Basics of preaching.

In my 20+ years of experience in the open assemblies in the United States, typically there are only three explicit prerequisites for preaching:

  1. Being a Christian
  2. Being a man
  3. Having the spiritual gift of teaching

Formal study in a seminary setting is often discouraged, or at the very least looked upon with skepticism. The idea is that any man under guidance of his local assembly, through the indwelling Holy Spirit and regular study of the Bible, is capable of preaching God’s Word to the congregation if he is deemed to posses the spiritual gift of teaching.

This is not to say that assembly preachers never receive any training at all. Typically, training will come from the elders or a mentor in the assemblies who is also a preacher. With a lack of emphasis on formal biblical study, however, it is not unusual for training to start at a very young age. Boys as young as 8, in my experience, have been given the opportunity to give short sermons or testimonies as a way for them to gain experience. So in the assemblies, an 8 year old boy is more eligible to preach than a grown educated woman.

There are leadership workshops and conferences for training as well, like the Shepherding Conference at Greenwood Hills or the Rise Up conferences. There is one assembly Christian college that is seen as acceptable to attend for training (Emmaus Bible College), though any conservative Christian college is grudgingly acceptable.

There are also numerous books from assembly men teaching others how to preach. One favorite is A. P. Gibbs’ classic, The Preacher and His Preaching.

Preaching styles vary from preacher to preacher and even from message to message. There are topical studies, expository preaching, analytical studies, word studies, and various other approaches to scripture and application. Due to the low church nature of Plymouth Brethren (and my gender prohibiting me from being eligible to preach while I was in the movement), there are specific terms for these preaching styles that I’m simply unfamiliar with. The website Voices for Christ hosts probably the largest online database of Plymouth Brethren sermons.

Just as elders are not generally paid staff for the church, preachers are also not salaried and generally there are several men in an assembly who share the burden. Some preachers travel to other assemblies to preach as well, promoting community and ensuring that no one assembly is entirely insular. It’s not unusual for them to be given a love offering from the church.

Most preachers are not typically considered evangelists, however. While most assembly preachers focus on their congregation and a few local assemblies, evangelists are often commissioned from their home assembly to travel and preach regionally or even nationally. While many of them hold full-time secular employment, it’s also not unusual for an evangelist to rely on financial support from a group of assemblies or through the Plymouth Brethren group, Christian Missions in Many Lands.

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Of masculinity & abusive breeding grounds.

Masculinity

I’ve been offline quite a lot the past week. It’s been a busy time at work and in my personal life as well. So I didn’t hear about the recent tragedy in Isla Vista until late Saturday evening, and the more I learn about it, the more sobering it is. Hännah Ettinger captures my feelings rather perfectly in her post from yesterday:

Yesterday’s shooting didn’t leave me as shaken as it should have, like other shooting that happened have. Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora. Those haunt me in their very senselessness. The mystery of why. They’re unforgettable because the motives are unknowable.

Yesterday’s shooting made perfect sense

Dianna Anderson further expounds upon it in her essay “On Purity Culture, Violence Against Women, and Disbelief As Patriarchy:”

Men grow up in a culture that simultaneously tells them that “getting the girl” is some manly men do and that manhood is inextricably tied with violent acts. The Men’s Rights Movement, in its extremes, has developed a methodology of treating women as objects who exist either to give men sex or to undermine their deserved right to sex, children, and power. Being an “Alpha Male,” in Men’s Rights terminology, means being the manliest of men – which requires using women for sex, being the provider of the household, and asserting your rightful place at the top.

I’ve often commented to myself, when I read the work of complementarian ministers, especially those talking about manhood, that they sound like MRA’s. Especially in studying purity culture for my forthcoming book, I’ve come across biblical exegesis that sounds very like Men’s Rights discussion simply bathed in “biblical” justification. Owen Strachan’s famous post about “man fails,” for example, could easily be a post on the Men’s Rights subreddit.

In this drive to prove themselves as manly men, women become collateral damage. Three women die each day as the result of domestic violence [PDF]. Many more end up in emergency rooms. Some end up on the news, the victims of men they had rejected previously. This is not an isolated phenomenon. This pattern of violence is the result of a culture that says that only valuable thing about a woman is what she can do for men.

And “Biblical” evangelicals do not escape from this culture. Women in the purity movement serve as vessels for Christian children, as objects that must keep themselves pure for a father, a husband, and a specifically male God. There is no escaping the ways in which evangelical theology defines women solely by their relationships to men, objectifying them first as single women whose worth is determined by their sexual activity and then as wives, whose goodness as wives is determined by whether or not they can keep their virile, manly husband from “straying.”

I can’t help but see what Dianna noted here reflected in the assemblies.

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The basics of church discipline.

When someone in regular attendance in a Plymouth Brethren assembly is under discipline, they are typically not permitted to partake in the Lord’s Supper. Occasionally they may be asked to leave the church. Since each assembly is autonomous and there is no denominational oversight, it’s possible for someone to be under discipline in one assembly but find a church home elsewhere. However, most assemblies are connected to one other through an informal grapevine and it’s not unusual for other assemblies to uphold the discipline determined by another assembly.

Usually, the process of church discipline follows the steps outlined in Matthew 18. If a person is repentant before the matter is brought before the elders or the entire church, they are often not put under discipline. However, if a person is considered to be living in sin, unrepentant, or showing public consequences of private sin (being pregnant out of wedlock, for example), their sin is brought before the church and it’s made known to the assembly that the person may not partake in the Lord’s Supper. If they are unrepentant and asked to leave the church, the assembly may be asked to refrain from associating with the person unless it is to try to bring them back to the Lord.

Since there is no governing authority over the assemblies, no official resources available for things like background checks and no official record of wrongs committed by assembly members, the environment is an ideal safe-haven for abusers. Particularly since it is difficult to make an accusation against an elder, particularly if his offense or abuse has been private.

Basics of the headcovering.

Plymouth Brethren teach that women are to have their heads covered during church meetings, while men are to have their heads uncovered. This is based on 1 Corinthians 11:1-16.

The argument from scripture is that man is the glory of Christ, woman is the glory of man, and a woman’s hair is her glory. Therefore for a man to be covered is to cover the glory of Christ, so he remains uncovered. A woman’s hair is given to her as a covering so she is not displayed as man’s glory, but her hair must also be covered so that the only glory in the room is the glory of Christ. The headcovering is considered a symbol of authority, since man is head of the woman and Christ is head over all. The reference to the angels in verse 10 is considered to be proof that this passage is not merely cultural, since angels exist outside of culture and time. Since the book of 1 Corinthians is addressed to “all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” this is taken to mean that nothing in the book is cultural or specific to just the church at Corinth.

The type of headcovering varies depending on personal preference and conviction. Some women wear a lace circle that covers the top of their head, while others wear a lace veil that covers more of their hair. I would wear a scarf wrapped around my hair so that none of my hair showed during the meetings.

Basics of church membership.

Plymouth Brethren often do not refer to themselves as Plymouth Brethren except as a last resort when pigeon-holed into identifying themselves to another denomination. They typically refer to themselves as adhering to New Testament church principles, or simply identify as Christians.1 They believe that denominationalism is an affront to God and disrupts the unity of the church.

Since Christians are baptized in one Spirit to one Lord of one universal church, Plymouth Brethren accept all Christians into their midst whether they adhere to “assembly principles” or not. Participation in the Lord’s Supper only requires one to be saved and in good standing wherever they choose to assemble for Christian fellowship.

With no church membership, there is also no overseeing board or governing body to regulate how churches or those who attend those churches conduct themselves.

Consequently, when trying to find information on the Plymouth Brethren, it’s rather difficult since there are few identifiers to search for. Hence this blog!

Basics of church leadership.

Plymouth Brethren do not employ pastors as leaders of their churches. There is no expressed clergy/laity divide in an effort to affirm the priesthood of all believers, based on 1 Peter 2:9-10.

The leadership that does exist within the Plymouth Brethren takes the form of a group of elders who oversee the care of individual assembly. There are many reasons given for this. They argue that the pattern of scripture does not allow for one man to govern a local church but rather demonstrates that a group of men are appointed from within the church (rather than brought in from outside the church) to oversee the teaching and care of the flock. Since Christ is head of the church, they believe that having one man govern a church body denies the headship of Christ. They often contend that every time scripture mentions an elder, it is as part of a group, demonstrating that no one man is to have total authority over a group of believers.

Eldership is limited to men, and often to only married men who do not have rebellious families living at home.

There is no denominational governance or oversight, typically referred to as each church having autonomy. This can have a very serious affect on church discipline.

Basics of baptism.

Plymouth Brethren teach baptism by immersion, using the examples of the baptism of Christ and the baptism of the eunuch by Philip in Acts. They point to the language of Christ coming up out of the water and the eunuch going down into the water to support this claim.

They reject baptism as necessary for salvation, but proclaim that it is necessary for obedience to Christ. Some Plymouth Brethren assemblies will not allow Christians to partake in the Lord’s Supper if they have not been baptized, though this isn’t something I’ve encountered regularly. They argue that one does not need to understand the symbolism of baptism, but simply need to be baptized in order to be obedient. Thus it’s not unusual for small children to be baptized.

Infant baptism is rejected, as baptism is considered to be for Christians only, thus giving rise to the often-repeated title among the brethren as practicing “believers baptism.”