Plymouth Brethren

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The term Plymouth Brethren refers to a movement that began in Ireland and England in the late 1820s. Some of the early leaders were John Nelson Darby, George Mueller, Dr. Edward Cronin, John Bellett, Anthony Norris Groves, and Francis Hutchinson who felt that the established Church had become too involved with the secular state. As the movement spread, a large group of adherents assembled in Plymouth by 1831 which is why Brethren are often called by that name. The term Darbyites has also been used.

In the late 1840s, a difference over the "independence" of local meetings resulted in the first division, causing a distinction to be made between the Open Brethren, and the Exclusive Brethren.

Open Brethren remain loosely affiliated and over the years have come to resemble Protestant evangelical churches in doctrine, except that there are no officially recognized clergy and the Lord's Supper is celebrated weekly - both of which are common to Open and Exclusive groups alike.

The Plymouth Brethren are unusual in refusing a denominational name; they do not generally refer to themselves as "Plymouth Brethren," nor do they regard themselves as a denomination, citing I Corinthians 3:4, where Paul scolds believers for dividing themselves into groups. Thus there is no denominational headquarters, no single standard of affiliation or formal membership. Each local assembly is independent and autonomous, informally linked with other assemblies only by a common heritage and common emphasis on the primacy of the weekly Breaking of Bread service.

They prefer to understand themselves as "gathered unto the name of Jesus Christ alone." Their preferred term for themselves is "the assemblies," and members are "saints," "the brethren," "believers," and (perhaps confusingly) just "Christians." Members are usually aware of the term "Plymouth Brethren," however; they use it in tax returns and may, when clarity requires, refer to their group as "those called by the world the Plymouth Brethren." Informally, some may refer to "the PBs." In some areas, the term "Christian Brethren" has replaced Plymouth Brethren, though the term refers to the same group.

A common distinguishing characteristic that identifies a Plymouth Brethren meeting place is an outdoor sign indicating a weekly service set apart for "Breaking of Bread," "The Lord's Supper" or "The Remembrance Meeting." This weekly emphasis on remembering the person and work of Jesus Christ gives rise to a high level of devotional teaching as seen in frequent allegorization of scripture to bring the fine focus on Christ. For example, much teaching, preaching and writing revolves around the types of Christ seen in the Old Testament - particularly but not limited to, the tabernacle.

The freedom and responsibility of individual men to participate in the Breaking of Bread service as led by the Holy Spirit results in a common high level of individual Bible study, Bible knowledge and personal piety.

Many PB assemblies meet in a building called a Gospel Hall or a Bible Chapel (Open Brethren). Tunbridge Wells brethren call the place where they gather a Meeting Room. Organizationally, the emphasis is on the fact that "the church" is the called-out assembly of individuals, called out by God to be His people, and not a building.

Services

Sunday services vary somewhat among different congregations, but a distinctive of the Plymouth Brethren is a separate communion service called the Lord’s Supper or Lord's Table. Believers gather in silent prayer and reverence. From time to time different men of the congregation will say a prayer, expound on scripture, give a testimony, or call out the number of a hymn to be sung, as the Holy Spirit moves them, in a similar way to the Quakers (an unrelated group). Hymns are sometimes sung a cappella. At some point, one of the men will move to the table and prepare the bread and wine. These are then passed among the congregation, who partake of them. The lack of a recognized clergy class is signficant at this point in that an "ordained minister" is not required to "officiate" at the Lord's Table. It is understood that it is the Holy Spirit who is "officiating" or leading the service - not an individual. Reference is frequently made to I Corinthians 11 as the template of what happened in the early church as an example for today. The service usually concludes with a prayer.

Plymouth Brethren Assemblies also have other weekly meetings such as a teaching or preaching service and/or a "gospel meeting" where the gospel is preached. Other meetings include missionary report meetings, and mid-week prayer meetings, and Bible readings or studies. In Open Brethren Assemblies there is frequently a Sunday School for children. Exclusive Brethren assemblies often meet daily from house to house for Bible readings and on "The Lord's day" for an early morning breaking of bread service, followed by ministry and/or gospel meetings.

In some of the Open Brethren assemblies, the main teaching/preaching meeting - sometimes called a Family Bible Hour - on Sunday morning might be indistinguisable from the main worship service of a conservative, evangelical Baptist or Evangelical Free church. These Open Brethren assemblies might also have youth groups for Jr High or High School students and mid-week home Bible studies.

Uniqueness Of The Movement

The Plymouth Brethren are basically conservative evangelical Christians and are in substantial agreement with other conservative evangelical Christian groups. Their distinction lies in a combination of the doctrinal and practical matters which they teach with special emphasis.

The Brethren believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible and that the same Bible gives clear instruction about how services of worship are to be held. These instructions include:

They expect, if they are still alive at the Second Coming, to be taken in the Rapture. In so believing, they identify themselves with the sixth or Philadelphian church of Revelation. Thus most PB assemblies are pre-trib and premillenial in doctrine.

Adult baptism through bodily immersion for belivers (in the Open Brethren assemblies) and the remembering of the death of Jesus in the taking of bread and wine are the only two ordinances, although only belief in the gospel is a necessary condition for salvation. Some Exclusive Brethen practice infant or household baptism.

Influence

The influence of the Plymouth Brethren upon evangelical Christianity exceeds their relatively small numerical proportion. The movement today has many small assemblies in Great Britian, Canada and the US, New Zealand and Australia, then the European, African and Asian continents.

PB missionaries have had a major impact on missions around the world - specifically in central sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. They have been productive writers and publishers including George Cutting's Safety, Certainty, and Enjoyment, and many tracts and correspondence courses in many languages from Emmaus Bible College Trinity School Of Apologetics. Many leaders of the contemporay evangelical movement have come from PB backgrounds including Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance, the late British scholar FF Bruce, Brian McLaren of the Emerging Church movement, 1950's Auca missionary martyrs Ed McCully, Jim Elliot, and Peter Fleming, and the late great preacher Dr. Harry Ironside. In recent years Alex Strauch's book, Biblical Eldership, has become a manual used in evangelical circles outside the Brethren movement. J.N. Darby, one of the founders of the movement, is sometimes credited with beginning the so-called "dispensationalism" movement that is now promoted through Dallas Theological Seminary and is wide-spread in contemporary evangelicalism. They have also made significat contributions in Christian Apologetics.

The Brethren have made significant contributions to Christian hymnody, particularly on the subect of the person and work of Christ, and hymns for use at the Lord's Supper.

Aleister Crowley on occassion ascribes his occult interests to the rigid theological dogma of his childhood in a Plymouth Brethren family in Warwickshire, in particular his mother's constant admonishments that he was the Beast of Revelation and that he would go to hell for his behaviour.

Related

Commended Workers

Plymouth Brethren History

Plymouth Brethren History in North America from Emmaus Bible College

Some brethren from 1827: Present ministry, words of encouragement, and some history showing what was intended for the church from the beginning - http://www.biblecounsel.homestead.com

External links

Open Brethren

Bible Colleges/Schools

Forums

Bible Camps

Exclusive & Other Guarded Brethen

Resources

Booksellers

More Brethren links

  • [http://www.biblecounsel.homestead.com/ Some brethren from 1827--those endeavoring to continue the expression of "the one body in Christ" in the scriptural order, as intended in God's revival of the early 1800's, and encourage all saints to "unity of the faith", rather than mergers and sectarianism.
  • [http://www.biblecentre.org/ masses of 'brethren' ministry in many languages.

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