The Mistaken Term "The Brethren"
The appellation "The Brethren," as applied to companies of
believers who seek to be guided by the Scriptures alone in the principles of
their gatherings, is an utter misnomer. It is, or should be, repudiated by
those who are so called. No doubt the term "Plymouth Brethren" had an innocent
enough beginning, and arose from the fact that in their evangelistic labours
and the testimony they gave they were spoken of as "brethren from Plymouth."
The mistake arose in generalizing the circumstances of a particular locality and in applying to other believers besides those at Plymouth a term which was meaningless and applied without the consent or agreement of the believers there themselves. The appellation is false in more respects than one. It is contrary to the teaching of Scripture, which, in the spiritual sense of the word, includes all believers and gives no justification for any such denominational terminology. Further, it suggests, what is quite unfounded, that the assemblies of those to whom the term is applied are amalgamated into a denominational union, an ecclesiastical system, whereas the New Testament teaches, as a foundation principle relating to assemblies, that each one stands on its own separate basis in dependence on the Lord alone and in subjection to the guidance and ministry, not of some union or organization, but of the Holy Spirit, who indwells each company as His local temple.
That principle is maintained by the various assemblies of those who are simply seeking to adhere to the Scriptures of truth as the all-sufficient guide concerning the will of God, and as "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3, R.V.) - "once for all," that is to say, as the final revelation of the mind of God for His people. The very adherence of such assemblies to the teaching of the New Testament causes them (or should do so) to repudiate the imputation that they constitute a sect misnamed "The Brethren." It is significant that no such denominational notice board is ever used outside the buildings where such assemblies meet.
An Unfounded Supposition
The term is also contrary to fact in that it presupposes that, at some time or other, those who, in different places, and apart from any mutual association, gained an understanding of what the New Testament teaches, and saw the importance of obeying it instead of following the traditions of religious systems, accepted the term "the Brethren." In any case it came to be applied as a nickname. The fallacy of such an appellation has been to a large extent successfully exposed, though perhaps inadequately. The fact is that, by a very marked movement of the Spirit of God, Christians in several places, without knowing what was similarly and simultaneously taking place elsewhere, came to see the absolute necessity of becoming obedient to what the Scriptures teach, in contrast to the denominational systems, which were simply an aftermath of the breakaway, in medieval times, from popery, and which stopped short of discerning and following the whole counsel of God as revealed in His Word. To abandon forms of error is one thing; to accept the truth in its fulness is another.
Freedom from Human Dictates
Moreover, the work of the Spirit of God in opening the eyes of believers in different localities and at different times has gone on for over a century, without being directed by the dictates or teachings of some central authority. It is a significant fact that not only in Britain, but in America, Australia, New Zealand and countries on the Continent, as well as elsewhere, owing to the teaching of the Scriptures, whether by direct and independent reading of them, or by individual teachers apart from any society, assemblies such as those who are miscalled "brethren" have been formed without becoming associated with similar gatherings in other places, as in the earliest times, as recorded in the New Testament. Dishonour to the Holy Spirit They cannot help what others call them, but that any in such companies should tacitly accept this is unacceptable.
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