Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Holy Spirit in Christadelphian theology

During some recent correspondence I was reminded yet again that the Christadelphian understanding of the Holy Spirit is 'unclear' to say the least and the subject is often deliberately avoided.

As far as Christadelphian anti-trinitarianism goes, there is no doubt about the Christadelphian position. The Holy Spirit is the power of God, not the third person of the Trinity. If asked to explain the Christadelphian theology of the Holy Spirit most Christadelphians would have no difficulty in explaining what the Holy Spirit is not - and would be acquainted well enough with sufficient texts to demonstrate that it is the power of God.

The difficulty for many Christadelphians is that their theology (or more precisely their pneumatology) has never been sufficiently developed to explain how this 'power of God' works today in the lives of individual believers, and some Christadelphians have complained over the years that their community does not provide good resources for understanding the subject.

In fact, controversies about the subject (especially in the 1960s and 1970s) led to division (especially in Australia where ecclesias were divided into two groups which were 'out of fellowship' with each other for many years while both groups claimed to be in the 'Central fellowship'). For fear of the consequences many people simply didn't discuss their views on the subject and almost an entire generation grew up with a poor understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit today.

It is sometimes claimed that Christadelphians believe the Holy Spirit is not active today in the life of the believer, that the gifts have ceased, and that there is no such thing as the 'indwelling' of the Holy Spirit beyond having an intellectual understanding of the Bible (and some Christadelphian groups have equated the Spirit of God with the Word of God - by which they mean the Bible - to such an extent that they refer to the Spirit-Word and read almost every reference to the Spirit to mean the Bible).

However, none of these propositions are stated in the Birmingham Statements of Faith (either amended or unamended). To the contrary, the Birmingham Statements of Faith positively affirm that an indwelling of the Holy Spirit is required in order for God to be manifest in believers.

What the BSF actually says about the subject is this:

1. That the only true God is He Who was revealed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, by angelic visitation and vision, and to Moses at the flaming bush (unconsumed) and at Sinai, and Who manifested Himself in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the supreme self-existent Deity ...

2. That Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, begotten of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, without the intervention of man, and afterwards anointed with the same Spirit, without measure, at his baptism.

10. That being so begotten of God, and inhabited and used by God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was Emmanuel, God with us, God manifested in the flesh - yet was, during his natural life, of like nature with mortal man, being made of a woman of the house and lineage of David, and therefore a sufferer, in the days of his flesh, from all the effects that came by Adam's transgression including the death that passed upon all man, which he shared by partaking of their physical nature.

What these statements clearly say is that God was manifested in the flesh by Jesus :

1. being begotten of God
2. being inhabited and used by God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit

If Jesus is our example/model, the "firstborn among many brethren", then it follows that there is only one way we can manifest the Father, viz. by being:

1. born again, born of water and Spirit, so that we become childen of God
2. inhabited and used by God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

It amazes me that so many Christadelphians seem to have missed what is so clearly spelled out in their own statements of faith.

A proper study of the Holy Spirit and its role in the lives of believers is well overdue. Some progress was made in this direction with the short work published by "The Christadelphian Office" (The Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association) entitled "The Holy Spirit and the Believer Today" (A.D. Norris, 1975) This work has apparently been out of print for some time and may even be an embarrassment to the current editor who seems to have a different view on the subject and may be reluctant to admit that Christadelphian doctrine (at least the way it's explained by the CMPA) appears to have changed on this point. Edgar Wille's excellent studies "The Holy Spirit - an exploratory survey of Scripture teaching" (first published 1975, reprinted 2000) is undoubtedly the best work on this subject to be published in the Christadelphian community and deserves to be given careful consideration.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Buried treasure

There are a few sayings, parables and stories by Jesus about buried or hidden treasure. One of them is about how someone finds something of great value and sells all that he has in order to acquire the land with the hidden treasure. It's a message about giving up everything in order to take hold of the treasure of the Gospel.

But there are two intriguing stories about a man who is given something of value and then buries it.

The two stories are similar and some scholars have argued that they are simply two different accounts of the same story, remembered differently by the Gospel-writers. In my opinion they are two similar yet different stories, spoken around the same time but with slightly different details and possibly a slightly different message.

Matthew tells the story of the 'parable of the talents' (25:14-30) as a parable about the kingdom of heaven; and Luke has a similar 'parable of the pounds [or, minas]' (19:11-27) "because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately" (v. 11).

In both stories a man travels into a far country, and before going he divides some money amongst his servants (in Luke's story they each receive one mina, and in Matthew's they receive a varying number of 'talents'). When he returns he calls them all to account to see how they have done. He commends the servants who have traded or invested well, and condemns one servant who did nothing with the mina or talent he was given. In Luke's story the last servant to give account says he hid the money wrapped in a handkerchief, while in Matthew's story the last servant reports how he buried it in the ground.

Both stories end with the owner of the money reprimanding the 'lazy' servant and telling him he ought to have at least put the money in the bank so he could have gained some interest.

The point of both stories is fairly obvious - we ought to put the talents, resources and opportunities we have been given to good use so that they produce something worthwhile for our Master. In both stories the master shows that he is delighted by a ten-fold increase, or even a doubling of what he has given on trust, but that he is extremely annoyed to simply receive back what he has entrusted. In Matthew's story the 'lazy' servant argues that he has kept 'safe' what he has been given. Both stories have this servant saying "I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed [Matt and Lk], and collecting what you did not deposit [Lk]".

There are two important things to note here.

1. First we should note the attitude of the various servants to their master;

2. Then we should note the attitude of the 'lazy' [Matt] or 'wicked' [Lk] servant to what was entrusted to him.

The lazy servant says "I knew you to be a hard man ..." John Wesley, in his Notes on the New Testament, observes that "he never knew Christ who thinks him to be a hard master". This is a valuable observation. The servant who said "I knew you ..." was the servant who didn't know his master at all. On the other hand, the other servants put to good use what had been entrusted to them and produced outstanding results. In one story they double their money, while in the other they increase it 5 or 10 times! These servants didn't produce such a good return on their investment by good luck. They too had observed their master over the years, noted how he'd produced amazing results (apparently "reaping where he had not sowed"), and no doubt they had used some of the same manners and methods they'd observed in their successful and prosperous master. They were ultimately successful because they had imitated their master.

The lazy servant didn't know his master, nor did he know what was in his hand. Rather than see its potential to achieve some wonderful results he saw it as an onerous responsibility, a burden to be carried. Rather than see it as life-giving (when the master said he wanted to see his money back "with interest" the Greek literally means "with children") he saw it as something to be "wrapped up" and "buried". He mummified it!

What are we doing with whatever it is God has entrusted to us? Do we see them as talents, resources and opportunities which can produce amazing and outstanding results if only we imitate our Master's manners and methods? Or do we see it as something to be "preserved" and then handed back "intact" when we are called to account.

I often hear brethren speak of "preserving the Truth" as though all we have to do is to make sure nothing ever changes. These brethren often fight hard to make sure that creeds, dogmas, statements of faith, and other expressions of "the faith" are preserved "intact" and that any challenge to them is resisted and put down. I hear people, especially in the minority 'splinter' groups, boast that they are the closest things to "original Christadelphians" and that nothing with them has changed in 140 years. If this is what God wants then He doesn't really need anyone to help - He can bury it in the sands (like the Dead Sea scrolls) and preserve it for as long as He wants.

But God hasn't called us to "preserve" the truth - He has called us to put it out there so that it can produce children! He has called us to exercise faith, to take risks, to look for challenges and opportunities. If the master in these stories wanted to take the "safe" way, then he would have put his money in the bank. But instead, he put it in the hands of men who really knew him and would follow his example. In my experience it is often the people who think they know the most about Christ are the ones who know Him the least. Like the lazy/wicked servant they think they know Him, but their failure to follow His example, to use His methods and to have a heart for the things and for the people for which he has a heart, they demonstrate that they never knew Him at all.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Recent News

I've just added a new feature to the sidepanel of this blog. Current and recent Christian News will now be updated regularly and by clicking on any of the links you will be taken to the full news story. This feature is provided by the Ekklesia news service.

I've also paused for a short time with my series on the sermon on the mount. First there were the holidays and we took a couple weeks off for a much-needed break, and since I've been back I've been writing some articles about the devil and Satan. Some of this is appearing on Truth Alive under the Satan discussion thread. A complete set of notes will be available later for anyone who is interested.

What I'm attempting to do with this series of articles is to look at every reference in the Bible to the terms "devil", "Satan", "evil one", "tempter" etc. and analyse whether they tell us anything about the identity of the devil or Satan, whether it/he is internal or external, and whether the reference substantiates (or not) the Christadelphian view that the terms devil and Satan refer to sinful human nature.

Hopefully I'll be able to complete that series of articles soon and get back into my series here on Doctrine and Conduct.

Don't forget, you can always email me directly using the email address in my profile if you want to make a comment, ask a question, or discuss anything with me.