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The Exclusive Brethren movement is an extremist branch or sect of the Plymouth Brethren.
The Exclusive Brethren is the name given (by outsiders) to those among the so-called Plymouth Brethren who, in the mid-nineteenth century, joined John Nelson Darby ( 1800-82) in forming a Christian fellowship which they believed to be based on strict biblical principles. The term 'exclusive' was applied because these brethren maintained that it was essential for those who believed in 'the Truth' to separate from all others, and to admit to their 'breaking of bread' only those who agreed in all doctrinal matters, and who subjected themselves to the same social and moral discipline. The first beginnings of the Brethren movement occurred in the 1820s, when Darby, then an Anglican clergyman in the Church of Ireland, began meeting with others who shared his serious doubts about the validity of Anglican orders and, indeed, about the biblical warrant for any sort of clerical class. These early Brethren were men of education and social position--twelve of the earliest Brethren were, or were training to be, Anglican clergymen (in England and Ireland); five were ministers in Nonconformist churches; a number had private means, including five with titles, and another eight were, or had been, commissioned officers.
The early Brethren believed that, by separating from what they regarded as the unwarranted and unlegitimated system that was represented by the organization of churches, they possessed an adequate basis for the unity of all properly motivated Christians. Initially, they saw no need for any but the simplest pattern of organization, and their separation from all existing churches was not conceived as a negative decision, but rather as the only basis on which the unity of true Christians could be established. Like many other movements that came to be regarded as sectarian, the Brethren began with a profound and deeply anti-sectarian sentiment, and they still reject the designation 'sect'. They sought to restore what they saw as the biblical pattern of order which would allow them to live in conformity with the will of God, and which had been corrupted by the development of the ecclesiastical systems of existing churches.
This early conception of Christian fellowship, based on minimal organization, proved within the course of a decade and a half to be inadequate for the maintenance of an integrated separate community. Brethren came to differ on whether the basis of unity was to be tested by the common life they followed, or the common 'light' (i.e. doctrine) to which they subscribed. Who should be admitted to the breaking of bread ceremony? Darby held that true Christians should separate not only from the churches, which were corrupt, but also from those who were impure in faith or morals. The principle of separating from evil became for him and his associates the essential basis for Christian unity and common fellowship. The movement split in the 1840s on this question of the 'closed table', and Darby's party became known as 'exclusive' in contrast to those Brethren who imposed no such test for admission to the communion table, thereafter known as 'Open Brethren'.
- Source: The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism: Sects and New Religious Movements in Contemporary Society, by Bryan R. Wilson. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1992. Page. 88
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