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The Christian church with no name, (aka. "Two by Twos")

Part 1 of 4
Overview. Group history. The Little Ones,
(a.k.a. Friends & Message People). 2X2's today.

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).

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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 forms of intelligent life. 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 largely disappeared from 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.

Barbara James, in a letter to "The Impartial Reporter" newspaper in Northern Ireland, said:

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." 1

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 have otherwise:

"... managed to remain anonymous because they have carefully avoided public detection.  They do not form close friendships with outsiders. They construct no church buildings or headquarters, post no signs or notices, keep no membership statistics or minutes of meetings, issue no reports, and distribute no leaflets or tracts.  They have no colleges or bible schools to train their members or their workers.  Their convention facilities are in rural areas and are carefully hidden from public view.  They operate no hospitals or charities and conduct no fund-raising drives.  They do not even exist as a legal entity.  A lawyer or investigative journalist would find no trace of them by examining public documents, for they are not registered with state authorities or with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt religious body.  Their workers cannot perform marriages.  All property at the group's disposal is in the hands of individuals who are expected to make use of it for the good of the movement.  Convention sites are owned by members and the donations of money the workers receive are theirs to spend as they see fit.  Assets are held in trust and no accounting is made." 3

Their numbers are so small that they rarely -- if ever -- show up in surveys of religious affiliations.

The Institute for the Study of American Religion 2 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 included 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.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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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. Barbara James, "William Irvine," Letter to "The Impartial Reporter" newspaper, Enniskellen, Northern Ireland, 1997-NOV-13. See: http://www.angelfire.com/
  2. Institute for the Study of American Religion, Santa Barbara, CA., J.G. Melton, Director
  3. 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. Available online at: http://www.tellingthetruth.info/

Copyright © 1998 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-NOV-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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