The Teaching of the So-called Plymouth Brethren: Is it Scriptural?

Reply to an Attack in Dr. Strong's "Systematic Theology."


H. A. Ironside

The Teaching of the So-called Plymouth Brethren: Is it Scriptural?

Reply to an Attack in Dr. Strong's "Systematic Theology."

A correspondent lately called the writer's attention to some statements made against so-called "Plymouth Brethren" and their views, by Dr. A. H. Strong, the well-known Baptist theologian, in his "Systematic Theology," 7th edition, pp. 498, 9. Though averse to controversy, and seeing little to be gained by what might look like self-vindication, it seems there is enough in question to demand an examination of the Doctor's remarks with positive denial and refutation of some of them.

First, let me say, that I rejoice in the orthodoxy, as it is commonly understood, of the learned author and preacher whose work is referred to. It is a pleasure to note his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, his apparent loyalty to Holy Scripture, and evident zeal for the gospel. As to the teachings he attempts to expose as unscriptural and heretical, it is charitable to believe he has not familiarized himself with them enough to know what these "brethren" really hold. I take it for granted he has been too ready to credit the statements of heated controversalists like the late Dr.

Reid, from whom he quotes, in place of seriously examining the writings of the brethren criticized—an unwise course for any one to take in determining the exact views of any people, and especially unwise in one whose ipse dixit many lesser lights readily accept as authority.

Let us take up the quotations from Dr. Reid first, though these come last in Dr. Strong's summing-up of the case against "Plymouth Brethrenism." He writes: "Dr. Wm. Reid, in Plymouth Brethrenism Unveiled, 79-143, attributes to the sect the following church principles:

"(1) The Church did not exist before Pentecost; (2) the visible and invisible Church identical; (3) the one assembly of God; (4) the presidency of the Holy Spirit; (5) rejection of a one-man and man-made ministry; (6) the Church is without government.

"Also the following heresies:

"(1) Christ's heavenly humanity; (2) denial of Christ's righteousness as being obedience to law; (3) denial that Christ's righteousness is imputed; (4) justification in the risen Christ; (5) Christ's non-atoning sufferings; (6) denial of moral law as the rule of life; (7) the Lord's day is not the Sabbath; (8) perfectionism; (9) secret rapture of the saints—caught up to be with Christ. To these we may add: (10) pre-millennial advent of Christ."

Taking these up categorically as given, we beg the reader to lay aside prejudice and examine each statement in the light of Holy Scripture. "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20).

The "Brethren" are said to hold and teach: (1) that the Church did not exist before Pentecost. Can Dr. Strong, or anyone else, prove that it did? Is the congregation of Israel to be confounded with "the Church of the firstborn written in heaven?" Was "the Church in the wilderness," mentioned by Stephen (Acts 7:38), the same as that which the Lord Jesus spoke of as a future thing, when He said, "Upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it?" Mark it well—not "I have built," nor, "I am building," but, "I will build"—future tense. Does Dr. Strong see nothing of the great truth of the formation of believing Jews and Gentiles into "one body" (Eph. 2:14-16)—the Church of the new dispensation? One can hardly believe that any well-instructed teacher of our day could be in ignorance as to this. Not only "brethren," but so many well-known teachers in evangelical denominations have taught, both orally and in writing, along these lines for so many years that it seems unbelievable that Dr. Strong could be ignorant of the distinct calling of the Church, the body of Christ, as distinguished from both the congregation of Israel and the saved of the nations in past dispensations. "Brethren" make no apology for the teaching here ascribed to them. They do not believe the Church existed before Pentecost. They emphatically believe the Church was formed on that day by the Spirit's baptism, uniting saints on earth into one body (1 Cor. 12:13), and to their glorified Head in heaven. Without this there could be no Church in the full New Testament sense.