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However, the men from whom Thomas had withdrawn were part of a movement which sought to restore early Christianity.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.

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