Introduction and Background
Not much has been written about this group despite the fact that they are possibly one of the largest cults membership-wise in Australia. Members will quickly tell you they are not ‘Cooneyites’ which is another group and that they have no association with them. However, they both have come from the same ‘root stock’, until there was a ‘split’ with the Cooneyites which is now the smaller of the two groups. The ‘Two-by-two’s’have been known variously as ‘Irvingites’, ‘The Tramps’,‘Go-preachers’, ‘Workers’, the ‘Nameless House Church’, the ‘Christian Convention Church” and the ‘Friends’ (not the ‘Quakers’). They prefer to call themselves ‘The Way’ (not ‘The Way International’ – a different group altogether), “The Jesus Way” or just “The Truth”.
Their ministers have officially registered with various government agencies under names such as: the ‘Christian Conventions’ in the USA; the ‘United Christian Conventions of Australia’ in Australia; ‘The Testimony of Jesus’ in the United Kingdom; and in New Zealand as, ‘The United Christian Conventions of New Zealand’ and various other names in other countries.
They had their beginnings in Ireland toward the end of the 19th century, in 1897. Their founder was one William Irvine. For a time they were accepted by other churches, but that acceptance was withdrawn when Irvine publicly denounced all other churches. In 1914, when Irvine announced that he the ‘Alpha Gospel’ which was part of the ‘Omega Message’ for the final ‘Age of Grace’. He was soon to be excommunicated.Eventually, one Edward Cooney was also expelled in 1924. In 1928 with those who followed him and had joined with Cooney became known as “The Cooneyites”.
The “Two-by-Two’s” are extremely well co-ordinated and effective in seeking and gaining converts. Many a Christian has been caught, after joining with them, believing that they were in a normal, albeit strict, Christian church, similar to a strict Brethren group. So good is this ‘front’ that some Christians (including church leaders with a solid knowledge of the Bible) have ALMOST been deceived into accepting them as fellow Christians! There are some who still do not believe this group is a smooth and subtle counterfeit of the true Church, therefore, a cult! To hold their opinion is always due to a lack of information. Unlike other cults they do not print literature that states their beliefs and members will not discuss them with ‘Outsiders’. It is only in recent years that some who have broken away from them, have given vital information and insight.
The group is run by Head Workers, known also as Overseers. Various geographic areas are controlled by a male Head Worker who assigns ‘fields’ to the Workers under his authority. Elders, who have meetings in their homes, are appointed by the Workers. Workers and Head Workers hold regional, national and international ‘Workers Meetings”.
They have a “clergy-laity” distinction. There are ordinary memberswith the leaders being called, ‘Apostles’, ‘Ministers’ and‘Workers’ – these are also called ‘servants’, ‘hand maidens’ and ‘true shepherds’. The ‘Workers’ are usually men, but women who have given up all of their worldly possessions and live their lives partly according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:17 can also be called ‘Workers’. They are all celibate, unsalaried, and homeless because they must ‘walk as Jesus’–with no permanent place to lay their head.
While in the early days these preachers often lived as street people, these days they move into member’s homes when they are in their assigned ‘field’ or district. It is the members who keep them. Each state has a senior worker, under which the others operate. The Workers exert enormous power and rule their people with an‘iron fist’ so to speak!The fear of excommunication is used to keep people inline and total submitted to them.
They regard themselves as the only true Christians. Conversion to Christ through any other church they believe is Satanic. Any deviation from their teachings is said to be, “earthly, sensual and devilish”. They believe their preachers are direct descendants of the Apostles.
Almost all current members do not know about the ‘roots’ of their movement, which began in the 1800’s. If they are challenged, they will tell you there have been groups of them scattered throughout Europe since the very first century.
Once they avoided cities and preferredworking country districts where there is less opposition. However, they now have large numbers in city areas where they have had great success in wooing people away from other churches. Many a pastor has lost members of his church to them without even knowing who they were!
Their Beliefs and Practices
They claim to have no ‘doctrines’ as such and all of their church beliefs and teachings are claimed to be ‘oral’. They have nevermade public any written or published statement oftheir tenets andbeliefs.
They believe that the Bible is a ‘dead book’ unless it is interpreted by one of their ‘Workers’.
They oppose the doctrine of ‘Original Sin” and that all are born into this world as “innocents’.
They use the King James Bible exclusively in English-speaking countries and they have their own hymnal, entitled, ‘Hymns Old and New’, in their gatherings. They are opposedto all church buildings, viewing them as conclusive evidence of it being a false church.
Friends are assigned to Sunday, Wednesday, and Union Fellowship “meetings”, which are always held in designated homes. Visitors may attend “Gospel Meetings” or “Services” held in rented halls or other convenient buildings. “Conventions” are large, annual, regional gatherings, usually held in rural areas in buildings specially constructed and maintained for this purpose.
Services consist of:
- (1) Sunday and mid-week: Hymn singing (acapella), prayers, testimonies;
- (2) Gospel Meetings: Hymns, often with piano accompaniment; prayer and preaching by the Workers;
- (3) “Union Meetings”: a larger version of #1 usually held once a month;
- (4) “Convention”: extended preaching sessions, testimony, eat and sleeping over several days;
- (5) “Special Meetings” a one day version of Conventions.”
All other churches, denominations and religions are false. Their Workers teach that salvation can only be had by hearing and ‘professing’ their beliefs through one of the Workers. The Trinity is rejected as they do not believe that Jesus and the Father are one and the same God. The Workers teach that Jesus was a ‘god-like’ human on whom the ‘Christ Spirit’ settled, and gave the world a pattern of perfect ministry. Jesus is sometimes referred to as ‘divine”, “God the son”, or “a god” – but they do not mean by this that Jesus is in any sense God, in the way the Father is called God.
They have taught that the, “Word made flesh” of John 1:1, 14 refers to the Workers themselves. They have taught and continue to teach that the group is a direct, historical continuation of the New Testament Church, having no earthly founder. However, to trace back through the ages to the first-century Church is extremely difficult as church records are almost non-existent; some records remain from the second and third century church, but with the advent of Rome accepting Christianity as the State Religion in the fourth century, many church records,from and since that era have been preserved.
Godhood is not ascribed to the Holy Spirit. The “spirit” is an attitude, emotional feeling, or force originating from God.
The propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is not enough to produce salvation – they hold that one must continue faithfully in their belief system through self effort, self denial, and unquestioning submission and obedience to their ‘shepherds’ until death.
The believe that Jesus died to save only those who follow their ministers, and that His ‘pattern life’ and ‘pattern ministry’ were the primary goal of His earthly sojourn.
They present themselves as ordinary Christians and do not disclose their true identity. Members will not discuss beliefs but will refer you to their Workers. They are very friendly to a prospective convert and if a person shows promise they arrange for their Workers to visit. The Worker only visits with someone deemed “worthy” –that is someone prepared to listen to them. They state they have come to preach the true gospel and belong to no sect. If their gospel is rejected they have been known to be quite insulting, even literally shaking the dust off their feet in front of those who reject them.
If the prospect shows signs of interest and acceptance, the Workers generally rent a local hall where they hold weekly meetings just for this person’s benefit. All preaching at these meetings and the house church meetings, are directed at the prospect. These special meetings continue until the person either converts to them, or walks away.
Converts are baptised, which is called ‘Professing’ through one of their Workers, by full immersion at which time they renounce all former religious connections. If necessary, opposing family members are renounced too. Some children, when baptised, have been known to forsake their parents and leave home under the influence of the group.
Christians should be on guard – especially with the popularity and increase of house church groups today.
Normal meetings are held in the homes of the ‘Saints’ but they also have large groups set aside in various locations for their Conventions. They hold 2-day Conventions twice a year and a 4-day Convention during the summer holiday season. The Convention Site for Brisbane covers 10 acres. Five acres are used for car parking and the other five acres is crowded with people. At convention time, one can drive past and not even know that there are so many people there?Surprisingly, the Brisbane Convention site holds two conventions over the Christmas – New Year period to allow for the numbers!
In the early 1970’s it is known that there were about 120 such convention sites in the United States. In the State of Oregon it was estimated that there were about 5000 members at that time. This number would have increased dramatically since then.
By the early 1990’s, here in Australia it was estimated that there were over 70,000+ members nationwide! Based on numbers attending their annual conventions, at least 50,000+of them are adults. With no visible ‘Organization’ as such, and no open proselytising, there are almost as many “Two-byTwo’s” in Australia as there are people in BOTH Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons put together!
Members are encouraged to be ‘moderate in all things’. Men wear their hair close-cropped and dress in unassuming and conservative clothes. In the early years, men were encouraged to wear beards, no shirts with collars, white shirts, white underwear, with brown being the preferred colour. Women are not to have short hair and to wear their long hair in a bun. They are to avoid bright colours and current fashions and never seen in anything but dresses or long skirts. No makeup is allowed and the only jewellery they can wear is restricted to wedding rings, modest pins and watches.
Marriage is encouraged within the group, but marriage to a non-member is forbidden. ‘Workers’ are not allowed to marry unless they leave the ‘ministry’.
They do not celebrate Easter, Christmas, or other religious holidays.
They claim to have preached in every country on Earth. Worldwide membership was estimated back in 1993 at about 700,000+with no numbers known in recent times?
A “Two-by-Two’s”salvation is based on his works, not on faith. (Eph 2:8,9) Their ‘jesus’ is not the Jesus of the Bible, which tells us that when He walked on this earth He was God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16). They deny that salvation is through faith in the shed blood of Christ and without this there is no redemption from sin and therefore no justification. (Romans 3:24, 25; Acts 10:34; 1 John 1:7)
Compiled by Fred Grigg
Gold Coast, July 2013