The Triple Tradition -- By: Ross Howlett McLaren

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 04:2 (Winter 1995)
Article: The Triple Tradition
Author: Ross Howlett McLaren

The Triple Tradition

Ross Howlett McLaren1

The Origin and Development of the Open Brethren in North America


Those Known as “Plymouth Brethren”

A glance at a religious bodies census or handbook of denominations will reveal six or eight different groups in North America labeled “Plymouth Brethren.” Despite these differentiations by Roman numerals there are, at the heart of the matter, two main divisions: the Open Brethren (sometimes called Independent or Christian Brethren), represented by Roman numeral II, and the various Exclusive Brethren, represented by Roman numerals I, III, and following. The basic and confusing distinction refers to events which occurred about a century and a half ago and dates back to the formative period of the Brethren Movement in England. The Brethren, in 1848, divided over the question of the autonomy of the local assembly. Those who accepted the doctrine followed the Bethesda assembly at Bristol and became known as Open Brethren while those who

rejected it were labeled Exclusive Brethren or Darbyites, named thus after their leader John Nelson Darby. The reader who is unfamiliar with these events would profit by consulting the volumes by Harold H. Rowdon or F. Roy Coad for the history of the Open Brethren and the volumes by H. A. Ironside and Napoleon Noel for that of the Exclusive Brethren.2

The Open Brethren

There has been a developing interest in the early Open Brethren in the last generation: specifically, George Müller, Henry Craik, and Anthony Norris Groves.3 The tracing of one’s spiritual roots to them seems to be logical for today’s North American Open Brethren: after all, these men were among those who were first known as Open Brethren. The value of emulating these three, but especially Groves, has been a center of focus since the publication of G. H. Lang’s biography of Groves and F. Roy Coad’s history of the British Open Brethren.4 In these early founders of the movement one finds a largeness of heart that is willing to embrace all believers on the basis of common “life” and not just “light.” In them one sees the freedom of prophetic interpretations that are millennial but not dispensational, and in them one finds a positive emphasis of what they testified to rather than what they spoke against. As one views the narrowness and negativeness of many of today’s Open assemblies, one finds this earlier period attractive and bemoans the loss of its characteristics, and...

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