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Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Open Brethren & Churches of God Division: Exclusivism and the Catholicity of the Church


The Churches of God, Their Origin & Development in the 20th Century by Jim Park is an interesting account of the formation of the brethren sect The Churches of God in Fellowship of the Son of God the Lord Jesus Christ (normally just referred to as the Churches of God.)

The Churches of God are an offshoot of the Brethren movement which began around 1826-27. The brethren movement was a grass-roots restorationist type movement which sought to restore the simplicity of New Testament Christianity. They emphasised the ministry of the brethren rather than the ministry of the clergy, their churches were led by a plurality of elders and they rejected the concept of a full time minister presiding over a local church, their main meetings centred around the breaking of bread rather than the sermon. Regarding the Brethren, Park observes, 'These people desired to free themselves from the dry, lifeless formalism of the churches to meet together as true believers, to share their common life in Christ and their hope for the future.' In addition to these characteristics, Park identifies two main characteristics of the early brethren assemblies:

'Traditionally . . . The Brethren believed that all believers have a birthright to a place at the Breaking of Bread and none should deny it to them . . . Also, they held and practiced that each assembly was independent of all others and responsible directly to God alone for its teachings and practices.'

The early brethren churches were marked by inclusiveness and non-denominationalism. In other words in regards to fellowship they emphasised unity in Christ and in regards to church government each local church was autonomous.

'The Brethren movement began with a few people meeting in a house for the Breaking of Bread and the study of the Bible. One of those people, but not the first, was John Nelson Darby . . . In 1826 he was ordained curate . . . but only a year later his high church ideas began to wane.'

Darby grew in stature and leadership within the brethren churches, however he soon had a clash with one of the other leaders (B.W Newton) and left the group with about 60 others to start a new assembly. Later Darby would clash with another Brethren leader (the well known George Muller) and as a result went to all the churches and excommunicated all the fellowships who remained in communion with George Muller's church (Bethesda Chapel.) This conflict between Darby and Muller lead to a split in 1848 which resulted in two distinct Brethren movements, the Open Brethren (led by Muller) and the Exclusive Brethren (led by Darby.) The Open Brethren maintained the Lord's table was 'open' to all the Lord's people who led a godly life but the Exclusive Brethren would '"Exclude" those who did not hold to what they considered to be sound doctrine.' Park notes that 'This was the beginning of doctrinal conditions being attached to reception to the Breaking of Bread.'

According to Park the Exclusive Brethren 'Had many thoughts on the need for doctrinal soundness on matters of assembly fellowship and fellowship between assemblies.' In contrast to the Open Brethren who practiced local church autonomy, the Exclusive Brethren adopted a centralised model, where 'One church became a centre of control of doctrine and judgement, which other churches were expected to accept.'

Due to the independent nature of each brethren assembly, there began to emerge a multitude of varying beliefs and practices. Some churches were credo-baptist and some were not. There was a lack of discipline; a person could be excommunicated from one assembly but be accepted by another. The movement was marked by confusion and disunity. A number within the churches were concerned about church unity and began to raise their concerns through a publication which became known as Needed Truth. Park states that 'Teaching about a union of assemblies continued verbally and exercised many people. They saw such truth as the way to unity of doctrine and practice for which they longed.' In response to the articles appearing in the Needed Truth publication, the mainstream Brethren publication: The Witness, in 1889, raised the following question:

Is it necessary to have a union of assemblies to form a basis of acting independently from those they consider as not following the Lord fully?'

In other words, was there a need for the independent brethren churches to reorganise themselves on a presbyterian model where decisions on doctrine, discipline and practice are worked out at district, national and international levels?

There were three responses to the question: One group wanted to keep the independent model, others wanted to adopt the Needed Truth position and others wanted something in between. Consequently there was a conference of bible teachers which met in Windermere on the 13-15th July 1891 where it was hoped that the assemblies could determine a way forward. The leaders could not arrive at a consensus; in 1894 a large number of individual Christians and assemblies left the Open Brethren to form the Church of God on the basis of the ideology of Needed Truth.

On the one hand, Park's account of the 1894 division seems to indicate that the nature of the split was simply over church government. In other words, independency was destroying the movement because there was no clear standard of truth and means of preserving the purity of the church. It seems that Needed Truth Brethren were arguing for a presbyterian system of church government that would preserve essential evangelical doctrines. In reality, the Needed Truth Brethren held to an elitist ecclesiology and they needed a presbyterian model of government in order to enshrine their strict and exclusive beliefs. Park identifies the concerns raised by the Open Brethren and informs us that many within the Brethren saw the teaching of the Needed Truth publication as being a 'Revival of the exclusivism of J.N Darby.'

As the division was emerging those in favour of the Needed Truth position began to make their convictions known. They began to speak of a recovery of 'The pattern of God's house.' and to claim that 'Brethrenism rested on a false foundation.' In other words, in the same way that the Exclusive Brethren (Darbyites) had excluded from the Lord's table those who failed certain doctrinal tests, the Needed Truth Brethren were claiming that only those churches who met certain doctrinal conditions could claim to be The Church of God and the House of God. Essentially this meant that only those Brethren churches who reorganised themselves on the 'district oversight' (presbyterian) model, and submitted to this group's interpretation of scripture, were considered to be the true church.

While many in the Open Brethren recognised the weakness of independency, the Needed Truth solution to preserving purity and restoring unity was sinister and schismatic. Park notes that F.R Coad identified that the Needed Truth Brethren 'Unashamedly reserve to themselves the name the Churches of God.' Park claims that Coad's criticism is 'inaccurate and unfair' but the evidence is to the contrary. Park's response to Coad makes this clear:

The Fellowship (Churches of God) holds that all christian believers should be baptised by immersion then added into congregations known as Churches of God and that these congregations should be joined together into one fellowship worldwide.'

In other words, Park is rejecting Coad's accusation of exclusivism by arguing that the Churches of God are not exclusive, but that 'all Christians' should join themselves to their fellowship if they want to be a part of the true Church of God. Essentially Park is arguing that all believers should be added to the Brethren sect known as the Churches of God. In this sense there is a dangerous cultish element at work within the ideology of the Churches of God.

As noted earlier, the Open Brethren were concerned that the Needed Truth Brethren were reviving the 'Exclusivism of J.N Darby.' Charles Spurgeon published and article in the Sword and the Trowel which dealt with some of the sinister characteristics of the Darby (Exclusive) Brethren, as identified by Mr Grant. When these characteristics are compared with the teaching of the Needed Truth Brethren it is clear that the concerns of the Open Brethren were not unfounded. In particular, the following observations from the article in the Sword and the Trowel are relevant:

"It (Exclusive Brethren) recognizes no other denomination, whether the Church of England, or either of the Nonconformist denominations, as a church of Christ. Mr. Darby has again and again said in print, as well as written in private, that those who belong to his party in the metropolis, constitute the only church of Christ in London."

"Darbyites who gather together in London, can go so far as to exclude all other denominations, even the most godly among them, 'believing themselves to be the one or only, assembly of God in London."

The Open Brethren concerns regarding the Needed Truth Brethren were not unfounded, the Churches of God clearly share the exclusive ecclesiolgy that was promoted by J.N. Darby. This exclusive teaching on the nature of the church (which denies the catholicity of the church) is still very much at the heart of the movement today. This can be seen in the The Brethren Movement written by Keith Dorricott.

In describing the separation from the Open Brethren and formation of the Churches of God, Dorricott states:

"Finally by 1894 there was a mutually known fellowship of about 100 assemblies, including Melbourne, Australia. The house of God was once more in operation after an interval of hundreds of years."

This is an outstanding claim. The Churches of God believe that the formation of their movement was actually a recovery of the House of God which had not been in operation for hundreds of years. Dorricott does not state how many hundreds of years, but their rejection of the Open Brethren, the Exclusive Brethren, the established denominations make it clear: there has been no House of God in operation since the early apostolic period! After making this incredible claim, Dorricott incredulously asks 'Why is this truth not embraced by more believers?' Yet rather than consider the possibility that the teaching might not be true, Dorricott concludes: 'Only the Lord can answer that.' On the contrary, proper exegesis of the scriptures, theological study, and a basic understanding of church history will provide a crystal clear answer to Dorricott's question. Scripture, history and theology reveal that The Churches of God are extremely misguided and set themselves in opposition to the scriptures and two thousand years of church history.

In order to justify this exclusive position Dorricott claims:

"In Christian circles generally there is little understanding in evidence of the distinction between the church the body of Christ (consisting of all believers) and the house of God (the gathering of baptized disciples of the Lord Jesus serving God in full obedience and unity)."

However what Dorricott really means is that in Christian circles there is little understanding of the exclusive ecclesiology held by the Church of God. Presbyterian, and Baptist churches (just to name two) have a wealth of theological resources that explore the nature of the church. If one reads the sections dealing with the church in Calvin's Institutes (Presbyterian), or Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology (Baptist), one soon finds it is the Church of God which lacks an understanding of the nature of the church. While Calvin and Grudem differ on essential areas when it comes to ecclesiology they are united when it comes to the catholicity of the church. In other words they recognise along with the reformers that: "Where the word of God is truly preached and taught, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline faithfully exercised, there the one true holy and apostolic church is present.".

Like the Churches of God, the reformers were interested in the marks of the true church, however unlike the Churches of God, the reformers acknowledged both the catholicity of the church but also the weakness of church, as the Westminster Confession states: 'The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.' Failure to recognise this truth has caused the Needed Truth Brethren to assume for themselves a utopian ecclesiology and to fail to discern the House of God among other churches.

Dorricott correctly identifies the broken state of the churches, but he wrongly concludes that Christians are excluded from God's house because they do not embrace the Church of God teaching and join with them:

"The Christian world today is totally fragmented, unlike the New Testament years, and totally contrary to the pattern of unity that the Lord prayed for. Unlike those early years, most believers today are not in the house of God, but may not be aware of it."

On the contrary, it is impossible to be a Christian and be excluded from God's house. Christians are not in God's house, they are God's house.

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ . . . Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone . . . In him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (Eph 2: 13-22)

The scriptures are clear, it is God who draws us to himself and accepts us on the basis of Christ's shed blood. True Christians are those who are 'In Christ Jesus', and if we are 'In Christ Jesus' the apostle tells us that 'Consequently, you are . . . members of his household.' Church of God doctrines are not the basis for membership in God's house: Faith in Christ is.

Sadly, this exclusive teaching has been used as a means of keeping people bound in legalism. Some of the choicest Christians are found among the Churches of God, yet they are bound by a legalistic teaching that seeks to control them, separate them from fellow believers and rob them of the liberty that is in Christ Jesus. The exclusive ecclesiology not only teaches that it is God's will for all Christians to be in a Church of God, but it also teaches that it is never God's will for a Christian to leave a Church of God:

We have reviewed many instances over the years of both good and evil, of truth and error, of faithfulness and apostasy. What about our generation, as the torch has been passed to us? We have been called by God into the Fellowship of His Son, and He will never call us out of it. And so, when the Lord comes, will He find the faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)? That is up to you and me, by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Dorricott)

Dorricott is not speaking of the fellowship of His Son that all believers enjoy, he is talking about membership in a Church of God (read: Their particular sect). Consequently many believers are bound into thinking that their favour with God rests not in their faith in Christ alone, but in their faith in Christ and membership of a Church of God (again not a local bible believing church but their sect). This is legalism, and it is the type of thing that Paul was dealing with in his letter to Galatians. Those who are trapped in this type of teaching have 'fallen from grace' and do not realise that the basis of God's favour and fellowship is in Christ and Christ alone.

The following verse is often used to justify the exclusive ecclesiology of the Church of God:

'But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.' (Hebrews 6:3)

However, the verse is taken out of context. To be sure it teaches that membership of God's household is conditional, but what is the condition? According the above text it is 'holding firmly' to the 'confidence and hope in which we glory?' What is this confidence in hope in which we glory? It is certainly not ecclesiastical dogma! It is Christ himself! The Hebrew Christians were being persecuted and many were abandoning their hope in Christ and returning to Judaism. The writer of Hebrews is encouraging them to remain faithful to Christ. As the following verses make clear, he is explaining that those who belong to God are those who remain faithful to Christ to the end: 'We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.' (Heb 3:14) In other words he is teaching that true believers are those who persevere to the end. Persevere in what? Church government? Premillenial views about the Lord's return? Exclusive ecclesiology? No: Persevere in faith in Jesus Christ.

In summary: Jim Park's book is an interesting account of the Open Brethren and Church of God split. It raises afresh the problems encountered in an independent approach to church government but (if read critically) it also reminds us of the dangers of exclusivism and legalism. While the Churches of God are faithful in maintaining a gospel witness and have some outstanding Christians in their ranks, they are the inheritors of an exclusive and legalistic ideology that is still active at the heart of their movement.

23 comments:

  1. Careful treatment, John, thank you. My humble prayer is that these notes may be of help to clarify the record to others who are following this subject.

    1. Our guide has to be the Word of God, with which the Spirit always speaks in harmony. The Word is our sole authority.
    2. The Spirit applies the Word, and I cannot question the sincerity with which another feels He has spoken to him. It is however possible that that voice has been misunderstood, and the only guide on this is the Word, which we can all read and return to in discussion.
    3. When a reader of the Word discerns a pattern of truth in the NT, the authority of the direction he finds is compelling.

    The character of the first generation of leaders in the 1890s

    Having read the writings of the men who formed Churches of God in the late 1890s, I am persuaded that they were driven by such a soundly based search. They were convinced that the Holy Spirit was speaking to them, and they were finding that many believers were similarly exercised in various parts of the UK. Their writings, oral teaching, and hymns show them to have been Christlike in character, and expressing the fruit of the Spirit. They first sought to show these things to others. Disappointed that their findings were largely rejected, and on being warned not to preach their thoughts publicly,they had to consider the cost of separation, versus stifling what they believed the Spirit of truth was showing them. They felt deeply the strain upon friendships and division within families that was developing, and I believe they were fully capable of appreciating what it would mean to stand together to practise these truths.

    Separation

    It is illogical to attribute to those brothers and sisters in Christ an attitude of legalism or to blame them for elitism, when there are examples as divisive, of discovery of truth that men had earlier had to separate to enter into. There was separation of the first Christians from Judaism. They spoke of 'better' things than they had known under the first Covenant. Was that 'elitism'? Was their teaching of the law of Christ 'legalism'? The teaching of Christ brought division of view as well as division of moral character, so that there was an 'inside' to a church of God and an 'outside' (1 Cor. 5:12). There was separation of Luther and other reformers from the Roman church. There had to be exactly the same separation (as in the 1890s) from family, friends and institutions in the 1830s, when born-again believers saw the truth of the Spirit's indwelling and empowering, the error of one-man ministry, the simplicity of the Remembrance without clergy, and the the Body of Christ, with its spiritual equipment of all to preach in some way, while gift also became evident, versus education in seminaries. Those dear brothers and sisters likewise had to say, 'There are scriptural conditions for any who wish to have fellowship with us', and pointed to chapter and verse to establish this. The lines of demarcation in the 1890s were I believe more discerning and true to Scripture,not because the people were better Christians, but simply because the Spirit was revealing more light on familiar passages, as He had done to Calvin, Zwingli or Hus in their time, and to Groves. Newton, Darby, Muller etc. in the 1830s. Wherever you try to serve the Lord according to His word, you are forced to make separation.

    The relative importance of various Scriptural truths

    Much more than Church government

    For this, please contact me at m-archibald@talktalk.net

    Martin


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  2. Hi Martin, Thank you for your reply.

    Thank you also for emphasising the fact that the orginal founders of the Church of God were sincere and godly believers. I'm sure this was true, although, I am also sure that you will agree that godliness and sincerity is no guarantee that a certain position is correct?

    If I may, I would like to offer a response to your thoughts on separation. It seems that you see within the history of God's people a scriptural basis for schism. The two examples you refer to is the transition from Old to New Covenant and the protestant reformation. Firstly I would say that the summary of the two above accounts is not quite factual, and secondly it is wrong to read into these accounts a biblical mandate for schism. On the contrary, scripture and reformed theology condemn schism.

    Regarding Judaism, there was no such separation of the first Christians from judaism. Regarding the shift from old to new, there was both continuity and progression. The first Christians were Jewish, the Jerusalem church was Jewish. Tensions emerged because the New Covenant included gentiles, the apostles did not advocate schism, instead they taught on the 'one new man', in otherwords, bith groups were to understand that they were united in Christ.

    Regarding the reformation you mention 'There was separation of Luther and other reformers from the Roman church.'. While this is true, it must be understood that the reformers did not leave the church, they were forced out from the church. They were being forced to deny the essentials of the gospel (justification by faith) but they would not do so and where therefore excommunicated, and persecuted. In fact the reformers despised the concept of believers separating from each other, especially on the account of doctrines that were not considered the 'proper essentials of religion.'

    Consider Calvin on this matter: "When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognise a church in every society in which both exist, our meaning is, that we are never to discard it so long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults. Nay, even in the administration of word and sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position. Some are so necessary to be known, that all must hold them to be fixed and undoubted as the proper essentials of religion: for instance, that God is one, that Christ is God, and the Son of God, that our salvation depends on the mercy of God, and the like. . . Does he (Paul) not sufficiently intimate that a difference of opinion as to these matters which are not absolutely necessary, ought not to be a ground of dissension among Christians? "

    This further quote actually identifies those who are zealous for separation, not with the faithful people of God, but with heretics:

    "Our indulgence ought to extend much farther in tolerating imperfection of conduct. Here there is great danger of falling, and Satan employs all his machinations to ensnare us. For there always have been persons who, imbued with a false persuasion of absolute holiness, as if they had already become a kind of aërial spirits, spurn the society of all in whom they see that something human still remains."

    Surely this is a rebuke from reformers to the evangelicals of the 18th and 20th century who were guilty of the sin of schism?

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  3. Hi,

    I happen to know a bit about the NT. Just for the record, BAHN, the Brethren Archivist's and Historian Network has some of the early church of God founders on the record as being involved in some deceptive practices. I find this very concerning, and I question just how 'godly' some of the founders actually were given accounts of proselytising where it is stated that their dealings with other churches were found to be underhanded. There are accounts telling of how early participants in the NTB would go miles to their oversight meetings, yet fail to help a sinner to Christ or aid a fellow member of the Body of Christ which is highly disappointing. It's also sad to consider that the NTB fellowship actively discouraged members from praying for the Billy Graham crusades which have reaped an amazing harvest for the Lord.
    (documented by Charles Oxley)

    I agree with John that Keith Dorricott has no way of proving that the House of God ceased some time after the apostolic period and then suddenly 'reappeared' as manifested EXCLUSIVELY by the Needed Truth Brethren in Britain in the 1890's. He provides no evidence to support this and it is a very illogical statement. This is a good example of revisionist history which Mr. Dorricott has perpetuated using a softer exclusivism and differing rhetoric than his predecessors in his "Are we Missing Something?" novella. The official line of the Needed Truth is that they believe they are EXCLUSIVELY the church of God, house of God, kingdom of God, flock of God and many other things EXCLUSIVELY. This is a fundamentalist sect of Brethren classified as an exclusive church fellowship born of the 19th century ideology. In this age of information, it's not difficult to work out and it has been long known by the fellowship. I agree with Dorricott that the Brethren movement is a history of dissent by remnant groups in pursuit of a purer form of New Testament fellowship. That is about the only non-doctrinally biased statement he makes in his History of the Brethren movement. It would be accurate to say the churches of God are a connexional Brethren group - but so are the other Exclusive Brethren groups.

    The House of God teaching is a restorationist viewpoint taken by NTB in reaction to the Exclusive Brethren teaching on "the church in ruins" (please refer to page 28 of "The Search for the Truth of God") The church in ruins teaching comes directly from J.N. Darby whose teaching on this subject was heavily influenced by Quaker feedback.

    Exclusivism in 2013 is not healthy and the Needed Truth Brethren have encountered some serious issues including pedophilia in oversight, suicides by former leaders, and allowing sexually immoral men in oversight contrary to the scriptures. It's one thing to hold exclusive beliefs, but practical exclusivity can result in some very serious problems. One such example is how churches face legal problems over the criminalization of forced marriage practices in the UK due to enforcing rigid endogamy with discipline.

    Roger Shuff, an ex-member of the Raven-Taylor-Hales Exclusive Brethren sect writes in his book "Searching for the True Church" of the parallels between his Exclusive Brethren sect and the Needed Truth Brethren. It is quite revealing to find in Shuff's book the number of verses that Needed Truth and the Exclusive Hales Brethren hold in common.

    If Jesus were online, I'm sure he'd also have a comment or two to post on this subject.


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    Replies
    1. Hello John,

      As one who has spent 30 years in the Church of God, I must hasten to say that Bro. Keith Dorricott is an exemplary Christian. I did read his book, but after wading through all of the different beliefs of different Christian churches I am with J.M. Barrie when describing a minister preaching for a call. "He gaed intae the original langwidges. Ye can howk ony mortal thing oot o' thae original langwidges that all ministers have at their fingers ends."

      Brethren groups all say they go by the scriptures and they do, but I respectfully think many of them have carried separation too far. Some groups, such as the Taylorite meetings have gone to craziness to prove their Christianity. Their "not eating with people you don't break bread with" is the most bizarre of their beliefs.

      As to the COG camp work - a new book has been published called "The Happiest Place" all about the camp effort in Ontario. Mount Forest Camp is 50 years old this year. My father started the camps and he is mentioned several times along with many, many of the hard workers. Many of us were saved at camp, myself included. We had a fantastic time.

      As far as Dr. Luxmoore initiating camps in England, I have a photo of him, along with the young people at camp. I will look through my massive collection of books and post the photo.

      I am unaware of any imorality being rife among the COG people. I sense that every church has SOME people doing the wrong thing. I don't think the Churches of God being ahead of any other denomination. The RCC with their 1.3 billion members would have many more due to their numbers.

      Pedophilia was unheard of but the RCC is more subject to it because of the celibate??? priesthood. In the Baptist church it would be more like the minister running away with the choir director. Satan is busy!

      Only by Grace

      E

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  4. Hi Tim,

    I have just been doing a bit of research, it seems that some of what you say regarding the early founders is indeed true. I've just been reading through some of the correspondence at the time of the schism and also some of the statements that appeared in Needed Truth articles and it is indeed shocking. It is not the case that godly believers left the open brethren with much heart felt sorrow as they followed their convictions. After gentle attempts to win over OB believers failed, the NT folks actually became quite hostile and intentionally sought to take as many believers/assemblies from the OB as they could. Prior to the split there is evidence that the NT believed the OB to be a true church of God at the time of the schism the OB were charged with being 'acted upon by Satan'! (Boswell in Needed Truth Volume 7 108)

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  5. Hello John and Tim,

    Isn't it quite natural that after gentle reasoning had failed, there arose a degree of hostility, since Brethren elders did all they could to stifle what the 'Needed Truth' believers wished to be debated? And if you were persuaded of a fresh understanding and though it was clearly the work of the Spirit of God, wouldn't you suspect that resistance and spiritual attack were the kind of thing the enemy would want to encourage? One of our leaders, a past chairman of our elders' Conference, T.M. Hyland of Birkenhead, wrote that of all times when we should show the grace of Christ it's when debating doctrinal differences.

    I have no wish to enter into mud-slinging about men and circumstances long gone,save to observe that this current wave of interest in the stance of the Churches of God suggests a felt need for clear thinking on the associated issues. Personal attack does not help that, nor does it invalidate interpretation of the Word of God, since we all stumble.

    But I would place on record the gratitude of the Churches of God to Dr C.M. Luxmoore, a founder member of the Churches and editor of N.T., who saw the need of street-urchins in Halifax and later in London, and organised a camp for them at Jumples Lodge,Halifax, and later at Cummersdale in Cumbria. We are inheritors today of that early vision given to a man of God.
    Grace and truth,
    Martin Archibald www.facebook.com/mn.archibald

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  6. Hi Martin,

    Firstly can I say thanks for taking an interest in the blog post, it is helpful to have a leader of CofG here to interact with the blog and comments.

    Retracing the steps, one of your points of defence (of the CofG position ) was to draw attention the godly characteristics (sincerity/sacrifice) of the founders. I thought this was helpful, Tim countered this position, I did a bit more digging, and was able to confirm that some of the things that Tim said were in fact true.

    Martin is right though, godliness (or human weakness) is no guarantee that a peron's theological position is correct. However, the Lord did tell us to test teachers 'by their fruits'. From this point of view, examining the CofG split and the founders' character and doctrines is an essential part of the process of discernment. Some further issues in this connection are important. 1) Not all N.T editors/contributors were agreed on essential areas. Many did not agree with the schism and believed it to not be of God. Some who sympathised with NT teaching remained with the OB simply because they were concerned at the extremist position being pushed by some other NT brethren. 2) CofG brethren in effect hijacked the NT publication, it was an OB publication and not all the NT editors left to join CofG. Only after leaving the OB did CofG brethren begin to claim exclusivity to the house of God. Not only did they claim exclusivity, but they now viewed OB as a work of 'Satan' (see previous quote for reference.) Is this important? Yes, because there are only two possibilities regarding the CofG, 1) It is was the recovery of the only true house of God or 2) It was an ungodly faction. While the CofG position can be refuted on the grounds of scripture, an understanding of the historical context also sheds more light.

    Moving on, Martin is correct, the issues under discussion are relevant (and of interest to many today) because of the current state of Christianity in Scotland. Society is increasingly secular, the church is dwindling and divided. Independent Evangelical churches are in a worse state of flux than they were at the time of the OB/CofG split. Books on ecclesiology are among the most popular, people are once again asking 'What is the church?'

    In regards to that question, Martin, could you confirm the following:

    Does the present day CofG maintain that only their sect:

    1) Are the House of God
    2) The People of God
    3) The Holy Priesthood
    4) The Royal Priesthood
    5) Are in the Kingdom of God

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  7. Dear John,

    The answer to the question you posed of Martin is officially "Yes". That's why it is an exclusive church fellowship. In my opinion, this is not good PR for the church of God in 2013. However, there is a divide within oversight - as some are realists, and do not subscribe to exclusive views, but would answer positively to all the above titles.

    Perhaps in the 1800's, sans internet and global exposure, this might have been easier to get away with, but in 2013, for most it's an unrealistic Christian worldview - and pure logic causes many to arrive at that conclusion. One could probably poll neighboring churches to find out how many other believers outside the church of God, also apply these labels to their own Christian fellowships - though may not have as complex and developed theological system around it. The current worldwide population of the church of God network sits around the 1500 peg mark. Some single churches alone consist of MORE than 1500 believers.

    A sect does not validate the truth found in other groups, it criticizes. A denomination, acknowledges and appreciates truth found in other Christian circles. Church of God Brethren no longer refer to the Open Brethren as 'Spritual Babylon', however historians have said that NTB "had a rougher and coarser prejudice than the intellectualized exclusivism of the Darbyites (Exclusive Brethren)." It is a pity that so much time was wasted criticizing others, rather than getting on with the good work for Jesus Christ. I recall entire ministry sessions spent dwelling on the deficiencies of other evangelical churches. Unfortunately, many NTB even to this day may not realize that OB were proto-fundamentalists who had adopted a charismatic view of church structure. Some of the worst understandings have been due to lack of empathy or education. The OB embody the simple spiritual desires of the Brethren movement itself. Another thing to take into account, not even the Exclusives themselves would solely claimed to be the church of God in any one city (like the church of God).

    The churches of God started to form in reaction to several things: one was the 'loose' practises of the Open Brethren. The churches of God formed as a result of a 'tightening' process.

    A good question to ask is: Where does the worship of other believers go? Does it hit the roof of the church building and bounce back to earth? or does it go to the same place that the worship of the church of God goes?

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    1. Hi Martin,

      Your comment about street urchins made me laugh. I pictured Luxmoore picking up all the sea urchins laying on the street in Halifax and London... and thinking to himself... "these little ones deserve to have fun at camp"!!!! ROTFSHMSFOAIDMT !

      Just curious about your closing comment about Luxmoore being a man of God. What do you mean?


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    2. Hi Tim,

      Thanks again for your input, and I think that is a good question about where the worship of non CofG believers goes, perhaps Martin can answer that one.

      Judging from your posts it seems that you have had some involvement with the movement, and that your experience with them was not very positive.

      I also have had personal experience with the CofG (I was converted through their ministry.) However, as far as the actual ministry within the CofG was concerned, my experience was very positive. Caring saints in many of the local churches, overseers who showed genuine pastoral concern, a strong emphasis on the gospel, serious attempts at outreach. I've been in a number of churches since that time and I have to say that I have found few (if any) churches with as many strengths.

      However, having said that, the serious flaw with the CofG is with their exclusive ideology and it is this that I was hoping to explore. I partly agree with you when you say, 'It is an exclusive church fellowship. In my opinion, this is not good PR for the church of God in 2013.' But I would also be inclined to highlight that exclusivity and unpopularity with contemporary opinion do not determine whether a belief is right or wrong. When measured against the values of secular society, most churches who believe the bible do not have good PR! This could be said about key beliefs such as: The exclusivity of the way of salvation, the biblical perspective on marriage and the orthodox position on the authority of scripture.

      Perhaps we could lead the conversation towards the key CofG beliefs and examine these in the light of scripture. Why don't we start with the CofG claim that other believers are part of the body of Christ, but they are not the House/Church/People/Priesthood of God?

      My difficulty with the above claim, is not just that it is exclusive, but that it undermines the work of Christ. It rejects the suffisciency of Christ - and that is serious. This is not a minor error, this is an error that strikes at the heart of the gospel. I would go so far to say that it is the kind of error that paul condemned in the galatian churches. Why? Because Paul condemned anything that added to faith in Christ alone as the means of which people belonged to the people of God. How belongs to the people of God? Those who trust in Christ alone. What is the proof of God's acceptance? The seal of the Spirit. This is the whole argument of Galatians and it refutes the CofG teaching.

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  8. Hi John,

    I forgot to mention, if you post your e-mail address, I can send you copies of research information I have found on the church of God at various libraries from around the world. There are historians who have written extensively about us which I found very surprising. This has happened within the last 6-7 years, and perhaps it is related to situations specific to the UK (Scotland specifically) as you have described.

    I hope this is an aid to you in your academic pursuits. I do not know of any church of God elders who have undertaken Christian higher learning, so I highly doubt the titles I have found are even known to elders.

    Once books start to be published on the subject of a specific church, it is time to examine the reasons.

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  9. Hi Tim,

    I would be interested in copies of your research information, my email address is jcaldwellskye(at)gmail.com

    If you make the necessary changes to the above email, it should work.

    That is interesting that some recent books have been published, one of the reasons I wrote an extensive view of Park's work is that there is so little information available on the Churches of God from an objective view point. If you want to find out what the Baptists, Pentecostals, AoG, Prebyterians all believe it is not difficult, if you want to find out what the CofG believe it is more difficult. And as you rightly say, the lack of theological resources within the movement itself means that those who grow up in the system suffer from a lack of history, theology and exegetical methods. However, this is not only true for the CofG it would be true of a number of independent churches of the fundamentalist (used descriptively not offensively) variety.

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  10. John, I just read your last post.

    I have had both positive and negative experiences in the church of God. 3 other family members of mine have left the church at various stages because of the unrealistic claims and they have never regretted their decision. They have found happy fulfilling Christian lives elsewhere. Some family members never joined because they did not feel comfortable with the exclusive claims. In general, I have nothing against the church except when harm is involved.

    The church of God is on the radar of professionals who study minority religious groups, (and new religious movements). There are people inside and outside of the fellowship who undertake the study of exclusive claims. If you would like, I can share with you some files that discuss the very subjects you are thinking about.

    There is no doubt that salvation is exclusively available through Jesus Christ.


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  11. Hi Tim,

    I'd really appreciate the files, I included my email address in my last response, but you need to change the '(at)' to @.

    I'd like to ask you a few other questions, but probably better via email.

    Cheers,

    John

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  12. In my experience here in Scotland, the traditional end of the Open Brethren can be pretty exclusive too, in terms of not wanting to visit other churches outside the grouping where they believe gathering is being done in the way Jesus intended, with breaking of bread. Their "open" communion is not "open" in the way that many "modern" evangelical churches practise (no questions if you're a visitor, but membership expected if you are living in the area; or even, no membership required and no questions asked unless you are publicly practising sin). The "open" communion of the traditional Open Brethren and that of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (a stricter body than the Free Church of Scotland) is very similar in my opinion - it can be quite strictly patrolled and limited. Both are concerned for a pure church, and both probably regard other denominations as schismatic from that pattern, though the difference from either being cultic or fully exclusive is that they do appreciate genuine Christianity to the extent that they find it in Christians in other churches. Having said that, even more "exclusive" groupings than the traditional OB or FPs seem sometimes to print stories about Christians of the past (even fairly recent past) who were of very different persuasions.

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  13. Good points, Peter.

    Regarding the 'traditional wing of OB', I have recently come across some documentation that shows that many of the traditional OB were sympathetic to Needed Truth ideas. Some were involved in the NT publication when it was still an OB publication. Others left OB to join the CofG only to return to the OB later.

    I have observed that the FPs and the CofG are very much kissing cousins (theologically speaking).

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  14. I would actually argue the church of God leadership intentionally choose not to understand the catholicity of the church. Also, in particular, they are missing certain concepts key to the apostolicity of the church - in particular relating to the making of leaders among them.

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  15. I have spend the last 20 minutes reading the comments about Needed Truth Brethren and I believe the real error of this movement is the wrong interpretation of key bible verses. Having read the book of Ephesians many times in conjunction with writings of Needed Truth the Holy Spirit taught me chapter 2 was being wrongly interpreted and that it was referring to all believers. Also 1 Peter ch 2 as this is also for all believers.
    See "Review of Needed Truth Brethren" (2013) (21 pages) available free by emailing qualitylets@hotmail.co.uk and "Historical Analysis of Needed Truth Brethren 1892 - 1992 Norman Macdonald" (110 pages) £2 post and packing Norman - God Bless

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  16. I know this conversation is long dead but I need to add my two pence worth in case it is raised again. I was brought up in the Churches of God and still have many among them as true Christian friends with whom I am in regular contact. I attend convened conferences if circumstances permit, if not I procure cds from the recorder who is a friend of long standing, and I receive the monthly literature. The fact that I am not numbered among them is truly my fault not theirs.
    There is a Gaelic saying: "if you want to really know someone you have got to live with that person. That's the advice I would graciously offer to their adversaries in this blog who have criticised totally unfairly and indulged in the fantasy of innuendo that is not appropriate to come from the keyboards of fellow Christians.
    I give two examples to the above criticisms from my own experience: The Churches of God and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland have been described above as "Kissing Cousins". Far from any Church of God in Scotland, I sat under the ministry of a man of God who was an FP minister for 9 years, and nothing can be further from the truth. Everything, but everything, about them is different. They have very little in common, even down to the Gospel they preach.
    The other is about camps. I never missed a Scottish Camp from the time I was 10 till I was in my twenties. The conclusion I came to at the end of each week, each year was the same - if only the whole world behaved as people do in the Church of God camp, what a different, beautiful world it would be. And it was run by shopkeepers, accountants, shipbuilding shop stewards, farmers, school teachers, ex army personnel and others too numerous to mention - with not one acting inappropriately.
    The only tragedy, as I see it, is their failure to allow the wonderful men of God they have to preach in other churches their beautiful message of the true Gospel of Christ and of full commitment to His cause in the Churches of God. The truth they embrace is still needed - more so than ever.
    Somehow this blog reminded me of Sanballat and the other fellow? who opposed the work of God in the days of Nehemiah.
    Sincerely
    Ian C

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  17. Hi Ian.

    Thanks for your comment -- yes, the blog is old now -- and I rarely use this blog.

    Firstly, I think most folk who have commented, myself included, have actually 'lived among them'. As I said in the original post, there are some great Christians in the CofG. Ofcourse, there are great Christian in all denomination, and that in itself is not enough to assess the truthfulness of denominational doctrines.

    Regarding the comparison between FPs and CofGs -- everyone is entitled to their own analysis. Tp compare the churches and recognise similarities is not the same as saying they are identical.My observation is that they are very similar in terms of their 1) Exclusive stance, 2) Their self-understanding (believe that they are the TRUE church 3) Their isolationist stance (sectarianism) etc. Is heaveny a picture you paint of camps, and without denying your good experience-- again, this says nothing about the core beliefs. Most churches have camps where the people enjoy fellowship. Further, the folk in the CofG camps are sinners too. No church has perfect people. Again, I'm not intending to deny the fact you have enjoyed fellowship with Cofg folk -- the purpose of this post is to 1) review one of their books, 2) test their historical and biblical claims.

    When we do that, we find their claims of being the ONE TRUE CHURCH do not stand up to biblical and historical scrutiny.

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  18. * "As heavenly a picture you paint..."

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  19. John,

    Having discovered your blog and read through it several times with increasing interest, I couldn't help but attempt to join the discussion at the risk of it being dead script but which is still at the heart of my thoughts right now. I can see you have a great gift of discernment and weigh things up with careful reason by the help of the Holy Spirit.

    The church which is Christ's body and the church which is God's House appears so inseparable in relation to the Apostle Paul's ministry to the Ephesians concerning unity in Christ (Eph 2:11-22).

    What possible reason could there be to separate the two and claim exclusivity of the House of God?

    Is the House of God not progressive in its composition being built up from the basic faith of believers at salvation to a disciplined life of the priesthood (as is our identity in Hebrews).

    Wikipedia suggests that NT brethren base separation on 2 Thess 3:6 which I find hard to believe since I understand this is speaking about idleness among the believers and not the pattern of teaching which refers to 'the faith' once for all delivered to the saints' a fixed and established body of teaching contended for by the apostolic church.

    It seems there may well be some kind of holy grail like body of teaching which was practiced among the seven NT churches and came under attack, eventually disappearing through persecution, cultural integration (Hellenism) or Judgement as the 'Lampstands' AKA churches of god we're removed because of sin or error (see Rev 3:14-22)

    If this is the case, then it's no wonder that certain NT/OB saints felt so convicted about restoring the practice of a lost body of teaching.

    I wonder if there is any forshadows in the Old Testament relating to a restoration of God's House after a period of time.

    My search continues...

    Dan Grierson

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    1. Thanks for your comments Dan.

      I've long since abandoned this blog site, and I'm now over here: https://needforcreed.wordpress.com/

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