Christian Brethren

Christian Brethren
   The name Christian Brethren designates the Free Church movement originally associated with John Nelson Darby (1800-82), an Anglican priest serving with the Church of ireland who came to reject the idea of a state church as well as much of the denominational and ritual trappings of the Anglican tradition. in the 1820s, Darby began to meet with a small group of like-minded people in Dublin. As the movement spread, an assembly began to meet at Plymouth (whence the often-used name Plymouth Brethren).
   At Plymouth, Benjamin W. Newton (1807-99) challenged Darby on a series of issues. Newton emphasized the autonomy of the local assembly as opposed to the unity of the Brethren as a whole. He also called for an inclusive fellowship with other Evangelical Protestants, as opposed to Darby's more exclusive concept. At first, the exclusive side of the movement prevailed. In England, George Müller (1805-98), head of a large assembly and of an orphanage in Bristol, was a prominent, open-minded Brethren leader. Darby would go on to develop dispensationalism.
   The Brethren accepted the traditional Protestant beliefs of the one God, Jesus Christ, and salvation. They tended to practice closed communion and believer baptism. They were distinctive in their affirmation of Christian unity, as demonstrated by the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, i.e., the "breaking of bread," a regular reminder that Christ created one body; the avoidance of distinctive denominational labels (like Presbyterian or Lutheran) in favor of the informal designation "brethren"; and the avoidance of pan-denominational structures and headquarters. Specialized service agencies (camps, missionary sending organizations, and Bible colleges) came to be seen as acceptable.
   The Brethren are not very visible on the religious landscape. A local congregation does not even use the name Brethren but exists as a "Gospel Hall," "Bible Chapel," or "Christian Assembly." in some countries, the Brethren have organized in conformity with government regulations, but frequently without using the Brethren name. Many Brethren have been leaders in the Evangelical world without stressing their Brethren affiliation. Prominent Brethren include ministers George Müller and Harry A. Ironside, biblical scholars E E Bruce and H. H. Rowdon, hymn writers Francis Trevor and Joseph Scriven, evangelist Luis Palau, and missionaries A. N. Groves and Jim Eliot.
   By the end of the 19th century, the Exclusive Brethren had splintered into five major groups, later consolidated into two. The so-called Taylor Brethren were the most significant group in the United Kingdom and its former colonies, while the Reunited Brethren (also called the Continental or Grant Brethren) are most numerous on the European continent and in North America. But most of the movement now identifies with the open (meaning open to fellowship with non-Brethren Christians) or Christian Brethren, which has developed a spectrum of opinion without openly fracturing.
   The Christian Brethren are now a global movement, due to vigorous support of foreign missions. They are found throughout most of Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa (notably Angola,Chad,Congo,Egypt, and Zambia), and much of South and East Asia (especially India and Malaysia). Worldwide membership is estimated between 1 and 1.5 million adults in some 20,000 congregations. Contact with the movement may be made through one of its service agencies such as Christian Missions in Many Lands in Spring Lake, New Jersey, Echoes of Service in Bath, England, or MSC Canada in Markham, Ontario.
   See also premillennialism.
   Further reading:
   ■ Robert H. Baylis, My People: The History of those Christians Sometimes Called Plymouth Brethren (Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw, 1995, rev. ed., 1997)
   ■ F Roy Coad, A History of the Brethren Movement (Exeter, England: Paternoster, 1968, 2nd ed., 1976)
   ■ Harold H. Rowdon, The Origins of the Brethren (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1967)
   ■ Frederick A. Tatford, That the World May Know, 10 vols. (Bath, England: Echoes of Service, 1982-86).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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