He Heard from “the Underground Remnant"
He Heard it from Willie Gill’s Family
He Heard it from his Sister
George Gittins’ Account of Robert Darling
He did NOT Hear it from his Parents
He heard from Two Little Old Ladies
Who was William Irvine?
When it comes to answering
this question, the friends and
workers hold several different, even contradictory, opinions. What is the
true story? WHO REALLY STARTED IT? In a fellowship that is widely proclaimed to be "the
yesterday, today and forever," isn't it strange that there are so
differing explanations for its origin?
a person firmly believes that one particular method of worshipping
right and is of apostolic succession, there is no room for the
discovery of a
twentieth century founder. So
when the short history of the 2x2 fellowship and Irvine's part in it
known, that person often finds an alternative explanation for this
inconsistency, which allows them to continue to put total faith and
reliance in "the right way" of which they are a part.
Those who do not believe or will not accept that Wm. Irvine was the founder of the 2x2 fellowship and ministry often use one of the following alternative explanations for how the movement started. This doesn't mean they are deliberately trying to deceive; but rather that they don't really know and either heard an explanation from another, or that they are trying to rationalize. There are, of course, some who have always known about "the beginnings." There are some areas where it is widely acknowledged; but other areas where apostolic succession has been taught for generations (America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada).
Sydney Holt, a California brother worker, wrote a letter to "Dear Friends far and near" dated June 27, 1985, while he was visiting Ireland where his family is from. He mentions Dora Holland, his aunt, who was the first person to profess under Wm. Irvine in Kilrush, Ireland, who went into the work in 1902, and he stated, "Ireland is the only country where workers were not imported but were exported." Jack Carroll told Charles Wells and Everett Swanson: “Boys, there is no such thing as apostolic succession” (post by Paul Abenroth on PMB, Feb. 25, 2002*)
What about the supposed workers existing in Switzerland and Scotland,
Irvine's time? Sydney Holt's statement does not agree with Rob Darling's account as told by George Gittins: "William's
sister had been told about the lifestyle of some who had been homeless
in Switzerland." Or with Garrett Hughes, American Overseer, whose parents
professed through William Irvine who told about the "beginning of days" from the platform and
stated at the funeral of brother worker Erling Omdal: "Ninety years ago, a letter came from Ireland. We heard about those with no home, no name, etc. Forty people made their choice. Sixteen went out in the work--that was the beginning." (Funeral Notes Oct. 6, 1987, Eagle Bend, Minnesota)
Dr. Cornelius Jaenen (a Canadian friend) said Wm. Irvine came in contact with the Gill family in England. While Walter Pollock, Canadian brother worker, was quoted as saying the church was formed at the turn of the century in Great Britain. Why is there so much inconsistency? Which was it? Ireland, Switzerland, Scotland or England?
HE HEARD FROM THE UNDERGROUND REMNANT...Sometimes the explanation given is: "It was hidden 'underground' or 'lay dormant' with a 'remnant' of God's people." A "remnant" is something that remains or survives and implies some process, catastrophe or judgment occurred which eliminated many or most of a group. An "underground" position is assumed by a group when severe persecution is waged by a larger more powerful group. This was the circumstance of the early church of the first century when it went underground and met for worship in the catacombs beneath the streets of Rome, as well as the various anti-Roman Catholic churches; and even the American "Underground Railway" which was in operation during the Civil War. History records that the early Christian believers were forced to go underground for survival. Christianity was outlawed in many areas and countless believers were killed, tortured, fed to wild beasts, burned at stake, beheaded or martyred in other ways too horrible to contemplate. However, no significant religious persecution had occurred for a couple of centuries before 1900--why didn't the supposed remnant come out much earlier, instead of waiting until 1897? What is the eternal disposition of all the people who could not hear the gospel while it was underground? Were none of these people saved? To imply so contradicts the nature of a just God who said His truth shall be found in ALL generations. It just doesn't all add up, and appears to be a rescue attempt designed to uphold a pet theory based on wishful thinking, rather than logical reasoning and evidence. This theory materialized out of the "necessity" to keep alive the idea that this fellowship is God's only true way.
WILLIAM IRVINE HEARD IT FROM WILLIE
GILL'S FAMILY...In his speech: "Following Up the First Century
Church," Dr. Jaenen, one of the Canadian friends, alleges that Irvine heard
of this fellowship through Willie Gill's family: "A number of tracts and
pamphlets directed against us have identified William Irvine as the founder
of our faith in Nenagh, Tipperary County, in October, 1897. The fact is that
William Irvine was in contact with people who believed in the 'apostolic faith';
notably the Gill family in England, before that time. The open ministry
did begin in these parts and spread throughout the remnant country very rapidly,
so that within the first few years of the 20th century there were scores and
scores of young men and women (and some not so young) who went into the revived
open ministry. Willie Gill went into the
ministry in 1900, I believe."
Dr. Jaenen doesn't provide any further supporting data. Some stories indicate that Switzerland had some connection with the Gills. Further, direct
quotes from Willie Gill's testimony found in two articles from the Impartial
Reporter disagree with his proposition. Quoted from the July
29, 1909 issue:
"Mr. William Gill led the proceedings (for the 1909 Crocknacrieve convention)… Mr. William Gill told of his conversion in Meath, of how he was an earnest churchman for years. But when the Holy Spirit spoke to him, he came out of the churches and into the Christ way. He had several interviews with the old rector of the parish who confessed with tears in his eyes that the poor preachers were in the right way--the Christ way."
The August 19, 1909 issue quotes Willie Gill as saying: " My mother, he continued, refused to send her children to Sunday School, because she believed that their teaching lay in her own hands.
Willie Gill indicated he was a part of a church group immediately before being converted to "the Christ way" and entering the work, so it is not possible that he was part of the supposed remnant. Irvine's movement started in 1897; Willie Gill started in the work in 1900. Dr. Jaenen's account doesn't prove that Irvine heard through the Gill family. The Gill family made their home in Rathmolyon, Ireland--not England. Church records prove that all nine Gill children in Willie Gill's family were baptized in the Church of Ireland. The Gills, Carrolls, Hastings and Winters were all actively involved with the Church of Ireland in Rathmolyon. They held positions of esteem, such as vestrymen, secretary, treasurer, church warden, etc. They all lived within a short distance of each other, attended church socials together and were all members of upstanding well to do Church of Ireland families. Their active participation in church affairs at such early ages bode well for the future of the Church of Ireland in Rathmolyon. All that changed when Irvine succeeded in encouraging them to forsake the church of their birth and throw in their lot with him.
Hazel Hughes was a sister worker in the USA, a sister to Garrett Hughes, a USA Regional Overseer and was the daughter of Fred and Mary Ann (Gill) Hughes, who was the sister of Willie Gill. An Account by Hazel Hughes, 1971 states that "About that time, in 1898, the gospel came to the relatives in Ireland and a number professed. A man by the name of William Irvine came. He had been preaching in Tipperary and Jack Carroll had met him there. Jack Carroll was from Rathmolyon, from the same district as our Father and Mother [the Hughes and Gills] came from. And he had heard the gospel and he felt he needed to be born again, so he got William Irvine to come to Rathmolyon. But he [William Irvine] came to Rathmolyon and preached in a hall there. That hall is still standing, and Garrett and I were in that hall when we were back there. There were 40 people professed and 16 went in the work from that hall. That hall was just across the street from the old Episcopal Church, where our Mother's folks went to church, and also close by the house where our mother was born..."
HE HEARD IT FROM HIS SISTER...Some friends believe in apostolic succession; i.e. that "William Irvine learned about God's true way through his sister who was working for a professing family in Ireland, who had ancestors in Switzerland who worshipped likewise."
The Impartial Reporter briefly mentions Irvine's sister: "Change of doctrine has made things different for many, especially for those who were not originally converts of Mr. Wm. Irvine or Mr. Edward Cooney, because unless you hear or believe through a Tramp Preacher, they say there can be no possibility of spiritual divine life, past, present or future. It is immaterial how definite your aspirations or what quickening towards God may have been wrought in your heart or soul previously. So that in other words, derivative or successive christianity is now re-established via Wm. Irvine and Edward Cooney only. This is all the more remarkable and contradictory since Wm. Irvine has a great difficulty to determine his own spiritual Father, and he professedly the great grandfather of all! Some say it was the Rev. John McNeill; some say Wm. Irvine’s sister was the means of spiritual life to him, and some are not very sure but that since Thomas was a doubting apostle, they are contented to be a brother of his, and some do not trouble much as long as they keep near the dinner hour, and do not fall out with headquarters" (Aug. 25, 1910 Impartial Reporter).
According to a Worker present at a 1963 Workers Meeting in Richmond, Virginia, USA, Geo. Walker and Charlie Hughes mentioned that Irvine had been influenced in his thinking by his sister telling him how she had been spiritually moved.
The death of his sister has sometimes been given as the reason Irvine began to serve the Lord in 1893. Wm. Irvine wrote: "My favorite and elder sister died 51 years ago ; but it broke my infidenoty and rebellion against God" (May 20, 1937 letter to Grims).
ACCOUNT OF THE EARLY DAYS... Following are some notes taken at
a gathering of some friends (name of note-taker is unknown), which means
this is a second-hand story. The speaker was George Gittins, a brother
worker now laboring in Canada, who related to his audience events he recalled
which Robert Darling had narrated to him. Since Rob Darling is shown
on the 1905 Workers' List as entering
the work in 1905, (seven years after the group started), he was not
one of Irvine's "early" or original followers. George Gittins passed away January 20, 2018,
"What George Gittins told us about the early days of the Truth"
"William Irvine's sister went from Scotland to Ireland to work in someone's home. When Sunday came, she noticed there were chairs set around the living room, and she asked about it. The people of the home said they had a worship service in their home each Sunday morning, and a few others came also. She asked how they got started doing this, and she was told that their ancestors heard homeless preachers in Switzerland.
(Another Gittins' Account said they heard the preachers somewhere in the Alps and they embraced the faith and a church meeting was started in their home by these homeless preachers. When the folks had to leave that area due to persecution, they came to Ireland and continued the service in their home.)
(Still another Gittins' Account said Rob Darling refused to give out "the names of the folks, as this was their request and they wanted no honour...Wm. Irvine did hear the testimony of the friends who had come from near Switzerland--Armenia I think--they had heard the truth there and moved to Ireland. The workers they heard and friends were scattered because of the persecution and they lost contact. But maintained the Sunday Mtg in their home, which the workers establised ere they had to flee. I understand he [Wm. Irvine] was baptized also by the elder.")
"There were no workers in Ireland or Scotland at this time. Later his sister returned to Scotland and told her brother, William Irvine, who was also a dissatisfied Plymouth Brethren (Note: There is no record of Irvine ever being a Plymouth Brethren. Another Gittins' Account said Irvine was dissatisfied with the Faith Mission). His sister had embraced the faith while in Ireland, and when she told William about it, he also embraced it and told his friends who did likewise. (Another Account by Gittins said: "William was called by the Spirit of God inside him to go into the Harvest Field, as Jesus taught his disciples, leaving all and going by faith. Some heard William preach and were converted to go likewise.")
"William's sister had been told about the lifestyle of some who had been homeless preachers in Switzerland. When William heard of this, he recognized it as scriptural, and he and others went forth in like manner. (Another Gittins Account said: "He came to visit these folks that his sister had met and on hearing their testimony recognized it was scriptural and was also convicted it was God's true way.") His sister didn't go into the work, but she remained true to the Lord. (Another Account by Gittins said that she: "embraced this Faith, as she was convicted it was the true way of God.") Later, there was contact with the family in Ireland who had introduced this faith to William's sister.
"This is what Robert Darling told George Gittins. Garrett Hughes told George that his parents (G. Hughes parents were Fred and Mary Ann Gill Hughes) who professed through William Irvine had mentioned something about Switzerland in connection with the 'Early Days' in Scotland. Garrett said that Robert Darling had been there in the 'Early Days,' and so whatever he said was true.
"George read in some history books of an 'itinerant preacher group' that fled to Armenia during the persecution in Europe and later to Switzerland (the Alps)". (Another Gittins' Account said "Later I [George] talked to Mr. Holland* who was almost 100 yrs old, and his parents had told him much the same as Robert had told me.") (END of GITTINS ACCOUNT)
*EDITORS NOTE: "Mr. Holland" could be Dora Holland's brother, Harry Holland, who was also a worker; or possibly, it was another brother of Dora.
The Gittins Account contains details no other known account has. In fact, the other records from the period in question appear to contradict his story. There is no record of Wm. Irvine ever giving out this story. To the contrary, it appears to have become a point of pride with him that he was the "Father" of the whole "Testimony" group and that "without Irvine there would be no Testimony." (Friends and workers group). Furthermore, records vary of what Robert Darling and George Gittins reportedly said.
Why is George the only one who has told this legend? Wouldn't this be a well-known story among the friends at the time? Why did no one make any effort to record that part of their history? If all of those workers and friends were scattered, why do we not hear of efforts of those in Ireland attempting to trace the others, in order to continue their fellowship with them? Could they ALL have been killed except for this mystery family that came to Ireland? Even if we found historical documentation to confirm this story, it STILL would not "prove" that this was the "Remnant" from the Apostles' time, which is probably impossible to prove historically. Many groups have tried to, including the Plymouth Brethren and the Baptists.
The Gittins account is lacking many vital pieces of information. Which
sister of Wm. Irvine? Whose home? Where was this home? When was contact made later
with the Irish family who introduced
this faith to William's sister? What was the outcome? Did the
ministers and the meeting elders merge together? What was
the name of any of the homeless preachers in Switzerland? What were the names of Irvine's
friends who embraced the faith after he told them about it? Who
were the friends of Wm. Irvine who went out likewise? When did all
this take place?
What George read may or may not have any bearing on the history of the group. What "persecution in Europe"? What's the connection of European persecutions in a history book to the beginning of Wm. Irvine's ministry? The vague reference to the presence of groups having no name and to some itinerant ministers is of no documentary value. It is speculation. The Spanish Inquisition was chiefly concerned with the expulsion of Jews and Moslems and lasted for around 350 years. What group fled from Spain to Armenia, or from Armenia to Switzerland? From the late Dark Ages through to modern times, Armenia has been far removed both politically (being surrounded and dominated by Islamic territories) and geographically from Western Europe. It is hard to imagine any such flow to and from this distant land during this time. Travel and communication to Armenia through hostile territories existing during this period seems far fetched at best. George may have read some about the Hammidian Masssacres (1894-1896) in Armenia and may have connected some of those accounts in his mind.
Who were the first workers who pioneered
the gospel to Switzerland and when was that? Who were the first people
in Switzerland to profess and when was that? The FIRST four workers to go to Switzerland were James Jardine, Otto Schmidt, Penny Barton and Maggie Johnston. They went there in 1913 and the men had moved on to Germany in February, 1914. Within a year, the sister workers returned to Crocknacrieve where the Impartial Reporter mentions Miss Barton speaking about her experiences in Switzerland the previous year. Did any of these pioneering workers connect with
any friends/workers who were located in Switzerland? Or had they
all died out? When the next batch of workers went to Switzerland after World War I, there were no professing people there. Reportedly, Emma Bovy was the first to profess, sometime after 1922. Read about when the first workers went to Switzerland.
When George Gittins was asked these questions by Dale Knott, in a letter dated May 17, 1992, enclosing a copy of the above Gittins account, he replied:
"Dale...Yours was most interesting and was good to hear. Would be nice to meet you sometime and talk over some of the things you asked in your letter. Robt. Darling gave me a firsthand account and knew personally the folks he talked about. Ones whom Wm. Irvine met first. In talking to others since, I heard of workers talking to some workers from Canada here that witnessed the baptism of Wm. in truth. Which was most interesting. If I were talking to you could go into more detail of information I have. We are thankful that, being as we have the "fruit," we don't need to trace the seed of the fruit back to Adam and original creation. Jesus said, "By their fruits you shall know them." Wonderful to know like Peter said that we have not followed cunningly devised fables. But have tasted for ourselves of His majesty. With greetings sincere in Christ, [ Signed:] Geo. Gittins"
DORA HOLLAND is generally credited with being the very FIRST person to profess in Ireland--NOT the sister of Wm. Irvine. Some reports say that she professed in 1896, when she was 20 years old through Wm. Irvine (who was preaching with the Faith Mission at that time.) Some have attempted to prove that the Go-Preacher fellowship began before 1897, and she is the "proof" they use, as she reportedly professed in 1896. However, some other sources state that she also professed in 1895 and 1897. The Author believes the date was actually in 1897, as both the Faith Mission and John Long's Journal report that Wm. Irvine had a mission in Kilrush in February, 1897, where Dora Holland was working. Click Here for more information about Dora. From an extract of a letter written in 1966 by her brother, Harry Holland: "So many of our fellow workers have gone, yet I am still living. I will be 89 years old on February 6th. My sister, Dora, was 90 on January 1st. She was the FIRST PERSON TO PROFESS in Ireland, but that was before the Gills and the Carrolls decided and before George Walker decided. That was some years before I left Ireland, and I left in 1899." [Harry Holland, 1966] Harry Holland may be from the same Holland family that George Gittins refers to above.
In about 1967 or 1968, Robert Darling spoke at the Convention held at Silverdale,
British Columbia, Canada.. His text was Daniel 2: 34-35, and
45, particularly about "the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands," which "filled the whole earth." He then announced that the
stone was William Irvine's sister who became very ill and died.
According to Robert, she supposedly had a dream which she related to William,
which deeply stirred him and in some manner supposedly influenced him religiously
from that time on. Robert Darling's main point was that we should
be crediting Wm.'s sister who was taken in death by God before William Irvine even began
preaching--rather than credit William Irvine with starting this fellowship;
and thus, avoid any accusation that this fellowship is man-made. William's
sister was, therefore, "the stone made without hands." A few weeks later in a private conversation, Robert Darling affirmed to Paul Abenroth that William Irvine was the first worker, and he did not claim or believe that the friends and workers existed before Wm. Irvine, whom he termed "the firstfruits of our faith" in our day.
However, Wm. Irvine didn't see it this way at all, for he wrote the following about this same verse: "The Stone cut out of the Mountain without hands is to unite the great image of R.P.&E. [Religious, Political and Educational] as in Dan. 2 and grow and become a mountain and fill the whole Earth. David was the least in his father's family but became the greatest, and by whom so many precious promises are given to David and his seed today. Inasmuch as ye did or did it not unto one who is least in the Kingdom, he did or did it not unto Him." (Letter to Lyda & Wm. Baker, 6/19/37) Wm. Irvine took for himself the title of "The Least" from this verse. He was referring to himself when he wrote about "the Stone cut out of the Mountain," and "The Least."
No evidence has turned up so far that indicates that Wm. Irvine had ANY relatives to follow his teachings.
Fisher, a California brother worker, wrote Fred Miller a letter
1982: "In 1967, I talked with Robert Darlene (Darling) at
the Olympia conv. grounds. At that time he told me that of the first
Workers who went forth, only eight were yet alive, he being one and he
the names of the other seven. Our conversation turned unto Early Days.
told an interesting account of how the sister of Wm. Irvine turned
religious. He mentioned that in his own thoughts he had the
Irvine's sister had contacted the truth (the faith passed down from
and passed this on unto Wm. Irvine."
Professor Oliver Wm. Rolfe who was well acquainted with Robert Darling wrote: "I have previously heard the account...attributed to Robert Darling about the beginnings of the church. I have no idea whether or not it is true, but I do know what Robert told me personally. I met Robert in 1958 at the Albuquerque convention; I then travelled with him to the three Mexican conventions. That is, he asked me to drive him in my car. I saw him every day for a period of weeks; he rode with me back to the Midwest where I was living at the time. We became good friends and corresponded regularly until his death in 1970. In 1967, he came to California, where I was then living, and I met him at the Gilroy conventions. He stayed with me between the two conventions, and we had great fun sight-seeing in the Bay Area. On this latter occasion I asked him about the beginnings of the church; he told me that it was started in Ireland by one man (whom he did not name, but I assumed to be William Irvine) after his sister had frozen to death because their parents had shut her out of the house. There was no mention at all of Switzerland. In fact, in all my discussions with him there was never the slightest implication that the church dated historically from an earlier time. He seemed to be somewhat distressed that so many people seemed to believe this. [by Oliver William Rolfe, Ph.D.,
NOTE: Wm. Irvine's sister Margaret Irvine probably died of a chronic lung infection, most likely tuberculosis. The Cause of Death given for Margaret Irvine in the public records was: "Phthisis, 3 months, cert. by John Lind Surgeon, Kilsyth." Another sister of Wm. Irvine, Elizabeth Irvine, died June 15, 1887, and her Cause of Death was listed as Periostitis, which is an inflammation of the lining of the bone. A 1913 Webster's dictionary defines "phthisis" as "A wasting or consumption of the tissues. The term was formerly applied to many wasting diseases, but is now usually restricted to pulmonary phthisis, or consumption. See "Consumption." The term "consumption" was used in the past to refer to pulmonary tuberculosis. From 'The Archaic Medical Terms,' a resource for genealogists and historians: “Phthisis [ty'sis] literally means a wasting disease, but almost invariably will mean pulmonary tuberculosis; Any debilitating lung or throat affections; a severe cough; asthma Phthisis Pulmonalis."
Click here for the etymology of the word "PHTHISIS or PHTHYSIS - Waste away, as in pine away; wasting disease primarily TUBERCULOSIS or TBC, before the exact cause of TBC was known; one of the key signs was body 'wasting.'” Therefore, "phthisis" was probably used back then to describe a chronic lung disease, usually infectious and usually tuberculosis. Remember, they didn't have the technology or microbiological knowledge of infectious diseases 100 years ago. So, it seems that Margaret Irvine probably died of a chronic lung infection, most likely tuberculosis.
HE DID NOT HEAR IT FROM HIS PARENTS... It is obvious from the following statements that Wm. Irvine didn't hear about it from his parents, who were never associated with his fellowship. His mother died in 1897 and his father in 1913. The January 15, 1903, Impartial Reporter, reported Irvine as referring to his "ungodly parents." The July 23, 1908 Impartial Reporter reported: "Mr. Irvine delivered a strong address against the clergy and mentioned some in particular. One, whom he mentioned by name, and whom he alleged had sat beside his (Irvine's) mother and had broken her heart, he described as a dirty, greasy man, a devilish fellow, and a fat, lazy good for nothing man. That man was going to hell and his (Irvine's) relations were following him gladly on."In July 30,1908, the Impartial Reporter interviewed Wm. Irvine. "He was asked if his mother, whom he knew had a personal faith in Christ and whose sins had been washed in the blood, and who by her daily life showed the Christ within her, was going to hell simply because she went and worshipped Christ in her accustomed place. He replied: `Yes, she listened to a minister who is going to hell...'"
Wm. Irvine wrote in letters: "I am alone so far as my relatives are concerned and in spite of all they could do to hinder me." [6/4/37 letter to Ruth and Bruce] "My mother broke her heart in trying to hinder me from doing what I did. The minister would come to comfort, speaking evil of my attempts to do what he thought impossible, and offer me his pulpit if I would cease. My doctor came personally to me to tell me I was killing my mother by my conduct; and all my relatives tried to blame my activities in fighting world, flesh and devil, in going against the whole Religious, Political & Educational powers on the earth - and I am all alone. But both Mother and Father on their death bed said I was right, and the best son they had." [8/23/33 letter to Maurice]
HE HEARD IT FROM TWO LITTLE OLD LADIES...The way had been stamped out, and sometime around the turn of the century two preachers in Ireland who were searching for a true way to worship found two old ladies meeting in their home and serving God. Although the old ladies couldn't remember why they worshipped this way, their spirit caused the preachers to search the scriptures and that is how the way was reborn.
(No further details given)
Compiled by Cherie Kropp-Ehrig