I’ll be adding to this as I think of or receive more questions.
Where does the name come from?
Plymouth Brethren are not related to Pilgrims. Instead, the name refers to one of the founding assemblies that began in Plymouth, England in the early-to-mid 1800’s.
What’s the difference between the Exclusives and the open assemblies?
Honestly, that depends on who you ask. The main difference is alluded to in the names of each: the closed assemblies, or Exclusives, do not accept all believers into the breaking of bread, instead requiring that those who partake in the Lord’s Supper be members of the church (or have a letter of commendation from a like-minded fellowship). Open assemblies, on the other hand, accept all who call themselves Christians (with varying degrees of restrictions).
As I began learning more about the movement as a teenager and early 20-something as part of the open assemblies, what I often heard was that the Exclusives were far more legalistic than we open assemblies were. It was even acknowledged that the legalism in some sects of the Exclusives could be said to be cult-like. But the dichotomy was set up in that the open assemblies were the good guys, the ones who really got the spirit of the New Testament church, while the Exclusives focused too much on man-made rules and regulations. It served to set the open assemblies up as the kinder, more reasonable of the two — something that seems to be a common thread in controlling abusive atmospheres.
Are Plymouth Brethren related to Mennonites in any way?
Nope. They’re similar in their degree of conservatism, but that’s about it.
What about Brethren in Christ or United Brethren?
No. Despite what most of them will adamantly tell you, they are their own denomination unaffiliated with others. Though the denomination they are probably most similar to would be the Independent Fundamental Baptists.
Do Plymouth Brethren live in isolated communities like some of the Amish or other groups?
Not to my knowledge. As far as I know, they never really have.
Where can I find a Plymouth Brethren church near me?
This seems like a pretty comprehensive list. Tread carefully, though.
What’s their theology look like?
Are they fundamentalist or evangelical?
Again, this really depends on who you ask. I would personally say without a shadow of a doubt that they are fundamentalist, with certain evangelical influences. Mostly meaning that personal, non-church matters like music, movies, dress, hairstyles, sports, etc. aren’t dictated by the church. Usually.
What’s a typical church service look like?
That depends on which church service you’re asking about. There are typically 3 distinct church services in an open assembly: the Lord’s Supper, the Family Bible Hour, and the Wednesday night prayer meeting/Bible study. As I’ve described the Lord’s Supper in a separate post already, I’ll talk briefly about the other two services.
The Family Bible Hour. This is the preaching service, usually held after the Lord’s Supper on a Sunday morning. (This does vary from church to church, however.) Usually there will be someone to lead singing (always male, but can be an elder, deacon, or even young person that the church is trying to disciple into being a leader), a few hymns sung congregationally. While the singing during the Lord’s Supper is typically without instrumental accompaniment, singing during any other meeting usually has accompaniment in the form of piano, organ, or guitar. After the singing of a few hymns, reading of announcements, and occasionally wishing congregants a happy birthday or anniversary, the floor is given to the preacher for about 40 minutes. This same pattern is followed for the Sunday evening service usually as well.
Prayer meeting/Bible study. Usually this happens on Wednesday evening as one hour-long service. Occasionally assemblies will have a dedicated prayer meeting, or a dedicated Bible study, or a mix of the two on a schedule during the month. The prayer meeting is usually a popcorn prayer sort of event where men stand and pray as they feel led. The Bible study is usually led by an elder, sometimes with the help of a deacon or another man in the church, and the study ends up being a pretty open forum where all men are invited to participate. Women are to remain silent.