Charles Henry Brunner

by Harold Patton Shelly

This afternoon I want to look with you at the life and ministry of Charles Henry Brunner. One of the most influential men in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, Pennsylvania Conference. CH as he was known was a faithful churchman, loving pastor, creative innovator, gifted writer, amateur theologian [scholar], amateur historian and erstwhile poet-musician.

A Personal Note

But first allow me a personal note. One evening, about a year and a half ago (8 March 2001) as I perused old Gospel Banners, I happened across the report from the Pastor of the Philadelphia, Salem Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, C.H. Brunner. My eyes were drawn to a brief notice entitled “Shelly-Patton.” It told about a wedding Brunner conducted in Germantown, Pennsylvania between a young woman from Philadelphia and a young man from Quakertown on September 17, 1929. These were my parents. Shortly after their marriage they moved to Quakertown and became active members of Grace Mennonite Brethren in Christ, Third Street. When I was one year old (1934) we received a new Pastor, Herbert W. Hartman. His wife Dorothy was the daughter of Charles Henry Brunner and Sarah Catherine Musselman Brunner. I still remember Sister Hartman singing in her deep contralto voice, “One Sat Alone beside the highway begging. His eyes were blind; the light he could not see.” I also remember after his retirement Brother and Sister Brunner came to live with their daughter and family in Quakertown. They were a quiet couple. They always had pleasant smiles and a kind, encouraging word.

To realize that one has known a person elected Presiding Elder in the 19th century and that we are living in the 21st century seems extraordinary, somewhat uncanny, almost weird.

I remember one incident very well. It was about 1945 and I was about 12. The young people regularly participated in the Sunday evening service in those days. I was asked to speak or read something, just what I do not remember. I do remember, however, that it was a disaster. But sitting near the front on my left were the Brunners. He looked at me as though I was doing fine. What an encouragement he was to this little kid.  

Who Was CH Brunner?

Who was this kindly, elderly, retired gentleman? I was to find out that he was one of the most significant, influential, formative leaders in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ for more than fifty years even though he was not the most visible leader. Much of his contribution came in written form as articles on a variety of topics and his service on the major committees of the Conference. Even after his death his articles continued to be published.

Here are the basic facts: Charles Henry Brunner was born near Zionsville in 1864. He became secretary of Annual Conference as a delegate in 1891 at age 27. The following year he and his wife received Quarterly Conference license and in 1893 he received Annual Conference license (at age 29), was ordained in 1896 (at age 32). He was elected Presiding Elder two years later (1898 at age 34), founded the Gospel Heralds 1898 (or ‘99), elected chairman of Annual Conference in 1899 (at age 35, just three years after his ordination) and Chairman of General Conference in 1900 one year after that (at age 36). He began to publish the minutes of Annual Conference in 1896. Brother Brunner pastored some of the larger, more influential churches in the Conference such as Reading, Bethlehem, Allentown-Bethel, Philadelphia-Salem, and Emmaus. He retired to Quakertown in 1942, age 78, then to Coopersburg. He died in 1948, 54 years ago, at the age of 84. 


Who were the Brunners? What was their importance to the early years of the Bible fellowship Church? Let me posit, without the Brunner family and those related to them by marriage (their extended family), there would be no BFC today. For 66 years, from 1879 to 1945, every Conference Chairman and every Presiding Elder in the Pennsylvania Conference was a member of this extended Brunner-Musselman-Gehman family. The Evangelical Mennonites, it seems to me, was not really growing significantly before William Brunner Musselman became the Presiding Elder. He was succeeded by his cousin CH Brunner. Then came WB’s brother Harvey Brunner Musselman. Soon William George Gehman would replace Brunner as P. E. and President of the Gospel Herald Society. And he was a third cousin.

Charles Henry Brunner was the son of Joel Sell Brunner  and Rebekah Gehman Brunner.  Charles was born in “Pants Pocket”, better known as Hosensack, PA, January 2, 1864. Four years later his father purchased a farm near Zionsville station where young Charles grew up. (Joel Brunner later sold the farm to his son Harvey.) His mother died when he was 18 (1882). (He was 46 when his father died in 1910).

His daughter Dorothy Claire Brunner Hartman Wentz described Joel and Rebekah Brunner’s family as follows:

Charles was the first of eight children. Three died in infancy. His brother, Harvey Gehman Brunner, married Emma Kate Rhoads and they had seven children. His sister, Nora Gehman Brunner, married Robert Dorward Dreisbach and they had seven children. His sister, Ida Gehman Brunner married Edgar T. Shick and they had five children. His sister Sarah Gehman Brunner served as a Gospel Worker with the Union Gospel Press until her death at age 96. Charles and Sarah [Catherine Musselman] had a son Paul, who died in infancy, and a daughter Dorothy, who penned these reminiscences (“Reminiscences” in the BFC archives, p. 4).

Note that every one of Charles Brunner’s siblings had the middle name Gehman, his wife’s maiden name except Charles Henry who had the middle name of his father’s brother, Henry Brunner. 

Charles the carpenter.– As a youth Charles labored one year on a farm near Dillinger Station for Abraham H. Musselman, his future father-in-law (and first cousin once removed). (One is reminded of the patriarch Jacob working for his mother Rebekah’s brother in order that he might marry his cousin Rachael). Then Charles pushed on to Coopersburg where he was apprenticed to carpenter Daniel Schaeffer with whom he also resided. He spent his weekends with his uncle Abel Strawn. (He owned land in Coopersburg.) Later Charles was employed in the trade in Bethlehem, PA. working successively for J.S. Allam, Thomas Hirst, and then Bishop and Fatzinger (Unpublished. Ms. BFC Archives). According to a story my mother told me, his coworkers in Bethlehem played tricks on Brunner when he closed his eyes to give thanks for his lunch. As a result, so the story goes, he learned to “watch and pray.”

Charles take to himself a wife –. In 1888, at 24, Charles married his second cousin Sarah Catherine Musselman, daughter of Abraham Musselman and his wife Catherine Gehman Musselman. Cousin, William Brunner Musselman performed the ceremony in Abraham and Catherine Musselman’s home. 

Charles and Sarah Brunner had two children. A son Paul was born July 11, 1894 in Royersford where he died nine months and 27 days later. Their daughter Dorothy Claire Brunner was born November 10, 1906 in Emaus, PA. She married Herbert Weidner Hartman (then in Jersey City, NJ.) on September 15, 1931 in Brunner’s parsonage in Philadelphia. 


Charles Brunner entered the full-time ministry at the age of twenty-nine. One may wonder why CH did not enter the ministry as early as some of his peers. WB Musselman was 23 (1883); HB Musselman was twenty-two (1890); WG Gehman was also twenty-two (1896). One might conjecture that as the eldest son in a large family he had to help provide for them. I do not know the reason, but it is clear that he was always active in the church.

Personal conversion and call to ministry.– Young Charles accepted the Lord as his savior at the age of 13, December 30, 1877. His father and mother were active supporters of the Upper Milford Evangelical Mennonite congregation and provided a good example for their children.

While living in Bethlehem, Charles upheld his uncle Jonas Musselman in the new congregation there. When cousin William was assigned to Bethlehem, Charles assisted with the erection of a temporary chapel on Main Street and then with a more permanent building on Laurel Street. His carpentry skills were put to good use.  Charles was also the first Sunday School Superintendent in the Bethlehem congregation (Anonymous histories, BFC Archives).

In 1890 he again assisted his cousin William, this time in Allentown where they erected a frame church at 816 Gordon Street. He evidently continued to use his carpentry skills for the Lord.

Quarterly Conference License.– In 1892 both Charles and his wife Sarah were granted Quarterly Conference licence at Bethlehem. When cousin William was elected Presiding Elder in 1892, he sent Charles and Sarah to Erwinna to assist Noah Detwiler and Aunt Lucy Brunner Musselman in their tent meetings. From there the couple went to Upper Black Eddy to assist Oswin S. Hillegas in his tent meetings. In 1893 Charles was granted Annual Conference licence and assigned to Erwinna and Upper Black Eddy. His full-time ministerial career had now begun in earnest. 

Accounts in Gospel Banners report on Holiness conventions held in Erwinna and Norristown in1893. Brunner’s uncle, Abel Strawn, a strong advocate of Entire Sanctification, tells us, “In the evening sister Brunner read Col. 3, and gave a cutting exhortation which had a telling influence and was attended with ‘Amens’ from every corner” (Dec. 5, 1893, p.12). CH reported on the Holiness Convention in Norristown, Nov. 7, 1893, “On Tuesday afternoon brother H.B. Musselman gave a Bible-reading on ’The Lamb of God.’ In the evening brother J.E. Fidler spoke on ‘Sanctification: the need of the church.’ Brother C.H. Brunner followed with ’How to obtain it,’ with an invitation to seekers.” Again “sister Sarah Brunner” spoke (Nov. 21, 1893, 120).

What he said on the subject at that time we do not know, but in 1909 Brunner published an article, “Sanctification That Satisfies.” He declared,

We want a sanctification that sanctifies us wholly or ”through and through” . . . that saves us from self and from sin and its characteristics; from soreness, pouting, evil-speaking, jealousy, honor-seeking, ease-loving, money-making, selfishness, etc. That makes us to give cheerfully and liberally. That keeps us from the gaudy and gay [sic] attire of the giddy world. That saves us from feathers and flowers, superfluous trimming and needless jewelry when all is cheerful, and also from the fashionable mourning veils and sleeve crepe in bereavement. That keeps the members free from secret orders, life insurance, worldly societies, banquets, birthday and wedding parties. . . . Brethren all these things belong to the A. B. C. or first principles of practical sanctification. O, Lord, sanctify us wholly (Gospel Banner, March 4, 1909, 133).

At that time CH seemed to see sanctification primarily in terms of social separation. He may have softened this somewhat in later years

From Conference Delegate to Conference Chairman, Annual Conference Service.– As a lay delegate from Bethlehem, Brunner served on the camp meeting committee with other laymen “In charge of tents” (Verhandlungen, 1889, 1890 1891). 

In 1891 and 1892 Conference elected CH to a committee “over the home Mission” (Ibid., 198, 208). He was no longer on the camp meeting committee, but he was on the Stationing Committee as a delegate (Ibid, 212). This was good experience from the side of a lay person. Did this experience and the election of WB beckon to cousin CH?  We may only guess.

Eighteen ninety-two and the Changing of the Guard.– The year1892 marked the changing of the guard. None of the original seven Evangelical Mennonites of 1858 were in any position of leadership and most of the leadership that would direct the Conference through to 1945 was ready to go. This would begin the period of greatest growth for the Conference. Most significantly WB Musselman was elected Presiding Elder, the first of the second generation. CH was serving as secretary; HB was in ministry and other young men were ready to assume positions of leadership.

In 1893 CH appears as an applicant for ministry and as secretary of Annual Conference. At that Conference H.B. Musselman was to be ordained. Both were among preachers “willing to submit themselves unconditionally to the Conference” (Ibid, 218). That year the Stationing Committee assigned CH to the Erwinna and Bridgeton Mission (Ibid, 220).

In 1894 he is listed as a probationer and again as secretary of Annual Conference. His grades for the Reading Course appear for the first time. He had the highest average among the class, 94% with 100% in theology and 93% in holiness (Ibid, 228),.

In 1895, though a probationer, he served on the Committee on Worship. And again he posted highest average in the Reading Course, 100% in theology and Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation, but, sadly, only 54% in Church History.  Still, he had the highest average by far; the closest average was 26% away. (Aunt Lucy came in second with 50% in Church History, Ibid, 240).

Conference placed Brunner on a committee to “act on the proposed resignation of M.A. Zyner” along with William Gehman, Abel Strawn, Charles J. Shelly and Adam B. Gehret. (Verhandlungen, 241). Though not yet ordained, a probationer and still quite young, he appears to be a man of influence in his probationary years. Obviously Brunner was moving up and becoming more and more influential.

In 1894 Conference sent CH to Royersford and Graterford. In 1897 he came to Reading for the first time, but only for one year; he would return in 1907 and remain for three years. At that time preachers did not remain at one church for many years. In a later report on Reading Brunner tells Gospel Banner readers,

We hold two open air meetings a week in this city. Every Saturday evening we hold one on the most prominent corner on the square [Fifth and Penn]. Many people are there at the appointed time as regularly as we are. We form a circle of from 40 to 50 members which is soon surrounded by earnest, respectable listeners, business men, travelling [sic] men, and others from the highest to the lowest, till we sometimes get ourselves in trouble for crowding the pavements and street, though there are often five other public meetings, religious and political, within the square both ways from us. Near the close of the service a few of the sisters sell from thirty to forty copies of the Coleportage Edition of the Gospel Herald in the congregation, many of which are purchased by customers who come there regularly for them. They also sell many in the saloons and business places. After camp-meeting some of the saloonkeepers [sic] told the sisters how they missed their papers. We also hold an early half-hour open air service Sunday evenings in the neighborhood of the church, which seems to be much appreciated (Gospel Banner, Aug 25, 1910, 13).

Presiding Elder and President of the Gospel Herald Society.– At 36 (1898) Brunner was elected Presiding Elder and began the Gospel Herald Society a few months later (What Mean These Stones, 11). He retained the position of president until 1905. As President of the Gospel Herald Society he began a new work in a new way in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. This was the first new work in a major city not in the heart of the Dutch country.

The Gospel Herald Society under Brunner (1899-1905) was creative. Certainly his partnership with his spouse, a preacher in her own right was significant.  By supplementing the theoretical / academic Reading Course with the practical Gospel Herald Society, they attempted to provide a well-rounded training for ministry. And one might say it was bi-vocational since the workers supported themselves and the director from the sales of the G[ospel] W[orker] S[ociety] Herald

In the Bible Fellowship Church history of I wrote concerning the Gospel Herald Society,

The society became a major instrument in the extension of the church into urban areas. The Gospel Heralds, like the Gospel Workers, wore uniforms similar to those of the Salvation Army, for their ministries.  The Brunners established their initial outpost on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia not far from the first Mennonite settlement and church in America. 

Annual Conference in 1900 established two districts and for the first time had two presiding elders. The Conference recognized the authority of Presiding Elder Brunner over the Home Mission Society and included it in his district.

RESOLVED. That the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Home Mission Society shall be recognized as a part of the district of Presiding Elder C.H. Brunner by virtue of his office.

Conference also recognized the ministry of Sister Brunner.

RESOLVED, that C.H. Brunner is authorized to appoint his wife, Mrs. C.H. Brunner, to any office in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Home Missionary Society as he sees proper, and is privileged to make any rules which may be beneficial to the work of God and the church. 

Three years later in the GWS Herald the movement was described as an “undenominational movement.”  Further, “the movement is becoming a regular school, giving young men a practical education on the christian [sic] work.” The “school” stressed the importance of the practical over theoretical and contended that “practice without theory [if that is possible] is better than theory without practice.”  The theoretical aspect was supplied with the MBC reading course and the guidance of C.H. One may wonder how they could describe the Gospel Herald Society as “undenominational” when the Annual Conference appointed the president of the society, determined the reading course, and expected the missions to become self-supporting Mennonite Brethren in Christ congregations. The society, nevertheless, maintained an ad hoc relationship to the denomination. Apart from appropriations from the Home Mission funds, each mission met its expenses by selling the Gospel Herald magazine and various books, and by whatever offerings came into the mission itself.

Single young men generally received their training for ministry in the Gospel Herald Society. A married man called into ministry might expect to enter the ministry directly, but a single man would be sent to the Home Missionary Society according to a regulation passed in 1902. “Resolved, That our single men who apply for the work, shall be referred to the Home Missionary President.”  He would have been under C.H. Brunner who held the title “Home Missionary Presiding Elder and President and Treasurer of the Home Missionary Society.” After C.H. trained them and approved them, they become pastors in the Conference. In this Home missionary “school” students developed into preachers and missionaries as they progressed through the training program. Most graduated, although some must have wondered if graduation would ever come. How did the president know that the lessons were learned and that the trainee was ready for a church? Submission!

The answer is plain, namely: — Just as soon as his life in this society is adorned with the submissive and obedient spirit of Christ, and he has become a pillar and [proves] reliable in the Society, abiding in the love of God, not absolutely perfect, but in touch with God that the Holy Spirit is heeded in all things without the need of rebuke by man. 

The important terminology is “submissive,” “obedient,” “reliable,” and “without need of rebuke” in relation to the leadership of the society. In the vertical relationships on the spiritual side the novice would abide in the love of God and obey the Holy Spirit in all things. Since the spiritual dimensions would be much harder to evaluate, the areas of fidelity, subjection, submissiveness, observable in one’s devotion to duty and to the leader, would be decisive. If, as someone said, “obedience is the mother of success,” then the society should have produced many successful ministers. Without submission to the discipline of their leaders there would be no ministry. When a pastor was required for an MBC congregation, the president of the Gospel Herald Society recommended a worthy trainee to the Stationing, Boundary and Appropriating Committee for assignment. Then it was his commencement time (Bible Fellowship Church, 167-71).

In his report of the Home Missionary Society (1901) CH related,

During the year, one mission was abandoned while three new missions have been opened, at one of which they are preparing to build a church, and the other two look very bright. One worker left the work but the Lord sent us four better ones. Two were transferred to church work. One church class was organized. Four new Sunday schools [sic] were started, all of which look promising (The Gospel Banner, 12 October 1901, 653, italics added).

The Conference was on the move and young men like CH Brunner were making it go. The second generation of leaders were making their mark. 


In 1895 there was a discussion favoring the use of Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) literature. Was this the influence of CH Brunner?  In 1895 Brunner was studying on the side with Frederick W. Farr of the Missionary Training Institute in Nyack, New York.  Evidently some in the Pennsylvania Conference did not fancy the selected theology and holiness textbooks. Conference passed the following motion,

That this Annual Conference appeal to the next General Council to exchange “Field’s Handbook of Christian Theology” with “Christian Manual’ by T.W. [F.W.] Farr of the New York Missionary Training Institute (Verhandlungen, 241).

It seems clear to me that Probationer-Secretary Brunner was making the case.

In my history of the Bible fellowship Church I wrote,

Brunner applied himself diligently to the study of Scripture and related subjects. He recognized worthwhile evangelical publications and recommended them to his colleagues. Like his contemporaries, he warned against the dangers of higher education. It is unfortunate that his peers did not appreciate sound Christian education and at least promote Bible training as did D.L. Moody, A.B. Simpson, A.J. Gordon and others whom they admired.

Through the Missionary Training College [sic], Brunner undertook a correspondence course. His mentor was Frederic W. Farr, a graduate of Newton Theological Seminary and the first Dean-administrator of Simpson’s Institute. A notation on his papers is as follows: “Very Good, F.W. Farr, Apr `93, Answers remarkably clear and correct.” Brunner . . . [had written] at the bottom of a page,

If I have any mistakes will you please give me the correct answers? Please excuse delay as I have hardly time to study them, but I find great pleasure and profit in the study of your lectures. Wish I could attend the college. Please return this paper. Yours saved and kept. C.H. Brunner. 

This study was undertaken at the beginning of his ministry. He gave his address as Upper Black Eddy, Bucks County, Pa. Since he began his ministry in 1892 at Erwinna, about five miles down the Delaware River from Upper Black Eddy, this would have been during his first full year of ministry. What seems so incredible is his assertion that he wished to “attend the college.” If he had, would he have returned to the Conference and, if he had come back, how would he have influenced the Conference in their stance toward Christian education? Surely he would have been even more inspired by the missionary emphasis at Simpson’s Institute and might have become a pioneer Mennonite Brethren in Christ missionary. Of course this is speculation; he did not attend the Institute. Perhaps his creation of the Gospel Herald Society as a training school for preachers was his answer to the challenge of formal Christian training (The Bible Fellowship Church,165-66).

In 1894 moneys collected for foreign missions were sent to the “International Missionary Alliance “ through Brunner. “The importance of this work was freely discussed.” One senses the influence of CH Brunner. Again in 1895, funds were sent to the C&MA through the Secretary; Brunner was the secretary of Annual Conference and of the Foreign Mission Board (Verhandlungen, 242). Conference approved two foreign missionaries, Henry L. Weiss and his wife Kate Weiss in 1896. They soon went to Chile under the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Weiss became field superintendent. (Kate Weiss was from Tuckerton and may have been a member of the Reading MBinC Church; Henry Weiss was from Milford Square and a member of the Coopersburg Church).

As secretary in 1895 when CH summarizes the oral reports of the pastors with language that reflects AB Simpson. He observed,

The Pastors and Evangelists gave their oral reports. The work over the whole district is very flourishing. The standard of justificationsanctification, and divine healing is lifted up all around, and God is calling out and preparing a bride, and adorning her for His coming. (Verhandlungen, 237. Italic added.)

Simpson’s slogan was simply stated as Jesus Christ “Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King,” but the parallel is striking.

His daughter informs us,

In the early years of his ministry, he attended meetings of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in New York City and in Nyack, N.Y., to hear the Rev. A.B. Simpson preach about the Second Coming of Christ. He revered Dr. Simpson; they were staunch friends. Rev. Brunner was made an honorary Vice President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance and at his death was eulogized in The Alliance Weekly (“Reminiscences” by Dorothy Brunner Hartman, p.1).

Perhaps it was in the doctrine of sanctification that the influence of A.B. Simpson was most significant as the Conference was drifting away from the Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification toward a more Reformed notion.

Teaching on sanctification in the Pennsylvania Conference, but not in the other Conferences, was in flux. It was moving away from a strictly Wesleyan doctrine of Entire Sanctification as a second work of grace in the life of the believer, in which the “Old Nature” is eradicated, to a view called “Deeper Life.” According to this view the Old Nature is not eliminated, but counteracted by the indwelling Spirit of God. The experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit initiated the Deeper Life, life abundant. 

In 1903 the Pennsylvania Conference requested that books on the Deeper Life be used instead of Lessons on Holiness.

Resolved, that we as a Conference unitedly protest against higher percentages as well as against more books of theories, arts etc., in our Reading Course and to substitute some books on the deeper life in Christ instead of “Lessons in Holiness.” 

Deeper Life in Christ was a phrase used by A.B. Simpson and those in the “Keswick” holiness tradition. This theology also taught a crisis experience in the life of the believer; however, according to Keswick teaching, the Old Nature is not eradicated, but is “suppressed” or is asleep. This crisis leads to consecration and a deeper experience of the life of Christ within the believer through the power of his Spirit (Bible Fellowship Church, 167ff.),

In an article on Sanctification Brunner remarks, “How true the words of Dr. Simpson who was so greatly used and honored of God, ‘The more God uses us, the more should we shrink out of self-consciousness and human observation’” (MS. on Sanctification, 9 in BFC Archives).

In 1919 E.O. Jago, an Alliance missionary supported by the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, spoke at Mizpah Grove. Brunner reported, “We rejoiced to have him with us at our Mizpah Grove Camp-Meeting, Allentown Division, on Aug. 18th and 19th and become personally acquainted with each other. His earnest address will never be forgotten. He was accompanied by Dr. and Mrs. W.M. Turnbull, Principal of the Nyack Missionary Training Institute, both of whom also gave acceptable [sic] messages” (Thirty-Fifth Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Missions Mennonite Brethren in Christ Pennsylvania Conference, 1919, 19).

Other Alliance leaders spoke at Mizpah Grove. Brunner reported, “We were glad to have Dr. R.H. Glover, Foreign Secretary of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, with headquarters and offices at 680 8th Avenue, New York City, with us at the first-named of these Camp Meetings. He gave us two strong messages which we trust will bear much fruit for the master” (Thirty-Sixth Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Missions Mennonite Brethren in Christ Pennsylvania Conference, 1920, 3-4). Beginning with Henry and Kate Weiss and Calvin Snyder until 1940 Conference sent out most of its missionaries with the C&MA.

CH attended the funeral of Dr. AB Simpson. He wrote, “It was the privilege of the writer, as Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions, upon invitation, to be present at his funeral in the Gospel Tabernacle, 692 Eighth Avenue, New York City, on November 4th, 1919″ (Thirty-Sixth Annual Report of the Board of Foreign Missions Mennonite Brethren in Christ Pennsylvania Conference, 1920, 4). This Annual Report as well as the Conference Journal had a full-page picture of A.B. Simpsoninside the front cover. To my recollection this was the only time the Conference so honored the founder of another denomination–if I may use that word for the Alliance; their people generally preferred the term “society.” From the Alliance side, many of Brunner’s articles were published in The Alliance Weekly.

Simpson was succeeded by Paul Rader who spoke at Mizpah Grove in 1921 (The Alliance Weekly, September 17, 1921, p.1). FB Herzog recalled, “I think Paul Rader was a biggest attraction, perhaps the biggest we had at any time. I remember that they sat northward towards the cafeteria and they sat on the south side towards the tents. It was lined with people; we had real attendance. I loved Paul Rader; he was wonderful” (Interview, tape two,15).

Other Alliance leaders such as Frederick F. Senft, Rader’s successor; Mary Butterfield, missionary to Palestine, supported by the Conference; Edward M. Burgess, African-American district superintendent; and E.J. Richards, Alliance pastor in Lancaster, PA, also spoke at Mizpah or in the churches of the Conference (See The Alliance Weekly).

The Alliance Weekly reported in 1921,

Rev. Wm. T. MacArthur [Helen Hayes’ father-in-law] has been holding special services for Bible teaching and evangelistic effort, with the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. He spent a week each in Bethlehem, C.H. Brunner, Pastor; Allentown, B. Bryan Musselman, Pastor; and Philadelphia, F.M. Hottel, Pastor. The attendance in each place was very good and the interest and results very gratifying. The work of the Mennonite friends is steadily growing. They are in close fellowship with the Alliance in testimony and missionary spirit and service; twenty-eight of our missionaries are assigned to them for prayerful and loyal support (The Alliance Weekly, May 21, 1921, p.1).

These speakers doubtless heartened the Conference as it moved away from Wesleyan theology toward Reformed theology.


Brunner regularly inserted historical vignettes to the annual yearbooks. Without these the history of the MBinC, PA Conference might not have been preserved. In 1920, Jasper A. Huffman edited the first History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. He credits C.H. Brunner with “most of the [two and a half page] sketch in Chapter VII” on Elder William Gehman (p.8). The only source Huffman references for the section on the Evangelical Mennonites is the Doctrine of Faith and Church Discipline of the Evangelical Mennonite Society of East Pennsylvania (p.66, 68). 

Brunner’s influence on our self understanding is most significant since he was our sole historian, the only one to conserve the history of the early years. Unfortunately he too easily ignored the role of David Henning, and other preachers, like Henry Diehl and William Shelly who refused to give up their life insurance at the demand of Conference in the 1870s. 

He might have passed on to us a lot of valuable information concerning the interaction of the leaders in the first generation. Brunner seems to have selective recall when it comes the contribution of some of the seven charter members of the Evangelische Mennoniten Gemeinschaft. Why does he simply claim that William Gehman is the founder of the Conference? Admittedly those who came out of the Upper Milford / Zionsville, Lehigh county congregation provided most the leadership from 1879 to 1945, but what about preachers before that time in other locations?


Brunner served as editor of the Gospel Banner from 1908 to 1912 and the Eastern Gospel Banner from 1917 to October 1922. After the demise of the Eastern Gospel Banner (1924), when W.G. Gehman was editor, CH became as associate editor of the Gospel Banner. He continues to write for the Banner until the year he died. In an introduction to an article entitled “Trees,” the editor observed,

Associate Editor C.H. Brunner has made a life-time study of nature and is well qualified to write a series of articles on “Trees,” and as an aged minister of the Gospel is also well able to make spiritual applications. A series of articles will follow and we trust that you will not miss any (Gospel Banner, vol 70, no.1, 1947, p.4, italics sic).

His writings cover a variety of topics, e.g., the Blunt Iron, Frozen Milk, the Compassion of Jesus, the Power of the Pastor, the Weak and the Erring, the Blind and the Sick, the Unforgettable and Discouraged, the Compassion of the Father, Comfort, Bible Warnings and Danger Signals, the Face of Jesus, Prayer, Fear Not Little Flock, Strangers and Pilgrims, the Afflictions of the People of God, Sanctification, Cleansing, Free Will, The Coming One, High Ideals, The Moving Picture Menace, The Corrupting Influence of the Motion Picture Show, and many more.

The theology of CH Brunner was important in the development of the doctrines of the PA Conference. As noted above, he imported Alliance doctrine into the Conference in his sermons and in his published materials. CH could write and he could turn a phrase. He described King Saul as, “the type of a man who has power without grace and gifts without holiness” (Untitled MS on sanctification, BFC Archives, p. 9). He wrote often on the subject of sanctification.

Sanctification.– Brunner rejected the Wesleyan doctrine of eradication as some in other Conferences of the MBinC taught.

This believer is now not told to eradicate sin, but he is charged not to permit sin to reign in his mortal body lest he should fulfill the lusts thereof, he shall reckon himself dead to all sin. (See Romans 6:12) (Ms Sanctification, 5).

But in “Sanctification As Set Forth in God’s Word” (1905), Brunner is somewhat ambiguous,

Paul writes to those in Corinth who were “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” 1 Cor. 1:2, but their walk was unholy. They were not sanctified or eradicated. How discouraging and hopeless is this plan, and yet which of us has not tried it? (Ibid, 4).

The Second Coming.– Another subject of special interest was the Second Coming. He was an observer of the time, albeit a pessimistic one. He wrote “These are awful days. The air is full of strife and contentions. The spawn of infidelity and higher criticism is hatching anarchy and Bolshevism” (Ibid, 11).

The report of Pennsylvania Annual Conference in 1913 included the following:.

The evening service opened at 7 p. m. with an inspiring song service. C.H. Brunner, of Bethlehem., Pa., preached at 7:30 p. m. on “The Divine Programme [sic] of the Ages,” from Acts 15:14-18.

This sermon was of a dispensational character, distinctly revealing the purpose of God concerning this age, and the mission of the Church at the present time. It was inspiring, encouraging and uplifting, and resulted in much light and blessing (Gospel Banner, October 23, 1913).

His theology can also be found in a hymn poems he set out to his congregation entitled “Jesus” (See Appendix A.).


As Brunner approached the end of his earthly pilgrimage, he wrote to the editor from Coopersburg,

“I am moving toward my eight-fifth birthday so if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, if there be any glory and blessing the Lord shall have it all” (Letter, April 30, 1948, to Everek R. Storms, editor Gospel banner, copy in BFC Archives).

In the summer of 1948, at Mizpah Grove Camp Meeting, Brother Brunner collapsed as he was preaching. He returned home and shortly thereafter suffered a stroke. His son-in-law wrote to the Gospel Banner,

It is with regret that I write this letter to inform the readers of the Gospel Banner of the illness of Associate Editor Rev. C.H. Brunner, whose articles are appearing in the weekly issues of this periodical.

The hand which wrote so many lines of encouragement and exhortation lies paralyzed. The lips which spoke so many words of comfort and challenge to Christian living are silent. But his message continues to go forth while his articles are read by the many readers of the Gospel banner. Brother Brunner lies in the Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown, Pa., having suffered a stroke on August 18 which paralyzed his right side and bereft him of speech.

Still mentally alert, his many visitors receive a firm grip of his left hand and he replies with a nod or shake of the head. Always there is a smile, and there are some tears of appreciation for the many kindnesses shown him. His Christlike spirit has endeared him to those who care for him. His devoted wife and daughter are at his side daily. The Lord is graciously upholding Sister Brunner at this time of trial and she is resigned at His will knowing that He does all things well.

Yours in His Service,

Herbert W. Hartman

(Gospel Banner, 71:38, September 23, 1848, 3)

Eleven weeks later the Banner related, “On November 20, 1948, at the Sacred Heart Hospital, Allentown, Pa., where he had been a patient for three months, Rev. Charles H. Brunner fell asleep in Jesus aged eight-four years, ten months and eighteen days” (Gospel Banner, 71:49, December 9, 1948, 3). Presiding Elder T.D. Gehret, commented,

While Brother Brunner will be missed, yet we rejoice that His [sic] earthly struggles and sufferings are over. Now he has joined the Cloud of Witnesses of Hebrews eleven. Some day we shall meet again around the throne of God and then there will be no more farewells. The Lord he loved and served is with us and will lead us on. May the life of our Brother challenge us to be true to our trust and faithfully serve and toil until the coming of our Lord (Ibid.).

The Alliance Weekly, December 18, 1948 included an obituary with the heading, “Rev. C.H. Brunner, Honorary Vice-President with the Lord.” The writer remarks, “He was a true defender of the faith and served the Lord with zeal and earnestness. For a number of years he was an honorary vice-president of The CMA. He was always interested in this missionary movement and was a friend and lover of the founder, A.B. Simpson [sic].” The article continues,  

His last public appearance was at the Annual Camp meeting held in Mizpah Grove the past summer. He accepted a preaching assignment and on the announced day and hour he was on hand, speaking with earnestness concerning the work of the Church. He was stressing the privilege of youth to serve the Lord when his tired and weakened body gave way and he fell to the floor in a faint. In his home he appeared to be gaining strength when, several days later, he was stricken with paralysis which necessitated his removal to hospital (The Alliance Weekly, Dec. 18, vol. 83, 808).

In another obituary that appeared in the Gospel Herald, Gehret quotes Brunner, “We have a large group of young people who are looking to us. They are our future church. What are we doing for them?” Gehret adds “Then in a spell of weakness he slumped to the floor.”

(Gospel Herald, December 25, 1948, (33) 1797.)


No one in his day loved Gospel songs more. Dorothy Brunner remarks,

He loved music and organized quartets and choirs, directing them himself. His father, Joel Sell Brunner, had a clear tenor voice and served the Upper Milford congregation of the Evangelical Mennonites as “Vorsinger”, singing the first line or lines followed by congregational response. Charles, his eldest son seemed to have inherited the rich tenor voice (“Reminiscence,” 2). 

The Pennsylvania Conference had its own hymnals going back to the time of William Brunner Musselman. About 1915 the Conference felt the need for a new hymnal. Annual Conference appointed a committee including the “usual suspects” H.B. Musselman, W.G. Gehman and E.N. Cassel along with J.F. Barrall and CH Brunner. Dorothy Brunner, who was then about ten or eleven, recalled,

In 1917 after many meetings in the Brunner home, using pitch-pipe and parlor organ and harmonizing new gospel [sic] songs, “The Rose of Sharon Hymnal” was complied. Older members who might remember singing in those early churches a capella, with gusto and feeling (“Reminisces,” 3).

One cannot help but also remember that no church had a “parlor organ” in those days. In fact none had a piano which was considered worldly, but that would soon change through B.B. Musselman and the “Radio Church.”

In 1917 Rose of Sharon Hymns appeared with 755 hymns. (Copyright by the Compiling Committee of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ”). From the committee only HB and CH had hymns published. HB had two: “Coming Again” (633), and “We Shall Meet Again” (502) for which he wrote the words and C.H. Brunner the music. C.H. had six (including the music for no. 502): “Beyond the Swelling Tide” (425), “Jesus Thou Art Coming Soon” (429), “Redeemed” (435), “Come Thou Blessed Savior” (498), “Fellowship with Jesus” (508). All reflect on the Second Coming of the Lord.      One should not be surprised that Brunner might have inserted ten hymns by his friend A.B. Simpson. 

Among the papers found in his files after his death was an unfinished manuscript of a hymn he evidently was working on. It is titled “Home At Last.” It is worth reading [or even singing]. Could he have composed it late in life as he contemplated his own home going. (See Appendix B.)


It is doubtful that the BFC will ever see another man like the multi-faceted CH Brunner. He was a leader in front of the camera and behind the scenes for half a century. It was a time of growth and development and he was involved in shaping the thought of the Church like none other. Without the Gospel Herald Society which he founded, the BFC would probably not exist as we know it today. He faithfully “served his generation in the will of God.” I thank God for Charles Henry Brunner.


Alliance Weekly; then Alliance Witness, now Alliance Life.

Brenneman, Daniel, et al eds. Gospel Banner.

Brunner, Charles Henry, ed. Eastern Gospel Banner.

Buck, Leonard E., ed. What Mean These Stones. Coopersburg, PA: The Historical Committee, 1983.

Burgess, Stanley M., ed. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Grand Rapids: Regency, Zondervan, 1988.

Glaubenslehre und Kirchenzucht-Ordnung der Evangel. Mennoniten Gemeinschaft von Ost-Pennsylvanien mit beigefügter Constitution der Missions-Gesellschaft. Skippacksville, PA: A.E. Dambly, 1866. An English translation appeared in 1867 entitled, Doctrine of Faith and Church Discipline of the Evangelical Mennonite Society of East Pennsylvania with Subjoined Constitution of the Missionary Society.

Graber, Robert Bates. “Archival Data on Pennsylvania-German Mennonite Schisms 1778-1927.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 57 (January 1983): 45-63.

Heist, Bright and Joyce Heist. 1859-1959 Centennial Anniversary: Bible Fellowship Church, Formerly Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church, Zionsville, PA. Zionsville, PA: Published by the Authors, 1959.

Hertzog, Roy A. “Historical Trends in the Missions Outreach of the Bible Fellowship Church 1858-1988.” Unpublished paper, presented to the Bible Fellowship Church Historical Society meeting, Allentown, PA (12 November 1988).

Huffman, Jasper A., ed. History of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church. New Carlisle, OH: The Bethel Publishing Co., 1920.

Long, Edwin M. The Union Tabernacle; or Moveable Tent-Church: Showing in Its Rise and Success a New Department of Christian Enterprise. Philadelphia: Parry & McMillan, 1859.

Musselman, William B., ed. Gospel Worker Society Herald, also known as the Gospel Herald.

Proceedings of the Annual Conference(s) of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. Various cities, PA: Published by Order of Annual Conference, 1896-1958.

Reid, Daniel, R. Linder, B. Shelly, H. Stout, eds. Dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1990.

Shelly, Harold P. The Bible Fellowship Church: formerly Mennonite Brethren in Christ, Originally die Evangelische Mennoniten Gemeinschaft von Ost-Pennsylvanien. Bethlehem, PA: The Historical Committee, 1992.

Storms, Everek R. History of the United Missionary Church. Elkhart, IN: Bethel Publishing Co., 1958.

Taylor, Richard E. ed. Verhandlungen (1859-1895): Proceedings of the Evangelical Mennonite Society also Known as the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Now Known as the Bible Fellowship Church. Trans. Frank Litty. Coopersburg, PA: The Historical Committee, 1989.

Unpublished papers and manuscripts. Bible Fellowship Church Archives. Wallingford, PA.

Yoder, Don. Pennsylvania Spirituals. Lancaster, PA: Pennsylvania Folklife Society, 1961.


W.B. Musselman, comp. The Ebenezer Hymnal: For Revival, Holiness, Prayer, and Camp Meetings. Philadelphia: John J. Hood, 1887. The hymnal had a German and an English Section. The German part was entitled: Frohen Botschaftlieder (Joyful Tidings-songs).

Rose of Sharon Hymns. Allentown, PA: Compiling Committee of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ of Pennsylvania, 1917.

Interviewed by the Author:

Franklin B. Hertzog, 2 June 1982.

                                                                                                                                      hpshelly\Brunner 26No02



Jesus is my Saviour,

          He atoned for me,

Bore my sins and sorrows

          On th’ accursed tree.

Wondrous condescension,

          Boundless love untold!

Gave Himself a ransom,

          Dearer far than gold.

Jesus in His fulness

          Sanctifies my soul;

Spirit, soul and body,

          He shall have the whole.

When I longed for power

          Over Satan’s host,

Came the “Father’s promise,”

          Blessed Holy ghost.

Jesus is my Healer,

          Knowing all my pain,

Faithful children never

          Come to Him in vain.

He who knows the body

          Better than myself,

Touches all my being,

          Fills me with Himself.

But my heart’s deep longing

          From His word I learn,

Is the precious promise

          of my Lord’s return;

At His glorious rapture

          He will change my frame,

Then will come the marriage,

          And the peaceful reign. 

                                                   C.H. Brunner


Note: can be sung to “Wye Valley” (“Like a River Glorious”). In the fourth stanza “Coming” could replace “Rapture” to allow wider usage.        hpshelly 10/10/02


                     HOME AT LAST

Home, Home at last, the Journey safely ended;

Passed all the trials, the perils of the way;

Here the tired pilgrim, travel-stained and weary,

Finds rest and comfort at the close of day.

Home, Home at last, to find a Father’s welcome.

And blest reunion with the loved ones there,

To find the joy that ever like a beacon,

Guided our footsteps thru the desert drear.

Home, Home at last, within the many mansions,

In that bright city where there is no night,

Joining glad songs that thru the ages echo,

Singing the praise of Him who is the Light.

Home, Home at last! Ah, where are now the heartaches,

Where now the tears that dimmed our earthly eyes?

Gone, gone forever, all the past forgotten,

Lost in the glory of our heavenly prize.

(Incomplete Ms. found among papers of C.H. Brunner)

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