Brethren Tradition or New Testament Church Truth -- By: John H. Fish III

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 02:2 (Winter 1993)
Article: Brethren Tradition or New Testament Church Truth
Author: John H. Fish III

Brethren Tradition or New Testament Church Truth

John H. Fish III1


For those in the assemblies of Christian Brethren (sometimes called Plymouth Brethren)2 the subject of church truth has always meant those truths concerning the church which are taught and practiced in the New Testament and which are normative for today. It has been the desire for these brethren to discover from Scripture the principles of the New Testament church and to implement those principles in the teaching, the worship, the organization, and the fellowship of the church. This has resulted in local churches today which do have some distinctives in relationship to other evangelical churches.

We are not talking about distinctives in basic Christian doctrine, but distinctives relating to church polity and practice. These Assemblies will be distinct first from those churches which say that there is no definitive church order taught in the New Testament. Some see episcopalianism, presbyterianism, and congregationalism all practiced in the New Testament. They conclude that there is no normative New Testament pattern for church government and one is free to choose what fits his own circumstances best.

The Assemblies may also differ from churches which agree that there is a New Testament pattern for the church, but which disagree as to the details of that pattern. Is there to be a plurality of elders in a local church, or is the New Testament pattern that of several deacons and one elder in each local church? Does one need an ordained minister to officiate at the Lord’s supper and baptism? Who is responsible for the ministry of the church? Is it the “pastor” or are all of the believers responsible for different aspects of the ministry? These and other disagreements are to be resolved by searching the Scriptures to see what is actually taught.

A recent book by one who is part of the Brethren movement questions the fundamental premise of that movement, namely, that there is a normative New Testament pattern for the church which is to be practiced today. Dr. Rex Koivisto, chairman of the Bible and Theology Department at Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon, in his book One Lord, One Faith has said that “very little that is unique to the Christian Brethren Movement has direct biblical mandate.”3 His thesis in relation to the Brethren is that their distinctives are not New Testament teaching, normative for all Christians, but are only the traditions of this particular group.

The distincti...

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