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.