Plymouth Brethren

A historically rooted Christian movement emphasizing the Bible’s sole authority in faith and practice.

The Plymouth Brethren are a distinct Christian group that emerged in the early 19th century, emphasizing the Bible as the sole authority for doctrine and practice. This movement has its roots in Dublin, Ireland, in the mid to late 1820s, originating from Anglicanism. The Brethren sought a return to the simplicity of New Testament church practices, rejecting denominational labels and preferring to be known simply as Christians. They are characterized by their nonconformist and low church stance, without any formal liturgy or ordained clergy, and they meet in local assemblies or churches which operate independently​​.

The movement began with informal meetings for communion and fellowship among several groups of Christians in Dublin around 1825. Key figures in its early development included Anthony Norris Groves, a dentist and theology student; Edward Cronin, a medical student; John Nelson Darby, a curate; and John Gifford Bellett, a lawyer. These gatherings were motivated by a desire for a pure and holy fellowship based on the Bible alone, amidst growing dissatisfaction with the established Church of England’s practices and the influence of Methodism and political revolutions in the United States and France​​.

John Nelson Darby became a prominent leader within the movement, advocating for a pre-tribulational view of the Second Coming of Christ. The first Brethren assembly in England was established in Plymouth, Devon, in 1831, which led to the group being known as “Plymouth Brethren.” Darby’s vision of an exclusive fellowship led to a split within the movement, creating two main branches: the Exclusive Brethren, who follow a more closed, separatist approach, and the Open Brethren, who maintain a more congregational form of governance and are less rigid in their practices​​​​.

Brethren assemblies vary in their practices and beliefs, reflecting their independent nature. However, common characteristics include the recognition of all believers as part of the body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, a plurality of overseers, and the absence of a clergy/laity distinction. They typically observe the Lord’s Supper weekly and adhere to pre-tribulational and dispensational theology. The movement has made significant contributions to Christian service and education, with notable figures such as F. F. Bruce and George Muller emerging from its ranks, as well as institutions like Emmaus Bible College and Kawartha Lakes Bible College​​.

Despite their historical significance and contributions to Christian missionary work and education, the Plymouth Brethren have remained a relatively low-profile group within the broader Christian community, emphasizing a simple, devout adherence to the teachings of the Bible and the early Christian church.

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