2. Robert Chapman (1803-1902)
3. George Müller (1805-1898)
4. Thomas Hughes Milner (1825-1866)
5. A.T. Pierson (1837-1911)
6. E.H. Broadbent (1861-1945)
7. G.H. Lang (1874-1958)
I do not say I can tie any of these men's shoes. I only say these are my models, "in life and in doctrine."
I also do not say that these men are my examples to the exclusion of the heroes of the faith found in Scripture, saints of God such as Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, Esther, Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah, Samuel, Elijah, John, James, Paul, Peter, and on and on. I only say these are the latest additions to my pantheon of heroes.
Of course Jesus Christ is my greatest Hero by far, and also my Lord, Savior, Good Shepherd, High Priest, Big Brother, and Friend.
All the men listed above except Mr. Milner and Mr. Pierson were associated with the Open (Plymouth) Brethren churches. However Mr. Pierson wrote biographies of at least two of the Brethren, including George Müller's.
None of these men were considered "theologians." But they were indeed great theologians, albeit not the sort who use non-apostolic or philosophical language. I consider it the highest irony that the great theologians in the Plymouth Brethren movement are judged to be found in the Exclusive section, for example William Kelly, Darby, MacKintosh, et al.
The theological limitations of the Exclusives was nowhere more evident than in that most practical area of theology, ecclesiology, or "church truth" as they called it. It strikes me as an absolute contradiction in terms that one may be known as a "theologian" while ignorant of New Testament ecclesiology. But such is the case with virtually all seminary graduates. They never learned it because they were never taught it. And they were never taught it is because their teachers were never taught it.
While Milner, whom this website features, was not associated with the Brethren, his book is wholly consistent with Open Brethren ecclesiology. Indeed, Mr. Milner's book detailed Open Brethren ecclesiology more thoroughly than any Open Brethren teacher ever expressed it. (Update: I am presently reading a book by G.L. Lang entitled "The Churches of God" which promises to rival Mr. Milner's tract.)
Now, how can it be that a non-Brethren comprehen-sively taught Open Brethren ecclesiology? Simple. Both read the same New Testament. Milner and the Brethren were not borrowing from each other but simply read and believed the same Book. (I have noted elsewhere that the movement called "The Plymouth Brethren" in the 1820's was part of a larger work of the Holy Spirit, and was by no means limited to the Brethren, though the Brethren became the most famous exponents of a revived New Testament church order and polity.)
Now while I believe it is true that Mr. Milner was more comprehensive in his teaching on NT ecclesiology, both he along with the Brethren believed the churches should operate on the same, simple principles: 1) the sovereignty of the Spirit in the assemblies, 2) the mutual or one-another ministry of believers, and 3) eldership. (I do not say these principles include 1) the Headship of Christ, or 2) the supremacy of the Word for the simple reason that ALL Bible-believing churches claim these two principles, and so these two do not distinguish the Brethren from other Bible-believing churches. I have written a chapter in my book, entitled "The Headship of Christ," which details the disconnect between profession and practice in the churches.)
The point is that, while Milner's book teaches a comprehensive NT ecclesiology or Christian ministry, the founding principles are few and simple. It is a testament to the church's widespread unbelief of these teachings, that they are few and simple rather than "complex and hard to understand." They are no such thing. Now, many believers may indeed be ignorant of these NT teachings. But once taught they can no longer claim ignorance. For example, it is as clear as the day is long that elders, and not "professionals," are called to the pastorate. But I have "belabored" this point many times. As another example, the almost universal judgment that the epistles to Timothy and Titus are "pastoral" has wrought more havoc on NT ecclesiology than any other idea. (Timothy and Titus were evangelists, not pastors; however evangelists, in the course of their work, do the work of pastoring and teaching until the time their work is finished and elders appointed. But, no! the church has found "the supremacy of a young, professional pastorate" in these letters!)
Notice, only two of my esteemed brethren lived far into the twentieth century. I believe that the later Open Brethren churches have reverted to an admixture of their original principles with clericalism. I am not sure that latter-day Open Brethren churches are even aware of their founding principles. (In my limited experience with them, it appears they are not. But my experience is admittedly limited.) I believe I have every bit as much a right, if not more, to claim Norris, Müller, Broadbent, et al., as my spiritual role models for the reason that I believe in the same principles as they, and that they called themselves "brethren," not "Brethren," i.e., they were not members of, nor were they promoting, a sect or denomination, and therefore members of Brethren churches have no superior claim to mine. I do not say their claim, should they make it (and I'm not sure if they do, or how many of them do), is inferior to mine, but only that it is not superior to mine.
The Open Brethren, in their origins and history through the nineteenth century, were not sectarian, for the reasons that 1) they were simply an association of independent churches, and 2) they did not make any claims contrary to NT teaching, which of course the sects by their very formation, do.
I believe we are near the time of the Lord's return, that we will not again see a revival along the lines of the early nineteenth century, for the reason that Jesus said (in Luke 18:8),
Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
I take great comfort in the lives and doctrine of these six mens. A man must fear if he is truly "a lone voice," and must check his Bible to see if what he teaches is really and truly what the Bible says. For it is the apostles' teaching that is the ultimate test. But, praise God, He lifted up faithful witnesses in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I do not say there are not godly Christian men in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Far from it! Many of these were and are evangelists (today we call them "missionaries) who gave or are giving their lives for the sake of the gospel. By contrast, the churches, with rare exceptions, are almost universally clericalist, that is, divided into "clergy" and "laity," and it makes no difference whether they call these men "Bob," or "pastor," or "reverend."
But my role models concern proponents of "church truth," which is considered of little value today, or it is "inconsequential," or it is "a matter of opinion," or it is "a striving over words," but not to me it isn't. I praise the Lord for Groves, Müller, Chapman, Milner, Broadbent, and Lang. I will look for them in heaven and hope I don't need to stand in line too long, though of course time will not be a concern in eternity, neither tiredness from standing!