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THE PLYMOUTH BRETHREN.
This body of Christians originated in several separate and spontaneous movements in 1827-30. The first public meeting held by them was in Dublin, Ireland. A large company of them was gathered in Plymouth, England, whence they are popularly called “Plymouth " Brethren, a title they do not accept. They speak of themselves as believers, Christians, saints, or Brethren. Division soon came among them, and they now exist in England in several branches. From England they came to Canada and the United States.
The Brethren accept the Scriptures as their only guide, acknowledging no creeds, rituals, or anything “which savors of reason or mere expediency.” They do not allow that ordination is necessary to the ministry. They hold that gift is sufficient authorization for the exercise of the privilege of the priesthood of all believers, the Holy Spirit being the guide. Hence they have no presiding officers in their public meetings. Woman's sphere is considered as private.
They accept the evangelical doctrines of the Trinity, of the sinless humanity and absolute divinity of Christ, and of Christ's atonement by his sacrificial death, and hold that the Holy Spirit is present in the believer and in the church, and that believers are eternally secure. They look for the personal premillennial coming of Christ, and believe that the punishment of the wicked will be eternal.
Their view of the church is that it is one and indivisible. Christ is the head of it, the Holy Spirit the bond of union, and every believer a member. It was begun at Pentecost and will be completed at the second advent.
They regard the various denominations as based upon creeds, an ordained ministry, and separate organizations, and do not therefore fellowship them. They meet every Sunday to “break bread,” which is the term they use to designate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Other meetings are held for Bible study and prayer, and, whenever occasion offers, for the unconverted. They own no church edifices, but meet in halls and private houses.
The divisions in England are partly reproduced in the United States. The last division in this country, by which the third and fourth branches were created out of the third, was due to a question of belief. The following are the branches, the Roman numerals being introduced for the sake of distinction:
Plymouth Brethren I.
1.—THE PLYMOUTH BRETHREN I.
This is the main body of Brethren. They are regarded as more conservative than the second branch, but less so than the third and fourth branches. They have 109 assemblies or organizations, with 2279 members, who are divided among twenty-seven States and the District of Columbia. As the Plymouth Brethren have no houses of worship, and consequently no church property, those columns are omitted, and the table is arranged to show the number of halls occupied and their seating capacity.
49 14 44
8 75 17
60 550 100 490 16 25 20 30 316 637 850 350 25 80 770 1,600
25 37 572 20 20 40 I 20
6 5 5 24 119 192 243 151
9 15 213 494
6 4 19 70
9 19 I 2 II
9 18 1
Those constituting this branch are often called the “Open Brethren,” because they are regarded as less strict in discipline than either of the other three branches. They also hold a somewhat different view of the ministry, a view approaching that common among the denominations which have regular pastors. The column headed “church property” represents furniture.
They have 88 organizations and 2419 members, and are represented in twenty-three States, their chief strength being in Illinois.
100 1,350 450 250 800 100 750 700 400 200
13 410 79 48 115
20 274 170 95 60 47 85 353
6 72 IO 214
55 105 50 20
These are the strictest division of the Brethren. Their separation from the Brethren of the first and largest division some years ago was the result of a controversy on a point of doctrine and a matter of discipline. They claim that such divine power is vested in the church, that all the Brethren are under moral obligation to submit to a decision rendered by the church, even though the decision were regarded as unjust.
They have 86 organizations and 1235 members. Most of them are to be found in the State of Illinois.
59 47 12 18 50
4 83 76 29 89 12 57 II 8 2 13 12 4
5 4 3 3 I 4 I I