Law and Gospel in the Brethren Tradition -- By: Ronald T. Clutter

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 12:2 (Fall 1991)
Article: Law and Gospel in the Brethren Tradition
Author: Ronald T. Clutter

Law and Gospel in the Brethren Tradition

Ronald T. Clutter


The movement known as the Brethren Church began in 1708 in Germany under the leadership of Alexander Mack (1679–1735), who had been a member of the Reformed Church. Having been influenced strongly by spokesmen for Radical German Pietism and by representatives of the Anabaptist movement, Mack and seven others were baptized by trine immersion in August 1708 and began a new church initially referring to themselves as “Brethren.”1 Persecution was soon in coming in an era which did not encourage religious tolerance and the growing church relocated, eventually immigrating to America in two groups, one in 1719 and the second, including Mack, in 1729.

Emphasizing the Bible as its soul authority and eschewing creedal subscription, the Brethren found themselves on occasion subject to differing interpretations from their church leaders. The focus of this study is upon the concepts of law and gospel as articulated by some prominent persons in the history of the movement. First the views of

Mack will be considered. Attention will then turn to the teachings of Peter Nead (1796–1877), who “was the chief spokesman for the style of life, the simplicity of doctrine, and the general world view of the German Baptist Brethren which prevailed from the Revolutionary War until about 1850.”2 JReturnFoot

Following a three-fold division of the church in 1882–83, the body known as The Brethren Church was formed, composed of those who expressed the progressive stance that was one of the reasons for the schism. One leader of this church was Charles F. Yoder (1873–1955), who will be considered after Nead. Finally, attention will be turned to some participants in the dissension within The Brethren Church which led to further division in 1939. That break resulted in two groups claiming the same tradition, one retaining the title The Brethren Church, the other taking the name of the National Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. Many factors led to this split, one being the issue that is the concern of this study. Charges of legalism and antinomianism were part of the sometimes bitter exchange between the two Brethren factions.

The Teaching of Alexander Mack


Alexander Mack,3 the founder and first minister of the Brethren, received no formal theological education. As a miller in Schriesheim Mack was influenced strongly by the Radical Pietist and Separatist, Ernst Christoph Hochmann von Hochenau, with whom he traveled and preach...

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