Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fellowshipping an out-of-fellowship person (1)

This message arose out of comments on an earlier message about a proposal being put to the 2008 Australian Christadelphian Conference in Sydney to restrict the start-up of new ecclesias.

An anonymous person left a comment describing how he visited another ecclesia and would not participate in the breaking of bread because of the attendance there of a person who had been 'disfellowshipped' by another ecclesia. He wrote: "If a Brother has been disfellowshiped and you visit another meeting and he is there then the main stream Christadelphian teaching is not to partake of the emblems which happened on this day."

In earlier posts on 'fellowship' I have discussed the Christadelphian practices related to breaking of bread, so I won't go into that again right now. However, I challenge the notion that "main stream Christadelphian teaching is not to partake of the emblems" if a disfellowshipped person is present. In fact, the Ecclesial Guide specifically deals with this issue in section 42. Here is an excerpt:
"There ought to be no interference of one ecclesia with another. At the same time, they have reciprocal rights. Ecclesial independence is a principle essential to be maintained. But it is no part of that independence to say that no ecclesia shall consider a matter that another has decided upon, if that matter comes before the first ecclesia, and challenges their judgment, and, in fact, requires a decision. In the example already discussed, if a brother withdrawn from by one ecclesia applies for the fellowship of another, that other ecclesia is bound to consider the application, and it is no infringement of the independence of the first ecclesia that it should be so, subject to the rules and attitudes indicated. It would, in fact, be a renunciation of its own independence, were it to refuse to do so. Respect for the first ecclesia requires that it accept its decision until it sees grounds for a different view; and in the investigation of these grounds it ought to invite its co-operation, as already indicated. But the mere fact of the application imposes upon it the obligation to consider and investigate the matter, if there are prima facie grounds for doing so. The other ecclesia would make a mistake if it considered such a procedure an infringement of its independence, Such a view would, in reality, be a trammelling of the independence of every assembly; for it would then amount to this, that no assembly had the right to judge a case coming before them if that case happen to have already been adjudicated upon by another ecclesia. The judgment of one would thus be set up as a rule for all."
The writer of the Ecclesial Guide then goes on to say
"An ecclesia has no right to judge except for itself. This is the independence not to be interfered with; but a similar right to judge must be conceded to all, and the exercise of it, if tempered with a respectful and proper procedure, would never offend an enlightened body anywhere."
A little later he deals with "cases where a reasonable doubt exists, and where a second ecclesia will come to a different conclusion from the first" and says that each ecclesia should exercise their prerogative of independent judgment:
"let each abide by its own decision, without interfering with each other. The one can fellowship a certain brother, the other cannot".
To do otherwise would be "to aggravate the misery of a perhaps very trumpery and unworthy affair by refusing to recognize each other, because they differ in judgment about one person".

Applying this to the situation mentioned, visitors to an ecclesia should recognise the right of that ecclesia to exercise "their prerogative of independent judgment" and to make their own decision about a person who may have been disfellowshipped elsewhere. To refuse to participate in the breaking of bread on such an occasion is not only rude and an affront to ones hosts, it also demonstrates a refusal to recognise the principle of non-interference laid out in the Ecclesial Guide. It undermines the principles of mutual respect, autonomy and the prerogative of independent judgment which are "mainstream Christadelphian teachings".

In a subsequent post I will also publish Cliff's response to the comment which was a reply to his.

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