Society for the Study of Brethren History

In 1995, historians from various German Brethren assemblies convened to found the Arbeitskreis Geschichte der Brüderbewegung (Society for the Study of Brethren History).


The aims of the society are:

Members and meetings

Members of the society belong to different streams of the German Brethren movement. Some of them are faculty members of Wiedenest Bible College, others are individuals interested in Brethren research. The society meets at Wiedenest twice a year.


The archive is located in the library of Wiedenest Bible College at Bergneustadt (North Rhine-Westphalia), not far from Cologne. It contains Brethren books, pamphlets, journals, manuscripts, typescripts etc., mainly (but not exclusively) from the German-speaking countries. In addition, there are more specialized sections in the library which may be relevant for research, e.g. the Erich Sauer Archive. The archive is open for the public (contact the archivist, Susanne Borner).


The Society issues a special series of books on Brethren history, printed by Jota Publikationen at Muldenhammer. Members also publish their research results in various journals and on the internet.


In the past, we organized two public conferences at Wiedenest Bible College. One conference, in 1998, was in memory of Erich Sauer, well-known lecturer at Wiedenest and author of many books; the other, in 2000, in memory of John Nelson Darby. In 2003, we were involved in a larger conference at Dillenburg (Hesse) that was held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the German Brethren movement. In 2005, we hosted the Second International Brethren History Conference at Wiedenest. In 2012, we held a conference at Bad Lausick (Saxony) commemorating the union of German “Exclusive” and “Open” assemblies in 1937. In 2014, we collaborated with the German Baptist Historical Board in organizing a symposium at Kassel (Hesse) on the union between German Baptists and Brethren in 1941/42.

Background: The Brethren movement in Germany

As a movement, the German Brethren started in 1853 with a “Darbyite” assembly at Elberfeld. Some earlier congregations in Southern Germany and the Rhineland later joined this “Exclusive” wing, which grew to be the largest Brethren group in Germany. The movement became well-known by its own Bible translation, the Elberfelder Bibel, made by John Nelson Darby, Carl Brockhaus, Julius Anton von Poseck (who later emigrated to England) and Hermanus Cornelis Voorhoeve. In the 1890s, almost all “Darbyite” assemblies in Germany left the “Exclusive” mainstream and joined the more moderate “Lowe-Continental” (later “Kelly-Lowe-Continental” or KLC) group.

The beginning of German “Open Brethren” is not as easy to date because there were several forerunners known as “Evangelical Alliance congregations” which became Open Brethren in the late 19th or early 20th century, e.g. at Berlin, Dresden, and Bad Homburg. The Bible College founded at Berlin in 1905 (moved to Wiedenest in 1919) became a centre of the Open Brethren movement.

In 1937, the Nazi government banned the German “Exclusive” (i.e. KLC) assemblies. Under the pressure of the regime, they founded an organization called Bund freikirchlicher Christen (Union of Free-Church Christians), which was also joined by the Open Brethren. In 1941/42, they united with the Baptists to form the Bund Evangelisch-Freikirchlicher Gemeinden (Union of Evangelical Free-Church Congregations), though some assemblies kept meeting in secret outside these unions. After the War, more than half of the Brethren assemblies left the union with the Baptists and started the (“Open”) Freier Brüderkreis (Circle of Free Brethren), others joined the “secret Brethren” of the Nazi period to re-establish the group of “Exclusive” (KLC) Brethren.

See also

© 2009 Arbeitskreis „Geschichte der Brüderbewegung” · Stand: 06.01.2017