Thursday, November 22, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (20)

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

3. Be Honest

The Australian Unity Agreement spelled out very clearly what the 'basis of fellowship' is for Christadelphians:
We agree that the doctrines to be believed and taught by us, without reservation, are the first principles of the One Faith as revealed in the Scriptures, of which the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (with positive and negative clauses and the Commandments of Christ) gives a true definition.
We should carefully note two important things which are spelled out here. First, the doctrines which Christadelphians believe and hold in common are "the first principles of the One Faith as revealed in the Scriptures". The Agreement says that the Birmingham amended Statement of Faith (BASF) is "a true definition" of this One Faith, not "the true definition". In other words, Christadelphians are united by their belief in "the first principles" and the BASF is just one definition of these first principles. Christadelphians accepting the Agreement are called on to agree with the first principles, and not the minor details or specific wording of the BASF. In fact, almost every Christadelphian would disagree with some detail or other in the BASF yet will accept that it gives a true definition of the first principles.

In other words, no attempt is being made here to insist on the specific wording of the BASF or of any of the minor details. It is only those doctrines which are mutually understood to be first principles which are to be believed and taught. There are many other acceptable summaries of these first principles. For example, one Christadelphian website has this sumary of beliefs:
  • The Bible is God's word and the only message from him.It is without error, except for copying and translation errors.
  • There is only one God - the Father. The Holy Spirit is God's power.
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and a human being, through his mother Mary.
  • By living a sinless life Jesus has opened the way of salvation from death.
  • Jesus is currently in Heaven, on God's right hand. He will one day return.
  • When he returns he will rule the earth and give immortality to those who have tried to follow him and do the will of God. His followers will help him to rule.
  • Humans are 100% mortal, having no existence when dead. The reward for the faithful is eternal life on earth after Christ's return.
  • Baptism is essential to gain this eternal life.
This brief summary illustrates that even the most conservative Christadelphians (because that website is owned and run by some extremely conservative Christadelphians) agree that the first principles can be summarised simply and concisely in about a dozen sentences. It is such simple and concise "first principles" that the Unity Agreement says Christadelphians believe and teach, and on which they are united.

The Unity Agreement goes on to say that any other summary or definition of the One Faith is also acceptable, provided it is in agreement with the BASF on the fundamentals, or first principles.
Acceptance of this basis would not preclude the use of any other adequate Statement of Faith by an ecclesia, provided this is in harmony with the B.A.S.F. understood as in Clause 1 (a) above.
For example, the summary from the conservative website above might be an acceptable one in the terms of the Unity Agreement (although it's not perfect - for example, the expression "Humans are 100% mortal" is clumsy [How can you be 50% mortal?]).

Secondly, what is clear from the Unity Agreement is that ecclesias are not at liberty to add to what was mutually agreed to be the "first principles" and to insist on acceptance of any other doctrine, idea or opinion. Any ecclesia, group or organisation which has additional requirements for fellowship is going beyond the Unity Agreement. You cannot say on the one hand that you accept the Unity Agreement and then on the other hand insist on someting additional. As soon as you add something, then you no longer accept the Unity Agreement.

If several parties come to an Agreement then one party cannot add something to it without the consent of all the parties. Yet this is precisely what several ecclesias and organisations have done. Some ecclesias, for example, have insisted on agreement with lengthy explanations of the BASF before they will agree to fellowship other Christadelphians. Some have added "doctrines" to their 'basis of fellowship' (such as statements about six literal 24 hour days for creation, or the availability of the Holy Spirit). The Australian Christadelphian Bible Mission (ACBM) demands agreement with a statement on divorce and remarriage and an additional doctrinal statement before they will accept someone as a 'field-worker'. The organisers of some combined ecclesial meetings have demanded acceptance of some additional doctrines which are not included in the Unity Agreement in order to participate. This is a contradiction. The imposition of any additional requirements means, of necessity, that the Unity Agreement is not the basis of fellowship. This situation got so out-of-hand that in 1988 a Conference Business Session passed a resolution that the basis of fellowship at future Conferences would be the Unity Agreement without addition or further explanation.

Of course, autonomous and independent ecclesias or organisations can have their own rules, standards or Statements of Faith. However, the moment they attempt to add to the Unity Agreement they can no longer claim to meet on that basis.

It's ironic that some of the ecclesias and organisations which are most vocal in advocating the importance of the Unity Agreement are often the ones which are guilty of breaking it by having additional requirements. In my opinion, this is simply dishonest.

If any ecclesia believes the Unity Agreement is inadequate (and any ecclesia which has added a doctrine or explanation to their basis of fellowship have, by that very action, admitted that they believe the Unity Agreement is inadequate) then they should honestly and publicly announce that they no longer accept the Unity Agreement and they will fellowship in future on a different basis. That would be the honest thing to do.

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Unity Agreement I suggest that all ecclesias claiming to meet on that basis should remove any additional doctrines or requirements which they have added along the way and return to the simple terms of the original Agreement, or be honest in saying that they meet on a different basis.

1 comment:

Gerry Thornewell said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your ability to cut to the chase.

I was brought up as a CD and have become familiar with the discussions that occur within the community. It has always saddened me that many discussions have been distructive.

Doctrines devide, BASF also divides. Perhaps it is too much to meet on the following basis: It's all about Jesus, Loving Him, Loving Each Other.

I still live in hope. Even "The Apostles Creed" would be much better than the BASF.

"I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting."

In love and under Grace
Gerry