The Gate Seldom Found
By Raymond Reid
Click Here for an offsite Review by Clay Randall
Review By: Martha Knight
The writer of this book claims it is a historical novel. I would have to say his idea of history is a novel one; in no other sense is his claim true.
Raymond A. Reid is or was a born-and-raised member of a little-known cult its members often call The Truth, or Friends and Workers. They claim this sect is God’s “one, true way,” and refer to other Christian groups as “false churches.” They also like to say their way goes back to the New Testament, and that it is in fact the true church of God as read of in the Bible. They assert that their non-ordained, poorly prepared, itinerant ministers are God’s true servants, because they travel continually in pairs and do not have their own homes–which, they say, is the only way God’s true servants can follow Christ’s instructions. In most places these “two-by-twos,” as many call them, are careful not to mention that they, too, have an “earthly founder,” one William Irvine, who launched this ministry in 1897, in northern Ireland.
The record shows that at first Irvine seems to have advocated that all converts to the “true way” should become itinerant evangelists and go forth as the disciples did when Jesus paired them off in Matthew 10 (actually for a short-term mission, not a perpetual style of ministry). These 2X2 “workers” are the apostles of their day, in every generation, so the claim goes. But when some former members researched old newspaper files and discovered the relatively recent origin of the group, the Truthers were at some pains to explain how their sect goes back to the New Testament, if it was founded in Northern Ireland in 1897. A number of fanciful theories and fables have been tried.
Comments by the writer in this paperback book tell how Reid heard essentially the tale he sets forth in “The Gate Seldom Found” from the lips of some of those itinerant preachers, members of this sect, when he was a boy and the “homeless” preachers would be staying with his family for a time. He based the book on their stories, he says. This secretive group has no literature and no headquarters, they declare, so there would be no definitive account of how the group started and spread–until this book.
The book is a cover-up! Reid has the group starting not in northern Ireland but near Guelph, Ontario. He has it summoned into being not by a demagogue such as William Irvine, but by a farmer and his wife, who saw the movement as comprised of laity, who would meet in homes because they believed that’s what the New Testament shows as a requirement. They were rejecting the terrible apostasy of the churches of their community, and all churches that have names, stationed clergy, paid preachers, church buildings, organizational structure, offerings, rituals, etc. As the book has it, after these laypersons had organized their house-church approach to Christianity, they began to send preachers from their number. This turns the chronology of the development of the 2X2 on its head.
It’s revisionist “history” all the way, and the geography is just as warped, with the origin of the 2X2 having been moved from Northern Ireland to southern Canada. It’s as if Charles Dickens had written “A Tale of Two Cities” about the French Revolution, but had set the French Revolution in the American colonies–and claimed that it was historically authentic. But then, the cult is far less than candid about many things besides its history: its methods, its financial practices, its doctrine and its operations.
If you don’t read Gate Seldom Found for a true-to-history account of the founding of the 2X2 cult, you might think to read it for its literary value. But here you will be disappointed, since it is more fakery than Thackeray, more dollop than Trollope. Think of it as a holy Harlequin. There’s some romance (but if there is erotic love, it is unrequited–no bodice-ripping here!). There’s a bit of violence, and of course, the workers are much misunderstood and put upon, what with the prejudice of the unsaved people all about, especially the clergy.
As first written, Reid’s plodding polemic ran on for about 400 pages. A publishing house that finally agreed to produce it wanted it fleshed out and livened up, so another Truther helped pad it out some 200 extra pages. It appears to me this same co-writer supplied a glowing foreword, extolling the result of this collaboration, modestly refraining from mentioning her 33.3 percent contribution. The extra verbiage added more romance novel touches and made them hackneyed enough to blend with the rest.
In spite of the book’s claims to be about the founding of this sect, the very sect in which the author was reared (and we know that to be the “nameless church,” the 2X2s, the Friends and Workers), the book does not tell us anything at all about the actual origin of the sect. But perhaps that tells us something about the sect itself, which refuses to own a name because, after all, they are the only Christians! That sect, which insiders refer to among themselves as The Truth, plays fast and loose with the truth at every level and has done so throughout its history. The writing, publication (initially privately) and distribution of this book is yet another way in which it has been misrepresented by its supporters.
It appears that Reid intended this book to serve as a sales tool, or a polemic, to promote the idea that the 2X2 “fellowship” is the pure essence of Christian practice, hewing faithfully to the New Testament account of the early church, eschewing all the error and corruption of other churches. That premise is as wildly false as the book’s take on history. As to doctrine, theology and practice, the 2X2 cult is diametrically opposite to the teachings and accounts of the New Testament.
If Snopes investigated books, it would label this one False. Google for “2X2” or “Friends and Workers” and you will find the real skinny on the sect Reid “imported” to Ontario, to site this unintentionally cautionary fable.
By Martha Knight
August 12, 2008