The Brethren in Christ were (and are) not fundamentalists. This— thankfully—has been the long-held contention of many Brethren in Christ historians. While debates about “the fundamentals of the faith” raged on in schools and churches across the United States in the early years of the twentieth century, the Brethren (who had no seminary-trained pastors, and who avoided much ecumenical interaction in order to preserve a “pure” church unblemished by “worldliness”) remained both geographically and intellectually distinct.
But they were not modernists, either. The Brethren in Christ have long been a conservative fellowship, shaped decisively by theological strands that emphasized personal and corporate piety and obedience to God above all else. Thus, their worldview was not entirely distinct from that of the fundamentalists.
Luke Keefer, Jr., has offered a helpful qualification of this point, especially as it relates to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. Because the church has long held a high view of Scripture, he argues, the Brethren in Christ “agreed with the conservative cause . . . [t]o the extent that they understood the ‘battle for the Bible.’”
Evidence of this limited collusion with “the conservative cause” cropped up in the “News and Notes” section of this quarter’s newsletter from the Brethren in Christ Historical Society: a re-printing of a 1912 “announcement brochure” from what was then known as Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training Home (now Messiah College, which is currently celebrating its centennial year). The announcement asserts:
[B]y conducting [our school] on Bible lines we hope to avoid some of the disastrous results following the attendance at schools where ‘Destructive Higher Criticism’ is fostered and the Bible is not held as the main rule of life and action.
The brochure’s pejorative reference to “Destructive Higher Criticism” would certainly have been echoed by fundamentalists like J. Gresham Machen. Machen reacted against Princeton Theological Seminary’s perceived shift toward liberalism by resigning his academic post and starting his own seminary, Philadelphia’s Westminster Theological, in 1929. In founding Westminster, he sought to foster “an intellectual atmosphere in which the acceptance of the Gospel will seem to be something other than an offense against truth” —a mission, it seems, that Messiah’s earliest promotional literature (and the denomination sponsoring it) would likely have endorsed.
 “‘Inerrancy’ and the Brethren in Christ View of Scripture,” in Reflections on a Heritage: Defining the Brethren in Christ, ed. E. Morris Sider, 214 (Grantham, Pa.: Brethren in Christ Historical Society, 1999). Keefer maintains, however, that a variety of circumstances and long-held convictions—not the least of which was the Brethren’s natural aversion from controversy-causing language—precluded their full acceptance of the fundamentalist position.
 What is Christianity? and Other Addresses, ed. Ned Stonehouse, 129 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951).