Lessons From The History Of The Colorado Brethren -- By: Robert L. Peterson

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 01:2 (Summer 1992)
Article: Lessons From The History Of The Colorado Brethren
Author: Robert L. Peterson

Lessons From The History Of The Colorado Brethren1

Robert L. Peterson2

In this article I propose to trace the origins and development of the Open Brethren in Colorado, and to draw some lessons from the Colorado experience, lessons which probably have broad application.

First, some background is in order. The Brethren began in early nineteenth century Britain when many people were breaking away from the cold and formal Church of England as well as from the “Dissenting” churches, most of which promoted denominational separation. Unity of the true Body of Christ was very important to these people who were seeking new avenues for worship. They found a common bond when they realized that the New Testament did not promote the concept of a clergy to whom the operation of the church was restricted. Celebration of the communion service, or Lord’s Supper, without clergy became a unifying symbol which quickly brought many groups throughout Britain into a loose federation.

Questions of church structure and whether a decision made by one of these churches was binding on another, as well as other issues, soon arose, and on these points the rather heterogeneous collection of churches broke into two camps in the period from 1845 to 1849. These are now often called the “Open” and “Exclusive”

Brethren, terms which they themselves seldom use, but which describe their attitudes toward reception of believers at the Lord’s Supper. The two branches also differ in other ways, including their concept of the church. A continual influx of individuals from Exclusive meetings into the Open Brethren has influenced many of the traditions found among the Open Brethren today.

The Open Brethren adhere to the policy of the autonomy of the local church. There is no mother organization to dictate policy or doctrine. They feel very strongly about this, and it is one of their distinctives. One discovers that the Open Brethren churches, or assemblies, do not all have the same practices, although in fundamental doctrine they are quite uniform and stand with the major evangelical denominations. Most observe a weekly Sunday observance of the Lord’s Supper, also called the remembrance meeting or breaking of bread, and practice believer’s baptism. But attitudes among them vary from very traditional to progressive.

Shared leadership in each local church is another distinctive of the Brethren.3 This style of leadership has strengths and unique problems, and I address some of them in the last section of this article.

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