Outpost Warning Page
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The Cooneyites are a cult that is known by a large number of names, including but not limited to Cooneyites, Tramp-preachers, Go-Preachers, Two-by-Twos, The Jesus Way, The Church Without A Name, Irvinites, The Truth, The Way and a number of other names. Their official name in the United Kingdom is 'The Testimony of Jesus,' in the United States is 'Christian Conventions' and in Australia is 'Christian Assemblies.'
Within their own organisation, Cooneyites refer to each other as Christians and Friends, and their organisation as a whole as 'The Jesus Way.'
They are known by their custom of going from place to place in twos, disseminating their teachings as they go. They travel without money, relying on the hospitality of their friends to meet their needs.
This group is an extremely secretive movement and it is difficult to gauge numbers in any local area. It would appear that this group is particularly active in the Lake Macquarie area of New South Wales and I often see what appear to be a pairs of these preachers in my area. With this fact in mind, I felt it best to post the Cooneyites in my first 'Outpost Warning Page.'
It is thought that membership numbers in Australia range within the hundreds to perhaps several thousand, though it is nearly impossible to be sure as to numbers as the organisation is very secretive and flies beneath the radar of most Australians.
I believe that I may have had some contact with a married pair from this group that went about preaching, however, it is difficult to know for sure. I can see certain methods in what they did typical of this group, but I have no way of being sure. What I experienced in this pair was certainly a man-orientated religion.
As you continue through this page and visit the further resources linked to at the bottom of the page, it will become readily apparent that this group is more nefarious than they may first appear.
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The Cooneyites began as an organisation through the work of William Irvine (1863-1947) in Ireland. Irvine went to Ireland from Scotland in 1897 as a missionary with an organisation known as the 'Faith Mission.' He left this group in 1901 to begin his own ministry in the town of Nenagh, Tipperary.
In this region he soon had a small band of followers, including Edward Cooney (from whom the name 'Cooneyites' derives) and Jack Carroll. They began to hold meetings in schools and Methodist churches. Soon he gained further proselytes and the movement began to grow. However, when he began to attack Methodism, he use of Methodist buildings was no longer allowed to continue. Soon the attacks spread to all other Christian denominations.
The first of many 'conventions' was held in Ireland in 1903 and was attended by about 70 people. From here the group dispersed in order to spread their poison around the world, with Irvine travelling to the United States with another preacher. Other pairs of preachers were sent to other countries, including Australia.
As the group grew rapidly, so the need for greater organisation became apparent. Further conventions were held, often attended by hundreds of people. Soon the membership included those who were regarded as the workers and those who were regarded as the ordinary members. Soon there were to be overseers over groups of pairs who had been sent out to preach.
William Irvine became a victim of his own bizarre doctrines in 1914, when he was thrown out of the organisation following a failed prediction of the end of the world. He also taught that Jesus Way preachers should travel to other planets to preach the Jesus Way gospel in those realms. Irvine founded another movement after his excommunication, being made up of those former members of the Jesus Way who were excommunicated with him.
Edward Cooney was thrown out of the group in 1928 for advocating a return to more primitive Jesus Way practices.
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The Cooneyites believe that they must go out two-by-two in obedience to Matthew 10:5-42 and Luke 9 and 10, taking their message of salvation to the lost. In doing so they are to take nothing with them, no money and no extravagance in the way of clothing or property. They are to rely on their friends and brethren to supply their needs as they go about what is known as 'The Jesus Way' of living and witnessing. Ministers are required to sell all in order to fully serve and are fully reliant on the members to supply their needs.
To be saved, a person must respond to the message they bring and become part of 'The Jesus Way' that this organisation pushes. No-one is saved unless they are saved via this group and the message they bring. They seem to minister only to those who have already heard the gospel and seek to separate people from their churches.
As you would expect with this sort of salvation message (only possible to be saved via this group), converts are taught that they must abandon all other fellowship and fellowship with those of 'The Jesus Way' only. This is taken to such a degree, that those who convert to this group are taught to withdraw from even family members and partners who have not converted to them. Those who minister in other denominations are regarded as false prophets.
The organisation is divided into two groups, those who are regarded as workers or ministers, and those that are regarded as members, friends or brothers.
There is a fairly strong ascetic ethic among Cooneyites, with bans on various 'vices' regarded as normal. These include such things as drinking, smoking, television, etc. All these things are regarded as hostile to The Jesus Way. Members are often marked in their dress, for they dress in a very plain fashion, so as not to be worldly.
Meetings of this group are held in houses of those who belong to the group. However, those in 'ministry' positions are encouraged to sell their property and hand the proceeds over to the organisation, before they too are sent out to preach. Those who minister in such are way are strongly dissuaded from marriage and any other relationship which would lead them away from their primary function of preaching.
Each house church is led by a bishop or elder and is attended by about two dozen members. There is also an arrangement whereby areas are divided into 'fields' of labour, in which pairs of preachers work. Larger areas made up of a number of fields are overseen by an overseer.
The local house church will have a mid-week Bible study and prayer meeting. The Sunday meeting is largely a time of singing, sharing what has been gleaned from the Bible during the week, prayer, the Lord's Supper and testimony giving. There seems little room for preaching in the Sunday meetings.
Major meetings known as conventions are held in buildings that are owned by members of the organisation. They do not use public buildings for their meetings. These conventions are held at least annually and in Australia are usually held on a farm.
It is difficult to know where members of this group are meeting, whether it be on Sundays or during the week. The meetings are not advertised and there are no written materials distributed (apart from a hymn book).
Those who leave the organisation are regarded as apostates who have no further hope and are deemed lost forever.
The organisation uses the King James Version of the Bible and does not allow any other versions.
The organisation recognises the Lord's Supper, which is partakes of weekly, and baptism by immersion. However, baptisms performed by any other denomination are not regarded as valid, as is consistent with their views of apostasy in all other denominations.
Church discipline is taken very seriously, with punishment for misdemeanours ranging from the 'silent' treatment to excommunication (which would be largely regarded as being removed from the Kingdom of God).
The doctrinal position of the Cooneyites is extremely difficult to arrive at because of their secretive manner.
It would seem that the organisation is keen to propagate the view that The Jesus Way has existed since the time of Christ, maintaining the only faithful witness since that time. Throughout history, all other denominations have continued to persecute them and this has driven them 'underground.' The beginning of the organisation by William Irvine appears to be conveniently forgotten.
It seems that an orthodox understanding of the Trinity is not held to by Cooneyites, with the Father and the Son regarded as separate beings, and the Holy Spirit being merely a force/power coming from God.
Salvation would appear to be determined by being part of the Jesus Way, remaining a part of the Jesus Way and being saved by joining the Jesus Way. A member must then continue to live The Jesus Way to be sure of being saved. It would seem that the atoning work of Christ enters little into the way of salvation from a Cooneyite perspective. Being outside of the Jesus Way is a sure way of maintaining a place in Hell.
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Please note that there are a couple of web sites below that are actually put together by members of Cooneyite groups. They are included in the list to provide an actual insight into the organisation.
- Church Without A Name, The - Kathleen Lewis
- Life and Ministry of William Irvine (1863-1947) - Cherie Cropp
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