Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Early influences on Christadelphianism (3) - Joseph Marsh

Unitarianism, of several types, seems to have developed in America at the end of the eighteenth century. Two or three groups shared a concern for a return to the "primitive gospel." One of these was the so-called Christian Connection, a minority revivalistic movement on the New England frontier. Another was the Freewill Baptists. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the two groups contemplated merging, since both held similar doctrines, inclined toward primitivism, and practiced open communion. But as they expanded westward across New York State, the "Christians" began more and more to show Unitarian tendencies, which alienated them from the Baptists and turned them toward the followers of Barton Stone — and occasionally toward the Unitarians.

Joseph Marsh was born in Vermont in 1802. Early in Marsh's life his family moved to New York, where his parents were disfellowshiped by the Methodist Episcopal Church for rejecting the Trinity. In 1823, Marsh was baptized into the Christian Connection. The following year he entered the ministry.

In 1841, Marsh wrote fourteen influential articles entitled "The Church of God" in which he encouraged a return of the Church to New Testament principles. Marsh became the leading writer for the emerging Church of God, publishing first the Christian Palladium (1838-43) for the Christian connection, then Voice of Truth (1844-47), the Advent Harbinger, and, finally, the Bible Expositor. Through the Voice of Truth Marsh promoted the doctrine of the Age to Come and the restoration of the Jews to their homeland prior to Jesus' second coming. In 1851 he published a major work called The Age to Come where he carefully elaborated his ideas. He is regarded by many as the founder of the Age to Come Movement.

John Thomas and Joseph Marsh knew each other, probably meeting in 1842, and many of Thomas's early contacts were already readers of Marsh's magazines. After Thomas settled in New York he and Marsh exchanged ideas through their respective magazines. Through this exchange the two became friends, or so Marsh thought. It's possible that they influenced each other as both men were going through a period of change and development in their ideas. They had many things in common, including belief in the oneness of God, the mortality of the soul, the restoration of Israel and the Age to Come. Their friendship and association together could have achieved a great deal in spreading this message. Marsh invited Thomas to Rochester. Thomas stayed in Marsh's home and preached in his church.

However, in 1847 Thomas decided to be re-baptised (he had earlier been baptised by Walter Scott of the Disciples of Christ) after changing his beliefs on several points. He tried to persuade Marsh to do the same, but Marsh was not convinced that his baptism was in any way inadequate. Not content to 'agree to disagree' Thomas turned to Marsh's church (the Church of God in Rochester, New York) and eventually convinced them to disfellowship Marsh. Thereafter they preached in different areas, and in 1858 Thomas published a letter referring to Marsh's supporters as his "parasites".

Marsh's writings had a wide influence and several congregations began in Illinois as a result.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Unity and diversity

In his Unity and Diversity in the New Testament British New Testament scholar James Dunn concludes that there's a marked degree of diversity within the first-century Church; there are many different expressions of the Faith within the New Testament; there was no single normative form of Christianity in the first century. Their only unifying factor, he says, was their allegiance to Jesus.

In his Christian Unity and Christian Diversity Oxford professor John Macquarrie argues that diversity is just as essential as unity to the well-being of the Christian church.

'To combine unity with freedom is a very difficult task, and the temptations to uniformity are very great... A stark unity freezes the church and inhibits development. A sheer diversity would dissipate the church and cause her to disappear. Only unity and diversity together can be fruitful.'

G.K.Chesterton wrote somewhere that "All heresy is a narrowing down unduly of what is essentially a complex reality. Each part of the church needs the other parts."

What binds us together as Christians is not the 'purity' of our doctrinal viewpoint, nor the way we worship and serve the Lord, but our common allegiance to Jesus as Lord, and our being children of the same Father, united by the same Spirit.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Early influences on Christadelphianism (2)

I commenced this series of messages over two months ago, intending to write about the people and movements which influenced John Thomas and the early Believers in the formulation of Christadelphian doctrine.

I put this 'on hold' for a couple of months for two reasons:
  1. An opportunity arose for me to visit the Atlanta Bible College and the Church of God General Conference headquarters, and spend some time in their archives. These archives contain some rare books and periodicals from the nineteenth century and I was privileged to look at some of the early literature of the movement which gave birth to Christadelphianism.
  2. I had heard about a book by Peter Hemingray called "John Thomas: His Friends and His Faith" and after ordering a copy I waited until it arrived to see if there was any information which would add further light to my own research, or which might even prove some of my conclusions to be wrong.

Peter Hemingray's book arrived, coincidentally, soon after I returned home from visiting the archives of the Atlanta Bible College. It is an excellent, well-researched, interesting work and adds some valuable information not found in the earlier biographies of John Thomas. It confirms that I've been on the right track about the development of John Thomas's views and the reasons for his split from some of his 'friends'.

In the next few posts I plan to briefly summarise some of the main influences on the formation of John Thomas's views. It will show that John Thomas was part of a broader movement of believers who had been trying to restore first century Christianity and, in the process, 'discovered' the truth about the Trinity, the mortality of the soul, and the coming kingdom of God. John Thomas did not start this movement. He was not the 'discoverer' of any of these beliefs. He was part of a movement. For some reason he choose to break from the movement and the people whose ideas he had learned and start his own denomination. I also hope to explore some of the reasons why he did this and why 'Christadelphianism' came into being as a seperate denomination.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The James Ossuary

See the link below for breaking news supporting the authenticity of the James Ossuary inscription.

The ossuary inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" has recently been studied by Professor Wolfgang E. Krumbein, a world-renowned authority. He has reached startling conclusions that will change the debate over this highly controversial artifact. Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan is currently being tried in criminal court for forging the now-famous James ossuary inscription ("James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"). This new report by a leading German scientist, however, may blow the case out of the water.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The first Christadelphians and the causes of disunity

Earlier in the week I came across volume 1 of Edward Turney's magazine The Christadelphian Lamp, published in 1874 - the year after Robert Roberts disfellowshipped him and his supporters.

A letter to the editor from Samuel Coffman, (one of the brethren for whom John Thomas coined the name 'Christadelphian' so they could claim exemption from military service as members of a denomination of conscientious objectors) caught my eye. He refers to the views on the sacrifice of Christ being promulgated by Robert Roberts, and the 'considerable private discussions' he had had with Dr Thomas prior to his death, and complained of the tyrannical and suppressive spirit on the part of Roberts.

Within 10 years of the name 'Christadelphian' being chosen for the new denomination, and only two or three years after Dr Thomas' death, it seems that Roberts was foisting on the brotherhood his own new interpretation of the atonement with a 'condemned Christ' and making acceptance of it a condition for fellowship.

Letters and articles from Samuel and John Coffman which appeared in The Christadelphian Lamp show that these 'first Christadelphians' sided with Edward Turney and the Suffolk Street fellowship in opposing both Roberts' authoritarianism and his peculiar explanation of the atonement. One wonders how different the denomination would have been if the advice of one of these first Christadelphians to 'lay aside prejudices and extremes' had been heeded.