Tuesday, November 20, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (18)

This post continues the positive suggestions as to how Australian Christadelphian ecclesias could celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Unity Agreement. In my last post I wrote about finding common ground.

2. Maintain ecclesial autonomy

Under the heading "Fraternal Gatherings from Various Places" clause 44 of the Ecclesial Guide says:
These are beneficial when restricted to purely spiritual objects (i.e., let the brethren assemble anywhere from anywhere, and exhort, or worship, or have social intercourse together); but they become sources of evil if allowed to acquire a legislative character in the least degree. Ecclesial independence should be guarded with great jealousy with the qualifications indicated in the foregoing sections. To form "unions" or "societies" of ecclesias, in which delegates should frame laws for the individual ecclesias, would be to lay the foundation of a collective despotism which would interfere with the free growth and the true objects of ecclesial life. Such collective machineries create fictitious importances, which tend to suffocate the truth. All ecclesiastical history illustrates this.
The principles of ecclesial independence and autonomy have been cherished by Christadelphians since the movement began. This tradition was inherited from the Restoration Movement (the Churches/Disciples of Christ or "Campbellites" as John Thomas called them) who in turn inherited it from the radical reformation ("anabaptists"). It is well grounded in Scripture.

Christadelphian ecclesias are free to make decisions for themselves about how their meetings are conducted, their style of worship, the songs or hymns they sing, their speakers, how leaders or "serving brethren" are appointed, membership, and fellowship. In fact, the Ecclesial Guide provides some detailed and specific guidelines about 'fellowship' which ensures that an ecclesia has the right to welcome into fellowship someone who has been denied fellowship elsewhere. It emphasises that this is important in order to preserve the autonomy and independence of ecclesias. The principle of autonomy includes the right for each ecclesia to create or adopt their own Statement of Faith. Theoretically we could have as many unique Statements of Faith as there are ecclesias. The Australian Unity Agreement specifically reinforced the rights of ecclesias to have their own unique Statement of Faith.

However, these valued principles of autonomy and independence are easily eroded whenever groups of ecclesias band together in an attempt to impose their own ideas on other ecclesias. Unfortunately this happens all too often and ecclesias are sometimes pressured into adopting the same hymn book or worship style as their neighbours, or denying fellowship or membership to someone who is 'out-of-fellowship' elsewhere (for whatever reason). In the words of Robert Roberts this is imposing an "intolerable tyranny" on the brotherhood.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Unity Agreement would be a good time to disband any "unions", "societies" or "groups" which interfere with ecclesial independence. Unfortunately, there are several of these groups in Australia. Most States have inter-ecclesial committees which facilitate exchanges of speakers, coordinate Conferences, liaise with the Government or regulatory bodies on behalf of ecclesias generally, and perform legitimate "fraternal" functions. Queensland, for example, has the South East Queensland Coordinating Committee, New South Wales has the NSW Christadelphian Committee, etc.

However, in addition to these bona fide coordinating committees some States also have "groups" or "meetings" which cause a great deal of trouble. Participation in these groups/meetings is by invitation only and is restricted to ecclesias which follow a particular party line. In Queensland, for example, there is a group which describes itself only as "the group of thirteen ecclesias" (or G13 for short). They meet to discuss the practices of ecclesias which are not in their "group", and generally stir up trouble. They have recently been targeting two ecclesias in their area and writing letters around the country trying to find some 'evidence' that they are fellowshipping out-of-fellowship individuals (and even if they did, the Ecclesial Guide specifically says they have the right to fellowship whoever they please).

Groups like these should be immediately disbanded if the ecclesias concerned are genuine about unity in Australia.

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