Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why life is such a struggle

For many Christadelphians life is a constant struggle. The focus in many ecclesias is on the extreme sinfulness of human nature, and members are encouraged to attend as many meetings as they can and study the Bible so that they can "build themselves up" to resist the temptation to sin. Very often when people fall into difficulties they are told it is because they neglected attending meetings, or didn't read the Bible often enough. While this has the positive effect of producing a community of people who know their Bibles quite well it also has the negative effect of generating further guilt in people who are already struggling. It also perpetuates the error that the struggle against sin is something a Christian has to do through their own efforts.

The passage I quoted earlier from Hebrews 6:4-6 is often interpreted by Christadelphians as having no relevance for Christians today, but applied only to first century belivers. "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."

There are two major problems with this Christadelphian interpretation:

(1) It is wrong. Many Christadelphians deal with "difficult" passages in the Bible by saying that they applied only to the first century, but they have no systematic way of knowing how to determine which passages are first century specific and which have universal relevance. The only "rule" seems to be if it doesn't fit in with Christadelphian teaching then it must be first century specific.

(2) The struggle against sin is a struggle between believers and their own human natures and human nature is invariably the winner. (Some Christadelphians even teach a doctrine of "the inevitability of sin", saying that it is impossible to overcome sin). According to Christadelphian teaching God is a by-stander - He observes His people struggling but doesn't get involved because this would be to take away their free will and turn them into "robots". However, the overwhelming emphasis of the New Testament is that the struggle against sin is fought by God for the benefit of His creation and He enables His people to overcome so that they are "strong in the strength which God supplies".

Hebrews 6 teaches that God provides a "heavenly gift" which is a "taste" of the "powers of the coming age", the Holy Spirit, to those who have been enlightened. By denying this present involvement in the lives of believers, and God's empowering of His people, many Christadelphians (although not all) not only deny the provision of the Holy Spirit to aid and enable Christians to overcome sin, they also by implication deny that they have been "enlightened".

However, Scripture provides a wonderful promise that those who call upon the name of Jesus will not only be saved in the age to come but they will also have access to all the resources of heaven to enable them to be victors in this world too. It is a promise that God will provide all we need for our spiritual growth. To any Christadelphians reading this I want to encourage you to embrace God's promise, accept His free gift, and discover that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ, because He sets us free from sin and death (Rom 8:1-2).

Friday, July 22, 2005

Secrets ("mysteries") of the kingdom

The first parable in this collection in Matthew 13 includes a reference to “the secrets (or mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven” (v. 11). This expression also occurs in Luke 8:10 and in Mark 4:11-12 where the singular “secret” is used rather than the plural form used in Matthew and Mark: He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!”’(quoting Isaiah 6:9). Mark’s wording suggests a single “secret” while the others suggest a secret which has several aspects. What is this secret, or mystery?

In Daniel we find the concept of God revealing His secrets to human beings. God grants the king a dream that was meaningless to him but whose meaning was revealed in a vision to God’s servant (Daniel 2:19). Paul understood “mysteries” to be revealed secrets (Romans 16:25-27) – things which had been hidden for long ages but now revealed to God’s people. The secret is proclaimed to everyone, even though it is understood only by believers. That the kingdom would come was no secret, but how it would come was not previously revealed. This secret is revealed in this series of parables in Matthew 13, and elsewhere in Jesus' teachings.

From Jesus' teachings about the kingdom we learn that the Old Testament prophets had only part of the picture. They expected the present age - "the kingdoms of men" - to end with the coming of the Messiah, and the Messianic Age would be paradise restored. What they didn't know was that there would be two comings of the Messiah, and that His first coming would be quite different to what they expected. Jesus came as a King and began His rule at His first coming.

Christadelphians generally have concentrated on the Old Testament prophets for their understanding of the kingdom, rather than the teachings of Jesus. Consequently their expectations are similar to the Jews of Jesus' time (or before) and they have failed to understand the "secrets of the kingdom" which were revealed by Jesus. This is a great pity because as a group Christadelphians have realised that the kingdom is central to the Gospel, but by neglecting the present reality of the kingdom they have missed out on many of the benefits which Jesus said would come "in this age" to those who embraced His teachings.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Jesus' Gospel of Grace (2)

Jesus taught constantly about grace, even in stories and sayings where He did not even use the word! This is why it was said He was "full of grace and truth" and His teachings were "words of grace" and why the doctrine of grace became so important to the church and why it features so prominently in Paul’s writings.

For example, the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) tells of an employer who hires some workers early in the day, some later, and some an hour before quitting time, then pays each of them the same amount. When the workers who worked all day complain, the employer's explanation is: “Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." (Matt. 20:15-16). God’s standard of reward is totally different from human standards of payment – it is entirely a matter of grace. The labourer who puts in a full day received a denarius, which was a usual day’s wages – this is what they deserved. But those who were sent into the field at the end of the day and worked only one hour received the same wages as those who had worked all day. By human standards a day’s work deserves a day’s pay. But by God’s standards those who worked for one hour also received a day’s pay. Human standards are based on merit and reward. God’s standard is grace.

The well known parable of the Lost Son (Luke15:11-32) has a similar message. A son demands the family fortune and wastes it, then returns home expecting little in the way of good treatment. The father welcomes him handsomely, over the objections of his other son who stayed at home and served dutifully. The older dutiful son got what he deserved. The younger son got what he didn’t deserve. By human standards the older son should have been rewarded for his loyalty and service. But by God’s standards the younger wayward son was accepted because his father loved him. This is grace.

We can see a common thread in these parables of Jesus: the grace of God is something that upsets human ideas about merit, about what is deserved, and what is due as a reward.

In fact, we see in some of Jesus’ sayings and stories that the rewards are out of all proportion to the service which was rendered. Matthew records some examples of this:

- “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)

- “"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” (Matthew 24:47)

- “"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'” (Matthew 25:21,23)

This is the way it is with God.

- First, even our opportunities for service are a gift from God (Matt 25:14ff);

- then we are rewarded when we have only done our duty;

- finally we are rewarded out of all proportion to what we have done, even when we don’t reserve to be rewarded at all.

Such is God’s grace.

It is impossible to earn God’s favour. The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) makes the point that not even religious observances can make us deserving of God’s rewards. In the story the tax collector, in a class of people despised and often associated with “sinners”, is “justified before God” while the Pharisee who prayed, fasted and gave money to God’s temple comes in for criticism. Yet elsewhere we are taught to pray, encouraged to give to the poor, and told that fasting is valuable. This parable focuses our attention on the motivation for religious observances. If we are being “religious” in order to earn merit with God then our efforts are useless. However, if our observances are the grateful responses of someone who has been saved as a result of God’s undeserved favour, then they will not go unrewarded.

"The kingdom of heaven is like ..."

In my previous message I touched briefly on Jesus' parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13.

The first parable (the sower) is about how God spreads the message of the kingdom, and how people respond to it. The good news of the kingdom must be willingly received – the kingdom is not forced upon people. The second parable (the weeds) forms a pair with it as it describes how the enemy tries to disrupt God’s work. The kingdom has entered the world and produced “sons of the kingdom” who enjoy its power and blessings, but the world, or the present age, has not been overcome by this coming of the Kingdom. The righteous and the wicked mingle together in a mixed society – the kingdom is present, but hidden – until the end comes.

The next pair (the mustard seed and yeast) is about how the kingdom begins and describes first how the kingdom has small beginnings (“like a mustard seed”) but grows quickly, and secondly how it establishes its presence without us being aware of any visible change (“like yeast mixed with dough”). First, the kingdom is present in the world in a tiny, insignificant form. The Jews imagined the kingdom would be like a giant tree under which the nations would find shelter. They could not understand how Jesus’ tiny group of disciples could have any connection to this kingdom. Second, the kingdom has entered the world in a form that is hardly seen. Jesus is revealing how that just as when leaven is mixed with flour nothing appears to happen, yet eventually something does happen and the result is a complete transformation; so the kingdom is coming into the world in a form that appears to be small and insignificant yet we will at some time in the future see a complete transformation of the world as a result of these insignificant beginnings.

The third pair (hidden treasure and the pearl) is about how the kingdom is of greater value than we can reckon, and is to be sought above everything else. If it costs everything we have this is still a small price to pay compared with what it is worth. The Jews were expecting a Messiah who would raise an army and overthrow the Romans, not the leader of a small band of men who mixed with despised tax collectors and “sinners”. The “secret” that Jesus is revealing here is that the people might easily despise the kingdom because of its coming in a way that could easily be overlooked or despised. Everyone should seek to enter the kingdom at any cost. Perhaps there is another secret being revealed here too: some people spend a lot of time searching for “the truth” and then find it in the good news of the kingdom, while others almost stumble across it. But both people, if they recognise it for what it is, will realise that it is a treasure beyond price.

The parables of the mustard seed and yeast relate to the insignificant beginnings of the kingdom, while the next pair (hideden treasure and the pearl) reveals that despite these appearances the kingdom is hardly insignificant – it is worth more than any treasure.

The final ‘pair’ (the net and the teacher) contains first a parable which describes two types of fish in a similar way to the second parable which described two types of grain or crops and how they are separated, but reveals another “secret”. While the parable of the wheat and tares reveals how the kingdom co-exists with evil in the world, the parable of the fish in the net reveals how both good and bad people exist together in the community of people who have been “caught up” by the good news of the kingdom. The Jews expected the Messiah to destroy all the godless nations and gather together a holy people. But Jesus came “not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17) and brought together a group of people who were rejected by society. Rather than destroying these “godless” people, Jesus called them into His kingdom. His invitation went out to all kinds of people, and the “net” caught up all sorts of people. Sorting out the good from the bad must await the last day, when the kingdom will become a perfect community.

The final saying in this group also refers to the teaching of the kingdom in much the same way as the first story (the sower) referred to how God spreads the “seed” of the good news of the kingdom. Again Jesus challenges His disciples to recognise their role in teaching the good news of the kingdom.

Jesus’ teachings must be interpreted against His situation: the Jewish world in which He lived and their expectations. The kingdom they were expecting was not the kingdom Jesus was bringing to them. As a result they could easily reject it, or despise it. They knew that the kingdom would come, but how it would come was a mystery to them, until Jesus revealed the secret through this series of parables. The kingdom began with Jesus’ first coming, but all its glories would not be seen until a much later time. Today people still reject the good news of the kingdom because they judge it on the basis of the people who are teaching about it, so Jesus’ message about being a small and insignificant group who are often despised and rejected by society is an encouragement to His people who are continuing His work of preaching the kingdom.

There is also a reminder here to us that we should not share the good news of the kingdom only with people who meet our expectations about what kingdom-citizens should be like. Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders of His day because he was mixing with the “wrong” type of people, contrary to their expectations of the Messiah. So we should share the good news will all who need it, not only those who we think will respond in the way we expect. We should leave it until “the last day” when God will sort the good from the bad. Our role is to share the good news, and leave the judging to God.

Jesus' Gospel of Grace

John says “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) and “from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (1:16). Luke said “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words [or words of grace] that came from his lips” (Luke 4:22).

However, Jesus Himself rarely used the word charis ("grace"). In the two instances where He did He taught something profoundly important about grace. His teachings were about doing good to others when there is no possibility that they can repay us – doing good to others without expecting to be rewarded for it. Showing grace to others in this way is our response to the grace God has shown us. We cannot earn salvation by good works. We cannot do anything for God which would ever repay what He has done for us. Salvation is God’s gift. So we are to be imitators of God by being gracious (or grace-givers) to others – behaving towards them in a way which imitates (on a small scale) the grace of God to us.

In fact, in Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom He was mainly teaching about grace.

For example, Matthew groups several parables together in a collection of stories beginning with the words “the kingdom of heaven is like …” (Matthew 13). An interesting thing about these parables is that none of them speak specifically about the kingdom as our reward or of a kingdom in the way we might think of one: as a nation or country. In fact, they don’t seem to be speaking about a future kingdom at all, but describing how the kingdom is preached, how it begins, and the characteristics of the people who respond to the kingdom-message, the citizens of the kingdom. In fact, Jesus says almost nothing about the future kingdom after His second coming.

Christadelphianism generally has put the emphasis of the kingdom almost entirely on the future - the final consummation - and ignored almost completely Jesus' teachings about the present reality of the kingdom. In this way Christadelphianism is a "half-gospel" and not a complete picture.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Gospel in the Letters (2)

The Gospel of the Kingdom in Romans

It might seem strange that in the letter which has been described as “the Gospel according to Paul” – the letter to the Romans – there is no mention at all of the kingdom. Did Paul change his message? This is hardly possible, especially since we read in Acts that while in Rome he “boldly and without hindrance preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:31). We get a very specific statement from Paul himself about this. While speaking to the elders of the church in Ephesus he said that “the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus” was “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God”. And then in the next verse he says "I have gone preaching the kingdom of God” (Acts 20:24-25). So to Paul “the gospel of grace” was the same as the gospel of the kingdom. In Romans he teaches about grace, using the word at least twenty times, although never using the word “kingdom”.

The message here is clear: the Kingdom of God is a gift. We cannot earn it. We do not work for it. It is not a reward for services rendered. It is a gift. It is so important that we understand this that Paul writes his “Gospel” – the letter to the Romans – to spell this out clearly.

The Gospel of the Kingdom in Hebrews

The writer to the Hebrews says “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb 12:28). Elsewhere in his letter he refers to “the city of God” (11:10, 16; 12:22), “the city that is to come” (13:14), “the heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22) and our “homeland” (11:14). The letter emphasizes that we are on a pilgrimage toward this kingdom, or homeland. While the references are predominantly future he does say “you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God” (12:22) in the context of saying that we have come to God and to Jesus (vv. 23-24). So while our hope of the kingdom is future, there is also a sense in which it is also “now”.

The writer to the Hebrews also refers to "the age to come" in an interesting "now, but not yet" way. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance” (Hebrews 6:4-6). The "now" kingdom reality is a "taste" of the "not yet" final consummation in the age to come. The writer again emphasises that the kingdom is a heavenly gift, highlighting again that the Gospel of the kingdom is the Gospel of grace.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Gospel in the Letters (1)

I'll come back to write more about the Gospel in the Gospels and in Acts, but first I want to look at how the "gospel of the kingdom" in the Gospels and Acts was presented in the Letters.

From the list in the previous message you'll see that acts ended with Paul preaching the gospel of the kingdom. In Acts 20:24 we read that "the task the Lord Jesus has given me" was "testifying to the gospel of God's grace". Was there any difference between the "gospel of the kingdom" and the "gospel of grace"?

It's interesting that the word "kingdom" rarely occurs in Paul's letters - 16 times - while the word "grace" occurs 100 times. In fact, most of the references to the kingdom are in Jesus' teachings, and most of the references to grace are in Paul's letters. Were Jesus and Paul preaching different gospels?

Several of Paul's references to the kingdom were in the "now" sense rather than the "not yet". He was speaking of present realities when he said the following:

- "the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17)

- "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." (1 Cor 4:20)

- "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves" (Col 1:13)

-" ... my fellow workers for the kingdom of God" (Col 4:11)

Several references are in the "not yet" sense - the final consummation:

- "the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9; also 6:10; 15:50; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5. These 5 references to "not inheriting' the kingdom deserve a study of their own).

- "Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power." (1 Cor 15:24)

- "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge ..." (2 Tim 4:1)

- "The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom." (2 Tim 4:18)

There are a couple of references which could be either "now" or "not yet" (or both?):

- "... giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you [ Some manuscripts us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light" (Col 1:12 - although the following verse would almost certainly force a "now" meaning here).

- "... encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory." (1 Thess 2:12)

- "All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering." (2 Thess 1:5).

Like Jesus, Paul saw the kingdom in two primary stages - one now, another not yet.

The Gospel in Acts

There is a repeated message in the Acts - the apostles preached about the kingdom of God and Jesus.

Acts 1:3
After his suffering, he [Jesus] showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Acts 8:12
But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

Acts 14:21-22
They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said.

Acts 19:8
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God.

Acts 20:25
"Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.

Acts 28:23
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

Acts 28:31
Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Again, the Christadelphians have picked up this emphasis nicely. But what exactly did the apostles say about the kingdom of God in their preaching?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Gospel in the Gospels

I said yesterday that I plan to write in positive terms what I believe the Gospel to be, and how it has made a difference in my life. The first step will be to analyse what the New Testament writers proclaimed as the Gospel, so I plan to write a brief sketch of:

- the Gospel in the Gospels

- the Gospel in Acts

- the Gospel in the Letters

- the Gospel in The Revelation

The Gospel in the Gospels is simply looking at what Jesus taught. Matthew sums it up like this:

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." … Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people." (Matthew 4:17, 23)

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness." (Matthew 9:35)

Jesus whole message could be summed up as "the good news of the Kingdom of God". So far Christadelphians have gotten that point pretty right and that's certainly a plus for Christadelphianism (a very big plus in my opinion). But the traditional Christadelphian expositions of the Kingdom leave several aspects of Jesus' teaching unexplained and the details which don't fit in don't get much coverage in lectures and studies about the subject.

Jesus taught that there would be two major stages in the establishment of His kingdom:

1. During His ministry He taught that the Kingdom was “near” (Matthew 4:17), had “come upon you” (Matthew 12:28), and was “among you” (Luke 17:21). In the parable of the wheat and weeds He taught that the “sons of the Kingdom” will grow side by side with “the sons of the evil one” until “the end of the age” when the angels will “weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (Matthew 13:36-43). This is speaking about the period of time between His first and second comings when these two groups of people, described as wheat and weeds, grow together in “his kingdom”.

2. Yet there would be a time yet future when the Kingdom would be fully established. Hence, He taught His disciples to pray “Your Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). His parable of the sheep and goats points to a future time when the King will say “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). Similarly, at the Last Supper Jesus said to His disciples “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).

The second stage gets good coverage with Christadelphians, but the first is often neglected (or even dismissed). The first stage is what dispensationalists would call "the church age", or what many scholars would call a "now, but not yet, eschatology". In other words, there is a present reality to the kingdom ("now") although there is also to be a final consummation ("not yet").

I'll come back to what Jesus taught about the present kingdom reality in some future messages, but next I'll sum up the Gospel in the Acts.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

What do you believe?

Having done this myself several times I'd encourage you to write down what you do believe.

- Use only positive terms

- state what you do believe, not what you don't believe

- keep it what you personally feel is truly important

- make it a 'testimony' - in other words, it should also tell a story about the difference it has made in your own life (after all, if it hasn't really made a difference to you, in the way you live, why would you think it's important enough to tell other people?)

In coming messages to this blog I plan to do just that - give you my own statement-of-faith / testimony.


The Christian church has been divided for centuries, almost from the start. Some denominations are more "splintered" than others and Christadelphians are certainly not alone when it comes to schism.

Yet there seems to be something in the Christadelphian psyche which inclines towards divisiveness and this can be incredibly frustrating for those Christadelphians who are working for unity within the brotherhood. The recent failure of the North American Statement of Understanding to bring about reconciliation between the two major N. American fellowships illustrates the point that the traditional Christadelphian way of trying to achieve unity by attempting to convince each other that their point of view is wrong simply doesn't work.

This is just a reflection of the "Christadelphian way". Generally speaking Christadelphians look for differences. In discussions with other Christians Christadelphians will quickly go to the differences. Ask a Christadelphian what they believe and the response will often be "well, we don't believe in the trinity, we don't believe in an immortal soul, we don't believe in a supernatural devil, we don't believe in heaven going, we don't believe in ..." Very often the response will be "well, what do you believe in?!"

I guess this tendency to highlight the differences becomes internalised and Christadelphians look for differences between each other. The result is a whole lot of "fellowships" which all claim to have "the Truth" and refuse to fellowship other Christadelphians, sometimes claiming that the rest are not "real Christadelphians".

I believe this is more than a symptom of a deeper problem. It is a sign that there is something fundamentally wrong with this divisive and negative mentality. The Christadelphian culture has become one of fault-finding and is neither wholesome nor holy in this regard.

Here are some things I'd encourage Christadelphians to do:

- make a conscious and deliberate effort to make friends with non-Christadelphians

- read widely, especially non-Christadelphian Christian books

- keep your mind open to new ideas - accept the possibility that others may be right and you may be wrong

- if you get the opportunity to worship with Christian friends or pray with them take it

- visit other churches - not with the view of criticising or convincing them that they are wrong, but with the view of learning something.

- pray for Christadelphians in other fellowships and Christians in other denominations - not that they will be convinced that they are wrong (and you are right!) but just thank God for what He has done with them and what they are doing for others.

I guarantee that your thinking will start to change, and, incredibly, you will begin to experience a greater degree of personal freedom in Christ.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Abounding Grace

In 2 Cor 9:8 Paul writes:

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."

The Bible gives us the promise that God will provide everything we need for the Christian life. Many Christadelphians think of life as a struggle as we struggle against sin and our own fallen human nature. There is an emphasis on Romans 7 and Paul's description of his internal struggle which he experienced before he came to know the freedom from sin in Christ (which he describes in chapter 8). In fact, in some Christadelphian meetings much is made about the Romans 7 struggle and the Romans 8 victory is glossed over, or sometimes even ignored (I remember hearing about a Bible study in Adelaide on Romans which was in two parts: part 1 was Romans 1-7, and part 2 was Romans 9-16. Chapter 8 was left out entirely!)

But God promises victory over sin and the weaknesses of human nature:

- "To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen." (Jude 24-25)

- "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13)

- "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1-2)

- "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." (Eph 3:16-17)

Here is one of my favourites. Notice how Paul emphasises the enormous power that is available to us by using almost every possible synonym for "power" or "strength":

- "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms" (Eph 1:18-20).

The Amplified Bible uses these words in v. 19 "the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power". Paul is not simply saying that God is powerful: he is telling us that we can experience this power through His grace which abounds in us!

Life does not need to be a struggle against ourselves when we become Christians. We do not need to work for our salvation and overcome sin and temptation alone. God promises to give us every spiritual resource that we need in order to live a life of victory and fullness. I was not taught this when I became a Christadelphian, and I did not hear about this for many years. When I discovered this truth my life changed.

I learned that life is not a probation for the Kingdom. We are not here to be tested so that God can decide at the Judgment Seat whether or not we are "acceptable". Jesus said "it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). God wants to give us the kingdom as a gift! That's grace! God wants you and me in His kingdom and will do absolutely everything He can - He will "exert" Himself and use His mighty strength - to make sure we enter it with exceeding joy.

Grace in Acts

The Greek word charis is used 155 times in the New Testament, mostly in Paul's letters (100 X) , and is usually translated "grace".

The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words makes the following comment about grace in Acts:

In Acts charis describes the power that flows from God and the exalted Christ and accompanies the activity of the apostles, giving success to their mission (6:8; 11:23; 14:26; 15:40; 18:27).

To Luke, the writer of Acts, grace was an active force which enabled the preaching of the Gospel.

Welcome also to readers from Truth Alive

Welcome to those who found me by reading my ever-so-brief message on Truth Alive. If you find anything helpful here at all please feel free to email messages to friends, or tell them about this site. I have been blogging here for only two or three days and already the traffic is quite busy. Each day I will try to post something new and I pray that you will be blessed by visiting me here.

Welcome to readers from Forum

It's nice to see that this blog has been picked up so quickly by forums. Welcome to all my visitors from there, and I sincerely hope and pray that you will be blessed by reading about my journey.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Grace to help

Have you ever wished that you understood more about "grace" and why evangelical Christians make such a fuss about it?

Have you ever wondered why a Christadelphian book was published against Philip Yancey's What's so amazing about Grace? and why Yancey's book was condemned in some Christadelphian circles? Did you realise that in the latest version of The Christadelphian Hymn Book (the one with the green cover) some of the references to grace were deliberately removed? Do you wonder why?

The thing is, grace is one of the most important concepts in Paul's writings. In Acts 20:24 he said "the task the Lord Jesus has given me" was "testifying to the gospel of God's grace". It's almost impossible to understand the New Testament without understanding grace, yet the subject receives little attention in most Christadelphian ecclesias.

At best most Christadelphians understand grace as something like "forgiveness". We will be accepted at the Judgment Seat "by the grace of God" to most Christadelphians means we will be accepted if we do our best to live by the commandments of Christ and then God forgives us for our shortcomings. In fact, the only reference to grace in the BASF has exactly this meaning. However, Hebrews 4:16 makes it clear that grace is quite different to forgiveness.

"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

"Mercy" here includes the idea of forgiveness. When we fail God shows mercy - He forgives. But grace is something active - grace helps us in our time of need. Grace can't possibly mean forgiveness in this context. Mercy is passive but grace is active - grace helps.

So what is grace? And how does it help?

I'll post some more about this soon. In the meantime you might want to look in a concordance and start reading what the Bible says about grace.

I have plans for you

Following on from my previous message, this is a Scripture which spoke to me "personally" about how God is involved in our lives, if we let Him.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

Accept Jesus as your personal Saviour

It's not about which denomination you belong to, or which ecclesia. It's about your own personal relationship with God. Do you know God and Jesus Christ personally, or do you just know about them?

I had been a Christadelphian for several years when it suddenly dawned on me one day while praying that God was actually listening! I began to discover that He was interested in the small details of my life, that He has a plan for me personally and that I could talk with Him about anything. I realised then that even though I had been baptised I had never said that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour and that I wanted to commit my life to Him. When I did that it began to change my life.

Here is a prayer that you can pray right now. I believe that it will change your life too.

Lord, I am a sinner and I have rebelled against You. I am deeply sorry for my sin and want to change, but I know that I cannot change on my own - I need Your help to do this. I know that You love me as a person - as an individual - and that You sent Your Son Jesus to die for me so that my sins will be forgiven. Lord, I thank You that You paid such a high price for my salvation and I accept Your gift to me. From this moment I want to commit my life to You, to accept Jesus Christ as my Saviour and the Lord of my life, to be Your child. I know I can only do this through Your help and strength - on my own I can do nothing - but I believe that through Christ I can do everything! Thank You, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Christadelphian baptisms

It has been common practice in many Christadelphian ecclesias for people wanting to be baptised to go through a lengthy period of preparation in which the "essential doctrines" are taught. Even people who have been brought up in the faith have to "go through for baptism" and finally face a public examination (sometimes called an "interview") conducted by the ecclesia's "examing brethren" before they can be baptised. It's not uncommon for the "interview" to last two or more hours, and fine points of doctrine are carefully examined.

In recent times there has been a great deal of scrutiny, and criticism, of baptisms in "mission fields", especially if there has been any suspicion that the "interviews" haven't been up to the same standards of thoroughness as in countries where Christadelphianism has had a longer history.

Consequently many Christadelphians face their baptism with fear, apprehension and nervousness about how they will do in the examination - will they remember all the proof texts? will they make an embarrassing mistake? etc. - and not with the joy and rejoicing that seemed to characterise many of the baptisms recorded in the New Testament. Christadelphian baptisms tend to be solemn rather than joyful occasions.

While baptismal interviews cover the "essential doctrines" in great detail, there is usually little emphasis on accepting Jesus Christ as a personal Saviour, or on "receiving" Christ (John 1:12). While there is usually considerable emphasis on what a believer must do after baptism in terms of their duties and responsibilities, little is made of what God will do for them.

No wonder then that many young people brought up in the Christadelphian faith are either delaying baptism or opting out altogether.

Are you free?

If "the truth will set you free" then it follows that if you're not free then whatever it is you believe to be "the Truth" isn't the truth at all.

Over the years I have met many Christadelphians who are decent, good living people. They read their Bibles regularly, attend church ("meetings") regularly, obey the laws, keep themselves "separate from the world", and try to live by the commandments of Christ. Yet they are not happy with their relationship with God. Many Christadelphians find that their meetings do not satisfy them spiritually: the singing is often lifeless and dull; the exhortations and Bible studies are academic, theoretical and have little or no application to life; prayers are formal and impersonal. I have met many Christadelphians who long for something better - they want a deeper, more satisfying intimate relationship with God. Theoretically they believe this is possible because they read about it in their Bibles, yet they do not experience this in their personal spiritual lives.

If correct doctrine is as important as Christadelphianism teaches, and if Christadelphians really do have the Truth, then of all Christian denominations they should be the most free. Why is it that they're not?

Ask any Christadelphian if they are saved and they will probably tell you that they "hope" that they will be "accepted" at the Judgment Seat. Ask them how confident they are that they will be accepted and they will again say that they hope they will be considered worthy (or words to that effect). If correct doctrine is so important, and if Christadelphianism is so right, then why aren't Christadelphians more confident about their personal salvation?

I believe there is something fundamentally wrong with Christadelphian teaching that is preventing its members from experiencing true freedom in Christ. The object of this website is not to criticise Christadelphians or point out their failures - but rather, to offer some hope to the many Christadelphians who are desperately looking for something more fulfilling. I believe it's possible for Christadelphians to experience true freedom, to be assured of their salvation, and to know intimacy with God, and I hope to share this in future posts.

Do Christadelphians need to be "set free"?

Christadelphians claim to have "the Truth". In fact, many Christadelphians refer to their denomination as "the Truth" and instead of saying "I became a Christadelphian five years ago" they will usually say "I came into the Truth five years ago." If a Christadelphian marries a non-Christadelphian they are regarded as marrying "out of the Truth" and if they join another denomination it will be reported that "they left the Truth".

Jesus said that if we know the truth "the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). If Christadelphians have "the Truth" then they should all be "free". Yet I know many Christadelphians who are in bondage. By that I mean that they feel trapped by their religion. They do not have the freedom to explore or adopt new ideas, or they may be "disfellowshipped" from their denomination. They cannot challenge the decisions of their "Arranging Brethren" or they may be disciplined. In some Christadelphian churches ("ecclesias") the Arranging Brethren make rules about what sort of clothing must be worn, the style of music their members can listen to, even which Christadelphian ecclesias they can attend.

Even Christadelphians in the more "liberal" ecclesias which do not impose as many restrictions on their members often feel that they do not have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to grow in their relationship with God. If they attend other churches they may be disciplined or disfellowshipped (excommunicated). They are discouraged from reading non-Christadelphian books, especially Christian ones, or listening to non-Christadelphian music, especially contemporary Christian music. Different styles of worship are rarely tolerated. Prayer meetings are often discouraged, and sometimes forbidden. Members who want to experiment with different styles of worship, or introduce more contemporary music into meetings, are prevented from doing so. In infrustration they sometimes leave the Christadelphian community but because they have been taught that Christadelphians alone have "the Truth" and the rest of Christendom is "astray" from the Bible, they have no where to go.

So does the Christadelphian "Truth" set people free? If not, is it really the truth?

In future posts to this blog I want to explore what Jesus really meant when He said "the truth will set you free" and suggest to Christadelphians who may feel trapped how they can truly be liberated in Jesus Christ.