Saturday, May 13, 2006

The first Christadelphians and the causes of disunity

Earlier in the week I came across volume 1 of Edward Turney's magazine The Christadelphian Lamp, published in 1874 - the year after Robert Roberts disfellowshipped him and his supporters.

A letter to the editor from Samuel Coffman, (one of the brethren for whom John Thomas coined the name 'Christadelphian' so they could claim exemption from military service as members of a denomination of conscientious objectors) caught my eye. He refers to the views on the sacrifice of Christ being promulgated by Robert Roberts, and the 'considerable private discussions' he had had with Dr Thomas prior to his death, and complained of the tyrannical and suppressive spirit on the part of Roberts.

Within 10 years of the name 'Christadelphian' being chosen for the new denomination, and only two or three years after Dr Thomas' death, it seems that Roberts was foisting on the brotherhood his own new interpretation of the atonement with a 'condemned Christ' and making acceptance of it a condition for fellowship.

Letters and articles from Samuel and John Coffman which appeared in The Christadelphian Lamp show that these 'first Christadelphians' sided with Edward Turney and the Suffolk Street fellowship in opposing both Roberts' authoritarianism and his peculiar explanation of the atonement. One wonders how different the denomination would have been if the advice of one of these first Christadelphians to 'lay aside prejudices and extremes' had been heeded.

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