Date of Award

Spring 1994

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Misner, Paul

Second Advisor

Carey, Patrick

Third Advisor

Hinze, Christine F.


The early Plymouth (Christian) Brethren are an infamous and consistently. misunderstood evangelical secessionist movement. They are a popular example of the desire to recover the primitive or apostolic Christian church. Historians tout the Brethren as one of the most obvious examples of primitivism and ecclesial piety in English lands; so obvious that, to date, no material demonstration of this assertion has peen offered. There is also a failure to account for the significant segment of the Brethren movement which is decidedly anti-restorationist. Other historians extol the significance of the Brethren in the rise of biblical literalism, prophecy and eschatological piety in England at the start of the nineteenth century. The Brethren wrote about prophecy, they preached about prophecy and they were seemingly consumed with the emphasis upon prophecy. Still a third group of historians argues that while the Brethren were concerned with both ecclesial-primitivist-and eschatological piety they are simply too difficult or confused to understand. The problem faced today is how the early Brethren movement is best understood. How did they understand their own efforts at piety? What significance did they attribute to primitivism and restorationism, to prophecy, or to the relationship of the two subjects? They paid considerable attention to these topics and they were very self conscious about their efforts in the areas of ecclesial and eschatological piety. This dissertation will argue that the first generation Brethren were primarily concerned with a form of ecclesial piety best known as primitivism; and they used the subject of prophecy to serve the ends of ecclesiology. For some of the early Brethren, a minority, this meant the restoration of the primitive church was the way to true Christian piety. For others, the majority, piety came by the renunciation of.efforts to restore the primitive church while maintaining all the rights and privileges of being identified with the primitive church, and all the burdens of being separated from it by time and circumstances. But both segments within the Brethren movement sought piety through ecclesial purity-the piety of primitivism...



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