The term Brethren identifies several Protestant groups of common origin. While it is difficult to come up with solid numbers, it is estimated that there are about one million people who identify themselves as Brethren. Some prefer to just be known as "Christians", to avoid any connotation of denominationalism.
The movement began in Germany in 1708 as part of the spiritual awakening called Pietism. Their foundation was due to a desire of "restoring primitive Christianity", and dates back to 1708. In that year their founder Alexander Mack (1679-1735) received believers' baptism with seven companions at Schwarzenau, in Westphalia. They baptized one another by immersion, face down, three times in a flowing stream: this form of Baptism became a distinctive practice. The little company rapidly made converts, and congregations were established in Germany, Holland, and Switzerland. As they were subjected to persecution, they all emigrated to America between the years 1719 and 1729. Since then, small groups have broken away from the main body, either because it seemed too liberal or not liberal enough. Among all Brethren, trine immersion is practiced and a pacifist witness maintained.
The first families settled at Germantown, Pennsylvania, where a church was organized in 1723. Shortly after some members, led by Conrad Beissel who contended that the seventh day ought to be observed as the Sabbath, seceded and formed the "Seventh Day Baptists" (German; membership in 1911, 250). The Tunkers, nevertheless, prospered and, in spite of set-backs caused by the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, spread from Pennsylvania to many other states of the Union, and to Canada. Foreign missionary work and the foundation of educational institutions were inaugurated in the decade 1870-1880. About the same time the demands for the adoption of a more progressive and liberal church policy became more and more insistent, and in 1881-82 led to division. Two extreme parties, "the Progressives" and the "Old Order Brethren", separated from the main body, which henceforth was known as the "Conservative Tunkers".
In the winter of 1827-1828, four men—John Nelson Darby, Edward Cronin, John Bellett, and Francis Hutchinson—gathered together to pray and read Scripture. The first meeting was held in Dublin, Ireland, and other meetings followed. Soon there were assemblies gathering in several locations. The most well-known group was in Plymouth, and the name "Plymouth Brethren" has since become a default name for others.
Brethren churches vary somewhat in their practices and beliefs due to their independent nature, but there are a number of things that would characterize most of them. The recognition of all believers as part of the body of Christ and the priesthood of all believers are key starting points. Another pattern is the plurality of overseers and the absence of clergy/laity distinctions in the body. Though they do not use salaried pastors, they do recognize that certain men have been gifted for leadership ministry within the church. Brethren churches typically partake of the Lord's Supper weekly. Most Brethren churches are also pre-tribulational and dispensational.
In addition to their admission of the teaching of the Baptists, they hold the following distinctive beliefs and practices. In the administration of baptism the candidate is required to kneel in the water and is dipped forward three times, in recognition of the three Persons of the Trinity. Communion after the manner of the primitive church is administered in the evening; it is preceded by the love-feast or agape, and followed by the kiss of charity. On certain occasions they also perform the rite of foot-washing. Their dress is characterized by unusual simplicity. They refuse to take oaths, to bear arms, and, in so far as possible, to engage in lawsuits.
Conservative Tunkers obey the annual conference as the central authority, and have a ministry composed of "bishops" or "elders", "ministers", and "deacons". They maintain schools in various states, own a printing plant at Elgin, Illinois, and publish the "Gospel Messenger" as their official organ. (Membership, 3006 ministers, 880 churches, 100,000 communicants.) [From the Catholic Encyclopedia (Published 26 Jan., 1911)]
The Progressives hold that the decisions of the annual conference do not bind the individual conscience, that its regulations concerning plain attire need not be observed, and that each congregation shall independently administer its own affairs. (Statistics, 186 ministers, 219 churches, 18,607 communicants.) [From the Catholic Encyclopedia (Published 26 Jan., 1911)]
The Old Order Brethren are unalterably attached to the old practices; they are opposed to high schools, Sunday schools, and missionary activity; they have still, according to the long prevalent custom of the sect, an unsalaried ministry and are extremely plain in dress. (228 ministers; 75 churches; 4000 communicants.) [From the Catholic Encyclopedia (Published 26 Jan., 1911)]
If you are a Lutheran, your religion was founded by Martin Luther, an ex-monk of the Catholic Church, in approximately 1520.
If you belong to the Church of England, your religion was founded by King Henry VIII (an ex-Catholic) in the year 1534. Henry VIII decided to create his own church when Pope Clement VII would not grant him a divorce with the right to remarry.
If you are a Mennonite, Menno Simons (an ex-Catholic) created your religion in 1536.
If you are a Presbyterian, John Knox (an ex-Catholic) founded your sect in Scotland in the year 1560.
If you are a Congregationalist, your religion began with Robert Brown in Holland in 1582.
If you are a Baptist, John Smyth created your sect in Amsterdam in 1605.
If you are of the Dutch Reformed church, your church began with Michaelis Jones in New York in 1628.
If you are a Quaker, your religion began with George Fox in 1652.
If you are a Protestant Episcopalian, Samuel Seabury created your sect in the American colonies in the 17th century, as an offshoot of the Church of England.
If you are Amish, Jacob Amman created your religion in 1693, as an offshoot of the Mennonites.
If you belong to any of the Brethren movements or its offshoots, Alexander Mack created your sect in Germany in 1708.
If you are a Methodist, your religion was launched by John and Charles Wesley in England in 1744.
If you are a Unitarian, Theophilus Lindley founded your sect in London in 1774.
If you are a Mormon ("Latter Day Saints"), your religion comes from Joseph Smith, who revealed it in Palmyra, N.Y. in 1829.
If you are a Seventh Day Adventist, your religion was created by Ellen White in 1860.
If you worship with the Salvation Army, William Booth started your sect in London in 1865.
If you are of the "Jehovah's Witnesses," your beliefs came from Charles Taze Russell in 1872.
If you are a "Christian Scientist," Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy devised your religion in 1879.
If you worship with the, Chuck Smith started your sect in California in the late 1960's.
If you belong to one of the religious organizations known as "Calvary Chapel," "Church of the Nazarene," "Pentecostal Gospel," "Holiness Church," "Pilgrim Holiness Church," "Assemblies of God," "United Church of Christ," etc., your religion is one of the thousands of new sects founded by men in the last century.
If you are Catholic, you know that your religion was founded in the year 33 by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, true God and true man; and that this one Church, to which people must belong to be saved, will exist until the end of time.
Doctrinal Chaos is the bad Fruit of Man-Made Religion
2 Peter 2:1 "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there shall be among you lying teachers, who shall bring in sects of perdition, and deny the Lord who bought them: bringing upon themselves swift destruction."
Following Martin Luther's excommunication from the Catholic Church in 1520, which marked the beginning of the Protestant movement, over 20,000 different denominations have been created in about 500 years. In 1980, David A. Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press) gave the number of different denominations as 20,780. He projected that there would be 22,190 denominations by 1985.
This would mean that there are approximately 25,000 (or possibly 30,000) different denominations today. Even if, for the sake of argument, one were to take a conservative estimate, and give the number as only 15,000 different denominations, this equates to more than one new sect having been created every two weeks.
When we consider the fact that the original founders of Protestantism didn't even agree with each other on major points of doctrine, such denominational chaos shouldn't be a surprise. Protestantism is man-made religion, in which each person ultimately determines for himself what he thinks the Bible teaches. Martin Luther (the initiator of Protestantism) condemned the doctrinal views of John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, two other leading Protestant figures. They all claimed to follow the Bible.
Basically all of these thousands of non-Catholics sects purport to be Christian and claim to follow the Bible, even though they disagree with each other on crucial doctrinal matters, such as: the precise nature of justification; whether human works and sins are a part of salvation; whether men have free will; predestination; whether infants need baptism for salvation; what Communion is; whether it's necessary to confess to the Lord; which books of the New Testament apply to us today; the structure of the Church's hierarchy; the role of bishops and ministers; the Sabbath; the role of women in church; etc. ad nauseam. Most of these groups even claim that the individual "Christian" will be led by the Holy Spirit when privately reading the Bible. The disunity of these sects constitutes an irrefutable proof that their doctrine is not of the Spirit of Truth; and that their principle of operation (i.e., Scripture alone apart from the Church and Tradition) is not the doctrine of the Bible and the Apostles.
Ephesians 4:4-5 "One body and one Spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism."