The Open Brethren form independent, autonomous assemblies and the name, "Open," is given to them to distinguish them from. "Exclusive Brethren," with whom they share historical roots. The division of the Plymouth Brethren into the Open Brethren and Exclusive Brethren took place in 1848 and has been well documented. The Open Brethren are committed to missionary work and hold that the Holy Bible is the first authority in matters of faith and practice. Each assembly (or congregation) is independent of the others in doctrinal matters, yet there is a high degree of communication and cooperation between those who share similar doctrine and practice. Open Brethren assemblies vary from tight gatherings which only extend fellowship to those who have first left the denominations to very loose gatherings which receive any stranger without question into fellowship.
The buildings associated with the open brethren are usually called, "Gospel Chapel," "Gospel Hall," "Bible Chapel," "Christian Assembly," or other similar terms.
Open Brethren emphasize baptism by full immersion. This mode is preferred for its parallel imagery to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
One of the most defining elements of the Open Brethren is the rejection of the concept of clergy. Rather, in keeping with the doctrine of the Priesthood of all believers, they view all Christians as being ordained by God to serve and are therefore ministers.
Generally, Open Brethren recognize two Scriptural offices, those of elder and deacon. The office of pastor, common in some evangelical churches, is usually considered to be the same as that of elder, and not a separate office. The office of overseer or bishop is always considered to be the same as that of elder or presbyter.
The prevalent view among Open Brethren is that these offices are limited to men only, following the model of Christ and His apostles and because the Bible says that in the assembly women are not to "teach or have authority over men" (1 Timothy 2:12-14 and 1Corinthians 15:34-35). This is, however, a controversial issue among assemblies, and since each assembly is free to make its own decisions on such matters, it is not uncommon today to see women taking positions of leadership (especially in assemblies with relatively young memberships). Although, all assemblies in the UK do not allow women to do this. Women, however are very important in the assemblies and are valued equally to men. However, they are believed to have a different role appointed by God.
Neither of these roles are served with pay in most cases, but larger assemblies may sometimes employ a paid bible teacher or evangelist if specific circumstances make it necessary.
The Open Brethren believe in a plurality of Elders (Acts 14:23; 15:6,23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1) - men meeting the Biblical qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. This position is also taken in some Baptist churches, especially Reformed Baptists. It is understood that Elders are appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28) and are recognised as meeting the qualifications by the assembly and by previously existing Elders, whereas in the time of the establishment of the first New Testament assemblies it was either an Apostle's duty or his directly appointed delegate's responsibility who ordained elders (for example: Timothy or Titus). This original order being consistent with the Christian concept that authority comes from Above and does not arise from men.
While the majority of Open Brethren missionaries do not belong to a missionary society, there are a number of supporting organisations that give help and advice for missionaries: in the UK, Echoes of Service magazine , Medical Missionary News and the Lord's Work Trust are notable organisations. Today, missionaries are found all over the world, with high concentrations in Zambia and Southern Africa, Brazil, India, Western Europe and South East Asia.