South African Bible Believers
This book was written by Mr W.R. Dronsfield, and is reproduced with his permission. It is written from an "Exclusive" viewpoint, and while I might not agree with every statement, this book is presented as a valuable source of history, and as an example of how some within "Exclusive" ranks would view the events in "Brethren" history.
This book was originally written as a sequel to Andrew Miller's little volume
which had shown the "brethren" in their origin and subsequent division into
"Open" and "Exclusive" groups. The object of writing the sequel was to give the
then current generation (1965) an understanding of how we came to be meeting as
we meet, a humble explanation of the divisions which had occurred and with the
desire that we should avoid the pitfalls previously encountered in our history.
Its writing has been updated to deal with the reunion which was consummated in
This reprint has in mind that there is now a new generation which has arisen
since the re-union exercises of the years to 1975, that there are enquirers from
previous sad divisions amongst brethren and from the denominations as well as
some in fellowship who would benefit from a clear and precise presentation of
the situation as it is now.
Some have advised that this history could be updated in relation to the
defining of a doctrine of "Local Autonomy" amongst "Open" brethren and the
disintegration of Tunbridge Wells and ex-Taylor groups, but we feel that the
need is to show the situation of those who understand the scriptural imperative
that the only ground of gathering for the saints of God is the one body of our
blessed Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, in separation from evil giving unhindered
fresh communion with the Father and the Son. This the history achieves as
It is felt that the correspondence during the period of coming together
(appended to the history in 1975) is a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit's
exercising of hearts concerning the honour of the name of the Lord Jesus. The
various groups had been execised about the dishonour to the Lord because of the
separation of brethren who all maintained the truth of the UNITY of the body of
Christ. The letters should be valuable for those who have been taught that such
a reunion could not be scriptural, and also to show that scriptural principles
were strongly upheld. There was not compromise in order to gain unity.
The author was brought by the working of the Holy Spirit as a young man to
see the truth of the one body and our responsibility to walk in that pathway. He
has proved the blessedness of giving the Lord His rightful place in the assembly
through many years and was personally involved in the reunion exercises, so that
he writes from personal exercise before the Lord. We commend it to our readers.
At the Grove City conference in August 1969, there were a number of meetings
for prayer and discussion concerning the fellowship matters facing us,
particularly our separation from the so-called "Kelly-Mory" brethren in this
Not being able to arrive at any substantial agreement, it was the consensus
that we make these matters the subject of earnest prayer, individually and
collectively, so that we might know the mind of the Lord.
Following these meetings, a number of brethren indicated that they did not
have copies of the reports and correspondence, since in most cases only one copy
had come to each assembly, and this over a number of years. It was felt by many
that this information should be available to every concerned brother if there
was to be intelligent prayer.
With this in mind, the material following has been collected and reprinted
for the benefit of all. We have purposely avoided private correspondence and
excerpts which might be misinterpreted. All of the material has been previously
available to all in the gatherings.
It might also be well to mention that prayer meetings specifically regarding
the fellowship matters are being held on a regularly scheduled basis in Detroit,
St. Louis and Charlotte. Should there be others holding special meetings on this
basis, we would be glad to know about it, and will seek to make it known in the
As matters develop further, we will (D.V.) seek to have any pertinent papers
reproduced on special sheets for insertion in this binder, so that all who are
interested may have a fairly complete, up-to-date folio.
The story of the Brethren, as told by Mr. A.Miller, closed in the 1870's and
nearly a century has passed since then (1965). All the great movements of the
Spirit of God have suffered much decline in the course of 100 years, and the
Brethren have certainly been no exception. That which is committed to human
responsibility always fails, but the Truth abides. The foundation of God stands
sure, although iniquity may abound.
In the following pages it is desired to trace briefly the history of the
Brethren up to the present day. We will try to avoid paying unnecessary
attention to details of controversies long dead, and rather concentrate on those
matters, painful though many of them are, which have relevance to us in the
present. A.Miller's History left the Brethren divided into two camps - the
"Open" and the "Exclusive".
The Open Brethren, from their beginning took the line that all meetings were
independent units. Discipline and administration were the responsibility of the
local gathering alone and each assembly managed its own affairs according to its
own standards before the Lord, and had no right to judge or interfere in the
management of a neighbouring assembly. This principle had the advantage that it
was easy to follow and did not lead to much exercise of conscience. If two
meetings ceased to have fellowship with one another, or one meeting split into
two opposed parties (and this often happened) the other meetings could continue
in exactly the same relationship with both factions, and receive from either. If
an offender were justly disciplined by his meeting, he might go to a
neighbouring assembly and be received. The decision of the second meeting would
be its own responsibility and would not concern the first. The offender could
then travel round the gatherings with a letter of commendation from the second
and would not be affected by the discipline of the first meeting at all, while
that meeting would not consider it a matter for their own exercise of conscience
unless the brother they had disciplined came back to them, which he would not be
likely to do. It could happen on the other hand that a brother might be put out
of a meeting unjustly. He would then be readily received by neighbouring
meetings, but the decision of the unjust meeting could not be challenged, nor
would the spiritual judgment of those in neihbouring meetings be used to put the
matter right in his own locality.
A teacher of serious error might be refused by other meetings, but his local
gathering could not be disowned. Hence those who were defiled by remaining in
his meeting could still be received, providing they did not themselves hold or
teach his views. The principle of independency must, of necessity, be in
opposition to the scriptural principle that association with evil defiles.
We do not desire, however, to be unduly critical of the Open Brethren, and
must acknowledge that most of them are godly and faithful believers. We can
thank God that they have not lost the Gospel, and their zeal in that direction
has produced much fruit for the Lord. Large numbers of their missionaries have
gone to other lands, pioneering independent meetings there. These brethren go
out in dependence on the Lord and He does not fail them. The missionary magazine
of the Open Brethren is called "Echoes of Service" and the Editors act as a
channel for gifts. Consequently Open Brethren missionaries are often called
"Echoes of Service" missionaries.
As regards the British Isles, about 20 full-time evangelists go into villages
with their tents and equipment, and hold Gospel Campaigns in places where there
is no evangelical witness. They are supported by a trust known as "Counties
Evangelistic Work". Also 'Mobile Units' have been purchased by gifts from
assemblies. These are vans equipped with loudspeakers and other suitable
apparatus, for use in towns, mainly London, and manned by Gospel preachers that
volunteer for open air preaching in the evenings after their daily work.
In addition to this, in Great Britain, there are at least 35 full-time
evangelists and teachers, and also a good number in Northern Ireland, who go
round the assemblies and in faith rely on the Lord's provision alone depending
on gifts from believers as the Spirit moves, with no central fund or committee
dispensing financial aid. Such work is highly commendable and we cannot
criticise it in principle or practice, except perhaps that these full-time
workers must wait to be 'invited' by assemblies to take meetings which would not
be necessary if they arranged their own itinerary. Very few of these workers are
fully aware of their origin or of Newton's heresy. We are confident that the
Lord has used these evangelists, and will still use them mightily, for the
salvation of souls and the extension of His Kingdom.
There are at least five Open Brethren magazines in the British Isles. The
'Witness' and 'Harvester' have the largest circulations but they are of the
interdenominational school of thought, the Witness having become so during the
last few years. The other three are "Precious Seed" mainly for brethren in the
West of England; "The Believers Magazine" mainly circulating in Scotland, and
"Assembly Testimony" circulating in Northern Ireland.
These three magazines, especially the last, seek to maintain a separation
from the sects of Christendom, but they still teach firmly the principle of
A.Miller wrote in his book that comparatively little in the way of written
testimony had issued from the press of the Open Brethren. This cannot be said in
the twentieth century, and they have had many sound and gifted writers who have
produced useful works of the conservative evangelical kind.
Nevertheless, although they have the truth of the Gospel, we must maintain
that they have lost the truth of the Church and have become a system of
independent gatherings quite contrary to the truth of the One Body "fitly joined
together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth". This perversion has
not failed to be the author of confusion and the meetings of Open Brethren vary
in every kind and degree from the tight gatherings which will not receive
anybody unless he first separates himself from everybody else, to those which
are in effect interdenominational movements of the present day, and receive any
stranger without question to the breaking of bread. Between these two extremes
there are large numbers of meetings that are - locally- run on fairly sound New
Rather unexpectedly in view of their great diversity, there is one doctrine
and practice which is held by all Open Brethren assemblies - except perhaps by
one or two of exclusive origin - which is that baptism must be only for
believers of a responsible a e on confession of faith. Most meetings refuse to
allow a person to break bread unless he has been baptised as a believer, and if
he was baptised as an infant it does not count in their eyes. The doctrine of
household baptism is rigidly rejected and no teaching of it would be allowed.
Some meetings might tolerate an individual who held such a view, but he would
have to keep quiet on the subject.
The majority of the gatherings practise the "closed oversight" system. There
are a number of brethren in each meeting who are the elders, and this group is
called the "oversight". These elders are appointed to the office and when a
vacancy occurs in the oversight, a brother is invited by the remaining elders to
fill it. Those who are not elders have no voice in this appointment. We believe
this departs from the scriptural order. In the early days of the church some
elders were appointed by apostles or their delegates, but since apostles have
ceased, there is no mention of apostolic succession and this therefore no longer
applies. It is plain, however, that where there was no definite apostolic
ordination, the Holy Ghost still raised up overseers (Acts 20:8) and that the
assembly was told to "know" or recognise them as such (I Thess. 5:22).
The qualifications of a bishop (elder) are found for our guidance in I Tim.
iii: 1-7. The one who is moved by the Holy Ghost will take up the office of a
bishop on his own spiritual exercise and the brethren will become aware of the
fact and acknowledge it. Needless to say, the person who in fleshly pride
desires the pre-eminence will not be "known" by a spiritual gathering. The
practice of a "closed oversight" often leads to the appointment of a good "party
man" to the office, while the true overseer is overlooked and left outside the
It is worth noting that a common practice is, in effect, to recognise two
fellowships. A person may break bread as a believer for a time and then be asked
if he wishes to become a member of the assembly. Often a letter of commendation
is not desired until the believer asks to be put on the list as a member. Thus
there are two memberships (1) membership of the Body of Christ, (2) membership
of the local meeting, and one can infer that in practice membership of the
second needs higher qualifications! When one membership is possible without the
other there can be no clear perception that a local gathering should be no more
and no less than an expression of the whole body.
It was a very strong point amongst the early "Brethren" that the Holy Spirit
should be allowed to have full control in the various gatherings. This principle
has been gradually let slip amongst Open Brethren. Now an opportunity for 'open
ministry' is very rare, and readings have been abandoned in many places. Even
where Bible readings are held, they are often controlled by an appointed
chairman who introduces the subject or chapter by a talk of varying length and
then leaves the meeting open for discussion or questions.
Pre-arranged ministry is the custom in some places at the Breaking of Bread.
Although the early brethren abandoned the Judaistic practice of using the
natural senses as aids to worship, organs or pianos are now being introduced in
rapidly increasing numbers at the Open Brethren morning worship meetings. The
way has been paved for this, as for a great many years, the organ has been used
at their Gospel meetings.
Many Open Brethren meetings, especially in Scotland, call themselves the
"Christian Brethren" and label themselves as such on their notice boards. There
has been a tendency in England lately for some of their places of worship to be
changed from being caled 'halls' to 'chapels', and a few have begun calling
their meeting places "Evangelical Churches". Interdenominational activities have
been much increased since the war. Their almost universal participation in the
"Billy Graham Campaigns" gave this tendency a powerful impetus. These
interdenominational activities lead directly to unscriptural practices such as
prayer meetings where sisters take audible part with their heads uncovered.
Division in the Open Brethren - "Needed Truth"
There can be no clear-cut division amongst those who practise independent
principles. Obviously a thing which already has no cohesion cannot be divided.
Pass a knife through a pile of sand and it remains as before. Apart from local
incidents Open Brethren cannot separate from one another and this appears on the
surface to be a good thing. It is often forgotten that independency makes
separation from evil impossible also.
The only way a division is possible amongst Open Brethren is for a group of
meetings to forsake independency and separate from those who practise it. In
other words, this means that they cease to be Open Brethren altogether. For,
suppose there were two grups of meetings, both practising independency, then,
according to their principles, one meeting cannot be less independent of another
in the same group than it is of one in the other group. In any case,
independents profess not to recognise groups or cirles of meetings.
Some talk of a division between "Closed-Open" and "Wide Open" meetings, but
this is not accurate. It is true that most of the meetings in Northern Ireland
and many in Scotland and Northern England are "Closed-Open" and they would be
horror -struck to attend the "Wide Open" meetings such as are found in large
numbers in the South and West of England. But they are still independent
gatherings and are all included in the directory of "Assemblies in Britain and
other parts" published by Pickering & Inglis Ltd. They have different
practices but are in the same fellowship.
There has, however, been one break away from Independency and this occurred
in 1889. Certain brethren formed another party and this has been called the
"Needed Truth" company after the name of their magazine which is now obtainable
from the Needed Truth Publishing Office, Assembly Hall, George Lane, Bromley,
Kent. As early as 1876 questions were published and answered in the magazine
"The Northern Witness". This was the first sign that many were becoming uneasy
concerning the loose condition of a large number of meetings. By 1889 this
course of teaching, started twelve years previously, had obtained a good number
of adherents and many of the meetings were calling themselves the "Church of
God" in their locality and claiming that no other company of Christians was a
church of God in a true sense at all. They rejected the doctrine of
independency, but instead of the true scriptural unity which is brought about by
the Holy Spirit, they instituted a man-made unity brought about by human
organisation, by means of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. First there was the
oversight of a city\\; next came the County Oversight and over them was the
National Oversight consisting of the brethren ruling over all the "Churches of
God" in the country. In 1904, a dispute between the Scottish Overseers and the
oversights of England, Wales and Ireland made an international oversight
necessary. Such ideas, of course, are quite foreign to Scripture, although
similar to the system of government in most denominations. It is in effect, the
substitution of an earthly head for the Head in Heaven. As has occurred in other
tight, sectarian circles, a serious error was introduced and forced upon the
simple believers by the overseeing caste. Needed Truth Brethren were told that
they must not address the Lord Jesus in worship, as worship had to be addressed
only to the Father. This rule is still enforced amongst them and must be
regarded as a grave departure from God's will "that all men should honour the
Son even as they honour the Father." (John 5:23). Worship is the expression of
this honour and therefore must be paid to the Son in like degree as to the
Father. So far as can be ascertained, the Needed Truth brethren have much
decreased in numbers since their beginnings, and their few meetings are
predominantly in Northern England.
Andrew Miller's book "The Brethren", has shown us the happy and flourishing
state of those who had rejected the "Open" principles and had carried on in the
old paths. We have seen something of their unworldliness, hunger for the Word
alone and zeal for the Gospel, and how the Lord blessed them by giving light as
to the truth, increase in numbers and a harvest of precious souls. It should be
noted, incidentally, that the term "Exclusive" was first applied to them by
their opponents. They accepted the description gradually, because they said it
was a right thing to be exclusive of evil, but no well-instructed brother would
have agreed that it was the name of the company. They knew no name but Christ -
so they were Christians. They had no desire to be called by the name of any
merely human person or any system of doctrine. They were `brethren' no more and
no less, than all other Christians. The very use of the capital B in "Brethren"
is not strictly accurate, as it implies a brotherhood distinct from other
Yet in a history such as this it is necessary to use certain terms in order
to avoid long and tedious circumlocutions of words in describing believers who
gathered in various ways and places. One apologises for this, but it is due to
the ruin that has come in.
The story of the "Exclusive Brethren" is a very sad one. One can see the
activity of the enemy of souls, working secretly while men slept, working as an
angel of light and even latterly as a roaring lion. With our eyes opened after
the even it, we can see how even the most godly and discerning men did not
perceive what he was doing, until the harm had become cumulative and obvious to
all but the blinded.
It is plain that some of the pristine purity and unworldliness of these
brethren was becoming tarnished by the 1870's. Many had come in who had not
experienced fully the original exercises. Mr. G.V. Wigram who died in 1879,
observed "we had to pray out the truth upon our knees in persevering prayer, but
now it can be bought up cheaply."
Because of the great increase in the numbers of meetings, further light was
being sought as to the Scriptural principles in the practical administration of
the assembly. It was observed - firstly it is believed by G.V. Wigram -that
Scripture always speaks of the church (singular) of a town regardless of the
number of gatherings in it, but the churches (plural) of a province or country.
From this it was inferred that the local church of a town consisted of all the
true Christians in that town, and were to be regarded as the local gathering for
the purposes of administration. The different sects and systems made this
impossible, but those gathered out of these systems must obey the true
scriptural principles for themselves, and act as the whole local church would
have acted if failure had not come in. So it was put into practice that all
meetings in one town were to regard themselves as a single unit for purposes of
reception, discipline and other administration.
Now this, no doubt, was based on true scriptural precedent, but they did not
take account of the vast difference between the ancient towns and cities in the
Scriptures and the conurbations and giant towns of today. A lot or argument and
difference of opinion developed as to the practical problems relating to the
meetings in the huge town of London. In New Testament times, cities were small
enough for a man to walk from one end to the other in 10 to 15 minutes, while
between the cities there was such poor transport that a visit to the
neighbouring town would take a lot of travelling time. It was quite natural,
therefore, that the Christians in a single town would consult together on
everything, regardless of the fact that they may have met in different houses
for the study of the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship breaking of bread and
J.N.Darby, by then aged and greatly revered, was very keen that the church in
London should regard itself as one unit, although he advocated that the meetings
in outlying districts such as Croydon, which were not in the geographical
boundaries of London, should be pruned off. He said that they had been allowed
in the "parent body" while they were small and new, but should now become
churches in their own right. He seemed to regard any attack on the conception of
one local church in London as advocating independent churches. It is not clear
why he thought so. Could not the single unit have been the church in a borough?
The outcome of all this was that brethren representative of some 26 London
meetings used to meet regularly on Saturday nights in a room at London Bridge
and later at 145 Cheapside. These meetings were meant to be channels of
communication only. As they were not the local church, but only representative
brethren, they were not expected to bind or loose anything but merely to pass on
and receive information to and from their respective gatherings. But they soon
began to recommend decisions, even if they could not ratify them, and in
practice a decision taken at Cheapside would be accepted without question,
especially on minor details.
Also the Park St. meeting at Islington, being the most central of the
gatherings and containing a good number of the most influential brethren, began
to acquire an unrecognized and unofficial power and authority. There was a
monthly brothers' meeting at Park St. for all the London meetings, where all
important administrative decision s were made. It was the seed of an
ecclesiastical hierarchy that would become full-grown one day. We shall see how
it developed as we continue our history.
The Kelly Division of 1881
On August 22nd. 1879, the meeting at Ramsgate, Kent, divided into two
factions. This local division was the focal point of the general division of
1881, and we would like to have spared our readers all the details that led up
to the Ramsgate spilt. Nevertheless, to get a true picture, we feel that some
explanation of the quarrel at Ramsgate must be attempted so we give the
following account of the events that preceded it. The meeting at Ryde, Isle of
Wight, was reputed to be in a poor spiritual condition. In 1868 they received a
brother T.C. who had previously evaded the English law of the time and, by
residing in France for the required period, married there his deceased wife's
sister. Years later this became known in other meetings, and many being unhappy
about the unrighteousness of this brother's act, the Ryde meeting in 1877
censured T.C. and stopped his ministry. He withdrew from fellowship the next
year but was not put out. Many (including Mr. W. Kelly who made his views quite
plain) felt that the Ryde meeting should have cleared itself by declaring T.C.
out of fellowship.
Some seceded from the Ryde meeting and set up another table at the Masonic
Hall. This, however, was considered a divisive act by the other meetings in the
Isle of Wight and they continued to recognise the original meeting at the
Now aged Dr. E. Cronin who broke bread at the meeting in Kennington, London,
and had been one of the original brethren who broke bread at Dublin in 1826 when
a medical student, got it into his head that he would force brethren to
recognise the meeting at the Masonic Hall. Accordingly on February 8th 1879 he
went down to Ryde and broke bread with the Masonic Hall brethren and, against
the advice of his great friend, J.N.D., again did so on March 14th. One wonders
why he thought this would move the brethren to change their minds and be
inclined towards the Masonic Hall. It certainly did not do so, and many in
London called upon Kennington to discipline the aged doctor. This Kennington was
unwilling to do, but they disavowed all association with the Masonic Hall, Ryde.
One feels surprised at the demand that was made by the leaders in London to
excommunicate Dr Cronin in view of his age and previous godly walk. Surely some
concession should be made to old age in view of the scriptural command to honour
white hair. It is well known that some in extreme old age get obsessions and
small delusions even though their intelligence does not seem otherwise impaired.
Surely love and respect should pass over the indiscretions of aged brethren,
even though they would not be excused in younger men. There seems to have been a
lack of love in the attitude towards Dr Cronin. One feels that a declaration
that Dr Cronin's course made no difference to the judgment of brethren as to
Ryde, should have been sufficient to maintain godly order.
When Kennington has hesitated to put out Dr Cronin for several months, on
Tuesday August 19th 1879, a meeting of the assembly at Park Street was held in
which the brethren decided that Kennington assembly had been apathetic too long
and declared Dr Cronin out of fellowship thus disowning those who sympathised
with him. This declaration was posted immediately to various country meetings in
the surrounding counties including Ramsgate. However, on that very same evening,
another meeting had been held at Kennigton, in which it was decided to put Dr
Cronin out of fellowship, quite without knowledge of the decision at Park St. at
the same time. Consequently at the Cheapside meeting on Saturday, it was
accepted that the Park St. declaration was annulled and Kennigton was still in
full fellowship as before.
Thus sadly did Dr Cronin end his long association with his brethren. The Lord
took him to Himself in February 1882 at 81 years of age.
Now after all these details we can explain the Ramsgate split.
On the next Lord's Day, Ramsgate had received the Park St. declaration but
had not received the news that this declaration had been annulled owing to the
simultaneous action at Kennington.
A difference of opinion arose and many of the brethren there, feeling that
they must act immediately in line with Park St., left the dissentients and began
to break bread apart. Those brethren who separated in line with Park St. became
known as the Guildford Hall company, and the others as the Abbotts Hill company.
When the Guildford Hall faction heard of the annulment of the Park St.
declaration they desired reunion, but the faction at Abbotts Hill would not
forgive their secession and insisted that they must be received back as
"individuals". This condition the Guildford Hall brethren were not willing to
We will not weary readers with the fourteen face-saving proposals and
counter-proposals put forward by the two companies during the next two years. It
is sufficient to say there was clear evidence of fleshly pride working on both
sides. Finally Guildford Hall commended a brother to Park St. hoping thereby to
obtain recognition. Park St. thereupon decided that they were forced to
investigate and come to a conclusion as to which faction should be recognised
and three meetings were held in April 1881 in which representatives of both
Abbotts Hill and Guildford Hall stated their respective cases. Guildford Hall
was eventually recognised as the "true company", which could have been
predicted, as Guildford Hall had made the division through its loyalty to Park
St in the first place.
William Kelly of the Blackheath meeting, however, together with many others,
was by no means happy about this decision as he favoured Abbotts Hill. It is
clear that Mr Kelly had been sympathetic to Dr. Cronin. So the "Park St.
Judgment" became a test of communion and all who could not subscribe to it were
Now, from this distance of time, it seems plain that Park St. had set itself
up, in practice, to be the head of the Brethren, thus usurping the authority of
the Head in Heaven. Not only did it come to a decision about events not in its
district, ignoring the 35 meetings in Kent, but it insisted that all meetings
must obey that decision or be out of fellowship. If some refused to accept the
judgment they were said to be acting independently. They surely failed to see
that unity must be by the Spirit and not by enforced human authority. Those who
could not toe the line were not acting independently but were resisting
ecclesiastical presumption. Yet both sides accused the other of independency! It
is doubtful whether Mr Kelly and his supporters would have ralised when they
accused Park St. of being independent that actually their error was just the
opposite. They were trying to set up a manmade unity. Mr Kelly did object,
however, to the "regimentation" of the Park St. judgment. He said in "Christian
Unity and Fellowship" now republished by C.A. Hammond, price 1/- (which booklet
contains the slightly abridged notes of a lecture delivered in 1882 and is well
worth study) - "It cannot seriously be expected that those who compose the
church of God should forego the character of a family with its fathers, young
men and babes, to imitate an army under martial law. Regimental order is as far
as possible from that which the written word prescribes to God's church, where,
instead of a regulation standard, the utmost variety prevails, high and low,
strong and weak or even uncomely."
J.N.Darby wrote in a letter dated Nov, 26th 1881, "It was necessary to come
to a decision, because all means during several months had been used to induce
the opposing ones to humble themselves, but without fruit". Yes, a decision was
certainly necessary but had Park St. any right to make the decision for the
whole body? The Holy Spirit makes true unity, and we cannot do so, but we are
exhorted to keep the unity which is already made by the Spirit on His own basis.
This is not to advocate independency. These acting on independent principles
would have recognised both companies, ignoring the disunity and thus covering up
the evil. Those who desire to keep the unity of the Spirit cannot recognise that
which produces disunity, but will not rest until there is restoration at the
seat of trouble and the evil of selfwill expurgated. Such restoration is not
produced by edict, but only by "prayer and fasting". And those primarily
responsible for the final recognition of a restored and self-judged company,
(although that company may prove to be a remnant) are those who are near the
scene itself, that is the neighbouring companies, not an eminent company of
gifted brethren who are a great way off. One would desire such a restoration to
be speedy, but long suffering kows no time limit.
It is perhaps necessary to stress that there was no fundamental cause for
local division at Ramsgate other than self-will. Where there is a clear cut case
of fundamentally evil doctrine or gross moral evil it is not a question of
reconciliation between brethren, but of individuals and companies being clear of
the defiling evil.
The Park St. Judgment of 1881 was generally accepted in America, perhaps for
the simple reason that J.N. Darby was very well known and beloved in America
while Mr Kelly was relatively unknown outside the British Isles at that time.
A very gifted teacher and exponent of the word had emerged in America named
Mr. F.W. Grant of Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1881 he was 47 years of age and
already well known. His forthright ministry was, however, causing some
resentment amongst the leadig brethren in England who were centred around Park
St. London. He had written an article named "Unity of the Church in a City" in
which he attacked the rigid line that a local church was one unit within the
boundaries of a city or town. He pointed out that this was regulating spiritual
matters according to the arbitrary geographical boundaries of secular
authorities, and that London was as vast as, and more populated than, a province
in Roman times. He objected to the London Brothers' Meeting that passed
decisions for the huge London church. This, as can well be expected, did not
please the leading brethren in London.
A doctrine had developed in England about this time that the reception of
Eternal Life did not usually take place until a period of time had elapsed after
new Birth: that this period of time might be considerable and that the sealing
of the Spirit (i.e. the reception of the Spirit) occurred at the time of this
later receiving of Eternal Life. J.N.D. in his old age seems to have accepted
these views. In a conference in Croydon, England, in 1881 when F.W. Grant was
visiting the country, he had a disagreement with Mr. Darby, but the aged J.N.D.
broke off the discussion and refused to continue what was developing into an
argument. Regrettably, Mr. Grant then left the room.
Briefly, Mr. Grant taught the following:
In September 1883 F.W.G. sent to the leading brethren in America and Europe a
tract called "Life and the Spirit" and invited their comments. He revised and
enlarged this tract and published it in 1884 with the title "Life in Christ and
Sealing with the Spirit".
Now an English brother, Lord Adalbert P. Cecil was, accompanied by Mr. Alfred
Mace, on a preaching tour of America in 1884, and began a concentrated attack
against F.W. Grant, speaking against him in many gatherings in U.S.A. and
Canada. All the opposition to F.W.G. came from him, and he claimed that he and
Mr. Mace were acting this way in America as the representatives of the English
brethren. It is clear that he knew he had the full backing of the leading
brethren in London.
A.P.C. and Alfred Mace got a firm footing in the Natural History Hall meeting
at Montreal, for they more or less dominated the assembly for three months,
causing a local division, and pressed hard for the rejection of F.W.G. In
November 1884 Mr. Grant (perhaps unwisely) came to Montreal hoping to prevent
division and his views were discussed from Nov. 15th to 25th. On the 29th day of
November a circular signed by 38 brethren in Montreal rejected F.W.G. as a
teacher. On December 12th a "last admonition" signed by three brethren was sent
to F.W.G. who was then in Ottawa. F.W.G. refused it and stated that it was only
from a section of the meeting in Montreal. On December 17th a paper was read out
three times to the assembly at Montreal, declaring F.W.G. out of fellowship as a
heretic, and each time 40 dissented, but in spite of this dissent the
declaration was stated to have been passed and F.W.G. was put out on a slender,
majority vote! The dissenters next Lord's Day (it would have been better if they
had waited) broke bread at another meeting place in Craig Street in fellowship
with F.W.G. Of course, the Plainfield assembly where Mr. F.W.G. resided,
rejected the Natural History Hall meeting and so did the majority of American
So the leaders of the brethren in London had managed to engineer the
exclusion of F.W.G. although all admitted that his errors (if they were errors)
were not fundamental, and the complaint against him was only that he had formed
a party by publishing his tracts! How many brethren have published tracts not
quite in line with the thoughts of their brethren, and have not been
disciplined! But there was no mercy for F.W.Grant.
By this time then, London had got rid of all British brethren who were not
willing to follow their lead in the Kelly division of 1881, and all American
brethren who did not bow to them in 1884. The brethren of the Continent of
Europe as yet were undivided in fellowship with London. The Grant brethren were
mostly confined to U.S.A., Canada and the Bahamas.
Alfred Mace confessed in later life that he had acted wrongly towards Mr.
Grant, but Lord Cecil was drowned at the age of 48 while still campaigning
Further details of the Grant division can be read in the booklet "Matters
relating to Montreal" obtainable from the editor.
The Stuart Division of 1885
Mr. Charles Esme Stuart, a scholar and teacher, descended on his father's
side from the royal house of Stuart, his mother being a maid-of-honour to Queen
Adelaide, as Duchess of Clarence, was a Christian in the meeting at Reading,
Berks. He had some eccentric doctrinal views, maintaining that Christ made
propitiation in heaven after death but before His resurrection while He was not
in the body. This belief was based on Old Testament types. He agreed that the
Blood was the sole basis of atonement, but said that, before the atonement was
complete, it was necessary for the Lord to present the Blood to God in heaven,
after it had been spilt on earth. This was to conform to the type, as the blood
was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the holiest after the animal had been slain
outside. This view was rejected by all brethren of note. We are sure that, if no
division had been forced, the doctrine would have died with him, and it was not
fundamental to the faith. Before this Mr Stuart had brought out a pamphlet
called "Christian Standing and Condition" which produced criticisms from J.B.
Stoney and D.L. Higgins.
There were two sisters in the Reading meeting called the Misses Higgins,
whose brother was a prominent leader in London (D.L. Higgins). They fell out
with Mr. Stuart on a personal matter and accused him of malice. The meeting at
Reading investigated the charge and found it baseless. A few, including the
Misses Higgins, withdrew from fellowship.
The brethren in London, beginning to feel their role as arbiter and regulator
of all disputes among Brethren, in July 1885, called a large meeting to discuss
Mr. Stuart and only London brethren were expected to speak. This meeting decided
to refuse Mr. Stuart and the Reading gathering and support the few that had
withdrawn. However a few meetings, including a small meeting in London, disowned
the decision and continued with Mr. Stuart. Also many meetings in New Zealand
continued in the Stuart fellowship
The Lowe (or anti-Raven) Division of 1890
We now come to a division that does not fall into quite the same pattern as
the previous three. Up to this time, all the divisions had been caused by
brethren being forced out of fellowship by a central authority in London which
had been arbitrarily assumed. In the 1890 trouble however, we find that a large
number of meetings withdrew themselves on their own initiative. Most of these
meetings were on the Continent which had been unaffected by previous cleavages.
Firstly we will present the simple history of events in this division and
then discuss the doctrines and principles involved.
Before 1890, a teacher named Mr. F.E. Raven had risen to prominence. His
meeting was at Greenwich, London, and he had attained a considerable eminence
among the brethren in the Metropolis and elsewhere. During the two years from
1888 to 90, much concern and bewilderment arising over Mr. Raven's doctrine, he
was questioned in readings and correspondence by many brethren such as Mr.
Christopher McAdam, Dr. Cotton, Dr. C.D. Maynard, Mr. W.J. Lowe and others. They
were not satisfied by the answers.
In February 1890, Mr. J. Corbett charged F.E.R. with false doctrine and
withdrew from the meeting at Greenwich. In May he published a circular letter
giving his reasons. Greenwich meeting affirmed their fullest confidence in
In the same month (May) F.E.R. commended one of his supporters, G. Boddy, to
the Bexhill meeting although he knew his teachings were strongly opposed there.
The Bexhill meeting refused the letter and requested Mr. Boddy to sit back until
matters were investigated. The Greenwich meeting then wrote to Bexhill enquiring
why a letter was refused which was signed by a brother in whom they had the
fullest confidence (i.e. F.E.R.) Bexhill replied to this on June 8th stating
their reasons. Greenwich, meanwhile had excommunicated Mr. J. Corbett for
printing a "false and slanderous paper".
Greenwich answered Bexhill a fortnight later saying that "The question of the
teaching of any particular brother is scarcely a matter to be discussed between
assemblies". (Surely the principle of Open Brethrenism here!) Bexhill replied by
rejecting Greenwich as an assembly (What haste!).
All the assemblies one by one decided whether they should support Bexhill or
London and the division was consummated before the end of 1890. Mr. W. J. Lowe,
who was greatly esteemed on the Continent, judged F.E.R. to be fundamentally in
error and a large number of the continental meetings followed his lead.
THE DOCTRINES INVOLVED
Now the errors alleged against Raven in 1890 can be put simply and briefly as follows:
We can say quite emphatically that if these allegations had been clearly
true, Bexhill's action would have been fully justified; also we are sure that
nearly every meeting in the world would have rejected Mr. Raven and any
supporters he might have collected.
The fact is, however, that the doctrines of Raven, especially on the subject
of eternal life, were by no means clear, and a student of the orthodox doctrine
of the Person of Christ will see at once that (2) and (3) are opposite errors
which could not appear together in any consistent scheme. Mr. W.J.Lowe, writing
in February 1890 to Mr. Bradstock said, "It is no easy thing to find a way, as
you seem to have done, through this intricate maze." So we are brought against
the difficulty immediately that the issue in this division was an "intricate
maze". Few could find their way through it, yet in a few months every believer
in the assemblies was forced, whether he was simple or profound, well-taught or
only a beginner, to decide whether Mr. F.E.Raven was in fundamental error or
not. There can be no doubt that a large number of meetings on both sides
followed their leaders blindly or maybe restricted their investigations to a few
well chosen quotations from F.E.R.'s writings.
We had in mind to consider some of the quotations to show that Raven could
have meant something other then alleged, but have decided not to do so as it
might only stir up controversy now nearly dead. It is sufficient to say that no
supporter of Raven defended the errors alleged against him (so far as the 1890
division is concerned) but always sought to show that he did not teach them.
Now it must not be supposed that the writer of these notes is a supporter of
F.E. Raven and it will shortly be shown that he is not. Nevertheless Bexhill and
their supporters cannot be left without the criticism that their action was
hasty and premature. Many who have studied Raven's writings have come to the
conclusion that (in 1890) he was misunderstood and misrepresented. This was the
opinion of C.H. Mackintosh, J.B. Stoney and other well known and godly brethren
of the time. In fact it can be shown that one of Mr. Raven's opponents when
writing on the Unity of Christ's Person, carelessly leaned towards the error of
Eutychianism and suggested that the Lord's manhood and deity could not be
distinguished from one another. Those who claim to be separating from heterodoxy
should be careful that they are thoroughly orthodox themselves.
When we read the correspondence between F.E. Raven and his questioners, we
may notice that Mr. Raven was far more interested in pressing his opinions than
in satisfying the questioners' fears, and that his views were presented in a
complex manner. Surely the sign of a good teacher is that he is able to present
the truth in a clear and simple manner so that the hearer can understand. A man
who is abstruse is not a good teacher. Now Raven had already built up a
reputation for ministering the Word and had shown he was a man of clear mind and
speech. Why then was he so confused when on the subject of eternal life, between
the years of 1888-90?
No doubt it was because he himself was confused for he referred later to
"defective statements he had made on the road to light" but did not state what
the defective statements had been, and he said his ideas had become "gradually
clear". There was a more sinister reason, however, in that, consciously or
unconsciously, Raven and the London "hierarchy" were indifferent, or even
pleased, that certain brethren who were not prepared to be 'yes-men' to the
party line, should withdraw from fellowship.
The practical effect of their secession was that Raven was established as the
teacher and leader of the dominant faction in London. From that time until his
death nobody could challenge his supremacy, although some of his doctrinal
statements became wilder and more suspect. His teachings had a tendency towards
the mystical, and the fiction had grown that only the spiritual would understand
him because the things he taught were spiritually discerned. So the dissatisfied
were quietened, not wishing to appear unspiritual. This was the seed of the
deplorable mystical teaching that produced such sad degeneration amongst the
'Ravenite' brethren in the next two generations.
The forming of a vocabulary and system of teaching which is only understood
by the elite, is very satisfying to the flesh, but one has no doubt Raven would
have got nowhere before the spiritual deterioration amongst the Exclusives had
allowed the insidious emergence of centralism. Raven had confidence in the
backing of the important brethren in London and had no need to be careful in his
speech. A brother of such stature as C.H. Mackintosh suggested in 1890 that
Raven should cease from ministering until confidence was restored and without
London's backing he would have been obliged to give way to the moral weight of
such counsel. It is apparent, however, that the London Party saw their authority
at stake in the challenge to Raven and he was urged to stand firm and elevated
as their figurehead.
Some of Raven's statements made from 1895-1903 can be shown to be definite
errors of a serious character. As brethren cannot see into the future, such
statements do not justify a division made in 1890, yet many will ask how it was
that so many godly brethren could remain in fellowship with Raven even after
such statements were made. We will suggest two reasons. Firstly, these brethren
had supported Raven in 1890, sincerely believing that he had been badly treated,
and it would take a lot of evidence to make them reverse that decision.
Secondly, these statements were not pressed as part of any systematic scheme of
false doctrine, the major part of his ministry being sound and good, and
therefore were largely unnoticed by his followers. They caused an uneasiness in
some discerning brethren but no decisive opposition.
Amongst those who had remained with Raven (still a world-wide communion)
there were many who were concerned about the school of teaching that was
establishing itself in those who looked towards London for leadership; also
brethren of an evangelistic mind, who were exercised to present the Gospel to
perishing souls were not pleased at the restrictive influences that were
We come now to the fifth of the major divisions of the Exclusive Brethren.
This event, known as the Glanton division of 1908, enabled the unofficial
headquarters of Brethren in London, finally to cast off its camouflage and
openly commence its rule. From 1908 onwards the London Exclusives marched like
an army, obeying orders from headquarters even down to the small details as the
times of meetings and the wording of notice boards! So quickly had the ideal of
spiritual unity changed to man-made uniformity and organisation.
The Glanton division was the final test of strength when the London Brethren
threw out - on a point that really amounted to a technicality only - all those
who would not bow to their will.
For some years previous to 1905 the meeting at Alnwick, Northumberland, had
been suffering from divisive undercurrents. During the last week of 1904, Mr.
Thomas Pringle and three other brethren drew up a notice secretly, which claimed
to exclude four brothers from fellowship on the ground that they had been the
leaders of these divisive influences and had held "opposition" gatherings. This
notice was read to the meeting on Jan. 1st 1905, and caused great confusion. Mr.
T. Pringle and his followers then announced that they would break bread
elsewhere in future and, as Mr. Pringle owned the hall (Green Bat Hall) he
locked it so that the four excluded brethren and their fifteen sympathizers
could not break bread there. At the same time Mr. Pringle sent copies of his
notice to eleven Northumbrian meetings including Newcastle. On Jan. 4th 1905,
the nineteen brothers who had been locked out, sent letters to Glanton (the
nearest meeting) and other surrounding gatherings asking for advice as to what
they should do. Mr. Pringle sent letters next day to the same gatherings saying
that he and those with him would break bread in future in the Town Hall.
On Jan. 15th the Glanton meeting wrote the following letter to both the
factions at Alnwick.
Copies of this letter were also sent to surrounding gatherings and Glanton
received general approval for its decision. On March 6th the "nineteen" brethren
wrote to the Northumbrian meetings asking if they could now break bread in
fellowship with them, but got no encouragement for such a course at that time.
There were many attempts at reconciliation but the "Pringle Party" refused to
have any discussions unless the original notice excluding the four brethren was
first acknowledged to be a righteous act. This condition could not be accepted.
A large meeting for prayer and humiliation was held at Glanton and attended by
brethren from nineteen other meetings in Northumberland.
In February 1906, two brothers who had been with Mr. Pringle and had signed
the exclusion notice, judged they had been wrong and urged the withdrawal of the
disciplinary order. They then separated from the Pringle meeting and became
identified with the 'nineteen'. This caused the Pringle faction to cease
breaking bread owing to decreased numbers. From February 1906 to February 1908
there was no gathering for breaking of bread at Alnwick. During this period,
about twelve brethren came to Alnwick to reside and finding no meeting there,
they travelled to Glanton to break bread every Lord's Day.
In February 1907 several of the brethren at Alnwick judged themselves and
confessed their faults in the general misbehaviour that had led up to the open
rupture in January 1905. They then turned to Glanton and asked if they could be
received. Glanton then decided that the time had come to consider individual
cases and called a prayer meeting on the subject for April 27, 1907, in full
consultation with surrounding gatherings. These gatherings expressed their
confidence in the Glanton meeting's competence to receive individuals who had
judged themselves and become reconciled to one another.
Accordingly some of these brethren were received to the Lord's table at
Glanton. Later, on February 23rd. 1908, twenty of the saints living at Alnwick,
twelve of whom had come to reside there after the 1905 break up, ceased to take
the journey to Glanton and commenced to break bread at Alnwick in fellowship
with Glanton and other Northumbrian gatherings.
In the meantime certain brethren in London and Edinburgh expressed an
exercise that the Glanton meeting, in assuming the dissolution of the meeting at
Alnwick and receiving individuals from there, had infringed the principle of
local responsibility. Feeling they had the backing of powerful men in London,
certain of the brethren in Edinburgh seceded, and began meeting at 12 Merchiston
Place in separation from the other four gatherings in the town, because these
four meetings had refused their demand that all the Northumbrian meetings should
be "shut up" as a leprous house. This meeting, started on August 2nd 1908,
immediately commended a sister to London, this being the expedient to bring the
London body into the fray in full force.
So a large meeting of brothers gathered at 57 Park Street on August 16th and
again on August 18th and came to the decision (after strong urging by their
leaders) that Glanton and all those in fellowship with them, should be cut off
from fellowship. However, 225 meetings in several countries (counting the two's
and three's in some places) refused to bow to this cruel and autocratic ruling
and remained in fellowship with Glanton.
Now if the new residents at Alnwick, who had been breaking bread at Glanton
(a right which nobody could deny them) had first started to break bread at
Alnwick and then, as the meeting there, had received the repentant individuals,
there could have been no objection that the principle of local responsibility
had been broken. Yet the end result would have been the same. This demonstrates
that the merciless edict of London was pressed on account of a mere technicality
of procedure. Where, too, is the principle of local responsibility in the idea
that a complete and final ruling can be made in London, 300 miles away from the
trouble? Surely the Northumbrian gatherings had more local responsibility than
London, and their decision should have been respected.
The hypocrisy of the whole thing is seen, in that Mr Pringle and six others
started a meeting on October 11th 1908 at Alnwick and the London Brethren
immediately recognised them!
The Downward Course of the London Party
Those who had, in practice, rejected the leading of the Holy Spirit and
substituted the rule of an ecclesiastical clique, soon began to show signs that
they were adrift from the truth. After Mr. Raven died in 1903, a Mr. James
Taylor of New York rapidly rose into prominence. From 1905 to 1908 he issued six
books, from 1909 to 1920 twenty-six more, and from 1921 to 1929 he issued forty
books - seventy-two in all! And there have been many more after this. Every word
in the readings he attended was taken down and printed in magazine or book form.
His followers hung on his every word. The centre of authority was soon
transferred from London to New York, and difficult matters of discipline were
referred over there for adjudication. No longer was it possible for local
troubles to cause general division. If a meeting divided, Mr. J. Taylor's
decision was law and brethren bowed to it or were "out" .
Very serious error began to circulate in the meetings. It was denied that the
Lord had a human spirit. This was not pressed upon all as compulsory belief, but
it was not purged out as leaven. Fanciful theories were put forward such as the
idea that the Lord was not present in a meeting until a brother broke the bread.
Consequently it was necessary to have the breaking of bread very early in the
meeting. In 1920 a godly and much respected ministering brother -Mr. J.S. Giles
- withdrew from the meetings because of the mystical teaching of J. Taylor. Such
was the hold that J.T. had over the fellowship that only 25 small meetings
withdrew with him. So far as one knows they have all now died out.
A notion was put forward that the assembly should heed the word of spiritual
men as much as it heeded the written word, as God had placed them as gifts to
the church and they were moved by the Holy Spirit. It was further stated that
the words of these spritual men "did not need to be put to the test of Scripture
and that they might be moved to state God's mind without any scripture to back
them". So the road to destruction was formed. Who is to judge who are the
spiritual men? Certainly they are not the men who teach without scriptural
authority. Sunday Schools were abolished and a tight grip was placed on the
Lord's servants. There was an accredited list of ministering brethren and any
brother who 'offended' could be struck off the list by the overseeing brethren
led by J.T. It was openly taught that God took up one vessel at a time to bring
forth the truth: first it was J.N. Darby, then J.B. Stoney, then F.E. Raven
followed by James Taylor. So there was an acknowledged pontifical succession.
One is intrigued to wonder what J.N.D. would have said of such a thing!
In 1929 Mr. James Taylor brought out his most serious doctrinal error in a
reading at Barnet, Herts, when he denied that the Lord's Sonship was eternal and
taught that he became the Son of God at His Incarnation. This was not a denial
of His deity, but of His eternal relationship as Son with the Father. So strong
was J. Taylor's dominance over his followers, that this fundamental error
produced little opposition from within, and very few seceded from fellowship. A
fourth revision of the Little Flock Hymn Book was brought out in 1932 from which
all reference to the Lord's eternal sonship was expunged.
After the Second World War a teaching began to be heard that the Holy Spirit
should be directly addressed in worship. Hitherto, in all sections of Brethren,
it had been held that the Holy Spirit brought about worship to God by subjective
guidance and therefore He was not to be addressed objectively. It has been
pointed out that there is no example in the Scriptures of anybody addressing the
Holy Spirit in prayer. The Holy Spirit dwells within and bears witness with our
spirits (Rom 8:16); that is to say He works alongside our renewed minds, guiding
our spirits with worship to the Father and Son which are viewed as outside
J.T. was old and probably more under the influence of the other leaders of
the party than formerly. However, it was eventually pressed that worship should
be addressed to the Holy Spirit and it was made a condition of fellowship that
all should accept the ruling. The worship of the Holy Spirit is quite general in
Christendom and cannot be called fundamental error. The serious wrong in this
matter was to force the new idea as a condition of fellowship. This would have
made the Taylorites into a sect, if they had not been obviously a sect already!
Another revision of the hymn book was made and a few seceded from the meetings
or perhaps we should say more accurately, they were put out.
When James Taylor died, a rivalry for the leadership began which resembled
the struggle for power in the Kremlin after the death of Stalin. Eventually the
field narrowed to two men - Mr. James Taylor (Junior) of New York, the son of
the late James Taylor and the late Mr. G.R. Cowell of Hornchurch, Essex,
England. In the current ministry of the time, emphasis was being laid on the
scriptural injunction that a person who was excommunicated should be barred from
social fellowship with members of the assembly also. ("With such a one, no, not
to eat") 1 Cor. 5:10. The point evaded was that Scripture only envisages a
person being put out for gross moral or doctrinal evil, whereas the Taylorites
had been putting people out for any deviation from party lines. The conclusion
they began to move towards was that members of their meetings should not eat
with any professing Christian in another fellowship. This led to cases of
members of families eating in different rooms. Many, refusing to do this, were
put out of fellowship.
A second cause for many being put out of fellowship at this time was a
tightening up of their misuse of the scriptural instruction - "Be not unequally
yoked together with unbelievers". This was now applied compulsorily, to
partnership with Christians not in their sect, membership of professional or
trade associations etc., so that many preferred to go out of fellowship rather
than lose their livelihoods. Those now coming out of the Taylorites, therefore,
often had no other motive than unwillingness to sufer material loss.
Mr. G.R. Cowell was beginning to see that things were going too far, and he
wavered and drew back. James Taylor Jnr., however did not waver at all. He began
to contend with Mr. Cowell, especially on an issue which was very important. It
was now held that children of the saints, being already on "Christian ground"
could be received into fellowship at an early age and must come into fellowship
by the time they were twelve or suffer the new discipline and not eat with their
parents! G.R. Cowell insisted that they must first have a definite experience of
conversion, but J.T. Jnr. maintained that their willingness to come into
fellowship was enough. J.T. Jnr. feeling he had the greater weight of
authoritative men behind him, summarily excommunicated Mr. G.R. Cowell and all
who went with him and became the undisputed dictator of all those who were left!
It will be seen from all this that the "Ex-London" or "Outs" as they
sometimes called themselves were in the outside place for many motives and
reasons. It is not surprising that some went into the denominations, some went
nowhere and others went everywhere. They seemed as sheep without a shepherd and
many showed that they had no idea of the True Centre of Gathering or the
original principles of the brethren. Many of these "Ex-London" brethren have now
taken some form as a fellowship of meetings, but even some of these seem to have
little stability and they are only a small proportion of those who were forced
out. Also it should be noted that they still hold the "Temporal Sonship" heresy.
The state of the ecclesiastical party who call themselves the original
Exclusive Brethren, and are known by that name to the world outside, is now
truly dreadful. The children of those in fellowship are forced to break bread
under fear of ostracism, being compelled to seek fellowship by the time they are
twelve years old, whatever their state of soul. It is clear that in another
generation they will become a community of unregenerate professors, and any
doctrine may be introduced and received by the spiritually dead. They may become
quite a powerful religious sect as they are well organised, and their increase
is assured by natural generation.
Mr. J.T. Jnr. has made his authority felt, and recently he made absurd edicts
that no-one was allowed to keep an animal for a pet, or display flowers in the
home. Terrible things have been happening amongst them. Wives have been
instructed to leave their husbands and children, and husbands told to leave
their families. Many homes have been broken up, and cases of suicide as a result
of these heartbreaks have been reported. The daily newspapers have published
many details of their madness, even denouncing the "new sect" in their
editorials. Questions were asked in Parliament and an attempt was made to bring
in a private members' bill to make it an offence to preach any doctrine that
advocated the breaking up of family life. The name of the "Exclusive Brethren"
has been blackened beyond remedy.*
From this sad story we can learn our lessons. There are two opposite and
false theories of assembly administration, independency and ecclesiastical
centralism. Independency leaves evil in various localities unchecked, and there
is bound to be spreading of evil. Nevertheless, the spread of a specific evil in
independent assemblies is slow; the result of independency is confusion rather
than systematic heterodoxy. There are a large number of miscellaneous evils
going on simultaneously in various localities which do not much affect one
another. On the other hand, ecclesiastical centralism (while it develops under a
plea that evil must be judged universally and unity preserved), when the earthly
centre itself is affected, actually produces an instantaneous acceptance of evil
by all companies and is much worse in its results than independency.
The True Unity is that produced by the Holy Spirit and not human authority.
It is not an easy path to follow as the flesh is always striving against it. One
who was still amongst companies that had resisted both independency and
centralism said on one occasion, "In the Open Brethren you can do what you like,
in the London Party you do what you are told, but amongst us it is all
difficulty and exercise".
* Since this account was written (1965) a large secession from J.T. junior's
leadership took place, due to an incident of immorality under the influence of
alcohol on the part of J.T. junior when he was in Aberdeen. Sub-divisions among
the seceders have also occurred, so there are now quite large parties of
"Ex-Taylor" brethren. The original party under the leadership of J.T. junior
continued, though in greatly reduced numbers.
Now we have traced to the present day the story of both the "Independents"
and the "Centralists". It remains to tell of those who had not departed to
either extreme. We have seen that by 1908 there were no less than five sections
of brethren who had, for various reasons and at different times, been separated
from the London brethren, namely, Kelly, Grant, Stuart, Lowe and Glanton. All
these gatherings still held to the same original principles, striving to keep
the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace meeting on the ground of the One
Body, gathered to the Name of Christ alone. Yet they were apart! Such is an
obvious anomaly, for those meeting on such principles must, if they are known to
one another, be together.
The next year, in 1909, there was an exercise to heal the breach between the
"Glanton" and "Stuart" companies, and at a conference in Brighouse, Yorks, most
of the Stuart brethren agreed to have fellowship with Glanton. A few Stuart
meetings in England and Scotland and all in New Zealand remained apart. Also
present at the conference were four brethren from the "Grant" company in
America: Messrs S.Ridout, P.J. Loizeaux, Wm. Banford and C. Crain. By 1911 most
of the Glanton and Grant meetings had come together in America (there had been
only about a dozen Glanton meetings there). Some difficulties were expressed by
a few Grant brethren in America as to whether full intercommunication should be
allowed with the Glanton brethren in Great Britain. In 1921 a correspondence
took place between Messrs A.E. Booth, B.C. Greenman, C. Knapp, A.H. Stewart, W.
Shaid, F.B. Tomkinson and T. Bloore, on the one hand and Messrs F.B.Hole, J.
Wilson Smith, A.J. Pollock and James Green on the other, which satisfied most.
The Tunbridge Wells Trouble
We reluctantly turn aside to consider a cleavage which took place in 1909
among the "Lowe" section. This division was healed in 1940 in the British Isles,
but as just a few of the Tunbridge Wells meetings remain separate, as well as a
large number in the SA, we will take a look at the principles involved.
In September 1908, a brother, Mr. C.S. was declared out of fellowship by the
meeting at Tunbridge Wells. Mr. C.S. was a 'ministering brother' who travelled
round and seldom attended his home meeting at Tunbridge Wells, especially in
view of the ill-feeling which he had experienced there for years. The reason
given for his excommunication was that he had absented himself from the Lord's
Table at Tunbridge Wells, although he had been breaking bread regularly in
meetings that were in full fellowship with them.
It is extremely doubtful whether the exclusion of Mr. C.S. was justified, and
a few at T.W. dissented from the decision. The leader of the action against C.S.
was Mr. W.M.S. and many felt there was a personal dislike at the root of the
matter. Nevertheless, in June 1909, they sent forth a notice that in future they
would break bread in separation from all those who broke bread with C.S. or were
otherwise associated with him. They refused all remonstrance against this.
Thus the meeting at Tunbridge Wells forced a division and tried to establish
a principle that the disciplinary decisions of a meeting were infallible and
binding upon all. As usual, anybody who opposed such an idea was accused of
Now the principle that a local gathering's decision on discipline is
infallibly binding upon all, is based on a wrong inference from Matt. xviii:
15-20. Here the Lord declares that where two or three are gathered together unto
His Name, He is in the midst of them, and whatsoever they bind on earth shall be
bound in heaven and whatsoever they loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
This, in the context of the church's judgment on a brother's sin, seems clearly
to refer to discipline, and, if the decision of the "two or three" is ratified
in heaven, surely it must be acknowledged by every local assembly on earth!
So far, the argument is sound. If two or three are truly gathered unto the
Lord's Name, any decision they come to must be right for heaven acknowledges it
as such. The converse of this, however, is also true; which is that if those
gathered together come to an unjust and unrighteous decision, they cannot be
gathered unto the Lord's Name.
Now a group of Christians may be professedly gathered to the Lord's name but
their hearts and wills may be turned to some other centre, such as a dominating
brother. In that case they come to a wrong decision. This may be a temporary
lapse, and the prayers, exhortations and loving rebuke of their brethren, as
moved by the Holy Spirit, may bring them to repentance. On the other hand, there
may be such obstinacy that the brethren in the neighbouring assemblies may have
to institute an enquiry as to the facts and actions connected with the dispute.
The findings of such an enquiry should be respected. There is no need to bring a
leading brother from a distance. Even those who are least esteemed in the Church
are competent (I Cor. vi:4) providing they are amenable to the Spirit's leading
and not prejudiced by any special interest such as Barnabas had towards his
nephew Mark. Those who are nearest to the scene of the trouble have the greater
If, in spite of all godly remonstrance, a meeting of Christians sticks to an
unjust decision, it will be apparent to all that such a gathering cannot be
recognised. Such an unhappy conclusion, however, will be rare if patient and
prayerful care is shown by the brethren near to them and, in any case, a hasty
division is avoided.
So, we have now come across three forms of ecclesiastical error. Let us pause
and consider how each false system would act when a meeting exerted harsh and
unjust discipline on a brother.
The Tunbridge Wells brethren had four divisions within 20 years and seemed to
be disintegrating. We are happy that most of them resumed fellowship with the
Lowe Brethren in 1940 and only about a dozen small meetings in the United
Kingdom and some elsewhere - (mainly in America where there are about 100
gatherings) - remained apart.
The "Lowe-Kelly" Re-union of 1926
In 1926, some of the work of Satan was undone, and the "Lowe" and "Kelly"
brethren re-united. About the year 1920, there began considerable exercise
amongst individuals about the continued and (as they believed) unnecessary
separation between them. Correspondence took place between some interested
brethren. In March 1926, the ground having been prepared in this way, the
"Kelly" brethren in the meeting at Blackheath, London, sent a letter to the
"Lowe" brethren at Woodstock Room, Finsbury Park, London, to invite them to a
fellowship meeting to be held on March 13th. This was gladly accepted and the
first fellowship conference was most encouraging. It was next proposed that a
general meeting for prayer, humiliation and confession of common failure should
be arranged which was accordingly done on July 10th. It was a solemn meeting and
the presence of the Holy Spirit was deeply felt.
Two further meetings were held on September 11th and October 16th. These were
for conference and interchange of thought and they enabled both sides to gain
full confidence in each other. The final meeting was at Peckham, on November
13th., and a circular letter was issued as a result of this, signed by 57
brothers, which indicated that unity was complete. There were a very few
individuals who left for various reasons, but this was too small a number to
affect the unanimity of the decision to re-unite together.
A new hymn book was compiled in 1928 for use by the united company. This was
really a revision of the 1881 edition of "Little Flock" and a great many of the
hymns remained under the same numbers. The title "Little Flock" was dropped,
however, and the book called simply "Hymns Selected and Revised in 1928".
So occurred the first major healing of Brethren. Although the "Grant" and
"Glanton" brethren had come together some years previously, it had been a mutual
recognition of circles of meetings in different countries with an ocean in
between (not that the reality of fellowship was in any doubt because of that).
This was the first time that two circles of meetings, each in the same
countries, and in many localities in the same towns had unanimously decided to
seek fellowship with one another. There had been a partial reunion between
"Glanton" and "Stuart" in 1909, but this had not been unanimous and a Stuart
fellowship still continued.
Care must be taken not to confuse this coming together with the ecumenical
movement that is growing in Christendom and will end eventually in Babylon. This
was not an amalgamation of sects. If two sects, run by two organisations, come
together, so that there is one governing organisation, then it makes one big
sect instead of two little ones. It is no less sectarian than before. But if
meetings gathered to the Lord's Name alone with no earthly centre, begin to have
fellowship with one another, they are simply owning in practice a unity which
already exists. It is the unity of the Spirit, not made by man but by God - a
unity which we cannot make but which we are enjoined to keep.
Some oppose any coming together in this way as they confuse it with mass
reception. They remember the dire results of the mass reception of the Baptist
congregation of Bethesda Chapel, in Bristol, which led up to the
"Open-Exclusive" division of 1848. C..Mackintosh rightly stressed that the only
correct kind of reception was individual. Bethesda Chapel was leaving one ground
of gathering and being received to another*. In the case of the "Lowe" and
"Kelly" brethren, however, they realised that they were gathered on the same
ground already - the ground of the One Body with Christ as the Head - and
therefore there was no receiver and no received, but mutual recognition of each
other. It was not a case of one company being received by another.
* Actually the facts in this matter are doubtful and Henry Groves in his
account of the matter published in 1860 (approx) states that Messrs Muller and
Craik started renting an empty Baptist Chapel, the congregation having
dispersed, and that the assembly they built up as co-pastors was never called a
Even while this happy re-union was taking place, further confusion was being
fomented amongst the "Grant" brethren in America. It would appear that a spirit
of looseness had been growing among many in that communion, who were looking for
wider fields, and their eyes especially lingered on the fertile plains of the
Open Brethren. This desire for fellowship and intercommunion with the
Independents was being checked by their stricter brethren, but it was causing a
restlessness that erupted in 1928.
Two brothers, C.A. Mory and C.J. Grant, had formed a business partnership in
1920. Both these brothers broke bread in the assembly at W. Philadelphia. In
1925 C.A.M. brought charges of dishonesty against C.J.G. who appealed to the
assembly to investigate. This they did, and found that C.J.G. had acted in an
irresponsible and sometimes unrighteous manner, but they had divided judgment as
to whether there had been intention to defraud. The majority decided that the
case would be met if a "letter of admonition" were sent to C.J.G., which letter
was accordingly sent in March 1926.
C.A.M., however was not satisfied and continued to agitate against C.J.G., so
that other brethren were appealed to. A conference was called two months
afterwards in Philadelphia. At this conference C.J.G. confessed his weakness
with tears before all. Therefore, the majority of his assembly decided that the
matter was closed. C.J.G. had been admonished, he had confessed and things had
been put right as far as possible. C.A.M. and his supporters, however, continued
to press for C.J.G.'s excommunication.
A second trouble arose about the same time concerning doctrine. Mr. Andrew
Westwood (Senr.) had been put out of fellowship by the New York meeting in 1925,
for teaching that the Lord had no human spirit. In combatting this error, a Mr.
F. Allaban wrote in a tract that "Christ became a creature .... and was subject
to pain and death", and thus over-reached himself into error on the other side.
Everything which has had a beginning has been created. Christ had no beginning
and, therefore, He could never be called a creature. His manhood had a beginning
but He Himself had no beginning. Orthodox Christians have always taught that He
took a created nature, that is manhood, but that does not mean He Himself became
At this time a "Glanton" brother, named J.Boyd, was staying in Philadelphia.
He was a teacher of the Word who was highly respected and greatly beloved in
Great Britain for a long life-time of ministry, and had reached 77 years of age.
This brother took up the cudgels against F. Allaban on behalf of Andrew Westwood
(whom he knew personally) and wrote a tractate in which he said the Lord had no
human spirit but was "Himself the Spirit of His Own Body". When this caused an
immediate reaction and was obviously leading to division, J.B. withdrew the
tract as he said it had "opened a door for Satan to come in", but he did not
withdraw the doctrine. The division therefore took place, and about one-third of
the Grant meetings (which we will henceforth call the Grant-Mory group)
separated from C.J.G. and J.B. It is plain that they considered the struggle
against looseness, which had irritated them so long, had at last come into the
open and that they were separating from a definite and serious evil.
Now that they had been relieved from the restriction of so many
"exclusive-minded" brethren, the "Open" school began to make its influence felt
amongst those who were left. They began to demand the right to have occasional
fellowship and communion with Open Brethren and many assemblies began to
practise this. Others, however, were unable to accept the departure and so
another division took place and the Grant brethren became divided into three:
"Mory-Grant", "Booth-Grant" and "Independent-Grant".
The "Mory-Grant" brethren believed that they had truly separated from serious
moral and doctrinal evil. They were in fellowship with neither Glanton nor Open
The "Booth-Grant" brethren (so-called because a brother named A.E.Booth was
prominent amongst them) believed that most unjustified harshness had been shown
towards C.J.G., that the decision at Philadelphia closing the matter should have
been accepted, and that to force a division over it was schismatic. They
considered the J.B. affair to be a secondary matter although they repudiated his
false doctrine utterly, and as he had now returned to England, they left the
handling of his case to the brethren over there. They remained with Glanton but
refused fellowship with Open Brethren.
The Independents allowed fellowship with Open Brethren, and before long began
to be merged with them. By the time of writing, they have lost their distinctive
existence and are wholly identified with the Independent or Open Meetings. It is
no more possible for a circle of meetings to retain a distinctive status while
being in fellowship with Open Brethren, than for a glass of milk to retain its
properties after being thrown into a pond.
It may be argued at the present time that the Open Brethren should be treated
as any orthodox sect and that an Open Brother known to be godly in walk and
doctrine should be received as a believer only. While exceptions may be made for
those young in the faith or genuinely ignorant (not wilfully) of the issues
involved, once an individual is allowed to come and go amongst Open Brethren as
an accepted custom, it becomes intercommunion, and any distinctive witness to
true assembly character must inevitably be lost.
When J.B. returned to England, correspondence soon began to flow between
American and English leading brethren. The leading Glanton brethren in England
were shocked that this beloved and esteemed brother should, in his old age, have
fallen into such a serious error as, until then, he had always been sound in the
faith and much used as a teacher. A meeting was arranged between J.B. and other
leading brethren in F.B.Hole's house at Bath. J.B. made a half-retraction and
promised not to speak publicly of the error again. A conference of brethren was
called at Weston-super-Mare and J.B's doctrine was unanimously repudiated. J.B.
was not excommunicated as he did not press the doctrine and many felt he would
be persuaded to withdraw it completely. They desired to give time for
repentance, especially in view of his past record, but he wavered for two years
and appeared to withdraw the doctrine at times and then reaffirm it when
challenged in correspondence from America. This wavering was not typical of the
man and it was probably due to extreme old age. In January 1932, a statement
from James Boyd was published in Scripture Truth as follows: "Anyone, if even a
little acquainted with the Word, is not likely to deny body, soul and spirit to
our blessed Lord. But supposing this were denied it would be easy to turn to
Luke 23:46 'And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice He said Father, into Thy
hands I commit My spirit; and having said this He gave up the spirit'. In Matt.
26:28 He says My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death. In Heb. 10:5 He
says A body hast Thou prepared Me".
No expression of regret for his past deviation from this line, nor any
reference to it, was made.
More Healing of Division
In February 1931, a conference of the "Mory-Grant" brethren met in
Philadelphia and agreed to send a letter to the "Stuart" brethren in England and
New Zealand expressing regret for having ignored their entreaties in the past
and for uniting with "Glanton". By 1933 the "Mory-Grant" brethren were fully in
fellowship with the "Stuarts" in England and New Zealand.
In 1936 the "Mory-Grant-Stuart" brethren and the "Lowe-Kelly" brethren held a
united meeting for prayer and humiliation at Passaic, N.J. There were high hopes
that reunion would take place, but these were not realised until 17 years later,
in 1953. In Britain about a dozen small gatherings of "Lowe-Kelly" - including
two of their three meetings in Scotland - were unable to accept this reunion and
As we have already seen, meanwhile a healing between "Lowe-Kelly" and most of
"Tunbridge Wells" had been effected in 1940. So by 1953, the Lowe, Kelly,
Mory-Grant and a large number of Tunbridge Wells brethren had come together as
believers gathered to the Lord on the principles of the One Body. The only
brethren of any numerical strength on the same ground, who were still left out
of this happy healing of wounds caused by Satan's wiles, were the
"Booth-Grant-Glanton" brethren. So by this time there were only two major groups
that were unnecessarily apart.
In 1938 a sorrowful disagreement occurred amongst the "Glanton" brethren
which caused some meetings to secede. Although this was really only a minor
split, we put it in this history as a few of the seceding meetings still exist.
They are sometimes known as "Little Glanton".
In the meeting at Kingsland, London, the leading brethren were large-hearted
with a marked love for all the saints and zeal for the Gospel. This, however,
was not balanced by care in administration, and many were concerned by the
laxity in reception and service there. The issue came to a head in 1938 when a
brother who had been disciplined at Coniston, Lancs, was received at Kingsland
before a proper understanding had been reached with the Coniston brethren. Some
in the Kingsland meeting, feeling that they had the support and sympathy of all
the Glanton brethren, seceded and broke bread in another place. Thus they
presented the brethren with a "fait accompli" and expected they would be
universally owned and the Kingsland brethren repudiated. The majority of the
meetings, however, were not happy with this act, believing it to be hasty and
independent. Although they had little sympathy with the meeting at Kingsland,
they thought the matter should have been handled with far more patience. The
result was that the seceding brethren found they had little support and the
Kingsland meeting was still recognised although regarded with disfavour.
This affair was most unhappy and the Glanton brethren lost some very godly
and gifted brethren as a consequence. However, the seceders did not prosper
numerically, and now they are reduced to a handful of small meetings.
In 1948 overtures were made by the "Glanton" brethren to the "Lowe-Kelly"
groups of meetings. United gatherings were held at Bradford and London but the
brethren were not ready for healing at that time.
As a result of a conference of "Lowe-Kelly" brethren in London on November
18th 1961, a letter signed by 16 brothers was sent round the Glanton meetings
which desired to explore the possibilities of further joint gatherings to dispel
doubts and suspicions that lingered between the two companies. Then some local
disagreements amongst the Lowe-Kelly brethren about matters connected with this
overture delayed things for two years. When these had been settled a letter
dated 3rd March 1964 signed by 13 Glanton brethren earnestly desiring that the
exercise should not be dropped, was sent to the Lowe-Kelly brethren.
As a result of this, many local united gatherings for prayer and discussion
were held and a conference of representative brethren took place in London on
Oct. 10th 1964. Behind these moves there had been much prayer by brethren
everywhere that the Lord might graciously lead to a better understanding.
At the conference it was found that there was general agreement on essential
points of doctrine about which there had been suspicions in the past. Most
brethren there were satisfied that there was no present cause for division,
whatever there may or may not have been in history. A few wanted to insist on
agreement of historical questions and the degree of blame to be attached to
certain individuals long since dead, but this was resisted by the many. Much
humiliation was felt at the breakdown in the testimony which the Lord had
committed to them. Following this meeting it was agreed that a memorandum should
be sent round the meetings, signed by eight representative brethren (four from
each group) in which the measure of doctrinal agreement attained at the
conference was to be stated. Accordingly there was drawn up a memorandum of
doctrines from which there had been divergence (real or suspected) in the past,
and replies were requested from all the assemblies as to whether this agreement
could be regarded as basis on which further progress towards unity could be
built. On March 6th 1965 the signatories of this memorandum met together again
to consider the replies. They found that there had been universal agreement on
the doctrines on all important points, an a very substantial majority earnestly
desired healing. They circulated their report to this effect.
A meeting for prayer and humiliation was called for February 19th 1966 and
many brethren from both sides attended, representing meetings in most areas of
Great Britain. There was such an experience of the Spirit's leading and such a
spirit of repentance for past evils that it was generally felt that the Unity of
the Spirit was there and no barrier should continue. It was accordingly
intimated to the brethren in America that such was the state of feeling that
existed in Great Britain.
At first there appeared to be an impasse so far as the American brethren were
concerned. Their wounds were more recent, the division of 1928 being very much
in living memory. However, although it took eight years, that which seemed
impossible came to pass and the brethren that had been rent asunder by the work
of the enemy became re-united by Oct. 1974.
A very few brethren in America seceded, but the change of heart by the many
was seen by them all to be a remarkable work of the Holy Spirit. Copies of some
of the relevant correspondence are appended to this history.
So now all the so-called Exclusive brethren are united except for those with
a "Taylorite" history and a section of "Tunbridge Wells" brethren which are
mainly found in America. Some may enquire as to the possibility of an
understanding with the many groups of "Ex-Taylorites". The fruits of the false
system of "centralism" are still with them, and in particular there is no hope
of healing while the Temporal Sonship heresy is condoned.
Brethren give the praise for healing to their blessed Lord and Saviour. It is
in no spirit of self-congratulation that they come together, for it is with much
weakness and poverty. The Lord's hand has been heavy upon them in chastening
because of their pride and lack of watchfulness. The Lord said "Watch and Pray"
and even if they prayed, they did not watch. There has been a marked decline in
numbers amongst the brethren in Great Britain, due to the influence of the
modern ecumenical spirit. When difficultes arise it is easy to give the truth
up, where there is little conviction as to the principles of the assembly and
the value that the Lord Himself places upon them.
Perhaps some would prefer that a history such as this should not be written.
"Why wash the dirty linen again?" they say. "Forget the shameful past." But is
that not to despise the chastening of the Lord? Let us remember the past, and
then we will not fall into these traps of Satan again. Not that we are any
better than our fathers - far from it - but "surely in vain the net is spread in
the sight of any bird" (Prov. 1:17). Neither let us faint under chastening and
say the path is too difficult to follow. For the simplest believer the principle
is still as clear as at the beginning. Like the man born blind in John ix:
35-38, he comes out from all false systems, though many true saints are still
there, and approaches the True Centre, bows the knee and worships. He does not
look round to see how many, or how few, are gathered with him. His eyes and
heart are towards his Lord, Who gave him sight and salvation.