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Closed Brethren

The following is a summary of the origins of some of the more well known closed assemblies. While this information could be seen as focusing on the negative, it is history, and there are lessons to be learned from historical failures - unless we wish to repeat them.

1. The Kelly Division of 1881

In 1876 there were problems in the assembly at Ryde on the Isle of Wight. At this time a Church of England clergyman, Mr. Finch, and his entire congregation separated from the Church of England and formed a separate assembly meeting in this same place. Finchís assembly was considered by the other assemblies to be independent as there was already an assembly in Ryde which he should have joined.

Dr Cronin attempted to help the Ryde meeting with its problems, but finally left and broke bread in the Finch meeting. When he returned to his home assembly, Kennington, his actions were seen to be a denial of the one body and as an act of independency. After about 6 months of discussions, Dr Cronin was excommunicated from Kennington.

A majority in another meeting, Ramsgate, felt that Kennington had been too slow in taking action against Cronin and they in turn disassociated themselves from Kennington. This majority at Ramsgate separated from the others and started meeting at Guildford Hall. The minority met at Abbott's Hill.

Guildford Hall sent a message to the Park Street meeting in London requesting that they judge as to which meeting (Guildford Hall or Abbott's Hill) was in the right. This is what became known as the "Ramsgate Question". The Park Street meeting decided in favor of Guildford Hall.

William Kelly did not see anything wrong in Dr Cronin's actions and refused to accept the Park Street decision. He and others with him were then excommunicated from this circle. J.B. Stoney was the leading man at the Park Street meeting and was among those who agreed with this action. The majority of assemblies in North America sided with Park Street, and against William Kelly.

2. The Grant Division of 1884

For years J.N. Darby and F.W. Grant had disagreed over the doctrine of the sealing of the Spirit. All through this dispute they had remained close friends.

About 1880, in the closed meeting in Toronto , where F.W. Grant and his brother ministered, a controversy developed in the practical application of this doctrine to a particular situation. In the discussions and correspondence that resulted from this situation, A. Cecil of the Natural History Hall in Montreal felt that Grant had been critical of Darby and forced his assembly to disassociate themselves with F.W.Grant.

About one quarter of the closed meetings in North America sided with Natural History Hall and London 's Park Street meeting, and about three quarters refused the Natural History Hall judgment, either out of respect for F.W. Grant or out of protest against the methods used by A.Cecil and his associates.

3. The Stuart Division of 1885

Mr. C.E. Stuart of Reading England wrote a book entitled "Christian Standing and Condition". J.B. Stoney declared the teachings of this book to be a complete giving up of Christianity and a reversal to Judaism.

One of the factors in this decision may have been Stuartís fairly open policy of having fellowship with other believers.

The Reading meeting considered the charge of heresy raised by Mr. Stoney and rejected it, siding with their own Mr. Stuart. The Park Street meeting in London, declared Mr. Stuart and the Reading meeting to be out of fellowship. Eighty assemblies in Great Britain and many in Australia and New Zealand sided with Mr. Stuart, and became identified as " Reading " or "Stuart" Brethren.

4. The Lowe (or anti-Raven) Division of 1890

This division does not fall into the same pattern as the previous three. Those divisions had been caused by brethren being forced out of fellowship by a central authority in London . In this division we find that a large number of assemblies withdrew themselves on their own initiative. Most of these were on the Continent where W.J. Lowe was a prominent teacher.

The problem arose as a result of the teachings of F.E. Raven who had risen to prominence in an assembly at Greenwich, London. Much concern and bewilderment arose over Mr. Raven's doctrine. He was very subjective and even mystical in what he taught. Many considered him to be a Gnostic. The alleged errors related to the believer's possession of eternal life, the denial of the unity of Christ, and the denial of the full humanity of Christ.

Raven was supported by the Greenwich assembly and many others in England but not elsewhere. W. J. Lowe judged Raven to be fundamentally in error and a large number of the continental assemblies followed his lead.

After the death of Raven, the leadership of this group was taken over by James Taylor Sr. of New York , who continued teaching the doctrines of Raven. After the death of James Taylor Sr., in 1953, his son James Taylor Jr. took over the leadership and introduced many new doctrines and today this sect can no longer be considered part of the brethren nor in fact Christian.

5. The Glanton Division

The Ainwick assembly in Northern England had undergone many divisive difficulties between two competing factions. Finally in 1908, they asked the Glanton assembly, the nearest meeting, for advice. Glanton wrote back indicating they were severing ties with both factions at Ainwick. This met with the general approval of the surrounding assemblies. In addition Glanton decided they would accept individual members from Ainwick after due examination.

When London was informed of this action they promptly indicated that Glanton and all those in fellowship with them should be cut off from fellowship. However, 225 meetings in several countries refused to bow to this ruling and remained in fellowship with the Glanton assembly.

From 1908 onwards the London Exclusives marched like an army, obeying orders from headquarters even down to the small details as the times of meetings and the wording of notice boards! The Glanton division was the final test of strength when the London Brethren threw out - on a point that really amounted to a technicality only - all those who would not bow to their will.

The Period of Healing

By the early 1900's there were five major sections of the closed brethren who had, for various reasons and at different times, been separated from the London brethren, namely, Kelly, Grant, Stuart, Lowe and Glanton. All these gatherings still held to the same original principles, striving to keep the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, meeting on the ground of the One Body, gathered to the Name of Christ alone. Yet they were apart! Such is an obvious anomaly, for those meeting on such principles must, if they are known to one another, be together.

The first real move towards healing began in 1926 when the Kelly and Lowe brethren mended their differences and united around the world as the Kelly-Lowe Group.

By 1933, the Grant (partial = Mory-Grant) brethren in North America joined in full fellowship with the Stuart circle in New Zealand and England.

The majority of the Turnbridge Wells circle, which had separated from the Lowe circle in 1909, over a non doctrinal difference, came back to the Kelly-Lowe circle in 1940.

By 1953, the Lowe, Kelly, Grant (partial) and a large number of Turnbridge Wells brethren had come together as believers gathered to the Lord on the principles of the One Body. The only brethren of any numerical strength who were still left out of this healing were the Glanton-Grant (Booth-Grant) brethren. So by this time there were only two major groups that were apart.

By the mid 1960's the major part of the Kelly-Lowe and the Glanton-Grant brethren came together so that the closed brethren were mainly united with the exception of a few Turnbridge Wells meetings and the exclusive Taylorites.

As of 1973 all branches of the closed assemblies were reconciled with each other. In 2000 one group of closed assemblies, the Holland brethren, separated from the others over the issue of occasional fellowship with open brethren.

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