3 Mack, Alexander

Mack, Alexander

( 1679-1735)
   founder of the movement that came to be known as the Brethren
   Alexander Mack was born in Schriesheim, near Heidelberg, Germany, in 1679 to a prosperous mill owner who belonged to the local parish of the Reformed Church. Not formally educated, Mack was nevertheless an avid Bible student, which often led him to challenge the minister of his church.
   Mack found new vitality in Pietism, with its emphasis on personal religious devotion. Each individual, he now believed, needed a personal relationship to God. He called his fellow Christians to a life of honesty, integrity, and spiritual exercises like prayer, Bible study, and hymn singing.
   Like all Pietists, Mack regularly met with a small group of like-minded seekers, but unlike most, he left his local parish. Following his father's death, he started holding services in what was now his mill. Challenged by the authorities, in 1706 Mack and his family moved to Schwarzenau near Marburg, where a sympathetic local ruler gave protection to Separatists.
   Mack came to believe that true Christianity could only be found apart from the established church. Using Schwarzenau as a base, he visited many Pietist and other groups. From the Men-nonites he took the idea that baptism should be performed not on infants, but on those old enough to understand. A New Testament church should be a disciplined community of baptized believers, not just the citizens of a particular parish. It should meet together as a moral community and be prepared to discipline wayward members. Unlike the Mennonites, he concluded that baptism should be by immersion.
   In 1708, Mack and seven followers rebaptized themselves in the Eder River. Chosen by lot, Mack was baptized first, and he then baptized the others. Since the act was illegal in most of Germany, they all agreed not to disclose his name. Each person was immersed three times (triune immersion) in the "name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
   The little group called itself the "Schwarzenau Baptists." They instituted several ordinances, including a Lord's Supper that consisted of a meal, foot washing, and the sharing of bread and the cup. They believed that the church should be separate from the government, and appoint and ordain its own ministers. They were pacifists as well.
   Over the next decade, the group grew and spread to other locations. To escape persecution, in 1719 the majority of the congregation at Krefeld migrated to Germantown, Pennsylvania. Mack led the Schwarzenau group to the Netherlands in 1720, and then to merge with the Ger-mantown congregation nine years later, where he became leader. He was unable to prevent a schism when George Beissel left to found a communal group at Ephrata, Pennsylvania.
   Mack died at Germantown on February 19, 1735. The largest group of his followers eventually became the Church of the Brethren. Among other successor groups are some who still keep the plain clothing once so noticeable among the Brethren; still others, such as the Grace Brethren, have identified with modern Evangelicalism.
   Further reading:
   ■ Freeman Ankrum, Alexander Mack the Tunker and Descendants (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1943)
   ■ Donald FF Durnbaugh, Brethren Beginnings: The Origin of the Church of the Brethren in Early Eighteenth-Century Europe (Philadelphia: Brethren Encyclopedia, 1992)
   ■ Alexander Mack, The Complete Writings of Alexander Mack, ed. by William R. Eberly (Winona Lake, Ind.: BMH Books, 1991)
   ■ William G. Willoughby, Counting the Cost: The Life of Alexander Mack, 1679-1735 (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Press, 1979).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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