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The Church with no name
(a.k.a. "Two by Twos")

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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, The Saints, Truthers, The Way, and Workers.

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 whose numbers may be in the tens or hundreds of thousands. No membership numbers are formally published.

They believe that the Gospel is only effectively taught 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). He taught that 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. Some sources say that he came from County Tipperary, Ireland; others say he was from Kilsyth, Scotland. He joined the Faith Mission in 1895, and traveled to rural areas of Scotland and Ireland as a lay evangelist. He left the organization 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 supported 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 18:3 as a condemnation of organized religions.

Irvine died in Jerusalem in 1947. The friends continue as a small religious group, separate from the 2x2's.

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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:

bullet"The Testimony of Jesus" (British Conscientious Objectors Board, England, 1914)
bullet"Christian Conventions" (U.S. Selective Service, 1942)
bullet"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 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:

bullet"Two by Twos" are a high demand, very conservative Christian faith group that requires a firm commitment from its members.
 
bulletThey have two classes of membership:
bulletMembers (called Brothers in Christ, Children of God, Friends, Saints, Sisters in Christ, Truthers) and
bulletMinisters (called Brother Workers, Handmaidens, Laborers, Servants, Sister Workers, Workers)
 
bulletFull-time ministers donate all of their assets to charities or the poor. 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. Members often have the ministers board with them for periods of time; members often give the ministers the use of their cars.
 
bullet"...smoking, drinking, dancing, attending movies and watching television are condemned." 14 Rules are gradually relaxing. Television sets and computers are being used by an increasing percentage of the membership.
 
bulletA state in the U.S. or province in Canada is under the control of a single male overseer. Each state or province is divided into a number of "fields." There are two workers active in each field.
 
bulletIn English speaking countries, they use the King James Version of the Bible exclusively.
 
bulletThey do not publish religious material, with the exception of a hymn book.
 
bulletThey rely on person-to-person contact to communicate the gospel.
 
bulletThe group meets in house churches of up to 20 members. Each house church is presided over by a male bishop or local elder.
 
bulletOne source 14 describes a typical house church meeting on Sunday morning:
bulletthe 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
bulletthe hymn is sung, without accompaniment
bulletindividual members deliver extemporaneous prayers; "none...refer to personal problems, material needs or current events."
bulletattendees 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.
bulletanother hymn is sung.
bulletthey 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.
bulletThe leader says a closing prayer.
bulletThe meeting ends. No program was distributed; no sermon given; no collection taken; no announcements were made.
 
bulletThey also meet mid-week for Bible study.
 
bulletThey celebrate two ordinances: adult baptism by total immersion and the Lord's Supper. The taking of the "emblems" (bread and wine) is celebrated weekly. They do not recognize baptisms performed by other denominations.
 
bulletThey practice adult baptism. Before they are baptized, members normally "profess" their faith at a meeting by giving their testimony to the congregation.
 
bulletCelebration of Easter and Christmas is not encouraged.
 
bulletMembers dress plainly, with little jewelry and no makeup. Men are all clean-shaven with short hair. Many women do not cut their hair, but wear it collected in buns at the back of their head. They typically wear dresses. The wearing of pants, and the cutting of small amounts of hair is frequently debated in some fields.
 
bulletMarriages are performed by secular authorities, as nobody in the group is authorized by state or provincial governments to perform marriage ceremonies.
 
bullet2X2 members are subjected to strong discipline. Members who deviate significantly 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 reasonably accurate:

bulletThey 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)
 
bulletAccording to the Religious Movements article on the 2 x 2's:
bulletThey apparently ignore the concept of the Trinity and believe that God, the Father, is a single deity, undivided, and not three persons.
bulletJesus is viewed as the son of God, a being separate from the Father.
bulletThe Holy Spirit is seen as a force or power emanating from God, not a person within the Trinity. 20
 
bulletTheir beliefs about salvation are slightly ambiguous. We have heard two mutually exclusive concepts:
bulletSome ex-2X2s who had been long-term members state that only individuals who hear the gospel from the 2X2 workers can be saved...and then, only if they join the faith group, continue to be a member, in good standing, live according to 2X2 standards of lifestyle and appearance, and faithfully attend 2X2 events. They can lose their salvation at any time. A person's salvation status is only determined at death. Only their group, who total about 0.001% of the human race, will be saved. This implies that very few humans will go to heaven when they die. 99.999% will "go to a lost eternity" i.e. to Hell.
bulletOther sources state that their teachings are identical to those of many other conservative Christian faith groups: that salvation is given to anyone who repents of their sins and trusts in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We suspect that the former belief is accurate, and that the latter is a cover story given to outsiders. We have been unsuccessful in attempting to verify this.
 

bulletThey disagree about relationships in heaven. Some believe that they will recognize each other in heaven; others argue that everyone will have new, celestial bodies "and will not recognize or even want to recognize our friends and loved ones." 19
 
bulletWithin some fields, members who marry divorced people, or marry spouses outside of the faith, who leave the faith group, or who sow discord are often shunned or excommunicated.
 
bulletThey have a slogan: "the ministers without a home, and the church in the home."

Attacks by the Counter Cult Movement (CCM) and by ex-members:

The Counter-Cult movement (CCM) coalesced in the 1960's, largely in opposition to the many new, small Christian religious groups which were then proliferating. They used the horrible experiences of members of a very few destructive cults in order to generate public fear and loathing for a wide range of new, benign religious groups, primarily those who:

bulletplaced high demands on their membership, and/or
bulletheld beliefs which differed from traditional, conservative Christian theology.

The 2X2s appear to have been largely 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":

bulletBelieve that individual cannot not be saved unless they first hear the Gospel from a 2X2 worker. This has been called the "Living Witness Doctrine."
bulletBelieve that salvation is only attained by joining the 2X2 group, trusting in Jesus and leading a devout life. (Most Evangelical Christians and the CCM critics claim that only repentance and trusting Jesus are necessary for salvation.)
bulletClaim that they alone will mostly attain Heaven after death. All of 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.
bulletHave suppressed information about their founding by William Irvine in the early 20th century.
bulletTeach 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
bulletBelieve that they have to follow strict behavioral codes throughout their lifetime. They feel 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 and cannot lose their salvation.)
bulletUse mind-control techniques on their membership, to control their thought and behavior and almost reduce them to a zombie state. We have found no evidence of this in the 2X2s or in any other religious group.
bulletAre trapped in the organization and not allowed to leave. We find no evidence of this phenomenon either; members are free to leave the movement at any time.

Only two of the above are believed to be a valid criticism of the 2X2s. The group does appear secretive about their historical background, and does have unique beliefs about salvation. But, on other matters, they are very similar to other fundamentalist Christians in their beliefs. Their doctrines on heaven and hell differ little. Their main difference is over salvation.

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 that is more to their liking. Many manage this. However it is generally extremely difficult for them to abandon their faith group, because they would have to discard much of their social, religious and cultural supports. It is probably not much more troublesome than it is for other fundamentalist Christian who are members of very high intensity religious groups whose families of origin have been conditioned through generations to conform to their denomination's teaching.

2x2 Web sites dealing with the 2x2's:

bulletThe 2x2's at: http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/
bulletThe church with no name at: http://www.caic.org.au/
bulletTwo by Twos, 2x2, The Truth at: http://home.arcor.de/noname-sect/
bulletIn defence of truth at: http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/
bulletThe Professing Reference Site at: http://iengineer7.tripod.com/
bulletTelling the Truth at: http://home.earthlink.net/
bulletVeterans of Truth - Past and Present at: http://www.veteransoftruth.com/
bulletWho are the Two-by-Twos? at: http://www.workersect.org/
bulletWorkers, friends and the church without a name at: http://www.thelyingtruth.net/

Discussion Lists:

There are several forums online that discuss the 2x2 faith group. However, since the group discourages ownership of computers by its members, most of these groups are probably made up of ex-members:

bullet2x2 / Professing People / The Truth at: http://www.factnet.org/
bulletChatroom for professing young folks at: http://www.homestead.com/
bulletFriends and Workers... at: http://www.lsoft.com/
bulletMercy and Truth at: http://groups.yahoo.com/
bulletProfessing chat room & message board at: http://pages.prodigy.net/
bulletProfessing Friends and Workers at: http://groups.yahoo.com/
bulletProfessing message board, at: http://p221.ezboard.com/
bulletProfessing Pinboard at: http://two.guestbook.de/
bulletStanding True at: http://groups.yahoo.com/
bulletTruth Meetings Board (The Truth) at: http://professing.proboards16.com/
bulletWorker, Friend and Ex Board at: http://members3.boardhost.com

Bibliography:

Three items in the following list were taken from the religiousmovements web site

  1. Keith Crow, "The Invisible Church." Unpublished Master's Thesis. University of Oregon, (1964).
  2. Loyd Fortt, "A Search for 'the Truth'." Chelsea, Michigan: Research and Information Services. (1994).
  3. Kathlene Lewis, "The Church without a Name," Global Publishing (2004). See: http://www.2x2church.com/ This was previously published under the pen-name David Stone.
  4. Doug and Helen Parker, "The Secret Sect," Sydney: Macarthur Press, (1982).
  5. Willis Young, "In Vain Do They Worship." Available from 1009-2881 Richmond Rd, Ottawa, ON, Canada K2B 8J5.
  6. "The No-Name Fellowship," Great Joy Publications, Carryduff, Belfast.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare the first draft of this essay in 1998 and update it since. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  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://pages.euphony.net/
  5. The 2x2s are criticized in some counter-cult and ex-member home pages:
    bulletThe 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/
    bulletTelling the Truth is an extensive web site on the 2x2s at: http://www.tellingthetruth.info  They maintain a list of 2X2 web sites at: http://www.tellingthetruth.info/
    bulletResearch and Information Services has an essay on this group at: http://www.workersect.org/
    bulletThe Truth contains many personal stories of people who have left the 2x2's. See: http://www.thetruth.fsbusiness.co.uk/
    bulletProfessing teenagers is a web site for 2X2 teenagers at: http://www.angelfire.com/ 
  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. Lynn Cooper, "The Church With No Name - Known as The Cooneyites, Two by Twos,"  (1996). Lynn can be contacted at mailto:lynnc@ihug.co.nz
  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/
  19. Anon, "The Professing People," at: http://www.angelfire.com/
  20. "The 2x2's," at: The Religious Movements Homepage Project, at: http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/

Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-APR-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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