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Old Order River Brethren


The Old Order River Brethren is a small Christian denomination that has its origin in the Mennonite Church and the German Pietism. They are commonly called The River Brethren.

This denomination began in 1778 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and shares its early history with the Brethren in Christ Church. They started during a revival movement among the German immigrants in Pennsylvania, and the Mennonite refugees from Switzerland that had settled near the Susquehanna River. They used the Susquehanna River for their Baptisms.

There was a group of brethren who lived near the Susquehanna River which had separated from the Mennonites and soon became known as the River Brethren. A group left the River Brethren and established a separate Old Oder group in 1843. They were referred to as the York Brethren located in York County, Pennsylvania. This new group believed the River Brethren were lax in non-conformity and non-resistance to the world and a lack of desire to keep the old doctrines and traditions.

Their religious leaders were Jacob and John Engle and their followers were those who distanced themselves from Martin Boehm and the United Brethren movement. Jacob Engle promoted Trine Immersion which is a form of baptism in which the candidate is immersed three times, once for each person of the Trinity. They oppose war, alcohol, tobacco and worldly pleasures. They hold to plain dress which is traditional and expresses modesty. Women must have a head covering. Women wear below the knee solid colored dresses with a matching cape or apron. The men wear black or dark pants with suspenders, a solid colored shirt and straw or a black hat. Adult men wear beards. They do have electricity and drive cars including computers and microwaves if it will help in their business. They do not have televisions.

The Old Order River Brethren live as a brotherhood and practice Bible principles in their everyday lives. They practice the teachings of Jesus with His Sermon on the Mount and use this to emphasize non-resistance to enemies. They strive to express an honest relationship with all their neighbors and fellow workers. They hold daily family worship and nurture their children in the ways of Christ. They show respect for the elderly and help the poor as a part of their everyday living.

Membership in the Old Order River Brethren are required to verbally acknowledge the need for the purifying power of Jesus and allow Him to tale control of their heart. It takes about a year of learning and maturing within the Brotherhood before conversion is possible. Typically, there must be a request for Baptism, followed by the request for membership. Thy perform Baptism by Trine immersion which is a form of baptism in which the candidate is immersed three times, once for each person of the Trinity, and performed in a stream or pond.

The worship services are the center of the life in the brotherhood. They hold three hour Sunday morning worship with include testimonies from its members and preaching from their ministers. Their meetings are usually held at member’s homes or in rented community buildings. Special meetings could include communion, also called love feasts, harvest meetings, prayer meetings, youth meetings, Bible Studies, and special singings which is done acapella in a slow regular cadence.

The Old Order River Brethren consists of around five congregations four are in Pennsylvania and one in Iowa in the year 2000. They are a conservative denomination and associated with the Amish and the Mennonite Churches. They choose to meet in homes rather than to assemble meeting houses.


The River Brethren originated near the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They were led by Jacob Engle who strived to lead a small group of Christians to form a new fellowship around 1778. They were influenced by the Mennonite brotherhood, the Brethren movement called the Dunkers, and the Pennsylvania German revivalists who later converted into the United Brethren Church. These three movements influenced the Christian practices of the Old Order River Brethren. The Brethren divided into three groups in 1850 creating the United Zion Church, the Brethren in Christ and the Old Order River Brethren.

John and Jacob Engle were immigrants from Switzerland who came to America with a large number of Mennonites in November of 1753. They located in the northwestern part of Lancaster County near the eastern banks of the Susquehanna. There was a revival in the western part of Lancaster County Pennsylvania in 1778. The Engle were joined by members of the Lutherans, Mennonite, and those of the Anabaptist faiths to make up the Old Order River Brethren. Jacob Engle became the first minister of the Brotherhood with help from John Engle, John Gish, John Stern to help run this newly form Brotherhood. They were first called the Brethren at the River then the River Brethren to the Old Order River Brethren.


The Old Order River Brethren believes in the one Triune God who they believe is self existent and self revealing in three persons; The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Old Order River Brethren believes God created man in His holy image and lived in innocence until by disobedience in Eden; he sinned and lost fellowship with God. They believe all humanity is under the curse of sin and can be restored to fellowship with a righteous God only by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

The Old Order River Brethren believes the Holy scriptures are the inerrant Word of God and is the only rule of faith and practice.

They believe redemption occurs when an individual is made aware of his sins by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. They believe it requires a repentant, confession and forsaken of sin to be redeemed. They believe next there will be faith experience forgiveness through the atoning blood of Christ. They believe this produces conversion.

The Old Order River Brethren believes after conversion a new believer confesses his faith in Christ by entering into covenant relationship with a Christian community or brotherhood. They believe the new believer must publically declare their faith by trine immersion baptism immersion which is a form of baptism in which the candidate is immersed three times, once for each person of the Trinity. They believe this is when a believer becomes accountable to other believers.

The Old Order River Brethren believes the Lord Jesus Christ will return with a shout in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. They believe the Christian church will be caught up in the air to be forever with the Lord. They believe that is when all mankind will be judged by Christ at the Great Judgment Day.

Cite Article Source

MLA Style Citation:
Holstein, Joanne. "Old Order River Brethren." Becker Bible Studies Library Jan 2006.   <>.

APA Style Citation:
Holstein, Joanne. (2006, January) "Old Order River Brethren." Becker Bible Studies Library Retrieved   from

Chicago Style Citation:
Holstein, Joanne. (2006) "Old Order River Brethren." Becker Bible Studies Library (January), (accessed )

About the Author

Joanne B. Holstein is a Becker Bible Studies teacher and author of Guided Bible Studies for Hungry Christians. She has received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology/Christian Counseling with honors from Liberty University. She is well-known as a counsleor to Christian faithful who are struggling with tremendous burden in these difficult times. She is a leading authority on the history of development of the Christian churches and the practices and beliefs of world religions and cults.

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