If you want to understand the ‘Two-by-Two’ or nameless group, you need to be aware of the following four things. First, several divisions have taken place during their one hundred years history, which we reviewed in the previous article. One splinter-group can be identified as the ‘Cooneyites’ who followed Edward Cooney when he left the main group in 1928. Among the other groups who left are The ‘Message’ people. When William Irvine, the original founder of the movement, was excommunicated in 1913, hundreds of people left to follow him. They are called the ‘Message’ people because of their conviction that Irvine had a special message from the Book of Revelation for them.
The second point is that the main group, often called the ‘Testimony’, claim that they have the only true ministry, because it approximates closely to the ministries of Jesus and his apostles. Thirdly, all groups distort the gospel and lack a personal testimony to God’s saving grace. Fourthly, many who leave the group speak of legalism, rejection, and emotional as well as psychological abuse. These are serious charges, but they are well documented. To explain these points, I will ask several questions to clarify their beliefs and practices.
What is the relation between the groups?
The relation between the splinter-groups and the main Two-by-Two group is one of suspicion, disagreement and separation. The Cooneyites, for example, have little to do with the main group, but they are small in number. The 5,000-strong ‘Message’ group is also extremely critical of the main group. The ‘Message’ people regard themselves as ‘free’, and now only meet together socially and not for meetings or Bible studies.
How do the ‘Message’ people differ from the main group?
Although the main group retained the original teachings of Irvine, the ‘Message’ people regard Irvine as a prophet, despite the character weaknesses for which he was excommunicated by the main group. Irvine claimed he had an ‘Alpha message’ for God’s people. This was probably the message that they should ‘sell all and go to preach’. His ‘Omega message’ concentrated on Jesus judging the earth and divine wrath being visited on those who were not God’s people. The ‘Message’ people criticize the main group for retaining a great deal of Irvine’s teaching but then excommunicating him and rejecting his prophet role. Exaggerated claims are made for Irvine by his followers, including the belief that he was divinely sent to unlock the Book of Revelation.
Why does the main group claim the only true ministry?
Basically, because of the location of their meetings in homes, and also because of their method of using itinerant preachers who are unsalaried, homeless, single and work in pairs. Hence the name ‘Two-by-Twos’.
How biblical is it for workers to go in pairs?
In evangelism, there are clear advantages for Christians to go out in twos. It provides fellowship, encouragement, protection and possibly a stronger united witness. How biblical is this principle? The Lord Jesus mentions it only twice in the Gospels. He sent the twelve Apostles ‘two and two’ (Mark 6:7), and likewise the Seventy (Luke 10:1). In the context, the Twelve and the Seventy were sent exclusively to Jews in Israel. The Seventy were sent to those who lived in regions which the Lord Jesus intended to visit (see Luke 10:1). Their purpose was specific, namely, to prepare for the Lord’s ministry in an area. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, the Lord does not enforce the principle of going in pairs. When we examine Acts, we see a variation in the numbers of workers serving together. Very often one person went alone as, for example, Philip in Samaria or in the desert, or Peter going to Cornelius. Peter and John were together on occasions, but the ‘two-by-two’ principle in Acts is only recorded in about eight out of twenty-nine evangelistic and church situations, less than one third of the reported occasions! There is flexibility in the New Testament concerning the method. While one acknowledges that there are situations when it is practical and wise to work in groups of two, the legalism of this group in the matter must be avoided.
Must all workers remain single?
The main group insists on their workers being unmarried. Interestingly, some Apostles were married, and Peter is an example (Mark 1:30; Matthew 8:14). In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul claims the right, like other Apostles, to take ‘a sister, a wife’ as a travelling companion. The two nouns ‘sister’ and ‘wife’ are in apposition here, and should be understood to mean a fellow-believer (sister) who is married (wife) to the Christian worker. According to Hebrews 13:4 ‘marriage is honourable’ for believers and workers. In fact, the apostle Paul indicates that ‘forbidding to marry’ is among the ‘doctrines of devils’ (1 Timothy 4:1-3). Beware of legalism!
Should workers be unpaid?
The group does not believe in collecting money in church meetings or paying wages to their workers. They live in the homes of members and receive gifts from them. They claim that this makes their ministry unique among Christian churches. But this is surely not so. Many Christian pastors and missionaries live entirely by faith. They do not have a guaranteed wage and live in a house owned or rented by the church. Their support depends entirely on gifts received from Christians! The apostle Paul, for example, teaches that the preacher has the right to be supported financially by Christians who benefit from his ministry: see 1 Corinthians 9:7-14 and 2 Corinthians 11:8.
Are Christian homes the only proper location for church meetings?
No, and the words of Acts 7:48 and 17:24 do not condemn church buildings. It is Christians themselves who ‘are God’s building’ (1 Corinthians 3:9), irrespective of where they meet. And there is no command to meet only in homes. The Christians in Acts 2:46 worshipped in the temple daily. Acts 9:2 may imply that Paul searched for Christians in the synagogue, not their homes. In Acts 19:9 we are told that Paul proclaimed his message in ‘the school of Tyrannus’. In 1 Corinthians 11:22 the believers are told to satisfy their appetite for food and drink in their own houses, not at the Lord’s Supper. This clearly implies that the Supper was celebrated somewhere other than in their homes.
What about psychological abuse?
Some former and even current members speak of an unhappy childhood, a sense of rejection, and the long-term effects of membership. These include low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and guilt. They complain of rigid control being exercised by workers over members, including emotional and psychological abuse, even brain-washing. During the 1970s and 1980s no radios were allowed in their homes; TV, videos and make-up are still condemned, as is contact with Christian churches.
Are some group members finding Christ?
Yes, but not in great numbers. One man, after being in the group for nine years, decided to go to a Bible church where he heard the gospel in 1995. ‘I had not trusted in the blood of Jesus, but in the ministry and places/form of assembly but now [I have been] saved through the grace of God alone.’ Another man, after fifteen years in the group, testifies, ‘I am changed spiritually because of accepting his grace and trusting wholly in the Lord Jesus.’ A young lady, who was in the group until her late teens, has a similar testimony: ‘I am saved through Christ alone … believe in eternal security, salvation by the blood of Christ and am trusting in the completed work of Christ on the Cross.’ And that is the only way to be saved. ‘For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9).