Monday, June 02, 2008

Censorship, disfellowship and statements of faith

The following message was recently posted on the Truth Alive forum. I thought it expressed very well what a lot of other people are also thinking. With the author's permission I am re-posting it here in full.

Dear friends,

Very often we can go through a set of traditions whilst making bold statements that suggest we alone hold the correct Biblical truths and that we follow the Bible and that we should check everything against the Bible. But when someone sincerely does do that and comes up with difficult questions it isn't liked and people don't want to answer them, because it's disruptive and challenging. But should churches be allowed to say 'we follow the Bible and you should check it out to see whether its true' and not allow people to do that.

Brother Dr John Thomas believed “no you shouldn't”, and people found him very disruptive and challenging and that is the history of the Christadelphian body. If you doubt that read his autobiography and the huge number of debates he was involved in. The problem has been the questions never ended where Dr John Thomas left off and no doubt had he lived longer he would have challenged more and come to different understandings. In his lifetime he changed many times and in fact was baptised three times as he changed views.

Robert Roberts believed that in his teachings he had reached a finality of truth and that was set in place and maintained by establishing the Birmgham Statement of Faith, which was later Amended to clarify things to what people believed reflected the original position of things. In other words the Christadelphian body has sought to censor the very freedom to think and question that Dr John Thomas wanted for himself. In fact that has always been the historical problem that Protestant Christianity has faced. By putting the authority onto a book and individual interpretation it has been inevitable that different people have balanced it a different way. I'm not saying we should be Catholic, but what I am saying is that we should learn from our history of our own non infallibility in these matters.

The reality is that the Christadelphian body has survived in its present form is as a direct result of the Statements of Faith, because they have broadly set out the original distinct Christadelphian doctrines. The idea that we are bound simply because we read the Bible independently for ourselves is not true, even though that is what I was given to believe as a youngster and told to do. In essence I was expected to read the Bible for myself, but come to see things in terms of tradition and expectation. That is in all honesty how social conditioning works and with time we may find things don't quite square with what we are told to believe or how things are actually done in comparison to what we read, the second being where my main objections have laid. It has kept the Christadelphian body in a time warp in many ways where any change to the way things are done leads to people feeling the balance is going to be upset.

The hidden cost of course has been in those people who have been disfellowshipped for asking too many questions and hidden feelings of suppression, because the unspoken rule is that you are not allowed to seriously question the way things are done. The problem that has led to is that the Christadelphian body has become very legalistic and very word bound and very much what scripture would term 'in the letter'.

However the Christadelphian body has changed and is changing., there is a greater understanding growing of the need for grace, the centrality of the teachings of Christ, the need for a more practical focus and a recognistion in the Care Groups that there are emotional situations that need to be understand. Our problem as a community and what we show is the limitation of the Bible alone without a recognition of the need for the Spirit of God. But we won't accept that, because if we did we would have to admit that our exclusivity was a problem, that you can't get to the right spirit merely by academic debate and that we have in fact treated a lot of people badly and that disfellowshipping lots of people wasn't the right way to go about things.

In its present form the Christadelphian body will not survive and already is dying and it's not merely because people don't want to follow God, although as we all know most people don't in the West. It's because it doesn't really answer people's spiritual longing for a real connection with God. It's too academic an approach, it's too emotionally disconnected and there's too little power. It's also led to a situation where most of the children of Christadelphians do not get baptised and very often there are a lot of people hanging in there simply because that is where they have their social connections.

It's a religion which very often creates beliefs in people, but not faith and the two things are very different. You can sustain belief in people by keeping reinforcing the same things over and over again like a kind of social reinforcement schedule and that's why many people believe if you don't go to some church you would lose your faith. That's because their faith hangs on going through a set pattern of behaviour, whereas faith is a lot more solid and a lot harder to destroy. It comes from a knowledge of God, not just a knowledge of the Bible. The difference is one has power, the other does not. We read in Hebrews 11 and its frequently quoted that 'faith is the the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen'. What is less frequently quoted is the later things in the chapter which people were able to do as a result of faith and how this is set out as the normal expected standard of the Christian walk.

The Christadelphian movement started from a very radical questioning of mainstream Christianity based upon textproof quoting and reached a level of complexity beyond many average men and women. To do that you need educated, well read people with high rational skills and it is very questionable that that was the first century approach anyway. For that to be universally available required the invention of printing, considerable time, health and nutrition that was not available for most of history.

Few people have ever had that kind of access to the Bible and they were more reliant upon pictures and communicated stories and what they understood in their own hearts. There are benefits to that though I am thankful for the scripture knowledge I have gained as a result, but it can be rather a one tracked thinking method that denies the role of experience or emotion. It therefore leads to our community suiting certain personality types and ways of thoughts and being very hard for other types of personality and ways of thoughts.

The experience that we have as a community has relevance, but to think we have all the truth and all the understanding is a very limited way of thinking in my opinion. That of course is why at every stage all the developments within the community have been fights to change a mindset. The perception that is held is that we come to the Bible without a mindset, without a conditioning, without any effect from our upbringing and social environments, when in fact there is a strong mindset at play within the community that does not allow certain thoughts to be held or raised. You see that when a difficult passage is read and people muse over its difficultness whilst saying 'of course we don't believe in this or that'.

For truly open minded thinking to occur we do have to consider the possible truth of these thoughts and the thoughts have to be allowed to be raised without the possibility of censure. To truly allow God to speak to us we have to not be frightened of whether other people think us heretical or not. That's what a full pursuit of truth is really like.

I'm not suggesting a perfect church exists, because it does not. We are works in progress. What I am saying is that we need to give people freedom to grow without fear of censure and we have to start realising what effect our conditioning and environment and history have upon us. I'm not perfect any more than you are, but dis-fellowshipping people is judging people and it is a way of stifling questions and progress and understanding. If we have the truth, if you think about it, it should be fairly easy to answer people's objections without needing to do that. We should have no fear of asking ourselves how much of our responses are thought out ones rather than conditioned ones.

I think there is a factor we need to be aware of - the fear that if we change our beliefs we somehow face losing our salvation. That's a very thought limiting idea. We have to realise instead that God isn't a God who seeks to frustrate the seeking heart and it is for this reason that grace is such an empowering truth.

I would welcome your thoughts on these ideas and maybe if we did we could come to a greater understanding even if it isn't possible for me to be formally accepted back into fellowship..

With much love and blessings in Jesus,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel the need to add my endorsements to your comments, and, like you, are delighted to see a considerable movement towards this clearly correct and liberating thinking within Christadelphia, at least that is true in many places where I am here in UK. It is good to read an ever increasing number of internet postings which recognise the power of God as supreme, righteous and perfect, and with the desire and ability to make us sinless and perfect. We live - every breath - every heartbeat - by His power. What wonderful love.