The Church

....Background
                                                                                                                           By Lynne Gray

Theologically the Christian Israelite Church would be classified as having come from the Southcottian movement.  We believe that a line of messengers was sent in these latter days as had been foretold in Scripture.  The messengers were as set out below.  Each of these messengers:

Jane Lead

Richard Brothers

Joanna Southcott

George Turner

William Shaw

contributed a theological aspect which has been included in the Christian Israelite Church teachings.  Central to the beliefs of all of these groups is the figure of “Shiloh”, and as an introduction to the messengers, it is important to present some background to this topic.  This is done below.

Who is Shiloh?

 To understand the concept of Shiloh one has to consider the person of Jesus Christ from two aspects.  Firstly there is Jesus the man from his birth to his baptism, that man being different from us in that He was born of the pure seed of the woman unsullied by man’s seed (that is without an earthly father) and secondly from His baptism when the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Ghost descended upon and covered Him until His crucifixion.  It is only from His baptism that He is surnamed Christ. 

In the creation sequence in Genesis chapters 1-3, God originally created mankind as dual spirits, “…male and female created he them…”, but not of flesh (for this is prior to the fall) but a spiritual existence.  In this balance of male/female everything has its partner.  In the Trinity there is God the Father, the Holy Ghost/Jerusalem Above the Mother and Christ the son.  Mankind, in this world is a tripartite being containing spirit, soul and body, and as Jesus Christ retained his physical body without it going to corruption (even though it laid in the grave three days) and as Enoch and Elijah who were physically taken to heaven without seeing death, so too will 144,000 members of spiritual Israel be preserved without physical death.  In the Millennium those that are saved with their physical bodies will return to the pre-fall spirit state of existence of duo-spirit beings (male and female in a combined existence), but also have their soul and body which they have redeemed.

 It is commonly understood that Jesus Christ represented the male aspect of the Son of the Trinity.  Shiloh is seen as representing the female partner of the man Jesus Christ.  When male and female are united they are referred to as male.  Shiloh is believed to be the child spoken of in Revelations chapter 12.  The Bible says regarding Shiloh, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” Genesis 49:10. 

 A brief overview of some prophets or messengers from the latter day movement is given below.

 Jane Lead

Although not normally included in the line of messengers associated with John Wroe, Jane Lead shared a lot in common with his understanding and preceded him by at least 150 years.  She was before her time, but laid a foundation stone which John Wroe built on nearly 200 years later.  She was referred to by both John Wroe and Joanna Southcott and her writings are still regarded as important by the Shakers in the US and the Israelite House of Mary at Benton Harbour, Michigan.  Jane Lead lived from 1623 to 1704 and wrote numerous papers, many of which were published and are still available.  She founded the Philadelphian Society in 1652.

 In her Sixty Propositions written in 1699 (remember this was on the eve of a new century), Jane Lead presents some amazing similarities to many of the Christian Israelite beliefs held today.  Some similarities are included below.

a.                   “Then it (the Philadelphian church) would go on to multiply and propagate itself universally, not only as the number of the firstborn (144,000) but also the remnant of the seed (aliens), and strangers, against whom the dragon shall make war.

b.                   This will be the standing up of Michael the great Prince of Israel, and will be as the appearance of Moses against Pharaoh in order that the chosen seed may be brought out of their hard servitude.

c.                   For nothing must remain in this church but what can remain in the fire, Holy Ghost.  For as a refiner will the Lord purify the sons and daughters of the living God, and purge them into perfect righteousness.

d.                   There may be some at present living who may come to be thus fully and totally redeemed having another body put on them, ie., after the priestly order.

e.                   Upon this body will be the fixation of the Urim and Thummim, that are to be appropriated to the Melchisedecan order whose descent is not to be counted in the genealogy of that creation (under the fall) but is another genealogy, which is from the restoration.

f.                    There must be a manifestation of the Spirit whereby to edify and raise up this church suitable to the ascension of Jesus Christ.

g.                   This manifestation must be the absoluteness of power and in the beauty of holiness, so bringing down heaven upon earth and representing here the New Jerusalem State.

h.                   In order to which, spirits that are thus purely begotten, conceived and born of God, can ascend to Jerusalem above, where their head in mighty majesty doth reign, and there receive such a mission whereby they shall be empowered to bring down to this world its transcendent glory.

i.                     Therefore there should be a holy emulation and ambition stirred up among all true lovers of Jesus so that they may be the first fruits unto Him that is risen from the dead, and so be made principle agents for Him and with Him that they may be, if possible, members of the firstborn of Jerusalem above, our Mother.”

 These are only 9 out of the 60 Propositions and many of the rest carry a similar genre and also bear some amazing similarities to the beliefs that John Wroe much later expounded.

Richard Brothers

In the late 18th century pre-millennial fever was at its peak. With the advent of the French revolution, many people saw the French Revolution as the start of the millennium and thus people became very concerned about their own spiritual future.  In the midst of this pre-millennial fever was a gentleman called Richard Brothers.  Details of his life are patchy but we do know that he was born on 25th December 1757 (which date would gain in importance to him as his mission revealed itself) at Placentia, Newfoundland.  He was a member of Her Majesty’s Navy from which station he retired around 1784.

He was married in 1786, but this only lasted a very brief time (apparently whilst Richard was away his wife had started a relationship with another gentleman and started having quite a considerable family to him).  Faced with the obvious, he left her to her own devices. 

In 1790, the “Spirit of God began to enlighten his understanding” and he started to adopt some of the Quaker doctrine (eg. the banning of oath-taking based on the precept that Jesus said, “Swear not at all”).  This particular aspect of his newly acquired doctrine would create considerable problems for him – the fact that he didn’t back down is perhaps a reflection of the calibre and fibre of his person and his personal sense of commitment to his mission.  Because he was retired from Her Majesty’s Navy, Richard Brothers was eligible for a ˝ pay pension on condition that he did not receive any other form of employment under the Crown during the six months prior to his eligibility.  Because of his new attitude to oath-taking, Richard, of course, could not in clear moral conscience, swear to this.  Thus his pension was cut and his financial situation worsened.  Firstly he was committed to the Workhouse for being unable to pay his rent (a landlady had sued him for 1/3 of what was due to her and his incarceration was the result of this court case).  In 1792 he left the workhouse but only to repeat the same as before because he still had no income, but this time the court sentenced him to do ‘time’ in Newgate Prison.  Instead of the private room that he had had to himself at the Workhouse, he was forced to share his accommodation, menial as it was, with 14 others.  By November 1792 he had signed Letters of Attorney finally authorising his pay to be drawn, and he was released.

It was in this period, 1792-1793 that Richard Brothers became convinced that he was the Prince of the Hebrews and Nephew of the Almighty.  The London Times dubbed him the “Great Prophet of Paddington Street” (pertaining to the area where he had taken up residence in London).  Over the next few years his mission would really take off.  Between the years 1794-1795 it is stated that Brothers was visited daily by many people.  Of course all of this attention could not go unnoticed by the authorities and again on 4th March, 1795 he was arrested by the authorities to have his writings examined because they ‘have for several months alarmed and agitated the minds of the people (being the crowds that visited him daily)”.  He was declared insane (undoubtedly because of his refusal to swear the oath required at the beginning of any court case) and he was removed to Fisher House, Islington, which was at that time a private asylum.  He stayed in this asylum for 11 years in which time he kept writing.  In 1806 a handful of supporters (for that was all that was left) gained his release and he then lived with friends until his death in 1824.  He was buried at St. John Wood where Joanna Southcott is also believed to have been buried in 1814.

J.F.C. Harrison stated that “Brothers teaching was based on a knowledge of Scripture but not dependent on any deep study of the Bible”.  Brothers used dreams, visions and divine interpretation to give an inspired pre-millennial message for which many people, academic and lay, were prepared, even if not actively looking, at that time.  Unfortunately for Brothers, like many other prophets, an attempt to be over accurate in his predictions could well have been part of his downfall.  For example at the dawn of the 19th Century he predicted that the millennium would start on 19th November 1795, at or about sunrise, in the latitude of Jerusalem.

The observations that could be made about the Richard Brothers’ contribution include:

1.                   He maintained that the last days were at hand and that mankind should prepare to meet its maker;

2.                   He believed that he would lead the return of the ‘invisible’ Hebrews (the lost 10 tribes) to the Holy Land;

3.                   He believed that he would rebuild Jerusalem – supposedly in 1798;

4.                   He highlighted the British Israel identity theory which had lain under the surface of many British myths since the birth of Jesus – some of which have a strong level of scholastic support;

5.                   He speaks of London (as did George Turner and John Wroe) as being destroyed at a future time by earthquakes in retribution for the city’s sinfulness;

6.                   He believed he had visions and revelations that were divinely inspired by the Holy Ghost;

7.                   Other than during his time in Paddington Street, he did not preach or hold any kind of public meeting and all his followers were gained by his publications; he made no attempt to form an organization or church with these followers nor did he travel to gain support;

8.                   His followers included members of society, well-to-do people, workers, academics, etc., from all walks of life; and

9.                   He attempted to address the theological problem of a morally corrupt England – which Turner would also later repeat in his mission.

10.                

Joanna Southcott

Joanna’s early life was relatively normal.  She was the 4th daughter of William and Hannah Southcott, born 25th April, 1750 at Tarford in Devonshire.  She was raised in the Church of England faith and her father made his children read and discuss a passage of Scripture every evening.  She joined the Wesleyans at Exeter, with whom she had long held sympathies, ‘by divine command’ at Christmas 1792.  It was in this same year, 1792, that Joanna began to have sensations of the “Spirit” where the Spirit would enter into her, and for the period of time that the Spirit had possession of her, she could not remember anything about what she said or did.  Eventually she came to believe, through these divine visitations, that she was the “Bride of Christ” or more importantly the “woman clothed with the sun” spoken of in Revelation chapter 12.

Joanna Southcott gained many followers to her group, and organised many of them, unlike Richard Brothers, into groups of followers that met together and had some form of organisational structure.  She gained many of the people who had followed Richard Brothers but had become disillusioned when he was imprisoned for so long in the private asylum.  Joanna Southcott was the answer to their prayers, so adherents flocked to her call, most especially after the release of her first book “The Strange Effects of Faith”.

Joanna was always trying to have her writings examined by the clergy of the established Church (the Church of England) but always her demands would not be met.  In December, 1801, was the first such trial of her writings wherein she assembled the “Seven Stars” (Richard Sharp, George Turner, Morison and John Wilson with Reverend Stanhope Bruce, Webster and Foley) and five clergyman were invited, including a bishop and the archdeacon (the number to make up 12).  The members of the clergy declined to review the writings and they were placed in a sealed box until the 12 could be got together to examine the contents.  The box has still not (in 2002) been opened and the contents examined by any committee – many false boxes over the years have come forward but these have proven to be fakes.  The real box is said to be in the possession of the Panacea Society in Bedford, England.

Joanna Southcott had a ceremony wherein she ‘sealed’ her followers by them signing their name on a printed seal for the overthrow of Satan.  Her followers eventually reached from “Lands End to Newcastle” (in England).  There were and are some Southcottians in Australia and New Zealand and the US but figures for these are unavailable.

Aligning herself with the ‘woman clothed with the sun’ spoken of in Revelation, Joanna also noticed that the text said that ‘she brought forth a man-child’ and the child was to be ‘caught up unto God’ immediately after its birth.  Early in 1814, Joanna’s “voice” declared that she (Joanna) ‘in her 65th year should bear a son by the power of the Most High’.  Add to this the passage from Genesis 49:10 and Joanna Southcott believed that she was to bear the spiritual child, Shiloh, whose coming would bring in the Millennium.  In her “Third Book of Wonders” published in March, 1814, she alerts her followers to the exciting prospect ahead.

Joanna Southcott died on 27th December, 1814, 2 days after delivering the spiritual child “Shiloh”.  The child was born on 25th December 1814.  The child was born of substance, but without blood.  She left many unanswered questions.  Being a spiritual child there was nothing for the 3 doctors who were present, or the attendants to see when she delivered, thus adding to many questions and theories being raised.  Even the examination of her body after death could not determine, firstly why she had died, and secondly, what had happened to the baby which appeared to have been born but was not present.  If her pregnancy had not been real, but had been for example a cancerous growth, as was the case with Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s daughter) then the growth or tumour would still have been there – instead there was absolutely nothing to account for the stomach distension and the symptoms and signs of pregnancy or the fact that the pregnancy went for a normal full-term (March to December, 1814) and had consummated in a normal physical process.

George Turner

Very little is known about George Turner.  We do know though, that he was a follower of Richard Brothers and a follower of Joanna Southcott.  He was a merchant of Leeds and he gained the support of many of the Southcottian believers in the North of England.[1] 

George Turner was one of the “seven stars” named above who had been chosen to examine Joanna’s writings in December 1801.  He published several books of communications, from at least as early as 1805[2], which was during Joanna’s lifetime, which had Joanna’s endorsement as being of a divine nature.  After the death of Joanna Southcott, George Turner assumed the position of her successor.  His message reiterated the imminence of the coming of Shiloh and various dates and prophecies were put forward towards the coming of this event.  Unfortunately, none of the prophecies came true in the way expected and George Turner, as had Richard Brothers, ended up committed to a local asylum because of his assessed ‘delusions’.  Turner had been charged with high treason because of his radical demands for changes in social order (including free postage, abolition of taxes and cheap ale).  His term in the asylum at York lasted for 2 years.  His main contributions to the lineage with regard to his position in the line of prohpets was the revival of Brothers’ concept of the lost tribes of Israel and most particularly the aspect that the members of these lost tribes were resident in the UK and environs (essentially British Israelism). 

In July, 1820 he was pronounced cured and released (with much effort being placed in his release by his sons and followers), and on his release proceeded to travel amongst his follower in the UK implementing new procedures and services - one in particular was a form of marriage ceremony wherein the females became “Brides of Christ”.[3]  Although the idea has appeared absurd to many historians the fact is that there were still a great many people who adhered to and followed Turner’s ideas.  In London at the climax to his missionising and marriage effort, Turner held a Marriage Supper at Westminster for 700 London believers on 30th August 1820 - therefore between his release in July to the 30th August in the same year, the believers in London alone totalled more than 700 who totally supported Turner’s marriage ceremony, and presumably accepted him as a latter day prophet. 

William Shaw

Little is known about George Turner but even less is known about William Shaw.  He received communications from 1819 to 1822.  These communications were never printed into book form but achieved wide circulation in manuscript form.  He also spoke of London suffering at the hands of a great earthquake as retribution for the city’s sinfulness.[4]  William Shaw died in 1822.  He was recognised by the Southcottians as a prophet.

Over the years many historians and theologians have endeavoured to understand the reasons behind the activities of these prophets.  One writer, Balleine, entitled his study “Past Finding Out”.  In the Epilogue to his book he wrote:  “The question remains, Why did this happen?…And what has enabled it to survive for more than 150 years?…For the moment it seems quiescent; but there are many believers in England, and still more in America, Australia, and New Zealand.  Some day they may surprise us once again…”


[1]  The Second Coming, Popular Millenarianism 1780 - 1850, J.F.C. Harrison, p. 119

[2]  Communications of the Holy Spirit of God given at Different Times to George Turner of  Leeds, 1805.

[3]  Past Finding Out, Balleine, p. 80

[4] Past Finding Out, G. R. Balleine, p. 73

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