Principles of the Evangelical Brethren Church
From 1880 until today, the basic characteristics of the Brethren Church have remained unchanged. It is comprised of an alliance of independent congregations which have mutually pledged unanimity of creed, the pursuance of life acquired from God and the observance of common, fraternal order and discipline. Its rules of faith and life are derived from the Holy Scriptures and it avows the basic early Christian confessions of faith as well as the legacy of the Czech and World Reformation, following in the tradition of the awakening movement reaching from the past until this century.
The main principles of the teaching professed by the Brethren Church are as follows:
1) All our knowledge concerning God, man and the world is acquired through the Word of God . This is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and is inspired by the Holy Ghost. Through the Holy Scriptures and sermons or testimonies, we are addressed by God himself. Every Christian should read the Holy Scriptures and listen to the witness of The Word of God.
2) Concerning God, we believe in keeping with the Scriptures, that he is the Creator of everything and the Lord, Preserver, Judge and Redeemer of his people. He is the object of our reverence and awe. We believe that God has also passed to faith and a new life from God. We see faith originate wherever man accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour and the we rejoice over God´s love which is patiently awaiting the sinner.
3) Concerning Jesus Christ we believe, basing ourselves on early Christian symbols, that he is the true and only Son of God since eternity. He came as a servant and he spoke and dealt on behalf of the divine power. His sacrifice on the Cross and his Resurrection reveal his salvational powers.
4) Concerning the Holy Spirit we believe that he is the third person of the triune God. It is due to him that as sinners we are called to redemption and that we shall begin to comprehend the heavenly secret. In this article of faith, we see a special promise for our church. Just as we are all equal in sin and condemnation, so we are all equally summoned by the Gospel to faith and a new life from God. We see faith originate wherever man accepts Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour and the Holy Spirit as the Leader and Sanctifier.
5) Similarly, the Holy Spirit is a factor of our blessedness and of the believers´ spiritual growth. As revealed by the Holy Scriptures, a believing Christian must be born again of the Holy Ghost (John 3:7) and then strive for his spiritual growth and the deepening of a life of faith, love and hope. A consequence of all this is a obedient life according to the Scriptures, the overcoming of temptation and loyal witness to Christ. We reject the teaching on sinlessness.
6) Concerning the Church, we believe that God founded her and has been maintaining her through the Holy Spirit. All those are part of the Church of Jesus Christ who trust in him as their personal Savior and who have been assured by the Holy Ghost of having been adopted as sons of God (Rom. 8:16). Thus, only those are accepted as full members of the Church, who are able to bear such witness and of whom others can testify as well that they yield the fruit of a new birth. According to the New Testament, vitally important for the Church are the gifts of the Holy Ghost, especially those which elucidate the work of Jesus Christ through annunciation and address the Word of God to a given situation. The Church is a fellowship of love and of mutual consolidation and admonition.
7) Concerning the sacraments, we believe in the existence of two: baptism and the Lord?s Supper. These we consider as the hallmarks of our trust and hope in Jesus Christ. They are always connected with the Word of God and they are intended for those who participate through their faith in Salvation through Jesus Christ. The Church of Brethren carries out the baptism of both children and adults. If a child was baptized in the name of the triune God, baptism is not repeated upon the attainment of maturity. In addition to baptism, our church also performs the blessing of children in assemblies. Adults are baptized either by immersion or sprinkling. The Holy Communion is served both kinds, according to the reformed tradition.
8) Concerning the second arrival of our Lord, we believe that it will take place when the time of God comes. In keeping with the instructions of its Lord, the Church must prepare for his arrival, in a state of blessedness and true loyalty. Valid until the end will be the commandment addressed to the Church and every believer, ordering them to go out into the world and bring the Gospel to all people. The believers are looking forward to the second arrival of Christ, as their faith will change into vision and the expectation of hope will meet its goal.
- In addition to these principles of dogma, a typical praxis of congregational life has come into existence in the Church of Brethren. Worship assemblies take place without a firmly fixed liturgical framework, but they have their own definite characteristics. Central to them is the preaching of the Word of God and their framework consists of the singing of religious songs and prayer. At least one assembly is held each week, usually consisting of Bible reading combined with the fellowship of prayer. This church places great emphasis on the individual?s and congregational life in prayer.
- The Holy Supper is celebrated usually once a month. In addition, congregational festivities take place during the year (so-called congregational days, “festivities of love-agapé”), which are officiated over both by pastors and laics and the program of which is supplemented by individual members´ witness to faith, prayers, recitation and singing. In addition, evangelistic assemblies are held, urging those present to follow Jesus Christ or to renew their loyalty to him. Sometimes, series of hallowing assemblies are held, the purpose of which is to strengthen life in faith. The work of laymen has an important place in this church. It has not only to do with management of economic matters, but laics can play a role in whatever they have the necessary gift for and in whatever the church entrusts them with.
- The Church of Brethren performs only one kind of ordination, that of pastors – the congregation?s administrators. Most of the future pastors receive their theological training at the Evangelical Theological Seminary ? Prague and Faculty of Protestant Theology at the Charles University in Prague and some at the Slovak Evangelic A. C. Theological Faculty in Bratislava or elsewhere. The church may also entrust experienced laics with the function of the administrators of individual congregations and it does make use of this possibility. As regards the training of future ministers, this church places great emphasis on one?s personal summons by the Lord of the Church as well as on the positive testimony of the congregation in which a candidate has been brought up. It also keeps an eye out for a theological line true to teaching of the Bible and orientated toward practical life, a shepherd-like attitude toward people and interests in evangelization. It rejects theologies divorced from the Holy Scriptures, having a speculative character and subservient to human interests. On the other hand, it recognizes the need for theology to be a safeguard of the correctness of the teaching of the Church and to provide a permanent stimulus for a more profound understanding of the witness entailed in the Scriptures.
- The emphasis placed on individual awakening and on the influence of the Holy Ghost in the Church has on several occasions led to our community being closely approached by groups having a Pentecostal orientation. However, several times during its existence, this church has had to refute unsound manifestations of a Pentecostal character and, in a dialogue with such groups, it has clarified its own position with regard to the reaching on the Holy Spirit.
- The Church of Brethren also bases itself on the witness of the Scriptures as a whole in its evaluation of true matrimony and family life and the upbringing of children. It considers responsible life within the family a Christian?s foremost duty. It sees matrimony as a divine status dating even from the era preceding the Fall. Thus, marriage is not inferior to the single status, nor is it an emergency vent for sin and sensuality. Matrimony and the family also must fill a ministerial function of people of God, with their members serving one another with the gifts entrusted them by God and learning through love how to overcome the obstacles in life and to appraise the joys and positive aspects of everyday events. Since marriage is an order of God, it must not be disrupted by infidelity and can be dissolved only for the most serious reasons. In each household, the Word of God should be preached in daily family worships.
- Since its inception, laics – both men and women – have been extensively active in the Church of Brethren. It is the right and duty of each member to support the work of the Gospel with his prayers his individual witness of faith and life and, according to need, also by concrete work in the congregation and self-sacrificing financial contributions. In addition the postulate of Christian love and service calls for the largest possible number of those who are willing to help the lonely, weak and sick.
- An inseparable part of the services held by the Church of Brethren are spiritual songs, choir singing and music. It is a long-standing tradition in its congregations that the name of God should be praised by hymns and music. Since its members are of three nationalities (Czech, Slovak and Polish), this church uses three different language editions of the Bible and three hymn-books, each of which has a different content and reveals the tradition of the awakening of the respective nationality. On the other hand all three hymn-books show common links to the rare and highly valuable church-music creation of the early Christian, Reformation and awakening eras.
- In terms of its organizational system, the Church of Brethren is based on the congregational and partly presbyterian principle: each congregation is an independent body and decisions concerning its life are taken by its congregational assembly of the church?s full members, which is its highest organ. No connecting links exist between the congregations and the church?s leadership which consists of a nine-member Council. Each year, the pastors and delegates of the individual congregations meet at a conference to discuss common matters concerning the church as a whole. The work of each congregation is directed by a council of elders, which is elected for a four-year term of office. Each council of elders consists of 4 – 15 members and is presided over by the respective congregation?s pastor. At the time of the so-called movement of change of affiliation after the First World War, tentative membership was introduced in this church in addition to full membership. He becomes a tentative member who has shown interest in his membership in the church and has been accepted by a council of elders. Full membership is acquired by those who have confessed their trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour, who have proved deserving of forgiveness of their sins and whose lives substantiate the hope that they have been born again of the Holy Ghost. There is also room for children in this church. If they do not apply for full membership by the age of 18, they continue to be considered as tentative members.
The Church in the Ecumenical Dialogue
The Church of Brethren has never tried to avoid ecumenical contacts with other churches. The oldest inter-church communion was established in the last century in the form of the Evangelical Alliance which has a branch in this country that is in charge of organizing communal weeks of prayer. Later this church became a member of the Union of Evangelic Churches in the Czechoslovak Republic. In addition, individual members of the Church of Brethren have for many years participated in the work of the Kostnická jednota (Unity of Constance). This church became a member of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Czech Republic and Slovakia soon after the latter was founded in 1955.
The Church of Brethren shares the desire of the unity of believers throughout the world in the respect that the people of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, are even today constituting this unity of faith, love and hope, though this may not be visible or assume any organizational form. We favor all steps aimed at the elimination of envy and old prejudices which have for many years separated one church from another. Each church should be expected to contribute to the communion with others precisely those gifts with which the Lord of the Church has endowed it.
We also acknowledge the fact that our churches are jointly rooted in our national history and we especially avow our allegiance to the program of the Czech Reformation of the Hussite era and that of the Unitas fratrum. In this respect, we identify our efforts in particular with the normative and renovating power of the Word of God, as well as with the congregationalism and fruits of pious life as were manifested in the past viable trends of church activity.