Many of the Brethren churches stem from the work of Alexander Mack, Sr. (1679-1735), in Schwarzenau in Wittgenstein, Germany.
After his experience of conversion, Mack was convinced of the need for those who had experienced regeneration to form separate communities modeled on the early church’s practice of sharing goods in common.
Exiled from the Palatinate for preaching separatism, Mack gathered a company of fellow refugees and in 1708 took the bold, and at that time illegal, step of rebaptizing adult believers.
Eventually persecution in Germany led these German Baptists to emigrate to the U.S.
They were known for years simply as German Baptist Brethren, but that title has largely disappeared, except in the case of the Old German Baptist Brethren, who were also known as “Dunkers.”
The term “Brethren”and “Dunker” have been the cause of much confusion. Dunker is a direct derivation of the German tunken, “to dip or immerse,” and is identified with the perculiar method of immersion employed by this group of churches in which the new believer is immersed three times, face forward, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
– Source: Handbook of Denominations in the United States Frank S. Mead and Samuel S. Hill, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 11th edition (May 1, 2001) Pages 157-158
The Old German Baptist Brethren is the ultra-conservative branch of the Brethren movement. It was formally organized in 1881 after several churches withdrew from the main church and Elders from several congregations drew up the Resolutions passed at the Special Conference. Some of the issues that caused them to withdraw were standard dress, higher education, missions, church discipline, and the role of the Annual Conference.
Theologically they recognize the depravity of fallen humanity and the redemptive work of God through Jesus Christ. Important to them is the need for repentance, confession, and obedience in a life of righteousness. Salvation is granted thorough the Grace of God to those who have faith and live a life of good works. Faith and good works are inexorably linked – true faith is manifested in fruitful works and an obedient life.
They, due in part to their literal interpretation of Scripture and in part due to their long standing traditions, practice several “ordinances” like baptism, feetwashing, the love feast meal, communion of the bread and cup, the holy kiss, and annointing of the sick.
Baptism is for the remission of sins. It is administered upon request of the applicant and after examination and instruction by the church. Baptism is by trine forward immersion in running water.
Love feast is held following a deacon’s visit to all members of the congregation. Feetwashing is done in the “double mode”, where members go two-by-two, one washing and the other wiping the feet of a third person. Afterwards the holy kiss is administered and then communion of unleavened bread and wine.
The Old German Baptist Brethren have an Annual Meeting held at Pentecost. It runs from Saturday through Tuesday, with a love feast on Pentecost and a council meeting on Tuesday. The Annual Meeting is an important factor in the continuation of the church. It is their highest organizational authority and provides an opportunity for fellowship and social exchange.
– Source: The Primitive Christian (Web site no longer online)