Friday, June 02, 2006

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.

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