The Wilderness Aspect of the Brethren Movement—The Reasons for It -- By: Homer A. Kent Sr

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 08:0 (NA 1975)
Article: The Wilderness Aspect of the Brethren Movement—The Reasons for It
Author: Homer A. Kent Sr


The Wilderness Aspect of the Brethren Movement—The Reasons for It

Homer A. Kent Sr.

Following the Revolutionary War the major segment of the Brethren movement entered upon what has often been called “the church in the wilderness.” The reasons for this seem quite clear. The Revolutionary War brought great trial to the Brethren people. One of their beliefs was that it was wrong for the Christian to engage in carnal conflict. This brought them quickly into disrepute with those in authority in the colonies. The colonial government passed a law which was aimed directly at these people and the Quakers who held similar views on war. This law required every citizen of the colony to subscribe to an oath renouncing allegiance to the British government and pledging allegiance to the colony of Pennsylvania.

Two things relating to this matter the Brethren could not do and be true to their convictions, namely, go to war or take an oath. Some whose convictions were not very deep acquiesced to the popular pressure and followed the demands of the government. Such was the disappointing case of the two sons of the second Christopher Sower and their families who practically renounced the Brethren faith in favor of Loyalism. There were others who remained true to their convictions and stayed in Germantown and its vicinity, often suffering severe persecutions such as loss of property, scorn and ridicule.

But there was a third group which fled from the scene of persecution. They were like the disciples in Acts, chapter eight, who because of severe persecution left Jerusalem and became widely scattered. They were also like their fore-fathers in Germany who because of the stress of the times left their home country for America. And so the War was responsible for tides of emigration which flowed southward and westward. In following this course of action, they often had to leave behind them most of their earthly possessions, taking with them only that which could be transported in wagons, on horseback, or in boats.

Into Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Western Pennsylvania and beyond they went to carve out for themselves new homes and a new livelihood. They became a rural people and depended upon farming for sustenance, whereas before this they were engaged in trades of various sorts—shopkeeping, weaving, tailoring and the like. Ofttimes they became widely separated as individuals and groups and had little communication with each other although they usually emigrated in colonies. As John Flory says in his Flashlights from History, “The church had literally buried itself in the forests and on the prairies of the new world” (p. 115). It settled itself in little groups in a dozen states from the Atlantic...

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