Needed Truth Brethren
Needed Truth Brethren, as they are sometimes known, call themselves, “The Churches of God in the Fellowship of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ". This is their official legal title, however other Christians might classify them as a very conservative form of Brethrenism, connexional in nature; and holding themselves separate from what they consider to be erroneous practices. The designation, "Needed Truth" was given to them by others based on the Needed Truth Magazine periodical known by that name, which began to be distributed among the Open Brethren in 1888. This teaching magazine espoused what was claimed to be a fresh understanding of biblical teaching on the subject of the constitution of the local church and on the principles of church government as well as on doctrinal subjects such as The House of God, the Church of God, the Kingdom of God, and the Body of Christ. The magazine itself, however, presented these circulated views as being a return to fundamental New Testament principles.
The Churches of God (Needed Truth Brethren) were formed in the 19th century as a split from the Open Brethren around 1892 (known as "The Separation"), as a result of the ideas propagated in the Needed Truth magazine finding acceptance among not a few. Divisions have been quite common in brethren history; however this occurred as an earnest endeavour to 'rightly divide' between teachings in an attempt to re-establish the original mould of Christianity as found in Scripture. It put into effect what was claimed to be a clearer biblical understanding of the different usages of the term 'church' as found in the New Testament (specifically differentiating between local gatherings of faithful disciples and the overall spiritual entity known as the Church which is Christ's Body); took adherence to the Apostles Teaching as the ground of gathering (as opposed to the simple possession of common life in Christ); and established a system of church governance between the local churches which featured local elders consulting together (as an elderhood) across the entire community of churches, so maintaining unity of teaching and practice throughout (something which they saw to be manifestly lacking within Brethrenism). Only a few assemblies of the Open Brethren officially separated and joined the Needed Truth movement. However, it seems likely that their teaching spread into what is sometimes known as the "Tight Brethren", or "Closed-Opens", or "Gospel Hall Brethren".
Doctrine and structure
The Needed Truth Brethren teach that the basis of reception to local assembly fellowship is faithful adherence to the Apostles Teaching as defined in the New Testament, as opposed to the One Body basis of reception taught by Open Brethren and the Bible Chapel Brethren. Their basic doctrine regarding the functioning of the local church can be viewed as summarized in Act 2:41 - 42, which is seen by them as consistent with all other New Testament teaching. They understand that there is only one church of God in any particular city where such exists, and that the weekly Christian ordinance of the breaking of bread in remembrance of the Lord is a function of that one church (albeit there may be multiple companies of that one recognized church which each break bread). According to Needed Truth teaching, two or three believers gathered together informally or temporarily, and not gathering as a scripturally designated gathering of the local church, do not by themselves constitute a church, and so it is inappropriate for them to attempt to fulfil the functions of a church of God (they can of course meet for prayer and to carry out the procedures described in Mat.18).
Their assemblies, unlike Open Brethren assemblies, are not independent and autonomous, but are interdependent. An advantage of this is that assembly discipline is more effective. In an Open Brethren meeting someone under discipline may get away with slipping off elsewhere and going straight back into fellowship with another open assembly. Dissatisfaction with such loose practice was a clear motivating factor which led to the separation discussed earlier.
Needed Truth Brethren hold that there is only one Church of God in any city or district. For a history of the Needed Truth Brethren.
Gospel Hall Brethren connection
The Gospel Hall Brethren movement seems to have spread out from the work in Scotland after the great Revival of 1859. Evangelists like Alexander Marshall and Donald Ross did much work in spreading the gospel, and starting assemblies. Many of the Gospel Halls in Canada were pioneered by these great Scottish evangelists.
Initially, Donald Ross, a close friend of Duncan Matheson, did not hold to the Needed Truth teaching that reception was the to local Assembly. But after Matheson's death, Ross began to hold this. This teaching became the basis of fellowship and reception in many Gospel Halls, yet they never joined with the assemblies who separated out as Needed Truth Brethren.
Alexander Marshall broke with the Needed Truth movement early on, over their insistence that any two or three gathered together could not be called an assembly, and could not break bread together. Marshall believed that, "Where two or three are, having been gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" was sufficient proof that, in his opinion, the Needed Truth brethren were not following the New Testament Pattern. The Needed Truth brethren countered that this was an inaccurate appreciation of the context of these verses and continued to assert that only gatherings connected to an already existing assembly could be considered an assembly. Informal gatherings were not recognized as being the Lord's Table.
In the middle of the 20th century, the line of separation between the Bible Chapels and Gospel Halls in North America became more pronounced. Robert McClurkin, who was welcome in both groups, lamented this in his Open Letter to the Assemblies where he pointed out that Needed Truth literature had been spread throughout the Gospel Halls, and a rigid line of demarcation was being drawn.
Thus the Open Brethren, "closed" open brethren (gospel hall brethren) and Needed Truth Brethren were defined as three distinct church groups
Towards the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, some believers began to be exercised about the supremacy of Scripture and the error of having systems of clergy. Following the trend of the sixteenth century Reformation, a fresh impetus was experienced in the on-going process of replacing the traditions of men with simple adherence to the Word of God. The early pioneers of the Brethren Movement concentrated their minds on two vital points. The first was the emphasis placed by the Lord Jesus on the breaking of the bread, and the second was the Lord's expressed desire in John 17 for the unity of His disciples The declared aim of the leaders of this movement was to find a simple, scriptural basis upon which all Christians could meet in fellowship.
Underlying the ensuing search were two key principles: that of church fellowship and that of the fellowship of churches. As to the first, the original basis of gathering was a circle drawn just wide enough to include all members of the Church the Body alive on the earth. Thus, the sharing of common life in Christ was taken as the basis of church fellowship and any who were unbaptized or unseparated from ecclesiastical systems were not, in principle, debarred from communion. As to the principle of the fellowship of churches, since emphasis was put on the free ministry of the Spirit, there was correspondingly little or no stress placed on the recognition of elders. This prevented any effective lines of communication being maintained between assemblies. Largely then, each assembly was responsible for its own affairs. In this way, the early Brethren genuinely attempted to establish a basis of testimony. They had in so doing stripped away much error remaining from Reformation times, and had clearly grasped the precious truth of the Church the Body of Christ. But was the position they had reached scriptural, or even workable?
It did not take long for practical situations to arise which challenged the above basis. How was doctrinal or moral error to be dealt with? Locally, it could not be dealt with by denying fellowship, since the ground of gathering was the Body of Christ. Furthermore, even if any were put away, the looseness of assembly association allowed them to go to another company and be received there. It seemed to some, then, that a change in the original stance on these principles was necessary. Sadly, all were not agreed on such a change. But Brethren, being a people without a constitution, had no means of dealing with dissension, and so crisis followed. The movement divided around the middle of the century.
It is possible to characterize the division in terms of the two highlighted principles. Those who left the mainstream movement took the exclusive view that fellowship should be refused to any church tolerating moral or doctrinal error. Allied with this, their principle of government was to have one central meeting with all others subject to it. It was a principle which encouraged individualism. On the other hand, those remaining in the mainstream movement held it only necessary to examine an individual on his merits, receiving such as had not imbibed error. It may be seen that, although declaring the Lord's table to be open to all believers, some form of examination was now to take place before receiving to communion. The original principle of communion was gone, although this was not acknowledged. Among companies loyal to the mainstream movement, independency continued to prevail, such that assemblies were associated loosely in little more than name.
As the nineteenth century moved towards its final quarter, many of the brethren who had remained with the mainstream movement now began to be further exercised as to the scripturalness of their position. Gradually they came to accept the line of teaching which has consistently been upheld by the Needed Truth (NT) magazine since its inception in 1888. Regarding the two basic principles they began to see that the principle of church fellowship is clearly illustrated in Acts 2:41,42 which reveals the scriptural basis of fellowship as being that of subjection to the Lord's authority and obedience to His Word. Thus they came to understand that in Scripture a church of God signifies those who are not only called-out but also gathered-together.
Disciples were seen to be joined together in a fellowship in which they were to continue steadfastly. This showed its conditional aspect, and precluded entirely any such thing as casual fellowship. As scriptural clarification was received on the term "church", it was seen from 1 Corinthians 5 that a believer could be excommunicated from such a local church of God as that at Corinth; whereas he could never lose his place in the Church which is Christ's Body.
Further, in their scriptural searches at that point in history, many brethren saw how interdependency between churches is impressively taught in the New Testament. Provincial and wider groupings of churches are mentioned in Galatians 1:2 and 1 Peter 1:1. Paul taught the same doctrine throughout all the churches (1 Cor. 1:2; 7:17). As to their principle of government, it was understood from Acts 15 that cohesion among the local churches of God was maintained by a united elderhood. Thus the churches collectively were one house; the house of God. All this answers to the Old Testament which provided in practice for the consultation of city elders in judgement (Deut. 19:12), and in type provided for the linking of tabernacle curtains, so that the tabernacle was one (Ex. 26:6).
As further light on the scriptural basis of testimony dawned in the period 1892–1896, after much searching of heart, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, many left their former association with the Brethren Movement. Their vision then was of a fellowship of churches, comprising disciples who had been baptized by immersion, gathered together in obedience to the Word of God, separated to God from worldly associations, and who were under the leadership of God-appointed elders. This has been the line of teaching which Needed Truth magazine has always upheld.
Like many churches, the Churches of God (Needed Truth Brethren) have not been immune to the need to face up to problems: pedophilia, divided families, women's rights, excommunicating persons for allegedly non-biblical reasons (see below), and issues of leadership such as power and control. In dealing scripturally with these difficult issues, the church has lost some numbers in places while growing in others (notably in the developing world).
As recently as 2005, one local church had a serious incident involving pedophilia - where an elder involved in running a boys' club was convicted of molesting young children. During this sad business the other church elders complied fully with the secular authorities (appropriate procedures for safeguarding children are in place throughout Churches of God), and upon the court decision, the brother was duly excommunicated. Churches of God are committed to safeguarding children.
The Churches of God believe as per Scripture that those in the churches should "marry only in the Lord". Those marrying a Christian outside of the Needed Truth movement were previously excommunicated. More recently, the churches, while re-affirming that the Bible teaches that the people of God should marry only the people of God, would in any breach of this, discriminate between rebellion and weakness of faith, and only excommunicate where a spirit of rebelliousness in going against the counsel of Scripture was evident.
The official position of the Churches of God is that they believe that they exclusively form the House of God on earth. The Needed Truth Brethren hold to the biblical doctrine of separation as per 2 Thes.3:6 etc. Throughout the history of the continuing Reformation through ‘the Brethren Movement’ and on into Churches of God, separation from error was essential at each stage. The only possible way to perpetuate biblical truth is to separate it from all forms of error and compromise: it cannot be perpetuated through compromise, and compromise cannot be avoided without separation. There are, in fact, many patterns of separation among Christian denominations. Indeed, among all thoughtful believers, who wish to follow the scriptures advanced above, lines of separation are drawn: the only difference being where exactly the line is drawn.
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2008)|
- http://www.chaptertwobooks.org.uk/assets/own/190001.pdf The Brethren since 1870. See Section on the Division in the Open Brethren - "Needed Truth"