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The Church With No Name

(a.k.a. The Jesus Way, Two by Twos,
Go Preachers, Tramp Preachers,
Pilgrims, The Way, Workers, etc.)

Overview:

The world at large often calls them "Two by Twos" because of their tradition of sending pairs of missionaries to evangelize the "unsaved." They have also been called The Black Stockings, The Church Without a Name, Cooneyites, the Damnation Army, Dippers, Go Preachers, Irvinites, The Jesus-Way, Nameless House Church, The New Testament Church, No-Name Church, The No-Secters, The Non-Denominational Church, Pilgrims, The Reidites, The Secret Sect, Tramp Preachers, The Testimony, The Truth, and The Way.

However, they refer to each other simply as Christians and as Friends. They often call their group "The Jesus Way." They are an almost invisible group which numbers may number in the tens or hundreds of thousands. No membership numbers are formally published.

They believe that the Gospel is most effective if communicated on a person-to-person basis.  Teams of two members of the same sex go into the world in pairs to spread the gospel. In many ways, they are replicating the followers of Jesus circa 30 CE. The author of the gospel of Mark described how Jesus sent his followers throughout Palestine:

Mark 6:7-12: "And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff-- no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts-- but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics. Also He said to them, 'In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place. And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!' So they went out and preached that people should repent." (NKJ)

One difference between the two-by-twos and Jesus' disciples is that Jesus instructed his followers to avoid Gentiles and the cities of the Samaritans (Matthew 10:5). The Gospel was to be spread to Jews only  - to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6)

History

The movement was founded in William Irvine, (1863-1947) a Scotsman from County Tipperary, Ireland. He joined the Faith Mission in 1895. Here, he traveled to rural areas of Scotland and Ireland as a lay evangelist. He left in 1901, taking some young preachers with him, including George Walker, Eddie Cooney, Jack Carroll and Irvine Weir. He was inspired by texts in Matthew and Luke and organized a group to continue itinerant preaching in the 20th century. Their first convention was held in Ireland in 1903. 70  followers attended. Irvine then left with two members to evangelize North America. Other pairs of workers were sent to Australia, China, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa and South America. The movement grew rapidly; 2,000 attended the 1910 convention in the UK. They called their spiritual path "The Truth" and "The Testimony." Believers accepted Irvine as the "Alpha Prophet" spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:18-19 and Acts 3:20-23.

In 1908, Irvine developed a two-tier membership structure, consisting of workers and ordinary members. The workers (a.k.a. senior brothers, senior servants) were full-time missionaries; the members typically worked at regular employment and support the workers financially. Irvine also organized a system of overseers to have authority over all of the workers in a given geographical area. The existence of overseers was not revealed to the general membership.

Irvine developed some unusual doctrines, He taught: that it might be possible for 2X2 members to travel to other planets and act as saviors of other civilizations. He identified his group with the remnant of 144,000 people mentioned in Revelation. He developed his "Omega Gospel, " or "Omega Truth" in which he taught that Christ had chosen him to announce that the end of the "age of Grace" was coming in 1914-AUG. After that date, no additional people could be saved. The "final judgement" would then follow. These beliefs were a direct challenge to the overseers and workers; if the group accepted the new doctrines, then the workers would have no further function to perform. A theological split over this prophecy developed. Irvine was ousted from the group in 1914-APR because, it was claimed, he had "lost the Lord's anointing." Since the time of Irvine's departure, the organization has been led by the overseers. In time, his leadership and even his existence were forgotten by many. The movement became less open to the public, and disappeared from common view.

Edward Cooney was a prominent worker in the original group. He apparently saw himself as a replacement for Irvine. He openly disagreed with certain doctrines, and with the necessity of holding conventions. Cooney proposed that the movement return to its original roots in which all members were workers. He suffered the same fate as Irvine: in 1928, he was excommunicated. He died at the age of 93 in 1961.

The Little Ones, (a.k.a. Friends, Message People)

Irvine moved to Jerusalem in 1918 to await Jesus' return. While there, he wrote about a half-million letters by hand to his former followers. About 400 followers were excommunicated from the main body along with Mr. Irvine. They became a separate group which has been called "Little Ones", "Friends" and "Message People." He taught that the Apostolic Age ceased in 1914. Along with it, he taught that the evangelical activities of the 2 by 2's should have ceased. His "friends" now spread the gospel as individuals. They witnessed to others as the chance arises. "As war; famine; pestilence; plagues; drought; natural disasters; racialism; class war; economic failure occurs, and society as a whole decays, personal judgment will increase. That all that is happening on the Earth today is God and Jesus? answer to what Satan and his followers have done to Jesus and His family, and to everyone God and Jesus ever sent." 18 They interpret Revelation 18:13 as a condemnation of organized religions.

Irvine died in Jerusalem in 1947. The friends continue as a small religious group, separate from the 2 x 2's.

The 2 x 2's Today:

Although the group claims to have no name, they found it necessary to adopt a title in order to register with various federal governments. By registering, they gained conscientious objector status for their membership in the U.S. and the U.K.. They registered as:

"The Testimony of Jesus" (British Conscientious Objectors Board, England, 1914)
"Christian Conventions" (U.S. Selective Service, 1942)
"Christian Assemblies" (Australia, Canada, and New Zealand)

However, they are not recognized by governments as a tax-exempt group. They have no headquarters or churches. The buildings that they use for their area conventions are owned by individual members. They do not publish newsletters or magazines. They are essentially invisible to the general public.

The Institute for the Study of American Religion 17 is believed to have the largest collection of material on the "2X2s". They have a list of conventions held by the group in 1986. This includes 95 annual conventions at 85 locations in the U.S. with typical attendance's of 250 to over 1,000 members each. Total membership might total 40,000 in North America and perhaps 40,000 elsewhere. These numbers are crude guesses; accurate data is unavailable. The greatest concentration of members is in the Northwestern U.S.

Practices

  • "Two by Twos" are a high demand faith group which requires a firm commitment from its members.

  • They have two classes of membership:

  • Members (called Brothers in Christ, Children of God, Friends, Saints, Sisters in Christ, Truthers) and

  • Ministers (called Brother Workers, Handmaidens, Laborers, Servants, Sister Workers, Workers)

  • Full-time ministers donate all of their assets to the organization. They take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and are supported financially by the general membership.

  • They lead an ascetic lifestyle. They evangelize in pairs - usually with an older minister in authority

  • "...smoking, drinking, dancing, attending movies and watching television are condemned." 14

  • The countries in which they are active are divided into "fields." A field might be a province in Canada or state in the U.S. One male overseer looks after each field.

  • In English speaking countries, they use the King James Version of the Bible exclusively.

  • They do not publish religious material, with the exception of a hymn book. They rely on person-to-person contact to communicate the gospel.

  • The group does not own church buildings. They meet in house churches of up to 20 members. Each house church is presided over by a male bishop or local elder.

  • One source 14 describes a typical house church meeting on Sunday morning:

  • the service is led by the "presiding member," the man of the house where the meeting is held. He sits facing the congregation and asks for suggestions for a hymn

  • the hymn is sung, without accompaniment

  • individual members deliver extemporaneous prayers; "none...refer to personal problems, material needs or current events."

  • attendees of all ages describe the meanings derived from their private Bible study, and its effect on their lives. The presiding member gives his testimony last.

  • another hymn is sung.

  • they engage in the ritual of the Lord's Supper in which bread is broken and passed among the congregation. Grape juice is shared from a common cup.

  • The leader says a closing prayer.

  • The meeting ends. No program was distributed; no sermon given; no collection taken; no announcements were made.

  • They also meet mid-week for Bible study.

  • They celebrate two ordinances: baptism by total immersion and the Lord's Supper. The taking of the "emblems" (bread and wine) is celebrated weekly. They do not recognize the baptisms of other denominations.

  • Until recent years, Easter and Christmas were not celebrated. There has been a relaxation of these rules in some fields where members observe the days as cultural holidays only.

  • Members dress plainly, with little jewelry and no makeup. Men are all clean-shaven with short hair. Many women have long hair, collected in buns at the back of their head.

  • Marriages are performed by secular authorities, as nobody in the group is authorized by state or provincial governments to perform marriage ceremonies.

  • 2X2 members are subjected to strong discipline. Members who deviate from expected norms of behavior may have privileges removed. One event is described where members were met with disapproval because they had purchased a television set. 4 They lost the privilege of holding Sunday morning meetings in their home, they were not allowed to speak or pray at meetings, they were not allowed to take communion; they were not allowed to give donations to the workers. More serious transgressions can lead to shunning and excommunication. 

Beliefs:

Because the group does not publicize material that describes their sect's doctrines it is difficult to find definitive information about their belief systems. Theological discussions are rare among the 2X2s. Some sermons have been published by ex-members; it is not known how representative this material is of the group's actual beliefs. The following is believed to be accurate:

  • They follow the instructions recorded in the Gospel of Matthew: Matthew 10:7: "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (NKJ)

  • They apparently ignore the concept of the Trinity and believe that God, the Father, is a single deity, undivided.

  • Jesus is viewed as the son of God, a being separate from the Father.

  • The Holy Spirit is seen as a force or power emanating from God, not a person within theTrinity.

  • Their beliefs about salvation correspond to those of other conservative Christian faith groups. They believe that salvation is given to everyone who trusts in Jesus as savior.

  • They have a slogan: "the ministers without a home, and the church in the home." 

Attacks by the Counter Cult Movement and by Ex-Members:

The 2X2s appear to have been ignored by most of the counter-cult movement. The group is not mentioned in any of the popular anti-cult books written by conservative Christians. The criticism that does exist appears to be mainly that the "two by twos":

  • believe that individual cannot not be saved unless they first hear the Gospel from a 2X2 worker. This has called the "Living Witness Doctrine."

  • believe that salvation is attained by trusting in Jesus and leading a devout life. Critics claim that the 2X2's believe that both faith and good works are necessary for salvation.

  • will mostly attain Heaven after death. Those who do not belong to the group, the remaining 99.999% of humanity, will be sent to Hell for eternal torment without hope of relief.

  • have suppressed information about their founding by William Irvine in the early 20th century.

  • teach that their group has been in continuous existence since the 1st century, was founded by Jesus, and is the only true Christian church. They teach that, over the centuries, the movement "has suffered much persecution, which is the principal reason for its obscurity and the low profile it continues to keep. Moreover, the very worst persecutors have been the Christian churches themselves, which from the earliest times have diluted and perverted the true gospel." 14

  • believe that they have to follow strict behavioral codes throughout their lifetime. Their understanding is that they can lose their salvation at any time. (Most Evangelical Christians believe that once one trusts in Jesus as Lord and Savior, one is saved for eternity.)

  • use mind-control techniques on their membership, to control their thought and behavior and almost reduce them to a zombie state.

  • are trapped in the organization and not allowed to leave.

 

None of the above are believed to be valid criticisms of the 2X2s.

Their doctrines on heaven, hell and salvation differ little from other conservative Christians. They have not suppressed their historical background. The reality of mind-control "brainwashing" techniques have been discredited by the mental health community and are believed to be groundless. Any member is free to leave the 2X2s at any time and seek a faith group more to their liking. Many probably do. It is difficult for them to abandon their faith group, because much of their social, religious and cultural support system are within the 2X2s. However, it is probably not much more difficult than it is for any Fundamentalist Christian.

Discussion List:

A 2X2 discussion list is available. It has about 160 members as of 1998-MAY. Most appear to be ex-members. The faith group prohibits the owning of computers and the accessing of the Internet, so any members who join the discussion list might wish to remain anonymous.

To join, send an Email to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Enter the following in the body of the message:

SUBSCRIBE 2X2-CHURCH <first name> <last name> where <first name> <last name> contains your name.

If you wish to remain anonymous, then add the word ANONYMOUS between CHURCH and your name. Otherwise your Email address will appear on any posing that you make to the list. Questions about the list can be directed to: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

References:

  1. D. Parker and Helen Parker, "The Secret Sect," MacArthur Press, Sydney, Australia (1982)
  2. K.W.Crow, "The Invisible Church," Masters thesis, University of Oregon, (1964) Eugene OR
  3. W.E. Paul, "They Go About 'Two by Two: The History and Doctrine of a Little Known Cult," Impact Publications, Denver CO (1977)
  4. A personal home page which describes an alleged sexual molestation by a "two by two" member, and a alleged subsequent cover-up and lack of support by the local organization is at: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/rjkee/tanner.htm
  5. They are criticized in some counter-cult and ex-member home pages: The Veterans of Truth (VOT) are ex "two by two" members who appear to have left the group and become Evangelical Christians. See: 

    http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/2x2info_namelesshousesect/
    Research and Information Services has an essay on this group at: http://www.workersect.org/2x205e.html This site was off line as of1998-APR
    This file is on this site  <a xhref="biblebase/2x205e.htm"> here </a>

    Telling the Truth has a web site devoted to the 2X2's at http://home.earthlink.net/~truth/

  6. "Hymns Old and New," R. L. Allan & Son, England, (1987).
  7. J.G. Melton, "The Encyclopedia of American Religions, Vol. 2," Triumph Books, Tarrytown, NY, (1991), Pages 125-127.
  8. D. Chapman, "Reflections - The Workers, the Gospel and the Nameless House Sect," Research & Information Services, Bend, OR, (1994)
  9. J. F. Daniel, "Reflected Truth-Former Workers and Followers Unmask Life in a Large, Little-known Sect," Research & Information Services, Bend, OR, (1996)
  10. L. Cooper, "The Church With No Name - Known as The Cooneyites, Two by Twos," P.O. Box 39-051, Wellington Mail Centre, Wellington, NZ  (1996)
  11. K.Daniel, "Reinventing the Truth," 1994 Research & Information Services, Bend, OR. (1994)
  12. L. Fortt, "A Search for the Truth," Research & Information Services, Bend, OR (1994)
  13. C. Woster, "The No-Name Fellowship," Great Joy Publications, Carryduff, N Ireland (1988)
  14. Benton Johnson, "Christians in Hiding: The 'No Name' Sect," published in M.J. Neitz & M.S. Goldman, Eds., "Sex, Lies and Sanctity: Religion and Deviance in Contemporary North America," JAI Press, Pages 37-55.
  15. Kathie Anderson, "Church Without Name Meets Again in Secrecy," article in the Bellingham Herald, 1983-AUG-20.
  16. Russell Chandler,"Nameless sect travels secret path." article in the Los Angeles Times, 1983-SEP-13.
  17. Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa Barbara, CA., J.G. Melton, Director
  18. Barbara James, "William Irvine," Letter to "The Impartial Reporter" newspaper, Enniskellen, Northern Ireland, 1997-NOV-13. See: http://www.angelfire.com/wi/IRVINE
 
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