Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A response to "Gossip: a case study"

I received a funny anonymous comment to my earlier post on this subject. It said:

"You speak and act like someone who is not a member of the Christadelphian Community, so is it any wonder that people make up these stories?

What I found really funny was the Freudian slip: "... is it any wonder that people make up these stories?"

Yes, that's what I've been suggesting: most of the gossip and rumours are made-up stories without a measure of truth in them. So why do people prefer the made-up stories in preference to the facts? I think the Bible has something to say about people with "itching ears" who prefer stories to the truth.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gossip: a case study

In a recent message I wrote about the dangers of gossip and the way the internet has enabled gossip to travel faster and further than before and to be more easily 'manipulated'. In this message I want to give an actual example of how this can happen in the Christadelphian community.

Some time ago I became aware of an allegation that I had "withdrawn fellowship" from Christadelphians. Anyone who has read any of my messages on this blog about "withdrawing fellowship" or who knows me personally would know that the allegation is clearly nonsense.

I came across a "quotation" on a website which claimed to be something I had written. It was allegedly from a letter I had written when "withdrawing fellowship" from Christadelphians. I contacted its author (let's call him 'Ken'). I asked him to remove the statement as it was untrue. He refused, on the basis that he had received the information from "a reliable source" and it was claimed that the quotation was "unedited" and was my "own words".

I tried to track the untrue rumour to its source. This is what I uncovered. (By the way, I have changed the names of the people involved to hide their identities.)

1. 'Ken' obtained his information from 'Kathy', a "reliable source" of information and someone he obviously trusted. He has never personally seen the letter from which he quoted although he insisted that the quotation he put on a website was "unedited". Even though he had never even seen the entire 'letter' or seen the "quotation" in its context he was still confident that he knew what it meant. Even though I was allegedly the author of the unseen document he wouldn't believe anything I had to say about it.

2. I contacted 'Kathy'. She told me that she had seen a letter I had written to an ecclesia saying that I had 'withdrawn' from Christadelphians, and that this had come from a sister we both know ('Betty'). I immediately contacted Betty. She told me that she had never discussed the matter with Kathy, and had no knowledge of such a letter.

2. When I confronted Kathy with this information she changed her story. She said that she didn't get it 'directly' from Betty but from 'some brethren' to whom Betty had allegedly sent the letter. So that removes Kathy one more step from the alleged 'source' of the story.

3. After my enquiry Kathy contacted Betty again, wanting to get a copy of the letter she had allegedly sent to some unnamed brethren. Betty told her again that she had never seen the letter, didn't even know if it existed, and could therefore not have shown it or passed it on to anyone.

4. I told Kathy that I hadn't written a letter to any ecclesia resigning or withdrawing from Christadelphians. Kathy may have checked with the ecclesia who supposedly received this letter (I don't know) but she subsequently changed her story (again) to say that perhaps I hadn't sent a letter. So now she changed her story to say it may have been a different form of communication (although she really didn't know and had no evidence of any other communication) and perhaps this 'communication' had been sent to someone else and not the ecclesia she claimed. In other words, it was evident that the letter didn't exist, but she still wanted it to be true! From the change in her story it was obvious that she really had no detailed information whatsoever and was simply passing on some gossip she had heard but hadn't checked but wanted to be true (or she may have fabricated the whole thing - a sad and frightening possibility).

5. So the story went from me writing a letter (which Kathy claimed to have seen) to a named ecclesia resigning or withdrawing from them and Christadelphians in general, to some other form of communication (but Kathy couldn't say what or how) to someone else (but Kathy didn't know who).

6. Instead of having 'first hand' knowledge of this Kathy has now admitted that her information came from 'some brethren' (unnamed) who allegedly received it from Betty, who apparently or allegedly obtained it from someone else (but Kathy is not sure who), even though Betty denies this. That means the information was at least third hand by the time it reached Kathy, and she has no idea where it originated or how many hands it might have passed through before arriving in its final form.

7. Despite being presented with this Ken has refused to remove the "quotation" from the website. He still believes that his "unedited" quotation from Kathy was accurate.

Ken still insists that his 'quotation' is "unedited" and in my "own words" even though he has never actually seen the letter from which it allegedly came, his 'reliable source' of information (Kathy) has never seen the letter either (and now admits it may not exist), she won't say where she got the "quotation", and the person from whom Kathy's unnamed source allegedly obtained it (Betty) has never seen or even heard of it.

NO ONE has actually seen anything from me on the subject, and no one knows where the 'quotation' originated, or in what form, or in what context, or by whom, or if the source was trustworthy!

Yet Ken and Kathy obviously don't want the facts to stand in the way of a good story, and so they will keep telling it! Heaven help us.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Restoration Fellowship meeting on May 10

Those of you in the Brisbane area may be interested in getting along to the next Restoration Fellowship meeting on Saturday May 10 at:

Christian Faith Church
12 Thorn St, Ormiston

I will be speaking at 9.30 am on the subject:

"There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth - Jesus' teaching on the fate of the rejected".

Registration is at 9.00am and the day concludes at 3.00pm

Click here for an information brochure.

Weak men being bullied off the platform (poll results)

Thank you to the 104 people who voted in the poll. I'm not at all surprised that the overwhelming majority (98) voted "no" i.e. they haven't been "bullied off the platform" by women. However, I was surprised that were as many as 5 people who said they had been bullied off the platform, and one who said "maybe". No one who voted "yes" emailed me to tell their story, so we actually have no information at all as to the circumstances.

I did, however, receive a response from Jonathan Burke, the Christadelphian who triggered this poll by making comments on a Christadelphian forum which was discussing whether Christadelphian women should be permitted to speak at Christadelphian meetings.

I quoted two of his comments earlier:
"When you have women actively competing for time on the platform, you're going to end up with conflict. No two ways about it. It's easy to see what happens. Weak men are bullied off the platform, or only permitted to speak when the women permit them to."

"Man bullying by women has become an increasingly popular pastime in the churches, and it's unfortunate that it's creeping into the ecclesia."
Jonathan responded with the following clarification (these are just extracts from a longer communication, but I believe the sense is unaltered):
"... you didn't quote any statements from me saying that Christadephian brethren are being bullied off the platform. I said that bullying of men is happening in Christadelphian ecclesias, but I said nothing about Christadelphian brethren being bullied off the platform."
Well, apparently I made a wrong assumption when I thought a comment about men being "bullied off the platform" in a discussion about whether Christadelphian women should be on Christadelphian platforms was actually about something happening in Christadelphian meetings. Apparently Jonathan was thinking about situations in non-Christadelphian churches.
I was making a general statement, not confining this to any particular denomination, and not talking about any current situation.

So no, I wasn't implying that non-Christadelphian men are on the (Christadelphian), platform. I was saying that when women are actively competing with men for the platform, then you are going to end up with conflict, and when that happens weak men are bullied off the platform or only permitted to speak when the women permit them to. It's a standard, general, conditional statement.
He went on to tell me about his own experience in "a standard evangelical church" which he attended "twice a week, Sunday and Wednesday, for 2-5 hours a time, every week, for over 6 months" in which there was a "power struggle" which resulted in women taking over the church.

So to be fair to Jonathan Burke it's important that I clarify that he does NOT believe that Christadelphian men are being bullied off Christadelphian platforms by Christadelphian women. However, from his experience in "a standard evangelical church" (whatever that means) he obviously believes that there is the potential for this to happen in Christadelphian meetings and I guess he's encouraging vigilance against this kind of thing happening.

That makes it even more surprising that 5 or 6 people who voted in my poll felt that they had been "bullied off the platform" (assuming that the people who voted were genuinely Christadelphian men who genuinely felt that they had been bullied off the platform. This is an open site so anyone could have voted). Seeing the question was asking about "weak men" who had been bullied off the platform I am actually even more surprised that anyone would admit to being in that category.

I think we can confidently say that in reality there is no evidence of this sort of thing happening in the Christadelphian community (and Jonathan Burke isn't suggesting that there is), and despite the fears of some people that it could happen down the track there is no indication at this time that it will. Jonathan pointed out that one person who left a comment on my message is:
"under the strange impression that sisters are never allowed to speak on or off the platform in the Christadelphian community, whereas you and I both know that's not true and that there are ecclesias in Australia where sisters speak from the platform regularly (the fact that this is uncommon and unrepresentative of our community doesn't change the fact that it happens)."
And not just in Australia.

I have removed the poll results from the side panel, so here it is for those people who may have missed it.
If you are a Christadelphian man and a Speaker, have you ever been "bullied off the platform" by a woman?

Yes: 5 (4%)
No: 98 (94%)
Maybe: 1 (<1%)>

Saturday, April 12, 2008

How big is the universe?

If you missed Cliff's comment on an earlier post it included a link to a video about the Hubble Deep Field.

It's well worth viewing, so here it is again.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Challenges facing Christadelphians (2)


In the comments on my last post in this thread I wrote:
"If we preach the kingdom without bringing healing and restoration we have only carried out half our mission - in fact, we probably haven't really preached the kingdom at all."
Linda responded beautifully to this by saying:
"Maybe that's a sign that the gospel has actually been preached - healing and restoration follows. The opposite would be true too. Where there is no healing and restoration, whatever it is that is being preached, isn't the kingdom."
In this message I'd like to look at some of the obstacles to healing and restoration.

Jesus always linked the Gospel of the Kingdom with Kingdom values. He said that the way people would recognise His disciples would be to observe how they treat each other: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). John developed this idea by saying that if we do not not love it is because we don not really know God: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:7-8). In other words, it doesn't matter how much we know ABOUT God - if we don't love then all our so-called knowledge is useless.

In Galatians 6:10 Paul advised that "as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers [household of faith - KJV]".

If we cannot do good to fellow-believers then we will be unable to do anything genuinely good for non-believers. The New Testament writers repeat this message constantly: we are to love one another, and love deeply (John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10; 13:8; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4;2; 1 Thess 3:12; 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 3:8; 1 John 3;11, 23; 4;7, 11, 12; 2 John 5).

If Christadelphians cannot treat each other with love, and be courteous to each other, then there is absolutely no point in trying to love anyone else. And without love there is no point to the Gospel.

Jesus' Gospel-message was firmly grounded in the words of Isaiah and the Kingdom values which He taught are spelled out beautifully in His quotation of Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue at Nazareth:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)
These words encapsulate the prophets' message that one of the hallmarks of the Kingdom Age would be justice for all (e.g. Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 23;5; 31:23). To Jesus that meant justice for the oppressed and those who could not speak up for themselves.

There is no point in talking about the coming Kingdom if we don't practice Kingdom values in the here and now.

I believe that one of the most serious challenges facing the Christadelphian community today is the failure to treat other Christadelphians justly. There are two main areas of concern where Christadelphians sometimes deny their brothers and sisters justice. Our legal system talks about "natural justice". How much more important is it then that Kingdom-people live by the principles of God's justice and apply an even higher standard! Yet even the world's "natural justice" is sometimes denied to Christadelphians by fellow-Christadelphians. The two main areas of concern to me are gossiping, and discussions in secret (and they are clearly closely related).

Here are some examples.

There are several Christadelphian internet forums which have discussion boards open to the public for discussion and debate. At least one also has a 'private' area with restricted access. Some non-Christadelphians are allowed to join the discussions there, while some Christadelphians on the other hand are denied access. Some of the discussions are about the Christadelphians who are denied access. I recently put this question to one of the members of this "private" forum:
Do you think it is fair or brotherly to discuss someone behind their back and in a forum where they have no opportunity to answer or defend themself?
This is how he answered:
Romans 16:17-18 comes to mind. Exposing such within the community of God has always been done and condoned by scripture.
Here is what Romans 16:17-18 says (in the NIV):
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.
In other words, this brother was saying that it's acceptable to "expose" someone if you judge them to be causing divisions or putting obstacles in the way of believers. If you first convince yourself that they are "causing divisions" then it's ok to talk about them on a discussion forum which is open to a large number of people, including non-Christadelphians. You don't have to allow them an opportunity to answer the allegation or to defend themselves. In a nutshell, they are guilty until proved innocent, and condemned without the opportunity to defend themselves. (See my notes on Romans 16:17 here and here.)

This kind of behaviour is not only contrary to what the world would consider "natural justice" it is also in violation of clear Scriptural principles. If the practice of Kingdom values begins with the household of faith, then we should do better than "natural justice" - we should give brethren the benefit of the doubt, presume innocence, treat them with a greater degree of fairness than the world would demand, and be more forgiving than most people would expect (we should forgive our brethren "seventy times seven" times). Rather than "exposing" weaknesses we should be praising their strengths. Instead of criticising faults we should be boasting about their achievements.

There is no place in the household of faith for "private" forums to discuss brethren behind their backs.

In earlier posts (here and here) I also raised the problem of groups which meet together specifically to discuss other ecclesias, and exclude these ecclesias from their meetings. These are no different in principle to the private internet forums which are so contrary to the clear teaching of scripture that fellow-brethren in Christ should be treated with respect, courtesy, brotherliness and love.

Any group, meeting or forum which facilitates gossip, slander and accusations against those for whom Christ died is a festering sore on the body of Christ.

Gossip is not a new problem. It has always been an issue amongst believers. John identified gossiping as one of the characteristics of the separatists. He identified Diotrephes as one of the people in the church who "will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church" (3 John 9-10). This 'cluster' of behaviour or characteristics has been common in the history of the brotherhood: refusing to welcome some believers, putting some out of the church ("disfellowshipping") and malicious gossip are all characteristics of the exclusivists or separatists.

Paul listed gossips amongst those who are "filled with every kind of wickedness" (Romans 1:29). He wrote of "quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder" as being signs of a church breaking down (2 Corinthians 12:20).

The internet has become a modern means of gossiping. Today we can spread news, good or bad, quicker and to more people than was ever possible in the past. I learned of the dangers of the internet quite early on. I received an email from a Christadelphian asking about my views on something or other. I had never met him or even heard of him before but as he was a brother in Christ I assumed he could be trusted. He promised to keep my response "confidential". Within two weeks I was receiving emails from around the world from people who had been forwarded my "confidential" reply.

One of the main problems with electronic communications is that a small part of an ongoing 'conversation' can be easily extracted, 'cut and pasted' into another document, and then quoted without its context in a way which gives it another meaning entirely. The Bible can be made to say "There is no God" if we 'cut and paste' some text without its context. In the same way I've seen people quoted "verbatim" and made to say something entirely different to what they intended to say within the context of the conversation. I've even seen "verbatim" quotes copied and pasted together with quotes by other writers and made to look like they are all from the same author. For example, I was once sent a document which was allegedly a series of "quotations" claiming to show "what Steve Cook believes, in his own words". Not only were some of the "quotations" taken out of their context and made to mean something quite different to what I intended, they were pasted together with "quotations" from some other anonymous or pseudonymous person which the person creating the document may have assumed was me (but wasn't), or which was simply a fabrication by a mischief-maker.

There is a recent example of a hefty file on a brother which contained some serious allegations being circulated worldwide. Everyone who was sent a copy of the file were given strict instructions that they were not to show it to the brother being accused! In other words, the brother was not allowed to see the allegations against him, know who made them, or what evidence there was. This is not only a denial of "natural justice" to such an extent that it would not be tolerated "in the world" (where he could have sued for slander, libel and defamation), but was a complete mockery of the high standards of Christ. Whether the allegations were true or not is really irrelevant. No one should be teated so unjustly, least of all one for whom Christ died.

Robert Roberts had this advice on gossip:
"The most effective way to stop the mouths of slanderers is to at once inform the slanderer that you will see the victim and inform him of what you have just been told, and who told you. You should believe no report to anyone's detriment without giving him or her an opportunity (by private enquiry of himself or herself) of contradicting it if it happens to be untrue. We always esteem such an application a kindness." (Quoted in "Christadelphian Answers" by Frank Jannaway, p 233)
Good advice, and if it was taken today by the owners, moderators and conveners of the various private internet forums and secret meetings then they would all be closed down and we would see a greater degree of Kingdom-justice in the Christadelphian community.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

One Hope

I've just been hearing about this year's Spring Harvest gathering in the UK. Spring Harvest is the largest Christian conference in Europe, attended by about 45,000 people, and subscribes to The Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith.

This year the theme is One Hope - focussing on what it means to have a hope that is 'steadfast and certain' in a society where change is the only certainty. Here is what their website says about this years theme:
As we unpack the Big Story of God, we'll discover how HOPE is central to the Christian faith. We'll also discover what Jesus being the hope of the world really means. And how embracing Jesus - and the hope he offers - changes how we live and brings new vitality to our faith. Hope is God's big idea.

It seems to me that we spend our lives getting more and more scared of stuff. We get scared of the way the world's going, scared of stuff going on in our local community, even scared about some of the things happening in our local church.

The bible says we shouldn't be the scared people of God, we should be the hopeful people of God.

In fact, we should be the most hopeful people on God's good earth, because we've seen what happens and the end of the world, we've seen what happens at the end of history, and we know the ending of God's story is both happy and hopeful.'

The amazing thing about this years teaching, from the reports I've been hearing, is that the emphasis has been on physical resurrection and the coming kingdom of God.

Some of the teachers are saying that there is no immortal soul, no heaven when we die and no torments in hell. This is absolutely amazing! It's quite likely that Bishop N.T. (Tom) Wright has been very influential in encouraging this shift in thinking.

This is a very encouraging development and one we should get excited about!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Women know your limits

I thought this video might be relevant to the ongoing discussion of women's roles in church. It's not directly about church, but I've heard some of these sentiments expressed in a church context.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


I was recently asked about the difference between an ex-Christadelphian and a post-Christadelphian. I've actually never used the term "post-Christadelphian" on this blog before, although I have used it on the Truth Alive forum. I don't use the term often, but as some people have made a bit of a fuss about it this may be a good time to provide an explanation for those who may be wondering about it.

Back in early 2006 I posted a message on Truth Alive about a series of articles on this blog on the history of Christadelphians and the kind of community people set out to create when they began the Believers Movement and then later the Christadelphian denomination. I noted that there had been a process of transition as people moved from one denomination or movement to another, and as the Christadelphian community itself then went through its own transition as it changed direction.

This got me thinking about the transitions many of us have made in our individual lives, perhaps from one denomination to another, from one fellowship to another, or from one "kind" of Christadelphian to another.

I had recently read a biographical work by Scottish novelist Ian Rankin (Rebus's Scotland). At one point he noted that he'd lived large chunks of his life outside Scotland, but thought of himself no less as a Scot. He used the term "Scot by formation" to describe how the influences at work in his early life had made him a Scot no matter where he lived or for how long he'd lived there.

This got me to thinking about how I am a Christadelphian "by formation". I attended Sunday School from when I was a week old. Went to at least 3 meetings every week well into adulthood. I've lost count of the number of Bible Schools I attended. I read Christendom Astray when I was 12, Eureka when I was about 17, and Elpis Israel somewhere in between. We did our Bible readings together as a family regularly. All of that had a strong influence on me and played a huge part in my "formation". I was raised in the Logos fellowship and left to join a Central ecclesia when I was in my early twenties. Years later my wife pointed out to me that I was still thinking like a Logos-Christadelphian. I wondered if people who are ex-Christadelphians still think like Christadelphians. If some people are Christadelphians by formation then the way they analyse and critique things, even what it means to be an ex-Christadelphian, is undoubtedly done by using thought processes they learned as Christadelphians.

From my recollection the term 'post-Christadelphian' arose during a conversation about some of the changes, developments and 'transitions' that are occurring in the Christadelphian community (and I think someone else in that conversation should actually get the credit for coming up with the term). We were discussing how that for some Christadelphians their spiritual journey may take them into another denomination, yet they may still hold on to core values and teachings and may 'think' like Christadelphians. By the same token, others may follow a similar spiritual path and remain within the Christadelphian community. The two 'groups' actually have a lot in common. We coined the term 'post-Christadelphian' to describe a person who has chosen to hold on to all that they regard as good in Christadelphianism while jettisoning the baggage which is holding back their spiritual growth, regardless of whether they maintain their membership of a Christadelphian ecclesia or not.

Several Christadelphians who are actively involved in the Christadelphian community and who maintain their membership of ecclesias welcomed the term and said it described how they thought of themselves.

The term post-Christadelphian suggests that for some people their involvement in the Christadelphian community has entered a new phase: they continue to be Christadelphians, maintain their commitment to the community, and hold on to the core teachings and values. For others, life beyond or after involvement in the Christadelphian denomination does not erase everything that went before. They endeavour to build on some of the foundations which they learned in their earlier Christadelphian lives, to distil from Christadelphianism some principles, practices and attitudes which are good and useful, and to grow in grace and knowledge without discarding everything from the past.

I personally think this is a useful term to describe what these different types of people have in common: a desire to grow while holding onto everything that is good and letting go of things that are obstacles to growth. It reflects the fact that an individual has made a conscious decision to grow rather than to lose their identity as part of a homogeneous 'group'.

Since then a Christadelphian in Sydney used an internet forum to spread the word that I had "withdrawn fellowship" from Christadelphians. This was completely untrue and even though I made my position clear to her I understand that she is still circulating this story (together with a lot of other material which is pure fabrication). Just for the record, I am actively involved in the Christadelphian community, I speak at Christadelphian meetings, I am the chairman of a Christadelphian committee, and I give quite a bit of time to a Christadelphian preaching organisation. 'Post' and 'ex' are not the same things.