Saturday, July 07, 2007

A note on "withdrawing" in "The Ecclesial Guide"

A reader has pointed out to me that Robert Roberts' Ecclesial Guide uses the terms "withdraw/withdrawal/withdrawing" and "separate" approximately 50 times, but never uses the words "reconcile" or "reconciliation" even once!

This should immediately alert us to the fact that the author of The Ecclesial Guide was more interested in separating, dividing and "standing apart" than in what Paul calls "the ministry of reconciliation".

The Ecclesial Guide was first published in 1883. The following year saw the beginnings of what would become known as the "inspiration controversy" which led to a major division in the Christadelphian community in 1885. That would seem to be a good opportunity to see how the suggestions laid out in the Guide for resolving disputes were applied. To all those people who insist that ecclesias today should follow The Ecclesial Guide, I would suugest they take a look at how Robert Roberts and the Birmingham ecclesia applied the Guide in 1885.

In an earlier post about Robert Ashcroft I gave the details as to how Roberts went about "withdrawing" from Ashcroft. Here is some of that information again:

In January 1885, an ecclesial meeting of the Birmingham (Temperance Hall) ecclesia was held at which an article by Ashcroft in his Exegetist was discussed. A vote was taken, and the majority were against Roberts. The following month Roberts tried again, and at a meeting of the ecclesia a motion was adopted regarding their understanding of inspiration which said "[we] will take no action of withdrawal from any member of the ecclesia, until accusation is made against him in scriptural form, and he has been heard in his own defence".

Roberts then invited several brethren 'to tea' and for a quiet talk on Friday 22 May. After tea Roberts dropped a bombshell asking several brethren to resign from the ecclesia, and then proposed that if the brethren present denounced Robert Ashcroft and Joseph Chamberlin all could be forgiven and forgotten. They refused.

The next day Roberts posted 'postcards' asking the recipients to sign their acceptance of Roberts' view on inspiration, and their promise to withdraw fellowship from brethren Ashcroft and Chamberlin. Roberts made it clear that he held the lease to the ecclesial meeting place "and whoever remained with him would remain in the premises".

Roberts then sent ‘tickets' to his supporters in the ecclesia, which they were to produce in order to gain admittance to the meetings of the ecclesia. Fellowship was therefore denied to anyone not holding a ticket, and a physically strong brother was put in charge of the door to bar their entry. A meeting of Roberts' supporters, possessing tickets, dissolved the ecclesia and reconstituted themselves with a new basis of fellowship including Roberts' definition of inspiration.

Take another look at the suggestions set out in the Guide for resolving differences of opinion and you will see none of this heavy-handedness: nothing about issuing 'tickets' to your supporters, putting 'strong brethren' at the door to keep your opponents out, or going against the clear decision of the ecclesia to allow differences of opinions. Roberts taught one thing and then practiced another, because a foundation for "withdrawal" and "separation" rather than reconciliation had already been laid. Yet it was Roberts' example, rather than his lofty words, which was ultimately followed by the religious purists and so to this day there remains an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and isolation in the Christadelphian community.

Paul's advice would be to keep a watchful eye on those who cause troubles and make difficulties, in plain opposition to the teaching you have been given, those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble, and steer clear of them, giving them a wide berth. (Rom 16:17).

It's time that fair-minded Christadelphians spoke out against this heavy-handed bullying and intimidation, and steered well clear of those who teach about "standing apart".