Who Are the Two-by-Twos?
A group of "workers" at an early "Convention."
The two men in the front row are George Walker (l) and founder William Irvine (r).
The Two-by-Twos are the largest of three existing groups which branched off from a religious movement founded at the end of the nineteenth century by William Irvine. The other two groups are those who continue to follow the founder (known as "The Testimony") and the the followers of early "Worker" Edward Cooney (known to outsiders as "Cooneyites"). None of the three groups acknowledge an official name, although the Two-by-Twos' ministers have officially, albeit clandestinely, registered and incorporated incorporated under official denominational names for the group in many countries.
Referred to as "Workers," "Apostles," and "Ministers," but also called "servants," "handmaidens," and "true shepherds." Shun all formal religious training. State that true ministers must be homeless itinerants, remain unsalaried, give up all possessions, and go out preaching "Two and Two." Ministers remain unmarried, although in the past a handful of married couples were allowed to remain in "the Work." The laity provides the "Workers" with shelter, food, transportation, clothing, money and all other physical needs.
Usually referred to as "the friends," or "the saints." Sometimes called "the children and family of God," "Spiritual Israel," or "the Kingdom."
King James Version is used (in English-speaking areas).
Use their own compilation titled: Hymns Old and New (latest edition copyright 1987 and published by R.L. Allan & Son, England).
Oppose all church buildings as conclusive evidence of false churches. "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 and are usually held in rural areas in buildings specially constructed and maintained for this purpose.
Usually consist of (1) Sunday and midweek: hymn singing (acapella), prayers, testimonies; (2) Gospel Meetings: hymns (often with piano accompaniment), prayer, preaching by "Workers;" (3) Union Fellowship Meetings: larger version of #1; (4) Convention: extended preaching sessions, testimony, eating and sleeping over several days; (5) Special Meeting: a one-day version of "Convention."
Served weekly at Sunday morning "Meetings," and reserved for those baptised into their group.
By complete immersion. Sprinkling and infant baptism are opposed. Member must conform to standards set by the "Workers" before baptism will be granted.
Claim to have no official name, though they refer to their fellowship as "The Truth," "The [or this] Way," and "the Friends." They have been known by a variety of names in the past, but are today widely known as "the Two-by-Twos." Their ministers have officially registered the group with various government agencies under the names of: "the Christian Conventions" in the U.S.A., "Assemblies of Christians" and "Christian Missionaries" in Canada (along with "Christian Conventions"); "the United Christian Conventions of Australia" in Australia, "The Testimony of Jesus" in the United Kingdom, "the United Christian Conventions of New Zealand" in New Zealand, and various other names in other countries. The Two-by-Twos are sometimes confused with the Cooneyites, with whom they were once united, though the Cooneyites are now the smaller of the two sects.
Claim none, and refuse to publish any, other than to state that they believe and follow "the teachings of the New Testament." Doctrinal issues are not emphasized, preferring to stress the importance of their celibate, unsalaried, homeless, itinerant ministry and "meetings in the home." This appears as well to be the sum of the "gospel message" which they proclaim.
Though their doctrine is often presented to outsiders and new members in deceptive, vague and orthodox-sounding terminology, the following represent a brief sampling of the areas of doctrine in which this group differs from most orthodox Christian beliefs:
- They believe that salvation can only be acquired through hearing and "professing" through one of their "Workers.
- They do not believe that Jesus and the Father are one and the same God. Jesus is held to have been a god-like human on whom the "Christ Spirit" settled, and who gave the world a pattern of "perfect ministry." Will sometimes refer to Jesus as "divine," "god the son," or "a god" -- though they do not mean by these that Jesus is viewed by them as being in any sense God, in the manner that the Father is called "God."
- The "Word made flesh" of John 1:1, 14 is held to be the "Workers" themselves.
- Have taught, and most continue to assert, that the group is a direct, historical continuation of the "New Testament Church," having no earthly founder.
- Do not ascribe Godhood to the Holy Spirit, believing "the Spirit" to be an attitude, emotional feeling, or force originating from God.
- They do not believe that the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and the gracious imputation of Christ's righteousness is sufficient to produce salvation, instead holding that one must continue faithfully in their belief system through self-effort, self-denial, and unquestioning submission and obedience to their "shepherds" until death.
- Hold that Jesus died to save those who follow their ministers, and that His "pattern life" and "pattern ministry" were the primary goals of His earthly sojourn.
Global. Claim to have preached in every country. Members estimated to number up to 600,000 worldwide. In 1988, Canada listed 226 "Workers" and the U.S. listed 845 (of which 63% were female, 37% male).
Claims to have no organization. No discernable headquarters maintained. However this church is run by a group of senior "Head Workers" (known also as "Overseers"). Each state, province or region is controlled by a male "Head Worker" who assigns "fields" to the "Workers" under his authority. "Elders," who have "Meetings" in their homes are the lowest rung in the chain of command. Not all "Overseers," "Workers," and "Elders" are equal—position being influenced by many factors. In the U.S.A., six "national Workers" oversee other "Head Workers." "Workers" and "Head Workers" hold regional, national and international "Workers' Meetings" periodically to discuss controversies and coordinate other positions. The group has long been registered with various governments, and has also incorporated in some areas (though they have traditionally and vigorously denied having any name and have ridiculed other churches for having incorporated).