Is it Time to Bridge the Brethren Divide?

It is no secret that the brethren movement from the mid 1800s has gone through many splits. It is well documented in a number of books and websites. Many of those divisions were nasty and ugly. Many people were hurt and left scarred.

It is also no secret that misinformation about the “other side” has been floating around for years. Comments made without evidence have damaged any possibility of unity in some regions.

Turning the ship around

What has been encouraging is that there is an effort in a number of areas around North America to mend the strife and find common ground. The reality is that in most cases there are very few doctrinal differences.

Whether it’s closed, exclusive or open (or any other variation of brethren) we follow many of the same principles from the original founders of the movement.

These efforts to bridge the divide are resulting in fellowship between assemblies that would never have connected before. This is exciting.

The time is now

The answer to the articles’ question is a resounding YES! Will it be easy? No. Will it take effort, humility and patience? of course. Will it be worth it? Absolutely!

The time is now because there is not much time left. Even if the Lord doesn’t come back for another 1000 years we are losing generations of people. We are seeing families leave our assemblies because of a damaging “us vs them” attitude (among other reasons).

How do we build again?

Here are 6 ways we can help build the bridge between brethren groups

  1. Accept the differences. The sooner we recognize that each group has different views on non-core practices, the sooner we can mend the division. Most of the differences that separate groups are not foundational to the gospel. Most are cultural or simply preferences. And that’s ok. We can still be united while holding to different preferences and practices.
  2. Be kind. Wow, this is a big one. I have seen such a lack of kindness towards the “other group” that it can hardly be called Christ-like. In fact, it’s downright sinful. I may feel my practices and beliefs are closest to the truth of Scripture but it doesn’t give me the right to treat a fellow brother or sister with disdain or meanness. We need a huge dose of kindness in our attitudes to help this strife end.
  3. Stop the gossip. I have talked to a number of people from all the groups who had been told so many false truths about the others that it was hard to even recognize who they were talking about. Let’s stop gossiping and start finding out the truth. We would find that things are not as bad as we thought they were. This will require actual discussion with those in other groups. Hearsay isn’t going to cut it. Reaching across the divide is the only way to gather the truth.
  4. Work together. There are so many opportunities to work together in the body of Christ. With the right attitude, we can make this happen. Prayer comes to mind as a great way to join together. Many of these groups are in the same cities or regions. Praying together for the salvation of souls would unify our groups. Sharing preachers and attending conferences together is another great opportunity. We sing the same songs, so let’s sing together. The possibilities are out there.
  5. Receive one another. Let’s take the Word of God seriously. “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” Romans 15:7. The very foundation of the brethren movement was a belief that life in Christ and not light of Scripture was the only requirement for fellowship. It was the freedom in Christ that allowed men and women from all church backgrounds to break bread together and enjoy fellowship. It’s the character of satan to be an accuser of the brethren but open arms are the way of the Lord.
  6. Pray! We need to pray for each other and our own attitudes. We need to pray for the work of the Spirit among us. We so often pray for others to change. We need to change! We need to be transformed by the power of Christ in us.


I can hear many now saying that this will never happen. The gap is too wide. There is too much pride. That may be true in some places but it isn’t true everywhere. Where there is a willingness to follow the Holy Spirit there will be unity. We CAN build bridges. We CAN turn decades of strife into victory for His glory. And we can start right now!

Photo by Brandon DesJarlais on Unsplash



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    Hi Crawford
    Right on! I’ve been praying for this bridge for years. Hope it happens widely in my days, for the Lord’s honour.
    Doug Stubbs


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      Hi Fred,

      I ended up in Edmonton. Assemblies are quite different here. One thing that I have noticed is that in more depressed areas, the people tend to be more understanding, making a more peaceful environment. I’ve also found the Bible belt as some call to begin NW of Toronto running north of the Great Lakes past Thunder Bay and continues all the way past Saskatoon and goes west close to the BC border. The witness has to be bold to stand up to the pride of life out here; however when there is a witness, there tends to be unity. Its hard to make a distinction of a group when sharing the Gospel because as believers, we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ (Rom 1:16), so whoever is willing gets attracted and they come from everywhere. The type of discipleship I’m running into out here is very different to what I experienced in the Halifax area as well.


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    I was involved in a church plant in 1984,Newton Christian Assembly, a hive off from the West Richmond Gospel Hall and we had an open table reception policy. This resulted in some of our members not being able to go back to their former Halls until 1 particular elder died. Fast forward 33 years to our latest assembly and we had a men’s breakfast and the topic under discussion was who wants to assist the open Chapel 30 minutes down the street that is struggling. I was very blunt in the affirmative but some of the brothers co.ments were really niave. When I asked one of the elders the week following what was the result. He says that a number of our families who have to sit ba k if they were to go go their former assemblies! So you have some real hardliners on the west coast but many from both camps work together at Anvil Island Bible Camp and share halls/chapels during the year for reunions. The dream to have us all work together is stronger now than ever as individuals are forming friendships behind the scenes but are afraid of being to bold due to repercussions from the old guard. A third assembly out here had adopted more of an open table but the 2 new elders are rewriting the church bylaws and taking the church back 50 years with closing the table.


  3. James Paul

    Great article Crawford!! It’s very sad in North America and in a few countries in the world where the divisions have been so hurtful to families and friends because of the attitudes expressed. The is no such a thing in God’s eyes as Hall Assemblies or Chapel Assemblies! They are all Assemblies with each one totally autonomous and directly responsible to the risen Lord who moves in their midst Revelation 2&3. The believers in the Halls could well benefit from the excellent Bible Teachers in the Chapels. The believers in the Chapels could well benefit from the excellent Gospel preachers in the Halls. What a power would be demonstrated if we were all together as we should be. Jim Paul


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    Most people who struggle with this situation actually do not understand what the local church really means. Some in the Gospel Hall will not go to certain other Halls because they do not agree with what is taught as also in the Chapels some will not go to certain Chapels. This is fine in my view but why the same thought does not work in Chapel to Hall situations is beyond my understanding. A local church is under the care of the elders who answer to their Lord. While I visit with them I accept their leadership and do not speak or dictate against them.


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    My experience has been where younger people, many who didn’t even know, brought about change. I used to preach on the streets in Melbourne on a Friday night with a group of young Hopkins brethren. We spent so much time doing the work they decided it was time to unite.


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    There is no such distinction in the UK between chapels and Halls, it is North America only.
    The reason that caused the division, ow no longer exists. There there should be a coming together.


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    Interesting article, Crawford, and I sure appreciate your hopeful and prayerful spirit about this matter. I was brought up among what some may term the ‘exclusive’ brethren, though they were not as exclusive as others I have come across. In any case, they never talked about ‘reunion’ among brethren because they considered it ‘amalgamation.’ One leading brother even suggested that once two companies of brethren come apart, there is no possibility for them to reconnect! How limiting the hand of God is that!

    I remember talking to a leading brother from another group of brethren who had personally witnessed meetings to consider ‘reunion’ among some groups who had divided, and I asked him how it all came about. He said that initially it was nothing spectacular. A couple of very exercised brothers had expressed their desire to one another and so they began meeting privately for earnest prayer about it. Eventually their exercises were made known and others joined them, in earnest prayer. This leading brother said that he felt the eventual reunion that he witnessed among brethren from different groups was a real work of God’s Spirit, because upon collective prayer, he witnessed older brothers who previously had been at ‘loggerheads’ with one another, getting up from their knees with the tears streaming down their faces and embracing one another. What loving father would not want to see his estranged children reunited and reconciled who were once so far apart? How much more our heavenly Father who cares for us more than we will ever know.

    The difference between ‘amalgamation’ and ‘reunion’ as I see it, is simply this. Amalgamation basically says, we agree to disagree and let bygones be bygones. I don’t see that in Scripture, esp. in the matter of personal trespass in Matthew 18, where many of the divisions among brethren actually originate. Reunion, on the other hand, means simply that we get back to the original point of departure or disagreement, confess it to the Lord and to one another, get on our knees owning our failure and dependence upon Him, and count upon Him to give us the patience, humility and strength to reunite for His honor and glory and the blessing of precious souls. There is a big difference in the two terms. Let us never limit the power of God to enable His people to reconcile their differences. After all, that is one of the main reasons He entered the world, ie. to reconcile sinful man to a righteous God!

    FYI, I am a commended worker here in the Pacific NW involved in Christian literature distribution. I was a missionary in India and England for 12 years. It is a real joy and privilege to serve the One to Whom we owe so much! Amen!


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    Hi! I mainly love this post but can’t help but see a problem…the main problem with the divide today is the closed/open table debate- so if you want a reunion then you can’t just say ‘receive everyone’ like it’s that simple… it’s not! I’ve been in both sorts of assemblies and had very positive experiences in both- if I’d went to the gospel hall with the attitude that the chapels are ‘right’ on the open table debate that would have been very disrespectful to the elders there (who are godly men and actually do have reasons why they prefer a letter of commendation- that’s completely scriptural). So although I’d fall on the more relaxed approach to reception I have to admit I’ve seen many chapels where there are problems because they don’t officially receive people to fellowship… when the person requires discipline etc. Part of breaking bread together is being united. If you go with a superior attitude and think one side is right and the other ‘wrong’ (As simply saying receive everyone implies) then you’re denying that each assembly is autonomous and if the elders prefer a letter from your chapel so they know that you’re not someone who is running from church discipline elsewhere then I’m not going to accuse them of being unscriptural- they will answer to God for how they protected their flock- it’s not up to me to treat them like they don’t know their Bibles. I guess my point is that if you look at each ‘side’ in depth their are very good reasons on BOTH sides for doing what they do! I’m not talking about the extreme cases here. My personal experience is that BOTH chapels and halls I’ve been in to be amazing and it doesn’t help anything for that chapels to expect the halls to admire their stricter reception practices should be forsaken… rather if unity is to be successful we can look at where they are coming from, respectfully agree to differ and maybe down the line they’ll be happy to receive you… maybe with a letter of commendation 😉 We don’t look to our ‘brethren’ forefathers for what to do- we should look to the scriptures… if each assembly is autonomous that means accepting some differences. I’ve found people in chapels so critical of halls when they’ve never even been to one! And vice versa. Let’s just be understanding and don’t expect each other to drop our convictions on something that isn’t as simple as it appears on the surface. Oops I’ve gone on a rant but I wholeheartedly agree that there should be more come and go between them!


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    Ephesians 4 says that we are to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. “Endeavour” is literally to “use speed”. Rather than emphasizing differences between believers, we should emphasize what we have in common. It is the unity of the Spirit we are to keep, not the unity of the so-called Plymouth Brethren or any other group of people. It’s not the ‘unity of what is united’, but the ‘unity of Him who unites’, namely the Holy Spirit. People can be wrong even if they’re united. The Holy Spirit is never wrong. I ask myself this question: When I meet another believer and I know he/she has fellowship with God, why can I not have fellowship with him/her?! Am I holier than God?


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    I grew up, was saved, baptized and brought into membership/fellowship in the Gospel Halls. Furthermore, now at age 80 I can say that Half of my life’s ministry was invested in “closed fellowship” assemblies, including a four-year term in Chile, South America, where my two eldest children were born. In 1985 by a direct word from the Lord, my wife and I were led to disassociate with Brethren assemblies altogether. For six years, while I served in the administration of an inner city mission we were active members of Fellowship Baptist churches. In 1991 I was invited to minister among Free Methodists with whom we continued until I officially retired in 2008. Since then I have been engaged in interim pastorates and pulpit supply as the Lord has opened the doors. That’s my background to what I want to express to you now.

    Currently engaged in a Doctor of Theology program at a state-side seminary, I am working on a dissertation with the following tentative title: “JESUS IN THE MIDST, Discovering the Adventure of Church-in-the-Round.” It is my conviction that evangelical churches need a new reformation that will refocus their attention away from the platform with its pastors and priests, personalities and performers, to Him who is Saviour and Lord, the only One worthy to be admired and adored, re-enshrined in the midst per Matthew 18:20. That’s the idea behind Church-in-the-Round.

    Moreover, it is my conviction that preachers, Bible teachers and elders among all types of Brethren assemblies need a fresh revelation of the centrality of our Lord Jesus Christ in the midst….AND a fresh understanding of authentic, contemporary expressions of New Testament congregations. For too long now the assemblies – open, closed and exclusive – have been guided by bygone, obsolete, not to say archaic interpretations of biblical passages. The Spirit is speaking to the churches today. He wants our attention. Sadly, the traditions have a stronger hold on many of us than the Word of the Lord. Keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is only a dream of some brethren unless “true truth” from God is welcomed and Jesus is given His rightful place in the midst of His redeemed people.


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