The Brethren in Christ Church denominational office building sits adjacent to the Messiah College campus.
Messiah College was founded by the Brethren in Christ Church in 1909 as the Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training Home. From its beginning, and through its renaming in 1951 as Messiah College, its regional accreditation in 1963, and its merger with Upland (formerly Beulah) College in 1965, Messiah was owned and formally controlled by the Brethren in Christ Church. But formal "ownership" by the Brethren in Christ Church does not represent the totality of Messiah College's history. From its very beginning, students were admitted to the College irrespective of denominational affiliation. Later, under the leadership of President Arthur Climenhaga in the early 1960s, Messiah broadened its base in terms of both faculty and constituency, even as it actively engaged the Harrisburg community. In 1972, the College's increasing size and diversity in its student body and faculty ensued in an historic decision. In that year, guided by President D. Ray Hostetter (the son and grandson of former Messiah College presidents and Brethren in Christ ministers), the legal ties between the College and the Brethren in Christ Church were dissolved and replaced by a "covenant relationship" between the church and college.
The "Church-College Covenant," most recently revised in 2018, defines a continuing close yet informal relationship between Messiah College and the Brethren in Christ Church. The Covenant provides that the College will:
(a) include denominational representation on its Board of Trustees;
(b) consult with denominational leaders on the appointment of the Chair of the Biblical and Religious Studies Department;
(c) provide courses in Brethren in Christ history; and
(d) teach the Christian faith and foster a Christian ethos in keeping with Brethren in Christ perspectives;
(e) appoint a president who, if not a Brethren in Christ church member, has a "strong affinity to the College's distinctive values and the theological perspectives of the Brethren in Christ Church." In turn, the church covenants to consider Messiah to be its college and to support Messiah College accordingly.
Messiah College's mission and identity statement captures this covenantal relationship very well It says, "The College is committed to an embracing evangelical spirit rooted in the Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan traditions of the Christian Church." While rooted in Brethren in Christ soil, the College has grown to be an embracing Christian college and, accordingly, is governed by a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees representing a wide variety of Christian denominations. In keeping with its heritage and covenant commitments, the College's mission is to educate students in a holistic fashion, "toward maturity of intellect, character, and Christian faith for lives of service, leadership, and reconciliation in church and society."