Exclusive Brethren

The Sandman Will Keep You Awake - The Loop


The Exclusive Brethren are a subset of the Christian evangelical movement generally described as the Plymouth Brethren. They are distinguished from the Open Brethren from whom they separated in 1848, the Exclusive Brethren movement subsequently evolving into two main branches.[1]

The first branch is generally associated with William Kelly and encompasses a number of historical groups. Their doctrine and practice is similar to that of the early Brethren and they are found throughout the world.

The second branch is a group associated the leadership of F.E. Raven, James Taylor Sr. & Jr., John S. Hales, and the current leader, Bruce D. Hales. These Raven-Taylor-Hales Brethren are found mainly in the English-speaking world and constitute a small portion of the wider Brethren movement.. This group holds an uncompromising 'separatist' doctrine and their practice has steadily evolved differently from other Brethren groups. These brethren have their strongest representation in Australia, New Zealand, UK, and North America,[2][3] where they are referred to just as the Exclusive Brethren.


There is significant controversy related to the sub-group of the Exclusive Brethren known as the Raven/Taylor/Hales group.

This sub-group's beliefs are considerably more extreme than the other Exclusive Brethren groups, and they hold a more strident, essentially separatist, doctrine. It is important to note that the vast majority of controversy, including court challenges, negative reportage and various press exposes, relate to this extremist sub-group, and not the majority of those known as Exclusive Brethren.

'Cult' accusations

Critics of Raven/Taylor/Hales group have accused it of using 'cult' techniques by controlling all aspects of its members lives. The group's influence over its members is such that many who have left the group have had trouble adjusting to life "outside". To help with this problem, several websites have been set up to assist people that have left the church to adjust back into mainstream society.[4][5]

It is, in fact, labelled as a cult by several prominent cult-watch groups. Among the various criticisms labelled against the church are:

  • Members who leave or who are expelled from the group have often been treated with what outsiders may regard as great cruelty.[6]
  • Leavers are shunned by members of the group because leavers are seen as having chosen the world and the devil against God, and because they could bring members into contact with the sinful world.[6] The Brethren have been accused of using their considerable wealth and power to 'punish' members who have decided to leave the church and to have allegedly actively used their influence to split families up in order to protect the organization's interests.[7]
  • For the most part, members who left the Raven/Taylor/Hales group are completely ostracised. Members are not permitted to live with those who have left and this causes families to break up; in fact, remaining members do not even speak, eat or otherwise socialize with those who have left the group's membership. To leave the group, either voluntarily or to be excommunicated, means to be asked to leave one's home, and the subsequent breaking of all normal family relationships with those who remain within the group.[6]
  • Since virtually all of the Raven/Taylor/Hales members work in other members' companies, to leave the group means also that they have to give up their jobs, in addition to their family and their home.[6]
  • Accusations by former teachers in Raven/Taylor/Hales group schools that the group 'brainwashes' children[8] in order to control everything that children do in life; a former teacher was quoted as saying "the children are told what jobs they will do and who they will marry. They were not being equipped to live in the outside world".[8]
  • That the Raven/Taylor/Hales group has engaged in a ruthless campaign of silencing critics and has vigorously used private detectives, lawyers and the threat of lawsuits in order to silence those that oppose it. A notable case is the group's efforts and subsequent lawsuit in the USA aimed at closing down the web site [ [1][9]

Kevin Rudd, current Prime Minister of Australia, said in 2007: "I believe this is an extremist cult and sect," and alleged that it broke up families and hampered education. Rudd stated at the time: "They split families and I am deeply concerned about their impact on communities across Australia." [10].

General overview

All Exclusive Brethren groups believe that there is a necessary unity of the local church or assembly.

This is expressed practically in different ways by the different groups, but matters of fellowship and church discipline are generally not merely questions of local responsibility; such decisions must be accepted in all meetings. Exclusive Brethren are therefore sometimes described as Connexional Brethren, as they recognise an obligation to accept and adhere to the disciplinary actions of other associated assemblies. For example, where one of their branches has excluded a person from Christian fellowship, that person remains excluded from all other branches, who must then treat the excluded person as a leper (according to the book of Leviticus Chapter 15). In contrast, Open Brethren allow each assembly to make its own decision about fellowship. Needed Truth Brethren are connexional (believing in the unity of all assemblies) even though they are historically associated with Open Brethren.

Excepting assembly unity, there are common threads throughout all Plymouth Brethren groups, most notably the centrality of the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion) in the weekly calendar, as well as the format of meetings and worship, the distinctions between the many groups genernally not well understood by non-members. The adjective exclusive has been applied to the group by others, partially due to their determination to separate from and exclude what they believe to be evil. Exclusive Brethren usually disown any name and simply refer to themselves as Christians, brethren, those with whom we walk, those in fellowship with us, or the saints. However, the Raven/Taylor/Hales group has specifically adopted the term Exclusive Brethren and applied it to themselves to the exclusion of other groups.

Dissecting the history and branches of the Exclusive Brethren, particularly in the 20th century, can be a challenge as there has been no formal mechanism for documenting their movement's history.

Beliefs and structure

With the exception of Raven/Taylor/Hales group, Exclusive Brethren differ very little from the Open Brethren on theological issues, both holding the Bible as their sole authority in regard to matters of doctrine and practice and both groups relying heavily on doctrine held and propagated by John Nelson Darby. With few exceptions, particularly in regards to whom to accept into fellowship, exclusive brethren have continued to hold the same beliefs that inspired the Plymouth Brethren.

As mentioned earlier, the centrality of the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion) is one of the primary linking threads between the groups, however it is also one of the primary differentiators between the various Exclusive Brethren sub-groups: there are exclusive groups which receive all professing Christians to communion, and there are exclusive groups which restrict access to communion to those who are known to be in their fellowship. The Raven/Taylor/Hales group are generally regarded as having the most stringent and uncompromising views on this, and all of their services are closed to those who are not members in good standing (differing from the majority of the other Brethren groups who generally allow non-members to be present at their services, differing mainly on what is allowable participation by these outsiders).

Most Exclusive Brethren groups have no formal leadership structure. As a result, schisms can occur in the Brethren over disagreements about church discipline and whether other sister groups in other locations have authority to intervene in these disagreements. There are often global family connections due to the emphasis among members to marry within the Exclusive Brethren, and family connections often influences which side of the issue members will take. The Raven/Taylor/Hales Brethren avoid this trend by having a structured leadership with a central authority figure to limit schisms.

Hymns and music

Hymns are a vital part of the worship of Exclusive Brethren. Most branches of Exclusive Brethren use one of the many editions of the Little Flock Hymn Book. All editions come from the same source: J.N.Darby's hymnbook of 1881 which drew on earlier work by George V. Wigram.

Most singing is a capella though some meetings might use an organ or piano in the gospel preaching or for ministry meetings.

A recording of singing at Park Street (Raven/Taylor/Hales Brethren) can be found on open source audio [2]


There are perhaps 1,000,000 people who can be roughly classified as Plymouth Brethren worldwide, the majority of which belong to the Open Brethren.[11]

Of the rest, it is difficult to number, with the exception of the Raven/Taylor/Hales group, of which there are approximately 40,000 meeting in 300 church assemblies in 19 countries, with strongest representation in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and North America.[2][3]

Notes on the history of the group

The Plymouth Brethren split into exclusive and open brethren in 1848 when George Muller refused John Nelson Darby's view of the relationship between local assemblies following difficulties in the Plymouth meeting. Brethren that held Muller's view of independency became known as "Open", those holding Darby's 'connexional' view, became known as "Exclusive" or "Darbyite" Brethren.

Most Exclusive Brethren are described as "Darbyite" as they in the main adhere to the original doctrines & teachings of John Darby, and do not accept the concept of a doctrine that evolves through the teachings of successive leaders. Neither do they accept the concept that teachings of church leaders is authoritative, divinely sanctioned, and binding on those in fellowship, as is the belief of the Raven/Taylor/Hales Brethren.

The Raven/Taylor/Hales group have recognized a succession of leaders,whom they believe are divinely ordained, unlike the other Exclusive Brethren groups. The Raven/Taylor/Hales group holds that John Nelson Darby's ministry was followed by that of F E Raven (1837–1903), James Taylor Sr (1870–1953), James Taylor Jr (1899–1970), James H Symington (1911–1987), John Hales (1922–2004), and, currently, Bruce D. Hales.

Teaching of these leaders has repeatedly been found to be very controversial,indeed some are held to be heretical by not only other Brethren groups, but also by mainstream Christianity. Among the controversial teachings is the teaching of Mr. Raven regarding eternal life; of Mr. Taylor Sr. regarding the sonship of Christ & the worship of the Holy Spirit; and the extensive socially radical teachings of Mr. Taylor Jr, including a ban on eating with non-members, a ban on memberships in professional organizations, a ban on living in apartment buildings, and a ban on household pets.

Political activities

The Exclusive Brethren had allegedly provided over half a million dollars to the campaign of George W. Bush, another half-million to the campaign of New Zealand National leader, Don Brash, and large amounts to the campaign of Australia's John Howard.


In 2007, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation current affairs television program 'Four Corners' aired an investigation into secret campaigning by the Exclusive Brethren alleging that church elders had met with both the then Australian Prime Minister John Howard and the Treasurer Peter Costello[12] and had allegedly provided them with their support.[13] The programme revealed that the Brethren had a vigorous and largely untold political history going back at least to 1993, and provided evidence of a trail spelling out how its members have spent millions in state and federal elections and overseas, including the USA.

In the Australian state of Tasmania, tens of thousands of dollars was given in a campaign against the Greens in the Tasmanian State election claiming the Greens policies regarding transgender and inter-sex people would "ruin our families and society". This led to a complaint to the Anti-discrimination Tribunal and the group issued an apology to partly settle that complaint. Further legal action regarding this complaint is ongoing. The published apology however was paid for by an agency acting for the Liberal Party which has led to calls by Senator Bob Brown for politicians to declare their relationships with the group and called for an anti-corruption inquiry into their influence.[14][15]

Kevin Rudd, current Prime Minister of Australia, said in 2007: "I believe this is an extremist cult and sect" and that "they split families and I am deeply concerned about their impact on communities across Australia." [16]. Despite these statements, in 2009 it was revealed that Rudd's Government had actually increased funding, and were continuing to fund Brethren Schools by up to $62 million over the years 2009 to 2012 (an increase of $24.6 million compared to 2005-2008).[17][18]

New Zealand

In New Zealand, it was claimed that clandestine campaigning by the Exclusive Brethren was such that at one stage it had "threatened the Government" of that country.[14] New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark accused the sect of hiring a private detective to gather dirt on her and husband Peter Davis, who was pictured in a magazine being kissed by a "mystery man", who turned out to be a family friend.[8][19]


  1. "Exclusive Brethren". Reachout Trust. 2008-01-09. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Who are the Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship?". The Exclusive Brethren official website. The Exclusive Brethren. Retrieved 2007-03-01. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Halpin, Tony (2005-03-21). "Top marks for sect schools that shun the modern world". The Times (London: Times Newspapers Ltd).,,2-1534692,00.html/. Retrieved 2007-01-20. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2,10117,20469486-2,00.html
  10. "Fed: Exclusive Brethren "extremist cult", says Rudd" AAP General News Wire. Sydney: Aug 22, 2007. pg. 1,23739,22288290-5003500,00.html
  11. Abigail, Shawn. ""Plymouth Brethren" FAQ". Retrieved 2007-01-19. 
  14. 14.0 14.1
  16. "Fed: Exclusive Brethren "extremist cult", says Rudd" AAP General News Wire. Sydney: Aug 22, 2007. pg. 1,23739,22288290-5003500,00.html

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