home. By then, he was married and had three children.

Because of their controversial stances, the Anabaptist groups found life in cities dangerous.  In order to flee persecution, they moved to the countryside and pursued farming as an occupation. A number also lived in discrete, self-sufficient communities.  They were radical pietists — closed to the rest of the world, although charitable to strangers.  Everyone had a role to play whether on the farm, in the kitchen or elsewhere in the commune (e.g. sewing, carpentry).

A number of Anabaptist groups emigrated to North America in the 18th and 19th centuries. By that time, earlier opposition to their presence in Europe had eased. However, Canada and the United States meant land and opportunity.

Ironically, it was also in their new settlements where division occurred in the 19th century — this time internal.

Deus Vitae discusses the early Brethren congregations in America:

The Brethren in Christ Church, formed on the basis of revivalistic preaching heavily influenced by Pietism and Anabaptism in Pennsylvania in the late eighteenth century. In 1767, some of those who were influential in establishing the Brethren in Christ Church diverged and formed the United Brethren. The United Brethren were split in the late 1860s by one George Hoffman, whose followers were known first as the “Hoffmanites” and later as the United Christian Church. In 1889, another division occurred in the United Brethren, with a portion of the more liberal members joining the Evangelical Church (another sect of German Pietists) to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which would in 1968 joined the Methodists to form the United Methodist Church.

The Amish split into two groups: the Amish Mennonites, who had relaxed some of the original strict practices, and the ‘Old Order’ Amish, who maintained the original tenets of the group.  Eventually, all the Amish Mennonites became Mennonites.

Mennonite schisms had started already in Europe with the influence of German pietism and its emphasis on personal holiness. In time this spread to Russian Mennonites who adopted the same beliefs. These groups of Mennonites also came into contact with Baptists and eventually merged the practice of Baptism by immersion into their beliefs.  This branch became known as the Mennonite Brethren Church in 1859.

In the United States, Mennonites divided over the use of the German language in the 1870s. They split into ‘Old Order’ and ‘Old Colony’ groupings. However, to outsiders, they appear similar in their embrace of agriculture and simplicity as well as in their rejection of technology.

Further Mennonite divisions occurred by the end of the 19th century. Today, there are two main Mennonite groups: the Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC) which places a greater value on evangelism.

Next week: More on the Moravians

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