Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fellowshipping an out-of-fellowship person (2)

This is Cliff's response to comments made about an earlier message.

Firstly, who is the Brother who is in Pine Rivers who has been "dis-fellowshipped"?

Why was he "dis-fellowshipped?"

By whom was he "dis-fellowshipped?"

By God? Does God recognise men's "dis-fellowships?"

By Jesus? Does Jesus recognise men's "dis-fellowships?"

If the brother under discussion was "dis-fellowshipped" (a totally non Biblical terminology) by men, and if those who are "spiritual have restored such a one in the spirit of meekness" (cp Gal 6) surely this should be reason to rejoice, just as the Father in the parable of Luke 15 rejoiced when the prodigal returned home.

It is interesting that it is the elder Brother in Luke 15 who refused to come and eat at the Father's table of Grace when he learned that the prodigal was also eating there. And the prodigal was welcome at the Table of the Father (Lord) without the Elder Brother even being consulted or giving his consent.

So "Anonymous," by refraining from taking the emblems (at the Fathers Gracious Table at PRWC) when another was present at the same table whom you don't think should be there, who are you identifying with? The elder Brother!

This just highlights one of the major (and very important) differences between (some) modern Christadelphian's teachings and practices and Christ's teachings and practices.

For example, in Matthew 9:10 (also in Mark and Lukes records too, so the incident is more than significant; it is vitally important) we learn that "as Jesus reclined in the house, behold, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, Why does your master eat with tax-collectors and sinners?"

This is exactly the same question as asked by some Christadelphians today! Different time and place - but the core issues are identical.

"Why do you eat (fellowship) with those whom we have dis-fellowshipped?"

The terms 'tax-collectors and sinners' were the appellations given to those "dis-fellowshipped" or "cast out" by the religious leaders of the day. Obviously Jesus did not have a problem having fellowship with those who had been "dis-fellowshipped" by the religious elite of His day. Remember, mealtimes in Israel were the equivalent of our modern "Breaking of Bread"... in those days you judged others by whom they had meals with. And Jesus says of this practice of having meals with "outcasts... "Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Cor 11). So "Anonymous", would you agree, to obey Jesus we must do what Jesus did?

As Jesus said in another teaching parable of His... "Go, and do likewise!"

To do other that what Jesus clearly taught us to do, as is the "main stream Christadelphian teaching" according to our "Anonymous" friend, is to actually disobey the Commandments of Christ.

Not only did Jesus eat with those the Pharisees (the Elder Brother group) called "sinners" (incidently, Jesus never used that term Himself to describe others - anytime He does use the term "sinners" it is only when He is quoting the Pharisees back to themselves or to describe them!!), He reclined with them too. This was more than just "a sip of wine and sliver of bread just before Midday on Sunday"- this was a full on, relaxed fellowship meal. True fellowship was being had at every level in each these Gospel records and on every occasion where Jesus "Broke Bread"- not just at a superficial "Spiritually Elite," "in the club" level.

It is interesting that the Gospel writers are careful to tell us that the Pharisees did not dare question Jesus about His Table Manners. But they were bold to talk to the disciples on the side, in an effort to drive a wedge in between them and Jesus Himself. After all, Jesus was totally defying their long established culture and traditions and teaching His Disciples to do exactly the same.

Jesus was fully aware of what motivated the Spiritual Snobs of His day, and He said in Matthew 11 "But to what shall I compare to this generation? It is like little children sitting in the markets and calling to their playmates, saying, We played the flute to you, and you did not dance! We mourned to you, but you did not wail!" [In other words, the Religious Leaders in Israel were dismayed that Jesus would not dance to their tune. Jesus refused to abide by any of the socially and religiously acceptable conventions and traditions which would Spiritually Abuse any who the Father had called. And this man is the one we are to copy in every way. That is what True Worship really is: imitating in every way the one who is the Boss! It has been truly said, that we become just like the God we worship.]

Jesus continued: "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He has a demon." [Have you ever noticed that Jesus NEVER corrected any of their false ideas about devils, demons and supernatural forces. He even stood up in their synagogues, using their platforms where they preached such false teachings, and never once took them to task or enlightened the audience about their misbeliefs in this area. Paul and the other Apostles did exactly the same, for the Kingdom message is about how you show God in action to your fellow by your actions, not by convincing your fellow of what you do not believe!]

The observations of the Spiritual Leaders in Jesus' day was that "the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they said, Behold a man who is a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. But wisdom was justified by her children."

This man is more than our Redeemer and Saviour! He is the very pattern upon which we are to model our own lives. As He said, "wisdom is vindicated by the results" - and the massive results of Jesus' pattern for living, is that any one of us has been included by Grace within His "Forever" family. And to act petulantly and to refuse to take the very emblems of His life and power and mission and victory because someone else [who you might not agree with in some way] may also be present at the same table, is to snub the Lord of Heaven, slap Him in the face, and deny the very power that drew you and the "other" to that Table in the first instance.

Jesus whole life is one that denied "Guilt by Association" in any form for Holiness is far more powerful than sin any day. To act otherwise at His Table, (or at any time really, for worship is a 24/7 deal - not just a Sunday thing) is to "eat and drink condemnation to oneself," says Paul. (cp 1 Cor 11).

We declare, as we take Jesus into our lives, "Jesus, you are indeed the pattern for my life, so I eat this Bread (your Body Lord) and drink this wine (your life blood Lord) and it becomes an essential part of every living cell in my body - I am fully energised by you!!!" To then act towards others differently to the way Jesus taught, nay, commanded us to act, is to deny the very Lord who died for us all.

Jesus not only ate meals (had full on Fellowship) with those who had been cast out ("dis-fellowshipped"), He went out of His way (John 6:37; John 9) to have or renew fellowship with them, despite the written and oral traditions of His day. It cost Him His life in the end.

And that has ever been the pattern of the "Elder Brother" of the parable in Luke 15 to refuse to share the great love of Him who died for all, and to use "dis-fellowship" as a control mechanism to maintain religious control, (cp 3 John v9-11). Dis-Fellowship is the "iron fist enclosed in a not so velvet glove" (referred to in Matthew 24:49) to quote a much loved Brother who has gone before us.

It is so sad to see that the Diotrephian spirit still lives on - even in the 21st Century.

Whilst this may indeed be seen by some to be "main stream Christadelphian teaching" it is actually diametrically opposed to "main stream Christ teaching."

So the question is: who should we obey? God/Jesus, or men?

At the risk of disobeying (and even disappointing) men, I choose to obey God any day.

Fellowshipping an out-of-fellowship person (1)

This message arose out of comments on an earlier message about a proposal being put to the 2008 Australian Christadelphian Conference in Sydney to restrict the start-up of new ecclesias.

An anonymous person left a comment describing how he visited another ecclesia and would not participate in the breaking of bread because of the attendance there of a person who had been 'disfellowshipped' by another ecclesia. He wrote: "If a Brother has been disfellowshiped and you visit another meeting and he is there then the main stream Christadelphian teaching is not to partake of the emblems which happened on this day."

In earlier posts on 'fellowship' I have discussed the Christadelphian practices related to breaking of bread, so I won't go into that again right now. However, I challenge the notion that "main stream Christadelphian teaching is not to partake of the emblems" if a disfellowshipped person is present. In fact, the Ecclesial Guide specifically deals with this issue in section 42. Here is an excerpt:
"There ought to be no interference of one ecclesia with another. At the same time, they have reciprocal rights. Ecclesial independence is a principle essential to be maintained. But it is no part of that independence to say that no ecclesia shall consider a matter that another has decided upon, if that matter comes before the first ecclesia, and challenges their judgment, and, in fact, requires a decision. In the example already discussed, if a brother withdrawn from by one ecclesia applies for the fellowship of another, that other ecclesia is bound to consider the application, and it is no infringement of the independence of the first ecclesia that it should be so, subject to the rules and attitudes indicated. It would, in fact, be a renunciation of its own independence, were it to refuse to do so. Respect for the first ecclesia requires that it accept its decision until it sees grounds for a different view; and in the investigation of these grounds it ought to invite its co-operation, as already indicated. But the mere fact of the application imposes upon it the obligation to consider and investigate the matter, if there are prima facie grounds for doing so. The other ecclesia would make a mistake if it considered such a procedure an infringement of its independence, Such a view would, in reality, be a trammelling of the independence of every assembly; for it would then amount to this, that no assembly had the right to judge a case coming before them if that case happen to have already been adjudicated upon by another ecclesia. The judgment of one would thus be set up as a rule for all."
The writer of the Ecclesial Guide then goes on to say
"An ecclesia has no right to judge except for itself. This is the independence not to be interfered with; but a similar right to judge must be conceded to all, and the exercise of it, if tempered with a respectful and proper procedure, would never offend an enlightened body anywhere."
A little later he deals with "cases where a reasonable doubt exists, and where a second ecclesia will come to a different conclusion from the first" and says that each ecclesia should exercise their prerogative of independent judgment:
"let each abide by its own decision, without interfering with each other. The one can fellowship a certain brother, the other cannot".
To do otherwise would be "to aggravate the misery of a perhaps very trumpery and unworthy affair by refusing to recognize each other, because they differ in judgment about one person".

Applying this to the situation mentioned, visitors to an ecclesia should recognise the right of that ecclesia to exercise "their prerogative of independent judgment" and to make their own decision about a person who may have been disfellowshipped elsewhere. To refuse to participate in the breaking of bread on such an occasion is not only rude and an affront to ones hosts, it also demonstrates a refusal to recognise the principle of non-interference laid out in the Ecclesial Guide. It undermines the principles of mutual respect, autonomy and the prerogative of independent judgment which are "mainstream Christadelphian teachings".

In a subsequent post I will also publish Cliff's response to the comment which was a reply to his.

House meetings

This message arose out of some comments on an earlier post reviewing Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna.

The authors of this book provide evidence that the earliest churches probably had a maximum attendance of around 35. That is based primarily on archaeological evidence. We know the first century Christians met in homes, we know the kinds of homes which were often used for such meetings, and we know how big they were. These gatherings were limited in size by the homes in which they met. As the Christian community in any area grew they would start new house-meetings.

According to the archaeological evidence, it was not until the early third century that Christians had any special buildings. The earliest identifiable Christian meeting place is the house-church of Dura Europos in modern Syria (pictured is the baptistery of the 3rd-century house church at Dura-Europos, now on display in the Yale University Museum, USA. This is the oldest Christian church ever discovered. The baptismal bath is visible. The surviving frescoes of the baptistry room are probably the most ancient Christian paintings.) It was simply a private home remodelled as a Christian gathering place around AD 232. This house was essentially a house with a wall removed between two bedrooms to create a large living area. This house could accommodate about 70 people (Pagan Christianity? page 14-15).

I don't think Viola and Barna are suggesting that our practice of meeting in special buildings is necessarily "wrong". They are simply saying that we cannot claim to be continuing or restoring a first century Christian practice if we do. The very nature of meeting in halls or special church-buildings affects the kind of meetings we have, and meetings in halls or special buildings have a remarkably different character to meetings held in homes around a meal table.

In my view, much of the intimacy of the early church/ekklesia was probably lost in the shift from homes to special buildings. Certainly the informality, spontaneity and full participation would have been lost as the church went to structured formal services.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pagan Christianity

Book Review
Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices
by Frank Viola and George Barna

Speak of the paganisation of Christianity to most Christadelphians and their minds are almost certain to go to Easter and Christmas and the claims that they have pagan origins. Some might even be quick to point out that ecclesiastical vestments, adoration of saints, feast days and other elements of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity also have their roots in paganism.

This book however provides startling evidence that most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Christadelphians will almost certainly be shocked to discover that many of their regular practices had their origins well after the first century. What they cherish as a return to first century Christianity is in fact the accumulation of traditions which have little or nothing to do with apostolic practices.

The authors provide ample evidence that first century Christians met in homes and shared a common meal together. Their meetings were informal and everyone actively participated. Formal structured meetings, buildings specifically for church/ecclesial meetings, a 'sermon' or 'exhortation', even sitting in rows of chairs which all face the front where the 'action' takes place on the 'platform', are all practices which developed much later in Christian history. In fact, the shift from house-based informal meetings around a meal to formal meetings in a special building with a structured 'order of service' took place after the Council of Nicea. Ironically, the same church council which gave us the doctrine of the Trinity also gave us the framework for the modern Christadelphian memorial meeting!

Many ecclesial practices which Christadelphians assume are a 'restoration of first century Christianity' actually have little or no basis in Scripture. The authors of this book provide numerous examples of traditions and practices which originated much later, including the following:

- the earliest believers were baptised immediately after conversion. The practice of 'preparing' people for baptism by teaching them the 'doctrines of the church' began much later.

- the 'sermon' or exhortation is a relatively modern invention. We learn from 1 Corinthians that when the early church came together "everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation ... for the strengthening of the church" (1 Corinthians 14:26). The practice of only one person (always a man) addressing the church/ekklesia began well after the development of a professional clergy and largely as a result of doctrinal conflict (so that the priest/bishop/pastor could indoctrinate the church in orthodoxy, or 'correct doctrine').

- the practice of passing out the 'emblems' as tiny glasses of wine and a morsel of bread began with English Methodism. The earliest church celebrated 'communion' as a full meal, of which bread and wine was only a part. Everyone participated, including unbaptised children.

- 'dressing up' for church/meetings is a Victorian tradition. For centuries Christians wore their everyday clothes to church. There is absolutely no Scriptural basis for the practice of wearing ones 'Sunday best'.

- appointing or electing some brethren to leadership or management positions has no Biblical basis. The first Christians recognised people's gifts and acknowledged mature Christians as 'elders', but no one was given any special authority to 'rule' or 'manage' the church/ekklesia. Christadelphian 'Arranging/Managing Brethren' are simply a variation of the pagan practices which produced a professional 'clergy'.

I recommend this book to anyone who is serious about examining the practices of the first century Christians. You will certainly find it challenging in places. You may still wish to hold on to cherished traditions, but will have to confess that they are just that - traditions - and have no Biblical basis. I doubt very much that after reading this book anyone will continue to claim that Christadelphian meetings and structures are a 'restoration of first century Christianity'.

But this book is not primarily about tearing down cherished traditions. It provides valuable insights into the beliefs and practices of the first communities of Christians and is a useful resource for anyone wanting to know what church/ekklesia meant to the earliest disciples. It encourages a return to the simplicity of New Testament Christianity and to a fully functioning body in which all believers play an active role.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Permission needed to start a new ecclesia

The following motion has been proposed for the Sydney Christadelphian Conference 2008:
Proposed Motion # 5:

'That the Australian Christadelphian brotherhood adopts a practice that, prior to the formation of any new ecclesia, a representative of the proposed ecclesia contact the Central Fellowship ecclesias in their local area, for recognition as a bona fide ecclesia meeting on the Australian Unity Basis of Fellowship.'

Moved by South Brisbane

Seconded t.b.a.

Rationale, as provided by South Brisbane


To provide a framework for effectively assessing the bona fides of all new ecclesias seeking fellowship on the Australian Unity Basis.


1 All new ecclesias wishing to be recognised as a Christadelphian ecclesia meeting on the Australian Unity Basis should write to the recorders of established ecclesias in the local area of the proposed new ecclesia, stating they meet on the Australian Unity Basis of Fellowship.

2 The proposed ecclesia's location will determine the number of established ecclesias to receive such a letter, but it is suggested a minimum of five ecclesias should be approached for recognition as a bona fide Christadelphian Ecclesia.

3 Ecclesias receiving such notice should consult one another, after determining their own position, and if no objection is communicated to the proposed ecclesia's representative within one month, the request should be accepted and the new ecclesia notified in writing by the local ecclesias involved.

4 If any objections are raised by the local established ecclesiae, discussions should take place in order to resolve the perceived impediments.

5 A reasonable time should be allowed for resolution of the difficulties on the basis of the Ecclesial Guide and the Unity Booklet.

This motion raises a number of interesting matters.

First, we need to question the intention of the motion. Never in the past has a new Christadelphian ecclesia in Australia (or anywhere else in the world as far as I am aware) needed to obtain the consent of other ecclesias in the area. So why now? What is the reason for changing the practice of more than 140 years? Is this motion designed to restrict new ecclesias starting up or to control the activities of new ecclesias? If so, why?

Second, the motion appears to be totally impractical. Let's take one Australian city as a hypothetical example. Newcastle currently has three Christadelphian ecclesias: Newcastle, Charlestown and Boolaroo. The last time I spoke at Charlestown ecclesia I was asked to sit on the platform for the entire meeting as the hall was literally filled to capacity and there were no spare seats in the congregation. This is a good sign of a healthy ecclesia, and because there is "standing room only" the ecclesia is considering extensions to their meeting place. However, another option they might consider is starting a new ecclesia as an 'offshoot'. Under this proposed motion they would need the consent of at least five ecclesias in the area. But there are only three ecclesias in the area! Under this proposed new rule they would have to look further afield to other cities for approval to start a satellite ecclesia. Charlestown is a well-established ecclesia with a solid reputation and was an original signatory to the Australian Unity Agreement. To suggest that they can't start a satellite ecclesia without the permission of other ecclesias is not only insulting to them, it raises the question as to what authority the other ecclesias might have which Charlestown lacks.

Third, this motion smells of fear, a controlling spirit, and authoritarianism.

Are some ecclesias afraid that new ecclesias might operate differently, and do they find this threatening? There was a recent example (in Brisbane) of an ecclesia sending out an appeal for people to move into their area and join them because they were declining so sharply in numbers that they were at risk of dying out. At the same time this same ecclesia was a party to a move to restrict the activities of a new ecclesia which was bursting at the seams and which was growing numerically almost week-by-week. Are they afraid that as they die out their remaining members will transfer to the new dynamic meeting? What do they find so threatening about this?

It smells of a controlling spirit because new ecclesias sometimes do things a bit differently from the older ecclesias in the area, and some traditionalists don't like this. Instead of an organ they might decide to use guitars and drums (God forbid!). Instead of 17th century hymns they might want to sing contemporary music! They might even drop "thees" and "thous" and Elizabethan English and pray to the Almighty in contemporary English!! Where will this lead? It must be stopped!!!

It smacks of authoritarianism because it suggests that a 'group' of ecclesias should be empowered to control the activities of other ecclesias in the area. There is already at least one case in Australia of a 'group' of ecclesias in an area banding together while excluding other ecclesias in the area which might see some things differently, and then attempting to impose their collective will on the excluded ecclesias (and it's significant that this proposed motion comes from one of the ecclesias which is a party to this 'group'). This motion, if adopted, would give more power to these 'groups' which Robert Roberts condemned as"collective despotism":
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. (Clause 44 of the Ecclesial Guide)
I would hope that the majority of ecclesias represented at the 2008 Conference will see this proposed motion for what it is and soundly reject it.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Exclusiveness in fellowship

Following on from my latest post, I recently received this message from a sister who has been through a painful experience. She has discovered that she is welcome to join a particular Christadelphian ecclesia but if she does the ecclesia will demand that she can no longer break bread with the people who taught her the Gospel and who baptised her, even though they believe the same things as she does! This attitude adopted by some Christadelphians to 'fellowship' is simply crazy, but the following letter from Lucy demonstrates this plainly enough. The names of the ecclesias and individuals involved have been deleted.

My dear beloved brothers and sisters!

On Thursday May 15th, I met with two members of the XYZ Ecclesia, who were sent to identify if my beliefs met with their standards. After two and a half hours of conversation, I was invited to their service, which I gladly accepted and attended May 18th. I was very pleased by the way I was welcomed, almost like well known sister, who you haven’t seen in a while. We studied the Word of God, and broke bread together. I was a very satisfied and happy by my visit, and that is what I, have expressed in my e-mail. On May 20th, I attended an invitation for dinner and Bible study. Every one called me their sister, and again I felt welcomed.

On Monday May 26th I was very surprised when I received a phone call, from a board member informing me of a meeting that was to take place with me to become a member of XYZ Ecclesia. What was surprising is that I have attended several meetings where we broke bread and as to my awareness I assumed that I was already welcomed as a sister in Christ. I was born in former Soviet Union, a Communist regime, where you were called in for a meeting when you were suspected of being an enemy to society and will be immediately sent to Siberia or if you prefer to retain your privileges you were to submit too and join the Communist party. Anyways I felt stressed, wondering why this meeting has been scheduled, and if I have done something wrong?
On Thursday May 29th, I attended the meeting where I was informed of whom I can, and can’t break bread with. I can honestly tell you that I fell in love with every brother and sister I met in XYZ Ecclesia however I could not understand the reasoning of this practice.

Anyways, I was given “The Ecclesia Guide” to check if we have same beliefs, which we did prior to this meeting. I was also given an address list of W Ecclesia with whom I am allowed to “Break Bread” with and was told I must have an answer by Sunday.

By the way, they did tell me that I am allowed to be in fellowship with everyone except, I have to follow the rules with whom I can “Break Bread”.

Last night, I couldn’t go to sleep at all, thinking what had happened earlier this evening! I looked into the Bible and I could not find a law stating with whom we can or can’t break bread with in Christ.

But I found, that Jesus Christ broke bread with 3000 and 5000 people and did not ask them if they even believed He was Messiah. And that at the Last Supper when He was giving instructions about "Breaking Bread" to every disciple HE actually broke bread with Judah Iscariot who betrayed Him several hours later.

I looked at "The Ecclesial Guide and Constitution of the ABC Christadelphians," and I read about all their beliefs, which are exactly like mine. But again, I did not see anything saying about with whom I am allowed to break bread. Except, in the section of "The commandments of Christ” number 12 says – “Grudge not; judge not; complain not; condemn not,” (James 5:9, Matt 7:1). And by choosing with whom we break bread with, we are JUDGING our brothers and sisters; we are breaking our own law.

It is very sad to know that we have become similar to the Pharisees, who have two laws; one is written and one is oral.

In Matt 23 says, "Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3. So you must obey Moses and do everything he tells you. But do not do what they (Pharisees) do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 13. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 15. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are."

And in Deut.6:4 Yahweh said to Moses "1 Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you. 8. And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today"

I have come to the conclusion that by choosing brothers and sisters whom you can or can’t “Break bread” with and who’s beliefs are exactly the same like yours and mine, has become an “obsessive tradition” or “religious idolatry”.

I am not willing to follow MAN'S rules, when I will be present on judgment day facing God, I want to no shame and excuses on this subject. One day all, of us will be there. Please remember that.

I do not judge anyone, I am speaking truth saying do not follow MAN’s rule, it is against God. I have no problem breaking bread with anyone in XYZ Ecclesia or any of my brothers and sisters around the world.

I love Yahweh, and I want to walk in His Will and no one MAN’s law or rules could stop me. It is sad, but I am coming to the conclusion that XYZ Ecclesia don't want to break bread with me unless I agree not to break bread with my brothers and sisters like **, ***, T ecclesia . I won't agree to such man made rule.

I still love all my brothers and sisters in Christadelphians Ecclesia around world. My prayers are with them. I'm happy many of them accept me still. May Yahweh open their hearts and their minds to see The Truth, as they preach; and ignore MAN'S LAW or ANY RULES.

I will continue to do what I was called to do, which is Preach the Gospel

Yahweh blesses you!

Sister Lucy

Censorship, disfellowship and statements of faith

The following message was recently posted on the Truth Alive forum. I thought it expressed very well what a lot of other people are also thinking. With the author's permission I am re-posting it here in full.

Dear friends,

Very often we can go through a set of traditions whilst making bold statements that suggest we alone hold the correct Biblical truths and that we follow the Bible and that we should check everything against the Bible. But when someone sincerely does do that and comes up with difficult questions it isn't liked and people don't want to answer them, because it's disruptive and challenging. But should churches be allowed to say 'we follow the Bible and you should check it out to see whether its true' and not allow people to do that.

Brother Dr John Thomas believed “no you shouldn't”, and people found him very disruptive and challenging and that is the history of the Christadelphian body. If you doubt that read his autobiography and the huge number of debates he was involved in. The problem has been the questions never ended where Dr John Thomas left off and no doubt had he lived longer he would have challenged more and come to different understandings. In his lifetime he changed many times and in fact was baptised three times as he changed views.

Robert Roberts believed that in his teachings he had reached a finality of truth and that was set in place and maintained by establishing the Birmgham Statement of Faith, which was later Amended to clarify things to what people believed reflected the original position of things. In other words the Christadelphian body has sought to censor the very freedom to think and question that Dr John Thomas wanted for himself. In fact that has always been the historical problem that Protestant Christianity has faced. By putting the authority onto a book and individual interpretation it has been inevitable that different people have balanced it a different way. I'm not saying we should be Catholic, but what I am saying is that we should learn from our history of our own non infallibility in these matters.

The reality is that the Christadelphian body has survived in its present form is as a direct result of the Statements of Faith, because they have broadly set out the original distinct Christadelphian doctrines. The idea that we are bound simply because we read the Bible independently for ourselves is not true, even though that is what I was given to believe as a youngster and told to do. In essence I was expected to read the Bible for myself, but come to see things in terms of tradition and expectation. That is in all honesty how social conditioning works and with time we may find things don't quite square with what we are told to believe or how things are actually done in comparison to what we read, the second being where my main objections have laid. It has kept the Christadelphian body in a time warp in many ways where any change to the way things are done leads to people feeling the balance is going to be upset.

The hidden cost of course has been in those people who have been disfellowshipped for asking too many questions and hidden feelings of suppression, because the unspoken rule is that you are not allowed to seriously question the way things are done. The problem that has led to is that the Christadelphian body has become very legalistic and very word bound and very much what scripture would term 'in the letter'.

However the Christadelphian body has changed and is changing., there is a greater understanding growing of the need for grace, the centrality of the teachings of Christ, the need for a more practical focus and a recognistion in the Care Groups that there are emotional situations that need to be understand. Our problem as a community and what we show is the limitation of the Bible alone without a recognition of the need for the Spirit of God. But we won't accept that, because if we did we would have to admit that our exclusivity was a problem, that you can't get to the right spirit merely by academic debate and that we have in fact treated a lot of people badly and that disfellowshipping lots of people wasn't the right way to go about things.

In its present form the Christadelphian body will not survive and already is dying and it's not merely because people don't want to follow God, although as we all know most people don't in the West. It's because it doesn't really answer people's spiritual longing for a real connection with God. It's too academic an approach, it's too emotionally disconnected and there's too little power. It's also led to a situation where most of the children of Christadelphians do not get baptised and very often there are a lot of people hanging in there simply because that is where they have their social connections.

It's a religion which very often creates beliefs in people, but not faith and the two things are very different. You can sustain belief in people by keeping reinforcing the same things over and over again like a kind of social reinforcement schedule and that's why many people believe if you don't go to some church you would lose your faith. That's because their faith hangs on going through a set pattern of behaviour, whereas faith is a lot more solid and a lot harder to destroy. It comes from a knowledge of God, not just a knowledge of the Bible. The difference is one has power, the other does not. We read in Hebrews 11 and its frequently quoted that 'faith is the the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen'. What is less frequently quoted is the later things in the chapter which people were able to do as a result of faith and how this is set out as the normal expected standard of the Christian walk.

The Christadelphian movement started from a very radical questioning of mainstream Christianity based upon textproof quoting and reached a level of complexity beyond many average men and women. To do that you need educated, well read people with high rational skills and it is very questionable that that was the first century approach anyway. For that to be universally available required the invention of printing, considerable time, health and nutrition that was not available for most of history.

Few people have ever had that kind of access to the Bible and they were more reliant upon pictures and communicated stories and what they understood in their own hearts. There are benefits to that though I am thankful for the scripture knowledge I have gained as a result, but it can be rather a one tracked thinking method that denies the role of experience or emotion. It therefore leads to our community suiting certain personality types and ways of thoughts and being very hard for other types of personality and ways of thoughts.

The experience that we have as a community has relevance, but to think we have all the truth and all the understanding is a very limited way of thinking in my opinion. That of course is why at every stage all the developments within the community have been fights to change a mindset. The perception that is held is that we come to the Bible without a mindset, without a conditioning, without any effect from our upbringing and social environments, when in fact there is a strong mindset at play within the community that does not allow certain thoughts to be held or raised. You see that when a difficult passage is read and people muse over its difficultness whilst saying 'of course we don't believe in this or that'.

For truly open minded thinking to occur we do have to consider the possible truth of these thoughts and the thoughts have to be allowed to be raised without the possibility of censure. To truly allow God to speak to us we have to not be frightened of whether other people think us heretical or not. That's what a full pursuit of truth is really like.

I'm not suggesting a perfect church exists, because it does not. We are works in progress. What I am saying is that we need to give people freedom to grow without fear of censure and we have to start realising what effect our conditioning and environment and history have upon us. I'm not perfect any more than you are, but dis-fellowshipping people is judging people and it is a way of stifling questions and progress and understanding. If we have the truth, if you think about it, it should be fairly easy to answer people's objections without needing to do that. We should have no fear of asking ourselves how much of our responses are thought out ones rather than conditioned ones.

I think there is a factor we need to be aware of - the fear that if we change our beliefs we somehow face losing our salvation. That's a very thought limiting idea. We have to realise instead that God isn't a God who seeks to frustrate the seeking heart and it is for this reason that grace is such an empowering truth.

I would welcome your thoughts on these ideas and maybe if we did we could come to a greater understanding even if it isn't possible for me to be formally accepted back into fellowship..

With much love and blessings in Jesus,