A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing | Sojourners

A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

I remember so many things about my home church. Dunning Park Chapel is a Plymouth Brethren "assembly" of hard-working people in the motor city of Detroit.

Originally from England, the Plymouth Brethren left after breaking away from the state church and suffering years of religious persecution. They came to the United States seeking the freedom to worship and practice their faith as they saw fit. In sharp contrast to high-church Anglicanism, Plymouth Brethren congregations were characterized by simplicity, lay leadership, personal piety, and a great devotion to the Bible. Ritual, liturgy, and hierarchy were shunned in favor of plain services with wide participation.

There was a strong emphasis on the separation of church and state, and, as my mother once told me, there were no American flags in Plymouth Brethren congregations before World War II. In their earliest days, they were even pacifists. The Plymouth Brethren communities were genuinely countercultural, consciously rejecting many of the values of their surrounding culture on the basis of their steadfast biblical faith.

Much of that was still true as I was growing up in the 1950s and '60s. These were people for whom faith was at the center of life. Indeed, most of our family activity revolved around the church which my parents had helped to found. My father was always an elder in the church, and my mother would have been if women had been allowed to publicly exercise their gifts of leadership. Really, they were both lay pastors, he out front and she behind the scenes.

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