Founder: William Irvine
Date of Birth: 1863
Birth Place: Kilsyth , Scotland
Year Founded: Founded 1897, First convention 1903
Sacred or Revered Texts: King James Bible; Hymns Old and New
Size of Group: There are no accurate records of the actual size of the movement, but most seem to place its numbers between 40,000 to 600,000 members worldwide. These are estimates based on convention attendance throughout the past years. The following are some calculations done on the attendance figures.
"(The Institute for the Study of American Religion) has a list of conventions held by the group in 1986. This includes 95 annual conventions at 85 locations in the U.S. with a typical attendance of 250 to over 1,000 members each. Total membership might total 40,000 in North America and perhaps 40,000 elsewhere...The greatest concentration of members is in the Northwestern U.S." 2
"(They are) global. Claim to have preached in every country. Members estimated to number up to 600,000 worldwide. In 1988, Canada listed 226 "Workers" and the U.S. listed 845 (of which 63% were female. 37% male)." 3
The 2x2's trace their roots back to founder William Irvine, born in Kilsyth, Scotland in 1863 and who converted to Christianity at age 30. In 1895 Irvine joined the Faith Mission, for which he traveled throughout Ireland and Scotland as a lay-evangelist. Throughout this time, Irvine became increasingly critical of organized religious institutions. Therefore, in 1897 Irvine took measures toward leading his own religious movement, basing it on the idea that Matthew 10:5-42 and Luke 9:1-5 should still apply to Christian life. However, Irvine did not formally break ties with the Faith Mission until 1901, at which time he took with him George Walker, Edward Cooney, Jack Carroll, and Irvine Weir.
The movement expanded rapidly during the first few years after its founding. Believers were adamant in their faith, calling it "The Truth" and proclaiming Irvine the "Alpha Prophet" spoken of in Deuteronomy and Acts. 4 Its first convention, held in 1903 was open to the public and had an attendance of seventy. Following this convention, Irvine and two other members set out for evangelical pursuits in North America. Others were sent to Australia, China, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America. These pursuits worked to gain new adherents, and at a conference held in the United Kingdom in 1910, 2,000 members were in attendance. 5
In 1904 William Irvine announced the "Living Witness Doctrine." He believed that salvation is only gained through hearing the preaching of a 2X2 worker. 6 Because of this belief, the movement did little to conceal its identity, but instead attacked social order and public institutions and proclaimed eternal rewards could only be gained through their preaching and lifestyle. Frequently Irvine used his Faith Mission background to obtain the use of church buildings, only to berate the institutions they belonged to. He commenced an especially virulent attack on the Methodists and publicly anathematized all churches, ministers and clergy. This led to the withdrawal of permission to use any of their property for his meetings. 7
In 1908 William Irvine became enraged at converts who did not heed the call of Matthew 10:8-10. He then authorized the distinction between workers and members. Members did not travel, but led settled lives and used the profits of their employment to support the workers, or itinerant preachers within the group. At this point he chose from this pool of workers certain men, whom he deemed "overseers," to handle the affairs of workers in specific geographical areas. This second division was told to the workers and to very few, long-standing members. A third decision was made by Irvine concerning the movement's finances and was shared only with those directly involved. In order to pool the money donated by members to the workers, bank accounts in the name of Irvine and certain individual overseers were established. 8 At this point the idea of secrecy became prominent within the movement itself, and to the present, doctrine and organizational structure are accepted with little discussion.
In 1912 Irvine began to announce a series of new, unsettling ideas at the conventions he attended. He taught members that it might be possible to act as saviors to the stars in the same way that Jesus was a savior to those on Earth. He also referred to his movement as the 144,000 from the book of Revelation. 9
In 1914 these new ideas had become threatening to the existence of the movement as Irvine began to preach of an "Omega Gospel." He stated that it had been revealed to him that the Age of Grace would end in August of that year and following this time no additional salvation would be granted. After August 1914 the 2X2's, according to Irvine, were to cease their missionary activities and wait with him for the coming end of time. At this point a theological split occurred between Irvine and the workers. The workers declared that William Irvine had "lost the Lord's anointing" and forbade followers to associate with him either in person, or through letters. 10
About 400 followers remained loyal to Irvine and were excommunicated along with him in 1914. They formed a new sect of the 2X2's known as the "Little Ones," "Friends" or "Message people." Believing that Irvine was correct regarding the conclusion of the Age of Grace, they witness as individuals when chance allows. As with the 2X2's they condemn all things institutional, citing Revelation 18:13 as doctrinal proof. 11
After the excommunication of Irvine, the overseers attempted to increase the secrecy Irvine had installed within the group. Their first step was to cover Irvine's role as founder of the movement. They then encouraged the members to keep a much lower public profile, contrary to their earlier approach and Irvine's boisterous and condemning manner. Neat and conservative dress replaced prior shabbiness and conventions became calm, private affairs of little interest to the outside world. 12
There was, however, one man who threatened the authority of the overseers. Edward Cooney, a follower of Irvine since the time of his departure from the Faith Mission, saw himself as Irvine's rightful successor and denounced the overseers' goals of conforming the group to a more conventional lifestyle. As flamboyant as Irvine, he publicly attacked the overseers' desires at conventions he attended and called for a reaffirmation of the instructions of Matthew 10. In addition to his support of the following of Matthew 10 by every individual within the group, he also believed that a grave mistake had occurred with the adoption of the Living Witness Doctrine in 1903-04. He stated as his reason that he was not converted through Irvine and that he and Irvine both had committed to Christ prior to the birth of the movement. 13
Cooney also faced inner tension over the overseers' allotment of preachers to specific regions and his belief in individual dependence on God for spiritual guidance. He wished to abolish the two tiered structure and called for the ending of conventions, believing they were unnecessary and unscriptural, instead wishing that all members give up material possessions to preach where the Lord saw fit. 14
Throughout World War I Cooney preached his message throughout Britain, posing a direct threat to the overseers in charge there. In 1921 the British overseers, hoping to silence Cooney, persuaded him to travel abroad. 15 However he gained support from leaders in Australia, who related to his call for complete destitution and dependence on God. In 1922, at a convention in Launceston, Tasmania, Cooney preached for the reinstatement of the poverty principle and following this Adam Hutchingson, the Australian overseer, began to support him and a large convention at Guilford, Sydney was organized in order to hear his message. 16
However, he lost most of his support when he called attention to the little regarded message of Matthew 10 and Luke 9 to "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out devils." 17 As a demonstration of his ability to do this "He advised a sick, young woman to desire a cure, and to read, meditate and pray in preparation for healing. Taking with him two junior male workers he anointed her with olive oil and uttered words. But the sick girl remained ailing and worried. Edward Cooney gave it up and left her to think that perhaps she failed or came short in some way in faith." 18
Workers in New Zealand found this meeting intolerable and banned from their house meetings any member who associated with Cooney. Upon Cooney's arrival in North America, Jack Carroll, the overseer there, decided that Cooney was not to be heard in his territory and advised his members not to attend Cooney's Seattle mission. A complete ban was then placed on him throughout the United States and Canada. At this point William Irvine once again stepped in, summoning Cooney to Ireland. When Cooney chose to heed the request of the fallen leader he was promptly excommunicated from the movement. 19
On October 12, 1928 a meeting was held in Lurgen, Ireland to finalize justification for Cooney's dismissal. An agreement was drawn up to make the actions of the workers more uniform. It stated the following:
No worker would teach or preach anything contrary to what the worker in whose field he was laboring believed without his permission.
If a worker decided to preach anything which the workers as a whole did not agree with, he was to go to a part where the workers had never been in order to do so. 20
Edward Cooney refused to abide by these rules and Jack Carroll, American overseer and the most outspoken advocate of this agreement, declared he would not have further fellowship with him. The other overseers soon followed Carroll's lead and Cooney was banned from the movement. 21
Edward Cooney deemed himself a "Tramp preacher" after giving up his secular employment to follow William Irvine in 1901. Thus, the small sect that branched off the 2X2's to follow Cooney following his excommunication has been called "Tramp Preachers" or "Cooneyites" 22 as well as "Go Preachers." 23 They are still practicing in the present day and are prevalent primarily in Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. The two-tier system has been abolished and the group meets mainly in homes using the Bible and the 1951 edition of Hymns Old and New 24
After the excommunication of Cooney, the movement sank into obscurity. Still, it has persisted under the guidance of the overseers for over sixty-five years. Their lack of a name, church building, or printed material allows them to exist with anonymity. They evangelize mainly in rural areas to an audience of mostly evangelical Protestants. 25 Once accepted to the movement, converts are admitted into a specific group of believers and given a house church to attend. They are expected to conform to all rules of dress and manner set forth by the 2X2 overseers, which vary depending on the specific area and group.
The 2X2's do not have a systematic theology and doctrine is rarely discussed. Because there is nothing officially written by the group themselves, there is much haziness and controversy as to the actual beliefs of the group. The following is what appears most accurate regarding the beliefs and practices of the 2X2's. 26
The 2X2's do not have any official statement of belief but profess that the Bible is their only Doctrine. They rely heavily on the King James version of the New Testament, especially Matthew 10 and Luke 9. They believe that God is a solitary entity and do not adhere to the concept of the Trinity. Instead they believe that Jesus is God's son, separate from the Father, who lived a perfect life to establish a ministry pattern to be followed from that day forward. After establishing this pattern, Jesus was crucified, died and then rose again in body before ascending to Heaven. They see the Holy Spirit as a power separate from both God and Jesus given as a feeling from them to a believer. 27
Members of the group firmly believe that theirs is the only path to salvation and that an individual can only be saved through hearing the Truth from a worker (Living Witness Doctrine). From this belief stems their strong sense of missionary duty. To maintain its anonymity the group funds no hospitals, schools, or other charity operations. 28 It does, however, base its evangelical efforts on Jesus' calling of the disciples to the mission field. Those who preach, called workers, travel in same sex pairs of a younger worker with a older more experienced one. They usually remain celibate, though throughout the history of the group there have been married couples allowed to be workers within the movement and a resurgence of this has recently taken place. They heed to the message of Matthew 10:9-10 to "Provide no gold, no silver, or copper to fill your purse, no pack for the road, no second coat, no shoes, no stick; the worker earns his keep." Therefore, the workers are itinerant preachers carrying only their clothing and personal items with them. They rely completely on the employed members of the group for provisions, sometimes even remaining in the homes of member hosts for months at a time. All donations by members to these workers are done by mail or in person. No collection is taken and no public acknowledgement of the act is made and all funds are allocated by the discretion of the regions' overseers. 29
Two ordinances are practiced by the 2x2's: baptism and communion. Baptism is done by complete immersion rather than by the sprinkling of water, following the example set forth by Jesus. Because a member must conform to the standards set by the workers before baptism, it is practiced only in adulthood. The group does not acknowledge any baptism done by a different religious institution. The second ordinance, communion, is given only to those members who have been baptized. It is celebrated each week at the Sunday meeting, during which eligible members partake of bread and grape juice shared in a common cup. 30
The 2x2's do not believe that Jesus' death on the cross will wash away the sins of all who accept him as savior. Instead they believe that salvation comes through a life of sacrificial obedience to the instructions and examples of Jesus. 31 In order to heed to Jesus' example, workers and members are expected to abstain from secular pleasures and time consuming hobbies. In many areas the owning of televisions, computers, radios and other devices is not allowed. Higher education is frowned upon and many 2X2's have become active participants in the home school movement. Members dress modestly and keep up clean cut appearances. Women avoid all trends and usually wear long skirts of simple material. Hair is kept uncut and worn in buns. Cosmetics are not used and only wedding rings, watches and pins are worn. Men are to be clean shaven and hair is worn above the ears. 32
Services in the 2x2 movement consist of Sunday and Midweek Services, Union Fellowship Meetings, Gospel Meetings, Conventions, and Special Meetings. The 2x2's do not own their own church buildings as they are opposed to any form of institutionalized religion. Depending on the type of service, members will meet either in the home or a rented hall. 33
Sunday/Midweek Meeting: Service is held in the homes of members and led by the "presiding member" or the man of the house where the meeting is held. Hymns are sung unaccompanied from their hymnal Hymns Old and New . Testimonies of private Bible study are shared and prayer is offered by individual members with none referring to individual needs, problems or events. Toward the end of the service Communion is given to those members who have been baptized and approved by the group's local workers. Following communion the presiding member says a final prayer and the group is dismissed. 34
Union Fellowship Meetings: These meetings are the same as the Sunday or midweek meetings but occur on a much larger scale than the twenty members groups present in the first. Both types of meetings occur ONLY in the home, as the 2x2's take literally Acts 7:48 and 17:24: "God dwells not in temples made with hands." 35
Gospel Meetings: There are no regulations on where a gospel meeting can be held. They usually take place in a rented facility and are for the purpose of recruiting and teaching new members. Existing members are also expected to attend as they are needed to help educate the converts, allowing them to gain salvation through the Living Witness Doctrine. Testimonies, hymns with piano accompaniment, preaching of workers and prayer are all performed. 36
Conventions: The first convention was held a few years after the movement's founding in 1903 and since then it has become prevalent. Members are encouraged to attend at least one convention per year. The convention itself usually lasts for four days with three meetings per day. They are held on the private property of members within the group, usually in rural areas in buildings constructed and maintained for this purpose through the donations of members. Believers spend the days in fellowship with each other, listening to the preaching of workers, and giving their own testimonies. Special Meetings are one day versions of conventions held throughout the year. 37
The 2x2's have condensed much of these beliefs into the phrase "The ministers without a home, and the church in the home." 38
The 2x2's rely on secrecy both within the movement and throughout relations with secular society for their survival. On the whole, the group has managed to avoid any kind of public detection. The movement does not have a name, and if an individual is asked what church he belongs to the most frequent answer is that he worships privately among friends. 39 The 2x2's do, however, frequently find themselves at the receiving end of attacks from both counter-cult agencies and apostates. The group does not publish the doctrine it holds and because of this a great deal of material about the movement comes from outside, and sometimes hostile, sources. The group does not take strides to refute the charges brought against them, and this lack of action can be seen as an inability to defend their beliefs.
Counter-cult groups find the 2x2s a heretical Christian movement because of their view against the trinity and salvation through grace. They see the movement's disdain for religious institutions as a threat to their interpretation of the Truth and believe the movement's secrecy to be a direct attempt to mislead potential converts, especially those who feel mainstream churches have become too liberal or materialistic into believing the group holds to the same doctrine as other Christian institutions. 40
A second threat to the movement is the number of apostates willing to speak out against it. Upon leaving, many members see the strict guidelines and constant accountability as a way of controlling their lives and are quick to denounce the validity of the movement, saying it offers a sense of guilt more than a promise of salvation. The creation of the Internet opened the door for both counter cultists and apostates to spread their message across the world while the 2x2s, whose lifestyle does not permit the use of a computer, do little in defense.
No mention of the movement's founding in 1897 by William Irvine is allowed within the group. Instead, members adamantly insist their mission dates back to the first century, was founded by Jesus and that all other religious institutions have gone astray from this Truth. 41 They also teach members that the reason for the movement's secrecy is that it has suffered great persecution throughout its life especially from the Christian church itself. 42 Overseers, realizing members are proud of their apostolic tradition and lack of a name, have kept secret from the group both its founding by Irvine and its registration with the American, British and Australian governments. 43 Struggles over doctrine, the movement's hierarchy, and regulations on appearance and behavior have led to schism and, in the most extreme cases, excommunication from the group.
A third controversy is present in the life of the movement's founder, William Irvine. Though the group calls for a strict code of morality, including the celibacy of its workers, Irvine carried with him the burden of an illegitimate son, Archibald Irvine, born to an unknown woman when Irvine was around twenty-three years old. Archie was approximately eleven at the time of the movement's founding and sources say that Irvine supported his son until Archibald decided to go off on his own. 44 There is also some speculation, though this is not definite, that William Irvine had sexual encounters with female members of the group. 45
Crow, Keith. 1964. "The Invisible Church." Unpublished Master's Thesis. University of Oregon.
Fortt, Loyd. 1994. A Search for "the Truth." Chelsea, Michigan: Research and Information Services.
Parker, Doug and Helen. 1982. The Secret Sect. Sydney: Macarthur Press.
Created by Shannon Leigh Vivian
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Fall Term, 2000
University of Virginia
Last modified: 07/25/01