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“The Brethren Movement” – Back to the Bible on Church Order
George Mueller was also part of a “back to the Bible” movement in the 1800s, which was a breakaway from the state church. It has been known as the “brethren movement” (since those in it referred to each other simply as brothers and sisters), or more technically as a “nonconformist movement”. Other names connected with this movement of God include Anthony Norris Groves, John Nelson Darby and William Kelley. Although many denominational churches may have been preaching the Gospel clearly, nevertheless some Biblical truths about the Christian life and the simplicity of the functioning of the early church had been lost in centuries of complicating tradition, and were at this time rediscovered and appreciated with the help of the Holy Spirit.
For example, it was rediscovered that instead of the variety of denominations in Christendom, in the Scriptures the Church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23) – so that there is only one body (the true church, Ephesians 4:4), one head (the Lord Jesus Christ is the only head of the church), and one name by which Christians should be called (the name of Christ, 1Corinthians 1:2; James 2:7). As a consequence believers from many different denominational backgrounds came together just as Christian believers in these new assemblies to worship God and remember Christ in the Lord’s supper – one body in the Lord.
Other examples of Biblical truths rediscovered and appreciated at this time include:
1. The autonomy of each local church – assemblies have fellowship (Christian friendship) with one another, but are not officially federated, in the same way the assemblies functioned in the New Testament (see Revelation 2:1).
2. The priority of the Lord’s Supper in worship – in the New Testament the believers continually devoted themselves to the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42), which became a notable feature of these new assemblies.
3. The priesthood of all believers being able to function in the church, as opposed to an official clergy running the church, thus hindering the freedom of the Holy Spirit to guide all His people in worship and service.
For further information on details of the general beliefs and practices of those who are commonly called “Open Brethren” consult this helpful article: Plymouth Brethren.
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The Origin of Assemblies in Canada
The history of how such assemblies came to start in north America is given here. Currently there are over 1,000 such congregations known to be in existence. The following is a simple précis of this work of God.
As new immigrants came from Britain to Canada in the mid-1860s, some of them began to meet in small groups to practice the word of God as they had learned it back home – to continue steadfastly in the study of the word of God, the breaking of bread, the fellowship and the prayers (Acts 2:42). Joseph Scriven, the author of What a Friend We Have In Jesus, was one such brother who is quite well-known for his hymn.
In 1871 Donald Munro came from Scotland and visited his family in south-western Canada where he spread the Gospel and a number of people were saved. The first assemblies in Canada were established that year as a result of this preaching: Parkhill Assembly, Forest Assembly, and Lakeshore Gospel Hall two years later. After this initial work Donald Munro helped spread the Gospel in various areas between southwestern Ontario and Toronto, and assemblies such as Clyde Assembly, Valens Assembly and Galt Assembly (all hear Hamilton/Cambridge) were started. About this time (1874) Donald Munro also preached in Hamilton, where along with many others, T.D.W. Muir was saved as a young man of nineteen years, and who became a strong evangelist spreading the Gospel in many localities and planting new assemblies. This work of God became the start of a new assembly called McNab Street Gospel Hall (now West Fifth Bible Chapel).
When Donald Munro came to Toronto in 1875, he stayed with John Ironside (father to Harry Ironside, renowned Bible teacher and one-time pastor of MoodyBibleChurch). Together they attended Elizabeth Street Hall, an assembly which had been planted by a man named Mr. McKenzie. Donald Munro had meetings here for 3 weeks in 1879. In 1886 he moved to Toronto as an evangelist and worked spreading the Gospel in our city. One of the early outreaches was in a tent on Yonge Street where he preached with T.D.W. Muir.
Brock Street Temperance Hall (eventually renamed Farley Avenue Hall, and then Central Gospel Hall) was where Donald Munro fellowshipped. In time, the Christians there wanted to start an assembly in the east end of Toronto, so Donald Munro had Bible studies, and as a consequence Broadview Gospel Hall began in 1891, moving to the current location in 1901. In a similar way, Brock Gospel Hall in the west end of Toronto was started in 1892 after meetings a brother named John Brimason held. The assembly started breaking bread soon afterwards with 11 brothers and sisters. These three Gospel Halls were the main assemblies in Toronto at that time, and united together for the first united Toronto Conference in 1894.
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Lansing Gospel Hall, Agincourt Gospel Hall and Good News Gospel Outreach
As time progressed, believers from these assemblies moved out and spread the Gospel in surrounding communities, forming new assemblies as the Lord led.
Mr. Hubert Lucas, a member of Central Gospel Hall, was asked in 1917 to start a Sunday School in Willowdale in the home of a blind woman named Mrs. Moss, who was unable to travel to one of the existing assemblies. This growing children’s work resulted in Lansing Gospel Hall being built in 1922, with the assembly starting to break bread in 1924.
In 2001, Stephen Vance left his job as a programmer at IBM since he believed God was calling him to serve the Lord Jesus by spreading the Gospel. Since he lived in Scarborough, he and a number of Christians from Lansing Gospel Hall began to hold various “Young People’s Bible Hour” sessions for children in Agincourt. This was the beginning of Good News Gospel Outreach.
The following summer (2002) a property near Agincourt Mall and Agincourt Library became available to have the Gospel Tent for the Agincourt community to hear the Word of God. Over the next few years, many servants of God came to share the Word to adults and children, including Peter Ramsay, Larry Steers, Bryan Joyce, Gaius Goff, Steph Parent, and Peter Lansing. These efforts to spread the Good News were also helped by the Christians in assemblies nearby, most notably Lansing Gospel Hall, and also Langstaff Gospel Hall and Victoria Park Gospel Hall. A youth team of Christians from across Canada and the United States also helped in the summer efforts. Many people came to the Gospel Tent, including a large number of new immigrants from China, newly settled in Agincourt.
During the year those who were saved met for home Bible studies and fellowship, as well as for weekly Gospel meetings, first in Knox Presbyterian Church and later in Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute. We began to believe that God was calling us to be a new assembly in the Agincourt area, and so on September 24, 2006 with the blessing of the elders and saints in Lansing Gospel Hall we commemorated the Lord’s Supper together for the first time as Agincourt Gospel Hall.
The Lord has blessed Agincourt Gospel Hall, and Stephen Vance and his wife Cynthia along with many other coworkers continue to reach into new areas and to new people in various areas of Toronto. This is the continuing work of Good News Gospel Outreach.