Two by Twos

A discreet Christian movement known for its itinerant preachers and simple, unadorned worship style.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Non-denominational
Founder: William Irvine
Founded: Late 19th century (around 1897)
Location: Worldwide, with a significant presence in Ireland, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and North America
Other Names: The Way, Cooneyites, Christian Conventions, The Truth, The Testimony, The Friends and Workers, The No Name Sect

The Two by Twos, also known to some as “The Truth,” “The Way,” or more formally within legal contexts as “Christian Conventions” among other names, represent a distinct Christian new religious movement with a foundation that traces back to the end of the 19th century in Ireland. Founded by William Irvine, a Scottish evangelist, the movement quickly distinguished itself through a set of beliefs and practices that diverged significantly from mainstream Christianity, drawing both intrigue and controversy.

Central to the Two by Twos’ doctrine is a rejection of the Trinity, viewing the Holy Spirit not as a person within the Godhead but as an attitude or force emanating from God. Jesus Christ, while revered as a pivotal figure who exemplified a path of ministry and salvation, is not acknowledged as divine. This perspective significantly affects the group’s interpretation of salvation, emphasizing adherence to a lifestyle modeled after Jesus’s example over the traditional Christian emphasis on his death and resurrection for sin’s atonement​​.

The group’s ministers, known as “workers,” operate in pairs and adopt a lifestyle devoid of permanent homes or salaries, emphasizing total dedication to their mission. This approach mirrors the early Christian apostolic tradition and reflects Irvine’s initial call for his followers to become itinerant preachers, relinquishing their possessions and financial security in pursuit of spiritual ideals. Edward Cooney, one of Irvine’s early and prominent followers, furthered these ideals with his vehement criticism of conventional churches and the clergy’s stipendiary roles, leading to his eventual excommunication and the formation of a splinter group known as the Cooneyites​​.

Despite its significant global footprint, estimated between 80,000 and 400,000 adherents, the Two by Twos maintain a highly secretive and insular profile, eschewing formal church buildings for home-based worship services and avoiding the publication of doctrinal statements or religious literature, apart from a hymnal. This secretive nature extends to their governance, with allegations of moving ministers accused of misconduct without public acknowledgment or recourse for the victims. This pattern of behavior has led to a series of allegations and legal actions against church leaders, exposing a darker undercurrent of abuse and manipulation within some sections of the movement​​​​.

The recent online emergence of support and advocacy groups for survivors of abuse within the Two by Twos underscores a growing awareness and reckoning within and about the movement. These platforms serve as critical resources for victims seeking justice and healing, marking a significant shift in the dynamics between the church’s leadership and its broader community. Efforts by individuals such as Cynthia Liles, a private investigator, who collaborates with law enforcement on numerous cases involving the Two by Twos, indicate an increasingly proactive stance against the alleged abuses​​.

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