Religious heritage

Brethren in Christ foundation

Messiah University was founded by the Brethren in Christ, a religious group that emerged in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, around 1780. Many of the early members came from a Mennonite background and brought with them Anabaptist influences. At the outset the leaders of the new group were also influenced by the Church of the Brethren, especially on the issue of triune baptism by immersion. It was from the Church of the Brethren that the Brethren in Christ also received the insights of radical Pietism—a renewal movement in 17th century Germany. Thus in their early formation, the Brethren in Christ were shaped by the theological streams of both Anabaptism and Pietism.

Hostetter Chapel



Anabaptism, Pietism and Wesleyanism

About the turn of the 20th century, Wesleyan holiness theology, with its accent on the sanctified life, influenced Brethren in Christ thinking and eventually became an official doctrine of the church. This Wesleyan strand of theology emphasized the power of the Holy Spirit to enable believers to live a sanctified life of obedience and holiness. Thus over the years the Brethren in Christ have been nurtured by the three theological streams of Anabaptism, Pietism and Wesleyanism.

These traditions, blending in the Brethren in Christ understanding of the Christian faith converge on a number of points:


  1. A strong commitment to the authority of the Bible for Christian life and practice;
  2. The need for a personal acceptance of Jesus as Savior and Lord;
  3. The equal importance of right Christian living (orthopraxy) and right Christian thinking (orthodoxy);
  4. A commitment to personal purity and service to others as signs of mature Christian faith;
  5. And the significance of communal discernment in the Christian life.


But, each of these three traditions also brings its own individual emphases. For example, Anabaptism adds a commitment to peace, reconciliation and radical discipleship; Pietism stresses warm-hearted religious experience and small group Bible study; and Wesleyanism holds an Arminian view of God and a special understanding of sanctification and the life of holiness. In the 20th century the Brethren in Christ have emphasized mission endeavors as well as social justice and service ministries. An embracing ecumenical stance has enabled them to participate with a variety of other denominations and national religious organizations. They are a member of the Mennonite Central Committee and cooperate closely with Mennonites around the world in peace witness as well as relief and service activities. 

The Brethren in Christ are one of many denominations in the Anabaptist and Pietist family of churches. Today some 50 different groups form an Anabaptist-Pietist quiltwork in the United States. Numbering about 450,000 baptized members, these bodies range from conservative Amish groups to the more culturally mainstream Mennonite and Church of the Brethren groups. The Brethren in Christ claim about 23,000 members in 252 congregations in North America. Membership in Brethren in Christ-related churches outside of North America is approximately 58,000. 


To learn more about Anabaptism, Pietism, Wesleyanism and the Brethren in Christ Church, visit The Sider Institute site.