A Dictionary of Dissent: C
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Date: 13 November, 2008



John Thomas: (public domain)


'He studied the Bible and began to preach, sometimes controversially.'



 

Andrew Chapman continues his voyage through sects and schisms with British and Irish origins

Christadelphians

Dr John Thomas (1805-1871), pictured, was the son of a dissenting minister of the same name, and he grew up in London and Lancashire.

In 1832 he emigrated to America - but the voyage was so rough and the storms so fierce that he had no certainty of arriving alive.

Unsure of what death would mean, he vowed to dedicate his life to religious study if he should survive. He studied the Bible and began to preach, sometimes controversially.

In the 1840s he spread his mission to establish Biblical truth and restore early Christian belief back home in England.

The movement he inspired - the Christadelphians, or Brothers of Christ - only took holder later on, and has never had a central authority. What unites members is the statement beginning: "the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth".

In the First World War, they were known for being conscientious objectors. The movement continues to this day with 50,000 members worldwide, often meeting in small local congregations called ecclesias.

Christian Evidence Society

This is an ecumenical group founded in 1870 focusing on the use of "contemporary methods of communication" including the internet to explain the principles of Christian faith. It began with public addresses at Speakers' Corner and Tower Hill, then moved through the age of pamphlets to the modern media of today.

Church Army

The Church Army's modern mission is 'making Jesus famous' - a suitable notion for the age of reality television. Its president is Desmond Tutu.

This evangelistic organisation was founded in 1882 by the Rev Wilson Carlisle, known as 'The Chief'. Something of a child prodigy, he was talented at music and languages, and both ambitious and successful in business.

During a mental breakdown during the economic depression of the 1870s, he was inspired by religious writings and ultimately took holy orders. He founded the Church Army as a home mission arm of the Church of England, with a particular focus on ministering to the slums of Westminster, and using local, working people to spread the word.

Congregationalists

Congregationalism is a broad movement dating back to the Brownists (see the previous part of this series) of the 16th century.

The guiding principle is that each church congregation should be entitled to organise its own affairs autonomously and without reference to any central authority.

Sometimes congregationalist groups are known as separatists or independents. The United Reformed Church is an combined organisation which came from a merger between the Presbyterian Church and various congregationalist alliances; around 300 other church groups work together under the wing of the Congregational Federation.

Cooneyites

In 1895 Scotsman William Irvine (b1863) became a lay evangelist for the Faith Mission, and was sent to work in Ireland. Gradually he adopted a belief in calling people away from their churches to lead a simple life based on the teachings of Jesus, focused on poverty, homelessness and preaching.

One of his early converts was the zealous Irishman Edward Cooney, and members often became known as Cooneyites. Other names include the tramp preachers, the 'go-preachers' (from Matthew 10:7, "As ye go, preach"), the Testimony of Jesus, The Church Without a Name, or the Two-by-Two movement from their early habit of travelling out in pairs by bicycle (many other names have been identified).

It is also known as the Church of The Way, and often criticised for its severe strictures on members, with ostracism for anyone who dissents from the group philosophy.

Both Cooney and Irvine were ultimately excommunicated from their own organisation, the latter partly for some odd views relating to preaching to other planets.

The group is strong in Australia, where Cooney travelled, and the UK 2001 census identifies at least 200 members here.

Read the introduction to this series, and the previous part


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