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Bible Christians

A Methodist body stemming from the unauthorized itinerant preaching of William O'Bryan (1778-1868), fervent Methodist preacher in Devon, England. Expelled for his refusal to confine himself to preaching within the circuit, O'Bryan formed a society in Shebbear, N Devon (1815). Aided by men of the caliber of James Thorne (1795-1872) and numerous women preachers, and concentrating on areas devoid of Gospel preaching, the Bible Christians spread not only in the west of England but also in the Isle of Wight, Channel Islands, Kent, and Northumberland. The first conference was held near Launceston (1819), with O'Bryan president and Thorne secretary. O'Bryan's autocracy aroused opposition which led to his withdrawal from the movement (1829-35). The deed enrolled by conference in 1831 made conference, composed of superintendents of districts together with ministerial and lay representatives, the supreme organ of government. Every fifth conference was to be composed of equal numbers of ministers and laymen. District meetings were to be attended by itinerant preachers with one steward, and every fifth year both stewards, from each circuit. Members were to be received by ministers with the approbation of church members.

Bible Christians were sometimes called Quaker Methodists. The influence of Quakerism* is to be seen in the simplicity of style, reliance upon inner illumination, and the importance of the role played by women (in 1823 there were about 100 women preachers in the movement). A missionary society was formed in 1821, but expansion overseas did not begin till 1831 and never reached large proportions. Notable preachers include William Read (1800- 1858), the somewhat eccentric William Bailey (1795-1873), and the immortal Billy Bray.* F.W. Bourne (1830-1905), upon whom fell the mantle of James Thorne, became an influential member of the National Free Church Council. He guided the Bible Christians into the United Methodist Church,* formed in 1907 in Great Britain. The Bible Christians then numbered 206 ministers, 1,515 local preachers and 32,202 members, with much smaller numbers overseas.