Plymouth Brethren

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Plymouth Brethren

The term Plymouth Brethren refers to a movement that began in Ireland and England in the late 1820s. Some of the early leaders were John Nelson Darby, George Mueller, Dr. Edward Cronin, John Bellett, Anthony Norris Groves, and Francis Hutchinson who felt that the established Church had become too involved with the secular state. As the movement spread, a large group of adherents assembled in Plymouth by 1831 which is why Brethren are often called by that name. The term Darbyites has also been used.

In the late 1840s, a difference over the "independence" of local meetings resulted in the first division, causing a distinction to be made between the Open Brethren, and the Exclusive Brethren.

Open Brethren remain loosely affiliated and over the years have come to resemble Protestant evangelical churches in doctrine, except that there are no officially recognized clergy and the Lord's Supper is celebrated weekly - both of which are common to Open and Exclusive groups alike.

The Plymouth Brethren are unusual in refusing a denominational name; they do not generally refer to themselves as "Plymouth Brethren," nor do they regard themselves as a denomination, citing I Corinthians 3:4, where Paul scolds believers for dividing themselves into groups. Thus there is no denominational headquarters, no single standard of affiliation or formal membership. Each local assembly is independent and autonomous, informally linked with other assemblies only by a common heritage and common emphasis on the primacy of the weekly Breaking of Bread service.

They prefer to understand themselves as "gathered unto the name of Jesus Christ alone." Their preferred term for themselves is "the assemblies," and members are "saints," "the brethren," "believers," and (perhaps confusingly) just "Christians." Members are usually aware of the term "Plymouth Brethren," however; they use it in tax returns and may, when clarity requires, refer to their group as "those called by the world the Plymouth Brethren." Informally, some may refer to "the PBs." In some areas, the term "Christian Brethren" has replaced Plymouth Brethren, though the term refers to the same group.

A common distinguishing characteristic that identifies a Plymouth Brethren meeting place is an outdoor sign indicating a weekly service set apart for "Breaking of Bread," "The Lord's Supper" or "The Remembrance Meeting." This weekly emphasis on remembering the person and work of Jesus Christ gives rise to a high level of devotional teaching as seen in frequent allegorization of scripture to bring the fine focus on Christ. For example, much teaching, preaching and writing revolves around the types of Christ seen in the Old Testament - particularly but not limited to, the tabernacle.

The freedom and responsibility of individual men to participate in the Breaking of Bread service as led by the Holy Spirit results in a common high level of individual Bible study, Bible knowledge and personal piety.

Many PB assemblies meet in a building called a Gospel Hall or a Bible Chapel (Open Brethren). Tunbridge Wells brethren call the place where they gather a Meeting Room. Organizationally, the emphasis is on the fact that "the church" is the called-out assembly of individuals, called out by God to be His people, and not a building.

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