Sunday, August 19, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (1)

Australian ecclesias are currently looking at ways of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Unity Agreement in 1958. The festivities began in 2006 which was the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Adelaide Conference where a decision was made to attempt the process of unification.

The Unity Agreement has never worked in Australia. Almost from the beginning ecclesias began to divide along 'party lines', and for many years there were 'block disfellowships' where entire ecclesias were disfellowshipped because of the beliefs of one member, and where any ecclesias which refused to disfellowship the ecclesia concerned were themselves effectively disfellowshipped.

For many years the 'Logos' ecclesias were a separate sub-group, refusing to fellowship or associate with the majority, including some of the largest ecclesias in the country, while claiming to be in the 'Central fellowship' and upholding the Unity Agreement at the same time. For many years they refused to fellowship the Sydney (Shaftesbury Rd) ecclesia, the Brisbane (Petrie Terrace) ecclesia, and the Beverley Hills ecclesia, and refused to associate with any ecclesia which accepted these ecclesias in fellowship.

'Unity' during this period was a farce.

For a while it seemed that things were moving in a more positive direction. The Logos ecclesias accepted Sydney and Brisbane ecclesias back into fellowship. After the Beverley Hills ecclesia was disbanded no attempts were made to block the former members of Beverley Hills ecclesia from joining other ecclesias. The ecclesias commonly called 'Logos' ecclesias even distanced themselves from the Logos magazine and its former editor (having been embarrassed by doctrinal extremes and allegations of moral failure). For a while it looked as though the period of 'block disfellowships' was over. However, it didn't take long for the same bullying intimidation of ecclesias to raise its ugly head again, most recently in South East Queensland. There have been some disturbing signs that very little may have changed and there is still a heavy-handed attitude to fellowship and conformity in some circles. What has changed is that the former 'Logos' ecclesias have now joined (and perhaps dominate) the inter-ecclesial organisations such as the Australian Christadelphian Committee (now known as the Association of Australian Christadelphian Ecclesias, Inc), and are consequently in a position to inflict their extreme views on the brotherhood at large.

Against this background I thought it would be timely to post here some articles which I wrote some time ago on "The Ministry of Reconciliation" (published in the Christadelphian Forum magazine between December 1993 and August 1995). The articles have been slightly modified to bring them up to date. I hope this will be a positive contribution to the celebrations around the 50th anniversary of the Australian Unity Agreement, especially my Unity Agreement for the Twenty First Century (to follow).


The teaching of the New Testament makes it clear that we are not only to preach about what God has done and will do, but that we are to demonstrate by our way of life what God is doing. There are many powerful exhortations in Scripture to witness by example, to be an imitation of Christ, so that when others look at us they will see a reflection of Jesus.

Jesus taught us that the most powerful and effective way to preach the Truth is through our relationships with each other. “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34f. Note the emphasis of the KJV “By this shall all men know ...” Rotherham places a decided stress on the words “By this”[1]). The emphasis indicates that it is by this means alone that we will be able to demonstrate to “all men” that we are the true disciples of Jesus. Not by argument or persuasion, but by the quality of our relationships with each other.

A short time later Jesus prayed: “I pray also for those who will believe in me ... that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). Here it is the oneness, the unifying nature of the brotherhood, which is evidence that they are in Christ and in God. Without the evidence of this relationship existing between the believers the world will not believe.

To this we can add the thrust of Paul’s words in 2 Cor 5:17-21. “... If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Paul’s appeal is clear. We are the instruments of God and have been empowered to act as His representatives in the world. Our message is to be one of reconciliation and our method is to be living examples of God’s righteousness ("that we might become the righteousness of God" i.e. “representatives of the Righteousness of God, endued with it and viewed as in it, and examples of it”[2]).

Paul’s words are meant to be understood as saying that God is making his appeal to the world to be reconciled to Him through us, and we do this by being examples of God’s righteousness. By our way of life we demonstrate the effects of being reconciled to God.

Of our reconciliation to God Leon Morris comments: “Reconciliation properly applies not to good relations in general but to the doing away of an enmity, the bridging over of a quarrel. It implies that the parties being reconciled were formerly hostile to one another. ... Now the way to overcome enmity is to take away the cause of the quarrel.” [3] The same must also be true of relationships between brethren. How can we demonstrate that we have been reconciled to God if we cannot (or will not) be reconciled with each other? This is the repetitive theme of John’s first letter: “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

To be reconciled with each other, in the words of Leon Morris, requires the removal of the cause of the quarrel. It is sadly ironic that the subject which has been at the centre of nearly every division and ‘withdrawal of fellowship’ in the history of our community has been ‘the atonement’. How can that which makes us ‘at one’ with God also be the cause of separation between brethren?

[1] J.B.Rotherham, The Emphasised Bible, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 1967.
[2] Henry Alford, Alford’s Greek Testament, Guardian Press, Grand Rapids, 1976.
[3] Leon Morris, Reconciliation, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, 1980.