The Primacy of Scripture And the Church -- By: David J. MacLeod

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 06:1 (Summer 1997)
Article: The Primacy of Scripture And the Church
Author: David J. MacLeod

The Primacy of Scripture And the Church1

David J. MacLeod2


During the time of my studies at Dallas Seminary in the 1960s I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Winifred G. T. Gillespie, the daughter of W. H. Griffith Thomas, the noted Anglican theologian and Bible teacher and one of the founders of the seminary. She asked me my church denomination, and I told her that I fellowshipped with the group she might know as the Christian Brethren or Plymouth Brethren. “Oh, the Brethren,” she said, and with that she had a tale to tell. After Griffith Thomas had been living in North America for some time he took his family on a trip to see family and friends in England. At one of the Anglican Churches where he ministered a tea was held in his honor. His daughter, “Winnie,” helped one of the ladies serve the tea. The woman asked Winnie if her father ministered among the Anglicans in America. “No,” said Winnie, “he says they’re all either ‘high’ or ‘dry.’ In America he ministers among the non-conformists” (a term that in Great Britain refers to all non-Anglicans: the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Brethren, etc.). “Oh,” the lady said, “I’ve always thought of the non-conformists as socially inferior and excessively biblical!”3

I was reminded of Winnie’s story when I read Harold Rowdon’s 1986

assessment of the Brethren assemblies in Great Britain.4 Professor Rowdon raised the question, “What was the essence of the [early Brethren movement]?” He argued that it was not a rejection of clericalism and apostasy; nor was it the quest for unity or a concern for evangelism. The thing that above all distinguished them was the absolute priority which they accorded the Word of God. In fact, he asserted that the most characteristic meeting of those churches was not the “breaking of bread” meeting (although the form that meeting took was distinctive). Rather, it was the weekly Bible reading when they gathered, many with their Greek and Hebrew texts, to study the Scriptures.

A central place was given to the preaching and teaching of the Word. There was much evangelism, to be sure. In his early days as a minister J. N. Darby had seen six hundred to eight hundred persons converted per week in Ireland.5 Yet they were more well-known for their expository Bible teaching. The regular expositions of B. W. Newton built a congregation of seven hundred in Plymouth,You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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