|The Brethren and Local Assembly|
| Over a century, denominational Christianity was very strong in Kerala. There were different nominal groups of Christians. As it was always the case, in the history of the Church there had been those who were nominal Christians and also those who were real believers. The distinction between the clergy and the laity was strictly maintained.Inevitably, people were not satisfied with this set up. The Reformation paved the way for a better understanding of the Bible and its teachings. When the Word of God was expounded to them, they had had more light on the Scriptures and they had been adventurous enough to accept the truth. The Lord’s words, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8: 32) were found to be true in their lives. They learned that every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is part of the Holy Priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5) and such believers must meet together to worship and break bread in remembrance of the Lord. They also saw the truth of ‘baptism’ in the Scriptures. They learned that our Lord’s first ordinance of baptism was for all those who had accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour. They rediscovered the truth of water baptism by immersion. They were baptized and started meeting together to worship and break bread without the aid and direction of an ordained Pastor. Thus began the Brethren Movement in Kerala.
Since the organized Christianity was very strong and influential, these new believers suffered a lot for their faith. The Brethren Movement started gaining strength from the Scriptures and many more were converted and added to the Assembly. The distinctives of this movement are therefore on the basis of the fundamental truths of the Word of God.
1. LORD Jesus Christ, the focus and center
The focal point of the gathering of believers is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It is around Him that all the redeemed gather. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20) is the Lord’s promise. Since Pentecost in all parts of the world those who believed in Jesus Christ who died for their sin and rose again for their justification gathered around the Person of the risen Lord.
2. Local Assembly, the Autonomous design
They believe that every local Assembly is independent and undenominational. Each local assembly is governed by a plurality of elders from among them. They do not need any outside help or leadership. Organized Churches by this time had adopted a system of Episcopacy and they had Pastors, Bishops, Cardinals, Pope, etc. But the Brethren Movement rejected this and found in the Scriptures that elders, bishops and overseers were one and the same person (Acts 20: 17,28; I Pet. 5: 1,2). These elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit alone in every local assembly. The Assemblies were undenominational, in that they were not sectarians. The denominational churches with their distinguishing names, a human leader and an earthly center made themselves sectarians. Every born again believer who has obeyed the Lord’s first ordinance of baptism was welcome among them to worship and keep the second ordinance of breaking of bread. They met together to remember the Lord and to break bread on the first day of the week. This corporate act of the assembly reminded them of the fellowship of the body of Christ and His blood (1 Cor. 10:16, 17). Any Bureaucracy in form of hierarchies, committee, council, association or strategic bodies is against the wholesome design of the God’s own body – HIS church
3. The Assembly, An Organism and not an Organization
The uproar that the assembly is not doing its duty along some lines is no justification for man-made schemes and programmed decisions for the work of the God and His Church. The church of the Lord was in existence for more than sixty years before the New Testament was completed. It operated in all phases of its mission on full scale and can be done today. Those who detect failure on the part of the assembly in any phase of its work should not attempt to “reform” conditions as they are but they should get about to restore the pristine purity of the church in practice as well as doctrine. The Brethren believe that the Assembly is a living organism and not an organization. On the day of Pentecost the Assembly, the Body of Christ, was formed. The Lord added to the Church daily as many as were saved (Acts 2:47). The Assemblies believe the truth that “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is the Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free (1 Cor. 12:12, 13). Therefore, the Assemblies are a fellowship and they have no official membership. Let the body of Christ be free from institutionalism, overshadowed by nothing, nothing be tied to it, nor suffer it to be tied to man-made organisations of any kind for any purpose – keep our eyes on the New Testament pattern.
4. No Salaried Minister
They have no salaried minister among them. There are full time servants of the Lord labouring among them but they look to the Lord alone for their material needs. The Assemblies do not appoint them. The Assemblies of course show them material fellowship. These ministers are those who are called by the Lord specifically and not the ones who take this ministry on their own as a career.
5. Separate roles of men and women
There is no distinction made in Brethren teaching between men and women in their individual relation to Christ and His atonement for them on the cross, or their individual position before God as believers. However, in gathering as an assembly, the principle of “male headship” is applied in accordance with teaching found in several passages in the Bible, including 1 Corinthians 11:3, which says: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”
“1 The Head of every man is Christ – no equality. 2 The head of the woman is the man – equality and subjection. 3 The Head of Christ is God – equality, yet subjection.”
Assembly meetings reserve public leadership and teaching roles to men, based on 1 Timothy 2:11,12…: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”
Also, 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 states, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” The reason for this has to do with acknowledging Headship. Headship and the head covering are seen by many as inseparable since the head covering is intended to teach the meaning of headships.
|There are other distinctives of the Assemblies and will be included later.|