Monday, September 26, 2005

Intimacy with God (5)

On the day of Pentecost Peter quoted from the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.

(Acts 2:17ff, quoting from Joel 2:28-32).

Peter quoted these words as evidence that God had commenced a new work among His people, and there would be direct communication channels between God and His people.

I had never considered very seriously the possibility that God would speak to me in dreams. Although I was often aware that I had been dreaming, I rarely remembered even the slightest details of my dreams, except for one recurring dream I had had several times. After reading Jack Deere's excellent book Surprised by the Voice of God my mind was opened to the possibility that God might communicate in this way. I began to think about Elihu's words in Job 33:14-15

For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though man may not perceive it.

In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on men
as they slumber in their beds ...

Soon after I had a dream that was extremely vivid, and the next morning I could recall it like I never had previously. In my dream I was having a conversation with the Lord and He gave me explicit instructions about something I should do. When I woke up my recollection was so clear that I knew this was God speaking to me "in a dream, in a vision of the night". I acted immediately on what He had told me and followed His instructions to the letter. Although it wasn't clear to me at the time why I was being instructed to do this particular thing it became quite clear to me afterwards and makes perfect sense to me today.

I began to think about my recurring dream, and if this too was the voice of God. I prayed about it and was given insight into it's meaning. Once I understood what it meant, the dream stopped.

I am now more receptive to the possibility that God might choose to communicate with me in dreams. If I recall a dream I take it seriously and pray about it's meaning. I still rarely recall my dreams, but at least now I believe I am receptive to hearing God's voice when He chooses to reveal Himself to me "in a dream, in a vision of the night".

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Intimacy with God (4)

Another way God communicates with His people is through other individuals. From my own experience I can provide countless examples of this, because it seems that this is either a way God chooses to speak with me very often, or I may be more receptive to hearing His voice in this way than in other ways.

Many times when I have been teaching/preaching I have had an insight which has come to me while I've been on my feet, part-way through my exhortation/lecture/sermon. I've departed from my prepared notes and gone with the new thought or insight. I used to be amazed when someone would come up to me after the service and say something like "There was one thing in your talk which really helped me a lot" or "I've been praying about something, and I felt God gave me an answer when you said ..." Of course, the "one thing" which really impacted these people was always the insight I'd been given while speaking.

I said "I used to be amazed" when this happened, but it has happened so often now that I almost expect it to happen, and I can often (although not always) recognise the "insight" as being a word from the Lord for someone. I've shared this with other speakers/teachers and discovered that many others have had this same experience.

The same phenomenon happens to me, as well as through me. Very often when I pray about something the answer will come to me through another person. It may come in an exhortation/sermon, or through a private conversation, or a book. Several weeks ago I'd seen a reference to a book somewhere and thought at the time that the next time I was in a Christian bookstore I'd look out for it. About two weeks later I was at the bookstore with my wife. We'd gone specifically to buy some books which someone had asked me to get for them. While I was there I had this thought in the back of my mind that there was something I was going to look out for, but I couldn't think what it was. As I wandered around the store I prayed "Lord, what was it?" and minutes later I literally tripped over a small pile of books on the floor which had just come in and not been put on the shelves. There it was! The book I wanted to check out was right on the top! Without looking inside I knew that the Lord obviously wanted me to read that book, so I bought it immediately. And yes, it contained some great material which I believe I was meant to read.

If you want God to speak to you this way, or through you, then you have to make yourself receptive to Him speaking in this way. The more God speaks to or through me, the more receptive I become. Some times when I'm praying a person will come to mind. I will always then pray for that person, and sometimes I will contact them immediately or soon after. I remember praying one day in my car when someone came to mind that I hadn't spoken with for quite a long time. I phoned him immediately on my mobile phone. He started crying and said "You won't believe this, but I was just praying that God would put me in touch with someone I could talk to who would understand, and while I was praying your call came!"

A couple of years ago I was very busy with a lot of things happening in my life, at work, in church, practically everywhere. I kept getting a thought that I should study a particular subject (let's just call it xyz), but it wasn't related to anything I was writing or speaking about, so I thought it might be an unnecessary distraction, a time-consuming tangent. So I prayed about it and asked "Lord, should I study xyz, or should I wait till another time when I have more time". A couple of weeks later I received an email from a close friend in another country. He said "while we were worshipping in church this morning you came into my mind, and I had a thought that you should be studying xyz. That sounds weird to me, but does it make any sense to you?" Of course, it made perfect sense and God was speaking to me through my friend with a very specific answer to my prayer. I commenced a study of the subject, and found that it provided some enormously powerful tools for me in my Christian life.

However, for God to have been able to speak to me through my friend, He had to speak through someone who was receptive to Him doing that. If, when my friend had that thought about me during worship at church, he put it out of his mind by thinking "that's weird!" and simply dismissed it, then I would never have received that word from the Lord through him (and God might never have used him again in that way). But my friend is receptive to that. He knows from his own experiences that God does stuff like that, and so he doesn't dismiss anything as "weird" - he passes it on. And God can use him because he does.


Some discussion about my last post has begun on the Truth Alive forum.

Feel free to wander on over and join in.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Intimacy with God (3)

As conversation prayer is more than talking to God. It also means listening to God. It's a two-way conversation, but all too often people don't hear God speaking because we're either too busy talking, or we just don't expect God to say anything. After all, God only ever spoke to the prophets and people in Bible times - He just doesn't talk to anyone today (or so the mainstream Christadelphian view would have it).

But there's not a shred of Biblical evidence for the idea God stopped talking to His people 2,000 years ago. In fact, all the evidence in the New Testament is that with the coming of His Son the way He relates with his people has changed for ever. The way into the Holiest place has been made open; we can now approach the throne of grace boldly; His sons and daughters will prophesy like never before; we have entered a new age in God's dealings with humanity. Cessationism - the idea (not unique to Christadelphians) that God communicated directly with His people for a brief period of time in the first century and then ceased this communication less than 100 years later - is based on some ingenious interpretation of Scripture which completely ignores the most obvious meaning. Perhaps I can deal with that at some other time.

Over the next few posts I would like to explore some of the ways God communicates with His people, including:

- through His Word (this is where cessationists would start - and end - but I'll leave this one to later)

- through angels

- through other people

- through dreams and visions

- by placing things in our hearts

- by speaking directly

I believe in angels. I believe they are "ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation" (Heb 1:14). I believe they are God's agents, working in our lives to manipulate circumstances for our good. In Biblical times they appeared as men (and women?) to communicate messages from God to His people. Sometimes they were immediately recognised as being angels. Sometimes not.

I've met angels (and you probably have too). I've not always recognised them as angels. I remember one time when I was wrestling with a problem and needed to make a decision that I met a young man at a seminar who came up to me after a session for a private chat. He seemed to know that I needed to talk about something, and almost immediately went straight to the heart of it and offered some very wise advice. I never saw him again, but I took his advice and it proved to be the right thing to do.

I told this story once when speaking at a conference and was approached by several people afterwards with similiar stories. I remember one story told by someone who had recently moved to a new city and was feeling quite anxious about settling in a new place and getting things set up so his wife and children could follow. Someone came up to him on the train on his way to work one morning, and called him by name (he assumed that he must have met him at church on the previous Sunday, but couldn't remember him. Who else would know his name?) The stranger told him not to worry, that everything was going to be fine, and that this is where God wanted him to be. He was right, and everything went well; but he never saw that man again and was convinced that it was an angel.

You've probably heard of similar stories, and may have some of your own.

"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Ducks and dodgy theology

The following comments on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) were posted to a Christadelphian forum by bro Cliff York. Cliff's comments about being in relationship with God rather doing something to earn God's favour tie in nicely with my thoughts about intimacy with God, and I liked them so much I'm posting them here (with Cliff's permission).

When the lawyer (ie. one governed by law, not grace) asked the question "Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life" - he actually answered his own question. One cannot "DO" anything to inherit the family's values - one must "BE" - ie. be related in some way to the Testator to receive the inheritance. What does a child "DO" to inherit anything from his father? Nothing. He must simply "BE" a child of the Father. And in the case of adoption, such a child is "deemed to be" a child of the Father.

Jesus is pointing out to the Lawyer that we are to be Human Beings, not Human "doings".

Question? How does a Duck glorify God? Answer: by being a duck!! *

Q? How do we glorify God? Answer: by "being" who God created us to be: authentic, genuine, caring "offspring" of His.

When the Lawyer asked, "and who is my neighbour" - he did what we so often do... he actually wanted to know where his obligations ended.

By using the word "certain" in this (and in any of His teachings) [ie "a certain man" "a certain priest" etc] Jesus wants us to identify with the character - He is saying, "this could be you or me. I could put your name here in this story".

I believe that Luke was the man Jesus had in mind as the Samaritan - after all, Luke was not a Jew, and he was a doctor!! And this story is only recorded by Luke out of all the Gospel writers.

When the priest and the levite (who incidently were the part of that group who were custodions of the "Truth" in Israel, so their "theology" was "correct") saw the man in the gutter, they wondered what would happen to themselves if they even touched the man.

When the Samaritan (the hero of the story, who incidently had "dodgy Theology") saw the man, he wondered what would happen to the man if he did not touch him.

The Samaritan was not concerned what would happen to himself if he had anything to do with the man in the gutter. That is how I see our role in the Brotherhood. So often we see B/S who are concerned what will happen to themselves if they fellowship "Bro so and so." That is not religion (cp James 1:27). And such an attitude is based on fear of what "others" will say or do to you.

The Samaritan put his fears to one side (after all, how did he know that the man in the gutter was not a decoy for an ambush?) and in LOVE ministers to a man who has been abused and left for dead.

What do we do on our community for those who have been spiritually abused and cast out of our institution and left for dead on the road that leads from Jericho to Jerusalem? May the Lord greatly increase the number of Samaritans in our midst.... urgently!!

The work of a priest is to "have compassion on the ignorant and on those who are out of the way" says Paul, yet it was only the Samaritan who showed these Christ qualities in the parable. The priest and the Levite were too concerned about what others might think of them if they even touched the poor abused man.

And it was because the priest and the levite were bound by the Law that they could not touch the man lest they be defiled. The Samaritan was able to operate outside of the Law, and get off his ass, and be of benefit to the poor abused man.

Who was neighbour to whom? We are often told that the Good Samaritan was neighbour to the man in the gutter. But Jesus reveals that it was the man in the gutter who accepted help from his neighbour, the Samaritan.

What he was saying to the lawyer was, "I am your neighbour, you are the man in the gutter, you have been abused and neglected, and left for dead by those who are bound by law. Are you prepared to allow me (a man who you will shortly accuse of being a Samaritan. cp John 8:48) to be your neighbour? Can I bind up your wounds and take you to a House of Therapy (Matthew 24:45) and pay the price of your redemption?

One of the highlights of this story for me, is the proof that God is not so concerned about our Doctinal Correctness as He is concerned about our State of Being.

The Priest and the Levite were Doctrinally "pure" - but were totally useless to God.

The Samaritan, on the other hand, was a man with "dodgy Theology" and yet it was he who did the Will of God.

It is possible to be absolutely "correct" and at the same time to be totally "wrong". Let us therefore learn to become the best Human Beings that God has created us to be. And let our "pattern" be the son of Man who never let others do His thinking for Him, but He had His ears open always to the Father and His breathings.

Your Brother

* I first heard this comment about ducks glorifying God from my friend David Jose, and I'm guessing that Cliff may have heard it from the same source.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Intimacy with God (2)

"Most Christians for most of the Christian centuries have learned to pray by praying the Psalms" writes Eugene Peterson in the Introduction to Psalms (NavPress, 1994).

He goes on to describe the difficulties a lot of people encounter when trying to pray and with trying to find the right prayer "language". "Faced with the prospect of conversation with a holy God who speaks worlds into being, it is not surprising that we have trouble ... Untutored, we tend to think that prayer is what good people do when they are doing their best. It is not. Inexperienced, we suppose that there must be an 'insider' language that must be acquired before God takes us seriously in our prayer. There is not. Prayer is elemental, not advanced, language. It is the means by which our language becomes honest, true and personal in response to God. It is the means by which we get everything in our lives out in the open before God."

He goes on to say: "In English translation, the Psalms often sound smooth and polished, sonorous with Elizabethan rhythms and diction. As literature, they are beyond compare. But as prayer, as the utterances of men and women passionate for God in moments of anger and praise and lament, these translations miss something. Gramatically, they are accurate. The scholarship undergirding the translations is superb and devout. But as prayers they are not quite right. The Psalms in Hebrew are rough and earthy. They are not genteel. They are not the prayers of nice people, couched in cultured language."

From my own experience there was a major change in the way I prayed which started about 7 or 8 years after I was baptised, when I was in my early twenties. I was praying one day when I suddenly realised that someone was listening - I was aware of the presence of God for the first time. Until then I had struggled with trying to find the right kind of language for my prayers, which were often formal, structured and polite. I addressed God as "thee" and "thou" and used Jacobean language as best I could (which meant saying things like "dost" instead of "do", "seemeth" instead of "seems", etc). I had been raised on the King James Bible, so I had a pretty good handle on the archaic English, but it somehow made my prayers feel irrelevant to real life.

I began to pray conversationally, to speak with God as though He was right there beside me, listening (He was!) The more I did this the more I became aware of His constant presence, and so the more I talked with Him. Instead of praying at set times, I began to talk with Him whenever and wherever I wanted to. Conservations with God became part of whatever I did - my work, entertainment, friendships, and all of life. In time I became aware that not only was God always present, He was also with me as my friend. I learned that I could talk with my friend about absolutely anything! After all, He knew about everything that was going on in my life because He was there, so why not talk with Him about it? I discovered that nothing was taboo; there was no subject about which I could not talk with God.

This realisation lifted a huge burden from my shoulders. I did not have to carry anything alone. God would never abandon me, or refuse to listen. From the Psalms (especially, later, in Eugene Peterson's translation) I learned that we could tell God exactly how we felt, even when what I was feeling was not necessarily "holy" or Christian. If I felt angry, I could tell God (even if I felt angry with God!). If I was finding it hard to pray, I could talk with God about it. At the times when I wasn't feeling "spiritual" God wanted to hear about it.

So, if you're having trouble praying, I would recommend you get hold of a translation of the Psalms like Peterson's (The Message) and see how others prayed with "raw honesty and detailed thoroughness", and then do the same. Forget about using some archaic language, and just talk with God in the same language you use with everyone else, everyday (the same as Jesus did - the language He used for prayer was the same language He used in the street. Hebrew and Greek did not have a special way of addressing God. "Thee" and "thou" as terms for God but not for anyone else, is a late English religious peculiarity).

Remember, Paul says "pray continually" (1 Thess 5:17) and to pray about everything (Phil 4:6). Start with short prays, and often, rather than trying to fit it all in one long prayer. Pray as things come to your mind rather than trying to remember them later at "prayer time". Tell God how you're feeling, whether it's good or bad. Tell Him why you feel that way. Tell Him how you want to feel. Thank Him for every good thing that comes your way, not matter how "unimportant" it might seem (thank Him for when you find a parking space in a busy shopping mall; thank Him for the phone call from a friend that comes just when you're feeling lonely or down; thank Him for the friendly smile someone gave you in passing; thank Him for the sunset that just makes you want to say "wow" and make it "wow Lord!).

Friday, September 16, 2005

Intimacy with God (1)

In yesterday's post I said that many Christadelphians are saying "there has to be something more!" and are searching for a closer personal relationship with God. Over the next few posts I want to share some of the things I have discovered from my own experiences which I hope will be helpful.

A friend recently emailed me and reminded me that bro Geoff Watson once gave some wonderful talks on the father heart of God and there is a book of the same title by Floyd McClung, Jr. Here is a quote from that book:

"Negative childhood experience is not the only factor that can hold us back in our understanding of God as a Father. Many people experience an emotional or mental block when they try to call God ''Father'' because they do not know him personally. There is a difference between knowing about God and knowing Him personally. John 1:12 says, ''To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God''. To become a child of God, we must believe that Jesus Christ came as God's son, died, and was resurrected so that our sins could be forgiven. We need then to ask Him to forgive us and to become Lord of our lives. We need to dedicate our lives to learning and obeying God's word, and worshipping Him alone.

Other people have difficulty relating to God as Father because they have been taught all their lives to respect Him, and to them that means addressing Him as ''thou''. To use an informal term such as ''Papa'' or ''Father'' seems disrespectful to them. Yet the Bible teaches us to call God ''Father'' when we pray (Matt 6:9), and that He wants to have a close, intimate relationship with us, His children.

Some of the most common hindrances to our comprehension of the Father heart of God are emotional wounds. These injuries often result in ''scar'' tissue which makes us hesitant to fully trust Him as Father.'' (p14- 15)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

"There has got to be something more!"

I recently met up with an old Christadelphian friend and had a long chat over coffee. Although we've moved in quite different Christadelphian circles for many years we had made very similar observations about the condition of the brotherhood. One thing in particular struck me as being very significant: we both very frequently meet Christadelphians who say to us "there has got to be something more than this!" These people know "the Truth" as Christadelphians understand it. They attend meetings regularly. They are often heavily involved in ecclesial activities. They are not "fringe" Christadelphians, but very definitely are in the Christadelphian mainstream. Yet time and time again they admit to having deep feelings of dissatisfaction about their faith. Very often these people say they have difficulty praying. They long for a closer relationship with God, but haven't found it through doing daily Bible readings or attending meetings. They may prefer traditional forms of worship, with hymn singing and a predictable programme, but they don't find the worship helps them to connect with God.

Sometimes I feel that this confession of their dissatisfaction is really a cry for help. They realise that many Christians have a close, personal relationship with God and enjoy intimacy with their Creator, and they expect that of all Christians Christadelphians should have everything God has on offer because, after all, "we have the Truth". Yet they realise that something is missing.

This experience is so common amongst many Christadelphian ecclesias that it has become "standard teaching" in some circles to say that a personal relationship with God is not possible. I even had one young man tell me that "having a personal relationship with God is just Evangelical jargon - it's not possible".

But it is possible, and there are many Christadelphians, former Christadelphians and Christians of other persuasions who will tell you from their own experiences how it came about for them. If you are one of those people who know that there has got to be something more and you are thirsting for closer intimacy with God; if you long for a deep personal relationship with God but don't know how to have it, then you are not alone and there are people who can help.

I urge you to make contact with people who discovered that there is something more, and it is within reach. Feel free to email me privately at and I'd be more than happy to share my own experience with you and to help you find that "something more" for yourself.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

First Principles (2)

From what I've posted here already about the foundations of New Testament Christianity, it seems that Christadelphians have generally either glossed over the fundamentals, ignored them completely, or got the emphasis wrong. In their place Christadelphians have a systematic theology called "first principles". Just how important are these first principles?

Going back to the building analogy, I said there are five foundation principles in the New Testament. On these foundations Jesus and the apostles taught kingdom-ethics and kingdom-dynamics - principles for living a victorious Christian life, proclaiming the Gospel, and advancing the kingdom.

As part of building this "Temple" - the house of God - there is a great deal of information in the Bible which provide helpful tools. The Word of God is full of stories, illustrations and accounts of lives which provide positive and negative examples for living under God's authority. To make sense of this wealth of information we need to put it all in its historical and social contexts. The more we understand about the cultures, beliefs and practices of the people in the Bible, the more benefits we will gain from reading and studying their stories. Just having this information is not in itself life-saving or transforming. The accumulation of facts and information will not necessarily make any difference in our lives. But once we are converted all this information begins to provide tools and resources which will aid us in our Christian life.

As part of sorting this information so that it makes sense to us later in history and in different social and cultural contexts, and speaking different languages, we will inevitably want to arrange the information into a kind of "framework". That's where systematic theology can be helpful (arranging doctrinal facts in a systematic way). Creeds and statements of faith are a way of summarising systematic theology. However, we must remember that these facts are part of the framework. To use our building analogy again, much of this is scaffolding. It is useful, even important, when erecting a building - but it is not in itself the building. Eventually the scaffolding will have no relevance or usefulness and will be taken down. We need to realise that a lot of the things which we may now consider to be important are only valuable for now in helping to erect the building, and one day will be discarded.

In my opinion many Christadelphians have placed too much emphasis on the "scaffolding" - the arrangement of facts and information about how God works - and the "tools", and have neglected laying a good foundation. Too much effort has gone into the scaffolding and not enough into the building. It's important to have the tools well maintained and in good repair, but only if they are going to be used in doing something constructive. And too much effort has gone into tearing down the work of other men rather than contributing to the building - the tools have even been turned into weapons.

Paul uses this analogy in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames."

One day the scaffolding will be torn down and destroyed and only the Temple will remain. By God's grace I hope most Christadelphians will themselves be saved, but it's possible that a lot of their efforts will be lost because they have focussed too much on the scaffolding and the tools and not enough on the building.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

First Principles

Using an analogy of a building to describe the kingdom of God (as the Bible frequently does, in particular the analogy of a Temple) the foundations of the building or Temple are the fundamental principles which I outlined in earlier messages:

1. God is love
2. We are saved by grace
3. God forgives
4. God grants repentance
5. God reigns

Much of Jesus' teaching concerns the ethics of the kingdom - how we live in the kingdom of God, and the characteristics God is developing in us for the work He has planned for us in the future when the kingdom is consummated. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament also concentrate on what Jack Hayford and others have appropriately called kingdom dynamics - the principles which, when applied, enable us to be successful in preaching the Gospel and advancing the work of the kingdom.

So Christianity - the application of the teachings of Jesus (the gospel of the kingdom) - consists primarily of:

- the foundation principles of the kingdom
- the ethics of the kingdom
- kingdom dynamics

This is the "gospel" or good news which Jesus and His disciples taught.

To Christadelphians the starting point, or foundations, are what they call "the first principles". Where do these first principles fit in with this? The first principles are defined in the various statements of faith: the most common being the Birmingham Statement of Faith or the Birmingham amended Statement of Faith (the very fact that the Birmingham Statement of Faith has been amended more than once illustrates that to some Christadelphians the first principles changed or weren't properly defined in the first place).

The first principles defined in the statements of faith include the following:

1. God is one. There is only one "person" in the Godhead.

2. Jesus is the Son of God, but did not pre-exist before His birth and is not the second person of the Godhead.

3. the Holy Spirit is the power of God, but is not a person in the Godhead.

4. as a result of Adam's sin all mankind was sentenced to die and to live a life under the curse of sin and with a human nature "prone to sin".

5. Jesus' death provided a way for God to forgive people for their sins, provided they live a life of obedience thereafter, by condemning sinful nature and declaring God to be righteous in sentencing mankind to death.

6. at death both body and soul die, awaiting the resurrection. There is no conscious existence in death.

7. the devil is within each human being, and is not a supernatural being or fallen angel. Jesus destroyed the devil in Himself when He died.

8. Jesus will return to the earth and establish the kingdom of God on earth in the land promised to Abraham (Israel), with Jerusalem as its capital, and will eventually subdue the whole earth (including the use of force to bring the whole into subjection).

9. the Bible is the inspired Word of God.

10. by understanding the "first principles" (although in a lot more detail to what I have outlined here), and by then being baptised by full immersion in water, a person can move from being "in Adam" to being "in Christ". Provided they then live a life of obedience to the commandments of Christ they may be acceptable at the Judgment and granted a place in the Kingdom of God at the second coming of Christ.

11. obedience to the commandments of Christ includes refusing to participate in war or joining a police force, refusing to take part in politics (including refusing to vote in elections) and, in some countries (such as Australia, but not in Canada or the UK), refusing to sit on a jury.

The emphasis is on "correct doctrine" (although number 11 above are core "ethics" which have made it on to the list of first principles), and salvation is possible only for those people who understand and agree with these first principles. "That the way to obtain this salvation is to believe the Gospel they preached, and to take on the Name and service of Christ, by being thereupon immersed in water, and continuing patiently in the observance of all things he has commanded, none being recognized as his friends except those who do what he has commanded" (BaSF clause 16).

The statements of faith say little, or nothing, about the foundation principles upon which Jesus' Gospel of the Kingdom or Paul's Gospel of Grace are based. The closest the Birmingham SoF gets to referring to God's love is a statement "That God, in his kindness, conceived a plan of restoration which, without setting aside His just and necessary law of sin and death, should ultimately rescue the race from destruction, and people the earth with sinless immortals" (clause 6, my emphasis).

Grace gets a mention only in passing: "That at the close of the thousand years, there will be a general resurrection and judgment, resulting in the final extinction of the wicked, and the immortalization of those who shall have established their title (under the grace of God) to eternal life during the thousand years" (cluse 29, my emphasis). However, the statement that the saints have "established their title (under the grace of God)" is an oxymoron. If they have "established their title" then it is no longer by grace!

Forgiveness does get a mention (clause 12: "All who approach God through this crucified, but risen, representative of Adam's disobedient race, are forgiven").

Repentance also gets a mention (clause 11: "That the message he delivered from God to his kinsmen, the Jews, was a call to repentance from every evil work ... ").

The majority of clauses in the Birmingham SoF deal with "the kingdom of God" (clauses 17 to 30 - 14 clauses out of 30). As I've mentioned before, it's good that Christadelphians emphasise the kingdom of God, because this is the good news that Jesus preached. But in emphasising only the future aspects of the kingdom and ignoring the present reality which was the main content of Jesus' teachings, Christadelphians are really teaching only a "half Gospel".

While the Christadelphian statements of faith, in my opinion, are correct in endorsing orthodox Christian doctrines such as the virgin birth of Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead on the third day, they have the wrong emphasis and because they were born out of doctrinal controversy the language is largely defensive or argumentative. Consequently they are generally considered to be useless as documents for teaching or explaining the Gospel (which is presumably why preaching and missionary organisations rarely use them as preaching tools). They are, however, regarded as authoritative in determining who will be admitted to membership and communion.

So what place should the "first principles" take in teaching and explaining the Good News, and how important are they really? Stay tuned.

Friday, September 02, 2005

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