Our Fraternity Heritage
Christian brotherhood has been the goal of generation after generation since the days of the early Church. The apostle Paul states in his letter to the Romans, chapter 12, verse 10, “Be devoted to each other in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” The aim is fellowship with God and living this fellowship out with one another. “We know we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death,” says 1 John 3:14. Brotherly love is a necessity of true life.
Although there have been many orders and societies created in hopes of achieving this brotherhood throughout the centuries, Kappa Phi Epsilon Fraternity traces its founding to Oxford University in 1729. The morals of the university were low at this time and, therefore, the corrupted culture of the students called forth public denunciations from collegiate and church authorities. What regard was paid to practicing Christianity and its principles was formal and lifeless. Voltaire predicted at this time that in a generation, Christianity would be overthrown throughout the civilized world. Yet three men at Oxford would start a small order that would turn out some of the most influential Christian men since the Reformation, stirring a revival that would shape the world for centuries to come and prove Voltaire’s prophecy a mere frightful fantasy.
On campus at the oldest English speaking university in the world, three young men came together for Christian brotherhood, accountability, academics, service, regular prayer, Bible reading, and fasting until 3 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. These men were Charles Wesley, Robert Kirkham, and William Morgan. “My first year in college I was lost in diversions. The next I set myself to study. Diligence lead me into serious thinking,” Charles explained. “I went to the weekly sacrament and persuaded two young scholars to accompany me and observe the method of study prescribed by the statutes of the University.” They sought to actually live out the practical Christianity prescribed by the Church. As a result, the men were sarcastically nicknamed the “Oxford Holy Club” by fellow students.
“You cannot serve God alone”
At the same time, God was moving in the hearts of two men that would change the world for generations to come and brought both of them providentially to Oxford in a friendship that would span over fifty years. These men were John Wesley and George Whitefield. There are times when the hand of God is clearly seen in history, and this was one of those times. Before arriving at Oxford, Wesley seemed “lost” in his faith, seeking to know God better, but continually unhappy. He even considered living the monastic life of a recluse before his mother intervened. A “serious man” Wesley journeyed to see spoke words that would change the course of the young man’s life.
“Sir,” the wise gentleman said to Wesley, “if you wish to serve God; remember you cannot serve him alone; you must, therefore, find companions, or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” Upon arriving at Oxford, John Wesley found companions already prepared for him due to Charles Wesley’s new society. Whitefield would soon join the men after hearing about them and befriending Charles. After joining the Holy Club and actually being in leadership within the order, he encountered a true salvation experience at Oxford as a result of his seeking after God. He no longer felt the burden of sin upon him and began to flourish in the faith. He credited much of this to his brothers in Christ. “They built me up daily in the knowledge and fear of God, and taught me to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” said Whitefield.
John also composed the “22 Questions” that all Kappa Phi Epsilon’s study. They begin with, “Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I’m better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?” And they end with, “Is Christ real to me today?” The questions are simple yet poignant, encompassing the idea of the group itself.
The Faithful Five
Under the leadership of Charles, Robert, William, John, and George, word of the “Oxford Holy Club” spread across England to Bristol and even London. The strength of the order was its focus on “practical” Christianity and the “essentials” of the faith because they were a very diverse group. George and John simply “agreed to disagree” on predestination. John would start similar societies and orders across Great Britain and Ireland with the same goals of accountability, fellowship and discipleship. John eventually started the Methodist Church while Charles would help his brother but continue to serve as clergy in the Anglican Church. Robert and William also continued as Anglican Church parishioners, while George Whitefield would become one of the most famous men in America during the mid-18th century and the father of Evangelical Christianity.
Whitefield and the Wesley’s would take multiple trips to America bringing the ideas of the societies started on the British Isles to the American colonies. As a result of these men and others such as John Edwards, the First Great Awakening occurred throughout this time period. Some would even credit the American War of Independence to the Great Awakening and the influence of Whitefield’s preaching on freedom. The “Oxford Holy Club” itself continued on even lasting into the 1770’s keeping contact with its founders and eventually making its way to America. The “Faithful Five” would start their spiritual journeys on the campus of Oxford University and transform the world.
American Fraternities: A Search for Brotherhood
Princeton University was in many ways founded as a result of the Great Awakening and in response to the “liberalizing” of Harvard and Yale Universities. This has been the cycle of Western institutions. At this time, higher education was but in its infancy in comparison to Great Britain. Nearly two centuries ago, the modern Greek system was established with the creation of Phi Beta Kappa Honorary Society at The College of William and Mary. As decades passed, many fraternities were founded, some on the principles of masonry and others with Christianity as the cornerstone of true brotherhood in their organizations.
Carter Ashton Jenkins, founder of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, stated, “[This fraternity] will be based on the love of God and the principle of peace through brotherhood.” Upholding Christian principles was the rule and not the exception for most of the Greek communities in these early years. Men were told to uphold truth, honor, and justice, as Christ commanded. “The badge of my Sigma Chi is a cross,” wrote W. Henry McLean, a founder of the fraternity. “A sign and a symbol known to all the world, uplifting Him of whom our badge reminds us.” As seen here, something as simple yet meaningful as the Sigma Chi badge was formed in remembrance of Jesus Christ in an attempt to uplift His name to the world.
Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity also traces its foundation to Jesus Christ, as its name was based off of Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Joined with the Tau, which represented a cross, the Alpha and Omega signifies that Christ is all in all, the beginning and end of salvation, as is explained by the fraternity’s founder, Otis Allen Glazebrook, who called the organization a “Christian Fraternity.” Alpha Kappa Lambda Fraternity founders created the fraternity due to the “need of Christian men for a place to live and study that was within their means.” There is a similar story to the examples given here in many fraternities.
In the 1920s, another movement of Christian fraternities occurred with the founding of Sigma Theta Epsilon in the Midwest and Alpha Gamma Omega at UCLA. E. Harlan Fischer explained “the primary purpose of the fraternity was to provide Christian fellowship for men thrown into an atmosphere of Godlessness and to give forth a testimony to others of the saving and keeping power of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the idea and the mission to which Kappa Phi Epsilon wholeheartedly subscribes. In the 1970s, this era of resurgence came to an end as a steep decline in Christian influence throughout the country waned on college campuses. Fraternities on a whole suffered throughout this period of anti-establishment thought and action.
It was in this heritage of the search for Christian brotherhood that, once again, the vision for fraternal Christian fellowship was found at the University of Florida with the re-establishment of the traditions and principles of the Oxford Holy Club under the Greek letters of Kappa Phi Epsilon. The founding fathers of Kappa Phi Epsilon longed for the values and mission that shaped the Oxford Holy Club of the Wesley Brothers and George Whitefield, focusing on fellowship, accountability, and allowing brothers to live out practical Christianity.
A Kappa Phi seeks to be equipped to reach and influence the Greek community, while being internally focused on discipleship and passion for Jesus Christ. Kappa Phi’s are trained to make a difference in the world for the gospel and be better husbands, fathers, and leaders in their church and community for the glory of God. Kappa Phi continually looks back to Wesley’s “22 Questions” and the principles it was founded on to turn out a generation of men that have been “set apart” from the world and yet are in the world making an impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Kappa Phi is a social fraternity firmly founded on the Rock that seeks to provide young men fellowship and memories that will last a lifetime. All are welcome to seek after God with us, just as the Oxford Holy Club did, as we use biblical Christian principles to provide a firm foundation for social and leadership training of collegiate men at the University of Florida.