Friday, October 28, 2005

The Lord's table (4) - restoring the inclusiveness of early Christianity

Christadelphians have been a divided community since at least 1884 when the Birmingham ecclesia split sending shockwaves throughout the Christadelphian world. Several splinter groups have formed during that period. Some have eventually disappeared; others have dropped the Christadelphian name entirely and formed new denominations, or groups of independent churches; and some have maintained their differences for over 100 years.

Why is it that reunion efforts have failed so often? The recent failure of the North American reunion discussions, after 30 years or more of trying, and the failure of the Unity Agreement in Australia to bring opposing sides together in a lasting or meaningful way, have clearly demonstrated that the current methods for achieving reunion do not work. There are several factors for this, including:
  1. An insistence that the Birmingham amended Statement of Faith must be the basis of fellowship. Considering it was the Birmingham ecclesia's insistence on their Statement of Faith as the basis of fellowship which created the 1884 division it seems strange that many people are still insisting that the very document which produced division must be the basis of a reunion. It will not happen.
  2. Explanatory statements which rely on the BaSF are doomed to failure for the same reason that the BaSF can never be the basis for the reunion. The day after the Australian Unity Agreement was signed, with its Cooper-Carter addendum as an explanation of certain parts of the BaSF, some Australian Christadelphians began accusing others of signing a document they did not agree with. Reunion didn't last a day.
  3. Attempts at reunion have relied too heavily on elaborating the BaSF and trying to find unity by adding a set of words which will bring together all the conflicting parties. The only way to find common ground is through simplification, rather than elaboration.
  4. Just a quick look at several Christadelphian websites will easily demonstrate that for preaching purposes the brotherhood usually relies on a number of simple summaries of 'core' doctrines. The vast majority of Christadelphians over the last 100 years have been baptised without even seeing the Birmingham Statement of Faith. Christadelphians throughout the world already have common ground in these 'core' doctrines without the need for a detailed Statement of Faith, especially when there is so much disagreement about several details in the BaSF. Most of the disagreeement in the Christadelphian community which has led to division have been about matters which go beyond the 'core' doctrines. All Christadelphians know what the distinctive core doctrines are - they probably don't even need to be written down, because everyone knows what they are.
The biggest obstacle to reunion, in my opinion, is a sacramental view of the 'Breaking of Bread' which is based on the unScriptural idea that a believer will somehow be 'contaminated' or 'defiled' or held guilty if they break bread with someone whose ideas are not correct in every detail. It is thought by some that breaking bread with someone who has different views on some matters is somehow an endorsement of their views.

The New Testament is clear that our Lord had table-fellowship with sinners and with people who had all sorts of wrong ideas , yet He was not 'contaminated' by the association. On the contrary, His holiness reached out to them and brought about their healing and sanctification. The practice of the early church was to maintain the same inclusiveness in their table-fellowship. The various groups within Christadelphia should realise that the only way they will be able to influence others is to associate with them, not to 'withdraw fellowship'.

I propose a 'strategy' for Christadelphian unity which includes the following:
  1. Brethren should accept each other at their word. If someone says they are a Christadelphian because they believe in the core Christadelphian doctrines, then we should accept their word.
  2. Every ecclesia is entitled to adopt a Statement of Faith if they want one, as a condition of membership in that ecclesia, but no one is entitled to impose their Statement of Faith on others or insist that a 'true' Christadelphian is only someone who accepts their SoF. No ecclesia has the right to insist that other ecclesias must accept their SoF before any fellowship or association can take place.
  3. An ecclesia can make decisions only for its own members. No ecclesia has the right to decide who another ecclesia should or should not fellowship.
  4. The guiding principle for who should be able to take communion ("break bread") at the Lord's table should be "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat ..."

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