The History of the Brethren Movement

In the early 18th century many important events were making history in Europe.

Napoleon had plunged Europe into a devastating war.

This war was not only against kings and constituted authority, but it was against God and against religion.

The Christian religion on the continent was absolutely discredited.

Britain was greatly affected by these events.

There was the fear of a French invasion.

Men’s hearts were failing them because of fear. Waterloo 1815.

The result of all this was that Britain became more God conscious and the study of the Scriptures was stimulated.

The spiritual life of the nation was stirred as the Holy Spirit moved with great force.

1820-30 Wilberforce – Slave trade abolished.

During this period Robert Raikes started the first Sunday School.

The London Missionary Society was founded.

The Church Missionary Society and the Religious Tract Society came into being.

Also during this period the British and Foreign Bible Society was established.

Wesley’s II in Believers. Prayer meetings.

There was no doubt that the Spirit of God was working in a special way at this critical time.

It was during this period and in this God conscious atmosphere, that another manifestation of the Spirit’s working was seen in the birth of what has become known as the “Brethren Movement.”

In the 16th century God used a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther to restore to the Church the forgotten truth of “justification by faith.”

This truth scattered the blackness of the “Dark Ages.”

Two centuries later God used another Roman Catholic to help restore to His people forgotten truths concerning the Church, its Scriptural fellowship and worship.

Dr. Connin was a young converted Roman Catholic.

Dr. Connin was worshipping out in the country under some tree’s because of his convictions.

Another brother named Wilson who was Secretary of the Bible Society met him there and worshipped with him. Finally, they met in Dr. Cronin’s little apartment to break bread [Apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayers]. They were joined by others. Describe the circumstances. From these small beginnings our movement began. The year was 1828.

Around this same time there was a movement of the Spirit in British Guiana. Leonard Strong, a Church of England clergyman who had been sent out to British Guiana to work among slaves. His work was greatly blessed by God.

Through an independent and in-depth study of the Scriptures he was led by God to renounce his position and salary of §800 per year.

Then he began to meet with his converts for worship and breaking of bread on the same Scriptural lines he afterwards found were being practiced elsewhere in Rangoon, India, South America.

There is also evidence that the Spirit was not only working n Dublin, Plymouth, but also in London, Bristol, and Barnstaple. There was also a moving of the Spirit in Italy, 250 assemblies today. Germany, Switzerland.

As time passed and information was gathered from various parts of the world, it was found that around this period there had been a mighty movement of the Spirit in the various continents and islands of the sea.

Some historians believe that during this period there occurred the greatest outpouring of the Spirit since Pentecost.

The final 15 or 20 years which followed the beginning of the little meeting in Dublin were years of expansion and prosperity. The Holy Spirit was in control. The brethren rejoiced in their deliverance from religious systems, questionable practices and the fruit of the Spirit was evident. They loved the lord Jesus with a new genuine and fervent love (first love, agape). That love spilled over as they loved each other enthusiastically.

The Spirit’s work was so great that several clergymen with their entire congregations accepted the re-discovered truths and renounced all sectarian connections and began meeting and worshiping in the Scriptural way.

From this small and unostentatious beginning the movement spread to Dublin to Plymouth – Bristol – London.

Then up into the midlands and north of England – over the border to Scotland – into Northern Ireland, over into Europe, and since has spread into every continent and many of the islands of the Sea.

Note the numerical progress in Acts.

Who were these men whom God anointed?

By in large they were professionals.

They were highly educated; each one was moved by the new inner force of the Holy Spirit.

These were godly young men, the oldest was 31 years of age (the average age was 25 years). In later years some of them and others who joined them became theologians, others were gifted to discover vital truths then write about them. Gospel.

George Mueller – By prayer and implicit faith in God, sheltered 10,000 orphans (the gift of FAITH).

Received over $3,000,000 in gifts.

Gave back to the Lord $170,000 received for his personal use. When this great servant, this Man of Faith, passed on to be with the Lord, his bank account was $120.00. His name is known throughout the world as a man of faith. (The gift of being a PASTOR).

Robert Chapman. Eight included in Believers. Bishop.

Wrote several worship hymns … Jesus is at the door. See Sheet.


J. N. Darby – New Translation, Thomas Newberry

George Wigrans

Englishman’s Greek and Hebrew Lexicon.

William Kelly – noted as a Greek theologian.

A. N. Groves (The gift of being an EVANGELIST)

To Bagdad … went out in faith, depending on God alone.

Since that time, thousands of young men and women have gone out to the mission field, following Groves’ example, depending on God to meet their needs.

These men were moved by the Spirit. (New experience)

These men were spiritual giants, among the most godly in the nation at that time.

With deep exercise of soul they searched the Word.

The result of this was a spiritual awakening and the recovery of much truth which had been hidden for centuries in the dust of ecclesiastical tradition.

Quote some of the precious truths recovered.

The true nature of the New Testament Church.

The Place of His Name

God gave instructions to Moses as to where Israel should worship Him. Joshua 18:1

They were to worship Him in Shiloh. They set up the Tabernacle. See other sheet.

Shiloh. Notice four things. Importance.

1. This place was chosen by God Himself.

2. This place was to be Israel’s gathering place.

3. God placed His name there.

4. God’s assured presence was there.

God promised Israel to be in Shiloh, and to dwell in their midst in the Tabernacle.

This was the only place where God promised to meet them.

Transferring this truth to the N. T. we have a similar picture. Matt 18:20

1. The place—where two or three

2. The gathering center—Gathered together

3. The Name—In my Name

4. The presence of the Lord (promise)—There am I in the midst

The early brethren believed that they were a “called out company.” Not called out from other believers, but from the world’s religious systems.

Since that discovery Mr. Newberry with his intimate knowledge of the original language, has interpreted the verse like this: Matt 18:20 – “Where two or three “having been gathered together by the Holy Spirit and meeting in My Name, there am I in the midst of them. Definition of an assembly.

This small company believed that they were “gathered out” by the Holy Spirit.

Second generation.

This truth thrilled them … they were God’s called out people, The Ekklesia.

1. They realized that a Scriptural assembly is composed of believers, elders and deacons. Philippians 1:7.

2. They practiced the apostle’s doctrine, fellowship with one another, they broke bread in memory of the Lord, and they gathered for prayer. Acts 2. They also realized that one of the purposes of the local church as God’s representative was to carry the Gospel to the nations. Matt 28.

The Basis for the New Testament Assembly

The components – Phil 1

The activities – Acts 2

The purpose – Matt 28

The rediscovery of New Testament principles.

About 150 years ago there was a movement of the Holy Spirit in various places.

The working of the Spirit was seen specially in Dublin, Ireland, Plymouth and London, England … also in Europe.

At this time godly men moved by the Spirit (these men were spiritual giants) became deeply concerned about the low spiritual state of the professing church.

They also were unhappy with the unscriptural practices in the churches with which they were affiliated. Some of these men were ordained preachers. This exercise of soul led to a prayerful searching of the Word.

The result of this searching was a spiritual awakening and the recovery of much truth which for centuries had been hidden under ecclesiastical tradition.

Among the precious truths recovered were:

1. The true nature of the New Testament church

2. The position of the believer as being “in Christ”. Eternal security

3. The priesthood of all believers. See sheet. They rejected clerisy

4. The sufficiency of the Name of Christ. They gathered to Christ alone

5. The ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to the (?)

6. The rapture of the church. Pre-tribulation resurrection of Church-age saints.

7. The pre-millennial coming of the Lord to the earth. Rev 19

8. The millennial reign of Christ on earth for 1,000 years. Rev 20

9. The keeping of the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis. Baptism

When these truths were rediscovered, this led t an exercise of heart to practice them, to their mode of gathering and in their preaching and teaching.

Consequently, companies of believers began to gather in a simple way, in the Name of the Lord Jesus. The rapid spread of the movement; many left the denominations.

These companies recognized the precious truth of the one Body. Godly in life, sound in doctrines.

The Lordship and Headship of Christ. Supreme in authority.

The Leadership of the Holy Spirit

They owned allegiance to no denomination. Separation

They took no sectarian name. Christians – believers – disciples – brethren

They recognized no human head. Elders.

They sought to return to the N. T. pattern for the church.

These godly believers strove for collective unity and purity. Absolute unity – Apostalic purity.

During the years since then much of the simplicity (spirituality and power) has been lost.

Some have sought to introduce a sectarian spirit -- church without walls.

Some have developed an organizational unity, rather than the unity of the Spirit. Be careful brethren that we do not program the Spirit out of our gatherings. But we thank God for those who stand fast, who strengthen the things that remain, and who seek to maintain the scriptural simplicity of the early church.

Let us look now at some of the precious and unique truths that these early brethren discovered.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the gathering center. The early disciples were held together by devotion to a Person … by membership to an organization.

Their life revolved around the Lord … they (1) learned, (2) loved, and (3) obeyed Him.

Their relationship revealed itself in some fanatical ways.

They gathered together in His Name. Matt 18:20.

They preached in His Name. Acts 4:12. Neither John 14:13, 14. Goliath/David Matt 21:22/John 15.

They baptized in His Name. Acts 10:48.

They did miracles in His Name. Acts 3:61; All authority is given, All nations unto me; All things always.

They defied opposition in His Name. Acts 4:18-20 (Opposition from within, Acts 20.) Prayer.

They suffered willingly in His Name. Acts 5:4-0-42. “Daily in the temple and in every home”, etc.

When a local assembly is working scripturally Christ is central, supreme, He is Lord.

The N. T. speaks of assemblies composed of believers in many localities.

To name a few – Jerusalem, Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, Seven Churches in Asia.

These churches were independent, undenominational, autonomous, indigenous, self-governing, self-producing. They were composed of Believers, Bishops, Deacons.

Nowhere in the N. T. did they find a confederation of assemblies… no bishop over a diocese … no superintendent over a group of churches.

Each assembly was a sovereign unit. They were ruled by elders.

Each was independent of the other. Their risen Head was in heaven. Each one was in subjection to Christ alone. Headship of Christ. Each one was in fellowship with the others.

They expressed this fellowship in a practical way.

1. They received all those whom Christ had received. Rom 15:7

2. They accepted and supported gifted servants of Christ. 1 Cor 16:9-12

3. They gave letters of recommendation to those who traveled. Rom 6:1-2

4. They gave financial assistance among brethren and to the needy in other assemblies. Rom 15:25-27

The Lord’s Supper. The first century church.

Broke bread in memory of the Lord Jesus. Acts 2:42

At times in their fervency they may have remembered the Lord daily. Acts 2:46.

Later the church adopted the practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. Acts 20:7. Explain: continually devoting

The breaking of the bread was the highest point in their scheduled meetings.

It was time of intense adoration and worship… followed by the breaking of bread and drinking the wine finishing with ministry from the Word. See 1 Cor 11.

At this type of meeting the believers rekindled their devotion to Christ.

Note the simplicity … not actual transubstantiation nor Consubstantiation.

The assemblies reject outright the erroneous fabrications.

We practice what the early church practiced … a simple table on which is placed a loaf of bread and a cup of wine which represents the body and blood. Around this simply spread table believers gather in the Name of the Lord Jesus to praise, worship and to break bread in loving memory of their crucified, risen, ascended and soon-coming Lord.

The Lord’s return. The Rapture. 1 Thess 4 New Revelation

As the believers left the Remembrance Feast they were filled with love for one another. They were concerned for the lost … they evangelized wherever they went.

They were little colonies waiting for the King. There were also marked as men who were waiting for the Lord’s return. This was the blessed hope that lifted their hearts and caused them to sing Maranatha.

Simplicity… spirituality … and power were the hallmarks of the early church.

Thanks God for the group of assemblies that seek to maintain the simplicity of the first century church as they wait for His return.

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

Not only did the Lord give the church a Book.

He also gave them the Holy Spirit to guide them privately and corporately.

When the first missionaries left the little house churches behind them they did so confidently, knowing that the Holy Spirit would lead them, empower, and equip them.

1. They believed that He would raise up spiritual gifts for their growth. Eph 4:11

2. Each believer was taught that he had a function to fulfill in the body. 1 Cor 17:12

3. Each believer was taught that he was the temple of the Holy Spirit. 1 Cor 6:19

4. They were taught that there was no such thing as clerical and laity. Most of the meetings were informal, they were unstructured. In mixed meetings the men took the leadership. 1 Cor 14:24. Some led in a hymn – teaching – or exhortation – prayer.

In this way gifts began to develop … in time some were known as teachers. Others become strong in the Gospel and became evangelists. Some with shepherd’s hearts became pastors.

This was the concept of the body working together … a truth enlarged by Paul at a later time. 1 Corinth 12. Each assembly should function as a body.

Then we have the unique position of the assemblies with regards to the sisters. The winds of change are blowing. Following the example of the early church we believe in the silence of the sisters in public meetings. 1 Cor 14:34; 1 Tim 2:11-12. While adhering to this principle, we also admit that there are many spheres in which sisters can serve, in many instances more acceptably than the brothers.

Head coverings

Scriptural and spiritual assemblies believe and accept the teachings of 1 Cor 11. The whole chapter.

Not only do they believe in the Lord’s Suppers; they also believe in the Head-covering. Godly sisters usually have no problem with this. They are content to preach the greatest of all sermons to all the saints and before the angels of the Headship of man – Christ – and God. In these days of feminist movements this position with that of the silence of sisters is being challenged.

No ordained preachers.

The assemblies hold the position that there is no distinction of clerisy and laity among the Lord’s people as practiced in some segments of the professing church. We believe that this is foreign distinction to N. T. teaching

Paul left each church established in charged of local elders. These men had the rule over the local assembly. They were the “guides” and “leaders”. There was no high authority – this was God’s order.

Our way of financing the Lord’s work is unique and based on N. T. example. (M. S. C. Gifts)

There are four basic principles:

1. No offering from the unsaved. 3 John 7 “Taking nothing of the Gentiles”

2. No public appeal for funds. Matt 6:3 “Let not their right now, etc.

3. Instruction for giving is found in the Word. 1 Corinth 16:2 “Upon the first day”, etc.

4. Give is an act of worship. Heb 13:15-16 “As a priest we give our substance.

The way our missionaries at home and abroad are supported. Consider Acts 13

These dear servants go forth as sent by God not by a missionary society.

They are not controlled by any missionary board … they are responsible to God.

They have no guarantee of any financial support.

They have gone forth in simple dependence upon God.

These scriptural principles recovered from the dust of ecclesiastical antiquity 150 years ago, and which were practiced at great loss by the early brethren should be given our earnest considerations and should not be lightly laid aside for the unstable whims of modern thought.

These principles are the Basis for the New Testament Church.

Elders. 1 Tim3 Titus 1

An elder is an overseer. Acts 20:28. See also v. 17.

In v. 17 Paul called for the elders of Ephesus.

In v. 28 we discover that these elders had been made overseers by the Holy Spirit.

The elder of Titus 1:5 is the bishop or overseer of v. 7.

In 1 Peter 5 the elder of v. 1 takes the oversight of the assembly in v. 2.

The distinction between the two terms seem to be

1. The term elder refers to the person. An elder usually is an older man … a mature man.

2. The word “overseer” refers to the work he does. He “oversees” or “takes care” of the welfare of the assembly.

Elder is the title … overseer is the work that he does.

Qualifications of an Elder … “If a man desires”, etc.

There are several areas in which an elder must qualify.

First there is the personal sphere. In this sphere there are five positive moral qualifications. There are also five negative moral qualifications.

Positive qualifications:

1. An elder must be “blameless” – In 1 Tim 3, the word means irreproachable = no charge can be proven against him. Above reproach … above suspicion … unmarred … unblemished.

2. The word blameless in Titus 1:6,7 means “unaccused”. This means that no charge has ever been laid against him.

3. The qualified elder must be temperate. Cool headed … balanced … self-controlled … self-disciplined … self-restrained.

4. Sober-minded … reasonable … well-grounded … level-headed … logical … impartial.

5. Of good behavior … good in morals … ethics … principles.

6. Patient … long suffering … unswerving … unshakeable

Negative qualifications

1. not give to wine

2. Not a fighter … not violent … but gentle

3. Not pursuing dishonest gain … not covetous of money

4. Not quarrelsome, nor self-willed, firm but flexible

5. Not soon angry … does not lose his temper

Qualifications in the Social sphere

The husband of one wife … manages his own house well … his children are under control with dignity … given to hospitality … has a good report within and without the assembly.

Qualifications in the Spiritual sphere.

A lover of good men and good things.

He must be a mature believer.

He must be godly—just—and holy.

He must have a good working knowledge of the Scripture.

He must be skillful in teaching.

The Elders’ duties

To feed the flock of God. Acts 20. See also 1 Peter 5:1-4

To guide and lead the flock … teaching them to walk in godly ways. Heb 13

They are to lead the flock as shepherds and to examples to the flock. 1 Peter 5:3

They have to take care of the flock. 1 Tim 3:15

The duty of the assembly toward qualified elders.

Remember them who have the rule over you, i.e. Pray for them. Heb 13

Obey them who have the rule over you. Heb 13

Give honor or respect them who rule over you. Heb. 13

We should acknowledge them as our guide and leaders. 1 Peter 5:5

Then there is the question of deacons.

A deacon’s work falls into two spheres.

The physical and spiritual.

Building responsibilities … Sunday school… youth work … caring for the needy … visitation … looking after the finances.

There are unlimited spheres in which a godly deacon can operate.

Preaching … teaching … caring … encouraging … counseling, etc.

The qualifications for a deacon are very high.

They are similar to those of the elder. 1 Tim 3:8-13

Deacons’ wives must conform to divine standards. 1 Tim 3:11

Some believe that deaconesses are being referred to here.

Elders should be:

    Pastors to feed the flock,

    Sentinels to protect the flock,

    Pillars to support the flock,

    Rulers to guide the flock,

    Examples to encourage the flock.