Who are ‘the Brethren’?
Jeremy Singer, Manchester, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
What is a New Testament assembly? How did the so-called ‘Brethren Movement’ begin? In this article, we will review some online resources to help answer these and related questions.
Since we do not consider denominational attachments to be scriptural, ‘Gospel Halls’, and similar assembly buildings, cause minor headaches at the General Register Office in the UK. In some parts of the UK, in order to use a building as a legal place of worship and to perform marriages, the building has to be registered officially with the authorities. The full list of Registered Places of Worship in England and Wales as of April 2010 has been made available under the Freedom of Information Act. The 1000 page pdf is at http://bit.ly/NHQyxE. It is interesting to see the range of affiliations selected by assemblies: from plain ‘Brethren’ to ‘Christian Brethren’, ‘Open Brethren’, or, the more intimidating, but probably more accurate, ‘Christians not otherwise designated’.
So much for buildings, now let us consider the people instead. In the 1980s, the Echoes of Service organization commissioned a set of articles entitled ‘Who are the Brethren?’ The full series is available online at http://www.believershome.com/html/who_are_the_brethren.html. Contributing authors include Bible teachers like J. Heading and F. F. Bruce. A longer and more detailed treatment of assembly truth from W. E. Vine is available at http://awildernessvoice.com/Church&Churches.html. He distinguishes clearly between the church as a whole (i.e., ‘the church, which is his body’, Eph. 1. 22-23) and a local company of believers (e.g., ‘the church of God which is at Corinth’, 1 Cor. 1. 2). Note that Vine’s helpful book, The Church and the Churches, can be purchased in paperback form directly from Precious Seed Publications.
There are several interesting retrospective accounts of the beginnings of ‘The Brethren Movement’. Ironside’s Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement covers the period from around 1820 to 1900. The entire book is online at http://www.plymouthbrethren.org/series/6265. The Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_Brethren also has some information about the early ‘Brethren’, including an alphabetical list of ‘notable members’, from Sir Robert Anderson (one-time Head of Scotland Yard) to George Vicesimus Wigram (concordance compiler and son of an English peer). It is worth noting that an article on Wigram appears in the June 2012 Precious Seed e-magazine at http://www.preciousseed.org/pdfs/emagazine_2012_02a.pdf.