Summary: This sermon was written for the purpose of the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary of the first Baptism of Alexander Mack and seven others in Schwarzenau, Germony in the Eder River.
Brethren Elder Peter Nead [1796-1877] was definitely a man of distinction. Living in a time when few Brethren were authoring books, Brother Nead chose to do so. In penning his theological point of views there was evidence in the words and phrases that his writing abilities were a little amateurish; especially when held in contrast to the deep theological writings of those with scholarly backgrounds. But yet his books often showed a bit of polish for those Brethren from the rural areas of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. As one would read, simple images and even splendid statements could be discovered.
Peter Nead was truly a blessing amid the Brethren, especially during the mid part of the nineteenth century. It has been stated that his book entitle, "Theological Writings of Various Subjects," published in 1850, he has definitely encouraged many individuals to join with the Brethren more so than any other writers. He also is credited as the author of the Brethren’s first published title on faith and practice, called "Primitive Christianity."
In the previous publication one can find this theological statement: “The Church, which is the body of Christ, will be found in a state of self-denial, walking in all the ordinances and commandments of the Lord, blameless.” What a profound statement penned by such a modest man: Definitely here is a series of phrases challenging all its readers to live in a life of “self-denial” and above that to be found “blameless” in their daily walk with the Christ.
How can anyone of us live such a life? Better yet, is it really possible to do? After all, we live in a faster paced world than Nead. We Brethren of today don’t all live in the rural setting that our ancestry did. Gone are the days of simple dress and living. Past are the times of slower modes of transportation and communication. And above all, living such a life in most of today’s societal venues would be almost unacceptable by one’s peers.
Nead’s diary includes record of a visit he had made to Elders Daniel and Samuel Arnold in Hampshire County (then Virginia, now West Virginia) in July of 1823. At that time he had traveled there to request a rebaptism (had come from the Lutheran faith).
He had been led to these two elders of the Brethren or Tunkers in his search for a people who practiced their Christianity the right way. It seems that the Brethren were the first that had met his test of faith. In his diary he wrote: “I made known my business to him immediately. I told [Daniel] I wanted to conform to the ordinances of Christ church I therefore wanted to be baptized.”
Even though the request had now been made by Peter he still had to wait for a period of time to pass before he could enter the waters of baptism. It was the custom of the Brethren to follow a purposeful, yet precautious process. Elder Arnold, even though a sincere man of faith stood before him with such a request, would not begin to baptize Nead without first making contact with his brethren and have their consensus to perform this rite. Such caution was rare even at this time in history among most evangelistic groups.
Finally, almost a year later, Nead returned to the home of Elder Arnold. On June 14th in the Potomac River he was immersed three times forward by Daniel Arnold. He then returned to preaching and traveling. Later he settled in the area of Broadway, VA and married. In 1827 the Linville Creek congregation got around to electing Nead to the ministry. At this same council meeting, John Kline, another influential Brethren leader of the mid-nineteenth century, was made a deacon.
But what is it that influenced persons like Nead and Kline to join the Brethren through the ordinance of trine immersion? Why have other great leaders of the Brethren like Anna Mow, Dan West, Ted Studebaker, and Sister Sarah Riter Major made the same choice? Why is it that those of us here that also have entered the waters of baptism either here in this baptistry or at a nearby stream made such a choice? I guess the answer is right beneath our noses in this morning’s bulletin.
If you take a close look at the heading and there just beneath the date is a little key to why we practice this mode of baptism we call trine immersion. Our founder, Alexander Mack and seven other brothers and sisters entered the Eder River near Schwarzenau, Germany 300 years ago, today.
Yes, it is a part of our religious heritage, but yet it far exceeds that as well.
You may also recall that according to Matthew and Mark’s Gospel accounts, Jesus had entered the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist, just prior to beginning his earthly ministry. In the Gospel according to Mark we read: “And when He came up out of the water…” These few words speak abundantly about the mode of baptism administered by John and thus made the choice by Jesus, the Son of the Loving God.