Thursday, January 24, 2008

What's in a name?

This week I came across a Christadelphian meeting place quite by chance as I was driving along a road I have not been on for quite some time. It wasn't the building which caught my attention. In fact, the building was stark and uninviting and I initially thought it was an industrial site. However, the sign caught my eye.

I guess I was initially somewhat surprised to see a Christadelphian meeting place described as a "Bible Learning Centre", as I haven't come across this before. It got me to thinking about how this name was obviously chosen because that is the main emphasis of this ecclesia - in other words, what mostly goes on here is learning about the Bible.

Interestingly, I also recently visited an ecclesia which has a very different sign. This meeting describes itself as the "Pine Rivers Worship Centre". This tells me that the main focus of this ecclesia is worship.

Do the different names tell us anything about any possible differences between these two ecclesias? I think so. I must say that I have actually visited one (the "worship centre") but not the other, so what I'm writing here is mostly just my impression from the sign.

Apart from the fact that the "War with Russia is Inevitable" sign is a dead giveaway (to a Christadelphian) that this is a Logos ecclesia (does any other kind of ecclesia flog this prophetic dead horse?), the emphasis on "Bible learning" tells me that for this ecclesia knowledge about the Bible would be the most important thing to them. On the other hand, to the folks at the "worship centre" how they worship the God of the Bible is presumably the most important thing to them.

The two signs tell me that one ecclesia is interested in matters of the head ("learning") while the other is more focussed on matters of the heart (as worship involves the emotions as well as the intellect). One ecclesia would emphasise getting their facts right, while the other would want to be in a right relationship with the One they worship. The first might help me to know about God, but the second might help me to actually get to know God. If I was looking for salvation I might get the impression from one sign that there was stuff I had to know (and with "learning" and "seminars" I might wonder about whether I would have to sit for an exam), while the other sign suggests that I'm likely to find a nurturing environment ("caring and sharing") with more group support and the potential for friendships and relationships.*

One sign tells us that war is inevitable (and to most people this is a bad thing, although the sign leaves us wondering if the people who run the seminars here think this is good or bad) while the other sign tells us that they are about "caring and sharing". One promises death and destruction, the other offers hope.

One sign tells me that the Bible contains unpleasant information (war is inevitable) while the other sign tells me that there are people who care about me (and my kids). The people at the worship centre have obviously found something which they think is good, which is why they want to worship the One who has shown them "the way, the truth and the life", and why they want to share it with me. I'm not sure why the other folks are telling me that a war is coming. Are they trying to help me avoid it (but can I avoid it if it's "inevitable"?) or are they prophets of gloom and doom? I wonder if they have long beards and wear signboards like the guys in the cartoons ("The end is nigh!")?

Neither of the two signs use many words, but in their choice of words they tell us a great deal about the different groups that meet there.

* Because I do know about Logos ecclesias - and was actually raised in one, so I know a great deal about them - I know that this ecclesia would believe that you must have all the right beliefs, down to the details, in order to be saved. Correct knowledge is a life and death matter to them, so if you get the slightest thing wrong then you would be unwelcome there.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Yours is the kingdom of God

I recently came across this great quote from a book by Catholic theologian Albert Nolan.

Jesus Before Christianity
by Albert Nolan, pages 57-58, 1992

The gospel or good news which Jesus brought to the poor and the oppressed was a prophecy. He prophesied a future event which would be a blessing to the poor. This event was not merely the coming of God’s “kingdom” but the coming of God’s “kingdom” for the poor and the oppressed. “Yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk 6:20).

Jesus’ basic prophecy is contained in those passages of the gospel which we call the beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor
because yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now
because you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now
because you shall laugh. (Lk 6:20-21)

… If great hopes for the future were awakened in the poor by Jesus’ activity, even greater hopes must have been awakened by his prophetic words. But these hopes had originally nothing whatsoever to do with heaven - at least not as a place of happiness and rewards in the after-life. Heaven in the time of Jesus was a synonym for God. The “kingdom” of heaven means the “kingdom” of God. Having rewards or treasures in heaven means being in the good books of God. Literally heaven was the sky, the place where God and all other spirits dwell. All dead people go into sheol, i.e., the underworld or the grave. Even those who believed in rewards and punishments in the after-life (before the general resurrection) pictured this as something that happened in two different departments of sheol. The virtuous were in the bosom of Abraham in sheol, and a great chasm separated them from the wicked, who were in another part of sheol (compare Lk 16:23-26). The Christian belief in heaven originated after the death of Jesus with the idea that he had been taken up into heaven or exalted to the right hand of God.

But the good news of the “kingdom” of God was news about a future state of affairs on earth when the poor would no longer be poor, the hungry would be satisfied and the oppressed would no longer be miserable. To say “Thy kingdom come” is the same as saying “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10 par).

Christadelphians will agree with this Catholic theologian that the kingdom of God will be on earth, and not in heaven after death. But before getting too excited that you have the agreement of a Catholic scholar, take careful note of his main point.

The really great part of this quote, in my opinion, is that Nolan has picked up that Jesus did not come simply to say "the Kingdom of God is coming", but rather "the Kingdom of God is coming for the poor, the oppressed, the rejected, the mistreated, the disenfranchised, and those who don't measure-up to the standards imposed by the religious".

I think Christadelphians have got the Gospel half right: the Kingdom of God is coming. But for whom?

Weeping and gnashing of teeth

The expression "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" is a puzzling one, and one which has engendered fear into generations of believers. It's an image associated with being "cast into outer darkness" and rejection. It's a favourite of "hell-fire and brimstone" preachers, and one which is often quoted in order to bring people into line.

So, what is “gnashing of teeth?” The Greek word that is translated as “gnashing” is from a word that means “to bite” and describes the snarling of a wild animal as it attacks. In all of the passages where the Greek terms for gnash or gnashing are used in the New Testament or in the Septuagint they are always used of anger, rage, pain or anguish. They are never used of sorrow, grief, remorse or regret.

The expression "weeping and gnashing of teeth" occurs only seven times in the Bible: six are found in the gospel of Matthew, one in Luke.

"I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 8:11-12).

"The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 13:41-42).

"This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 13:49-50).

"'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" (Matthew 22:12-13).

"The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 24:50-51).

"For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:29-30).

"But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out." (Luke 13:27-28).

A similar reference to gnashing of teeth occurs in Acts:

When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth (Acts 7:54).

This is the only passage in the New Testament where the term "gnash" (verb) is used apart from the common formula, "weeping (noun) and gnashing of teeth." It is a significant passage because it sheds light on the meaning of the associated term "gnashing of teeth." This verse describes an incident where the religious leaders were furious with Stephen. They were full of anger and hatred which very soon led to their violent crime of stoning him. To "gnash the teeth" as it is used in this passage has nothing to do with sorrow or regret or grief or remorse. It describes their anger and hatred. They were like angry growling animals about to devour their prey.

Who is it that is being "cast into outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" in Jesus' parables? On two occasions Jesus spoke about the "sons of the kingdom", or citizens of the Kingdom (the NIV has "subjects of the kingdom"). One of these was an occasion when He spoke of "weeping and gnashing of teeth".

The background to this saying was an encounter with a Roman centurion - someone outside of God's chosen people Israel - and Jesus said of him " I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." He then went on to say that while many would come from outside and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom, the "children/sons/subjects of the kingdom" would be cast into outer darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It's evident that He is saying outsiders (such as this Roman centurion) would be welcomed into the kingdom while those who thought the kingdom was their "right" would be rejected. But when we look at some of the other similar sayings we see that it was not all Israel who would be cast out, but a particular class within Israel.

It was not only "Gentiles" who were "outsiders". The Pharisees and religious leaders also excluded people with disabilities (the blind, the crippled, the deaf), those with infectious diseases such as leprosy, people who colluded with the Romans (such as tax-collectors), people who didn't measure up to their standards of holiness or who rejected some of their doctrines (the term "sinners" included people who disagreed with them as well as those who were guilty of breaking the Law) as well as Samaritans and Gentiles. In fact, they took the name "Pharisees" because it meant "the separated" - they were "pure in doctrine and conduct", or so they thought.

Consequently many of Jesus' sayings and stories were directed against this elite class within Israel: the religious leaders, the pure, the separated, those who felt that they alone were the "true Israel". For example, after Jesus told the parable of the talents Mark and Luke tell us that "the teachers of the law and the chief priests ... knew he had spoken this parable against them" (Mk 12:12; Lk 20:19).

In these sayings Jesus is saying that it was those who were regarded by the religious leaders as being "outsiders", those whom they rejected, that are to be made welcome in the Kingdom. On the other hand, the "insiders", the doctrinally pure, those who have separated themselves from the ones who don't measure up doctrinally or in their behaviour, are to be "cast out". As a result of being rejected there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth". This is not a weeping of remorse or sorrow, but of anger and resentment.

Something you've hopefully already noticed from reading earlier posts on this blog is that when Jesus told stories or parables about the kingdom He wasn't always speaking of some future time in the Age to Come. Most of Jesus' kingdom-sayings were about the here-and-now, and how kingdom-people should prepare for the Age to Come. Of course, some of His stories were about the future, such as the one in the list below where He said "this is how it will be at the end of the age." The context will determine whether Jesus is speaking about the hear-and-now or the age to come.

So it is that the religious purists who will be rejected "at the end of the age" will go away angrily "gnashing their teeth" with rage because that is how they behave now. In Stephen's day they directed their anger and rage against this faithful follower of Jesus (and his Greek name suggests that he was a Gentile, an "outsider"). Throughout history we have seen "religious" people directing their anger against other believers who don't measure up to the standards imposed by the purists. The same is evident today.

Putting this together, we see that the idea behind this expression is that those who are apart from God attack each other and try to tear each other, much like a pack of dogs fighting over a carcass. Without love there is just hatred and envy. Those who do not live by Jesus' teachings on love and grace bite and tear each other. Those who live according to God’s way help others, rather than tearing them down. In these stories of Jesus we are being told that the time will come when they will be left to themselves to tear each other apart. We don't have to wait until "the end of the age" to see this principle fulfilled. Communities, denominations and churches which splinter and divide do so because they are obsessed with their own standards of doctrinal purity or so-called holiness rather than reaching out in love to those who are in need of God's kingdom, and in the process they tear each other apart.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Do Christadelphians enjoy schism?

It's nothing new to most readers of my blog that Christadelphians are a deeply divided community, and have been since 1885, and possibly earlier. I've lost count of the various "fellowships" and splinter groups.

However, I was surprised to see that the article about Christadelphians on Wikipedia currently has more to say about "schisms" within Christadelphianism than it says about Christadelphian beliefs! (I say "currently" because wikipedia is a dynamic information site and everything could change by the time I finish writing this post).

The information appears to me to have been posted by a Christadelphian. It makes me wonder why some Christadelphians seem to take so much delight in the fact that it is a divided, troubled, conflict-riddled, argumentative community which has not only set itself against the world but against each other.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Pakistan is a nation in turmoil. Since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto there has been a great deal of uncertainty about political stability in Pakistan. Understandably, our brothers and sisters there are very concerned about the future. They are reporting that because of the destruction of infrastructure the power supply is very intermittent and some areas are going for long periods without power or gas. Communication has also consequently been disrupted. Food and essential commodities have escalated in price, with some basic items such as flour and milk increasing by 50-70%.

Pakistan has been one of the fastest growing areas of the Christadelphian brotherhood in recent years. Since 2002 there have been more than 800 baptisms and the spread of the Gospel in this nation of 170 million people has been phenomenal. To aid and support this amazing activity of God, especially during this time of crisis, we are asking for your prayers.

For each day during the week commencing 13 January 2008 we are asking for Christadelphians worldwide to unite in their prayers for Pakistan .

Each day will have a ‘theme’ to help you focus your praying.

To facilitate this, each day during the prayer week an email will be sent to supporters and friends with some relevant background information and suggestions for thanksgiving and prayer requests, so that worldwide we will praying along similar lines each day. The same email will be posted on their blog (see link in the right side panel).

If you are not already on the email list to receive updates, please let us know and each day during this week we will email you so that you can join in this fellowship of praying together.

A hard copy of these prayer suggestions for the full week can be posted to any brother or sister who would like to join us in the prayer-week but who cannot access email or the internet.

Please feel free to forward this message to any brothers and sisters who you feel would welcome the opportunity to partner with us in prayer for a full week for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan .

To be added to the email list for prayer suggestions and updates send an email with the word 'Subscribe' as the subject to

Monday, January 07, 2008


Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister of Pakistan, has been assassinated while campaigning for elections that were scheduled for 8 January. After returning to Pakistan in October 2007 Bhutto was hoping that her party, the PPP, would emerge as the dominant force in the elections, the first to be held since President Musharraf resigned as head of the army and became a civilian leader. Late last year, Ms Bhutto and Mr Musharraf had been working on a power-sharing agreement. The talks failed, leaving Ms Bhutto as the biggest political threat to President Musharraf, rather than an ally. Her death could leave a political vacuum.

There is now a great deal of uncertainty about political stability in Pakistan. Understandably, Christadelphians in Pakistan are very concerned about the future. One brother in Karachi contacted me to say: "When the news broken there were protests everywhere in the country, banks, vehicles and the official properties including police stations being set on fire ... traffic and cell services became jammed ... 7 people from the apartment where I'm living could not reach their homes for 4 hours after the incidents".

On Friday last, five Christians were kidnapped in South Waziristan by unidentified men. The victims were en route from Wana to Dera Ismail Khan when they were abducted from the Wana-Tank Road. The political administration has confirmed the kidnapping, and said all resources were being utilised to secure the release of the abducted people.

In the latest news it has been reported that thousands of Pakistanis have fled into Afghanistan with the security situation deteriorating in Pakistan's tribal regions over the past week. Hundreds of families, comprising some 6,000 mainly women and children, have been crossing the border. It is the first time so many people have crossed this way as for years it was Afghans fleeing fighting.

The New York Times has also reported that US Security advisers are discussing whether to conduct far more aggressive covert operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan in response to intelligence reports that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are intensifying efforts to destabilise the Pakistani Government.

For now Christadelphians in Pakistan have reported that they are safe from the turmoil following Bhutto's assassination, but they would value your prayers.

For regular updates about Pakistan Christadelphians visit their blog or email