Book review: Two by Two, The Shape of a Shapeless Movement

by Irvine Grey

★★★★

Note: Grey’s description of the 2×2 movement is a bit negative, often quoting disgruntled ex-members, and he concludes that the 2x2s are a “dangerous cult.” This he means not in the scholarly nor in the pejorative meaning, but in its Christian meaning, such that it describes nonconformity with traditional Christian beliefs. He uses Bebbington’s quadrilateral as a measuring stick. I surely agree with this assessment of nonconformity, even as I find it unhelpful to use a term with such a derogatory connotation as the word “cult.” In the 40-some years I was in this movement before leaving it, I found the lifestyle to be encouraging and uplifting, certainly not “dangerous.” As a liberal Christian, I tend toward pluralism, so I feel no negativity about differences in belief, and indeed I am profoundly grateful for my upbringing in this wholesome atmosphere. Now on to the review…

It is a difficult thing to define the “shape of a shapeless movement.” The 2x2s are a small worldwide Christian spin-off, but they just aren’t the same the world over. For example, Grey writes about the 2×2 claim of an unbroken line back to Jesus, but in my neck of the woods, I’ve heard this claim from only one person. Rather, the usual claim is that God is able to revive periodically in history a look-alike movement operating exactly the way Jesus taught the apostles, and the recent 2×2 movement is one such revival. In another example, Grey finds that “attendance at all meetings by members is mandatory and failure to attend is closely monitored.” Failure to come [every Sunday and Wednesday evening] will invite a “little visit” by a worker (minister) and discipline if continued. That is hardly my experience. For a third example, Grey writes that workers refuse to participate in weddings, though one certainly officiated at my wedding! So, yes, it’s tough to nail down specifics on a shapeless movement, and Grey can be forgiven for trusting a few too many of the sweeping generalities of his sources.

Perhaps Grey’s sources come primarily from more strict areas—if so, it would hardly surprise me if these areas generated more disgruntled ex-members—but while the 2x2s have no published doctrine or creedal statement, Grey does dig down to the gist of the matter. The 2x2s are an exclusive, sectarian, closely-knit branch of non-Trinitarian believers, emphasizing a homeless, travelling ministry in same-sex pairs and church meetings in the home. They disdain ministerial education, traditional clergy and church buildings, instead leaning heavily on Matthew chapter ten for guidance.

Grey gives equal attention to the two primary founders of the 2×2 movement: William Irvine and Ed Cooney. The two joined forces around the turn of the 20th century, determined to return to the simple way of the first apostles. By 1905, the movement had grown to fifty-five full-time “workers” (ministers) travelling to spread the gospel to several other nations, including the United States.

Grey’s intention is to evaluate the 2×2 movement so as to determine “whether they are evangelically Christian, an exclusive sect, a New Religious Movement or a cult.” Grey concludes the latter, because the 2×2’s deny some cardinal doctrines of the Bible, while adding to others in such a way as to make them erroneous. A good example of this is the insistence upon a homeless ministry travelling in pairs. Yes, the early apostles often found it convenient to do exactly this, but it was hardly a staple of Christ’s teaching. With several of these doctrinal issues in mind, Grey believes the 2x2s thus qualify as a cult, using this standard: “A cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which denies one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.”

There is one great frustration I share with Grey about the 2×2 lifestyle. Grey writes, “In their sermons the workers constantly point to Jesus as their example, yet they have little or no interaction or contact with those outside the movement.” He is right, and this contradicts the teaching of Jesus, who, in many written examples and as the book of Acts tells us explicitly, “went about doing good.” This inward focus of the 2x2s, sticking closely to members of their own brotherhood, only exacerbates the exclusivity of the sect.

This exclusivity also builds distrust in Christian theology, which results in less-than-scholarly preaching. Grey provides several partial sermons as evidence of dull, unstudied preaching—he’s hardly impressed after attending about fifty such gospel meetings. I share this preference with him of intellectually stimulating sermons, and found them to be rare, yet I believe most attendees are more appreciative of spiritual encouragement than theology, and that sort of guidance simply does not require institutional education. 2×2 ministers preach from the heart to the heart, not from the head to the head.

Yet, while I find religious exclusivism of any form to be unhealthy, I am unable to speak very negatively about my former belief system. Here is a different quote from the book that better describes my own experience: “The 2x2s demonstrate enough to let them pass as a quaint and primitive Christian movement wishing to emulate that of the New Testament believers, but at the same time reject the uniqueness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as accepted by evangelical Christianity as historical, rational and empirical.”

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