Sunday, January 29, 2006

What did Christadelphians set out to be? (1)

It's clear that Christadelphians cannot be defined by whether or not they subscribe to a particular Statement of Faith. The "Central fellowship" Christadelphians accept the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF) as "a true definition" of the first principles of the faith. The Unamended Christadelphians reject this statement of faith and go with an earlier ("unamended") version (BUSF). Yet both "amended" and "unamended" Christadelphians, while not accepting each other in fellowship, consider each other to be Christadelphians. This is evident from the fact that when individuals move from one fellowship to the other (as they frequently do) they don't need to be re-baptised. Their baptism is considered to be legitimate, regardless of whether they believed the amended or unamended version of the statement of faith at the time. The same is true of people moving from the Dawn fellowship to the Central fellowship, and vice versa, or the Berean, Old Paths, or the score or more of other 'fellowships'.

Over many years I have come in contact with hundreds of Christadelphians who have never seen a statement of faith, and were certainly not asked to endorse it when they were baptised. Many ecclesias throughout the world, even those in the "Central fellowship" either have their own statement of faith or they operate without one at all.

From the formation of the Believers Movement (in 1848-1850 - the community which eventually became known as "Christadelphian" in 1864) to the major division in 1884-85 there was no widespread use of any statement of faith. In fact the Birmingham statement of faith was not written until 1873, and even then was not universally accepted. So for more than 20 years the Believers Movement and early Christadelphianism functioned and grew steadily (say would say dramatically) without any statement of faith at all.

So Christadelphians cannot be defined by a statement of faith.

Over ten years ago I wrote a series of articles called "Christadelphians - where are we headed?" which were published in Christadelphian Forum (from October, 1992, to April, 1993).

The following quote comes from this series.


John Thomas has been described as "a pioneer, a discoverer ... What appealed to him was to wriggle free of what he considered the mental shackles imposed by orthodoxy, so he could soar high in the spiritual etherea and see vistas, within the Bible, of God's past, present and future plans”. *

While writers such as Robert Roberts and many others have done a service to our community by simplifying some of the difficult writings of John Thomas, few have approached the Scriptures with the same spirit of discovery. A notable exception would be Harry Whittaker who was possibly the most prolific writer the Christadelphian community has seen. To have this spirit of discovery is to not be afraid of finding something in the Scriptures which may challenge our preconceived notions or traditionally held ideas.

We need to build on the work of the ‘pioneers' like John Thomas and look closely at what the Scriptures say on matters which they did not write about in detail. The range of subjects here is vast, but some important work needs to be done on matters such as the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life; the role of women in the church; our relationships with the wider community; communicating the Gospel to the world; prayer; structuring our community for optimal spiritual growth; and many more. There are always risks associated with pioneering or discovering. We may have to make some changes which will be uncomfortable for some at first. We can be certain, however, that the benefits will far outweigh any imagined disadvantages.

* Andrew R. Wilson B.A., M.A., A.R.Hist.S., The History of the Christadelphians 1864-1885, Shalom Publications, 1997 (fp 1985).
This "spirit of discovery" was one of the hallmarks of the Believers Movement and early Christadelphianism, and was undoubtedly one of the main factors in the early growth of the community.

John Thomas wrote:

"Search the scriptures with the teachableness of a little child, and thy labour will not be in vain. Cast away to the owls and to the bats the traditions of men, and the prejudices indoctrinated into thy mind by their means; make a whole burnt offering of their creeds, confessions, catechisms and articles of religion; and, after the example of the Ephesian disciples, hand over your books of curious theological arts, and burn them before all. These mountains of rubbish have served the purpose of a dark and barbarous age; the Word, the Word of the Living God alone, can meet the necessities of the times."

(Elpis Israel 14th Edition, Birmingham, 1970, pp 5-6. fp 1848. My emphasis.)
In later works John Thomas emphasised that he was opposed to "creeds and denominations" - something which he had apparently adopted from Alexander Campbell and the Restoration Movement (Disciples/Churches of Christ) - and it's noteworthy that the first statement of faith was not adopted until after his death. If acceptance of a statement of faith defines someone as a Christadelphian, then John Thomas wasn't a Christadelphian.

So point # 1 in my summary of "what did Christadelphians set out to be?" is this:

Christadelphians set out to be people with a spirit of discovery; people who are guided by the Word of God but who reject creeds and statements of faith as having any authority; people who have a pioneering drive and ambition to find the truth for themselves and in allowing the Bible to interpret itself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you write like your a christadelphian - are you?
what you've written seems to be quite true actually!
the quotes from John Thomas and the comment 'he wouldn't be a christadelphian' i have thought once or twice to myself
extending the thought
would Christ associate himself with the christadelphians?
did he associate himself with any major party or denomination?
the christadelphians do have different factions and a main stream group.
john thomas quoted christ to be as a little child, and applied it in the practise of searching the scripture - and this is the only way to maintain truth and sincerity of the individual. paul says knowledge puffs up, and the signature of the christadelphians is their extensive knowledge of the bible.
you can see the 2 concepts heading for a collision - being as a little child, and being puffed up.

ultimatly though, it is impossible to generalise when talking about large groups of people. elijah did that without realizing that God 'saved himself 7000 who had not bowed the knee' and it is the same amongst our society. there are few, there always will be an elect, who have that child like indepenence of Christ, and these are the people God can work with