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"Two by Two" The Shape of a Shapeless Movement by Irvine Grey

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August 1, 2017

Book Reviews of:  "Two by Two" The Shape of a Shapeless Movement:  A Study of a Religious Movement Started in Ireland in 1897 by William Irvine and Edward Cooney
By Irvine Grey

Published 2012 in Lisburn by Impression Print and Designs NI Ltd
ISBN 978-0-9575390-0-6
Published by Irvine Grey, 39 Calvertstown Rd, Portadown, Northern Ireland BT63 5NY

The book contains the full content of Grey’s thesis, “Two by Two” – the Shape of a Shapeless Movement for which he was awarded the degree of Master of Philosophy by Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland in December 2012, following his research into the history, sociology and theology of the 2x2 movement.

More details at author's website:  www.irvinegrey.com



Reviewed by Lee Harmon (aka Dubious Disciple on TMB)

Click Here to read on Reviewer's Website


Reviewed by Cherie Kropp
on 8/26/2013

Click Here to read Review by Cherie Kropp

Click here to read another Review on the 2x2 History Website


Reviewed by Lynn Cooper
July 28, 2013

The book is 183 pages including appendices, Bibliography and Epilogue and took around 7 hours of concentrated time to read. I offer this review.

The book is an excellent, honest summary of the group which Grey refers to as the 2x2s focusing mostly on the doctrine of the group in light of scripture. A summary which I could relate to even though I live on the opposite side of the world to Grey. It was as if he wrote my story and that of so many who are in the group or left based on my observations and letters I have received over the years. Grey gives an example of an advertisement where the workers have called themselves modern day apostles yet as Grey points out they have little in common with the original apostles sent out by Jesus. Grey uses the group’s original focus based on Matthew 10. Certainly I heard many times in the 30 years I was in the group this chapter cited as proof they were continuing the work of Jesus today. However, Grey aptly draws attention to the fact that Jesus did not call women into the ministry as the 2x2s do and although they claim to be following Matthew 10 they do very little of it, picking and choosing what they want while discarding other parts as being not relevant for today.

Grey successfully shows how the workers are unable to see scripture for themselves outside of what they preach. It is if they have blinders on and only see the parts they can relate to while largely leaving most of the Bible untaught.

One argument which could be used against the book is that Grey borrows liberally from the books written by Stone and Daniels who left a number of years ago which some in the group would echo that the group is no longer like that. However, this argument is soon dispersed with as Grey attended many meetings and conventions, uses quotes from these meetings and conversations with workers to back up Stone's and Daniel’s assertions.

What particularly impressed me was Grey’s ability to skilfully collate a number of historical documents into chronological order, causing the information to blend giving a coherent picture of the history of the group. Grey appears to have studied the group extensively having just on 100 books listed in the Bibliography section, several journals and magazines and around 20 websites as well as having attended gospel meetings, conventions and had conversations with workers. I was not left with anything less than the conclusion that this is a well researched piece of work which starts off as a historical review leading to a climax as Grey reaches his conclusion about the group in light of Scripture. He shows how the group reduces the sacrifice of Jesus – the central core of the Bible; to the workers, their ministry and meeting in the home.

Although the workers shy away from the word doctrine, Grey compares the doctrine or teachings of the workers with that of mainstream Christianity. What amazes me is the inability of the workers to read scripture and see what it says. Instead they take a very limited part of the Gospel and apply it to themselves at the expense of other scripture. It is as if they miss the central theme of the Bible and end up with an incoherent message or as Grey puts it, vagueness ramblings which as Grey points out is not the Gospel message at all, but an emphasis on man’s way of doing things. He rightly says the Gospel that the workers preach is a homeless ministry and meeting in the home. The 2x2 message is the workers and their ministry. This is not the Gospel message we read about in the Bible which Grey so aptly describes as being the Cross and resurrection of our Lord. The focus of the Gospel message we read about in the Bible focuses wholly on Jesus not on man who is prone to sin. Jesus was the sinless one and no comparison can be made between our efforts and the life and sacrifice of Jesus which Grey points out in his book.

My criticism with Grey’s book is that although I believe in the trinity I do not believe this alone gives any group the label of being a cult. Grey also states that the workers do not believe in the deity of Christ. This is debatable as although the workers stress that Jesus is our pattern preacher and that by looking at the workers one can see Jesus which makes Jesus not greater than earthly men and women I would argue that they do see Him as divine. However, this can be argued against as in meetings I heard many times that Jesus had to become perfect meaning he was not always perfect or was not perfect from the beginning. The words in Hebrew were quoted in this regard. So in writing this I guess that that tells me that maybe Grey is correct when he says they do not see Jesus as divine.

However, I disagree and believe that Grey is conferring that the 2x2s do not believe in the trinity therefore they do not believe in the deity of Christ. Grey appears to link the 2 together. There are many deities in the world and many people like the 2x2s I believe, believe in the deity or divine nature of Christ but not the trinity. However, Grey does argue this statement successfully and as above, it appears that although in some regards the 2x2s appear to preach and believe in His deity they also show just as much evidence that they do not see Jesus as much more than their example.

My conclusion is that Christians say that Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine, the 2x2s emphasise the human part of Jesus at the expense of His divinity. The unique part of Jesus to a Christian is His divine nature which is minimised in the workers message. Their ministry is focused on themselves as being like Jesus rather than the focus being the sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the Cross for human kind. The workers sacrifice is emphasised as proof they are the true church and one which people who profess must accept rather than ones faith being placed in Jesus alone. Grey has given many examples of this for those who doubt this is the case.

The trinity on the other hand I feel is a separate issue but Grey bases his definition of a cult on this based on Theological reasons namely their lack of belief in the deity of Christ and the trinity. I feel the confusion regarding the trinity comes when people stress that the Father and Jesus are One being, when clearly that is not the trinity. I did not see a clear definition of the trinity in Grey’s book and one can be forgiven for thinking that Grey sees the Father and Son as one being. As wikipepdia states, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons - the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit; "one God in three persons". The three persons are distinct, yet are one "substance, essence or nature". As some put it, Jesus is not the Father and the Father is not Jesus. The 3 are separate but together are God.

When assessing whether a group is a cult or not society has been more prone to look on the psychological or sociological aspects of a group rather than the theological given the number of groups whose members have followed their leaders to death. This alone shows the danger of following men. It is the psychological and sociological aspects of the group which leads to disaster. Having said that my observation has been that those groups who do not believe in the Trinity are often exclusive and controlling of their members. However, there are also Trinitarian groups who are cultish in their practices. I can see a danger when we exult ourselves to that of Jesus or bring him to our level resulting in our focus becoming inward leading to exclusivity and an inward focus as opposed to being Christ focused.

A key factor for me in Grey’s book is that Grey points out that the 2x2s started as an evangelical movement. The early workers went around setting up halls and preaching to the unconverted. The workers started off with only a few people and not so many years later attracted a large number of followers. Today workers do not go out into the world preaching but instead preach to the converted. Their focus is inward. Most in the group today are 3rd or 4th generation members whose grandparents ‘professed’ as a result of the evangelical efforts of the early workers. The group has largely stagnated with workers relying on existing members for emotional and practical support. The group has become inward looking compared to the focus of the early workers who obeyed the great commission of going out into the world and preaching the Gospel. Today it is largely a closed group with little focus on reaching the outside world but focused on keeping existing members together and as Grey stated, "and keeping the world out."

Also what I found interesting was Grey’s experience of talking to the workers and the worker saying they will only talk if the spirit leads them/him to. Grey rightly defines this as the workers using this kind of statement as an excuse not to talk to him. They over emphasise the spirit almost blaming God or the Spirit rather than taking responsibility for their own actions. Grey also points out that the workers talk about the spirit and leave out Holy when the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit.

Grey certainly shows up the workers lack of Bible knowledge. Grey knows his Bible and does not need to twist and turn to make it say something to support his view. He has simply stated what the Bible teaches which regard to truths. He has given ample evidence that the workers are not teaching Biblical truths but given this is a research document he is limited and is no doubt required to meet certain requirements from reliable sources to form a foundation to his work. The workers with their limited Bible knowledge and focus on the homeless ministry and meeting in the home clearly show a lack of substance in light of Jesus Himself who came to be a sacrifice for us which is the centre of the Gospel message. The workers Gospel is one of the ministry whereas Grey’s is one that focuses solely on Jesus for our salvation. The workers cannot answer any Bible believing Christian as has been the experience of many, regarding simple facts of the Christian faith based on the Bible. Grey certainly shows this in his research and experience.

Given that Irvine requested input from people I found that input was rather limited borrowing largely from books about the group. I do not share the same view as Grey when he stated on several occasions that researching the group has been a difficult task due to the fact that the group does not state its beliefs in writing. As Grey pointed out it is apparent what the group tells the outside world and what it actually preaches inside the group are 2 different things so I believe that any statement of belief will not necessarily be the true teachings of the group which tries to appear somewhat mainstream to outsiders but in reality is an exclusive tightnit group with its own doctrines based on the sacrifice of the workers and not solely on Christ. As Grey put it, they add to the Gospel by saying Jesus and the ministry. I think the proof is in their preaching and Grey has used sources from inside the group due to his own attendance at meetings, reading an enormous amount of literature and correspondence with others to back up his conclusions.

Although Grey says the group does not print any literature I find this to be contrary given that the group does have in print and circulate numerous notes of sermons by workers. There is ample literature on the teachings of the group.

In conclusion, I do not see that Grey has done an evaluation based on his own beliefs or that of his own denomination The Baptist Church, but one based on the Bible. He has seen through and related the non Biblical doctrine of the workers in light of the Bible.

At times I found myself disagreeing with Grey only to reflect and realise that Grey is correct. Being just distant enough from the group having only attended meetings while on holiday with his grand mother as a child and more recently as an observer as well as being a scholar of the Bible, Grey was able to give an objective view in light of the Bible and was aptly equipped to handle such a topic.

One incorrect statement I noticed was on page 38 of the book where Grey writes that Cooney died in New Zealand. This is not correct as Cooney died in New South Wales, Australia. One could be forgiven for mistaking the New in NSW for New in NZ. However, I was impressed that Grey has been able to collate so much information with such accuracy. Overall, I was very impressed with the book and the manner in which it is presented and one I could recommend that those in meetings read. My view is that Grey’s book is one that is more likely to lead people to Christ rather than away.

Thanks for your honesty, effort and a well deserved degree, Irvine Grey.