This sermon is number 12 in a series of 15
Strongholds Shaken - Part 12
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
There are two passages of Scripture that I want us to turn to, just for an introductory reading. The first is in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 14 and 15, Paul has been instructing the church of Corinth about false apostles and to beware of them. He is warning the Corinthians that just because a man calls himself a Christian, or an apostle, or a teacher, or a prophet of Jesus Christ, it does not mean that they are authentic. In fact, he points out to them that this is one of Satan's most popular devices and plans and wiles, to transform himself as a so-called minister of the gospel. Paul says in verse 14 of 2 Corinthians 11, do not marvel: "And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers", or his servants, "also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works".
Then, if you would turn to 1 Timothy chapter 4, the apostle warns this young pastor of how, in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith. We looked at Roman Catholicism a fortnight ago, and we saw from Jude verse 3 that this faith was once and for all delivered to the saints. It is not evolving from the time of the apostles, there are no new revelations to be added to it, it has been once and for all delivered to the saints. We are not to hone it or enhance it, we are to keep it, to keep it pure - that is the charge that we have. But Paul warns in 1 Timothy 4 verse 1: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry", that is particularly applicable to our subject tonight, if you would remember that, "Forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth", and we end our reading at verse 3.
For our consideration tonight is the cult, and I say that advisedly, the cult of 'The Cooneyites'. Officially the Cooneyites don't have a name, they have never taken a name unto themselves and any names that they have been given have been given to them by outsiders. But yet they have been named as the 'Cooneyites' after one of their leading teachers, Edward Cooney. They have also been named as the 'Go-Preachers', and here you will see the cover of one of their old hymn books, which they call themselves 'The Go-Preacher's Hymnbook - Come - Abide - Go'. They take the title 'Go-Preachers' based on the authority of Matthew chapter 10 and verse 7, where the Lord Jesus Christ instructed His disciples in His day: 'And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand'. But they take this statement 'as ye go, preach', and therefore they have been called the 'Go-Preachers'. They have also been called in parts of the world 'The Two-by-Twos', based on Mark's gospel chapter 6 and verse 7, where it says: 'And he called unto him the twelve', the disciples, 'and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits'. We read the same account not only in Mark 6:7, but in Luke chapter 10 and verse 1. Now, in fact, 'The Two-by-Twos' and 'The Cooneyites' have now become two separate groups, and we'll learn how that happened in their history of origins. Nevertheless they have many of the same similar beliefs, and we'll be looking at them in detail tonight.
Other names that they have are 'The Dippers' - some people thought that that was just for the Baptists, but no, the Cooneyites are called 'The Dippers' for their immersion baptism of adults. They are also called 'The Nameless House Church', because they meet not in buildings like we're in tonight, but they meet in homes - indeed they believe it is unbiblical, and anyone who meets in a building like this proves to others around them that they in fact are not the church of Jesus Christ. They have also been called 'Pilgrims', 'Tramp Preachers', because although they worship in people's houses, they don't allow their preachers, their workers and evangelists to have houses themselves, and so they have been nicknamed 'Tramp Preachers' - and we'll see why they don't live in homes a little later in our study. They've also been called 'The Jesus-Way', and we'll see that this is the gospel that they preach - not a Gospel of salvation as such, the Gospel whereby God delivers you, but a gospel of good works whereby you follow Christ as your example, and effectively, if it is possible, you deliver yourself. They've also been called the 'Irvinites', after their founder William Irvine - and there are other names given to them right around the globe, but nevertheless they claim that they are the 'nameless ones'. Because they are the 'true descendants' of the church of Jesus Christ they take no name and they abhor denominational tags.
Now although they claim to have taken no name, they have used names in the past because they have been forced by the law of certain lands to register themselves as religious groups by the government. In the United Kingdom in 1914, when the First World War had broken out, all organisations were forced to register - and the Cooneyites registered as 'The Testimony of Jesus', they took that name. Then in the United States in 1942, around a similar time of war, they called themselves 'Christian Conventions'; and in Australia and New Zealand they call themselves 'The Christian Assemblies'. So they have broken their own rule, really, in calling themselves with these names, even though they have had to.
So the 'Two-by-Twos', this larger group, is found in many countries. It is estimated that there are between a quarter to three quarters of a million of these 'Two-by-Twos' worldwide. The smaller group, who more correctly could be called the Cooneyites, who followed Edward Cooney in particular, are mostly found in Northern Ireland, in Scotland, in Norway, Australia and some of them in the United States. The way most people will encounter the Cooneyites, if they encounter them at all, is when they take up one of their meetings in a particular locality. They perhaps start what they call a Gospel Mission, and you'll see perhaps a tent, or it will be held in a barn in a farmyard, and there will be a sign that will be put up advertising 'Gospel Meetings', but there will be no particular name that's attached to it. Or you may come across them through an invitation that comes through your door, and the invitation usually betrays who it's from because it's very plain, it just gives the time, it doesn't give any name of a group or even the name of the preacher, and usually it will have splattered in large letters across it: 'Nondenominational' - so you know right away that that's also a pseudonym for the Cooneyites, if you like.
This photograph is an example from many many years ago of one of their tent meetings, and you see the sign is just 'Gospel Meetings Nightly at 8:00, All Are Welcome'. In the run-up to these meetings, it's been testified right up to accounts that I have read up to the year 2000, that the preachers during these missions might visit local churches in the vicinity where they're holding their evangelistic crusade. When they arrive in that place, they will sit in the church right throughout the church service, and then afterwards they will actually give out leaflets and invitations to the meeting. Usually they will refuse hospitality if there's a cup of tea afterwards, and when people try to engage them in conversation they are reluctant to do so. They don't want to give any information about who they are, or what they believe, or even what they're doing. They want to try and attract people away from the mainstream churches, for want of a better phrase.
So that's probably how you will encounter the Cooneyites: in a tent or in a barn, they don't believe in church buildings - they quote Acts 7 and Acts 17, where it clearly says that God does not dwell in temples made with hands. They believe that the New Testament teaches that the church should be met in the home. Now, just like the other cults underneath the umbrella of 'Christendom', the Cooneyites believe that they are the true and the sole descendants of New Testament Christianity. They claim exclusivity, that is something that over these weeks we have found is peculiar to cults and to false faiths that at least call themselves 'Christian'. In their preaching this can be detected, because they strongly condemn Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy and churches and denominations. Some of their other distinctive practices and beliefs are that they, as you would suspect from what I've just said, believe that their workers, their preachers and evangelists are the only genuine servants of the Lord around today. Their itinerant preachers, workers, Tramp Preachers, whatever you want to call them, they're the only servants of the Lord around today.
They require, on the basis of Matthew chapter 10 and a couple of portions in Luke, that their preachers must forsake all possessions, give up everything that they have, sell it, and go out in poverty to serve the Lord. Though it is not practised on some occasions, they mainly require their preachers and workers to be celibate. So they not only claim exclusivity as the sole descendants of the church in the New Testament from the apostles, they also claim that their preachers are the only ones who are genuine and preaching the true gospel. What has evolved from that doctrine or teaching is what they have called 'The Living Witness Doctrine'. It was developed between 1905 and 1907, and they went a step further by saying that people can only believe savingly through the preaching of their preachers, their workers, preaching their Gospel.
Now that, admittedly, later caused division within the group, and we'll look at other beliefs that the Cooneyites or the Two-by-Twos have - but let me say before I go on any further that it's very difficult to assess this particular cult, because of their secretive nature. They never document anything, they don't publish their beliefs or their activities, and so it is very difficult to really get to grips with any dogmatic form of what they're teaching or what they're actually believing. But I hope that you will see tonight that we can come to conclusions in relation to what the word of God teaches as to the falsehood of what their religion believes.
Let's start by looking at the origins of the Cooneyites - or whatever name you want to call them. This has the sole claim, I think at least, I stand to be corrected, of being the only cult in the world that has found its origination in Ulster. That's almost unbelievable, and some might disagree with that, but we'll not name any names of other organisations that might be classed as 'cults' in Northern Ireland today. Although it began here in Northern Ireland, it began through a Scotsman by the name of William Irvine who was converted in 1893 in the city of Motherwell. William Irvine is the gentleman in the middle of this picture with the Jack Russell, I think that's what it is; and on his left is William Gill who later on in the movement became the overseer of the whole of Great Britain; and on his right is George Walker who became the overseer in the United States movement. Well, the middle man, William Irvine, joined the Faith Mission - that's right, the Faith Mission that you and I know. He was converted and then he joined the Faith Mission in 1895 to serve the Lord, and he became a Pilgrim, an evangelist. Then in 1896 he was sent to this green sod, to County Antrim, and later on he was sent to County Clare in the South. To all intents and purposes, the records about his ministry are that he was a very strong believer, he was a strong preacher of the Gospel. The records are that he had considerable success in his evangelistic crusades and missions with the Faith Mission. Often in his crusades in these various towns in Ireland, he was helped by the mainstream churches and denominations - they held him in good faith and vice versa. He would end up, usually, whenever people were converted to faith in Christ, gathering a number of believers around him and seeking to disciple them, for he felt that the discipling in the main denominations left a lot to be desired. So, without realising it, William Irvine was actually setting himself up as a special leader, and gathering a group of people around him. It wasn't long before, in his preaching, he began denouncing not just some denominations in Christianity, but all denominations as being averse to the truth. So much so, that by the year 1901 the Faith Mission severed its ties with Irvine, and indeed he subsequently severed his own ties with all other denominations and ministry therein.
Now, if we move from William Irvine to another gentleman from whom the Cooneyites derive their name, Edward Cooney. In 1884 Edward Cooney was converted, as you can see from this photograph, it's a little bit later in his life, and after he professed conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ the testimony is that thereafter he won many people to the Saviour. He seemed to be used in his gospel ministry. But in the year  Edward Cooney met William Irvine, and Cooney became a co-worker of Irvine's. In 1901 Cooney withdrew himself from his father's growing business in Enniskillen, and became a full-time worker along with Irvine - one of these 'tramp preachers'. He, like Irvine, was particularly scathing in his attacks on the churches and the Christian denominations. He frequently directed his hearers to leave them all, to have nothing to do with Christianity as it's known in our day.
May I say, just in passing, that that is another chief characteristic of a cult. Although we believe that many of the denominations in the world today leave a lot to be desired, nevertheless one of the chief claims of a cult is that all Christian churches, all Christian churches are defective - and they themselves are the one true and living church descended from the apostles and the Lord Jesus Christ. So, by the year 1904 there were over - and this is astounding when you consider the growth of this movement - there were over 150 Go-Preachers. This is not just members of the congregations, these are full-time evangelists, pilgrims and workers. In their first annual convention that they held in Crocknacrieve, there was a great number of people - not Crossnacrieve by the way, Crocknacrieve - there was a great number of people gathered. I think that this is a photograph of that conference or convention in 1904, and this is a later photograph of a convention in 1913. So, from that, the movement spread right throughout Great Britain and then later, as people emigrated, over to the United States and Canada. So those are the origins of the Cooneyites or the Two-by-Two preachers - but that is not where their origins end, because the story of their origins is also a story of their divisions. That's so important to know, because this is something that is somewhat covered up by the Cooneyites - they don't want anybody to know that right from the beginning, the inception of their biology, there were divisions in the camp.
Through various teachings tensions began to arise within the group. Like many false prophets in false cults and faiths, Irvine's teachings began to develop. If you didn't think his doctrines in the first place were strange, they got even stranger - partly, I feel from my reading at least, through the influence of the Seventh Day Adventists. During one stage Irvine actually believed that he himself was one of the two witnesses that are written and prophesied of in the book of the Revelation chapter 11:3! That's right, if you know anything about prophetic Scripture and the book of the Apocalypse, you will know that Revelation 11 tells that these two witnesses are destined to be killed, and after their death three and a half days later they are to rise again. Irvine actually believed that he was one of these witnesses. I think it was through this doctrine that the greater number of the congregations wanted to discipline Irvine, and he refused that discipline, and he withdrew from the group. Believing that he was one of the witnesses of Revelation 11:3, he moved then to the city of Jerusalem in 1920 and lived in Jerusalem, deluded, actually thinking that he was a special servant of the Lord.
This photo is of William Irvine, I don't know whether you recognise where he's standing, but any of you who have been to the Holy Land will recognise that he's standing at the entrance to the garden tomb. I don't know whether it's the real tomb or not, but nevertheless it shows and portrays that Irvine was in Jerusalem, and indeed he believed that he was one of those witnesses - but what the photograph doesn't show us is that he died in 1947, and three and a half days later he was still dead! Deuteronomy 18:22 tells us that the mark of a false prophet is one who prophesies something and it doesn't come to pass. Now I'm not wishing to be unkind, and if you're a Cooneyite tonight or one of these no-name people, I don't want to offend you unnecessarily, but these are the facts. Admittedly this was after Irvine had split from the main movement, but nevertheless what we have to recognise tonight is that he is still the man who gave birth to this movement. He was the man who set its sails both doctrinally and in its practice. The Lord Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:17: 'Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit'. He's either a false prophet or he's not - that is William Irvine.
If we turn our attention for a moment now to the divisions that involved Edward Cooney. Edward Cooney decided he didn't like the 'Living Witness Doctrine', that is that it was only through the Cooneyite preachers that people could be saved. He didn't like its teaching and its implications, and because of that Cooney was excommunicated as well in 1928. Then that was the formation of the difference between the Two-by-Twos and the Cooneyites - so the greater number whom Cooney was excommunicated from became the Two-by-Twos, and a small minority group here in Ulster described themselves as the remnant, or the outcasts, and they followed Edward Cooney and his particular teachings. That's the type of people that we have in this group here in Ulster. Cooney received their support and gained new converts among them, but his teaching finally led to conflict and confusion even among the remnant and the outcasts here in Ulster. 'Why is that?', you say. Well, another false teaching: he began to teach that souls could have a second chance of salvation after death. That was too much even for them, and so Edward Cooney sailed to Australia, and then in 1960 he died there and was buried - this is a picture of his grave in Victoria, Australia.
Now I'm pointing all this out simply to show you that the origins of this movement tell a story of divisions. There's a great cover-up within this group of how this group started, and today followers of Edward Cooney or William Irvine are discouraged from investigating the early history of the movement, because the early history, as it began as a schism from the main church of Jesus Christ, is a continual perpetual schism as they splinter into various groups within themselves. So we see the origins, and the fact that the story of the origins is a story of divisions, but what I really want to concentrate on tonight are the teachings of this group that we have called the 'Cooneyites' just for convenience this evening.
The teachings of this group mainly come from Matthew chapter 10, if you would like to turn to it, this is the basis that William Irvine based his teachings in this group upon. These are the words spoken by the Lord Jesus first to His disciples, he also based it on the text of Luke 9 and 10, but we'll concentrate for the sake of time tonight on Matthew chapter 10, and we read there in verse 9 that Jesus said: 'Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat'. Now the Lord Jesus Christ spoke this to His first followers, and Irvine took these two verses of Scripture out of Matthew chapter 10 and the context that they are found in, which we'll deal with in a few moments, and he developed a band of men around him, a band of followers who went preaching two-by-two. That's why they're called the 'Two-by-Twos'. They preached the gospel that you ought to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, that He is our example, and therefore their gospel became known as 'The Jesus Way'. These tramp preachers lived in poverty, they had only one change of clothes, they took no money with them, they lived in people's homes, they followed to a tee, it would seem, the injunction that the Lord Jesus gave to the twelve, and indeed the seventy disciples.
Now if you are ignorant of the rest of the Scriptures, and if you casually read and study the word of God, you might think that this is tremendously commendable. We're going right back to the Bible, right back to the way that the Lord Jesus Christ did things! But let me show you again, if you doubt that the Cooneyites are a cult, this is a classic way that cults use and abuse the Holy Scriptures. For instance, if you look at verse 5 of chapter 10, it reads: 'These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'. The Lord Jesus at this particular time in His ministry actually claims that He was not there to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, but rather He was going and sending His own disciples to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Now here is a case in point at the very beginning of their interpretation of these verses, we see how they transgress it themselves - because the Two-by-Twos and the Cooneyites, they go to the Gentiles and preach the gospel! You can't cherry-pick Scriptures contextually, in the same context where we have these verses in verse 9 and 10 telling us to go two-by-two and so on, is the same place where Jesus told them not to go the way of the Gentiles but to go to the lost house of the people of Israel. Yet the Cooneyites are to be found in Ulster! And, as we will see in Oneness Pentecostal teaching, we are not the lost tribe of Israel, neither are the Americans, but we are Europeans - or at least most of us - and we are Gentiles, yet they have come to us to preach the gospel. They're transgressing their own terms, if you like.
Added to that fact is that the message that the Lord Jesus gave them to preach in verse 7: 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand', was a preparatory message. It is not the gospel that we preach today, it was the gospel that the kingdom of God was near, it was at hand in the very person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, as we go through Matthew's gospel we find out that through their unbelief the Jewish people forfeited the right to the kingdom at this particular time. So the gospel that they preached is not the same gospel, indeed the only way you can preach this gospel is if the Lord Jesus Christ was with us in bodily form, right back at this particular time in Jewish history.
Well, add to that the fact that Matthew and Luke's commission also included the healing of the sick, the casting out of demons, and the raising of the dead - not figuratively but literally. Why is it that we do not see this happening among the Cooneyites or the Two-by-Twos today? In fact, as far as I know, Irvine never ever, or his successors, claimed to perform such great miracles and signs - therefore they themselves show that they have not fulfilled these injunctions that were given by the Lord Jesus Christ to His early disciples. We know that it was literal, the disciples said: 'Even the demons and the devils are made subject to us'. Yet we don't see this happening among the cult of the Cooneyites today.
Add to all these facts in the context of Matthew chapter 10 the fact that this commission was a temporary one, the commission that we read of in verse 9 to 'Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his hire'. Not only was the message temporary and proprietary, but these injunctions practically were also temporary. If you turn with me for a moment to Luke's gospel chapter 22, you will see in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself how He gives a contrary commandment to the same disciples - in fact, a commandment that undoes the commandment in Matthew chapter 10. Luke 22 verse 35: 'And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one'. Is the Lord Jesus contradicting Himself? Of course He's not! This is a different stage in the revelation of His ministry upon the earth, but William Irvine failed to see this, and showed himself as being ignorant not knowing the Holy Scriptures. Yet the Two-by-Twos or the Cooneyites continue to apply what our Lord Jesus has revoked and replaced.
You remember in our last study looking at Roman Catholicism, we saw that men have turned the word of God into the commandments of men, to observe the traditions of men they have made the word of God null and void. This is exactly what we find here. They're carrying over a temporary command, and they actually enforce it upon their pilgrims, their workers as law. All you have to do, if you look to the historical book in the Bible of the church of Jesus Christ, the Acts of the Apostles, you see there that these injunctions were not obeyed by the apostles and by the early evangelists and prophets. In fact, to the contrary, when Peter was at Joppa he was there alone, and when he was sent for by Cornelius in Acts chapter 10 he went to Cornelius alone. Philip himself, the evangelist, was alone when he went to preach to the Samaritans - incidentally, the seventy disciples of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 10 were told specifically not to go to the Samaritans, but Philip went, and he went alone! Then the Spirit, you remember, miraculously caught him away into the desert to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch, and he spoke to that man alone. Then he returned and he preached in many towns and villages the gospel of the Lord Jesus, and he did it all alone. We see it in the Acts of the Apostles also in the life of the apostle Paul. When he preached in Damascus he preached alone, later when he was sent to Tarsus in Acts chapter 9 he preached alone. The Acts of the Apostles is full of different accounts of men going alone - they also go in twos, yes, but they go in threes, they go in fours, they even go in sevens and eights! Because the Lord Jesus' last commission that He gave in Matthew 28 to 'Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit', teaching all nations what He had taught the disciples: there are no rules, injunctions or principles laid down as to the number of people that ought to go in evangelisation of this world.
So I think you can see that the very basis of the Cooneyites or the Two-by-Twos is a dubious one, in fact it is a false one in the interpretation of the Scriptures that they use as their proof texts. As I said earlier, there is no statement of faith, and that's why it's so difficult: you can't go down and say 'They believe in number one category of faith, and declaration of doctrine, this, that or the other' - it's not clear. In fact, they will even claim that they don't have doctrine - and that's staggering to me. But nevertheless, we can observe from their practices and from what they preach certain obvious trends of beliefs that we can clearly see are doctrines in this faith. As I've already said, they believe that they are they only one true church, they are a direct historical continuation of New Testament Christianity. Now I ask you - you be the jury, what is your verdict tonight? You have heard about their origins: William Irvine, Edward Cooney, William Reid that we haven't mentioned yet. Do their origins sound as if they are the origins of the church right back in Acts chapter 2 on the day of Pentecost? Or did they begin in the 1800s? In fact, when you look through the whole of church history, you find that there is no record of any group like the Cooneyites until the 1800s. Right away that is a false claim.
They also claim, as we have said, that their preachers are the only true witnesses. Later on this 'Living Witness Doctrine' came that told that it was only through their preachers that people could believe. Witnesses in the meetings of the Cooneyites testify how they actually preach that the Bible is a dead book. That's right! That God's word is dead, and it does not come alive until their preachers - and their preachers only - take it up and preach it forth. Let's look at 1 Corinthians 3, because God's word clearly testifies the opposite, 1 Corinthians 3 and verse 5 - Paul writing to this church says: 'Who then is Paul', remember that there were factions there, they weren't Cooneyites and Irvinites and Reidites, but they were Paulites, Cephasites, Apollosites, and Christites. So Paul has to address these factions in what should be a unified church: 'Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase'.
Now it's very clear that the ministers of the gospel, though we must be holy, and though we must become the gospel of Christ and be worthy of the calling wherewith we are called, it doesn't matter that because of the grace that calls us as ministers of the gospel that sin could abound in our lives - far from it - but nevertheless the power is not in us, the power is in the gospel, and the gospel is in the word of God. James tells us in James 1, doesn't he, and verse 18: 'Of God's own will begat he us with the word of truth', God's word! We are begotten, we are born-again through the word of God. Doesn't Hebrews 4 and verse 12 say that the word of God is a two-edged sword, to the dividing of the spirit and the soul, to the dividing of the marrow and joints, it is the discerner of men's hearts. He is the God who gives that word, the God with whom we have to do - but here's the phrase that I want to give to you: it's said that God's word is 'quick'. That is an old-fashioned word for 'living', this is a living book! The living word, it is not dead!
In fact, how many men, right down to the Reformation and before have come to the knowledge of salvation by grace through faith when a preacher hasn't been within a thousand miles! They've just read the Scriptures, sola scriptura. Indeed, I was reading today that Charles Wesley came to a knowledge of salvation through reading Luther's commentary on Galatians chapter 2 and verse 20. John Wesley, his brother, came to Christ through reading the preface of Luther's commentary on the book of Romans. The Gideons will tell you, and there are some Gideons perhaps here tonight, how people in a hotel room or in a taxi or on holiday have just read God's word, and God's word has brought life. Peter said in 1 Peter 1:23: 'We are born again of the incorruptible seed of the word of God'. I think that's quite clear, don't you? Some of these people are very good people, very charitable and moral and ethical people, and I commend them in many respects for their mannerliness and their neighbourliness and their friendliness - but that does not dilute the word of God. God's word says to the contrary of their teaching.
I could spend time on how these tramp preachers are taking the word of God to an excess which cannot be found within scripture, where Paul talked even in 2 Corinthians 11 and verse 8 of taking wages off the church of Jesus Christ. Frequently he mentions the support that they gave him, and in Philippians chapter 4 he talks very directly about how the Philippians were so liberal in their support of the servants of God. From their preaching it is clear also that they're confused or at least unclear about whether the Lord Jesus Christ is God or not. Some will say He is the Son of God, but He is not God the Son. From their preaching it's very clear that they hold Him up as a perfect example, He is someone to build the pattern of your life after. Now in these studies many times we have looked at verses that prove the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, but I remind you of two in particular again tonight: John 1:1, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God'. Now the Cooneyites will twist that to make it look as if the Word is the preaching, but the Word is not the preaching, the Word is the incarnate Christ. The Word became flesh, verse 14 of John chapter 1, and dwelt among us, it was manifest, He was manifest. Then in Hebrews 1 it showed how the Lord Jesus has a greater name than angels, He is greater than the prophets, He is greater than Moses and Aaron. In fact, God says to Him, the Father saying to the Son: 'Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever'. He is God alright.
Then from their preaching you find out that they preach a salvation that is not through grace alone. They believe it is through grace now, but added to that grace is self-effort. You see, that's the danger. The Catholic Church, as we saw two weeks ago, believe in grace - although their definition is a lot different than ours - and there are many others who believe in grace, but it's not believing in grace that makes the difference, it's grace alone. In fact, there's a whole book in the Bible that is written about this subject, and that is the book of Galatians. The Galatian controversy was about people who said: 'Yes, we believe the death of Christ saves you, but you've got to add to that circumcision, you've got to add to that the keeping of the law and certain rites and rituals'. You might say: 'Well, they've got the Gospel alright, they've just got a few other things on top of it' - but Paul did not say that, he said that their gospel is not a gospel! A gospel that adds to grace is not a gospel, just as a gospel that takes from grace is not a gospel.
The Cooneyite gospel will never give any soul certainty, for their salvation, if decided at all, will be decided at death - and outside their community there is no hope of salvation whatsoever. Those who have been to their meetings, even those who have been converted to the Lord Jesus out of their meetings, will testify to you that there is little or no attention paid to the shed blood, the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. In fact, to the contrary, they actually claim that we are continuing the work of the Lord Jesus Christ that He began on the earth. Do you know what they do? A classic cult characteristic: they pluck Acts 1:1 and misinterpret it, where it says 'of all that Jesus began both to do and teach'. Luke was writing for Theophilus a record of all that Jesus began to do and teach, and they say 'Jesus began it, we carry it on'. He's not writing about salvation, is Luke, he's not writing about the efficacy of a sacrifice, of a propitiation, of a redemption that Christ purchased on Calvary. For when the Scripture speaks of that, we see very clearly in John 19:30, from His own mouth Jesus said 'Tetelestai, It is finished!'. The whole book of Hebrews is to show that there has been one sacrifice for sins forever, and Christ has sat down, He has finished the work. Did He not say in John 17 before His death, knowing He was going to Calvary: 'I have finished the work that Thou gavest me to do'?
Membership of this group is not through an inward receiving of a relationship with Christ by grace, but it's all like any other cult or religion: an outward conformity to their lifestyle. Though it even be the lifestyle of Jesus, it is not enough - why? Because you cannot live up to the standard of His lifestyle! It lends itself to extreme legalism. That's what people will testify to who have come out of this cult - it's all rules and regulations, it's not about grace.
Now we need to ask in closing, very quickly: what is this gospel then? What is the gospel of the Bible? Well, the good news, 'gos-pel', is of the finished work of redemption that our Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross unto God. Paul testifies in 1 Corinthians 15, the first five verses, that he delivered to the Corinthians what was delivered unto him: 'that Jesus Christ died according to the scriptures; and rose again the third day'. He shed His precious blood in order that in Him, and in Him alone, we might have redemption. Ephesians 1 verse 7 says: 'redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins'.
How do we benefit from that gospel? Well, the Bible is equally as clear, Romans 5 verse 1: 'Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ'. Ephesians 2:8-9: 'For by grace', unmerited gift of favour, 'are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves', it is faith that embraces grace, it is your faith and faith alone in Christ that will save your eternal soul. You are justified by an act of God, Paul said in Romans 8: 'It is God that justifieth' - God justifies the guilty sinner who believes in Jesus. Righteousness is not within our gift, it is not within our ability, Isaiah says that our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in the sight of God. If we are to be in the presence of God one day we need to have the righteousness of God, and the righteousness of God is found in Christ. Here is how we are justified, the Bible teaches: God, on the cross, imputed, gave to Christ the punishment of our sins, so that by faith in His death there can be imputed unto us the righteousness of God in Him.
That's the gospel, Romans chapter 4 says: 'Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace', to the end that the promise might be sure to all, 'But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead'. God's righteousness is imputed to us by faith, Galatians 3:2: 'This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?'. In fact, in chapter 2:21 he said: 'I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain'. In other words, what was the point of Christ dying and suffering the wrath of God, and having your sin imputed to Him, if you could get there by the works of the law? Paul said in Romans 11: 'And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work'. It's either grace or it's work, and praise God it's grace - amazing grace!
Jesus was asked by legalistic people in His day: 'What shall we do that we might work the works of God?'. Jesus answered and said unto them: 'This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent'. Jesus did say: 'I am the way', but it wasn't the way to follow His example, for when Jesus said 'I am the way', He was going to the cross. Then He was going to heaven to prepare a place for us, and He did not say: 'My example is the way', or 'My teaching is the way', but 'I am the way, and to be with God you must be in me', through the work of the cross and the power of His resurrection. No apparent holiness of life, whatever that may be, can compensate for the preaching of a different gospel.
These are nice people, they're good people, but they preach another Christ, they preach another message, and Paul said in Galatians that anyone who preaches another Jesus to you, though they be an angel from heaven, let them be anathema. This movement bears the marks of a cult it's sure: the authoritarian leadership, secondary matters that are elevated to positions of primary importance, an exclusive self-centredness, that they alone are the people. How they have distorted the Gospel and the great commission, this is characteristic of cults, but can I shoot an arrow of warning across everyone's bow here today? All of us are in danger of this. Walter Martin, who wrote that great book 'The Kingdom of the Cults', said this - and I think this is a tremendous statement, a cult is: 'A group of people gathered around someone’s misinterpretation of the Bible'. Did you hear that? A cult is a group of people gathered around someone’s misinterpretation of the Bible.
Friends, Paul said: 'Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness', and as the end of the age comes they will increase the more. Need I say, therefore, how important a meeting like this is? Could I challenge you afresh to be where God's word is expounded, and to read the word yourself, and to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twelfth recording in his Strongholds Shaken series, titled "Cooneyites" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word. The inclusion of images and diagrams in this transcript is done without intention to breach any copyright restrictions. If this has been done in any instance, please contact us and we will willingly remove the offending item.
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