Question: "Who are the Two by Twos and the Cooneyites, and what do they believe?"
Answer: The “Two by Twos” are a religious group founded in the early 1920s by Scotsman William Weir Irvine. They have always held beliefs in opposition to sound doctrine, as have their theological cousins, the Cooneyites.
Originally, Irvine had been sent to County Tipperary, Ireland, by the evangelical Faith Mission, but after Irvine told his new converts to separate themselves entirely from the world, the Faith Mission disassociated itself from him. Irvine believed, based on Mark 6:7, that disciples of Jesus should go out in pairs, preaching as the first disciples did, and that they should not have any material possessions other than one change of clothes. Believing they were the only people who were following the right path of making disciples, Irvine’s followers came to the conclusion their denomination should have no name. Thus, outsiders came up with their own names for them: Two by Twos, the No-Name Church, Go-Preachers, Tramp Preachers, and Christians Anonymous.
Those who followed Irvine sold all that they had to support him. Irvine then demanded that all his followers become homeless ministers, going forth to preach in pairs. A man named Edward Cooney sold his stake in a family business and became an itinerant “tramp preacher.” Cooney’s sermons were provocative and hostile toward existing churches, as he proclaimed that members of all other churches were doomed to hell and he denounced all ministers who received a stipend or any form of financial support.
Both Irvine and Cooney were eventually expelled from the group by later leadership. Both had their faithful followers, however. Cooney’s supporters remained faithful to what they believed to be the original tenets of the faith. Today, the term Cooneyites refers to those members who continue to follow Cooney’s version of Irvine’s doctrine.
In order to conduct official business, the Two by Twos register names including “Christian Conventions” (U.S.), “Assemblies of Christians” (Canada), “The Testimony of Jesus” (U.K.), and “United Christian Conventions” (Australia). However, most members do not associate a formal name with the church, referring to it as “The Truth,” “The Way,” “The Jesus Way,” or “The Lowly Way.” They meet weekly in homes and do not have any church buildings. Although there are no official records, membership worldwide is thought to be around half a million.
The Two by Twos do not publish doctrinal statements or any literature, using only the King James Bible in their services. But here are some of their core teachings:
The Two by Twos are anti-Trinitarian. The Holy Spirit is perceived as an attitude or force from God. Jesus is a fully human figure who came to earth to establish a way of ministry and salvation, but He is not God Himself. The Two by Twos believe that Jesus overcame His own flesh. Great stress is laid upon following the example of Jesus but less emphasis on Jesus as Savior. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is a Person of the Godhead (John 16:8) and that Jesus is not just a good example but is the One in whom “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).
The Two by Twos and Cooneyites teach that salvation must be earned. A person must uphold the church’s standards, faithfully follow “the way,” and maintain personal worthiness. Salvation is determined at death, is conditional upon works, and is therefore not secure. Sanctification comes before justification. The Bible, in contrast, teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, apart from our own works (Ephesians 2:8–9).
The biblical doctrines of predestination, original sin, justification by faith alone, and Christ’s redemption as the sole basis of salvation are rejected by the Two by Twos. Further, the Two by Twos and the Cooneyites are extremely exclusive. Only they represent the direct historical continuation of the New Testament church. All other churches and ministries are false, according to the Two by Twos. Salvation is only obtainable through them. The Word of God (the KJV Bible) can only be effective for salvation if it is heard straight from the mouth of a Cooneyite preacher. No one can experience the new birth without the human agency of their own preachers. Anyone baptized by any other church must be re-baptized by a Cooneyite. As sincere as the Two by Twos are, and for all that their “tramp preachers” have sacrificed, they promote a false gospel and lead unsuspecting people astray. The Two by Twos and Cooneyites exhibit many marks of a cult, including their denial of core Christian doctrine, their insistence that they alone have “the truth,” and their teaching that salvation depends upon being faithful to their leaders.