Brethren Practise and Doctrine
By Dr. Sunny Ezhumattoor
The Plymouth Brethren movement was an independent work of the Holy Spirit, which is apparent from the fact that, in A.D. 1812 and 1820, letters were written between some believers in Great Britain. and America that showed the spirit of God was moving many to consider their ecclesiastical position. The Brethren believe that the true church was established on the day of Pentecost. Matthew 16:18, Acts 2:40-42, 1 Cor 12:12-13 .The two guiding principles of the movement were to be the breaking of bread every Lords Day, and ministry based upon the call of Christ rather than the ordination of men. They believe that only the scriptures should be followed and obeyed. They refuse to follow human tradition and creed. Others call them Brethren, but they prefer to be called Christians who gather to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The brethren recognize the body of Christ, which embraces every believer since the day of Pentecost. But they also see that the New Testament teaches that in any locality where men and women are converted, the spirit of God may gather them together as The Church Of God in that locality. Matthew 18:20, 1 Cor: 1:2.
Doctrine and Practices
The Brethren seek to assemble in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to maintain the apostolic pattern and simplicity which marked the churches of the days of the apostles (Romans 12:4-8). They honour the Lord Jesus and worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). The Church began with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and is composed of all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. These believers are united to Him and to one another by the indwelling Spirit. This means that the Church, as a whole, is not an organization, but a living organism, known as the body of Christ. Every true child of God possesses eternal life, and being justified, sanctified, and sealed with the Holy Spirit, is safe and secure for all eternity. However, a Christian can, through sin, lose the joy of fellowship, power, testimony, and reward, thus incurring the Fathers chastisement. Relationship is eternal, being established by new birth; fellowship, with God, however, is dependent upon obedience.
Order of Worship
The breaking of bread is our communion service. It is usually about one to one and one-half hours in length and is held on Sunday (Acts 20:7). It is unstructured and non-liturgical. However, since it is directed by the Holy Spirit there is no confusion, and being led by Him there is an order of worship and ministry. Brothers will rise to their feet to worship, suggest a hymn, or read and expound on a passage of Scripture.
Worship is the overflow of a full heart, expressed in thanksgiving and remembrance of some aspect of the object of the fathers heart-The Lord Jesus Christ.
Worship is not teaching or exhortation and any comments on a scripture that is read will focus on the aspect of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Sisters do not offer audible worship, although they do participate in the singing. They wear a head covering which is commented on in another paragraph.
The Lords Supper is often called the "worship meeting". There is little outward demonstration. We do not use musical instruments during our worship service, as New Testament worship is a spiritual function, not mechanical. Further more, while musical instruments were a significant part of Old Testament worship, there is no mention of their use in the New Testament. There are often extended periods of silence, but these are not awkward times of "waiting for someone to say something", but times of rich reflection and meditation. Every eye is fixed on Christ. Everyone is satisfied. There is an exception among most of the Indian Brethren assemblies to this method. They consider it uncomfortable to have silent times, for someone not to start to sing or get up to say some thoughts. This writer does not agree with this practice of interfering in the realm of the Holy Spirit. The Lords people, humbly remembering Him, do not appeal to the flesh. Loud music and demonstration are lacking and unnecessary. Although our worship meeting is not entertaining to the flesh, it gives spiritual satisfaction and heavenly bliss. Some outsiders and insiders scorn the emotionless worship as dead and dry. However, one who has really known or experienced it can describe the inestimable sense of satisfaction, the deep welling up of joy within as the heart looks utterly away from itself and fixes its gaze upon Him in who all heaven finds its delight. Usually toward the end of the worship meeting, a brother will give thanks for the bread and another for the wine. The emblems are passed around with all in fellowship participating. This is the only meeting at which a collection is taken up and only from those who are part of the assembly.1 Cor: 16:2. After a thirty-minute break for fellowship, there is a twenty-minute period of singing and announcements, followed by a forty-minute sermon. (The fellowship break is not common in India and many parts of the world, but it is a good system.).
We consider human creed as unnecessary. The Bible being a record of what "holy men of old spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit"; there is consequently "no private interpretation of the Bible". We are concerned with having the mind of the Spirit in matters of interpretation of the Holy Writ. The Bible itself is our creed.
Distinction between a clergy and laity is not recognized (Revelation 2:6). In the early church, there was no such thing as professional clergy. The New Testament pattern is that the church is to be led, not by a solitary pastor, but by a group of men, normally designated "elders or overseers" in the New Testament. Furthermore, the clear implication is that these elders are to be raised up by God within the local bodies, not hired or imported by churches from without. In addition, 1 Peter 2:5-9 teaches that all believers are equally priests. There is opportunity at the weekly breaking of bread meeting for any brother, including those who do not regularly minister in public, to give God thanks for the Lord Jesus in worship or to share a thought from Scripture. While there are full time evangelists, missionaries, and Bible teachers, the oversight of the assemblies and the public ministry on each Lords day is in the hands of men who spend their week in secular vocations. God raises up "pastors and teachers" according to His own will (Ephesians 4:11-13 and Acts 20:17, 20). For either elders (pastors) or those who have been commended by an assembly as called of God to give their whole time to Gods work. This work may be anywhere in the world - and is always of an itinerant nature. God meets their financial need without any assembly previously agreeing to provide any kind of salary. There is no thought of a stipulated amount of remuneration, but we hold ourselves responsible to help those who are in the Lords work (III John verse 7).
We have certain beliefs in the doctrines as unfolded in the Scriptures: mans fall and total depravity, his guilty, lost, and hopeless condition, the amazing love of God in providing a Saviour in His only Son, the perfection of Christ in His divine as well as His human nature, reconciliation to God through Christs shed blood by which man alone is redeemed - not by works, law keeping, or reformation. Christs resurrection is proof that God accepted His atonement. Salvation is according to faith in the work of Christ and is by Gods grace alone. Eph: 2:8-9.
Each local assembly is governed solely by the elders in the congregation, and is in no way subject to outside legislation or leadership. There is nothing in scripture to warrant the development of a religious hierarchy of ecclesiastical officials with supervisory authority over a union of churches. In the apostolic church there was a plurality of bishops in one local assembly, rather than one bishop over a plurality of churches as today. Phil.1.1.When Paul, enroute to Jerusalem, stopped at Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the assembly there, Acts20.17. When these elders arrived, he addressed them as overseers " V. 28. The word here for elders is presbuteros, translated "presbytery" in 1 Timothy 4.14. The word for overseers" is episkopos, translated bishops in Philippians 1.1.Thus, in the early church the elder was an overseer, a presbyter, a bishop. The elders were to "feed the church of God. This is poimainein," to feed as a shepherd", and is the verb form of the word" pastors" in Ephesians 4.14 and shepherd in Hebrew 13.20.These, then were the spiritual guides of the autonomous local assembly. Peter also refers to them as elders and overseers.1 Peter 5:1-4.And while the terms are somewhat synonymous, the word Elder refers to position and character, and overseeing refers to the work of the elder.
Based upon these facts, we reject all outside interference with the internal affairs of the local assembly. The absences in the New Testament record of any church officials with jurisdictional authority extending beyond the local assembly militates against the notion of an organizational union of Churches. The following references will shed much light for this point. 1Cor.16.1, 1 cor.16.19, 2cor.8.1,Gal.1.22 On the other hand any assembly can provide financial assistance to another that has a particular need.11 Cor: chapters 8 and 9.
Christendom has undoubtedly patterned its priesthood after the Aaronic one with its distinguishing apparel, special privileges, restricted areas in the building, and ritualistic services. But all this is contrary to the teaching of the New Testament where we learn that all believers are priests, and as such have perfect liberty to approach God through our Lord Jesus Christ, The Great High Priest, for prayer and worship. The following references will give ample evidence to remove any doubt to a truth seeker. 1Peter.2: 1-5, 1pet.2.9,Revelation. 1.5,6, Hebew.10.19-22.
There are two Christian ordinances, baptism and the Lord&'s Supper. Baptism by immersion signifies that the believer, having died with Christ, is buried with Him in baptism and also is risen with Christ to walk in newness of life. The Lord's Supper is a memorial feast, instituted by the Lord Himself exclusively for His own. In the observance of this supper, believers remember Him. The emblems show His death until He comes. There is no difference in value between men and women, but there are distinct roles. The work of Christ has removed all human distinctions of privilege (Galatians 3:28). Every believer, whether male or female is a priest to God (Hebrews 13:15). As a holy priest (1 Peter 2: 5) and a royal priest (1 Peter 2: 9), we can worship and witness all we desire. However, as in the home, men and women are given distinct roles in the church. Church order, like chronological or alphabetical order, has nothing to do with importance. It has been established by God so that "all things be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14: 40).
Gods glory is to be seen alone in the assembly of the saints. In order to do this, the mans head remains uncovered by not having long hair and by removing any head covering, because the man is the image and glory of God (I Corinthians 11:7). Any covering on the man would veil Gods glory. The women, however, are the stewards of the coverings. There are two competing glories in the church. "The woman is the glory of man" (I Corinthians 11:7) and "If a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her" (I Corinthians 11:15). Because there are two symbolic glories to be covered, there must be two coverings. The first head covering, Greek (peribolaion) is the womans long hair (verse 15) to hide the glory of the man (the woman herself). The second head covering, Greek (katakalupto) is to hide her glory, which is her own hair. In this way, Gods authority is declared in the church. By it the men are reminded that, in their ministry, their glory is to be hidden. The angels are also instructed by it (I Corinthians 11:10).
Origin of the Movement
During the first part of the 1800s, some Christians began to feel uncomfortable about denominationalism, a clerical hierarchy, and certain "compromises" creeping into their churches. They resolved to simply read their Bible and try to gather in the same simple manner as Christians did in the New Testament. As some of these Christians began to travel and preach, they found believers in other cities and countries who were doing the same thing. Early gatherings originated in Dublin and in Plymouth. Prominent among the pioneers was Dr. A. J. Cronin, Mr. J.G. Bellett, Mr. H. Hutchinson, and Lord Congleton. Plymouth became prominent, so others began to call them as brethren from Plymouth.
In 1827, John Nelson Darby joined this group. J. N. Darby saw the church as a special work of God, distinct from the programme for Israel. This truth, integrated with his premillennial eschatology, led him to believe that the rapture would occur before the tribulation, and that during the tribulation God would turn again to deal specifically with Israel. Until Darbys time, Christians believed that the church was a continuation of Israel, and some others believed that the church replaced Israel.
John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)
Few today who would identify themselves as fundamentalists have ever heard of John Nelson Darby or the Plymouth Brethren. Yet as Earnest R. Sandeem correctly observes in The Root of Fundamentalism, "Much of the thought and attitudes of those who are known as fundamentalists can be mirrored in the teachings of this man". Many scholars believe that John Darby was the greatest Christian teacher that ever lived since the apostle Paul. Early leader among the Plymouth Brethren and developer of dispensational premillennialism, John Darby invested his life in strengthening the saints as they gathered simply "to His name" and awaited their Lords imminent return.
Born in London of wealthy Irish parents, Darby received his middle name from Admiral Lord Nelson. Upon returning to Ireland in 1815, he entered Trinity College in Dublin, graduating in 1819 as a classical gold medalist. Although called to the Irish chancery bar in 1822, he gave up a career in law after one year in order to enter into religious ministry. After a prolonged spiritual struggle leading to his conversion, Darby was ordained as a deacon in 1825, and as a priest in the Church of England in 1826. From 1827-1833, Darbys ecclesiology and eschatology were formed. Disenchanted with the state-church religion, Darby addressed in his earlier writing the heavenly nature of the church and the need for it to be unencumbered with earthly things. He soon discovered a group of like-minded men. The Powers Court Conference from 1831-1833 would provide the context in which Darbys eschatology would be aligned consistently with his ecclesiology. Afterward his elucidation of what the new Testament scripture clearly taught in both fields of theology would be widely accepted throughout the Brethren movement, yielding a new perspective and interpretation of Scripture that would be known as dispensationalism. Darby traveled, taught, and wrote extensively from 1832 to 1845
In 1845, the great schism over B. W. Newtons differing views concerning the "secret rapture" and his lapse into clericalism, brought tremendous dissension among the Brethren assemblies. Combined with the Bethesda question in which 1848, George Mueller and Darby disagreed as to the interrelationship of assemblies over matters of discipline, A schism would leave the Brethren from that time forward divided into the exclusive and the open Brethren. During this time, both groups would be deeply involved in missions, although the exclusive Brethren seemed to be more occupied with truth for the believer, while the open Brethren were given to evangelizing the lost
Darby visited and preached numerous times in Germany, France, Italy, New Zealand, West Indies, Canada and U. S. Amid his extensive teaching tours, he found time to translate the New Testament into English, French, and German, and he assisted in translating the Old Testament into both French and German. Most of his papers and articles are gathered into thirty-four volumes in The Collected Works of J. N. Darby, which was edited by his long- time associate and friend, William Kelly.
Acknowledged as the father of modern dispensational premillennialism, Darby is remembered especially for his recalling the church to expectancy for its rapture at the return of the Lord before Daniels seventieth week. He interpreted Daniels seventy weeks based on the Chaldean Decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the first advent of Christ. To a large degree, his eschatology flows out of his ecclesiology, which underwent a radical change between 1827 to 1831
As a young parish priest, Darby became disillusioned with the state-church, which took advantage of governmental sanction. His belief that the church as the body of Christ was to be a heavenly people and not court earthly favors, was formulated by 1827. During the same year, an accidental fall from his horse forced him into a lengthy convalescence, which gave him much time alone with God and His, Word. Isaiah thirty-two convinced him that there was to be a future economy in which Israel would enjoy earthly blessings, not at all like the present heavenly blessings he was conscious of because of his union with Christ. Dispensational distinctives were taking shape in his thinking
The Powers Court Conference of 1831-1833 moved Darby from his earlier historical premillennialism to futurist premillennialism. The transaction from the present church dispensation to the millennial kingdom, in which Israel had centre stage under Christs rule, was supplied by seeing that the seventieth week in Daniels prophecy concerning 70 weeks was yet future. Before the last week of 7 years remaining week church would be raptured to heavenly glory, while during that time, God would bring into existence a remnant of Israel who would experience deliverance from their enemies at the return of Christ to the earth. By his own testimony, Darbys dispensational premillennial eschatology was fully formed by 1833
For Darby, a dispensation is an economy; any order of things that God has arranged on the earth. The primary characteristics of a dispensation include governmental administration, responsibility, and the revelation to fulfill both. Secondary characteristics include testing, failure, and judgment. When a people fail the test to exercise their responsibility given to them by God, judgment falls, thus ending the dispensation. Darby traced eight dispensations as follows:
3) Israel under the Law (prophet),
4) Israel under priesthood,
5) Israel under the kings,
6) Gentiles from Nebuchadnezzer to the Antichrist,
7) the Church, and
8) the millennium or kingdom.
Darby saw three "worlds" or ages: from Adam until Noahs flood, from Noah until the renovation of the heavens and earth by fire at the end of the millennium, and the eternal state. Darby did not think any dispensations existed before the flood; God just left the race to itself. He also believed that the eternal state was not a dispensation. Thus only from Noah through the millennium could dispensations be distinguished.
Darbys order of end time events may be grouped as follows: 1) the rapture and first resurrection, 2) post-rapture events in heaven, 3) post-rapture events on earth, 4) the millennial kingdom, 5) post-millennial events, and 6) the eternal state.
1) The rapture occurs before the final time of trial to come upon the earth. The Church must already be with Christ in heaven to be able to appear with Him at His glorious return. The first resurrection of the just coincides with the rapture. Thus all those who have died in faith from both the Old Testament and New Testament eras will be raptured with the living church saints. Although all that have a resurrected body will be related in some way to the New Jerusalem, Darby called only the Church the Bride, so as to give it the chief position among the glorified.
2) After the rapture, several things transpire in heaven. First, Satan is cast out of heaven to the earth. Then the saints will experience the Judgment Seat of Christ in preparation for the Marriage of the Lamb. The latter event will take place after the judgment of Babylon.
3) The events on earth after the rapture relate to Daniels seventieth week. At times Darby spoke of this seven-year period as entirely future, but at other times, as only three and one-half years remaining for the future (the first three and one-half years being the earthly ministry of Christ). Some future time of trial was necessary after the rapture to prepare a Jewish remnant that would be delivered by their Messiahs personal return to the earth. During that time, the Beast would arise as the secular head of evil imperial government, and the False Prophet would arise as the Antichrist, the spiritual head of evil religious energy. The Day of the Lord is at the appearing of Christ at the end of the Tribulation period. Armageddon ends the Beast and the Antichrists power, and Satan himself will be bound soon after. Next, the land of Israel is cleansed. Then the judgment of the living on earth takes place, to determine who among them will enter the millennial kingdom. After one thousand year of reign of Christ on earth Satan will be freed and he and his followers will come for the final war. Satan and his army will be defeated and will be placed in hell.
4) In the millennial kingdom, the land promises given to Abraham will be fulfilled for a restored Israel. Messiah delivers the remnant, which becomes the blessed nation, by destroying all its enemies. Afterward, Israel will occupy the chief place among the nations on earth in the kingdom, just as the Church as the Bride of Christ, will occupy the chief place among those resurrected in the New Jerusalem.
5) Events after the millennium include the final revolt of Satan, the second resurrection, and the Great White Throne judgment of the unbelieving dead. Darby believed in the eternal conscious punishment of the lost in the lake of fire
6) The eternal state will bring an end to Israels special position above the nations of the millennial kingdom. But there will eternally be a distinction between the Church and the earthly people in its eternal state format. "The tabernacle of God" (for Darby, meaning the Church in Revelation 21:2-3) would be "with men" (the earth inhabiters without national distinction). Thus the Church will have special distinction in eternity, since "to Him be glory in the Church throughout all ages"(Ephesians 3:21) refers to a relationship that persists forever. Two peoples of God, an earthly and a heavenly, will be eternally distinct, simply because saved humans in natural bodies will be distinguished from the saved who have resurrected bodies in the eternal state
Some Well-known Brethren
Sir Robert Anderson- Scotland Yard detective and writer
Sir Lancelot Brenton- translator of the Greek-English edition
F. F. Bruce- Bible commentator
Jim Elliot- missionary martyred in Ecuador
Trevor S. Francis- composed the hymn, "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus"
A. N. Groves- pioneer missionary in India
H. A. Ironside- well-known Bible commentator; pastor of Moody Memorial Church
William Kelly- authored many Bible commentaries; well recognized by all scholars in the world
William MacDonald- author of the Believers Bible Commentary
C. H. Mackintosh- author of Genesis to Deuteronomy: Notes on the Pentateuch, and other miscellaneous writings
Andrew Miller- author on church history
George Mueller- lived in Bristol, England, and ran a chain of orphanages which operated on the principle of faith and prayer
Thomas Newberry- well known for the Newberry Reference Bible, which uses a system of symbols to explain verb tenses
Joseph Scriven- composed the hymn, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus"
Samuel Tregelles- noted scholar of Biblical languages
W. E. Vine- author of Vines Expository Dictionary and numerous commentaries
G. V. Wigram- author of Wigrams Hebrew/Chaldee Concordance and Wigrams Greek Concordance
J. G. Bellet
Dr. Edward Cronin
J. L. Harris
R. C. Chapman
Dr. Thomas Neatby
J. B. Stoney
F. W. Grant
Harold Paisley of Canada
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