The Cooneyites

The Nameless House Church -

This is one cult on which very little has been written despite the fact that they are one of the largest cults in Australia.

The Cooneyites

Although known as "Cooneyites" members will quickly tell you the Cooneyites are another group and have no association with them. The group we know as the Cooneyites have also been known as Irvingites, Go-preachers, Two-by-two's, Workers and the Nameless House Church or Christian Convention Church. They prefer to call themselves "The Way", "The Jesus Way" or "The Truth".

They began in Ireland toward the end of the 19th century. Their founder was William Irvine. For a time they were accepted by the churches but this was withdrawn when Irvine publicly denounced all other churches. In later years Irvine was excommunicated along with another top leader, Edward Cooney. Those who followed Cooney also became known as "Cooneyites".

The Cooneyites have no headquarters nor do they construct meeting places, yet they are extremely well co-ordinated and effective in seeking and gaining converts. Many a Christian has been caught, believing they are in a normal. albeit strict, Christian church - similar to a strict Brethren group. So good is this front that some Christians (including leaders with a solid knowledge of the Bible) have ALMOST been deceived into accepting them as Christian. There are some who still do not believe this group is a smooth and subtle counterfeit - a cult. This opinion is due to lack of information. Unlike other cults they do not print literature stating their beliefs, and members will not discuss them. It has only been in recent years that some who broke away have given this vital information.

Their "Organizational" Structure

They have a "clergy-laity" distinction - the ordinary member and the Preachers. The Preachers are men and women who have given up all their worldly possessions and live according to Jesus' words in Matthew 10:17 e.i. working in pairs, without money etc. They must walk as Jesus - no permanent place to lay their head. While in the early days these preachers often lived as street people, today they move into members homes when they are in the district and it is the members who keep them. Each state has a Senior Preacher, under which the others operate. The Preachers exert enormous power and rule with "iron fists". Fear of excommunication is used to obtain total submission.

They regard themselves as the only true Christians. Conversion to Christ through any other church is Satanic. Any deviation from their teachings is "earthly, sensual and devilish". They believe their preachers are direct descendants of the apostles.

Current members do not know their movement only began last century and if challenged will tell you there have been groups of them scattered throughout Europe since the first century.

In the past they avoided cities, preferring country districts where there was less opposition. However, they now have large numbers in city areas where they have had great success in wooing people away from their own church. Many a Pastor has lost members to them without even known who they were.

Conversion Techniques

They present themselves as ordinary Christians and do not disclose their true identity. Members will not discuss beliefs but will refer you to their Preachers. They are very friendly to a prospective convert and if a person shows promise they arrange for their Preachers to visit. The Preachers only visit someone deemed "worthy" - someone prepared to listen. They state they have come to preach the true gospel and belong to no sect. If their gospel is rejected they have been known to be quite insulting, even literally shaking the dust of their feet in front of those who reject them.

If the prospect shows signs of accepting, the Preachers generally rent a local hall where they hold weekly missionary meetings just for this person's benefit. All preaching at these meetings (and the house church meetings they attend) is directed at the prospect. These special meetings continue until the person either converts or leaves.

Converts are baptised by immersion and renounce all former religious connections. If necessary, opposing family members are renounced also. Children have been known to forsake parents and leave home under their influence.

Christians should be on guard - especially with the current popularity of House Church groups.

Meeting Arrangements

Normal meetings are held in the homes of "saints" but they also have large groups set aside in various locations for their conventions. They hold 2-day conventions twice a year and a 4-day convention during the summer holiday season. The convention site for our hometown, Brisbane, (only 10 minutes drive from our home) covers 10 acres. Of this, 5 acres is used from the car park and the other 5 acres is crowded with people. You can drive past at convention time and not even know that there are so many people there, yet the Brisbane convention needs TWO conventions over the Christmas/New Year period to handle the numbers!

In the early 1970's it is known that there were about 120 such convention sites in the United States. In the State of Oregon it was estimated that there were about 5000 members at that time. This number would have increased dramatically since then.

In Australia it is estimated there are over 70,000 members. Based on the number attending their annual conventions in Australia at least 50,000 are adults. With no headquarters, no organization and no public seeking of converts, there are almost as many Cooneyites in Australia as there are in BOTH Jehovah's Witnesses (appros 90,000) and Mormons (Approx 80,000). (As of 1991)

Their Beliefs

They declare the Bible is a "dead book" and can only be understood through their preachers. While they seem to profess the Historical Church belief in the Deity of Christ when one first talks to their preachers, it becomes clear late that they do not hold to this. They believe that Christ was neither perfect man nor perfect God. He is seen more as a "pattern preacher" who showed "the way" in which one must walk for salvation. Their view of the incarnation and atonement is very limited, and they do not refer to Jesus as their Redeemer. There is a definite antagonism to the Biblical Gospel. The new birth is denied and replaced by conversion to the "Jesus Way". The Holy Spirit has no part in this work, not has the blood of Christ. Instead their preachers get the credit. They believe that the blood of a dead man can't save anyone and salvation comes through following the "Jesus way" after baptism. If you do this faithfully you MIGHT be saved.

In Summary

Their salvation is based on works, not faith. (Eph 2:8,9) Their Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible which tells us that when He walked on this earth He was God manifest in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16) They deny that salvation is through faith in the shed blood of Christ and without this there is no redemption of justification. (Romans 3:24, 25; Acts 10:34; 1 John 1:7)