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
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.