Who Are the Brethren: Volume 2

It is an interesting fact that perhaps quite a large proportion of the membership of local assemblies of open or Christian brethren could not give a coherent reason as to why they are members of such assemblies, nor could they answer with any precision the question ‘Who are the brethren?’.

The answer can be divided into many parts.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul and others used the word translated in the Authorized Version as ‘brethren’ in the sense of membership of a Christian family with God as Father about 80 times. The name is therefore well founded

Throughout the centuries of church history, there have been groups of believers who have sought in a special way to be faithful to the Lord and His Word, in spite of persecution and the attractions of larger ecclesiastical associations.

After 1825, in the last century, there were faithful men who felt themselves led of God to turn from their ecclesiastical connections, in order to seek scriptural simplicity in gathering in the Lord’s Name, basing their service and fellowship on their reading and study of the New Testament rather than on tradition handed down from earlier generations.

A vast number of ‘halls’, ‘gospel halls’, ‘rooms’, ‘chapels’, ‘evangelical churches’ – call them almost what you will in their great variety – are to be found throughout the world, old-fashioned or modern in design, in large cities or small villages, in populated industrial and academic districts or in jungles and deserts, with congregations large and small, independent the one from the other, yet all dependent upon divine guidance from the Holy Spirit, and moving in fellowship the one with the other as possessing common aims, aspirations, interests, motivation, and desiring to serve the Lord in keeping with the Holy Scriptures

The gospel of God’s grace is manifested in life and proclaimed by all Christians, whatever may be their attachments to evangelical or non-evangelical movements. And when such a Christian has the happy experience of being instrumental in God’s hands in leading a lost soul to Christ, then usually this convert will also be led to the same religious association as that of the evangelist. The new convert will be quite ignorant of the fact that there are churches and churches, service and service, doctrines and doctrines, practices and practices, since the Christian faith is riddled with differences that are either helpful or unhelpful in the development of a convert in his faith.

Through evangelistic or gospel campaigns, gospel meetings, Sunday schools, young people’s meetings, camps, open air work, personal work, etc., converts are gained for Christ. Both in the home country and in the mission field, brethren have been particularly active in this sphere of testimony. Converts, often with no previous scriptural background, are then introduced to ^ the meetings of the assembly of brethren in some meeting-hall.

Up to that time, they may have regarded such halls as religious places of worship, in some way (though unknown to them in detail) distinguished from the more formal churches and chapels of the great denominations. Prior to conversion, the average man-in-the-street would view these halls in the same way as he would view the halls of the heretical sects; he might have read the notice boards outside such halls and noted the various kinds of meetings held, perhaps contrasting the Lord’s Supper or the Breaking of Bread, Prayer Meeting, Bible Reading, Ministry of the Word, Gospel Meeting, or Young People’s Meeting with the traditional services held in the ‘church’ down the road. He might have observed the believers entering and leaving such a hall on a Lord’s Day or on a weekday evening, and wondered how they could find any interest and satisfaction in attending these advertised meetings. Had he looked more closely, he would have found in these believers a deep devotion to the Lord that percolated every corner of daily life, a reverent interest in the Word of God that guides in assembly service and in all the activities of life, and a zeal that maintained priorities when family life, daily occupation, and assembly service all made demands upon the believers’ time.

As a new convert to the Lord, he now comes into close contact with what he had merely noted in his unconverted life Since the evangelical truth of the Son of God, His sacrifice, resurrection and ascension, and the means of repentance, conversion and faith, are all found in the Scriptures, and since as a new Christian he has committed himself to this saving aspect of faith, as a new creation in Christ he must now go forward to embrace other truths found in the same Scriptures, such as baptism, fellowship and service. Old aspects of religion that have no basis in the Word of God must be discarded, the Holy Scriptures being searched regularly so as to find out the way of God more perfectly. His daily life, too, must be changed, so as to be suitable for the indwelling presence of Christ. Conduct and interests must be examined, to see whether they are consistent with fellowship with other Christians who appear to be so different and sanctified in their mature Christian lives. This process may be a painful one, and yet what blessings lie beyond for the overcomer when he yields his life to Christ, saying ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’

Such a pursuit of faith will lead the convert to fellowship with a local assembly – he will cast in his lot with the people of God -he will be one of ‘the brethren’; as Paul puts it, ‘one of you’ (Col. 4.12). But clearly there must be a definite out-and-out commitment to the local assembly; this is essential if there is to be a clear-cut manifestation of zeal and faithfulness. The desire after the sincere milk of the Word will enable him to discern why he is amongst ‘brethren’ and not with other Christians who are just as much saved by grace as he is. He may know nothing about the historical reasons (2) and (3) stated in our second paragraph; he will know only what the present local assembly of brethren stands for and why they take that stand. He will know that their reasons, as based on the Word of God, must become his reasons also.

Looking at a local assembly of brethren walking in the light of the Holy Scriptures, young converts will see that regular meetings take place because there must be no ‘forsaking the assembling of ourselves together’ (Heb. 10:25). Depending on local circumstances and on opportunities that can be grasped, ^ the gospel will be preached using local talent and visiting speakers and evangelists. In assembly matters, brethren will continue ‘steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers’ (Acts 2:42). There will be development of ‘gift’, since the promise is given that the Lord distributes to ‘every one’ (Eph. 4.7). There will be the recognition of elders or overseers divinely placed in the assembly; as shepherds amongst the flock they will guide in the service of God, and exercise discipline when this is necessary.

There will be much mutual help amongst the membership, since believers are to ‘do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith’ (Gal. 6.10). The Word of God will be studied, in its historical, typical, poetical, prophetical, ecclesiastical, moral, Christological and soteriological aspects. There will be support for missionary work, with a prayer-interest in missionaries’ testimonies when they have ‘rehearsed all that God had done with them’ (Acts 14.27).

No heresy or false doctrine will be allowed, and no foreign practices that are out of harmony with the Scriptures.

The young convert will find that these are ‘the brethren’. This faith and practice has captured the hearts of many faithful men and women – their lives have become bound up in such a testimony, knowing that it pleases the Lord and glorifies His Name. Some have heard the call of God to the mission field; others have become ‘full time’ in the Lord’s service in their home countries. But the majority serve the Lord locally in their out-of-employment hours, amongst young people, in old people’s homes, in hospitals, preaching and teaching the gospel and the Word of God, often with great power as those equipped by God, while others work unseen, coping with the hidden needs of many a soul. No list can exhaust the occupations of those who serve their Lord, with no one man being a minister over a largely indolent congregation. Such service is independent of national heritage, culture and background; the activity of brethren according to Scripture is essentially suitable for every convert in every part of the world reached by the gospel. Although possessing a historical heritage, brethren today can be recognized as a living up-to-date fellowship, rendering a powerful testimony to the Lord until His promised return for His own.

John Heading

This article was first published in a series of volumes entitled, “That the world may know”, by Echoes of Service In 1986. The volumes are a record of the work and legacy of assembly missionaries around the world. Used with Permission.

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