But not all Brethren in Christ embraced evangelicalism so warmly. For a few church members, this larger movement signified a threat to the community — not only to their unique practices and beliefs, but to the community’s very survival as a distinct group.
This sentiment was expressed quite poignantly by Henry N. Hostetter, bishop for the church’s Manor-Pequea District, in a letter to youth conference organizer C. Z. Musser. Referring to a recent advertisement about the 1950 Grantham Youth Conference, Hostetter questioned what he perceived as Musser’s over-emphasis on the keynote speaker, evangelical leader Bob Pierce. “[I am] feeling that the announcement was a bit biased,” Hostetter declared sharply, “as all the emphasis was put on the outside man, which is already a current problem among many of our youth in that the outside looks so much better [that the Brethren in Christ Church].” While admitting that he welcomed Pierce’s presence at the conference, he expressed concerns about the stress placed on Pierce above denominational speakers — a stress, he thought, that might further weaken young peoples’ fidelity to their home denomination.
While church members like Hostetter worried about the effect that evangelicalism might have on denominational loyalty,
others questioned fraternization with evangelicals on the
basis of doctrine and practice. For many Brethren in Christ, evangelicalism represented a form of Christianity too accommodated to “the world.” As early as 1947, Leah Dohner warned the Ohio-Kentucky Joint Council that fraternization with “workers from other denominations who do not teach holiness” has the potential to weaken the church’s stand on holiness and, by extension, on separation from “the world.” Bishop Luke L. Keefer, Sr., recalled in his autobiography that he initially opposed Brethren in Christ affiliation with the NAE because the group did not hold the church’s nonconformist doctrine.
Even after the church’s formal affiliation with NAE and the larger evangelical movement, some continued to resist — and even denounced the changes to church doctrine inspired by NAE involvement (as described earlier). Reacting negatively to a leader’s suggestion that she “be charitable in accepting some changes [to Brethren in Christ doctrine] which must come for growth,” one church member expressed her concerns to Bishop Henry Hostetter. If she modified her “unalterable . . . standards” of plain dress, would she not forfeit her witness to her “circle of unsaved friends”?
By the late 1950s and 1960s, despite the best efforts of some church members to resist evangelicalism, prominent church leaders were identifying their community with the larger evangelical movement, and many church members began to think of themselves as evangelicals. As the Brethren in Christ increasingly identified as “evangelicals,” both in word and in practice, many church members began to feel a decreased emphasis on distinctive doctrines. In response, some church members took a new tact: by redefining notions like “nonconformity” and “nonresistance” in new ways, they hoped to reform evangelicalism — and, in turn, their own denomination.