Thursday, June 29, 2006

"I will build my church" (6) - the church, the kingdom and DTBR

For the unitiated DTBR means "doctrines to be rejected" and refers to those clauses in the various Christadelphian statements of faith which define the faith "negatively" i.e. they are doctrines Christadelphians do not believe. In the Birmingham amended statement of faith, for example, clause 12 of "Doctrines to be rejected" says "That the Kingdom of God is 'the church.'"

In other words, Christadelphians reject the doctrine that the Kingdom of God is 'the church.'

As with many of the DTBR this statement stands alone without any explanation or clarification and has led to enormous confusion. Note that it does not say that Christadelphians reject the notion that the church is the Kingdom of God, but rather that the Kingdom of God is 'the church.' That might sound like pedantry, but it's an important distinction which many Christadelphians have noted.

In other words, the statement of faith rejects the view that any and all references to the Kingdom of God in Scripture are referring to the church; but that is not the same as saying that the church is the Kingdom of God. It's like the difference between saying "the ocean is made of water" and "this is water, therefore it's part of the ocean". The church can be part of the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of God does not comprise only the church.

Confusing? It sure is. That's one reason why many Christadelphian ecclesias these days don't include the DTBR in their statement of faith - they raise more questions than they answer.

However, one of the casualties of this awkward way of defining "the truth" both positively and negatively (i.e. "Truth to be received" and "Doctrines to be rejected") is that it has led to confusion on several of the DTBR. They say what Christadelphians don't believe without necessarily saying what they do believe about the matter. Some people mistakenly read clause 12 as meaning that the church is not part of the Kingdom of God, and therefore react against any suggestion that the Kingdom has a present reality which is manifested in the church.

But Jesus came to establish the Kingdom, and to build His church. He called people to live in community as the people of God, now and in the future. The kingdom is "now" as well as "not yet" - it has a present reality, and a future consummation.

The church, the assembly of (new) Israel, the holy nation, the people of God, exists today as the first stage of the Kingdom of God.

The teaching of Jesus about this is so clear that the only reason I can think of why so many Christadelphians have missed this important truth is that they have been conditioned by this confusing and awkward negative clause in their statement of faith which steers them away from thinking in any terms which might identify the church with the Kingdom.

The church is made up of Kingdom-people, living Kingdom-dynamics. They live not only in expectancy of the Age to Come, but they are empowered, enabled and energised by the powers of the coming age to live a Kingdom-life today.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"I will build my church" (5) - the church and the kingdom

I commented in an earlier post that Jesus hardly ever talked about "church". What Jesus talked about repeatedly was the Kingdom, and it's not until we get to Acts that the word church/ekklesia is used as the usual way to describe the people of God.

And when Jesus talked about the kingdom, what He often spoke about was relationships and living in community.

In a post about Jesus' Gospel of Grace I wrote this about the Matthew 13 Kingdom-parables:

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.

In another post about Jesus' Kingdom-parables in Matthew 13 I wrote:

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.

Immediately after writing that "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom" (Matt 4:23) Matthew immediately launches into his account of the sermon on the mount (chapters 5-7). At the heart of this sermon is the message to love our enemies and to be all-inclusive. The creed of Jesus, based on the creed of Israel, is this:

"The most important [commandment]," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." "

(Mark 12:29-31).

The sermon on the mount encapsulates much of the ethical teaching of Jesus. Here, and in many of the parables, stories and sayings, Jesus teaches about living in relationship with others, friend and foe. But His message was not just about getting on with people: His primary concern was about building a community of people whose relationships with each other are modeled on and flow from the example of God Himself in His dealings with His people. Jesus Gospel of Grace, for example, was about acting graciously to others in response to God's grace to us.

In preaching about the Kingdom Jesus taught about forgiveness, reconciliation with others, friendship and living in community. The Kingdom of God consists of people who are living these Kingdom-dynamics. Even stories which are specifically described as parables "of the Kingdom" are actually about God's inclusiveness, and the "righteous" and "sinners" co-existing together. They emphasise the diversity of people in the Kingdom, and the acceptance of people rejected by society (and by religious leaders). The Kingdom preached by Jesus is about justice for the disenfranchised, and the integration back in to the community of the outcasts.

This is the new Israel - the restored, rebuilt people of God. A community of God's people as God intended it to be.

Jesus taught that this new Israel, the Kingdom of God, the assembly of God's people, would come in two stages. Like the prophets of Israel He taught about the Age to Come, and taught His disciples to pray "Your Kingdom come" (Matt 6:10). But He also taught that the power of this coming Kingdom was breaking in to the present age - "the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt 12:28). The writer to the Hebrews picks up the point and speaks of believers as "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" (Hebrews 6:4-6).

The "now" kingdom reality is a "taste" of the "not yet" final consummation in the age to come. The citizens of the Age to Come are living now as the community of God.

Monday, June 26, 2006

"I will build my church" (4) - the church in Hebrews

The writer to the Hebrews was writing to a similar (or same) group of Jewish Christians as was Matthew. It's significant that the sole mention of the church/ekklesia in Hebrews is in the context of comparing and contrasting the assembly of Israel in the wilderness and the community of the new Israel.

After writing of Israel gathered at Mt Sinai, he goes on to say:

"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect ..."

(Hebrews 12:22-23).

This supports the interpretation that on the lips of Jesus the word "church/ekklesia" was a reference to the community of Israel, which He would restore. We need to understand this word in its Jewish context, not from its Greek origins.

"I will build my church" (3) - the church in Matthew's Gospel

As noted earlier, the only references to the word church/ekklesia on Jesus' lips are two places in Matthew's Gospel.

Before looking at them, we should ask "why Matthew"? In other words, why didn't Mark, Luke or John use the word in their accounts of the Lord's life? To answer that, we need to understand that each Gospel-writer was writing to a different audience, and their language and choice of sayings, stories and incidents in the Lord's life reflect the language, backgrounds and interests of their particular audience as well as telling us something about the writer himself.

Matthew wrote for an audience of Jewish Christians. He quotes frequently from the Jewish Bible - the Law and the Prophets - in a way which indicates that his audience was familiar with it. He starts his account of the life of Jesus by establishing Jesus' pedigree, and His claim to the Kingship of Israel. Matthew writes to people who are familiar with offering sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple (Matt 5:23-24), and possibly still did at the time of writing. Of the four Gospel writers it is only Matthew who records these words of Jesus: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt 5:17). His audience had been raised on the Law and were very sensitive to any suggestion that it was no longer relevant. In fact, it's almost certain that Matthew's audience was Jewish Christianity, as distinct from Gentile Christians. They identified more closely with Peter and James than with Paul. They believed in Jesus as the Messiah of Israel while still maintaining their Jewish customs and culture. Jewish Christianity was quite distinct from Greek, Roman or African Christianity and its likely that each had their own customs, traditions and practices.

So when we read the word "church/ekklesia" in Matthew, we should realise that Matthew is using this word in the way the Jewish Christians would have understood it. The word ekklesia literally means an assembly, and Stephen used this word in Acts 7:38 when referring to the assembly of Israel in the wilderness. So when Jesus was talking about winning back "a brother who has sinned against you" He says to first speak with him one-on-one, and if that fails to then take one or two others, and if that fails then "take it to the assembly" (Matt 18:15-17). He is saying that in order to bring about a reconciliation we should involve the whole community if necessary. Now to Matthew's audience that "assembly" may well have been the local synagogue, the gathering-point for much of the life of the community. At the time the words were spoken there was no "church" in the sense of a Christian meeting, and the word would have been an anachronism in this sense. Matthew's "church" was the local community, probably assembled in a synagogue.

Stephen's use of the word ekklesia to describe Israel (Acts 7:38) makes use of the Greek word used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate the Hebrew word for the assembly of Israel. Ekklesia was understood in its Jewish sense, not a Greek one.
To Stephen, and Matthew, the church/ekklesia was Israel.

When Jesus said to Peter "on this rock I will build my church/ekklesia/assembly" (Matt 16:18) He was referring to the Kingdom of God about which He was preaching. He was using Old Testament language to refer to the assembly of God's people and was drawing on Prophetic language which described Israel as a tent or building which had collapsed and which would be restored by the Messiah. James used the same Prophetic language at the Jerusalem Council:

"Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

" 'After this I will return
and rebuild David's fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things'
that have been known for ages.

"It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God."

(Acts 15:13-19).

The "assembly" which Jesus said He would build was to be the restored ruins of David's fallen kingdom. It was to be a new Israel, made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

Jesus use of the word ekklesia in Matthew's Gospel refers in one instance to the local contemporary community assembly in Israel, and in the other to the new assembly of God's people which He would establish. It's prophetic language - Kingdom language. There is no hint in either place that Jesus has in mind an institutionalised organisation which would become known as "the church".

Sunday, June 18, 2006

"I will build my church" (2)

Nearly six months ago I began a series on this theme, but only got as far as the first post.

I plan to take it up again, so here is a brief overview of what I plan to write about.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus hardly ever talked about "church"? In fact, the word church occurs only twice in the Gospels, both times in Matthew. What Jesus talked about repeatedly was the Kingdom, and it's not until we get to Acts that the word ekklesia/church is used as the usual way to describe the people of God.

I'd like to explore what Jesus meant by "church" when He said "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18).
  • What exactly did Jesus intend to build?
  • Is this reflected in the way anyone actually does church?
  • Is it reflected in Christadelphian ecclesias?
This series will also tie together some threads from the series I've written about the characteristics of Christian leaders (i.e what leadership means in the church Jesus is building) and the earlier posts on the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Lord's table.

Friday, June 09, 2006

House church "heretics"

Matt Green of Ministry Today has commented on George Barna's Revolution released last year and his controversial vision of the future that sees 70 percent of the church worshipping in non-traditional settings such as house churches within the next 20 years.

He noted that an argument against the house church movement popped up in a recent article in the Washington Post, where it is suggested that house churches are more vulnerable to heresy, because they lack the accountability of established churches and denominations.

Matt Green writes:

The Reformation was a movement of doctrinal purification that emerged from the decay of institutional heresy. Apparently the strong "leadership" of generations of popes, bishops and priests was inadequate to protect the church from doctrines and practices so bizarre they would be considered downright cultish by today's standards. An indulgence anyone? In fact, as many would argue, the leaders were the ones who concocted these abberations to begin with! It was when the exclusive right to interpret the Word of God was pried from the grasp of clergy that the laity discovered that they had been duped. Then, like now, the church is not in need of more leaders, it's in need of more readers - believers who will embrace the responsibility of their own spiritual health and stop subcontracting it to paid clergy. However flawed, the house church movement is one attempt to correct this imbalance.
Well, those of us who believe that the Gospel needs to be rescued from institutional Christianity would find agreement with that.

Green goes on to say:

No, house churches are the least likely seedbeds of heresy. In fact, they are the natural offspring of the Reformation's cry: Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda ("The church reformed and always to be reformed"). As with any renewal movement, there will be pockets of excess and room for correction. For instance, in the coming years, the house church movement will have to tackle challenges of elitism, leadership, accountability and - of course - heresy. But like the rest of the Body, they won't be facing these alone (see Matt. 18:20).
My favourite comment in his article is this:

"... doctrine (like political power) should not be preserved by an ecclesiastical elite. It must be articulated, taught, transmitted and understood by the laity."

Monday, June 05, 2006

"Be perfect"

Many Christians understand Jesus' sermon on the mount as an "ideal" for Christian living, albeit an unrealistic or impossible ideal. This view is reinforced by the time we get to the first 'climax' in the sermon: "Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matt 5:48). This seems like an impossibly high ideal if Jesus is speaking of moral perfection. However, the word translated "perfect" (Greek teleios) means "complete, whole, full-grown or fully integrated". In the context it means to be all-inclusive. In the sermon it follows the command to love our enemies (and connects to it with a "therefore"): "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous ... Therefore, be perfect ...". Jesus is saying that God loves both the evil and the good person, both the righteous and unrighteous person. We too should love our enemies as well as our friends. "Therefore, be all-inclusive, as your Father is all-inclusive".

In earlier messages I've emphasised that Jesus' message was the Gospel of the Kingdom. The sermon on the mount is the largest body of teaching in the gospels and encompasses the core teachings of Jesus. It begins with a reference to the Kingdom (the beatitudes begin and end with "... for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven"). Understanding the sermon on the mount is crucial to understanding the Gospel of the Kingdom.

John Thomas, and Christadelphians generally, have been right in identifying the centrality of the Kingdom to the Gospel. However, in his "exposition of the Kingdom of God" (Elpis Israel) John Thomas pays little attention to the sermon on the mount. Christadelphianism primarily sees the Kingdom as something which is future, and the sermon on the mount as a code of behaviour which, if followed to the best of ones limited ability, will be rewarded with a place in the future Kingdom. Christadelphains do not see the sermon as being substantially about the Kingdom. To this way of thinking the Olivet prophecy (Matt 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) with its future eschatology and its apocalyptic language is kingdom stuff, but not the sermon on the mount. Apart from the words "the meek will inherit the earth" the sermon on the mount would rarely rate a mention in a Christadelphian exposition of the Kingdom. Yet Matthew says Jesus came "preaching the Kingdom of God" (4:23) and immediately launches into his account of the sermon on the mount (chapters 5-7). This is the heart of Jesus' kingdom-message, and the first climax in the sermon is "Love your enemies ... be all-inclusive, as your Father is all-inclusive, loving good and bad, righteous and unrighteous".

This is the opposite of exclusivism, of withdrawing from others in order to maintain doctrinal purity. Jesus' kingdom-message here stands in stark contrast to the attitude of the Pharisees, and to John Thomas. In his exposition of the Kingdom Thomas missed this point completely.

If you missed my posts on the Lord's table, dealing with His table-fellowship practices, go back and read them now. You will see that in both His behaviour and in His sermon on the mount Jesus is teaching that Kingdom-people are inclusive, not exclusive. They are unconcerned with defilement by others because they radiate holiness. They look for common ground rather than points of disagreement. They tear down walls rather than erecting barriers. Theirs is a ministry of reconciliation, rather than withdrawing from others.

This message follows on from my series on early influences on Christadelphianism. If Thomas had remained connected with all those with whom he had so much in common and worked with them rather than against them, how different might things have been. If Roberts had recognised the talents and the contributions of early Christadelphian leaders rather than forcing them out of the community, how different might the community have been. Instead of the constant fighting, controversies, divisions and disfellowships, those who had been taught or influenced by Thomas might have recognised their place within a broader body of believers who genuinely endeavoured to restore the beliefs and practices of early Christianity. They may have had a greater influence for good on the Christian world than they did. Is it too late to change?

For those of you who may have been receiving my articles on "Understanding Jesus' Teachings" I apologise for the hiatus in writing. I plan to resume the series shortly with some articles on the sermon on the mount and the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Early influences on Christadelphianism (9) - further conclusions

The Christadelphian community has been plagued with controversy and division since its inception. In an earlier series of posts (What did Christadelphians set out to be?) I looked at some of the early Christadelphian leaders who were forced out of the community.

There is some evidence that George Dowie (disfellowshipped by Roberts in 1864) and Robert Ashcroft (disfellowshipped by Roberts in 1884) in the UK allied themselves with Benjamin Wilson's group - the Brethren of the One Faith - in the US. (I've also wondered about how and why copies of Edward's Turney's Christadelphian Lamp found their way into the archives of the Church of God General Conference at the Atlanta Bible College - perhaps Turney, who had been disfellowshipped by Roberts in 1873, also made contact with believers in the Age to Come movement in the US).

These connections are interesting for a couple of reasons:
  • It shows that these men saw themselves as part of a movement which was wider than Christadelphianism, and they had a great deal in common with people in similar groups from which John Thomas had separated. Perhaps their own rejection at the hands of Thomas and Roberts compelled them to look again at the reasons why the leaders of the Age to Come movement in the US had similarly been rejected by Thomas, although this is speculation on my part.
  • It suggests that in taking a heavy-handed approach to brethren whose opinions differed to his own Robert Roberts was simply following a pattern which had been set by his mentor John Thomas.
Together, Roberts and Thomas were building a 'denomination'. Roberts tried to organise the denomination into an organisation with rules, a creed and a headquarters in Birmingham (with himself firmly in control). His organising abilities were such that he was successful to some extent, although almost half of all Christadelphians in the UK left his central fellowship in 1884-85 and the community has been splintered ever since.

However, the men from whom Thomas had withdrawn were part of a movement which sought to restore early Christianity. The Christian Connection of Elias Smith and Abner Jones tried to discover and restore the beliefs and practices of the first century church. In doing so they emphasised the Oness of God and the mortality of the soul as key parts of primitive Christianity. Joseph Marsh, who was baptised and ordained in the Christain Connection, contributed a great deal in teaching about the restoration of Israel and the Age to Come and establishing the Age to Come movement. The churches established by Barton Stone, Thomas Campbell and Alexander Campbell became known as the Restoration Movement because they were also endeavouring to restore primitive Christianity. To some extent they were successful and Christadelphianism owes many of its practices, beliefs and traditions to this movement.

Restorationism, the Age to Come movement, Adventism, the One Faith movement ('the Abrahamic Faith') and Christadelphianism were linked together and were part of a broader attempt to restore original Christianity. Each group or movement has been successful to varying extents, but does any one group have 'the whole truth'? I doubt it, and I believe there is still a great deal to be learned and gained from interacting with others whose spiritual journey has taken them down a slightly different path.

Almost every doctrine of Christadelphianism can be found within this movement because Christadelphianism came out of it. John Thomas didn't 'discover' anything new or unique or original. He learned it all from being involved with a community of believers, and not from studying the Bible alone. Surely there is a lesson here. I believe that Christadelphians as individuals and as ecclesias will develop, grow and prosper only to the extent that they see their place within the broader body of Christ and interact with others who have things in common, seeking ways to unite rather than reasons to divide, looking out rather than within, and building rather than tearing down.

Early influences on Christadelphianism (8) - conclusions

When we look at the various people who influenced John Thomas's thinking and with whom he was associated at various times, and the reasons why he separated from them, we see a pattern emerging.

Just to briefly recapitulate:

  • For some time Thomas was very friendly with George Storrs, the foremost proponent of conditional immortality (the mortality of the soul) in the US. After disagreeing about the importance of baptism they parted company, and Thomas wrote some critical words about "Mr" Storrs (no longer "brother Storrs").
  • It appears that John Thomas and Joseph Marsh were close friends for some time. After Thomas was re-baptised he tried to persuade Marsh to do the same. Marsh did not see the need to be re-baptised every time he changed his mind or learned something new, and disagreed with Thomas about this. Thomas persuaded Marsh's church to disfellowship him and later published some very unkind and critical comments about "friend Marsh".
  • Although they agreed on most things Thomas parted company with Benjamin Wilson mainly over the issue of whether the dead would be raised mortal or immortal. He subsequently published a series of personal and defamatory attacks on Wilson, including comments about Wilson's financial affairs.
Here is the pattern I see:

1. If Thomas was unable to persuade someone to agree with him he spilt from them, regardless of whatever they already had in common. Peter Hemingray (John Thomas: His Friends and His Faith) draws a similar conclusion. Referring to the split with Storrs he says: "John Thomas heard and was associated with many of the clamoring voices of the American Reformation, of whom George Storrs was one, but in the end he withdrew from them all" (p. 140, my emphasis).

2. After parting company with these men (and sometimes before parting company) John Thomas published highly critical comments about them. The criticisms were not only of their beliefs, but were often personal and defamatory. (In fact, I'm puzzled why Hemingray titled his book John Thomas: His Friends and His Faith - these men would hardly have considered Thomas their "friend" after the way they were treated. John Thomas: His Enemies and His Faith might have made a more accurate title).

3. Thomas almost always actively preached amongst the congregations associated with his former "friends" and tried to convince their supporters to withdraw fellowship from them and join his emerging denomination. This was so obvious to Thomas's contemporaries that one of them wrote:
"The doctor [Thomas] is very hard on the Adventists, Millerism, and Storrism. I fear he is ungrateful. For had it not been for the Advent movement, I do not believe that this day he would have a corporal's guard of followers. A broken-down ex-Campbellite, he goes north to take advantage of the movement, and is now building on other men's foundations, and all the while exposing its rottenness! Such at least is my opinion of his course."

(Nathaniel Field, Thomasism, Number III,
Expositor and Advocate
, Vol 29 No 24, May 15, 1859, 665)

In an editorial addition to this article Marsh wrote of Thomas's "manifest ingratitude to those who raised him from obscurity to his present notoriety among us".

Hemingray, a defender of John Thomas, substantiates this conclusion with a comment that
"before 1843 almost all his followers had been from the ranks of the Campbellites: after this time, they increasingly came from the Millerites" (p. 111).
By "Millerites" he is referring to the Adventists and the Age to Come movement (including the supporters of Storrs and Marsh).

Preaching amongst the churches from which he had "withdrawn" caused a great deal of resentment, for understandable reasons.

Was Thomas right to withdraw from people with whom he disagreed? Some would say that in doing so he was establishing the importance of "doctrinal purity". But how far does one need to go before the faith is "pure"? While Christadelphians would generally agree that withdrawing from Storrs over a matter as 'fundamental' as baptism was the right thing to do, it becomes questionable whether Marsh's refusal to be re-baptised was in the same category. By the time we get to the withdrawal from Wilson over mortal/immortal emergence it becomes even more questionable. In fact, to this day Christadelphians in North America are divided on that one and the question is still not settled.

Pragmatically, it might have been better if Thomas had stayed in contact and on friendly relations with the people from whom he split. Given time he may have convinced Storrs of the need for baptism. If he'd worked with Marsh, rather than against him, they may have found agreement on re-baptism. If he stayed with Wilson who knows what their combined talents and energies might have achieved. By sticking with his 'friends' Thomas may have eventually persuaded them of the rightness of his views, or he may have learned from them and grown in knowledge. Instead, he helped to divide and fragment a movement which was growing and impacting the broader church and impaired its effectiveness.


Before going any further with my series on early Christadelphian history I really should acknowledge and thank my sources.

In addition to primary source material I owe a huge debt to Janet Stilson, an historian with the Church of God General Conference, for providing me with copies of rare periodicals from the period, and for information generally. The following articles have provided valuable details:

A Brief History of the Church of God General Conference
Janet Silson, David Graham, Mark Mattison
Journal from the Radical Reformation, Vol 1 No. 1, Fall 1991

An Overview of the Leadership and Development of the Age to Come in the United States: 1832-1871
Jan Stilson, M.A.L.S.
Journal from the Radical Reformation, Vol. 10 No 1, Fall 2001

The Development of the Church of God Abrahamic faith: 1845-1921
Jan Stilson, B.Th., B.S., M.A.L.S.
Journal from the Radical Reformation, Vol. 11 No 1, Fall 2002

The Publishing Heritage in the Age-to-Come Movement 1800-1985
Jan Stilson
The Restitution Herald, Vol 75 No 1, October 1985

I'm also indebted to Greg Demmitt, Pastor of the Lakeshore Bible Church, for information on the Christologies of Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Early influences on Christadelphianism (7)

I came across this quote today which I thought was relevant to this series:

No movement remains untouched by other's thought.
The worst men hold some truth.
The same is true for religious movements, theological systems, and creeds.

Diversion - John Glas

This is my blog, so I can indulge myself. You may have picked up that I enjoy history. This brief diversion about John Glas has little to do with the series on early influences on Christadelphianism, except that Glas indirectly influenced the founders of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, and I am a physical descendant of John Glas (so please forgive me for the indulgence).

Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone were all ex-Presbyterian ministers who had been influenced by reformers in Scotland, specifically John Glas, Robert Sandeman (Glas's son-in-law) and Robert and James Haldane. Glas (1695-1793) became known as the founder of the 'Scotch Baptists' becaused they practised adult baptism by immersion. An ordained minister in the Presbyterian church, Glas was determined early on to make the Word of God his sole rule of conduct. When he began preaching a series of lessons from the Shorter Catechism (Presbyterian Manual) he noted there were strong differences in it from the Bible.

He came to realise that the church was composed of those who had experienced the grace of Christ, had separated themselves from the world and gathered themselves in the church. He could see no place for State involvement in church affairs, and this brought him into conflict with the Civil authorities. In 1725 he started an independant church which he called a Society of Believers.

His teaching was regarded as close to treason and Glas was brought before a number of synod meetings before being suspended as a minister and deposed from the church ('the right boot of disfellowship'). However, in 1739 the General Assembly broke precedence and revoked the sentence of deposition and restored Glas as a minister, although it didn’t restore his licence as a minister of the church of Scotland. He was allowed to continue in ministry with independant churches. This showed a sign of softening of their stand against Congregationalism. With the assistance of his son-in-law the message spread and churches sprang up all over Scotland.

Sandeman migrated to North America where he established a church which later joined the Restoration Movement.

Incidentally, I am descended from one of John Glas's 15 children.

Early influences on Christadelphianism (6) - Barton Stone

Barton Stone (1772 - 1844).

Stone was one of the founders and prominent leaders in the Restoration Movement which gave birth to the Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ (together with Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and Walter Scott). This movement was influenced by the Christian Connection and others, and emphasised the need to return to original Christianity. Hence it became known as Restorationism. It grew from two main roots as the result of the preaching of the Campbells on the one hand and Stone independantly on the other. They subsequently combined their efforts, so Restorationism is sometimes called the Stone-Campbell Movement. It is the group John Thomas almost always called the Campbellites.

Stone was a great evangelist and once led a revival in which 20,000 people took part. By 1826 there were 15,000 members in 300 congregations founded by or associated with him. John Thomas was a member of the Restoration Movement ("Campbellites") from 1834 until his final split from them in 1847. There is no evidence he ever met Barton Stone. Interestingly, however, Stone rejected much of trinitarianism although he believed in pre-existence. Alexander Campbell rejected pre-existence. One can only wonder to what extent the discussion of this doctrine in the Restoration Movement of which John Thomas was a member influenced his own views on the matter.

Early influences on Christadelphianism (5) - Age to Come Adventism

Several people contributed to the development of Christadelphian theology. It is often claimed that John Thomas "discovered" the Truth and revived apostolic Christianity. However, almost all the "distinctive" doctrines of Christadelphianism were being taught and believed in the US and Britain even before John Thomas began to take an interest in these subjects. This list gives a brief overview of some of the most prominent writers and teachers of these ideas, but is hardly exhaustive.
  • George Storrs (1796-1879) - taught 'Conditional Immortality', that is, that the soul ceases to exist at death and that resurrection, not heaven-going, is the hope taught in the New Testament. Storrs taught that the wicked will be punished with everlasting destruction, not eternal hell-fire. Storrs was prominent in the Adventist movement which gave rise to the Advent Christian Church and the Sevent Day Adventist church. (He also influenced Charles Russell who founded the Bible Students, out of which came the Jehovah's Witnesses). He was probably the most influential preacher in America in teaching the mortality of the soul. John Thomas knew him and Storrs published articles by Thomas in his magazine The Bible Examiner. The relationship appears to have been friendly for some time, until Thomas severely criticised Storrs for not being baptised (1853). He stopped referring to him as "brother Storrs" and he became a "Mr". They parted company.
  • Elias Smith (1769-1846) - founded the Christian Connection together with Abner Jones. Smith was non-trinitarian and rejected the immortality of the soul and the popular views of hell. John Thomas belonged at one time to a church in Philadelphia (1833-34) founded by Elias Smith. In 1837 Alexander Campbell wrote in his magazine that John Thomas's views on the mortality of the soul had come from Elias Smith, although Thomas claimed that he had developed these ideas before reading Smith's works. However, it was while he was a member of the church in Philadelphia founded by Smith (1834) that Thomas wrote 34 questions to his father (a Congregational minister) indicating he was developing new ideas on the Kingdom of God and the nature of the soul.
  • Joseph Marsh (1802 - 1863) - I wrote about Marsh in an earlier post. He had been connected with Elias Smith and lated edited the magazine founded by Smith. As well as being non-trinitarian and believing in the mortality of the soul, Marsh also taught the restoration of Israel, the second coming and the Kingdom of God on earth. His book "The Age to Come" was so influential that he is sometimes attributed as the founder of the Age to Come Movement. John Thomas knew him, and had stayed in his home, although the relationship ended on a very sour note when Thomas persuaded Marsh's church to disfellowship him.
  • Benjamin Wilson (1817 - 1900) - referred to in a previous post, held and taught almost all the same "distinctive" doctrines as John Thomas, although disagreeing on whether the dead would be raised mortal or immortal. Thomas considered the difference important enough to part company with him.
The various individuals and congregations associated with Marsh and Wilson are sometimes referred to collectively as "Age to Come Adventists". Storrs, Miller, Smith and others were influential in the development of Adventism, emphasising the second coming of Christ but rejecting the idea of a future Kingdom of God on earth. Hence, the Adventists who believed in the restoration of Israel and the establishment of the Kingdom on earth in the Age to Come, became known as "Age to Come Adventists". The followers of Marsh generally used the name "Church of God", while Benjamin Wilson preferred "Brethren of the One Faith". Some of the congregations associated with Wilson also used the name "Abrahamic Faith". These groups often associated together, exchanged preachers and magazines, and sometimes shared church buildings. Many of the first Christadelphian ecclesias came from this movement. The Church of God congregations which had been founded by Marsh united with the "One Faith"/"Abrahamic Faith" congregations in 1921 and formed the Church of God General Conference (also known as Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith).

One thing is certain: the core doctrines taught by Thomas were already being taught by other preachers and upheld in many churches, including the Oneness of God, conditional immortality (mortality of the soul), the second coming, the restoration of Israel, and the Age to Come. Even the impersonal nature of the devil, sometimes regarded as 'distinctively Christadelphian', was being taught before Thomas (I may come back to this later).

In a future post in this series I hope to draw some conclusions about why Thomas dissociated himself from so many people with similar beliefs, and what this meant for the development of Christadelphianism.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Early influences on Christadelphianism (4) - Benjamin Wilson

It did not take long for Joseph Marsh to recover from his troubles. Within a few months, Marsh began an evangelistic tour and attended a church conference at which he was appointed evangelist. After the death of Marsh in Michigan in the early 1860s, Benjamin Wilson and his nephew Thomas Wilson became more widely read and accepted among the leading exponents of the Age-to-Come doctrine, which among other things explained that the Jews would one day return to their land and become a nation. This doctrine was advanced long before the Zionist movement became a popular topic. Benjamin Wilson emigrated to the US from England in 1842 and settled in Geneva, Illinois, where he set up a publishing business. He was a skilled Bible scholar and had been trained in Biblical Greek.

After a few years, Wilson did what no man had done to date anywhere in the world. He produced an interlinear translation of the New Testament from the Greek text*. Under each line was a rough translation in English representing as closely as possible the meaning of the Greek language used in the passage. It was revolutionary, and very helpful to Bible scholars. The Age to Come people loved it. Problem was, it was not popular with the orthodox churches because it literally translated passages which had formerly been translated by others to represent orthodox teachings such as trinity, pre-existence and going to heaven.

An Overview of the Leadership and Development of the Age to Come in the United States: 1832-1871 by Jan Stilson, M.A. L. S

A Journal from the Radical Reformation, Vol 10, No. 1, Fall 2001

* The Emphatic Diaglott, published in 1864.

Benjamin Wilson edited and published The Gospel Banner and Millenial Advocate from 1853 to 1869 and his nephew Thomas Wilson edited and published The Herald of the Coming Kingdom and Christian Instructor (the two magazines combined in 1870). Both magazines were popular amongst believers in the Age to Come, and Benjamin Wilson travelled widely preaching and ministering to churches.

John Thomas first met Benjamin Wilson in 1856, although some years earlier they lived for a time in neighbouring cities in Illinois. At the beginning of their association Wilson and Thomas believed similarly. Joseph Marsh and Benjamin Wilson also knew of each other, although they apparently never met. Strangely, the followers of Marsh and Wilson succeeded in uniting their various congregations into the Church of God General Conference denomination in 1921, many years after their deaths.

While Thomas and Wilson had much in common, and got off to a friendly start, they eventually divided over the issue of whether believers would be resurrected mortal or immortal. Thomas insisted that it was necessary to believe in mortal emergence, although it seems that while Wilson and many of his supporters believed in immortal emergence they did not consider it to be a matter of fellowship. Thomas did. They went their separate ways.