Gospel Hall Brethren
The Gospel Hall brethren are a group of independent Christian assemblies throughout the world that fellowship with each other through a set of shared Biblical doctrines and practices. Theologically, they are evangelical and dispensational. Historically they are part of what is sometimes called the Open Brethren.
Christians who gather in Gospel Halls generally hold that a scriptural Christian assembly should avoid the use of a "sectarian" name. (The name "Gospel Hall Brethren" is a Wikipedia designation). Hence they usually describe themselves simply as "Christians" gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus, rather than for example "Baptist Christians" or "Lutheran Christians". Holding that the word "Church" (Greek: ekklesia) refers to people not to a building, they avoid calling their buildings "churches", preferring to use the title "Gospel Hall" to indicate that "the gospel" is preached and upheld within. They are not a denomination in the normal sense of the word. The title "Gospel Hall" is neither mandatory nor official among them. Many of their buildings take other names; Bethesda Hall, Main Street Hall, Hebron Hall, Gospel Centre or simply "Believer's Meeting Room."
The first assembly of Christians commenced in Jerusalem around AD32 as described in the Bible in Acts 2:42. Gospel Hall brethren consider this to be their true historical roots. As Christianity spread throughout the Near Eastern world, other assemblies were planted in new locations (see Revelation chs 2–3). Throughout the centuries of church history there has always been a remnant independent evangelical testimony as documented in a popular book among Gospel Halls called The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent. Andrew Miller's mammoth work Church History traces the same theme. In the early decades of the 19th century hundreds of new such independent assemblies appeared almost simultaneously in various places around the world particularly in Ireland, Scotland, England, and continental Europe. This is believed to have been a recovery of numerous New Testament beliefs and practices which had been largely lost in Christendom over the centuries. Many books have been written to tell this story one of the least known of which, an anonymous work called Assembly Life Experiences by "an old disciple", records the unique and fascinating record of a group of Christians who were converted in the 1859 revival in Scotland. Through reading only their Bibles they concluded that clerisy and denominationalism were unscriptural and subsequently met together to break bread and depend on God for gifting and leadership.
There are hundreds of Gospel Halls in the UK. As for the USA and Canada, the 1859 "Revival" that affected much of Northern Ireland and Scotland in particular, inspired evangelists such as Alexander Marshall, Donald Ross and Donald Munro to cross the Atlantic and preach the gospel, leading to numerous assemblies being planted there. Mr. Norman Crawford has documented this story in a chapter of his book Assembly Truth published by Gospel Tract Publications (Glasgow, 1994). The chapter is available online. (See also J.J. Rouse for information on an early Canadian Gospel Hall pioneer).
In North America, Gospel Halls are distinguished from "Bible Chapels" over numerous issues such as the use of musical instruments and the need for letters of commendation for participation in assembly activities such as "breaking bread". Elsewhere around the world there may be more coming and going between different types of assemblies, depending on local factors and regional history.
Numerous hymn books are in wide circulation among Gospel Halls such as The Believer's Hymn Book, Hymns of Light and Love, The Gospel Hymn Book and others.
Gospel Hall brethren would claim to follow the "pattern" of New Testament church doctrine and practice found in the Acts of the Apostles and expounded by the apostle Paul in his epistles, notably 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. As such they recognise no central ecclesiastical authority, no formal creed, no prescribed liturgy nor any ordained salaried ministry. Each assembly is an autonomous locally functioning body of baptised believers, recognising the final authority of the Bible and led by a plurality of elders. Though assemblies meeting in Gospel Halls do not usually print an official statement of faith, preferring to reference the Bible alone as their authority, the following basic doctrines would be held very widely among them:
- The verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible (all 66 books)
- The Trinity (One God in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
- The creation of the world and human beings by supernatural acts of God
- The deity, eternal sonship, virgin birth and impeccability of Christ.
- The substitutionary death, bodily resurrection and ascension of Christ
- The ministry of the Holy Spirit in conversion, sanctification and witness
- The universal condemnation of all humanity as a result of the fall in Eden
- The need for the new birth for sinners to be made right with God
- Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone
- Baptism by immersion in water after personal salvation
- Two aspects of "the Church" – firstly the "body of Christ" composed of all believers from Pentecost to the return of Christ, and secondly local assemblies composed of baptised believers who have been received into fellowship
- Gifts of the Spirit such as the evangelist and Bible teacher are ongoing, but the sign gifts of tongues and healing ceased by the close of the first century AD
- The premillennial, pretribulational return of Christ
- Eternal bliss in heaven for the believer, and eternal damnation for the unbeliever
In most Gospel Halls the following weekly meetings are convened at varying times:
- The breaking of bread or Lord's Supper (once a week, always on Sunday)
- Sunday School
- Gospel preaching meeting
- Prayer Meeting
- Bible teaching/study meeting
Gospel Halls around the world are involved in spreading the gospel of Christ through various means including public preaching, literature work, Bible exhibitions, Sunday Schools, Radio programmes, Prison and School visitation and hospital work. With thousands of assemblies and with many hundreds of full-time itinerant evangelists, missionaries and Bible teachers, the enterprise of spreading the message of Jesus Christ and upholding the fundamental truths of the Bible continues as the vision of Christians gathering in Gospel Halls worldwide. During the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, while shrinkage was a feature in Europe, expansion was seen in numerous places, notably Canada, South and Central America and Mexico.
Literature has always been an emphasis among Gospel Halls. Distribution of gospel tracts, gospel calendars and other evangelistic material is commonplace. The Scottish publisher, John Ritchie Ltd., publishes material from authors connected with Gospel Halls, as well as publishing The Believer's Magazine a monthly periodical that has a wide circulation among these assemblies. Other well-known magazines read by Christians in these assemblies are Assembly Testimony, Present Truth and Precious Seed. In the US and Canada, the magazine most widely circulated among Gospel Halls is Truth and Tidings. Missionary magazines such as Look on the Fields and Horizons are also much used.
Conferences are a significant feature of life among Gospel Halls. Many Gospel Halls will host an annual conference to which visitors will be invited to come and hear Bible teaching. Typically in the UK these will be one-day events, whereas in North America they will span a whole weekend. In Scotland, the New Year period is a popular time for conferences. The Easter weekend is widely used throughout the world for Gospel Hall conferences notably in Belfast, Toronto and Vancouver. There are some large conferences at that time of year in several Latin American countries, notably Venezuela and Guatemala. Residential Bible study weeks also feature among Gospel Halls throughout the world.
Recordings of Bible teaching from conferences in Gospel Halls are available on numerous localised Gospel Hall websites and on some central audio collection sites.
- Broadbent, E.H. (1931). The Pilgrim Church. London: Pickering and Inglis Ltd.
- Miller, Andrew. Miller's Church History. Addison, IL, USA: Bible Truth Publishers.
- Disciple, An Old. Assembly Life Experiences.
- Crawford, Norman. "This Was Their Story – Donald Munro". Truth and Tidings Magazine. Truth and Tidings. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- Crawford, Norman. "Gathering Unto His Name – History of Assemblies". Assembly Truth. Gospel Tract Publications. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- "The Believers Hymn Book Online". Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- "The Believer's Magazine Online Version". John Ritchie Ltd. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- "Assembly Testimony Online Version". Assembly Testimony. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- "Precious Seed Magazine Online Version". Precious Seed. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- "Truth and Tidings Online Version". Truth and Tidings. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- "Joe Skelly's Tape Teaching". Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- Robert Baylis, My People. The History of Those Sometimes Called Plymouth Brethren, Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton IL., 1995. 426 pages. ISBN 1897117280
- Henry Pickering, Chief Men Among the Brethren, Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune, NJ., 1918. 223 pages. ISBN 0872136922
- J. G Hutchinson, Whose Praise is in the Gospel – A Record of One Hundred and Nine Irish Evangelists, Gospel Tract Publications, Glasgow, Scotland, 2002. 448 pages. ISBN 0948417838
- S. Beck, Our Fathers Have Told Us, Cleaveland Inc., Bloomfield, CT., 1993. 213 pages. ISBN 1883704014
- G Albert Ramsay, Sowing and Reaping in the Garden of the Gulf, Gospel Literature, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada. 1983. 144 pages. No ISBN
- Leonard Dr Buhr, Golden Lampstands of Northern Iowa, Ackley Publishing Co., Ackley, IA., 1985. 121 pages. No ISBN.
- William Williams, Rabbi, Where Dwellest Thou?, Gospel Tract Publications, Glasgow, Scotland. 1989. 80 pages. ISBN 0948417447
- Norman Crawford, Gathering Unto His Name, Truth and Tidings, Jackson MI., 1985. 255 pages. No ISBN.
- Norman Crawford, Assembly Truth, Gospel Tract Publications, Glasgow, Scotland. 1994. 34 pages. ISBN 0948417651
- Arthur G. Clarke, New Testament Church Principles, John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock, Scotland. 1992. 123 pages. ISBN 0946351341
- Henry Hitchman, Some Scriptural Principles of the Christian Assembly, Gospel Tract Publications, Glasgow, Scotland. 1988. 202 pages. ISBN 094841725X
- Various Authors, The Glory of the Local Church, Assembly Testimony, Belfast, NI., 2008. 22 pages. No ISBN.
- Franklin Ferguson, The Church of God – Its Truth and Principles, Amainthakarai Gospel Hall, Chennai, India. 1999. 170 pages. No ISBN.
- Various Authors (Edited by John Heading and Cyril Hocking), Church Doctrine and Practice, Precious Seed Publications, Bristol, England. 1971. 336 pages. No ISBN