This article pertains to the Gospel Halls sect of the Plymouth Brethren movement.
While the Gospel Halls do not have an official catechism, they do agree in principle with the book “Gathering Unto His Name” by Norman Crawford, 2nd Edition. As is often the case with this denomination, they will collectively deny what they’ll follow in practice, such as using Crawford’s book as a reference “How-To” in congregational matters. This article aims to give warning that this book, and therefore the Gospel Hall Assemblies, are inseparable from hypocrisy, pride, and slandering of other Christians. This essay concludes that in order for a Gospel Hall church to be free of these errors, they would need to drop all references to the name “Gospel Hall” and the offensive precepts given in Crawford’s catechism.
Sufficiency of Scripture
In the Preface to Crawford’s second edition, he states that there is a need to distinguish between the church body and the local church. While Crawford does not openly blame the King James translation for this, it is apparently his intention to “improve upon” it or else make it “clearer” on account of the misuse of the term “church” by various Christian groups to mean a building or denomination. I firmly believe in the divine preservation of God’s Word and that the King James Bible is a faithful translation from a preserved manuscript—and thus the usage of the word “church” in both instances is meant for us to compare the similarities of a New Testament local church body to the Spiritual church that is Christ’s spiritual body. While I can agree that it is accurate to substitute the word “assembly” in place of “church”, it needs to be consistently applied to both contexts in order to appreciate that the “local assembly” or “local church” exemplifies “the universal assembly” or “the universal church”. To do otherwise is an inconsistent translation of the Received Text from which we get our King James Bible.
Hypocrisy, Pride, and Slander
Secondly, Crawford states in the Preface section that assemblies must continue to protest against denominationalism, while cautioning on page 22 to guard against proud, unchristlike attitudes toward fellow believers who are members of a denomination. “Denominationalism”, as Crawford defines it in his glossary, “is a religious organization that has chosen a name to distinguish it from other Christians, and is unscriptural in all of its forms.” This is relevant in his positive citation of C.I. Schofield’s definition for a local church in the Schofield Reference Bible, where Crawford states that Schofield’s version is “an excellent statement and quite amazing” as being biblical despite the “denomination with which he was associated”. This is a proud statement, and by Crawford’s own standard given on page 22 concerning “pride of ecclesiastical position”, it is an especially sinful kind of pride.
I am not familiar with the Schofield Bible, but if there is one good reason to reject Schofield it is because he was finalizing a divorce from his first wife at the same time that he accepted his first pastorate, and I could not confirm whether he ever did renounce his eldership based on this disqualification. But Crawford’s indictment against Schofield is his association with a “denomination”, which points right back at Crawford and the Gospel Halls for a couple of reasons. First, Schofield’s ecclesiastical affiliation was Congregationalism.
“Congregationalists” don’t have a particular doctrine in their respective local assemblies other than sola scriptura and the priesthood of all believers. The term itself refers to local, independent, and autonomous church governance. They also tend to require a regenerate membership comprised of adult converts unlike many denominations. The Christian “beliefs” of Congregationalists are the same as those of a Gospel Hall, e.g. The Lord Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, equal with God; The Bible is the Word of God, eternal and unerring; etc. They bare other similar characteristics with Gospel Halls such as associating with other like-minded Congregationalists and sharing liturgical traditions. If Congregationalists are a denomination, so too are the Gospel Halls. Secondly, from what I have observed, Gospel Halls more so than Congregationalists make themselves a clearer uniformity of distinctives than the Congregationalists do, these distinctives being documented in Crawford’s chapter entitled “Traditions of Scripture”. The title of that chapter is a misnomer. The content would really be more accurately described as “Scriptural defense of our denominational distinctiveness”, but in order to maintain a posture that Gospel Halls are not a denomination, Crawford needed to make the name sound as though Gospel Hall traditions and practices come directly from the Scriptures.
“Semantic arguments use connotative words to characterize or enhance the tone of a discussion”
–McDonald, Daniel, “The Language of Argument”, 6th Ed.,©1989, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc.
Over and over again I have seen and heard Gospel Hall members use semantics to support the theme of being a pure New Testament example that Christ had in mind for Matthew 18:15-20, as though any sort of denominational distinctiveness was never allowed in His original program. “We avoid denominational names” I’ll hear, while castigating all others outside of a Gospel Hall fellowship as being pejoratively “denominational” or “sectarian”. Another glaring example of a semantical dodge by the Gospel Hall(s) is the assertion by Crawford that “Gospel Hall” merely refers to the building(s) where they meet and as generic and unbranded a term as the words “shop”, “store”, “warehouse”, “auditorium” or “garage”. The absurdity of this defense is obvious. Travelling members from a Gospel Hall in one city to another know exactly who and what they will find at the Gospel Hall in the city they visit, right down to the ritual loaf of bread, glass of wine, chairs round about the supper table, Scripture verses and Gospel Hall logo on the walls. If a bird walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, call that bird a duck. Gospel Halls, on the other hand, may be most accurately described and labeled as a Christian denomination.
As a comparison, in the Independent Fundamental Baptist’s “world” there is a false doctrine among some who hold that only local, independent Baptist congregations can truly be called “churches” in the New Testament sense. It is called “Landmarkism” or “Baptist Bride” theology. Crawford and the Gospel Halls are making this same mistake, except worse because it is also an outright hypocrisy. While he casts denominationalism as apostate and implies all groups outside of the Crawford camp to be apostate, he makes the Gospel Halls share in that error by way of his own definition of denominationalism. What’s more, in denying the fitness of the definition to the Plymouth Brethren/Gospel Hall movement, the denial becomes a lie, which makes the denier also a liar.
This essay is not exhaustive of the self-indictments in Crawford’s catechism, however, should a local Gospel Hall church wish to separate from these errors, they will first need to abandon the name “Gospel Hall”. Were such a church to attempt to retain the Gospel Hall name while accepting it as a conceptually denominational identifier, there will remain the contradictions established in connections to other Gospel Halls and to the Crawford catechism. The name and “non-denominational premise” of it is simply a self-contradiction that cannot be overcome.Sharing policy and how to cite this article: You may use a part of this essay up to it’s entirety with proper citation, e.g.:
Linsley, Ted J., “A Warning About The Gospel Halls”, 19 Jan. 2020, tedspace.home.blog, Accessed 20 Jan. 2020.