Apologetics Index

Exclusive Brethren

Name Change: Plymouth Brethren Christian Church

Note: In 2012, the Exclusive Brethren movement renamed itself Plymouth Brethren Christian Church — in an apparent effort to sow confusion about its true nature and origins.

In reality, this extremist movement is a cult or sect of the Plymouth Brethren.

Theologically, it is a cult of Christianity. Sociologically the movement has many cult-like elements as well. 1

After the UK Charity Commission’s refusal to grant Charity Status to the Exclusive Brethren, in the summer of 2012, an observer provided a series of explanatory comments regarding that decision:

2.10 Misleading information: whilst it is of course legitimate to change a name and reconstruct a website, it should not be done in such a way as to make it appear that it involves an entirely different organisation. Despite the claim that Plymouth Brethren Christian Church is the historic name (http://www.plymouthbrethrenchristianchurch.org/) it is an entirely new invention. Two months ago that name did not exist. At least one member of the House of Commons has been mislead. Mr Ian Paisley Jnr (North Antrim DUP) praised the work of the brethren in setting up the “every boys rally’ and every girls rally’ which attract tens of thousands of young people. This relates to the Open Brethren, an entirely different organisation and one which has no connection whatever to the Exclusive Brethren apart from the 1828 founder.
– Source: Paul Flynn, MP — Exclusive brethren – the whole truth?

Exclusive Brethren, so-called

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.

Bruce Hale and family
Exclusive Brethren cult leader Bruce Hale and his family in a rare, 1990s photo

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

Exclusive Brethen/Plymouth Brethren Christian Church Beliefs

The beliefs of the Exclusive Brethren have much in common with most those of most evangelical Christian groups:

  • The Bible is the inspired and literal word of God
  • People are saved only by faith in Christ
  • God is a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  • Christ will return soon

However some of their beliefs are heretical by other Christian standards.

Jim Taylor taught that Jesus was human when he was born and did not become fully divine until later; either when he was 12, or at his baptism. This is quite different from mainstream Christian belief, which says that Jesus was always fully God and fully man.
– Source: The Exclusive Brethren, BBC

What does ‘Exlusive’ mean?

The Exclusive Brethren churches have a rigid code of behavior and rules – governing anything from contact with outsiders to the length of ones hair or the approved colors of the scarves worn by female members.

The doctrine of ‘separation from iniquity’ or separation from sin, makes the Exclusive Brethren unique. It has two parts:

  • members must avoid anything sinful
  • members must keep away from any person or group that does not follow Exclusive Brethren teaching – including other Christians

Members of the Exclusive Brethren do not make friends, or even eat with people outside their church. Non-members are called ‘worldlies’.

Families do not have televisions, radios or computers, or go to the cinema or theatre. Members marry other members. Divorce is rare. Children are often educated within the Brethren community, although many Brethren children do attend mainstream schools.

Exclusive Brethren meeting halls exclude the world to the extent of having no windows.

Members who do something against the Exclusive code are required to confess their sin during church meetings and demonstrate their repentance. If they don’t they are withdrawn from i.e. no member of the group will speak, work or eat with them.

Members of the Exclusive Brethren are very limited in their contact with outsiders.

Many Exclusive Brethren work in Brethren owned companies in order to reduce contact with outsiders. If they leave, or are expelled from the Brethren, they have to give up their jobs as well as their family and their home.
– Source: The Exclusive Brethren, BBC

Note that in 2003 the rules on contact with outsiders were slightly relaxed.

Plymouth Brethren Christian Church: Cult-like control

Those who break the rules can be punished by being banned from worship meetings and ostracised by members of their own family and other Exclusives who “withdraw from” such a person.

Members who sin can also be ‘shut up’. This is based on the Biblical procedure for the treatment of lepers, and involves being isolated from family and friends and only allowed to see specially chosen church members until local church leaders believe that God has forgiven the person.

All members must follow the rigid code of behaviour and rules that govern the contact they can have with outsiders. This is far from the Open Brethren idea that individual churches should have a great deal of freedom in their dealings with others.

Members of Exclusive Brethren churches are expected to be totally loyal to the leader of the Exclusive Brethren. This leader is given titles such as ‘The Man of God’ or ‘The Elect Vessel’.

The leader is regarded as a person of inherent moral power, following in the tradition of the leaders of the past and upholding their teaching in such a way as to lift the membership out of the world of wickedness.

The leader of the church has overall power over members of the sect. He appoints local priests, resolves disputes, approves all marriages and decides on levels of punishment for breaches of discipline.

Members see the head of their church as a servant leader who puts his lives at the disposal of others. Outsiders see him as an autocrat.
– Source: The Exclusive Brethren, BBC

This cult-like control is unbiblical, and is one of the reasons why the movement has attracted negative publicity.

In addition, it appears that the movement’s leaders are hypocrites – a trait common to cult leaders. While putting heavy restrictions on the movement’s members, the leaders engage in dirty tricks campaigns.

Video: Breaking Brethren

Full episode  'Veracity  Breaking Brethren'

Research Resources on Exclusive Brethren


• See also the articles in our news tracker.
Christian Exclusive Brethren Information provided by Reachout Trust, a Christian apologetics and countercult organization
Secular The Exclusive Brethren Excellent overview by the BBC.
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox The Exclusive Brethren – A Current Sociologial Appraisal by the late Bryan R. Wilson. This study was formerly hosted at theexclusivebrethren.com ‘the only site endorsed by the Exclusive Brethren.’ The site has since been renamed to plymouthbrethrenchristianchurch.org, to reflect the movement’s 2012 name change.


  • Behind the Exclusive Brethren Michael Bachelard

    Based on more than two years of research, this comprehensive study uncovers the lesser-known facts behind one of history’s most enigmatic and influential Christian sects.

    Documenting their emergence onto the Australian political stage in 2004, this investigation shows how the Exclusive Brethren made their presence known through enormous contributions to conservative campaigns, assiduously lobbying politicians and maintaining a close relationship with the prime minister–all without casting a vote themselves.

    This examination delves deeper into the group’s past, revealing the Brethren’s 19th-century origins in the United Kingdom, their fractious history, their extraordinary use of scripture to control members and dissidents, and their lucrative business and financial arrangements. Numerous questions are explored, such as What exactly was their interest in politics? Why did their activism suddenly blossom almost simultaneously across the world? and How did a group whose values are detached from those of most Australians infiltrate the highest office in the land? A fascinating tale of power exercised across several continents, this is also a moving story of damaged lives, broken families, and anger that stretches back decades.

  • Breakout: How I Escaped From The Exclusive Brethren David TChappat

    Imagine a life without television, music or freedom; imagine every minute of your spare time being spent attending church; imagine growing up believing swimming pools, cinemas and dancing were evil.

    For members of the Exclusive Brethren, a strict religious sect, constraints such as these are normal. No member is allowed to eat in the same room as a worldly person, they are forbidden from owning a pet and they are restricted from socialising with anyone outside of the Exclusive Brethren. Most members are so isolated within the sect that they cant even imagine a life on the outside. But not all members can live such a controlled existence.

    Once David Tchappat had a taste of the real world as a teenager, there was no going back despite the fact he knew he would be cruelly ostracised from his family, friends and the only life he had known.

Multimedia & Transcripts

The Exclusive Brethren - Cult Documentary

Secular Elusive Exclusive Brethren [Transcript] of the Background Briefing broadcast by ABC Radio National (Australia) on Apr. 30, 2006.
Secular The Exclusive Brethren [MP3] Hack reporter Steve Cannane presents this radio report [MP3] on the Exclusive Brethren’s involvement in Australian politics. Broadcast Mar. 16, 2006.

The Exclusive Brethren are a religious group who forbids their members from voting… but are taking out ads in the Tasmanian newspapers telling non believers how to vote. ‘Rob’ told Steve Cannane that the exclusive brethren talking about the greens destroying the social fabric was the ultimate in hypocrisy. He claims that the Exclusive Brethren destroys people and families, have no respect for women and absolute contempt for anyone not in their religious group, and do all this while enjoying the benefit of charitable status from our government.

Secular Separate Lives [Transcripts | Video] An edition of the Four Corners investigative journalism TV program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Transcript Includes the following:

  • Joy Nason. [Video] [Real Broadband] | [Win Broadband] | [Real Dialup] | [Win Dialup] Former Exclusive Brethren member Joy Nason talks with Quentin McDermott on life after leaving the Church.
  • Ngaire Thomas Interview [Transcript] Edited transcript of Quentin McDermott’s interview with former Exclusive Brethren member, Ngaire Thomas, on the Church as a cult. Sept. 9, 2006.
  • Ron Fawkes Interview [Transcript] Edited interview of Quentin McDermott’s interview with former Exclusive Brethren leader Ron Fawkes, on being excommunicated from the Church and his family.
  • Selwyn Wallace. [Video] [Real Broadband] | [Win Broadband] | [Real Dialup] | [Win Dialup] Former Exclusive Brethren member Selwyn Wallace talks with Quentin McDermott on suicide in the Church and being forcibly separated from his wife.

News and News Archive

Apologetics Index research resource Exclusive Brethren news tracker & news archive.

See Also

Apologetics Index research resource Abusive Churches/Spiritual Abuse
Apologetics Index research resource Cult FAQ

Web Sites

Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox The Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship (Pro) Note: The site has since been renamed to plymouthbrethrenchristianchurch.org, to reflect the movement’s “misleading” name change, in 2012. Here is what we wrote about the former site, which can still be viewed at the Internet Archive.

Promising to provide an “Open documentary of their life and faith,” this site claims to be the only site endorsed by the Exclusive Brethren. This is ironic, because among the activities forbidden for members of the movement are such things as watching television, listening to the radio, reading newspapers and using computers and the internet. The web site appears to be an attempt to counter the flow of negative publicity surrounding the Exclusive Brethren (example: “The Brethren sent us to Hell“)


Members are not allowed to have televisions or radios and they are forbidden from using the internet, because the book of Revelation tells them that the devil is “the prince with the power of the air”. Although some run computer businesses, the technology is frowned upon for private use because it has the power to employ the satanic number 666.
– Source: Secretive sect softens ban on outside contact, The Guardian, March 15, 2003

Christian Peebs.net (Contra) This web site deals with the Exclusive Brethren from a critical perspective. The link leads to an archived version of the website. The site itself is no longer online. There has been much speculation as to why the website disappeared. Note that the version at the Internet Archive is, at times, slow to open — and that not all internal links may work.

Peebs.Net is a website that endeavors to investigate and report the Truth behind the Exclusive Brethren, a group of so-called Christians, and by so doing, help break the chains and break down the barriers that prevent us from seeing our families, friends and loved ones, trapped in what many are calling a bona fide Cult.

Our mission is to educate the media and help those who have left and those who wish to leave a vicious regime that is causing increasing concern world-wide. […]

Within this site you will find explanations, stories, history and Exclusive Brethren memorabilia ranging from the quaint to the shocking.

Christian Wikipeebia [Contra] An extensive website, with personal testimonies, historical documents, discussion forums, and more.

Christian My Brethren (Pro and Contra) “History and Ministry of the ‘Exclusive Brethren’ (so-called). This site rightly bills itself as the “[p]remier resource for their origin, progress and testimony 1827-1959 on”. The site’s objectives are stated as follows:

‘My Brethren’ deals mainly — but not exclusively — with the history and ministry of JND, JBS, FER, CAC, JT, GRC

  • and others who were in practical fellowship with them — for the years c. 1827 to 1959.
  • Inquiries regarding developments after 1959 have led to the inclusion of subsequent history.
  • Some post-1959 ministry had already been included, and this practice will be continued.

• Some negative features can’t be avoided, but my intent is to present a positive and comprehensive outline of the history and ministry of the recovery of the truth.

Despite ongoing external and internal attacks, from 1827 onwards, a continuing spiritual ministry opened up many precious truths —

  • influencing the lives of the brethren and leading to a deeper apprehension of the Lord’s Supper and the enrichment of the service of God.
  • Decline — as with every previous testimony — allowed the emergence in 1959 of a legal party which caused havoc and much suffering among the brethren
  • ‘My Brethren’ calls for a return to our spiritual heritage, to the Scriptural principles, practices and teachings of former years and to the acceptance of personal responsibility for the maintenance of the truth in our days.

The main objective of this site therefore is to

  • reach out to my brethren who have been damaged, disillusioned or discarded by the legal system which first emerged in 1959, and continues to dominate many to this day,
  • to recall them to their spiritual birthright — the rich heritage of former years; to encourage them to take possession of it —
  • nd to my brethren in the various connections resulting from the 1959 and 1970 crises, who seek to walk in the light and in truth,
  • that we might humble ourselves before the Lord for our part — active or passive — in the shameful happenings and sorrow-ful scatterings which have taken place in our times.

– Source: Site Objectives

Plymouth Brethren Christian Church
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The headline refers to a story in the Sunday Star Times (New Zealand)

Article details

Category: Exclusive Brethren
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First published (or major update) on Tuesday, May 2, 2006.
Last updated on May 04, 2024.

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