In some denominations, it takes issues such as the ordination of practicing homosexuals to cause a split. In the case of the 40,000-member Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC), the catalyst was the doctrine of trine (three-fold) baptism.

At the annual meeting of the FGBC, held in August, dissenters announced that the Conservative Grace Brethren Association (CGBA), in formation since 1989, was breaking away. According to John Whitcomb, president of the CGBA board, 25 congregations have already sided with the new association, and an additional 20 or so are actively exploring the possibility.

A main doctrinal distinctive of Grace Brethren churches, who trace their roots to the early 1700s, has been the practice of trine baptism. In accordance with the doctrine, church membership requires that believers be immersed three times, once for each person of the godhead.

In 1964, however, the FGBC decided to let individual churches set policies regarding acceptance of members. At this year’s meeting, said 1992 FGBC moderator David Plaster, the fellowship reaffirmed the 1964 policy. “Churches must continue to practice only trine baptism,” said Plaster, “but they can receive believers on a basis other than trine immersion baptism.”

Conservative Alarm

The CGBA’s Whitcomb maintains, however, that the FGBC’s policy is too permissive and removes any meaningful basis for cooperation among Grace Brethren churches. He says the policy signifies a drift among Grace Brethren churches away from their conservative theological roots.

A press release issued by CGBA director John Zielasko cites other problems, including “compromises of doctrinal integrity” and “questionable theological trends” at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana, ...

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