Tag Archives: Plymouth Brethren

Memories of the Christian Brethren

In the current issue of Faith Today, columnist John G. Stackhouse, Jr. promised additional reflections on growing up in an otherworldly evangelical community. Here they are.

Son of the Brethren, John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
Growing up evangelical is a gift horse whose mouth John Stackhouse is willing to look straight into.

Because I spent the first twenty years of my life “among the Brethren,” as we’d say – including three of those years in the actual town of Plymouth, England, so I have been a real Plymouth Brother – I have far too many memories to recite here. Lest my column appear to be coldly analytical toward my heritage, however, or even unappreciative of it, let me recite a few tales of what it was like to grow up in the Canadian version of this global movement.

The Bible was a Big Deal. We had rituals regarding its use, although we would never have used the term “ritual,” tarred as that word was by association with Roman Catholics.

(Indeed, Roman Catholicism was the great “Other” for us, the trumped-up counterfeit of authentic Christianity. We believed that Roman Catholicism was all we were not – which was, indeed, perhaps true even in ways we hadn’t recognized! But we never knew enough about it to consider just how it was “other.” We just knew it was Not Us, and therefore bad. As we clever teenagers learned to say in mockery of our elders’ warnings, “I’m ignorant of the subject, but I know it’s wrong.”)

Anyhow, our rituals were many when it came to the Bible. We never let it touch the floor, nor would be put another book on top of it. In particular, we were trained to memorize Scripture – and word-for-word with the chapter-and-verse reference.

I have found this heritage invaluable as a theological teacher. Just yesterday, a student in class tried to make a point by citing a fragment of Scripture. Another student corrected him by reciting the verse in question . . . but left off the last phrase, which reversed entirely the meaning he was attributing to it. Because of my father’s insistence that one learn Scripture “cold,” I recognized the omission and we got things sorted out before more theological harm was done!

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