A Rich Christian Heritage

From: http://www.thefamily.org/ourfounder/tribute/trib_2.htm


David often said that his rich heritage played a key role in shaping his character and religious convictions. Many of his forefathers, as well as both of his parents, were deeply committed Christians who boldly challenged the status quo of their day. His maternal forefathers were German Jews who converted to Christianity in the mid-eighteenth century. They subsequently joined the Dunkards, a radical offshoot of the Lutheran Church which later became known as the Church of the Brethren. State persecution of the sect soon drove the Brandt family to America, where they settled in Pennsylvania and Ohio around 1750.
Dr. John Lincoln Brandt, David's grandfather, previously uninterested in his family's religion, had a dramatic conversion in his mid-twenties, and immediately entered full-time Christian service. For years he was a Methodist circuit rider. He later became an outstanding leader of the Alexander Campbell movement of the Disciples of Christ, an informal drop-out group that was frequently at odds with the established denominations of its day. David wrote of his grandfather Brandt:

"I admired him greatly; he was a real hero to me. He was a truly great man who really loved the Lord and survived many vicissitudes of life. He had a great history and a great record. He built 50 churches, won thousands to the Lord, and over 400 men volunteered for the ministry under his persuasion." [1]

Virginia Brandt Berg, David's mother, is the individual whom he credits for influencing him the most. In his later years David said:

"My mother undoubtedly had the greatest influence over me of anybody in my whole life, and helped to make me what I am today." [2]

"I can never remember her teaching me anything but the Bible and about the Lord and true spiritual values. My mother was in love with Jesus, thank God, and she instilled that love in me." [3]

"She was an evangelist. ... She was always witnessing to people wherever we went, on the train, in restaurants, or anywhere. I can always remember her talking to people about the Lord." [4]

Although raised in a Christian home, Virginia became an atheist and wild society girl during her college years. Despairing of her frivolous lifestyle, she devoted her life to social work. However, shortly after the birth of her first child, she broke her back in an accident and spent the next five years as a bedridden invalid, often hovering near death. After a conversion experience, she was miraculously raised from her deathbed, and spent the rest of her life with her husband, Hjalmer, in active Christian service as a pastor and evangelist. Virginia and Hjalmer were no strangers to controversy. They were expelled from the Christian Church after publicly testifying of her divine healing, which was contrary to church doctrine. They subsequently joined a new denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, shortly before David's birth in 1919. In later years, their missionary zeal and disdain for denominational politicking often set them at variance with the conservative faction of that church's hierarchy, causing them to work largely as independent pastors and evangelists. David would later recount:

"My mother and father were rebels, revolutionaries, and thrown out of their church, outcasts ... as far as the church was concerned. ... Even though they kept the forms and ceremonies of the church and within the buildings, they often had meetings out of the buildings too and were pretty radical ... in the eyes of the churches." [5]

David spent his early years traveling with his parents, who pursued their evangelical mission with a passion. In 1924 they settled in Miami, Florida, after Virginia successfully led a series of large revivals at the Miami Gospel Tabernacle. This became David's home for the next 14 years, while his mother and father pastored a number of Miami churches.

He later wrote of the upbringing he shared with his two older siblings:

"The Lord was the greatest influence of all through our teachers and mother and dad teaching us. ... The Sunday school teachers read us the Bible and told us Bible stories, and I loved and believed them, and I'm sure they were a tremendous influence in my life ... because I really knew it was God and the voice of God, and the Book of God!" [6]

"I'm sure glad I had years of experience of living by faith with my mother and father. What a wonderful, wonderful foundation they gave me in the life of faith!" [7]

As is the case with many pastors and their dependents, the Berg family depended entirely on the generosity of their parishioners for their support, and often had difficulty making ends meet. This instilled in David a lifelong habit of frugality, which he encouraged his followers to adopt. He wrote:

"I certainly hate to see God's money wasted in any way! It was partly my rearing in the Depression that made me that way. That was part of my preparation to make sure we don't waste money. I don't mind living well; we can live where we can be comfortable and convenient and safe and have enough, but I'm not wasteful and extravagant. If anything, I pinch the pennies!" [8]

In the late 1930s, Virginia Berg returned to her favorite ministry, that of a traveling evangelist. David accompanied her, and for most of the next 10 years acted as her chauffeur, song leader and general helper. He felt very strongly that assisting his mother in her evangelistic outreach was God's calling for him at the time. Of this time, he would later recall,

"From the time I was 16 until I was nearly 30 -- even for five years after I got married -- my mother's messages and sermons and testimonies were the biggest influence [in my life]." [9]