Monday, December 17, 2007

Agreement from an unlikely source

For years I have been saying that the Christadelphian statements of faith, including the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF), are imperfect. The very fact that the BASF has been "amended" is a clear indication that the original writer(s) didn't get it right, at least in the eyes of the people who made later amendments. And the fact that it has been amended more than once should be a warning that even the amended versions are also quite possibly wrong.

It seems now that I have an unexpected supporter: the editor of The Christadelphian magazine. In the June 2007 magazine he wrote:
"Creeds and human statements all contain inherent weaknesses, because they are framed by frail, earth-bound beings."

Michael Ashton

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wrested Scriptures (5) - "another Gospel"

It is often argued by some Christadelphians that any variation from the one true faith falls under this condemnation of Paul:
"If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:6-9)
This text is interpreted to mean that unless someone is preaching the one true faith in its entirety then they are preaching "another Gospel". It's argued, for example, that trinitarianism is "another Gospel". So too is heaven-going at death. Some Christadelphians go even further and accuse other Christadelphians of preaching "another Gospel" if they hold different views on the atonement, the nature of Christ, resurrectional responsibility, inspiration, divorce and remarriage, the extent of the Kingdom, or even the identity of Gog and Magog!

What did Paul mean when he wrote about those preaching "another Gospel"?

The best way to get an overview of Galatians is to read it through in one sitting, preferably in a modern version. The Message is excellent for this purpose, and it won't take long at all to read the whole letter. If you read Galatians this way you will notice that Paul is very single-minded and that he really has just one objective in writing this letter. There was only one issue that he wanted to deal with in this letter and he gets straight to the point in the opening verses.

Paul doesn't leave us in any doubt as to the problem: certain teachers from Jerusalem had visited the churches in Galatia and attempted to bring them under some of the rules and regulations of Judaism. Paul is very outspoken in his opposition to this "Judaizing" of Christianity and makes it very clear indeed that the Gospel he preached, and through which the Galatians were converted, was a message of freedom in Christ. He tells them again that we are saved by grace, and not through the keeping of any rules or regulations. He explains that any human efforts to please God and gain salvation through rituals, law-keeping and 'legalism' of any kind will end in failure. No less than seven times he emphasises the importance of grace.

In contrasting the false teachings of the Judaisers with the message he preached, Paul says "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (5:4). To abandon the Gospel of grace is "apostacy" - a fall from grace. He says that if righteousness could be gained any other way than by grace then "Christ died for nothing!" (2:20-21).

Right from the start of this letter Paul makes it clear that this is about grace versus legalism. He says that the Gospel of Christ which they first heard and embraced was about "the grace of Christ" but that now they were deserting this Gospel of grace and "are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all" (1:5-7).

So its really quite plain here that the "other Gospel" which was being preached was about legalism, rule-keeping and attempting to gain righteousness through "works of the law".

This explains why Paul says that "if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed". Later he said that "all who rely on observing the law are under a curse" (3:10). Legalism brings a curse on those who try to live by rule-keeping.

In earlier posts in this series I noted that many of these "wrested Scriptures" are used by the very people the texts are speaking about and given another meaning contrary to the one that was intended and turned against the believers. Paul wrote: "some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves" (2:4). Not surprisingly then this passage in Galatians 1:6-9 is also often used by legalists in their attempts to rob believers of their freedom in Christ and to bring them into bondage to a doctrinal creed, a style of worship, a manner of dressing, an organisational structure, or some other man-made way of practicing religion.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

God doesn’t tinker with the mind (2)

The following reply by Tim was posted to the Truth Alive forum in response to Russ Brierly's article. Tim makes some good points and I felt they were worth re-posting here.

Hi Russ,

I'm sorry you didn't get your article published, but I agree with much of what you write regarding the Spirit of God. The work of the Holy Spirit in us today is an area that much of the Christadelphian body resist, just as the Pharisees of Stephen's day also always resisted the Spirit of God, because the active working of God's Spirit would mean change that threatened all the human traditions that we find. For taking these verses as they are written and experiencing the presence of God I myself was disfellowshipped. Yet they do mean exactly what you say.

A lot of explanations other than what they say have been presented to me. For instance it has been suggested to me that they only applied to the first century Christians. It is suggested we now only get the action of God's working of His Spirit today through the medium of the Bible. Others suggest that the words really mean the 'spirit-word' a phrase which is to be found nowhere in the Bible. Yet it is hard to see how the direct working of God could easily be replaced by the indirect effect of our reading the Bible and our interpretations of it within the limitation of words.

The issue of freewill is a little bit more complex. If everyone has freewill, then it means a lot of Christadelphians are willfully denying God in their lives by resisting God's Spirit. In my experience that is not so. Many simply do not understand. The idea of God working on our hearts is foolishness to them. they cannot understand how God could work in them and because they have no faith they cannot believe first and understand second through experience. So they are trying to understand something that we learn from within in our hearts with their minds. They are trying to understand too much first without taking the words exactly as they read.

In practice we do not have freewill, yet it is also true that we aren't automatons either. We have a will and we are conscious of having a will and of making choices. Yet we are also under the influence of certain things which cloud our ability to have fullness of will. We are influenced by our religious upbringings and traditions for instance. Certain people can have a bearing on our opinions. Our human nature creates a 'natural thinking' which affects us and the world we live in places pressures on us which affects our thinking and willingness to believe certain things. We are affected by what nutrition we take in, our state of fitness and health and much more. We certainly need strength from above to begin to overcome and challenge all the elements which resist God and his message.

From an Old Testament perspective we most certainly do have freewill, but from a New Testament perspective we do not. That is because the Old Testament was a shadow to bring people to Christ, whereas in the New Testament we find the reality of Christ and his Spirit spelt out more clearly. Since the Christadelphians tend to focus on the Old Testament they frequently miss the relevance of Christ and replace it with a focus on empirical doctrines which do not save. The Spirit of God is very much about Christ and how he and the Father now dwell in us. The Spirit is 'God in us' and 'Christ in us' and the 'Spirit in us' and the Bible says in Corinthians that 'no one can call Jesus Lord except through the Holy Spirit'. We have to have a real relationship with God and not simply one with the Bible that he inspired people to write. It is not the Bible which saves us, but knowing the risen Christ and whilst we can learn about Christ from reading the Bible we have to come to 'know Him' something which is very different.

It is very difficult to get through to many Christadelphians, because they are so entrenched in the idea that they and they alone have the correct interpretation of scripture and no one else can teach them anything. I believe it is this arrogance that has to be overcome before people will understand the issues that you are talking about. In our natural minds we are spiritually blind. None of us can come to God on the basis of our strength or intelligence or ability to correctly interpret scripture and unless we feel God's drawing we cannot come to him, because we naturally think we can see when we cannot, we can hear when we cannot. God has put us all in the same position of helplessness and yet the BASF doesn't recognise this and claims that people who are idiots cannot be saved. That's the inevitable consequence of having a form of religion where salvation is dependent upon your intellectual understanding. Yet in scripture the mentally ill often understood more than the most intelligent leaders of the Jews, because its not about our intellect, but about giving up the heart and to many Christadelphians there is no difference between the two. In essence you are changed by how much you read the Bible and understand it, not by how much you have given up the heart.

It all goes also against the tenor of the scripture, because in the Bible we find it is the poor and weak and despised of this world who are most likely to have faith. That's because they have least reason to trust in the flesh. It has let them down too many times. However they are the ones least likely to have that access to the bible, that training in reasoning techniques, that heightened ability to balance the text. A book-based method is also contrary to what we read in the acts of the apostles and it would have frustrated the fast spread of the gospels. They themselves talked of being 'led by the Spirit'. Yes they had the Old Testament scriptures (the New was not yet written) and they used it to reason with the Jews and see the progression of God's purpose, but primarily it was an oral message spread with a power don't see today in the main. I think it has less to do with the Spirit only being there to give us the New Testament and more to do with the body of Christ not having the necessary faith and wisdom which comes from experience and which we are still learning.

If the spirit comes purely through the medium of the Bible, then a body of people as well read and studious as the Christadelphians should by now have the perfect faith, yet what we see in practice is often a set of traditions and an adherence to doctrine and statements of faith which is stultifying. Something is missing and that missing something is power and spirit and life and every time someone realises that they will be more and more ready to be drawn to the leading of God's Spirit. Whilst they stand in the power of their intellect and interpretations and traditions they aren't ready to turn to God with all the heart. They have no need for Him. They've got the Bible and they can read and they are happy to believe that if they know the Bible enough they have God. That isn't necessarily the case. I could read everything about you and I would know all about you, but I wouldn't know you and more importantly you wouldn't know me. You might be happy to have a relationship with me simply by reading all about me. To me though that wouldn't be a relationship and its not what Son meant by him and his Son making their home with us. It's a little bit more personal and intimate than that.

Without the Spirit of God we are really serving God through the fleshly mind. We may have learn through mental discipline to keep the body physically in check, but it's an arduous and unrelenting way to try to serve God. You won't keep up your mental progress unless you read the Bible enough for instance. You have to be sure that you have the right interpretations and read the right translation of the Bible and balance it rightly. It is not like a relationship with God where you can feel your closeness and distance from him. You will always feel as if you aren't good enough and feel you must always read more and try harder. If you should have a mental breakdown you are in real difficulties, because it's only with a strong mind that your method will work. If you cannot absorb the Bible or get strength from its ideas you are now in a very helpless situation. In fact this constant pressure to move forward through knowledge could break you mentally, because without the Spirit of God we are under law and the object of law is to get you to give up and have faith. To deny the conclusion as an organisation is to make it very difficult for people to come to the real heart knowledge of God which matters.

God will not take this resistance of his Spirit lightly I don't believe. I hope he does find a way to draw the Christadelphians forward and it may happen as the world closes in as it is doing and we find we need more than words and interpretations and find we need God's real presence.

Much love and blessings in Jesus, your brother,


God doesn’t tinker with the mind

The following article by Russ Brierly was recently posted on the Truth Alive forum. Russ makes some really good points and I personally think this article is a good contribution to the discussion of the Holy Spirit in the Christadelphian community. The article is re-posted here with his permission.

He wrote: "I recently submitted the following article to one of the Christadelphian magazines. I got a pink slip on it and while I am not surprised at the pink slip on the one hand, I believe it’s indicative of a serious problem we have in the community, and that is the fear to discuss openly with Bibles in hand anything which resembles teaching on the subject of the Holy Spirit."

I agree with his conclusion that Christadelphians generally avoid this subject, probably through fear. As a result there is a great deal of ignorance about it in the Christadelphian community. Consequently I also feel that the Christadelphian community is impoverished through its neglect of a very important Bible subject.

I know that Russ would value feedback, and discussion is welcomed at the Truth Alive forum.

God doesn’t tinker with the mind

When discussing how God works in our lives recently with a group of brethren, the statement was made by one that “God doesn’t tinker with the mind.” I found this rather troubling for three reasons:

1. It leaves my spiritual growth and progress totally up to my own intellectual abilities.
2. My three-score and ten years on this earth has demonstrated that I possess a mind that does need “tinkering with” in a supernatural way.
3. It is not in accord with numerous scriptural passages, or perhaps one might go so far as to say, in accord with a total Biblical theology.

God works with us in many ways; through the words of wisdom and righteous examples we find in the scripture; through circumstances, something which we often refer to as providence; through our counsel with loving, God fearing friends; and through the direct impression of thoughts on our mind.

When we look at the concept of God working with us by direct impression of thoughts on our mind, we are talking about God bringing about a change of attitude from the worldly to the spiritual, from the natural to the Godly, from the un-holy to the holy. We are talking about God helping us overcome sin in all its forms. We are talking about God helping us deal with addictions and those things to which human nature can so readily become a slave.

In exploring this subject we are looking at the concept of indwelling – God and the Lord Jesus Christ dwelling in us in such a way that our thoughts, our resultant speech and actions, our very being and mindset are representative of Jesus Christ, the one whom we claim to be our Lord. When someone looks at us he should see the Lord Jesus in us just as the early disciples could look at Jesus and see God because God dwelt in him. Jesus spoke of this indwelling in the following manner when the disciples wanted to see the father; “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

Temple of the Holy Spirit

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Cor 6:18-20 NIV). Though most of the spirit gifts appear to have died out over time, the gift of the spirit that Peter refers to in Acts chapter two is very much alive. Paul talks about it as the “earnest of the spirit.” Another version terms it a “deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Perhaps Paul was making the transition in his own thinking away from the Jewish concept of the temple being the temple made of stone in Jerusalem as he listened to Stephen. Shortly before the witnesses who stoned Stephen laid down their cloaks at his feet Stephen cried out the words of Isaiah the prophet. These were words stating that the “most high does not live in houses made by men.” He was telling the stubborn Jews that their beloved temple is not the place where God chooses to dwell. As Stephen continued the quote from Isaiah, God himself asks, “where will my resting place be?” The Jews that knew well that prophecy of Isaiah would have know that the answer to that question is found earlier in that same prophecy: “For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isa 57:15 NKJV) Perhaps it was here that Paul began to see that God would dwell in the hearts of man and that his work would be accomplished through this indwelling, a teaching which shows up so strongly in his writings.

Help Those Who Are Being Tempted

God would indwell in the hearts of men through his power or spirit and this would be channeled through the Lord Jesus Christ to whom he had given all power and authority. In the same passage in Matthew where Jesus states that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him he also states his promise to his disciples that he would be with them always, a promise that we can claim today.

In John chapter fourteen Jesus talks about a “comforter” or “counselor” that would be sent to help the disciples. The Greek word is ‘parakletos’ and it refers to one who stands along side of another to comfort, aid and help. In John 14:18 Jesus indicates that he would not leave them as orphans but would come to them, this time in another form, a spiritual being with all power and authority and a desire to “help those who are being tempted” and provide strength to the weak and encouragement to the faltering. He is there to help us in our time of need as the following portion of scripture teaches us:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb 4:14-16 NIV).

Christ in You, the Hope of Glory

Paul the Apostle writes many times of the uncommon power and energy at work in himself and the people he is writing to that is from God and the Lord Jesus Christ, a power that helps the disciple in his new life:

· Paul said, ”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV)
· In writing to the Colossians he says, “To them [the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
· In talking about his work of admonishing and teaching everyone so that he may present everyone “perfect in Christ” he talks about “struggling with all his [Christ’s] energy which so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29)

God Who Works in You

Paul writes some very warm words to the Philippians encouraging them to continue in the faith. In doing so he assures them that God is working in them toward a good end and that good end is their salvation.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13)

To the Colossians he writes these words:

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Col 1:10-12 NIV)

The God Who Gives You Endurance and Encouragement

Romans chapter fifteen is a powerful chapter. Paul is encouraging the Roman brethren toward a spirit of unity so that they might glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with “one heart and mouth.” He starts verse five with the words, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity….” We do not know the exact mechanics of how God will work to bring about the desired attitudes, but we do know that Paul states quite clearly that endurance and encouragement, which are attitudes or mindsets, are things that God works with in accomplishing his will among his people. Verse thirteen is a wonderful expression, found at the beginning and end of many of Paul’s letters, which conveys Paul’s conviction that God and the Lord Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, work with the attitudes and spirit of those who would be disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. NIV

Paul constantly recognized a power within himself that was not of himself that drove him to accomplish the things he accomplished for Christ. Consider this verse:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV)

We’d like to look at one more passage before we end our tour of a few of those passages that speak to the concept of indwelling. That passage is found in Romans eight, a chapter all of which speaks quite profoundly to the subject. We will look at verses six through eleven:

“The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:6-11 NIV)

The question of free will.

This verse not only deals with indwelling, but it also deals with the question of free will. Fearing that the concept of indwelling takes away a persons free will is probably the biggest reason why some have difficulty with the concept of indwelling. It may appear to take away ones free will and make them into an automaton.

The opposite is the truth. We have free will and can exercise it as we choose. To choose to empty ourselves and let God work in us is a choice we make of our own free will. To refuse to allow God to work in us is also an exercise of our own free will. We have the choice all along, just as Jesus had the choice in his life.

We readily accept the concept of miraculous healing. We take the medications, we do what the doctor says, but we still look to God for the healing. We all know of times when the prognosis of the physicians has been very pessimistic yet the miracle of healing has taken place. And when it does occur, whether anticipated by the physicians or not, we give glory to God and recognize that he is the ultimate healer.

Why do we then have difficulty with the concept of God working with the mind or our thinking processes? Why do we work so hard at keeping God out of our mental processes? The answer of course is our human nature. To deny that God will “tinker with our minds” because we do not theologically accept the concept is far different from not letting God work with us because of our human weakness.

The concept of indwelling is seen not only throughout the scriptures but it is also firmly embedded in our statement of faith. It is part of the fabric of spiritual growth and faith-building. It is perhaps exemplified best in the words of David, a man after God’s own heart yet a very human being whose human nature too often ruled his being; “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NIV)

Russ Brierly

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Australia's new Prime Minister-elect a "bookish Christian"

Kevin Rudd, a man who has been described by the media as "a bookish, intellectual Christian" has triumphed in the Australian general election against long term right-wing incumbent John Howard.

The new Prime Minister-elect has been open about his progressive Christian faith, but has argued that the role of faith is not to dominate the political arena but to contribute to it.

He declared last year in the journal The Monthly: "A Christian perspective on contemporary policy debates may not prevail. It must nonetheless be argued. And once heard, it must be weighed, together with other arguments from different philosophical traditions, in a fully contestable secular polity."

Rudd added: "A Christian perspective, informed by a social gospel or Christian socialist tradition, should not be rejected contemptuously by secular politicians as if these views are an unwelcome intrusion into the political sphere. If the churches are barred from participating in the great debates about the values that ultimately underpin our society, our economy and our polity, then we have reached a very strange place indeed."

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald last October, Kevin Rudd wrote about German theologian and intellectual Dietrich Bonheffer, who was killed by the Nazis in the last days of the Second World War: "Sixty years after his execution, Bonhoeffer's gospel of social justice still speaks to us. Regrettably, much of this social justice tradition of Christianity has been drowned out by a new brand of political Christianity which is being systematically exploited in Republican America and John Howard's Australia."

He continued: "It is a brand of Christianity that celebrates private morality and personal prosperity alone - to the virtual exclusion of equity, solidarity and compassion."

According to some analysts Labor's victory will presage significant policy changes including more action on the environment and global warming, the likely withdrawal of Australian personnel from Iraq and a more compassionate approach to migration.

Friday, November 23, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (21)

This post continues the series of suggestions as to how Australian Christadelphians could celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Unity Agreement.

4. Above all, love each other

In looking at the "first principles" we need to take careful note of the cornerstone of our faith:
"The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'." Gal 5:14
All to often Christadelphians focus on doctrinal differences, even to the point of being nit-picking about the smallest detail. Ecclesias have divided over the most trivial things. I was once interrogated for months by the arranging brethren of one ecclesia to determine if I agreed with them about the meaning of the word "at" somewhere in the BASF! If we are obsessed with the tiniest details then it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, and to forget that the cornserstone of our faith is "love each other".
"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8
It's time Christadelphians let go of the past and concentrated on the future: "forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead" (Phil 3:13). One of the best ways Australian Christadelphians could celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Unity Agreement would be to let go of all the minor differences which have hindered the work of witnessing to the risen Christ.

I am painfully aware that some Christadelphians are keeping "dossiers" on various people. One of them recently offered to show a brother the dossier he had on me! I've actually seen a document, put together by a Sydney sister, which purports to be a collection of heretical statements I've made but which includes writings by some other unknown person whom she has wrongly assumed is me. Someone once offered me a copy of a 200 page dossier they had been given on another brother, detailing his alleged sins and indiscretions (I didn't take up the offer!)

It's time this abhorrent practice was stopped.
"Love ... keeps no record of wrongs." 1 Cor 13:5
If Christadelphians are truly people of God, followers of Jesus Christ, then they will show the world that they are His disciples by loving each other. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35). No presentation of "the Truth", regardless of how well reasoned or how convincing will amount to anything if it is not based on a genuine love for one another.

If someone has "the Truth" then they will not keep dossiers on their brethren. There should be no record of wrongs.

Perhaps the 50th anniversary of the Unity Agreement could be celebrated with a huge bonfire as all these files and dossiers on other brethren are consigned forever to the flames.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (20)

This post continues the positive suggestions as to how Australian Christadelphian ecclesias could celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Unity Agreement. In my previous posts I wrote about finding common ground and maintaining ecclesial autonomy.

3. Be Honest

The Australian Unity Agreement spelled out very clearly what the 'basis of fellowship' is for Christadelphians:
We agree that the doctrines to be believed and taught by us, without reservation, are the first principles of the One Faith as revealed in the Scriptures, of which the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (with positive and negative clauses and the Commandments of Christ) gives a true definition.
We should carefully note two important things which are spelled out here. First, the doctrines which Christadelphians believe and hold in common are "the first principles of the One Faith as revealed in the Scriptures". The Agreement says that the Birmingham amended Statement of Faith (BASF) is "a true definition" of this One Faith, not "the true definition". In other words, Christadelphians are united by their belief in "the first principles" and the BASF is just one definition of these first principles. Christadelphians accepting the Agreement are called on to agree with the first principles, and not the minor details or specific wording of the BASF. In fact, almost every Christadelphian would disagree with some detail or other in the BASF yet will accept that it gives a true definition of the first principles.

In other words, no attempt is being made here to insist on the specific wording of the BASF or of any of the minor details. It is only those doctrines which are mutually understood to be first principles which are to be believed and taught. There are many other acceptable summaries of these first principles. For example, one Christadelphian website has this sumary of beliefs:
  • The Bible is God's word and the only message from him.It is without error, except for copying and translation errors.
  • There is only one God - the Father. The Holy Spirit is God's power.
  • Jesus is the Son of God, and a human being, through his mother Mary.
  • By living a sinless life Jesus has opened the way of salvation from death.
  • Jesus is currently in Heaven, on God's right hand. He will one day return.
  • When he returns he will rule the earth and give immortality to those who have tried to follow him and do the will of God. His followers will help him to rule.
  • Humans are 100% mortal, having no existence when dead. The reward for the faithful is eternal life on earth after Christ's return.
  • Baptism is essential to gain this eternal life.
This brief summary illustrates that even the most conservative Christadelphians (because that website is owned and run by some extremely conservative Christadelphians) agree that the first principles can be summarised simply and concisely in about a dozen sentences. It is such simple and concise "first principles" that the Unity Agreement says Christadelphians believe and teach, and on which they are united.

The Unity Agreement goes on to say that any other summary or definition of the One Faith is also acceptable, provided it is in agreement with the BASF on the fundamentals, or first principles.
Acceptance of this basis would not preclude the use of any other adequate Statement of Faith by an ecclesia, provided this is in harmony with the B.A.S.F. understood as in Clause 1 (a) above.
For example, the summary from the conservative website above might be an acceptable one in the terms of the Unity Agreement (although it's not perfect - for example, the expression "Humans are 100% mortal" is clumsy [How can you be 50% mortal?]).

Secondly, what is clear from the Unity Agreement is that ecclesias are not at liberty to add to what was mutually agreed to be the "first principles" and to insist on acceptance of any other doctrine, idea or opinion. Any ecclesia, group or organisation which has additional requirements for fellowship is going beyond the Unity Agreement. You cannot say on the one hand that you accept the Unity Agreement and then on the other hand insist on someting additional. As soon as you add something, then you no longer accept the Unity Agreement.

If several parties come to an Agreement then one party cannot add something to it without the consent of all the parties. Yet this is precisely what several ecclesias and organisations have done. Some ecclesias, for example, have insisted on agreement with lengthy explanations of the BASF before they will agree to fellowship other Christadelphians. Some have added "doctrines" to their 'basis of fellowship' (such as statements about six literal 24 hour days for creation, or the availability of the Holy Spirit). The Australian Christadelphian Bible Mission (ACBM) demands agreement with a statement on divorce and remarriage and an additional doctrinal statement before they will accept someone as a 'field-worker'. The organisers of some combined ecclesial meetings have demanded acceptance of some additional doctrines which are not included in the Unity Agreement in order to participate. This is a contradiction. The imposition of any additional requirements means, of necessity, that the Unity Agreement is not the basis of fellowship. This situation got so out-of-hand that in 1988 a Conference Business Session passed a resolution that the basis of fellowship at future Conferences would be the Unity Agreement without addition or further explanation.

Of course, autonomous and independent ecclesias or organisations can have their own rules, standards or Statements of Faith. However, the moment they attempt to add to the Unity Agreement they can no longer claim to meet on that basis.

It's ironic that some of the ecclesias and organisations which are most vocal in advocating the importance of the Unity Agreement are often the ones which are guilty of breaking it by having additional requirements. In my opinion, this is simply dishonest.

If any ecclesia believes the Unity Agreement is inadequate (and any ecclesia which has added a doctrine or explanation to their basis of fellowship have, by that very action, admitted that they believe the Unity Agreement is inadequate) then they should honestly and publicly announce that they no longer accept the Unity Agreement and they will fellowship in future on a different basis. That would be the honest thing to do.

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Unity Agreement I suggest that all ecclesias claiming to meet on that basis should remove any additional doctrines or requirements which they have added along the way and return to the simple terms of the original Agreement, or be honest in saying that they meet on a different basis.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (19)

Digression: The G13

In my last post I referred to a group of ecclesias calling themselves simply "a group of thirteen ecclesias", or G13 for short. In the spirit of clause 44 of the Ecclesial Guide I called for this group to be disbanded (clause 44 says that such groups "lay the foundation of a collective despotism which would interfere with the free growth and the true objects of ecclesial life").

I recently received a letter from a brother in Queensland claiming to write "on behalf of the combined arranging brethrens group in Brisbane representing 13 Ecclesias". There was no letterhead, the group was unnamed, he did not say which ecclesias made up the group of 13, what his position was within the group, or what the purpose or objectives of the group were. Although he asked me several questions about my membership of an ecclesia and my fellowship status, he gave me no indication as to why he was seeking this information, why it was important to them, or how it would be used. The letter came across to me as intimidating.

I understand that around the same time he also wrote to at least one ecclesia seeking information about me.

I won't be replying to the letter.

There are at least 3 reasons I won't be replying:
  1. To reply to this unnamed, unappointed, unaccountable "group" would be to give them legitimacy. In my opinion, self-appointed vigilante groups within the brotherhood are, in Robert Roberts words, a "collective despotism". To acknowledge them would be to condone the intolerable tyranny they are imposing on the brotherhood.

  2. Bullies need recognition, and the best way of dealing with bullies is to deny them the acceptance they crave.

  3. This G13 "group" has been stirring up trouble for at least two ecclesias in Queensland. If they think I will help them they must be mad.
Interestingly, an appeal was recently sent to Queensland ecclesias to help one of these G13 ecclesias. Apparently numbers are declining dramatically and the ecclesia is on the verge of dying (although some might argue that they are already spiritually dead). On the other hand, one of the ecclesias they are constantly criticising is growing steadily. In fact, just last Sunday I had the pleasure to visit this growing ecclesia. Visitors outnumbered members by 2 to 1! There was standing room only, and the meeting room was overflowing! It's ironic that an ecclesia which is dying and appealing for people to move into the area to prop them up should, at the same time, criticise an ecclesia which is growing, prospering and reaching out to people with the hope of the Gospel.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He said "let the dead bury their dead". In other words, ecclesias and people which are spiritually dying will spend more time burying those who are already spiritually dead than they will in learning from those who are alive and growing and could help them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (18)

This post continues the positive suggestions as to how Australian Christadelphian ecclesias could celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Unity Agreement. In my last post I wrote about finding common ground.

2. Maintain ecclesial autonomy

Under the heading "Fraternal Gatherings from Various Places" clause 44 of the Ecclesial Guide says:
These are beneficial when restricted to purely spiritual objects (i.e., let the brethren assemble anywhere from anywhere, and exhort, or worship, or have social intercourse together); but they become sources of evil if allowed to acquire a legislative character in the least degree. Ecclesial independence should be guarded with great jealousy with the qualifications indicated in the foregoing sections. To form "unions" or "societies" of ecclesias, in which delegates should frame laws for the individual ecclesias, would be to lay the foundation of a collective despotism which would interfere with the free growth and the true objects of ecclesial life. Such collective machineries create fictitious importances, which tend to suffocate the truth. All ecclesiastical history illustrates this.
The principles of ecclesial independence and autonomy have been cherished by Christadelphians since the movement began. This tradition was inherited from the Restoration Movement (the Churches/Disciples of Christ or "Campbellites" as John Thomas called them) who in turn inherited it from the radical reformation ("anabaptists"). It is well grounded in Scripture.

Christadelphian ecclesias are free to make decisions for themselves about how their meetings are conducted, their style of worship, the songs or hymns they sing, their speakers, how leaders or "serving brethren" are appointed, membership, and fellowship. In fact, the Ecclesial Guide provides some detailed and specific guidelines about 'fellowship' which ensures that an ecclesia has the right to welcome into fellowship someone who has been denied fellowship elsewhere. It emphasises that this is important in order to preserve the autonomy and independence of ecclesias. The principle of autonomy includes the right for each ecclesia to create or adopt their own Statement of Faith. Theoretically we could have as many unique Statements of Faith as there are ecclesias. The Australian Unity Agreement specifically reinforced the rights of ecclesias to have their own unique Statement of Faith.

However, these valued principles of autonomy and independence are easily eroded whenever groups of ecclesias band together in an attempt to impose their own ideas on other ecclesias. Unfortunately this happens all too often and ecclesias are sometimes pressured into adopting the same hymn book or worship style as their neighbours, or denying fellowship or membership to someone who is 'out-of-fellowship' elsewhere (for whatever reason). In the words of Robert Roberts this is imposing an "intolerable tyranny" on the brotherhood.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Unity Agreement would be a good time to disband any "unions", "societies" or "groups" which interfere with ecclesial independence. Unfortunately, there are several of these groups in Australia. Most States have inter-ecclesial committees which facilitate exchanges of speakers, coordinate Conferences, liaise with the Government or regulatory bodies on behalf of ecclesias generally, and perform legitimate "fraternal" functions. Queensland, for example, has the South East Queensland Coordinating Committee, New South Wales has the NSW Christadelphian Committee, etc.

However, in addition to these bona fide coordinating committees some States also have "groups" or "meetings" which cause a great deal of trouble. Participation in these groups/meetings is by invitation only and is restricted to ecclesias which follow a particular party line. In Queensland, for example, there is a group which describes itself only as "the group of thirteen ecclesias" (or G13 for short). They meet to discuss the practices of ecclesias which are not in their "group", and generally stir up trouble. They have recently been targeting two ecclesias in their area and writing letters around the country trying to find some 'evidence' that they are fellowshipping out-of-fellowship individuals (and even if they did, the Ecclesial Guide specifically says they have the right to fellowship whoever they please).

Groups like these should be immediately disbanded if the ecclesias concerned are genuine about unity in Australia.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (17)

I'd like to finish this series with a few positive suggestions as to how Australian Christadelphian ecclesias could celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Unity Agreement. In doing so, I want to acknowledge the great work done by brethren of a previous generation. My own grandfather (George H. Darke) was actively involved in the work of reunion in Australia and was on one of the Unity Committees. I had the benefit of many discussions with him over subsequent years about what drove them in those days and how successful, or otherwise, their efforts had been.

1. Find Common Ground

The Australian Unity Agreement was designed to end a long period of division between two groups ('fellowships') in the Australian Christadelphian brotherhood. It recognised that there had been misunderstandings between the two groups for a considerable time because each group had remained relatively isolated from the other and had therefore begun to develop their own theological 'jargon', especially in relation to the atonement. Each group would use different words to explain the same concepts, so they each thought that the other group believed something different.

One of the achievements of the Unity Agreement was to produce an explanation of the atonement that both groups could agree with while either avoiding the 'loaded' terminology or explaining it in a way that enabled both groups to find common ground. Neither group was forced to renounce previously held ideas. There were no witch-hunts to find people who didn't agree. No ecclesia changed their Statement of Faith. In fact, the Unity Agreement specifically acknowledged that the various Statements of Faith which were in use at that time could continue to be used. It was acknowledged that these Statements of Faith were essentially saying the same thing, although using different wording. In fact, this situation has continued to the present day and Australian ecclesias continue to use various Statements of Faith.

This is something which is often overlooked by subsequent generations. The purpose of the Unity Agreement was to find common ground and to use language which was acceptable to all parties, rather than imposing the view of one group on another. It focused on what united, rather than on what divided. The ecclesias which refused to accept the Agreement, and thereafter separated themselves from all other Christadelphians in Australia, were those which insisted that they were right and demanded that others renounce their views. They regarded themselves as the only 'true Christadelphians' and the only ones which upheld the 'original' Christadelphian faith as it was defined by men such as Robert Roberts. They have remained isolated for fifty years, and their numbers have significantly declined.

In the fifty years since the Agreement was adopted by most Australian ecclesias there has been a tendency by some ecclesias and individuals to focus on the actual words used in the Agreement and to demand that everyone uses these words in the same way they do. They have forgotten that the Agreement was designed as a compromise, which used words with which everyone could agree, and avoided terminology which carried connotations which others would find unacceptable. They have also forgotten that with time words can change their meaning and can carry different connotations. The actual wording of the Unity Agreement may not carry the same meaning for people today as it did for Christadelphians fifty years ago.

That's why, in my opinion, the documents associated with the Unity Agreement are no longer relevant to most Christadelphians. What is important, and which should be celebrated, is that fifty years ago Christadelphians made a conscious decision and took a deliberate step to end their differences. They did this by finding common ground and finding a way to explain the important things on which they agreed, which everyone would find acceptable.

From my grandfather, who was actively involved in the work of reunion, I learned that many brethren of that time realised that the only way to end the years of mistrust was to take people at their word. If someone said they agreed with something, then they took them at their word. They didn't cross-examine them to find out if they 'really' agreed. Based on the teaching of Jesus that 'your "yes" should mean "yes"' they began with the assumption that everyone was being honest and if they said they agreed then they agreed. The Unity Agreement ultimately failed to produce sustainable unity in the Christadelphian community because brethren began to question the integrity of others. They doubted that some people were being honest when they adopted the Agreement, and began to say so. Trust rapidly broke down again and the ecclesias divided once more. Although they were often 'technically' in fellowship ecclesias soon regrouped and formed alliances and went back to behaving as two distinct sub-groups within one denomination.

There are possibly several ways in which Christadelphians in Australia today could recognise in a constructive way the work done fifty years ago, by looking again for the common ground. Here are some general principles which might be helpful:
  1. Recognise that there can be several ways of saying the same thing, and that your way is not the only way, and may not even be the best way.

  2. When listening to other people, or when reading what they have written, look for what you agree with, rather than what you disagree with. Realise that they may also be simply using different words to say something you'd agree with although you might say it differently.

  3. When in discussion with individuals or ecclesias about different points of view, first acknowledge as many areas as possible where you agree.

  4. Take people at their word. If a brother or sister says they believe something, or that they agree with you, don't ask other people for their opinion. Don't go digging for information to the contrary, and don't conduct a cross-examination. Accept what they say and don't question their integrity.
Here are some suggestions as to how ecclesias might actively encourage this way of thinking:
  • Ecclesias which meet visitors at the door and present them with a doctrinal statement of some kind and ask for their assent before they can break bread should end this practice immediately.
  • While the hard work of all the people involved with reunion should be acknowledged, the actual documents they produced are of little relevance today (except for historical purposes, and to give us an insight into how they got a result). The time has come to stop referring to the 1958 Unity Agreement as the 'basis of fellowship'.
  • There has been a suggestion that the Unity Agreement should be reprinted and a copy given to every Australian Christadelphian. In my opinion this would be a waste of paper. It's unlikely to be read by most, and won't be understood by many who read it. It would be far better to encourage an exchange of ideas, some diversity of thinking, and brotherly love, rather than republish a document which belongs to another era.
To be continued.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tell people!

Not everyone reads the comments attached to posts, but there was a recent comment which I really feel deserves to be publicised widely. It's a great story and very encouraging. It was made as a comment on my post about Australian light horse regiments in the liberation of Jerusalem in 1917.

So here it is again.

Hi Steve

I looked at your blog and read with interest re the events of 1917. In the British contingent present in the taking of Jerusalem in 1917, there were 3 very young soldiers who all commented on the strange sense of the presence of God and Divine significance in what happened in Jerusalem in 1917. They were Percy Kemp, Vic James and Johnny Eve. They each vowed to find the ultimate significance of these events, and contacted the Dawn fellowship in this connection. Those 3 young men were baptized after WW1, and were renowned in the Dawn fellowship for their evangelical zeal, which they maintained all their lives. Johnny and Vic never married and lived together in a terraced house in Eastleigh, a working class suburb of Southampton, maintaining a lifelong commitment to share the Gospel they had found with others. They lived in that same house all their lives after the 1920s, and for 60 years it was one of the most active centres of preaching one could imagine. They dedicated themselves to spreading the Gospel in a way I never quite saw in anyone else in the Western world. Through personal witness they baptized dozens of people over the decades, the descendants of whom are still within the Christadelphian community. As a zealous teenager, I used to visit Johnny in his home, whose few tiny rooms had been packed with over 50 of his converts at times. In awe, I naievely asked him how he'd converted such a huge number of people: "Like, did you have lots of special efforts? How did you advertise? In the local newspaper?". Johnny [and he always wished to be addressed as "Johnny", never "Brother Eve"] laughed out loud, and I can remember that laugh to this day. He mocked any such ways of preaching, and just said "Well, we TOLD PEOPLE!!". And that's it. Tell people, the good news. Johnny, dear dear Johnny, I salute you. Till the great day comes.

Much love in Jesus


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Emergency in Pakistan

The President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, has declared a state of emergency. The Constitution has been suspended. Private news channels have also been suspended.

Further information about the impact this will have on the Christadelphians in Pakistan has been posted to the Pakistan Christadelphians blog. If you have not been set up to access this secure blog, send an email requesting access to

Please keep our brothers and sisters in Pakistan in your prayers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Australian Light Horse in capture of Jerusalem

This year is the 90th anniversary of the capture of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks in 1917 during the First World War.

The Australian Light Horse played an important role in the capture of Jerusalem and was the first formed regiment to enter Damascus.

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A Regiment of the Australian Light Horse on the march near Jerusalem, in Palestine.
(Photo source: Australian War Memorial AWM B01619)

Fifty mounted men and women from the Australian Light Horse Association, including relatives and descendants of men in the original Light Horse Regiments, are currently retracing the march of the Australian riders during World War I. They plan to re-enact the charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Beersheba - one of the last successful mounted charges in Western military history - over the same ground on its 90th anniversary tomorrow.

The capture of Jerusalem and the liberation of Palestine from the Ottomans resulted in Palestine becoming a British mandate in 1922. These were important events in enabling Jews to return to their ancient homeland in larger numbers, and led to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Jerusalem was captured by Jordan during the War of Independence in 1948, and later recaptured by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967.

These events are significant in fulfilling Bible prophecies about the restoration of Israel before the coming of the Messiah. Australian readers may be interested to know of the role of the Australian regiments.

Monday, October 29, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (16)

What is 'fellowship'? (8)

How can we make fellowship "just happen", or what can we do to facilitate it?

Now that we've looked at what happened in the New Testament churches when they got together I'd like to make some suggestions, based on the first century model, for Christians in the twenty first century.

It seems that meeting together over a meal was a central part of the fellowship of the earliest believers. This carried on the 'table fellowship' practices of Jesus, and also 'called to remembrance' the last supper. While sharing communal meals is a good way to facilitate the building of strong healthy relationships, I'm not suggesting that's all we should do. We learn from the Corinthian experience that even though they carried on the tradition of a shared meal it degenerated into something which Paul said was "not the Lord's supper". It also didn't take long for the church to replace this meal with a token or 'symbolic' meal, consisting of a morsel of bread and a sip of wine. The next step was to 'sacramentalise' it and to demand that the bread and wine should only be 'administered' by an ordained priest. The meal known as the Lord's table had progressively shifted from a full meal which was shared with family, friends and those who had been marginalised by society but were now invited to the kingdom of God, to a religious rite which was tightly controlled by those who ruled the churches.

The shift from a meal to mere symbols of one also coincided with a shift from grace to legalism in the church. God's grace was once celebrated as generous, abundant and overflowing. It later became something which the church-rulers tried to control and 'administer'. The morsel of bread (later to become a mere 'wafer' in the Catholic church) and the sip of wine also characterised how the church had become mean as it became legalistic.

To restore the meal to a central place in the gathering of believers might go a long way towards restoring the type of fellowship which was experienced in the early church, but would not guarantee it. There may also be other ways of facilitating this type of fellowship, with or without the communal meal. The following ideas are simply suggestions.
  • One of the features of a shared meal is that everyone participates in it. If we want to facilitate fellowship we have to encourage participation. I'm not suggesting that we simply find jobs for people to do (such as doing a prayer or reading, 'preparing the emblems', playing the organ), but that we structure our gatherings in such a way that everyone participates as fully as they would like. Paul obviously had this in mind when he said "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church" (1 Cor 14:26). It's also probably what he had in mind when he wrote "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 5:19-20. See also Col 3:16-17).
  • To have this kind of full participation gatherings also need to be interactive. It would be almost impossible in a large group to structure a programme (or 'order of service') where everyone is able to contribute with a hymn/song or a word of instruction. Imagine an ecclesia with 100 members all prepared to give an exhortation or sing a song! To have the kind of interaction which encourages full participation would mean that the structured, formalised, religious 'service' would have to give way to something which is fluid, dynamic, spontaneous and full of surprises. Ecclesias would have to decide if they wanted a formal service (like the liturgical churches Christadelphians so often criticise), or something closer to the experience of the first century believers.
  • The motivation for any gathering has to be the spiritual growth of everyone participating. It's not good enough to simply encourage attendance and assume that just by being there everyone will get something out of it. Gatherings of the church should be so that the whole body is fed and nurtured and enabled to grow.
  • In larger groups that means getting to know people who are used to sitting quietly, always behaving themselves, never ruffling feathers; the people who never speak up or express an opinion, and certainly never oppose anything; the kind of person who is always there, and because of that we assume they must be getting something out of it. It's possible that some of these people are dying on the inside, not getting the kind of food they need for spiritual growth, but desperately hoping that if they keep turning up one day something miraculous will happen and they will find what they need.
  • Of course, it's equally possible that we don't really know the noisy people either. We make assumptions about the people who always have something to say, who always have an opinion (right or wrong), who seem so confident in their knowledge and understanding of the ways of God. We can assume that because someone gives good exhortations they must be right with God, that their spiritual needs are being met, and that their main purpose is to feed others. It's easy to overlook the needs of noisy people. The noise might be a cry for help, disguised as self-confidence; or it might be a cover-up for something that is desperately wrong and needs sorting out. We will never know, unless we get to know them personally.
  • Gatherings of believers must promote relationship-building. Sitting in the same pew, or simply shaking a hand, does not constitute 'fellowship'. There has to be time spent together getting to know each other and talking about life in general. There will have to be opportunities for crying on shoulders, sharing a laugh, passing around photographs, and talking about work.
  • We mustn't forget, however, that our objective is not simply to be friendly and to get to know people (important though that is). We need to help people to connect with God, and to learn from their encounters with God. We need to share on a deeper, more intimate, spiritual level. The friendliness and relationship-building I mentioned in the points above are steps towards intimacy between fellow-believers and with God. But before we can ever develop that kind of intimacy we have to develop trust. In my experience, I have found that many Christadelphians have stopped trusting each other. The dreadful ecclesial fights that have gone on for generations have been one of the main causes of this loss of trust, but in a vicious cycle of mistrust we have learned that arguments lead to mistrust, and mistrust leads to misunderstanding and yet more fighting. The road back will be long and slow, and needs a great deal of prayer and patience.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (15)

What is "fellowship"? (7)

What is it that "just happens" when believers gather together?

So far in this series I think we've seen that the word 'fellowship' is used in the Bible with reference to the way the earliest Christians shared everything: their possessions, homes and food as well as their faith. They lived in community and consequently developed close personal relationships. They genuinely cared for each other and demonstrated their mutual commitment by providing for each others needs. In fact, the word 'fellowship' is a translation of koinonia which literally means "to share". Sharing a meal together, as a kind of re-enactment of the last supper, came to symbolise the community life of the early church, and was at the very heart of their communal life.

These days, however, the word 'fellowship' has taken on a kind of technical meaning in the Christadelphian community to refer to cliques of believers - sub-groups within the Body of Christ which refuse to recognise the legitimacy of others. These divisions are usually the result of differences of opinions on doctrinal or theological matters. So we have the Dawn fellowship, the Old Paths fellowship, the Unamended fellowship, the Amended fellowship, the Central fellowship, the Antipas fellowship, etc, etc. What these 'fellowships' share within their groups is a narrow, restricted and exclusive interpretation of "the one true faith". The differences between the various groups are often so technical that an observer would be pressed to find any differences at all. Even 'insiders' sometimes wonder what it is that makes the other 'fellowships' so different to them and what it is that puts them 'out-of-fellowship'. Despite the enormous common ground between the groups they have separated over differences which seem trifling to others.

I've said a few times that when believers come together fellowship simply happens, and have looked at how this happened in the New Testament churches. The shared meal was called "the Lord's supper" or "the Lord's table", "breaking bread" and the "love feast". It was a central part of first-century Christianity. It was also a meal, not simply the partaking of token or symbolic "emblems", and would have been open to whole families and probably friends and relatives. It reflected Jesus' pattern of using meal tables to welcome people who had previously been excluded from normal communal life because of physical deformities, diseases, their sins, careers or beliefs.

Early on in this series I referred to another way the word 'fellowship' is typically used by Christadelphians. If someone says they had "wonderful fellowship" at a Bible school they would be referring to the quality of friendships which were shared, the conversations and discussions, the happy times spent over meals, and the sense of warmth, acceptance and belonging which made it such a wonderful experience. This is the right way to use the word 'fellowship' and not in the narrow technical sense referring to affiliation with a sub-group, or in the sacramental or eucharistic way with reference to the partaking of bread and wine during a religious service.

So what is it that "just happens" when believers gather together that we call 'fellowship'? When people come together frequently and regularly for meals they share more than food. As they talk together over the meals about their lives, their families, their work, their hobbies and interests, they get to know each other. They discover what is really going on in each others lives. They get to know when life is going well or when they are struggling. They become open, honest and transparent with each other. They reveal their true selves to each other, admitting to their weaknesses so they can find help and encouragement in overcoming them. They share their joys and triumphs, and help and encourage others. They progressively become involved in each others lives, not only for the time they come together for the meal.

A meal is the ideal way to facilitate this relationship-building. On the other hand, structured, formalised religious services provide little opportunity for sharing in this way, if at all.

We should carefully note that it was during a meal with His disciples that our Lord said "do this in remembrance of me".
In my next post I want to look at a question I raised previously:
how can we make fellowship "just happen", or what can we do to facilitate it?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Why Preach?

There are 2.5 billion people on this planet who have never heard the Gospel. You can play a part in getting the message to them.

This video goes for 10 minutes and is well worth seeing.

Friday, October 26, 2007

New website on women's roles in church

A new website has just been launched by some Christadelphians which looks very thoroughly at the roles of women from a Biblical viewpoint. The articles are solidly grounded in Scripture and cover practically every relevant verse in analysing what the Bible teaches on the subject.

The website also includes the personal stories of the various contributors and add a "human side" to the exposition of Scripture. They show that for the various writers the study of this subject was linked to their personal spiritual development.

One person commented that "In searching around the Internet (checking discussion on the relevant passages) we have not come across anything like this." This is certainly an outstanding achievement in my opinion, and this website should make a significant contribution in the ongoing discussion of the subject and should help ecclesias to adopt practices which are consistent with the Biblical model.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Pakistan Christadelphians (2)

Pakistan is possibly one of the fastest growing areas in the Christadelphian community, with more than 800 baptisms since 2002.

So why is this one of the fastest growing areas in the Christadelphian community?

A new series of posts has commenced on the Pakistan Christadelphians blog which explores some of the factors which may have contributed to the success in witnessing in Pakistan.

For security reasons access to this blog is restricted. If you'd like to access the blog you can email a request to

Saturday, October 13, 2007

One God

I'm sure everyone reading this blog is very familiar with the "proof texts" used to support the case for the oneness of God.

Here is just a smattering of them:
  • But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Cor 8:6)
  • One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph 4:6)
  • For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; (1 Tim 2:5)
But have you noticed that these verses not only state the oneness of God, but also positively reinforce a belief in monotheism i.e. there is one God, and only one God, and there are no other gods whatsoever?

That's why I am always surprised when I read statements like the one posted as a comment on my post about a worship song by Joel Houston. An anonymous commenter wrote (about Hillsong) "they worship a different GOD".

It's strange that some Christadelphians can say that trinitarians "worship a different God", yet the very verses they quote to disprove the trinity say "there is one God"! They cannot worship "a different God" because there is only one God.

James actually makes this point when he writes: "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder" (James 2:19). Just because someone has "wrong doctrine" doesn't mean they worship a different God, or just because they are right about the oneness of God doesn't mean they are right about everything. James's point is that doctrine must then be reflected in character and by actions. This was also the point made by Jesus in His famous statement about Israel's creed: "The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God ... and your neighbour as yourself" (Mark 12:28-31). The shema is saying something even more than "The Lord is unique, a one-of-a-kind God", true though that is, because the next verse begins with a vav - "and". The Lord is one AND you shall love the Lord ..." So the statement is relational: we are to love because He is one. Jesus then added to this the second part "And you shall love your neighbour as yourself". The first half of the Jesus creed has no purpose without the second.

So it doesn't matter what someone thinks about God, there is still only one God. Just because someone calls God "Allah" doesn't mean they believe in a different God. (Actually, the word Allah comes from the same semitic root as Eloah, or Elohim, in Hebrew, or Alaha in Aramaic, the language of Jesus). Regardless of whether someone calls God Allah, or Jehovah, or Yahweh, there is only one God. And just because someone's understanding about God is wrong, it doesn't mean they believe in a different God. I think this kind of language ("they worship a different God") builds unnecessary barriers and erodes the foundation of our belief that there is one God.

Not quite so contemporary music

Many of you will be familiar with the archaeological work done by Sir Leonard Woolley at Ur, Mesopotamia, in 1929. Among his findings were a lyre and pipes from the time of the patriarchs which were deposited in museums at Baghdad and Philadelphia. My understanding is that the lyre was partially damaged during the American invasion of Iraq.

This video is an interesting duet between the reconstructed lyre of Ur and some reconstructed silver pipes found in the same grave. It gives us an idea what the music of Ur may have sounded like 4500 years ago, in the time of Abraham.

The video was made to support the Lyre of Ur project at

Friday, October 12, 2007

Anonymous comments

I have decided that I will no longer allow anonymous comments to be posted on this blog.

If you have a really good comment to make and have a legitimate reason for not wanting your name made public, you can post a comment, follow it up immediately with an email to me telling me who you are (my email address is in my profile), and I will then consider whether or not to allow the anonymous comment to be posted.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

From the inside out

This is a great worship song by Joel Houston from the Hillsong team.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Yesterday three comments were submitted on my post about Queensland Madness which I felt deserved a post of their own rather than potentially get lost amongst the comments. As they were sent in quick succession I'm assuming that they're from the same reader.

Comment 1
why do we resign from our eccleias,why dont we speak to our ecclesias,before we cut off ourselves from them. If we are not happy with our ecclesia and will not talk to them about it, why not ask for a transfer when you have found an ecclesia you are happy with instead of leaving your brethren and sisters without an explanation.Probably because it makes good headlines.Paul did set out on a journey as do many of our brethren and sisters I am sure they dont resign before they do. If he did find find an ecclesia in corinth he would like to join he would write a letter to his ecclesia and ask for a transfer. The loving way to do things.
It seems to me that this writer has made some assumptions about the resignation which led to the letter which was the subject of my post. First, he's assumed (and I think wrongly) that a "resignation" is the same as to "cut off ourselves from them". I can think of several good reasons why someone might resign without intending to cut themself off from their former ecclesia. And perhaps this person already did talk with someone about it (I'm actually sure they did), and perhaps they did give an explanation. And perhaps they didn't "ask for a transfer" because at that stage they hadn't decided to where they wanted to transfer. But it's actually irrelevant because the point of my post was that the premise that "resignation from an Ecclesia is effectively resignation from the Brotherhood" is unChristadelphian and unScriptural.

But what I personally find most remarkable about this comment is that the writer has assumed that Paul must have read the Christadelphian Ecclesial Guide! Where in the Scriptures do we find any hint of ecclesias writing "transfer letters" for people who moved from one city or ecclesia to another? It's a modern practice which this reader has read back into the ancient texts.

Imagine this: Paul establishes an ecclesia in some city (and presumably arranges for a transfer letter from his old ecclesia so he can join the ecclesia he has just established). After spending some time with them and getting them on their feet he decides (or is moved by the Spirit) to move on. He travels to another city, preaches the Gospel, makes some converts and establishes a new ecclesia. He now has to write to the last ecclesia he established and get their permission to transfer to the new ecclesia he has just established so that he can stay there for a while. However, he will soon have to go through this whole process again (and again) as he is on a missionary journey and hopes to establish several more ecclesias. His biggest problem is that he can't resign from an ecclesia when he leaves a city, because that would mean he's no longer in the Body of Christ (because "Resignation from an Ecclesia is effectively resignation from the Brotherhood"), so he can't apply for a transfer until he has established a new ecclesia. But then he's faced with the new problem that he's a member of an ecclesia but not attending the meetings!

If the person making this comment could let me know which Scripture(s) he used to formulate this incredible idea I would love to see them.

Comment 2
dont hide behind a blogsite do something about it
If you look at the top right-hand corner of this blog you will see my name! I'm not hiding! However, I'm pretty sure "anonymous" is not your real name.

And by posting this information I think I AM doing something about it – exposing the madness in SE Queensland for what it is. What else do you think I should do?

Comment 3
yo talk about the NO ecclesia what about the PR ecclesia they need all the PR they can get.Its like political parties say one thing do another and get their PR departmrnt to fix it
I'm pretty sure this reader is referring to the Pine Rivers ecclesia, but I have no idea what point they are trying to make. What I do know is that Pine Rivers ecclesia is growing, dynamic, welcoming, encouraging and friendly. I've visited Pine Rivers ecclesia a few times and listened to people tell me what a wonderful place it has been to them, or how it has saved their family. I'm happy to give any ecclesia like that as much PR as I can!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

More Queensland madness

This past week I heard of yet another case of bullying and intimidation by a Queensland ecclesia. A brother who had resigned from an ecclesia in south-east Queensland was sent a threatening letter from the Arranging Brethren saying that "Resignation from an Ecclesia is effectively resignation from the Brotherhood".

Since when is membership of an ecclesia a prerequisite for membership in the Body of Christ? And since when did someone lose their place in the Body of Christ because they didn't belong to a local ecclesia? Does this mean all those Christadelphians who live "in isolation" and away from a local ecclesia are no longer in the brotherhood? Perhaps someone should tell the Isolation League that all the people on their isolation list are no longer in the Brotherhood, and by implication aren't bona fide Christadelphians.

This is relevant to my series on the Australian Unity Agreement (and why it failed), because it is precisely this kind of mentality which has been the most destructive influence in the Australian Christadelphian community.

I probably don't need to go into what 'membership' means in a Scriptural sense because most Australian Christadelphians would immediately recognise the sheer madness in the statement quoted from this letter. However, for the benefit of people who have to deal with this bullying on a regular basis I will briefly comment on the references in the New Testament to 'membership' of the body of Christ.

In Romans 12 Paul uses the analogy of a human body with its various parts to teach about how all the believers are connected to each other and form part of a single 'organism' he calls "the body of Christ". In verse 5 he says "in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others". The Greek word translated "member" is melos and literally means a limb or body-part. He uses the same analogy in Ephesians 3:6; 5:30 and Colossians 3:15 where he says we are "members together of one body" or of "His body". In 1 Corinthians 12:12 he draws out the analogy and says "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts (melos); and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." In verse 20 he says "there are many parts (melos), but one body" and then in verse 27 "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part (melos) of it". In 1 Corinthians 6:15 he says "your bodies are members of Christ himself".

So in all these places we have a metaphor where each individual believer is a 'part' or member of a worldwide 'body'. Paul says nothing about membership of local organisations. That parochial concept was developed later by the institutionalised church (which used 'membership' as a way of controlling believers and forcing their allegiance to the local bishop).

One does not leave the Body of Christ simply because they leave a local ecclesia.

The absurd idea that "resignation from an Ecclesia is effectively resignation from the Brotherhood" appears to stem from a fear that the so-called 'leaders' of the ecclesia will lose control if people are allowed to resign at will. If they argue that someone who has resigned from their area of control has resigned "from the Brotherhood" then their next step would be to say that the former-member is no longer "in fellowship". They can then use this threat to keep someone in line or else risk being "out of fellowship" with the wider brotherhood.

This bullying is so transparent I will be surprised if most people don't see through it.

50 years of the Australian Unity Agreement (14)

What is "fellowship"? (6)

In the last post in this series I started looking at two questions:
  1. What is it that "just happens" when believers gather together?
  2. How can we make fellowship "just happen", or what can we do to facilitate it?
I showed from Acts 2:42-47 that for the first Christians "breaking bread" meant meeting in each others homes for meals - ordinary, regular, daily meals - and that for them "fellowship" meant sharing their material possessions as well as sharing an allegiance to Jesus as their Lord. This sharing-fellowship was solidly grounded in the teachings of Jesus.

A little later in Acts we find further confirmation that what was really fundamental to the "fellowship" of the early church or ekklesia was that they shared their possessions:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
This passage has been misquoted, or only partially quoted, by those who say that the basis of unity is having "one mind" on doctrinal matters. They quote the words "all the believers were one in heart and mind" and argue that to be one "in mind" means to believe the same doctrines. Yet the words which immediately follow tell us clearly what the early believers understood by being one in heart and mind: "they shared everything they had". Those who argue for a doctrinal basis for unity will point to the next words ("the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus") and say that that is a doctrinal statement. Yet again they ignore what follows: "and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them". In other words, the resurrection inspired and empowered a graciousness among the believers which caused them to reach out to those in need and provide for them. The "apostles' doctrine" was about behaviour rather than dogma.

We encounter "breaking bread" on only two other occasions in the Acts, and then in Paul's letters we will see that it gets mentioned only in 1 Corinthians. The other New Testament writers don't mention it at all, with the possible exception of Jude's mention of the "love feasts" of the early church. It might seem strange that if Communion is such an important "sacrament" or "ordinance" that it hardly rates a mention in the New Testament.

So let's look first at the other mentions of "breaking bread" in the Acts, and then on to 1 Corinthians.

The second time a breaking of bread occurs in the Acts is in 20:7 where we read that "on the first day of the week we came together to break bread". This was in Troas and was the occasion when a young man, Eutychus, fell asleep in a window during a long sermon by Paul, falling to his death from the third story window. After Paul revived the young man "he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate" (v. 11). There is nothing here to tell us whether "to break bread" meant to have an ordinary meal or whether there was anything sacramental or eucharistic about it. In the absence of any further information we cannot draw any conclusions, one way or the other, from this incident.

The third and final mention of breaking bread in the Acts is in chapter 27. Here we read that Paul "took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat" (v. 35). The wording here is certainly reminiscent of the last supper, and is similar to Paul's own description of that occasion in 1 Corinthians 11:23 ("The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it ...").

These words are almost identical to the way Luke records the last supper: "he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them" (Luke 22:19) and an incident when Jesus broke bread with some disciples after His resurrection: "When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them" (24:30). In fact, Luke highlights that it was through this breaking of bread that these disciples recognised Jesus (v. 35) - no doubt because table-fellowship was such a central part of our Lord's ministry. Notice how each record has these words: (1) took bread (2) gave thanks (3) broke it and (4) gave it to them. The breaking of bread in Acts 27 followed the same form as the breaking of bread ritual recorded elsewhere.

What is really remarkable about the Acts 27 incident is that the same expression is used in Acts 2 and Acts 20 for gatherings and meals of the believers, yet in Acts 27 Luke is recording an incident when Paul "broke bread" with his unbelieving fellow-survivors of a ship wreck. We should carefully note that Paul "broke bread" with people who were strangers to him, "sinners" and non-Jews alike. The basis of their fellowship was that they had been through a common experience and been saved (from shipwreck). They were invited to the Lord's table in celebration. Perhaps we need to re-think what it is we celebrate by "breaking bread", and with whom.

From the Acts 27 incident we can be certain that "breaking bread" was not some mystical experience reserved as a "sacrament" for believers, not was it restricted to those "in fellowship" because they believed in "the apostles' doctrine".

The other thing we can be certain about is that in Acts 2 and Acts 27 "breaking bread" meant having a meal, not just a morsel of bread torn from a loaf. In Acts 27 for example we read that Paul said "for the last fourteen days, you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food" and they therefore should eat, and then after he "broke bread" they ate "as much as they wanted" (vv. 37-38). As far as I can see there is absolutely no Biblical basis for the later practice of celebrating "the breaking of bread" with a tiny piece of bread and a sip of wine.

This brings us to the references in 1 Corinthians to breaking bread. In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 Paul refers to the unleavened bread used at the Passover Festival: "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth." There is a hint here that the early Christians may have kept the Passover as an annual festival, celebrating our deliverance by Christ*. There is nothing in the context of these verses which suggests Paul was thinking of a weekly "Festival". The Feasts, or Festivals, of Israel (including Passover) were annual events and there is no other mention of the weekly gatherings of believers as "Festivals". Some Christadelphians quote this passage as the reason why unleavened bread should be used for the Breaking of Bread meeting, but there is no evidence that Paul had weekly meetings of believers in mind or that he was thinking of anything other than the annual Passover Festival. However, what is interesting (to me) is that the Passover Festival which Paul referred to was a meal, not just a piece of bread.

The second mention of bread in 1 Corinthians is in 10:16-17 where Paul writes "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." This passage connects to the early reference to Passover, as "the cup of thanksgiving" was one of four cups of wine consumed during the Passover meal. Paul later says this was the cup "after supper" (11:25). The Passover meal began with a prayer recited over bread, and ended with a prayer said over wine. Between this "grace before meals" and the "grace after meals" was the meal. By taking the bread and wine only, and omitting the meal, is to miss the whole point that this was meant to be a meal and not just a small piece of bread and a sip of wine. In fact, Passover was no ordinary meal - it was a celebration, and the four cups of wine emphasised the celebratory nature of this meal.

This mention of bread and wine in chapter 10 almost certainly was referring back to the previous mention of the Passover and therefore was probably referring to the church's annual celebration of Passover. There is nothing here to suggest that it was a weekly gathering. In any case, there is nothing to suggest that the elements of bread and wine were separated from a meal.

The last mention of breaking bread in 1 Corinthians is in Paul's account of the last supper and forms part of his rebuke of the Corinthian practice of treating poorer brethren contemptibly. He begins by saying "I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good" (11:7) and refers specifically to a very divisive practice: "for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk." I dealt with this in an earlier post in a series on the Lord's table, but I'll repeat it here for convenience.

In the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) world it was common among the wealthy for meals with invited guests to be in two stages: the main meal was eaten first, followed by a "symposium" which consisted of desserts and drinks, accompanied by speeches and discussion. Some guests would be invited for the first stage, and further guests would be invited to the symposium. (There is also some evidence that on some ocasions the symposium was 'open' for anyone who was not invited but who wished to listen to the speeches and discussion to stand around the outside, although not joining in the desserts and drinks).

The main problem in Corinth arose out of tensions between the rich and poor. For the first few centuries of Christianity meetings were held in homes and not in church buildings. The size of meetings was dictated by the size of the largest home. Obviously meetings would therefore usually be in the homes of the wealthiest members. This seems to have been the case in Corinth. While we don't know exactly what was going wrong in Corinth, we do know that a distinction was being made between rich and poor. There are two main possibilities:
  1. The rich were arriving early (perhaps while the poor were still working) and enjoying a large meal together with fine food. The poor would arrive later with their own scanty food (possibly for the 'symposium'). The bread and wine of the Lord's Supper were brought together and taken at the end of the meal (rather than the bread at the beginning and the wine at the end, with the meal in between, as it happened at the last supper).
  2. The rich and poor were eating at the same time, but bringing their own food - the rich eating and drinking well, with meat and delicacies, and the poor with scanty food, perhaps only bread. Although the rich opened their houses to the poor they did so in a way which emphasised the social divisions. There was over-indulgence on the part of the rich, and feelings of envy on the part of the poor.
The Corinthian practice meant that the meal had lost its character as the Lord's supper (11:20). Paul's response was to instruct the church to welcome one another graciously ("wait for each other" v. 33), and to share their food so that nobody felt disadvantaged. There was no suggestion that they should stop eating together at all. In fact, the meal was so central to the Lord's Supper that Jude refers to the meetings of the church as "love feasts" (v. 12).

This passage highlights once again that "the apostles' doctrine" was about sharing material possessions. The wealthy Corinthians are rebuked for their practice of ignoring the needs of the poor and not sharing their food with them, and are encouraged to follow the Lord's example. What is very clear from this is that the "breaking of bread" in Corinth was a meal, and not the kind of ritual that would be celebrated these days in a Christadelphian Breaking of Bread meeting or in the Communion services of most denominations. At some point in church history the elements of bread and wine were separated from this shared meal and "sacramentalised" and rules were put in place for the "administration" of the sacrament by priests.

Perhaps it's time for a re-think and a return to the earliest practices of the believers.

* There is some evidence that the early Christians continued to celebrate the Jewish Passover on the same date observed by the Jewish people. This changed when the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. adopted the name Easter as representing the events of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection and by observing Easter on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The Palestinian historian Epiphanius (315 A.D. - 403 A.D.) says that the 15 Jewish Christian bishops who administered the Jerusalem Church until 135 A.D. observed Passover on Nisan 14. In The Apostolic Constitutions, an early Christian document, the following rule is laid out: "You shall not change the calculation of the time, but you shall celebrate it at the same time as your brethren who came out of the circumcision (the Jews). With them observe the Passover."