From the formation of churches established in apostolic times, all undeniably proven to be independent of each other in the whole text of the New Testament epistles and chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, there was later a polarization of churches around those most influential, men on the oversight of individual churches were organized under the general supervision of bishops of their regional group, and they in turn chose a leader, or archbishop, who became the supreme functional and doctrinal authority.
These groups claimed to be the "church of Christ" on earth, and those who refused to submit to them were persecuted and eliminated, being labelled as "heretics." They also joined the political powers to impose pressure on people to submit to their civil and religious authority. To facilitate the enforcement of their heresies they hid the Bible from the public.
Thus the local churches lost the biblical principle of each having as its Head the Lord Jesus, and of giving freedom to the Holy Spirit to make every local church His temple, and of giving gifts to each of its members to serve Him (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27, 30), of guiding members in His service (Luke 2:27, 4:1, Acts 16:6-7) and of Himself being the power for this service (Acts 1: 8, 2:4, 1 Corinthians 2:4).
As a result of the "Reformation" and the consequent spread of translations of the Bible from the oldest documents in its original languages, more and more organizations emerged calling themselves "churches," moving away from the older ones and approaching more the biblical teachings. Unfortunately they maintained clericalism, largely a political union and many other vices that permeated the old.
Leaping over the seventeen centuries when the surviving independent churches and others that emerged were trampled, destroyed or absorbed by these church organizations, we will give a very brief account of how some of the many saints, keen to return to the principles taught in the New Testament, came to gather again forming genuine independent churches in recent times.
In Scotland in the late 18th century, two well-connected brothers from a wealthy family, Robert and James Alexander Haldane, of the national Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), were converted and began to diligently study the Scriptures. James married and started having worship at home, where he taught the family. He realised this was pleasant and edifying for himself, and that was how the Lord prepared him for public speaking.
Although not officially ordained as a minister, he began preaching the Gospel with others, in small congregations where the minister could not attend. They themselves wrote pamphlets for distribution. Eventually they borrowed church buildings for their meetings.
In response, the Synod of the Church of Scotland forbade preaching by persons not licensed by them, and this was accompanied by other synods. James Haldane and his companions did not listen and defended the duty of every Christian to warn sinners to flee from the wrath to come and to point to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. They emphasized justification by faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, without works.
They finally left the Church of Scotland, because they could no longer unite with people who manifested never having been converted, and started to meet only with those who evidenced being children of God. They gathered a church in Edinburgh, which started with 300 members and grew quickly. One of their first actions was to recognize James Haldane as their "shepherd." Robert Haldane arranged large meeting places (which they called "tabernacles"), both in Edinburgh and in other places where churches met.
They began to follow the example and teaching of the Scriptures, meeting for the Lord's Supper every Sunday, they ceased to pass "collection" during general meetings, but members contributed what they could. This was introduced gradually as they came to understand better the will of the Lord according to the Scriptures, as well as that the Holy Spirit will provide a variety of ministers and ministries without human intervention, which they had the great joy to see happen.
Eventually James and others with him became convinced that infant baptism had no biblical basis. Not everyone agreed, and so there was an amicable separation whereby some congregations retained infant baptism, others baptized those who were converted by immersion, while others practiced both; some members left, returning to the Church of Scotland and other denominations.
In this way the so-called Congregational churches appeared which emphasized the right and responsibility of each properly organized congregation to govern itself, without having to submit to the judgment of a superior human authority, thus eliminating bishops and presbyteries. In them there was a strong conviction of the sovereignty of God and the priesthood of all believers. Each individual church was autonomous and independent.
Congregations of believers seeking to just keep to the Scriptures continued to exist and others to spring up in many new parts of the world. In the early 19th century a North Irish minister of the Presbyterian Church called Alexander Campbell immigrated to Philadelphia in the United States. Upon arriving, he joined a Presbyterian church there, but was surprised to see that there were deep splits in the Presbyterian churches, and was even criticized for receiving at the Lord's Supper presbyterians who did not belong to his circle.
Because he defended his position based on the Scriptures, he was treated with hostility to the point of having to move away from that church. But he continued his ministry separately, and people from various denominations gathered to his congregation, unhappy with the hostility that existed between the various churches. He preached that union was only possible through a return to the teachings of the Bible, and made them realize that the fights and dissensions within the church came as a result of theories and religious systems outside of the Scriptures, and that to have fellowship it was necessary to follow the principle "to speak when the Scriptures speak; to be silent when the Scriptures are silent.”
With the experience of their own communion and the hostility of the churches of origin, they all decided to come together as one church strictly obeying what the New Testament teaches, and nothing more. The church was formed in 1811 without any denomination, with thirty members, of whom they appointed an elder and some deacons.
They found that the early church had a plurality of elders, so they extinguished the distinction between "clergy" and "laity", started to have the Lord's Supper every Sunday and to only baptize believers by immersion (Alexander Campbell himself, his wife, parents and sister were baptized in 1812), and the church was blessed, growing and evangelizing and thus forming other assemblies.
The same happened in Russia, as was occurring throughout the world, and they were dubbed the "Nazarenes" being much persecuted by the Orthodox Church reigning there.
Something similar arose spontaneously in 1827 in England. One of the pioneers in Plymouth was a dentist named Anthony Groves, a dedicated evangelist, and he formed a large church in that locality. The members called themselves "brothers" and spread the Gospel in other locations. Since no one wanted to adopt a denomination they came to be known as "Plymouth Brethren", not only they, but many other members of independent churches like theirs.
The Gospel in its simplicity came to be preached in halls (often called "Gospel Halls") and in the open air, forming churches based solely and entirely on biblical teaching, without clergy or rituals, but obeying the ordinances of baptism (by immersion) and the Lord's Supper. The churches multiplied, while maintaining their independence from each other, and sent missionaries throughout the world, including Brazil, to preach the Gospel of Christ, not taking any denomination for themselves.
In Brazil, the denominational churches often confuse members of those assemblies with an exclusive sect, which they call "Darbyists." It is true that the founder of this sect, an Anglican minister, of great erudition, named John Nelson Darby, participated in the formation of some of these churches in Europe and North America. He made a translation of the Bible from the original texts still considered excellent, and developed a fruitful ministry of evangelization and education.
But Darby did not abandon infant baptism, the practice of the Anglican Church, and held that local churches should have a leader and submitted to a central authority. He had other theories about the early church that separated him from the common understanding of most New Testament churches. Eventually he cut off communion with the churches that did not admit his ideas, and became the leader of the churches that followed him, introducing into them a stern discipline and forbidding communion with any other church, whether denominational or independent.
The members of these churches came to be known as "exclusive brethren" or "Darbyists." Sadly Darby departed in the opposite direction of Campbell: the latter brought together believers who understood that it was right to only meet in the name of Christ, leaving religious institutions of various denominations in order to return just to the teaching of the New Testament, while Darby created his own institution, bringing together under his authority the congregations that followed him.