For the last 10 years or so, I have been on an “Assembly Quest” of my own and can so relate to many of your experiences, longings, and struggles. My wife and I both grew up in […] and have recently moved away from that group. It has been a long, slow walk away for me.
As you probably know, […] is heavily influenced by Brethren ideas and forms but with its own strong peculiarities. For a number of years, I “served full-time” in that organization and became more and more heavily involved. So, it was highly disruptive–both to us and to others–when we suddenly pulled out. Our whole identity was there.
My interest in the Brethren began during my college years when I was an avid reader of the MyBrethren website. Through that website, I came into contact with many ex-Taylorites and visited a tiny “out” assembly in […]. I also began to acquire books by James Taylor Sr., C.A. Coates, G.R. Cowell, and others. Throughout this time, I always had an issue with the concept that […] was/is the “minister of the age” with the “ministry of the age.” But seeing the general state of things among Christians, I put these nagging feelings to the side.
After college, I moved to […] and became entrenched in the organization. I did have a heart and desire to find the Lord and follow the Lord, but it had been ingrained into me that to follow the Lord meant to “follow the brothers.”
As I got more and more involved with things on the inside, I began to see how completely and utterly organizational everything was; behind the scenes, things were run like a well-oiled machine, only then to be given a heavy cloak of spirituality (and legalism!). The more I worked, the more I felt burnt out.
One day, I collapsed onto the floor and got out all of my old Brethren books and started to read. Mostly what I read was from G.R. Cowell, who confronted James Taylor Jr. in the late 1950s and led the way for thousands of other Exclusive Brethren “outs.” The ministry that I read spoke deeply to my heart at that time, and I began to read voraciously and to reach out many of my old ex-Taylorite contacts and acquire more books.
This presented a problem, and I knew it. It was my vocation to promote […] as “the minister of the age with the ministry of the age.” All the while, I was slowly deciding that I wanted nothing more to do with it.
Around this time, my wife and I visited another ex-Taylorite assembly. Eight people, most over age 70 (some closer to 90), in a little room with stacks of books and many empty chairs, preaching the gospel to each other and considering themselves “the remnant.” I imagined that this is what we would like 50 years into the future, but I did not know what to do. Over the next months, I began to read more and more, and my capacity to toe the party line became completely untethered. I also began to read a few other writers who helped me have a growing realization that “the church” is not some identifiable thing, but is a spiritual reality.
With one of the senior leaders, I shared my feeling that so many things seemed completely outward and organizational. I told him, “I want the Lord, but I feel like what I am getting is more and more organization.” He immediately became enraged and told me, “You have allowed your seeds of suspicion and discord to develop into a dissenting opinion, and there is no room for any dissenting opinion here.” The experience totally unsettled me, and I became physically ill for weeks.
Being so entrenched in that system, we were never encouraged (but rather discouraged) to seek out fellowship with Christians outside of it, to attend any other kind of Christian meeting, or to read any other kind of Christian ministry. Being freed from that kind of legalism is a long and ongoing cleansing, detoxing, healing process.
Recently, we visited an “Open Brethren” assembly, a “Bible Chapel.” There were about 10-12 adults. Everyone seemed extremely somber. We observed their bread-breaking meeting and then one hour of preaching for “Family Bible Hour.” The preaching was especially disconcerting to me, as I have always been used to something more participatory.
We have been back a few times since, and have maintained a good relationship with several people there, mostly visiting with them outside of their meetings, and trying to enjoy more informal fellowship that way. We have heard all about the divide between “Bible Chapels” and “Gospel Halls” and have been very much exposed to their whole “Bible Chapel” world. Although I deeply enjoy the fellowship with them on a personal level, I have no interest in their whole religious apparatus with its chapels and camps and conferences and “missionary service organizations” and “commended workers” and colleges, etc., etc. Another insular world to me. It seems that one loses sight of the significance of the whole Body of Christ when everything in consideration is part of one little (however far-reaching) group.
Last weekend, we had a particularly interesting experience when my wife and I visited another “chapel” in a very remote town many hours’ drive from here. What we encountered was another very chapel-looking building with a steeple outside and with pews and books inside and a sign announcing the remembrance meeting and Bible study. Six others gathered there, all directly related.
We enjoyed very sweet fellowship with them, and they were very gracious. However, it seemed so unnecessary to me that an immediate family should feel spiritually obligated to maintain this building and these decades-old forms and customs. I still cannot wrap my mind around it. I don’t exactly know how to pinpoint my feelings on the matter, but I wondered–are we ever going to be wiling to seek the Lord concerning His mind as to how He would have us gather (or not gather) in a place? And in a way that puts everything on the table, not holding on to anything?
This transition has been difficult without the past’s constant and continuous cycle of meetings after meetings. Recently, we were invited to a barbecue by a couple we met recently who are involved with a Bible church in town. At the event, we met a number of very wonderful brothers and sisters from their group who all seemed quite a bit more “relevant” (forgive the term) and serious than what we have been encountering among the Brethren. We even wondered if we should begin to meet with them, despite all our misgivings and thoughts about the church (the one Jesus is building).
I am still not sure how I feel about it, but I know that for either one of us to even be open to such a consideration is a demonstration of how far we have come out of the tight bondage of where we were.
Anyway, there are still many other things that I would like to say, but this is already quite a long message. I just wanted to share some of my experiences with you. I have not touched on a lot of the spiritual considerations behind these outward movements, but you may be able to read between the lines. Please pray for us, as it comes to mind. Thank you so much.