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.


Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Another great post!

In our meeting we insist that anybody who has a problem with another, first go privately to the other and talk the issue over.

This tends to stop gossip... stone cold dead!

Your call for Kingdom Justice is a very timely one.

A while back, a member of our community (of the fairer sex) shared how they had been compelled to drive quite a distance at night to attend a special meeting (on the other side of town) that had been called to discuss certain "issues."

Alone, in a room occupied by "men in suits," questions were fired at our friend. Each time this person opened their mouth to speak, they were cut short and interrupted and then informed that what they really meant to say was.... !

After a short time, our friend got up and walked out and drove home (a long way) in the dark.

Our friend has since received further requests for another meeting of the same kind, being told that 'the questioning has not finished yet and the "issues" have not been satisfactorily resolved.'

This is fairly typical behaviour. By keeping up this kind of Spiritual Abuse, power is kept in the hands of a few, for it is they who determine when the "issues" have been satisfactorily resolved... and in my experience, they never are!

In sharing the story with us, our friend recounted that the reply given to this unbiblical request was... "You come to my house if you have an issue with me, and I request that my dad and my brothers be also present with me. And this time I want you to listen to what I have to say."

What a great Biblical response.

If you have an issue with another, first go alone to their house to talk the problem over. (Don't first gather a multitude to accompany you.) And make sure that The Father and His Son (our Elder Brother) are also present at that house, and included in the discussion. And listen to the other person... don't tell them what it is that you want them to say.

Matthew 24:40-51 describe two ways to deal with "issues". One way is the way a functional family unit will do it... caring, loving, healing, restoring.

The other way, is the way a dysfunctional "church" deals with it. With a "big stick"... wounding, smiting, bruising.... and driving people away.

God's way brings people "home" and admits them into His Great Hospital of Healing.

Man's way is to demonise, critisise, ostrasize then excise the problem (they hope) out of existance.

Let the Sonshine in

Gerry said...

Hi Steve,

I am not surprised that this discussion is taking place as my life experience has taught me that this has its roots in history.

I believe that it will be an ongoing debate until such time that CDs acknowledge the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and the indwelling of the Spirit at conversion (when we are saved).

For a group who in the most part denigh the Holy Spirit in their lives, it is not surprising that they should carry on in such an un-Christian manner to those who call themselves by the same name.

Unfortunate as it is, there is a much bigger task for us all to concentrate our energies on, perhaps unification with main stream christians is too much to expect but I do live in hope.

In love and under Grace

Anonymous said...

Hi Gerry

Very interesting comments above.

I have just finished viewing a video on YouTube about the universe and one of the comments I read as I was searching for this video was that from our Creator/Father's perspective, earth is one big church... not thousands of different religions.

Let the Sonshine in

Unknown said...

Gerry hit the nail on the head. Until such time as CDia begins to humble itself and recognise the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to transform us, we will continue to try to do it by our own efforts, and generally fail miserably.

I find it very ironic that CDs constantly talk about the flesh and how the "heart is deceitful above all things". And yet it is that same flesh and heart and mind that we then turn around and rely on to be transformed and be holy. Under the influence of Scripture to be sure, but even that is not enough. Scripture can tell us what we should be, but it cannot empower us to accomplish it.

My website has a number of resources on the indwelling spirit and other topics: