Periodicals of the Christian Brethren Archive

Dr Sam Hyde describes the incredible wealth of periodicals in the Christian Brethren Archive

A recent audit of the periodicals collection in the Christian Brethren Archive has added greatly to our knowledge of this incredible resource.  

Dr. Sam Hyde who conducted the audit writes:

Christian Brethren perceive the Bible as the primary authority in religious practice and faith. This emphasis on the printed word has seen periodicals become prominent means of developing Brethren identity. The Christian Brethren Archive holds more than 500 periodical titles dating from the nineteenth century onwards. This blog provides an overview of their scope [1].

Shortly after the schism between Open and Exclusive Brethren in 1848, the repeal of the Taxes on Knowledge in Britain contributed to an expansion of periodical publishing [2]. In the decades that followed, affordable periodicals espousing Brethren teaching proliferated. In the absence of denominational structure, periodicals became an essential component of Brethren culture – fulfilling important channels of communication and maintaining the cohesion of Brethren, whilst providing space for debate.

Different Brethren streams became aligned with particular periodicals. Exclusive Brethren titles, such as Things New and Old (1845-90) and The Girdle of Truth (1857-66), paved the way for Open Brethren publications like the Golden Lamp (1870-90). These focused solely on scripture and bible study, but the aims and scope of Brethren periodicals are wide-ranging. By the early twentieth century, the two most influential Brethren publications in Britain were The Believer’s Magazine and The Witness.

Believer’s Magazine, August 1993

The Witness was started by Donald Ross in 1871 as the Northern Evangelistic Intelligencer (1871-2), then becoming known as the Northern Witness (1875-86). The Witness became known for a more ‘urbane, thoughtful and nuanced exposition of modern Brethren thinking’ which attracted an increasing number of non-Brethren readers [3]. Under the editorship of Henry Pickering, its circulation rose to 20,000 by the First World War, before peaking at over 31,000 in 1936 [4]. Like few other periodicals, The Witness had come to provide editorial commentary and comment on topical events through the Brethren lens.

As The Witness’s editorial outlook became more open, critics, such as John Ritchie – a staunch separatist – decried its ‘concessions to modernism’ [5]. In contrast, Ritchie’s The Believer’s Magazine, launched in 1891, looked to return the movement’s spiritual tone to the ‘fundamental truths’ that separated Brethren from other Christians. The Believer’s Magazine continues to this day.

The promotion of evangelical work at home and overseas became a prominent focus of Brethren periodicals. Founded in 1872, Missionary Echo (renamed Echoes of Service in 1885) provided ‘a record of labour for the Lord in other lands’ [6].

Echoes of Service magazine, 1891, (c) Echoes International

By contrast, Counties Quarterly, reported on field work at home. Entitled The Harvester from 1922 and Aware from 1990, The Harvester took over The Witness in 1980. These formats were adopted by Brethren around the world, such as the New York-based, Voices from the Vineyard: Christian Missions in Many Lands, and Australian Missionary Tidings, which featured monthly reports from the mission fields of Africa, South-East Asia and Oceania, alongside letters from Australia. The collection’s runs of Echoes of Service (up to 1960) and The Harvester are available digitally.

The Harvester magazine, January 1960

The collection features numerous periodicals published by Brethren missionaries in the field. The New Zealand-born missionary, William C. Irvine, founded the monthly, The Indian Christian, in 1910. Published in the Belgaum District of Kain, Southern India, this monthly carried devotional articles and Bible studies from notable Brethren teachers, with occasional commentary on topical events [7]. It was brought under the auspices of the Gospel Fellowship Trust of India in 1977 and merged with The Christian Steward. Whilst the former publications were written in English, the collection contains titles in a variety of languages from Spanish to Arabic. For instance, the pre-eminent Madrid-based periodical, Edificaciόn Cristiana and The Green Field – a monthly magazine published in Cairo by the Brethren Church of the Egyptian Arab Republic. Whilst most Brethren periodicals are aimed at a broader audience, children have been served by distinct publications, such as The Children’s Bread, The Children’s Gospel Magazine and Youthful Days.

The periodicals of the Christian Brethren Archive not only provide insight into the history of the Brethren movement worldwide, but also afford an eclectic resource for research in religion and theology, humanitarian studies, post-colonialism, and beyond.


[1] All of the periodicals discussed in this blog are housed in the Christian Brethren Collection at The University of Manchester Library.

[2] For the ‘taxes on knowledge’, see M. Hewitt, The Dawn of the Cheap Press in Victorian Britain: The End of the ‘Taxes on Knowledge’, 1849-1869 (London, 2013).

[3] T. Grass, Gathering to His Name: the Story of Open Brethren in Britain and Ireland (London, 2006), pp. 152-4.

[4] Grass, Gathering to His Name, p. 311.

[5] The Witness: A Monthly Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 100, No. 1189 (London, 1970).

[6] Grass, Gathering to His Name, pp. 153-4.

[7] F. A. Tatford, That the World May Know, Vol. 3: The Challenge of India (London, 1983), p. 175.

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