Friday, July 25, 2008

Christadelphian SWOT analysis (3) - prophecy

Continuing with the 'SWOT analysis' theme in this message I will look at the Christadelphian approach to prophecy.

STRENGTHS - a major part of the most widely used Christadelphian statements of faith is devoted to the interpretation of prophecy. The Christadelphian approach to prophecy focuses on three things: (1) the second coming of Christ; (2) the kingdom of God on earth; and (3) the restoration of Israel. None of these things are unique to Christadelphians of course, and with an increasing interest in eschatology (study of the 'end times') in mainstream Christianity more and more Christians are coming to accept the importance of some things which have always been important to Christadelphians. I personally agree that these three things are important and valuable for Bible study, and I believe it's good that Christadelphians have always recognised this.

WEAKNESSES - in some parts of the Christadelphian community certain interpretations of prophecy have been elevated to the status of 'essential to be believed'. For example, some ecclesias insist on belief in John Thomas's continuous historic interpretation of Daniel and Revelation, and regard several details of his prophetic interpretation as 'core doctrines'. I've heard some Christadelphians demand that John Thomas's interpretation of Ezekiel 38, including his view that Rosh is Russia and that Tarshish is Britain and the USA, should be recognised as fundamental Christadelphian doctrine and anyone holding an alternative view should be 'rejected' (which may mean exclusion from the platform and ecclesial positions, or even disfellowship). I know of at least one 'Central fellowship' ecclesia which demanded belief in Thomas's view that judgment would be at Mt Sinai as a condition for fellowship.

This emphasis on prophecy has sometimes led to outrageous interpretations of prophecy being advocated as Christadelphian teaching, when it may only be the opinion of a few. In my own lifetime I've attended public Christadelphian lectures which claimed, for example, that "Man will never walk on the moon" and that "Britain will never enter the Common Market". I've heard Christadelphians publicly predict dates for the second coming (a 'tradition' which began with John Thomas who set a date for the second coming more than once). I've seen Christadelphian advertising saying "the rise of Russia is a sign of Christ's second coming" as well as "the fall of Russia is a sign of Christ's second coming"!

This all contributes to a public perception that Christadelphians are a group of crackpots and that their interpretations of prophecy are nothing more than guesswork and speculation based on the daily newspaper.

OPPORTUNITIES - some Christadelphian commentators such as Harry Whittaker have made substantial contributions to the interpretation of prophecy. While maintaining a focus on the three key areas I listed above, these scholars have helped to draw the brotherhood's attention back to the methods of interpretation rather than just rigidly adhering to the ideas of one man. I believe there is an opportunity here to build on this and to re-look at many of the 'uncertain details' while exploring further the rich sources of Biblical prophetic material and examining many of the prophetic texts which have been glossed over in the past. It would be especially valuable, in my opinion, to study the issues which were important to the prophets (such as justice and equity) rather than just reading prophecy as a way of predicting the future.

THREATS - Christadelphians have lost much of their credibility because they have allowed or advocated some 'loony' interpretations of prophecy, some of which have easily been proven to be wrong. It has practically become part of the Christadelphian tradition to interpret current events in the light of questionable interpretations of prophecy and to make very shaky predictions based on a very narrow reading of Scripture (John Thomas, for example, said it was his "maturest conviction" that Rome would never be the capital of Italy!). Christadelphians will continue to lose credibility if they do not shake themselves free of what one brother called the "Christadelphian parlour game" of predicting future events and if they do not take a fresh look at the real social and religious concerns of the prophets.


Unknown said...

Hey :)
- no religion has reached perfection, and it would seem logical that the most important way to form an ecclesia is by each individual's contribution and overall unity in behavior and relationships.
this means that the individual will have there own personal relationship with God, who they have come to know.
so when the time of judgment occurs, i dont think people will be rejected or accepted on a basis of whether they believed some human's possible interpretation of scripture, it will come down to their own personal relationship with God, which defines their attitudes, behavior, and our whole life really.
my point is that christadelphians are human beings, and as a whole, are not perfect. (speaking from experience)
its like taking a sample from a population - if you take a dodgy sample, you have a bad representation of a population.
So making mistakes like adamantly advocating an incorrect piece of interpreted prophecy or something similarly ridiculous, will happen, and its a pity they ruin their credibility. In the big scheme of things and our mission, it doesn't actually matter, because they can still be a 'light' among the whole world, as individuals and unified groups.

Anonymous said...

Why do people always emphasize areas in John Thomas writing which were incorrect? Have you read Elpis Israel or Eureka I wonder? Take the 1% which he got wrong and the 99% he got right - then tell me we need to explore other ways of interpretation! I do not follow MANS ideas but what the Bible tells us and when we find keys of interpretation which are PROOVED correct then why do we need to explore other ways of interpretation from the corrupt teachings of other religions around us. If we do explore them then I suggest we always go back and look at what the pioneers taught because THEY GOT IT RIGHT! If anybody is reading this I would suggest you read the works of the Pioneers and then you'll be in a position to judge the above commentators words for yourself!

EJK said...

First I am not a CD,but do know a group,most are level headed but still have this "we alone have the truth".I see you as a person who see the shortcomings of CD's and you have a person like M.Davies "I am above all CD"Elpis Israel and Eureka were copied by J.Thomas from other writers,and claimed by Him as his original books.J.Thomas predicted the end of time and R.Roberts,both failed.1934 C.P Wauchope,1968 H.P Mansfield,1987 Roger Stokes,1999 Woodville ecclesia,more failed predictions.I cannot comprehend why you people even try(He will come like a thief in the night)you should accept that,hey it is in the Bible,like you say all the time.You elite group will be taken to Mt.Sinai and be judged by Christ and the worthy be given eternal life to run with Christ Kingdom on earth?Do you really believe this...Who says you alone are the chosen elite group,I understand that God's chosen race are Jews,and that is in the Bible as well and since when did CD's become judges on earth as was said to me if I die as a non CD,I will not get salvation or be resurected.No where in the Bible states that CD's have been appointed to judge others,as I said before,most are nice people but we are the "best"so sad by these claims you are looked upon as a sect.