If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psa 11:3)
Plea for Unsound Union
Before I left Birmingham, I said to brother Walker,
"When I am gone there will be proposals for re-union, I have no doubt, with those who went out from us on inspiration. It is a question on which there can be no compromise. You will know how to deal with it."
I had not been many weeks landed in Australia, when a pamphlet was sent out to me which someone had put into circulation, entitled "A plea for unity." The subject calls for the following remarks:-
Unity is a beautiful and desirable thing, but it has conditions that cannot be forced, and it requires no pleas. Where it exists, it asserts itself like a law of nature. Union may require its pleas; it is union the well-meaning brother means. He has used the wrong word.
Disunion exists because of the want of unity (oneness of mind). The author of the pamphlet would have the disunity ignored, and the union brought about in spite of it.
Union has advantages. There has been much talk of late years of "the re-union of Christendom." The scheme is favoured by many who would sacrifice oneness of faith (or indeed faith of any kind) for the sake of seeing all sects fused into one church. It was supposed that the Pope himself was in favour of the scheme; so he was, provided all accepted the Roman Catholic faith, in which, so far as theory was concerned, he was more consistent than the rest.
Among ourselves, there was a similar movement twenty years ago. Records of it will be found on page 538 of the Christadelphian for 1877-under the heading "Proposal for Re-union." In that case, the cause of disunion was disunity of mind on the subject of the nature and sacrifice of Christ. The remarks made then are applicable at the present time, when the particular disunion existing is due to disunity of mind on the more serious question of the character of the Holy Scriptures.
We remarked then as follows: "Union and peace are results springing from preceding conditions" . . Those from whom separation took place "would rejoice to accept the restoration of fellowship if it were offered on the basis of truth accepted and error discarded: but they cannot accept it on the basis of a form of agreement which would cover up and compromise the real issue. . .
To 'let bygones be bygones' is a reasonable proposal when the 'bygones' are of such a nature as to be sorrowed for and repudiated: but those to whom a return is proposed have no bygones to repent of so far as their course in this particular matter is concerned. They acted with a good conscience before God, with sorrow they were compelled to act, but seeing no alternative: and they are in the mind to act so again if necessity call for it-which God forbid.
Their position now is the position they occupied then. If the issuers of this pamphlet desire to take part in this position as the result of a conviction that they have been seduced into a wrong position, those to whom they wish to return will gladly welcome their fellowship in it. But let there be no misunderstanding. There can be no union without unity."
These remarks, just twenty years old, are strictly applicable to the present case. Agreement as to the wholly inspired and infallible character of the Scriptures is the very first condition of association on the basis of belief of what they teach. This agreement was broken by the promulgation of a theory to the effect that the Scriptures were partly human and erring. There were those who accepted this theory and those who could not, and there were those who were disposed to make it a matter of indifference. Cleavage was the inevitable result of such a situation.
The author or authors of the present "plea for unity" are not the only persons "saddened" by the "divisions and estrangements that have taken place," but union without unity is not the remedy for the sadness. And union with unity will never be a general thing till the Lord is here. He said there would be division even in families about him. And it has been so; and it is not going to stop till he end it.
The only practicable rule of operation at present is fellowship on the basis of oneness of mind. It is a rule fraught with embarrassment and pain, but it is not of human appointment and cannot be set aside where faithfulness to the word of God is not extinct. To confound this rule with the Corinthian schisms that gloried in particular men after the flesh, is a serious mistake. The "plea" shows some heat against those who are described as "every assumed leader amongst us." I suppose I am intended as one of those, and as such, I am to be "repudiated once and for ever."
There is either misunderstanding or malice here. I am no "leader" except as a man's individual actions may influence others. I have always repudiated the imputation of leadership. I but do my own part on the basis of individual right. I claim no authority. I dictate to no man. I only act out my individual convictions, and advocate my individual views. Which of the demurring brethren do not do the same thing? Why should they find fault with me for doing what they do? If others are influenced by what I do or say, is this wrong? Is it not what the critics are aiming to do? An enlightened man would refuse to be responsible for such an unreasonable criticism.
If the remark is inspired by the malice of envy or the pain of being opposed, it cannot be reasoned with, and must be left. It is not the first time in the history of the work of God that accusations of taking too much upon them have been brought against those whose only crime has been unsought for prominence and influence in the carrying out of a faithful course.
These and other hostile allusions are in contradiction to the recommendation of the pamphlet to abstain from "any allusions of ill-will to any living brother," and from all references to the occurrences of the past. Also, there is a want of correspondence between the timid anonymousness of the pamphlet and the appeal to heroic courage of "the three Hebrew children" in carrying out the course recommended-viz., the appointment of "delegates" to meet and "finally settle the differences which exist."
This proposal stamps the author as either a neophyte or else as a man lacking experience of the ways of men as they are in fact, and not as seen through the distorting medium of newspaper columns. "Delegates" have no power to settle matters of faith, conviction, or duty. You may give them power to engage a hall or enter upon a printing contract, or any other secular matter in which you covenant beforehand to be bound by their decision. You cannot delegate the decision of spiritual issues. This is wholly a matter of individual responsibility in which no man can bind or absolve another.
When you appoint "delegates" to settle questions of duty, you abdicate individual conscience and set up a spiritual tyranny akin to the "councils" which have already for ages desolated the world. The only practicable method of work in an age when God has chosen to be silent is for each man to judge for himself and as many as are of one mind to work together. The proposal to "appoint delegates with full powers to act," and that "their decision for unity shall be final," is the proposal of a man who may want peace (which is a good thing on the right foundation), but who does not understand what he is proposing.
Unity is oneness of mind. The idea of delegates deciding that other people shall be of one mind is on a par with the idea of an Act of Parliament to settle the weather. If he says, "Oh, no; we mean oneness of association, and not oneness of mind," then he is inviting us to ignore oneness of mind as the Scriptural basis of oneness of association to which there can be but one answer. If oneness of mind be not the condition-precedent of oneness of association, then let us return to the churches and chapels with all speed. Why stand apart from the orthodox communions, with their many advantageous connections and associations, for the sake of a spiritual fad, if the one faith is not essential to the one body?
Twenty-one years ago, in the Christadelphian for 1877, I had to withstand an esteemed relative in words which I cannot do better than repeat, as entirely suitable to the present connection:
-It is a thing apostolically enjoined, a thing commended by the highest reason (to contend earnestly for the faith in its integrity, and to stand aside from all who corrupt it). It is a thing, the absence of which in the first century, led to wholesale corruption, and would in our day have already destroyed the distinctive features of the truth.
In the arduous battle for the truth, it is a thing beset with many difficulties, and a true friend of the spiritual order would not increase those difficulties by protesting against it, but would rather abet and encourage every tendency in the direction of faithfulness in this gloomy and unfriendly age.
Then there is the proposition that "Christadelphianism is not a finality." If this were our opinion, we should be found altogether elsewhere. We would not sacrifice present respectability and present ease for the sake of a thing admitting of uncertainty and requiring further "enquiry." In this point we totally differ from all our critics. We are certain we have attained to the truth, we are positive, we have no doubt.
The truth is not with us an object of search, or a subject of investigation, it is a possession and a finality, and this confidence is not a matter of assumption or an idiosyncrasy. It is founded on a lifetime's incessant daily reading of the Scriptures. The critics may call this "infallibility," but it is nothing more than reasonable confidence. A man does not require to be infallible in order to be certain that he sees the sun.
Then the critics condemn confidence as to the teaching of the Word. They either mean that we never can reach to the full assurance of faith, or that their view of the case and not their neighbour's is the infallible one. If the former be their meaning, they convict themselves of belonging to the class condemned in the Scriptures, who are "ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth." If the latter, it is a choice of infallibilities, and we do not hesitate to reject theirs.
"Progress" is a pretty word, and "stemming the current of progress" a dreadful crime, of course; but there is progress two ways, and we cannot accept the guidance of the critics as to when the progress is backwards and when forwards. The backward progress of things in the first century was pushed forward with "good words and fair speeches, which deceived the hearts of the simple."
We are one with those who hold the truth as a finality, who do not require to "lay again the foundations"; but who, strong in faith and filled with all wisdom, are engaged in the work, not of discussing the truth, but advocating it for the development of a people who shall be found in all assurance of faith, looking and preparing for the second appearing of the Son of Man in power and great glory.
Paul commands the brethren to "all speak the same thing," and to be "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10). How strangely, by the side of this, does the statement of this pamphlet read: That "certain differences of opinion are necessary to progress," and that these differences are to be "appreciated rather than otherwise." What can we do but hold by Paul and reject the pamphlet.
We can understand the sentiment of the pamphlet as applied to matters of science where knowledge comes from investigation, and investigation is stimulated by conflicting theory; but it is incomprehensible in reference to the faith of Christ except on the hypothesis already rebutted-that this is a matter of uncertainty.
The advocacy of "differences of opinion" as a matter of advantage among brethren will please well a certain class; but it will not find any favour among true saints who have come, and are helping others to "come unto the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . being henceforth no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."
In fact this principle of unity, as opposed to "differences of opinion," distinguishes the true brethren of Christ from mere opinionists, who have a smattering of the truth; but who, though "ever learning," are never able to come to a knowledge of it.
To the charge of holding "that the knowledge of Scripture, in the writings of Dr. Thomas, has reached a finality," we plead guilty. If we were ignorant or unfamiliar with the Scriptures, or were like those who when they attempt to write or speak, have to look at them through the telescope of dictionaries, concordances, and such like, we should not have ground sufficient to entertain this conviction; but our acquaintance with them in daily intercourse for a lifetime enables us to be confident on the point.
Our reading has not been confined to the Scriptures, or to the writings of Dr. Thomas. We have read what others have to say in many realms of human thought. We have, therefore, all the materials to form a judgment; and our judgment is distinctly to the effect imputed-that, in the writings of Dr. Thomas, the truth is developed as a finality, and that they are a depôt of the Christian doctrine. In this sense we are "committed to Dr. Thomas."
Dr. Thomas has been laid aside in the grave for a season; and so long as God permits life and health, we shall defend the mighty results of his labours against all ridicule and opposition from friend or foe. Were he in the land of the living, some who are in hostility would be in a different attitude towards him. When he reappears, they will be ashamed. Meanwhile, God, who used him in the doing of His work, lives to note the gap made by his death, and the results which were not unforeseen to Him.
In His sight, and with His help, we shall hold fast to the truth brought to light by his means; and, please God, will rejoice with him at the near-impending realisation of all the hopes of the saints, in the day when the bitterness of present warfare will only add sweetness to the hour of triumph. We shall try and endure the odium which calls this a dictatorial spirit. The clear perception, strong choice, and resolute defence of that which is true and good is not the offspring of dictation; nevertheless, if enemies or friends choose to consider it so, we must heed them not. It is this spirit that enables a man to say at last,
"I have fought a good fight: I have kept the faith."
We recognise in sorrow and compassion, the painful position of all men who love the good things revealed in the Scriptures, and incline to pursue the course that is right, and yet find themselves in a strait between their desire to live peaceably with all men, and their resolution to walk in faithfulness to the Gospel to which they have been called.
We have from the beginning suffered from this agonising embarrassment, and can sympathise with all who suffer in the same way. This sympathy takes off the edge of the resentment we should feel at the odiums cast upon us by many who love peace and misunderstand our attitude. At the same time, it cannot relax enlightened determination to persevere in the policy of the past.
Dr. Thomas recommended that policy, and we have found it the only practicable one; to give the truth the benefit of all doubts, and to accept such co-operations only as uncompromising loyalty to it might allow.
There are, of course, extremes in the application of this principle to which Dr. Thomas himself did not go, and to which we cannot lend ourselves-(where unrevealed details admit of variety in opinion). But as regards the great general truths involved in "the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ," there is no tenable ground between returning to the churches, or restricting our ecclesial associations to those who yield an unqualified assent to these elements of truth.
First among these elements of truth is the character of the Bible as the product of divine and unerring inspiration. No "pleas" for union can be listened to which in any degree leaves this an open question.
Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, 1860
"When holiness and zeal are combined in any man, that man becomes a sword in a wicked world.
If a man be holy without zeal, he will be scoffed at indeed by many, but despised for his insignificance. If a man be zealous without holiness, he exposes himself to that withering rebuke, "Thou hypocrite first cast out the beam in thine own eye."...
This would be all easy if we had no contention but with the unconverted world; but we have a multitude who belong not fully to either camp. It seems uncharitable to call them enemies; it seems unfaithful to admit that they are friends. Hence arises the difficulty.
It is the Lord's special and distinctive commandment to his disciples that they love one another. But who is a disciple? And how far is our love to one whom we suppose a disciple to be carried? I lay before you a statement which I believe to be the truth of God. There is a man whom I suppose not to be a Christian. This statement does, I say, offend that man. What is my duty? Should I out of love to the man, suppress the statement; or should I out of love to the truth, make the statement, though I offend the man?
Suppose we adopt the former mode of keeping the peace; then it is clear that this consequence would follow; the prejudices of our brother, and not the contents of the Bible would become the measure and standard of our statements of truth; an evil than which I cannot imagine any thing more absolutely destructive.
If this be admitted, the ecclesia instead of growing to the measure of the stature of Christ, would dwindle into the dwarfish littleness of the most puny, timid believer in her communion. We must adopt the latter mode then, and speak out; and in so doing we must incur the consequence, namely, we shall be reproached for disturbing peace and harmony, and brotherly love; as renders of the body of Christ; as destitute of that meekness which characterised our Master, whose commandment we shall hear was love." [John 15:9-10, 12-14; 1 John 2:5, 10
The truth cannot be frustrated in its appointed mission in our age any more than in any other. If those to whom it comes prove undiscerning of their privilege, or loose-handed in their stewardship, the opportunity will pass on to others, as we are taught by the parables and all God's dealings on earth. It has always come in a humble and kindly agency, but it is none the less a thing inexorable in the bottom. Gentle and enticing at the beginning, it will end in bitter mockery if it be trifled with. God is love, but our God is a consuming fire, and it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands.
Bro Robert Roberts - The Christadelphian 1886 page 183
1 Tim. 6:3-5; cf. Tit. 1:1, Tit. 3:10, 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15, Rom. 16:17, 1 Cor. 5:11-13, Eph 5:11, Matt. 18:17, 1 Jn. 1:5-7
BY DR. THOMAS, IN 1853. The Truth creates "sides;" the for-it side, and the against-it side; and between these two sides there is no neutral ground. He that is not for me, said Jesus, is against me; and he styled himself "the Truth." If we are for the Truth, we cannot encamp with the enemy, and cooperate with them. Being for the Truth, it will place us in the minority, and identify us with those who suffer for the Truth's sake. He that runs with the hare, but holds with the hounds, will never save the fugitive from being worried to death. There were men in the days of Jesus who would preach his doctrine and not speak lightly of him, but would also carefully avoid identification with his unsavoury name. This is referable to the pride of life, love of popularity, or to some other equally unworthy thing. It is certainly a course not prompted by a devotion to the Truth, or a love of righteousness. Moses acted not thus. He renounced the throne and treasures of Egypt for the society of enslaved brick-makers. The other course evinces indecision of character which cannot be approved of the Lord when he comes. Sky-kingdomism is unscriptural and wholly false, and therefore subversive, wherever it prevails, of "the Gospel of the Kingdom of God," which is wholly Scriptural and only and altogether true. If I identify myself, without a standing protest against it, and with those who believe and advocate it, I become by example an enemy of that which I believe is true. -Herald, 1853.
By what means shall a community, based on the truth, preserve the truth in purity in its midst? Obviously by the means indicated by Paul and John, that is, by exacting of all who are in it an implicit adherence to the things, facts, principles, points, tenets, or whatever else they may be called, which go to make up the truth in its entirety and by refusing to associate with those who oppose or refuse to endorse any of its elements.
The ecclesia is not a place for argument; it is for worship in agreement. When a man requires to be argued with, his natural place is outside, and if he will not go outside, separation must be enforced by withdrawal on the part of the rest.
Division is the inevitable concomitant of an uncompromising adherence to the truth. Peace purchased at the cost of compromise is doubly dangerous.
The truth is the standard and must alone be allowed to rule.
'Contending for the Faith' - Robert Roberts
"They are unfaithful to the doctrine of Christ, who from any motives of personal interest
would weaken the point of doctrine, or soften it for the gratification of their natural feelings, or for fear
of hurting the feelings of the enemy, and so affecting their popularity with him."-R. ROBERTS
That it is the duty of the friends of the truth to uphold it as a basis of union among themselves by refusing to receive either those who deny any part of it, or those who would receive those so denying.
'Biblical Fellowship - the protection of the Truth'-Robert Roberts
A want of unity is fatal to edification. Union without unity is worse than worthless; it is pernicious; it tends to frustrate the objects of fellowship. The Ecclesia is not the place at all for discussing the Principles of the One Faith. That belongs altogether to the outside.
The plea of "looking at both sides" is plausible, and looks candid; but it belongs only to those who are uncertain of the Faith; and certainly is no feature of the "full assurance of faith" without which it is impossible to please God. It is all very well for those who do not know the Truth to talk in such a style. Such are in no state to form constituents of a community whose function is to be the "Pillar and Ground of THE TRUTH" (1 Tim.3:15).
Agreement in the things of the Spirit is the first condition of ecclesial unity. The "unity of the Spirit" may be kept in the bond of peace. But the schism of the Spirit-disagreement in the things of the Spirit-renders peace impossible.
Those who are indifferent can easily afford to ignore disagreement, and to preach cordially of the virtue of "agreeing to differ." This is no characteristic of the Ecclesia of the Living God. It contends for the Faith once delivered to the saints, and obeys Paul's command to "turn away" from the perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds (1 Tim. 6:5).
The first characteristic of true saintship is zeal for the things of God. He is not content to cultivate friendship on the basis of adhesiveness or any other merely fleshly instinct. He stands "in God"; God's ways and principles are the rules of his life, the measure of his aspirations, the standard of his friendship, the foundation of all his doings.
The Laodicean attitude of indifference-the readiness to agree to differ within the precincts of the Ecclesia-is impossible with him. He must have the Faith first pure, knowing that peace will follow, and from peace, edification and the growth of every good thing that shall prepare the brethren for the coming of the Lord. A contrary condition produces every evil work.
Unity in the Spirit will admit of growth to the stature of the perfect man in Christ. It will help us to dwell together in love and hope, striving together for the Faith of the Gospel, abounding in the whole work of the Lord with thanksgiving.
Taken from "Seasons of Comfort" (#48) - 1874, by Brother Roberts
Biblical Fellowship involves the protection of the Truth
Belief of the Truth and baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ confers fellowship with God
through His Son. This privilege demands that we keep the purity of the Faith among those
whom we fellowship, by withdrawing from unrepentant known sin in doctrine or practice.
Matthew 12v30;Acts 2v41-47;2nd Corinthians 6v14-18;Ephesians 4v1-6;1st John 1v3-7.
- a brother (Pioneer Christadelphian Fellowship).
Exhortation by Brother Roberts
The Beauty of Christ (excerpt)
At the same time, it is always possible, as at Corinth, to come together, "not for the better but for the worse." We must guard against this by the avoidance of those conditions that lead to such a result.
A want of unity is fatal to edification. Union without unity is worse than worthless; it is pernicious; it tends to frustrate the objects of fellowship.
The ecclesia is not the place at all for discussing the principles of the one faith. That belongs altogether to the outside. The plea of looking at both sides is plausible and looks candid, but it belongs only to those who are uncertain of the faith; and uncertainty is no feature of the full assurance of faith, without which it is impossible to please God.
It is all very well for those who do not know the truth to talk in such a style; such are in no state to form constituents of a community whose function is to be the "pillar and ground of the truth." Agreement in the things of the Spirit is the first condition of ecclesial unity. The unity of the Spirit may be kept in the bond of peace; but the schism of the Spirit -- disagreement in the things of the Spirit -- renders peace impossible.
Those who are indifferent can easily afford to ignore disagreement; and preach cordially of the virtue of "agreeing to differ." This is no characteristic of the ecclesia of the living God. It contends for the faith once delivered to the saints, and obeys Paul's command (1 Tim. 6:5) to "turn away" from the perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds.
The first characteristic of the true saint is zeal for the things of God. He is not content to cultivate friendship on the basis of "adhesiveness" or any other merely fleshly instinct. He stands "in God": God's ways and principles are the rule of his life, the measure of his aspirations, the standard of his friendship, the foundation of all his doings.
The Laodicean attitude of indifference -- the readiness to agree to differ within the precincts of the ecclesia -- is impossible with him. He must have the faith first pure, knowing that peace will follow, and from peace edification, and the growth in every good thing that shall prepare the brethren for the coming of the Lord. A contrary condition produces every evil work. Unity in the Spirit will admit of growth to the stature of the perfect man in Christ. It will help us to dwell together in love and hope, striving together for the faith of the Gospel, abounding in the whole work of the Lord with thanksgiving.
Let us obey implicitly the advice of Paul, who counsels abstinence from strifes of words, foolish questions and contentions, which he declares to be "unprofitable and vain" (Titus 3:9). "Charge them before the Lord," he says, "that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers ... Shun profane and vain babblings" (2 Tim. 2:14-16). He instructed Titus to "AFFIRM CONSTANTLY" that believers should be careful to maintain good works, which were to their profit (Titus 3:8).
Leaving perverse, uncandid, evasive and Jesuitical disputers, then, to themselves, let us be diligent in every good work, against the impending day of account, relieving the afflicted, comforting the saints in their tribulations, leading sinners into the way of justification and eternal life. These good works wither before the hot blast of contention, strife, backbiting, and vainglory; and by these, men, running well for awhile, are destroyed.
From the Apocalyptic Messenger, March 2005
THE SHOPHAR NEWSLETTER
Although we are met with criticism or stony silences, we believe this magazine consistently presents the Truth on all issues, that it defends Bro Thomas and the resurrected Faith of the apostles, which he was instrumental in accomplishing as the revived witness ofRev.11:11 "and the spirit of life entered into the witnesses.
This is the Truth we stand by regardless of subsequent changes either in doctrine or prophecy or issues of fellowship. We regard any such changes as a falling away or apostacy from the original faith.
We do not expect to please everybody in this and letters we have recently received indicate that this is so. We are not however sowers of confusion. Our message is clear not ambiguous. We do not support a yea nea stance but a yea yea stance on all issues.
If a position seems to us illogical, confused or erroneous we will say so. The message we get from Bro Thomas is forthright, clear scriptural and squaring with reason and logic. On this basis his expositions and comments have never failed to make a profound impression upon our minds. If it comes to choosing between his understanding and that of another we invariably choose Bro Thomas for the above reasons.
We have always been prepared to identify apostate teaching, false doctrine or confused teaching and answer this. If people are unhappy with our answers, then they must oppose us on the basis of clear, logical, water tight arguments otherwise we will reject them.
We have separated from apostasy and confusion when we came out of the world. We encountered much confusion and contradictory teaching in 'Central' for years. At first we tolerated this although contending for the pioneer faith. We discovered that divers opinion was endemic to the reunion body and our contending got nowhere.
We studied into fellowship going back to Robert Roberts stand against partial inspiration heresy of 1885. His stand made sense to us, namely that heresy cannot be fellowshipped otherwise it leavens and adulterates the body. Brother Roberts article "The nature and conditions offellowship in the Truth" was clear to us, and guided us in our subsequent action of withdrawal from heresy. We decided that the simple answer was, since there were so many splinter fellowships, to go back to the stand of bro Thomas 1848-1871. This would be our basis of fellowship.
Any other position we would reject. When the Lord comes this is where we want to be found spiritually, standing alongside Bro Thomas and the resurrected Faith. We decided if he didn't have the Truth "in these last days", then nobody did.
Our duty we decided was to contend for this resurrected Faith, to promote it and to defend if against all comers. For this purpose the magazine exists.
Biblical Fellowship - the protection of the Truth
Biblical Fellowship involves the protection of the Truth
Belief of the Truth and baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ confers fellowship with God
through His Son. This privilege demands that we keep the purity of the Faith among those
whom we fellowship, by withdrawing from unrepentant known sin in doctrine or practice.
Matthew 12v30;Acts 2v41-47;2nd Corinthians 6v14-18;Ephesians 4v1-6;1st John 1v3-7.
'THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS OF FELLOWSHIP IN THE TRUTH'
by Robert Roberts
The truth is professedly and confessedly a "narrow" thing. Jesus declares this in saying "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life". This "way" he afterwards speaks of as "the truth", saying, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"; and also, "every one that is of the truth heareth my voice".
The narrowness of the truth is one of the obstacles to its general adoption. People do not like to be fettered either in doctrine or practice. It is also one of the causes of the active tendency to corruption which has manifested itself among those embracing the truth from the very day it was apostolicallyestablished at Jerusalem.
It is inconvenient to be under restrictions in our dealings with fellow men in the truth or out of it. If it were a question of choice, we should all prefer absolute freedom. But no one recognizing Christ as the supreme teacher can think of freedom in the matter. If we make freedom our rule, we can only have the freedom of those who set Christ aside altogether, saying in the words of the wicked "Our tongues are our own: who is Lord over us". None who truly know Christ would desire this freedom.
All who sincerely accept Christ will recognize his law as paramount, however irksomely it may work in some of its present relations. It is one of the narrownesses of the truth that it demands of those who receive it that they "contend earnestly for it", even if an angel from heaven oppose it or corrupt it (Jude 3 ; Gal. i. 8-9), and that they maintain it intact and unsullied among themselves as the basis and association among thosewho profess it, refusing to walk with a brother who either disobeys its precepts (2 Thes. iii. 14 ; Rom. xvi. 17), or refuses consent to its teachings in vital matters (2 Jno. 10 ; 1 Tim. vi. 3-5).
This policy is so contrary to natural friendliness that it is easy to drift away from it, and to invent theories that will relieve us from its unpleasant obligations.
The controversy on inspiration has forced the re-consideration of this question upon us. We say re-consideration: for it was considered and debated in the beginning of things connected with the truth in this generation, and satisfactorily disposed of for a time. The principal cause of our trouble in the present situation has been the divergence of view that has prevailed at the bottom on this fundamental question. Many who have allowed the entirely inspired character of the Scriptures, have not been able to see the necessity for insisting upon that truth in our basis of fellowship. They have been inclined to leave it as "an open question". This is the result of a dim or faulty perception of the apostolic doctrine of fellowship ( a common sense doctrine) which requires agreement on fundamentals as the first condition of walking together, or co-operating, associating, or fellowshipping together in the prosecution of the objects of the truth. As a brother writing on the question says:
"There is prevalent at the present time a lamentable looseness in regard to what must constitute the basis of fellowship. It arises partly from ignorance and partly from an over anxiety to increase numbers, and keep together divergent elements. This must inevitably result in serious trouble or general declension. . .The truth's interest is at stake, and no doubt much depends upon our action, as to whether it is yet to be maintained in its purity and simplicity, or lapse into laodiceanism. The crisis is, doubtless, the most acute that has taken place since it was brought to light in these latter days. It has been brewing for past years. You were reluctant to believe it, and laboured to stave it off. A too long course of loose discipline and slackness in dealing with wrong principles in doctrine and practice has, no doubt, intensified the evil and made it all the more bitter, and grievous and hard to bear. I am persuaded that good will result in the case of those many or few who will outride the storm by keeping a firm grasp of the anchor of the soul, by coming out of this ocean of suffering as gold tried in the fire."
With a view to the thorough ventilation and effectual exhibition of the Scriptural principles of fellowship, we append a double series of propositions in which there is some attempt to formulate them in their bearing upon the question which has been troubling the ecclesias.We should be pleased to receive and publish enlightened criticisms that may be offered thereon; or any other capable endeavour to amplify or illustrate Scriptural principles in the same direction.
THE FIRST SERIES.
I. "Fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" consists in walking in the light, as God is in the light.
II. "Fellowship one with another", depends entirely upon our conformity to this first and necessary principle of all fellowship,which John so emphatically lays down in Jno. i. 6, 7.
III. "Light" is a figure of speech-a metaphor for divine wisdom, true knowledge, and accurate understanding.
IV. God is the fountain-head of these incomparable powers. Hence "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all".
V. His light is manifested to us in three ways - first, in Christ ; second, in the Scriptures; and third, in His saints.
VI. In Christ:-"I am come a light into the world that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness".
In the Scriptures:-"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psalm cxix. 105).
In His Saints:-"For ye were sometimes in darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord ; walk as Children of light" (Eph. v. 8).
VII. These points being hereby established, they constitute a chain connecting God and man, not one link of which can be removed, or in any respect impaired without endangering the whole sequence and breaking the harmony of the divine relations to us individually. Take away Christ and you destroy all possibility of fellowship with God. Tamper with that Bible which He approved,and you equally render divine recognition of you hopeless, while you remove the only means in visible existence among men which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among them who are sanctified ; you destroy the foundation of the righteous, and dissolve in so doing the household of Christ.
VIII. "Walking in the light", therefore, means "believing ALL things that are written in the law and the prophets", as Paul affirmed he did (Acts xxiv. 14), as well as the subsequent writings in the New Testament : exercising hope towards God as embodied in "Christ our hope", and following "righteousness, faith, love, peace with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart".
IX. Without the patient and faithful observance of these things, fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ is impossible, and in consequence fellowship one with another is likewise impracticable.
Is it not a commandment of God that we should receive His word - His oracles - the Scriptures -as supreme? Does not Christ enforce it in his "Search the Scriptures" (John v. 39) and elsewhere? Does not Paul teach it in many ways, in regard to both the Old Testament and the New?
Admitting this unavoidable conclusion and reading it in the light which 1 John ii. 3, &c., throws upon the conditions of true fellowship, namely,
"And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word in him is verily the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him". "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk so in as he walked". Must we not exact Christ's estimate of the Old Testament, and Paul's of both the Old Testament and his own writings, as a necessary condition to be recognized in our "fellowship one with another", if we wish to secure the end for which we are working, namely, "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ"?
THE SECOND SERIES.
1.- In the accomplishment of its mission among men, the truth acts by sep-
aration and association.
(a) It separates men from the world: "Come out from among them
and be separate".
(b) It associates those so separated: "Ye are all one . . . forsake not
the assembling of yourselves together".
It produces these results by the creation of scripturally derived ideas in
the minds of those operated upon. By these ideas they are dominated &
controlled. They become mentally new creatures, and manifest the
change in their altered relations to men and things around them.
2.- But the association of those separated by the truth, is governed by con-
ditions, that sometimes interrupt that association. Hence, "Have no
company": "withdraw": "turn away"- are apostolic commands con-
cerning some who have been actually separated by the truth.
3.- The conditions of association relate to two departments of our standing
in Christ which may be expressed as conviction and character . . . Unity
of conviction and mutuality of conformity to a certain standard of act-
ion, are the two conditions out of which association and fellowship grow,
and by rupture of which, it is necessarily interfered with.
4.- This rupture may be only partial in either department and yet be suffic-
ient to cause suspension of association in fellowship.Apostolic examples:
(a) Refusal to recognize that Christ had come in the flesh was made
a reason for not receiving men who believed in God and the
Kingdom, and a number of other elements of truth.
(b) Idleness was declared a ground of disfellowship where men had
otherwise submitted to the commandments of Christ.
5.- That the first condition of association is the belief of the truth, apart
from the perception and reception of which, there is no basis of fellow-
6.- That the truth forming this basis is made up of a number of items or elements, that are each essential to its integrity as a whole.
7.- That it is a matter of duty to require the recognition of these at the
hands of those claiming association with us in the truth.
8.- That we are not at liberty to receive any one who denies or refuses to
believe any of them, because the receiving of such would open the way
for the currency of their principles among us, with the tendency of
leavening the whole community. The elements of the truth are so mutu-
ally related that the displacement of one undermines the foundation of
9.- A man himself believing the truth, but willing to wink at its denial a-
mong those in fellowship in any of its essential elements, becomes, by
this willingness, an offender against the law of Christ, which requires
the faithful maintenance of the whole. Faithful servants of Christ can-
not unite with such, on the ground that though he hold the truth him-
self, such a man is responsible for the error of those whom he would
admit, and therefore becomes the channel of a similar responsibility
to those who may endorse him in fellowship:-"He that biddeth him
God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds".
10.- That it is the duty of the friends of the truth to uphold it as a basis of
union among themselves by refusing to receive either those who deny
any part of it, or those who would receive those so denying.
11.- Paul commands withdrawal from "any man" who "obeys not his
word", "delivered by epistle". He commands the brethren to hold fast
the traditions taught by him, "whether by word or epistle".
12.- Paul teaches by epistle that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.
13.- We are bound to hold fast by this, and to refuse association with any
man refusing submission to this apostolic tradition.
14.- The doctrine of partial inspiration is a nullification of this apostolic
tradition; and a doctrine consequently, from the holders of which, we
are bound apostolically to withdraw.
15.- That the highest sanction of reason supports this apostolic obligation,
since logically, the doctrine of partial inspiration, when worked out, de-
prives us of confidence in the only access we have to the divine mind
in our age. - 'The Christadelphian', 1885, pages 385-389.
The So-Called "Birmingham Basis"
Brother Craig, of Napier, New Zealand, makes some good remarks on objections raised to the adoption of the "Birmingham Basis" in Christchurch. He says: "Brother Kirby resents the introduction of 'human creeds.' Quite right. To the moles and to the bats with human creeds! They are not worth the paper they are printed on. They have proved a curse wherever they have been invented, and must always be so, for 'the carnal mind is enmity against God.' 'The thinking of the flesh' has always been in opposition to the mind of the Spirit.
"But there is such a thing as the 'one faith' (Eph. 4:5). This is a creed (or thing believed) which is not man-made, but 'given by inspiration of God.' That this 'one faith' can be reduced to so many propositions is demonstrated every time we reason with men out of the Scriptures concerning it. The question is, 'Is the Birmingham Basis of Fellowship a true reflection of the mind of the Spirit?' If it is, it cannot be properly styled a 'human creed,' though the very words of Scripture are not always quoted.
It is, in that case, a divine creed put in such a way so that all may understand it. Some say, 'we must have the very words of Scripture.' They seem to forget that the English Bible is a translated book, and that, if we were to demand 'the very words of Scripture,' we should require to learn the original languages to procure them.
'Words' are mere vehicles used to convey ideas. It is the Scriptural ideas that are essential, and not the expression of these ideas in Scriptural language. We often use language of our own to express the ideas contained in the Scriptures; and, if questioned, we turn up the Scriptures to show that our language expressed these ideas. We often quote the sense without quoting the exact words-which practice cannot be seriously questioned.
"We have no right whatever to coerce anyone to assent to a basis they do not understand, nor believe. But, if one believes all the basis, and that all the propositions it contains are necessary to exclude vital error, some ulterior object must occupy their mind if they refuse to affirm it. Personal friendship sometimes interferes with a strict adherence to right and truth, and may cause some to decline assent to the basis. This shows a lack of moral courage, or a very partial understanding of the gravity of the position.
"When vital error creeps into an ecclesia, it is absolutely necessary to withdraw from those holding it. 'Men of corrupt minds' are to be withdrawn from, and those not consenting to 'wholesome words' (1 Tim. 6:5). 'A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject' (Titus 3:10). What is a heretic? Is he not 'one who holds doctrine subversive of the Gospel of the kingdom of God, and the things concerning our Lord Jesus Christ.'
Thus John says, 'Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God; and this is that spirit of Anti-Christ,' etc. (1 Jno. 4:3). Again, 'If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed' (2 John 10). Here, certainly, is one point upon which we are commanded to withdraw. How is this to be done? The order is distinct, viz., 'after the first and second admonition reject,' or withdraw.
When it is said that it is only the 'disorderly' that are to be withdrawn from, and not those 'who cannot see eye to eye on things hard to be understood,' I object most strongly. The Scriptures cited on the last point give 'evidence' sufficient to negative the assertion. If John commanded withdrawal from those who denied that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, where is there any ground for affirming that it is only the 'disorderly' that are to be withdrawn from?
What is meant by 'things hard to be understood?' Is it the first principles of the truth? If so, why does Paul style them 'the simplicity that is in Christ?' They only become 'hard to be understood' when the mind is warped and twisted by those who try to improve upon them. They are simplicity itself in comparison with the harebrained, yet complex, heresies, which have distracted the body of Christ both in apostolic and in our own times; and it is one of the first duties of those who love the truth in sincerity, to endeavour to preserve its simplicity and purity.
Again, it is said, 'One mind does not imply one comprehension, unless it is on the simple truths preceding baptism.' The distinction here observed between 'one mind' and 'one comprehension' is incomprehensible to me, unless it be meant that some comprehend the truth better than others. He admits, however, that 'one comprehension' is necessary 'on the simple truths preceding baptism.' This is sufficient; are not these simple truths concerning God's purpose in Christ? And, does not God's purpose include the crucifixion of Christ, as God's method of condemning 'sin in the flesh?'
"It is said to be ridiculous to require 'an understanding of all the difficult questions involved in the basis.' I can only ask where are the 'difficult questions?' To me, they are all as plain as the proverbial pikestaff. And, when brother Kirby asks, 'Do you think for a moment that anyone ever mastered the like before baptism?' I reply that, so far as my recollection goes, I did. That the Doctor was satisfied with the Bible as his basis, is quite true; but what would the Doctor have said to brother Kirby, if, in the name of the Bible, he had placed before him the doctrine about Christ which he espouses. He would have condemned it as one of the shallowest and most contradictory heresies ever introduced. He would hold up his Bible and say, 'Because this is my basis, I reject your theory, and decline to fellowship anyone holding it.'
"The Bible is our basis; and it has become necessary in order to preserve the truth in its purity to define 'the first principles of the oracles of the Deity,' and to reduce them to a simple form, so that all may see what we believe the Bible teaches. It has become necessary to do this since the Doctor fell asleep, because all the heresies which have distracted the minds of the brethren have come into the brotherhood since his time.
"As for the talk about slavishly following brother Roberts, we esteem those brethren who have dug out the truth from beneath the rubbish of theological fiction very highly for their work's sake, but, if we did not know what they had dug out was the truth, we should cast it from us and pay no heed to them. We do not rely upon man, but upon the truth of God. Where is the 'slavish following?' I can only speak for myself, and I say that I would follow neither Dr. Thomas nor Robert Roberts if I were unable to comprehend their position, and to prove it from the Scriptures of Truth."
The Christadelphian, Dec 1898
TRUE PRINCIPLES AND UNCERTAIN DETAILS
THE DANGER OF GOING TOO FAR IN OUR DEMANDS ON FELLOW-BELIEVERS
By Robert Roberts
- It has pleased God to save men by the belief and obedience of a system of truth briefly described as "the gospel of our salvation," and also spoken of by Jesus and John and Paul as "the truth." "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."-- Jesus. For this reason, it is necessary for believers to be particular in requiring the full recognition of this truth at the hands of one another as the basis of their mutual association, and generally, to "contend for the faith once delivered to the saints," as enjoined by Jude. Those men are to be commended who faithfully exact this recognition both at the hands of applicants for baptism and claimants for fellowship.
- This is probably more manifest in the Truth than in anything else, because of the obligation to make a firm stand which arises out of the Truth, as it arises out of nothing else. When men differ about the Truth, their differences are more unappeasable than in any other subject because of the greatness of the interests involved and an earnestness of purpose and a depth of affection created by the Truth, as by nothing else. It was not without a reason that Jesus foretold division as the result of his appearance -- division so keen that "a man's foes should be they of his own house."
- There is division enough, in all conscience division that is inevitable -- division that must be, unless we are to ignore divine obligations altogether; but there are divisions that ought not to be. It is possible to go too far in our demands on fellow believers. How far we ought to go and where to stop, is at one time or other a perplexing problem to most earnest minds. They are afraid on the one hand of compromising the Truth in fellowship, and on the other, of sinning against the weaker members of the body of Christ. The only end there can be to this embarrassment is found in the discrimination between true principles and uncertain details that do not overthrow them.
- An exception would, of course, be naturally made in the case of the construction of a detail that would destroy the general principle involved, such as where a man professing to believe in Christ might also believe in Mahomet or Confucius -- of which there are examples. This supplementary belief destroys the first belief, for a true belief in Christ is a belief in his exclusive claims
But there is a danger of going too far. We live in a world of extremes of all kinds. It is difficult for any length of time to maintain an equilibrium in the application of any principle on account of the disbalances of mind so prevalent in the population, and the tendency of men to drive each other into extravagant positions through the sheer friction of personal antagonisms. So much of division is inevitable, and while lamenting it, men of God can but submit, with as little asperity towards those who cause it as possible. But there are divisions that are uncalled for, and therefore sinful. Paul refers to such when he says: "Mark them that cause divisions among you contrary to the doctrine (the teaching on unity) that ye have learnt" (Rom 16:17). He was referring, no doubt, to the factions arising out of personal preferences, but the warning applies to all divisions that ought not to be made. There are general principles as to which there can be no compromise: but there are also unrevealed applications of these principles in detail which cannot be determined with certainty, and which every man must he allowed to judge for himself without any challenge of his right to fellowship. To insist on uniformity of opinion on those uncertain details is an excess of zeal which may he forgiven, but which meanwhile inflicts harm and distress without just cause. It may help discernment if we consider some examples unaffected by uncertain details, GOD.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLES.-- "He that cometh to God must believe that HE IS and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." There can be no question as to our duty where men become unbelieving or doubtful of God's existence, or of His favourable disposition towards and purpose to openly reward the men who are diligent in their quest of Him and ready in their obedience.
- Uncertain Detail.-- But as to how or where He exists, and in what form or aspect His person is shown and how surrounded -- whether He inhabits a world of His own or be the radiant centre of a cluster of celestial worlds; and whether His name means I SHALL BE or I AM, or both, and I HAVE BEEN as well (as in the Apocalyptic formula, "which art and wast and art to come"), there is truth concerning all these points -- truth that we shall know and revel in when we are spirit, but it is not possible in our present circumstances to be certain as to any of them, and we should do wrong to insist on any particular opinion as to them. The admission of the true principle that God exists and that He will reward His lovers and friends is all we can claim in fellowship at the hands of fellow-believers.
- ENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- That God made man of the dust of the ground.
- ncertain Detail. -- But as to whether it was a direct action of the Father's formative energy, after the manner in which sound creates geometric figures in sand scattered loosely upon a tightly extended vibrating surface, or by the expert manipulation of angelic hands, we cannot be sure. There are grounds for a strong opinion in favour of the latter, but it would be unwarrantable to insist on the reception of that opinion as a condition of fellowship. It is sufficient if the brother or sister believe that "God made man of the dust of the ground."
MAN'S STATE AFTER CREATION.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- He was a living soul or natural body of life, maintained in being by the action of the air through the lungs like us, but unlike us, a "very good" form of that mode of being, and unsubjected to death.
- Uncertain Detail.-- Would he have died if left alone, unchanged, in that state if he had not sinned? Who can tell? The testimony is that death came by sin: but the fact also is that, not being a spiritual body, he was presumably not immortal. Are we going to insist upon an opinion on a point like this, about which no man can be certain? We shall act unwarrantably if we do so. It is sufficient if a man believe that Adam after creation was a very good form of flesh and blood, untainted by curse. The uncertain points must be left to private judgment.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- That they are the Father's multitudinous messengers in glorious bodily form, spiritual and immortal, to whom the brethren and sisters of Christ are to be made equal.
- Uncertain Detail.-- Where do they come from? Where do they live? Were they made immortal at the beginning, or did they come through a state of probationary evil like the race of Adam? Who can tell?
We may have a strong opinion, but are we going to ask believers to profess an "opinion" as a condition of fellowship? This would be going too far. It is sufficient that a believer believe in the existence and employment of the immortal angels of God. It would be a cruel extravagance to ask him to subscribe to an opinion which may be wrong. THE EARTH.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- That the earth is the promised inheritance of the saints.
- Uncertain Detail.-- Is the earth a globe or a plane, or is it a concavity as the latest speculation affirms on scientific grounds? Who can tell? If a brother choose to think it is a plane, let him think so. It matters nothing what his opinion of the shape of the earth is, so long as he believe that the earth is the inheritance of the saints. An opinion that the earth is going to be burnt up is an opinion that would interfere with the general principle, and therefore to be rejected: but any opinion as to the constitution of the earth is to be tolerated in charity
SUN, MOON AND STARS.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- God made them, and they are His.
- Uncertain Detail.-- Are they inhabited worlds, or are they mere lights in the expanse, as the new Koreishan science teaches? No one can tell, though there are grounds for a strong opinion. Let each one have his own opinion. We shall know all about it if we are chosen of the Lord at Christ's return. If a brother admit that God made them, and that they belong to Him, he admits what has been revealed and what is essential to an adequate conception of the greatness of God. He must be allowed to differ from the rest, if he does so, as to what they are in themselves.
REIGNING WITH CHRIST.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- That the glorified brethren of Christ will reign with him as kings and priests with Christ, when he has set up the Kingdom of God at his return.
- Uncertain Detail.-- Will they be scattered over the surface of the earth in palaces of their own, with definitely allotted districts which they will individually administer: or will they be collected as one body always resident in Jerusalem near the person of Christ? There are good reasons for believing the former of these views to be correct, but as an uncertain detail, we dare not insist upon a particular opinion, as a condition of fellowship. It is sufficient if a brother believe that we shall reign with Christ, whatever dim ideas he may have as to details that do not interfere with the general principle.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- That the Bible devil is the personified antagonism of flesh and Blood to God, in various forms and methods.
- Uncertain Detail.-- What was the particular form of Bible diabolism that Michael encountered in the dispute about the body of Moses? What was the particular form of the Bible devil that tempted Jesus in the wilderness? We cannot positively know because we are not informed, and because the Bible devil is over and over again a man, an institution, a government, or a desire. We may have an opinion as to who the devil was in these two cases, but it is only an opinion, and a brother must be at liberty to hold whatever opinion commends itself to him in the case, so long as his opinion does not upset the general principle in the case, nor open the door for the supernatural devil of popular theology.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- Moses was the servant of God, and at his death, was honoured with a divine interment.
- Uncertain Detail.-- Is Moses living now? Some think so, because he appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration. Some think not, because that transfiguration is styled a " vision." What are we to do? Let every man have his own view, so long as the divinity of the work and writings of Moses is recognised. We shall find out presently from Moses himself whether he has been alive since the first appearing of Christ and the information will be very interesting; but how absurd it would be to require at the present moment a particular view on the point as a condition of fellowship.
OUR SUMMONS TO CHRIST AT HIS APPEARING.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- That we shall be gathered to meet Christ at his coming whether living or dead, when that great event occurs.
- Uncertain Detail.-- How shall we be gathered? Shall we be carried off as Elijah was, or Philip, or Christ himself -- by the prehensile energy of the Spirit of God? or shall we he conveyed by natural means, such as railways and steamboats? Who can be quite sure? It matters not. When the time comes, there will be no mistake about it. There is a strong probability that it will be by the power of the Spirit of God, and not by human locomotion. But are we to reject a brother because he strongly thinks it will be by natural means? So long as he believes in "the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto him," he may form his own ideas as to the particular method by which we are to be gathered. No opinion on that point is inconsistent with the general principle.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- That God will bestow immortality of nature on His accepted servants at the coming of Christ.
- Uncertain Detail.-- At what particular moment will this be done? Will it be done individually as we appear one by one before the judgment seat of Christ? or will it be done en masse when we have all been judged? If the latter, will it be done immediately the judgment is finished, or will it be deferred to the time when the whole earth has been subjugated by the war of the great day of God Almighty in which the saints take part? Who can tell? We may have our opinions, but we must not insist on our opinions as a condition of fellowship, unless opinions trench on general truth. An opinion to the effect that we are immortal already would clearly destroy the truth that we are to become so only when Christ comes and at his hands. In that case, we would be under the painful necessity of objecting. But provided the general truth is received, we dare not insist on a particular view as to the moment that general truth will be carried into effect.
- HE GENERAL TRUTH.-- That Christ will build the temple of the future age as a house of prayer for all people.
- ncertain Detail.-- What will be the size of it? What will be the shape of it? There are no grounds for absolute certainty. There are strong grounds for the view presented by brother Sulley in his temple book: but we should not be justified in making the reception of this view a condition of fellowship. It is sufficient that the general truth is received. Any view that may be entertained as to details is not inconsistent with the general truth.
THE JUDGMENT SEAT.
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- That Christ will call the living and the dead before his judgment seat at his coming.
- Uncertain Detail.-- Where will he set it up? Will it be in Palestine, or in Egypt, or in the Arabian Peninsula, in the solitudes of Sinai? We cannot be sure. All available evidence seems to point in the direction of the last-mentioned; but an uncertain detail must not be made a basis of fellowship. We must not insist upon a man believing the judgment seat will be set up at Sinai or any particular place so long as he believes that "Jesus Christ will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his Kingdom."
- GENERAL PRINCIPLE.-- That men are responsible to the resurrection of condemnation who refuse subjection to the will of God when their circumstances are such as to leave them no excuse for such refusal.
- Uncertain Detail.-- But when, in our age, are men in such circumstances? Who can tell but God alone? Some think it is enough if a man have a Bible. Some think that is not enough unless the Bible is explained to him (as in a lecture or book). Some think that is not enough unless the man have the capacity to understand the explanation. Some think even that is not enough unless the hand of God is openly shown in certification of the divinity of the Bible, as in the apostolic age, when "the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word with signs following.''
- Fellowship is friendly association for the promotion of a common object -- with more or less of the imperfection belonging to all mortal life. To say that every man in that fellowship is responsible for every infirmity of judgment that may exist in the association is an extreme to which no man of sound judgment can lend himself. There will be flawless fellowship in the perfect state. Perhaps it is the admiration of this in prospect that leads some to insist upon it now. But it is none the less a mistake. This is a mixed and preparatory state in which much has to be put up with when the true principles are professed.
- If a man lend himself to the evil projects of others and wish them well in them, no doubt they are as responsible for those projects as if they actually promoted them with their own personal labours. This is the principle to which John gives expression when he says, "He that biddeth him (the holder of false doctrine) God-speed, is partaker of his evil deeds." But the principle is carried too far when it is made applicable to the individual diversities and idiosyncrasies of a community concurring in a common object and a common doctrine and a common service, and having fellowship one with another in the promotion of these common things. Men thus associated together are not responsible for each other's peculiarities or doubtful thoughts on matters of uncertain detail. They are responsible only for what they wittingly espouse. They would be responsible for the admission of a Mahometan, or a Papal idolator, or an orthodox denier of the Gospel, as such. They are not responsible for every shade of opinion that may dwell in the breast of a man admitted on account of his professed subjection to the Truth. It is nothing but monstrous to contend for a fellowship-responsibility of this sort. In fact, it would make fellowship impossible. It would turn ecclesial life into an intolerable inquisition, instead of a source of comfort and edification and help and joy, from the sharing of a common faith.
- Such a question goes right to the foundation. It is the first of all first principles, for without the absolute reliability of the Bible, there is no such thing as a first principle possible. For any doubt to exist on this question was to render fellowship impossible on various strong grounds. Such a doubt was raised in harmony with the widespread rot that prevails under various learned auspices in the religious world. It was espoused warmly by some in our midst; by many others who do not profess to receive it there was an unwillingness to refuse it fellowship. Consequently, we had either to tolerate the currency of a doctrine quietly and gradually destructive of all Truth in our midst, or refuse to have anything to do with it, and stop up all leak-holes by insisting not only on the right doctrine, but on the refusal of toleration to the wrong.
What are we to do? Are we to insist upon a precise shade of opinion on a point about which no judicious man can be absolutely clear? All we can be sure about is that when men are "without excuse" knowing the judgment of God (Rom 1:20,32; 2:1); when they have "no cloak for their sin" like the men who saw the miracles of Christ, and yet both "saw and hated both him and his Father" (Joh 15:22,24), that they will come forth at the resurrection to receive punishment according to the righteous judgment of God. When men admit this, they admit enough for purposes of fellowship as regards this particular point. To insist on more than this is to go too far, and to inflict needless distress and cause unnecessary division.No doubt the men who do so think they are doing God service. There is a little excuse for them in the extraordinary doctrine that has been propounded that in the matter of resurrection, God "does not proceed on principles of justice," but on principles of law, and that if a man have not gone so far in submission and obedience as to be baptised into Christ, Christ has no hold on him, however great and deliberate a rebel he may be.But they go unwarrantably beyond what is just in withdrawing from those who have not received this doctrine, but who are hazy as to the application of the scriptural rule of responsibility in our particular age. Their zeal for a true doctrine is good, but not the shutting of their eyes to the reasonable qualifications that belong to the true view of the subject. They read "He that believeth not shall be condemned," and they exclaim, "Why hesitate?" They forget that these words refer to those who saw the signs. If they say, "No, they apply to everybody also", they have to be reminded that they do not really think so themselves. Do they believe the Mahometans, and the Chinese who "believe not" will be raised to condemnation? Do they think the benighted millions of Christendom, who "believe not" will be raised? They do not. They have only to ask themselves "Why?" to he reminded of the qualifying fact associated with the words they quote. That qualifying fact was that the men referred to had no excuse for not believing. As Jesus said, " If I had not come and spoken unto them (and done among them works which none other man did), they had not had sin" (to answer for). "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin" (in rejecting me).God is just. The mere circumstance of believing not, is not a ground for resurrectional condemnation in the absence of those attendant circumstances that demand belief. So with the other statement, "He that rejecteth me," etc. It has to be qualified by the parenthesis understood, "having seen the works I have done."But say they, "Where the Gospel has power to save" it has power to condemn; and if rejectors are not to be raised, what guarantee have we that acceptors will be saved?" The answer is, Where the Gospel has power to save, it certainly has power to condemn; but where has the Gospel power to save? Only where it is known and believed. In that case, it will condemn the man who does not conform to its requirements. But has it power to save where a man is ignorant or uncertain? No enlightened man would say "Yes" here, and therefore it will be observed that the conclusion as to the condemning power of the Gospel, where it has power to save, has no application to the class of persons in dispute, viz., men, who in the darkness of the age are uncertain as to the truth, though knowing it in a theoretical manner. Men who say to Christadelphians, "I understand what you believe and it is beautiful; but is it true? If the Bible is divine, no doubt it is true; but I have my reservations as to the Bible." There is no quarrel as to the men who recognise the Bible as the Word of God, and, understanding it, are aware of its demands upon them to repent and submit to the service of Christ; and yet refuse submission because of the present inconveniences of submission. The responsibility of these men to the resurrection of condemnation is without doubt, but where there is one man of this kind, there are hundreds who are in a haze and a maze of uncertainty as to the truthfulness of the Truth, though knowing what the Truth is, and concerning whom it is not possible to take the ground that they will rise to condemnation at the coming of Christ. A mistake is made in contending for precise views on a matter that cannot be made precise. Where men admit that rebels and unbelievers who deserve punishment will rise at the resurrection to receive that punishment without reference to the question whether they are baptised or not, they admit all that can righteously be exacted from them. It is impossible for any man to say, who are so deserving. We know that God is just, and will do no unrighteousness. When men admit that He will resurrectionally punish the men who are deserving of it, whether baptised or not, it is inadmissible that we should withdraw from them because they are unable to say who are and who are not so deserving. There is the less need for the extreme demands of some on this head, since those who have espoused the extraordinary doctrine that a man must obey God a little before he is punishable, have separated themselves from those who will not receive their doctrine. "But this has not brought peace," say they. Do they imagine that this other movement is going to bring peace? Behold how much the reverse. They are separating men who ought to remain united because holding the same truth, though made by an artificial contention to appear as if they did not. They are sowing division and bitterness and strife on the plea of producing harmony and peace. They are refusing the friends of Christ because of uncertainties as to how much Christ will punish a certain class of his enemies. And compassing sea and land to make proselytes to this most unenlightened proceeding.How perfectly melancholy it seems in the presence of the real work of the Truth. While the world is up in arms against the Bible, or where not against the Bible, against the doctrines of the Bible, and some good and honest hearts surrender, and joyfully profess faith in the writings of Moses, the prophets and the apostles, and receive the Gospel as preached to Abraham, and expounded by Jesus to the hearers of the apostolic age with all readiness of mind and they ask for baptism that they may become servants of Christ in the obedience of his commandments, and heirs of the great salvation promised to the faithful. We examine them and find them fully enlightened in "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God," and we baptise them.They come to the table of the Lord: an extremist steps forward and says: "Do you believe rejectors of the truth will rise to condemnation?"The newborn says: "I believe the rejectors referred to by Christ will rise."Extremist: "Will not all rejectors rise?"Newborn: " Not all rejectors, I think. The Mahometans reject Christ. I do not expect them to rise."Extremist: "You are trifling with the question."Newborn: "I think not. I understood that rejectors were not responsible unless they rebel against the light knowing it to be the light."Extremist: "That is what I mean, but many are hazy who these are: will you promise to withdraw from such?"Newborn: "You put me in a difficulty there. If men believe that the Lord will punish those who deserve it, and that rebels and unbelievers will be excluded from the Kingdom of God, I should scarcely feel justified in refusing them because of any little uncertainty they might have as to the Lord's precise method of dealing with them. It would depend upon the nature of their reasons. If they were to contend that Christ had no hold on rebels unless they were baptlsed, and that rebels could outwit God, as it were, by refusing to go into the water, and that in fact resurrectional condemnation was only for the obedient, and that the safe way for men when the Gospel comes is to have nothing to do with it, I confess I should look upon that as such a confusion of Truth in its most elementary principles as would justify me in refusing identification with it. But if their difficulty were merely as to the precise amount of privilege needful to make an unbeliever responsible, I should hesitate in refusing them. I should, in fact, fear to do wrong in doing so."Extremist: "Oh, I see you are prepared to compromise the truth for the sake of numbers."Newborn: "I think you are not justified in that expression of opinion."Extremist: "I have a right to form my own opinion."Newborn: "A man may have to answer for wrong opinions of that sort. You judge and condemn where you are forbidden to do so." If the Extremist will walk out under those circumstances, there is nothing for it but to bear it. This "doctrine of fellowship" (as it is called) is also carried to an excess never contemplated in apostolic prescription. I was called upon by a man in dead earnest who contended there were no such things as "first principles," and that every detail of Truth, down even to the date of the expiry of the Papal 1260, should be insisted on as a condition of fellowship. Such outrageous extravagance would not be contended for by every extremist; but in principle, they are guilty of it when they insist on uncertain details, as well as true general principles. Judas was a thief, and Jesus knew it, but tolerated him till he manifested himself. Was Jesus responsible while he fellowshipped him? Certainly not. Judas was qualified for the fellowship of the apostolic circle by his endorsement of the common professed objects of its existence, viz., the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom in conjunction with Jesus as the accepted "Christ, the Son of the living God." His thieving character did not exclude him from that circle till he went and hanged himself.There were men among the Corinthian brethren who denied the resurrection: did Paul charge the brethren with complicity with that heresy because of the presence of such among them? Doubtless their rejection of the resurrection nullified their claims for that place, but still it did not make the true brethren guilty of their false doctrine while merely tolerating them, pending an appeal to Paul.It is asked, Why did you take such strong ground then, with regard to fellowship, on the question of inspiration? Wise men do not require an answer. If there are those who feel they require it, here it is. The question of the inspiration of the Bible is a question of whether it is God speaking or man: a question of whether we may trust absolutely to what we read as of divine authority, or whether it may possibly be the vagaries of unenlightened human brains. To contend for the equal applicability of such measures to the question of the responsibility of rebels and unbelievers, does certainly seem to indicate an inability to distinguish between things that differ. A brother's uncertainties on the subject is an affair of interpretation of the Lord's acknowledged word. He does not deny the Lord's utterances: he asks what do they mean? This is a position to be treated in a very different manner from the attitude that calls in question the authenticity of the Lord's words. And any misapprehension he may labour under as to the meaning of the words does not affect any general truth in the case, but merely the application of said truth in detail. He does not say, "I believe rebels and unbelievers will go unpunished if they are not baptised. "He says, "l certainly believe they will be punished, whether baptised or not, in all cases in which the Lord thinks they are deserving of it. But," adds he, "I see the Lord makes blindness a reason for exemption. And therefore I feel in a state of uncertainty as to how much the Lord will punish various classes of unbelievers in a day like ours when all is so dark." To apply to such a position the stringent measures called for by the denial of the complete inspiration of the Bible indicates a fogginess of mental vision. Upon which, there rises the exclamation: "How are the mighty fallen! What a change in the position of brother Roberts with reference to the question of fellowship! " We can endure such objurgations because they come from the mouths of well-meaning men, and because they are based upon entire misapprehension. We have changed in nothing since the day we commenced the active service of the Truth. In the beginning, we had to deal with men who were prepared to compromise first principles in fellowship. To every disease its own remedy. We took a line of argument suitable to the exigency. But now, there is another extreme of an equally destructive character in another way. It is an extreme requiring another kind of argument. Have we changed because we take a line of argument suited to a new dilemma? There are several sides to a camp. When the attack is on the north, the troops are sent that way in defence. Is the general inconsistent because when the attack comes from the west, he withdraws his troops from the north, and sends them to the new point of attack? We are sorry for all the brethren affected by the varying tactics of error (for this is an error of action of a very serious character: if it is not an error of doctrine). It is an offence against the little ones believing in Christ, of which he expressed such great jealousy. It may be forgiven as Paul's persecution of the disciples was forgiven: but for the time being, it is a grave offence which we refuse to share. There is nothing for it but to wait. We are all helpless in these periodic fermentations, and must bear them as well as we can, and come through them with as little friction as possible in comforting prospect of the master hand that will soon take the helm, and give to the world peace, after storm; and to his accepted brethren, rest after the exhausting toils of this great and terrible wilderness.
"The children of light have nothing to do with the reservations of darkness. Far better accept the
company of a few on a sound foundation of truth and peace than preserve a numerous fellowship
in which the leaven of corruption is at work". "The friends of God are few and feeble in our day
and generation. We must not be discouraged at this. In the purpose of God, His children will yet
be a multitude that no man can number". Robert Roberts.
(An answer to those who argue that toleration of apostacy is condoned in Christ's message to the Sardian ecclesia - misrepresentations of the pioneers corrected).
The Berean Christadelphians Perspective
Page One: The Resistance of Error
From the Renunciationists (1872) through the Shield (1902)
Page Four: Our Last 30 Years
The doctrine that sets Christadelphians apart from all the churches of Christendom is the nature of man, and the Nature and Sacrifice of Christ. There are churches that have discovered some of the Bible's Truth. Some know that the Bible does not teach the soul is immortal. Some know that the Bible does not teach the kingdom will be established in heaven, but rather on the earth. Still others know that the Bible does not teach anything about people burning for eternity in a fiery-burning hell. But there are no churches in Christendom that have correctly understood the most important subject of all Bible subjects; the Nature and Sacrifice of Christ. Not surprisingly then, this subject has been the greatest cause of division among Christadelphians.Rom. 8:3 reads:"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:" Commenting on this in his book "Elpis Israel", John Thomas wrote: Sin, I say, is a synonym for human nature. Hence, the flesh is invariably regarded as unclean. It is therefore written, "How can he be clean who is born of a woman?" "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one." "What is man that he should be clean? And he which is born of a woman that he should be righteous? Behold, God putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight. How much more abominable and filthy is man, who drinketh iniquity like water?" This view of sin in the flesh is enlightening in the things concerning Jesus. The apostle says, "God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin"; and this he explains in another place by saying, that "He sent his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" in the offering of his body once. Sin could not have been condemned in the body of Jesus, if it had not existed there. His body was as unclean as the bodies of those for whom he died; for he was born of a woman, and "not one" can bring a clean body out of a defiled body; for "that", says Jesus himself, "which is born of the flesh is flesh". According to this physical law, the Seed of the woman was born into the world. The nature of Mary was as unclean as that of other women; and therefore could give birth only to "a body" like her own, though especially "prepared of God". Had Mary's nature been immaculate, as her idolatrous worshippers contend, an immaculate body would have been born of her; which, therefore, would not have answered the purpose of God; which was to condemn sin in the flesh; a thing that could not have been accomplished, if there were no sin there.
These paragraphs are both obvious and profound. The closer a person comes to understanding this, the closer they come to understanding the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on behalf of all mankind.
RenunciationistsJohn Thomas died in 1871. By 1872, this principle, which he had so simply and thoroughly explained, came directly under attack by some of his former friends. In 1872 Edward Turney issued a booklet called "The Sacrifice of Christ." In it was the following statement:"...(Another man has said) that for 15 years he has not been able to understand what Dr. Thomas meant by 'sin in the flesh.' That is the fixation of sin in the flesh which he speaks of in 'Elpis Israel' pg. 126, ...and I confess to you without reserve, neither have I been able to understand it. But still I have many a time taught it. I have taken the 15th article of the book of common prayer and pulled it to pieces, and said that Christ came in flesh full of sin; for said I to the people, what can 'sinful flesh' mean, but flesh full of sin? Well now, since my mind has been more especially directed to the study of this subject, I have arrived at this conviction that there is no such thing as flesh full of sin, and never was, nor can be." "Sacrifice of Christ," pg. 16.
Edward Turney reasoned that since Christ had only a human mother, his nature could not be the same identical nature as ours, since we have both human father and mother. He argued that since his nature was not the same as ours, Jesus did not have a sinful nature, and therefore did not offer for himself for the cleansing of that nature.
Edward Turney reintroduced to Christadelphians the idea that sin can only be moral. He agreed that man had sinful flesh, but he saw this as a moral transgression, just like the churches doctrine of original sin. He reasoned that if Christ had been born with this original sin, or sinful flesh, he would be condemned by it, and therefore not be in position to free us from sin.Edward Turney was very clear that he was renouncing Christadelphian teaching. Therefore, his group came to be called the Renunciationists. He stated in his book:"I have renounced the Papal myth of "sin in the flesh" by which Mr. Roberts [then editor of the Christadelphian Magazine] is yet bewitched..." "Sacrifice of Christ," by Edward Turney pg. 34
Since he plainly, and boldly, renounced Christadelphian thought, he found it difficult to get a following among Christadelphians. Christadelphians called his teaching "clean flesh", because he taught the flesh of Christ was clean, while all the rest of mankind had sinful flesh. As a movement, he was so insignificant we would not bother with mentioning him, except that he introduced a thought that was the cause of much sorrow and division in the following years.
Many sound men rose up to show Edward Turney that his new ideas were unsound: that it was he who had returned to the doctrine of Catholicism (the Catholic doctrine of an immaculate Christ) not Christadelphians. Among these was a very polished man named J. J. Andrew of London, England.
As we mentioned, fundamental to Turney's teaching was the argument that "sin" was a moral relationship, only. He argued that sin could have no physical existence. Christadelphians taught that sin was both moral and physical. We are guilty of the things we do (the moral aspect of sin) but we suffer the consequences of the sin bodies we physically and literally bare, (sorrow, weakness, and death). The moral aspect of sin is a crime. The physical aspect is a misfortune, not a crime, but it is a reality none the less. Jesus came into the world bearing the physical sin in his body that through his sacrifice he might destroy sin at its very root, removing all sin, physical and moral, that the world might be purified from sin.
The physical sin body is the root of all moral transgression. "Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." (James. 1:14) By destroying sin in his body, Christ destroyed all sin at its very root and source.
As the two debated the subject, J. J. Andrew himself departed from sound Christadelphian teachings. He had correctly understood the force of Paul's argument that sin had to exist in the body of Jesus, or, as John Thomas said, it could not have been condemned there. But Turney's arguments that sin can be only moral and cannot be physical, confused J. J. Andrew and led him to consider the possession of sinful flesh to be a moral (he liked the term legal) sin, not much different than the churches doctrine of "Original Sin" which Edward Turney had re-introduced.
J. J. Andrew began to teach that we are "guilty" of Adam's sin, that Christ (since he too, had this moral "sin in the flesh") was therefore born guilty of Adam's sin, and a "child of wrath".
As he went on to develop and expand his thoughts, he eventually concluded that since we are all born guilty of Adam's sin, no one can come out of the grave to judgment who has not been cleansed from Adam's sin by baptism. (This happens to be the same reason that the churches baptize babies. Many churches of Christendom also believe that we are born "guilty" of Adam's sin, and that a baby must be baptized to be "forgiven" it.)
The established Christadelphian position was that it was "light" which made a person responsible to come out of the grave to judgment, not baptism. "Light" is not defined by Christadelphians. It is a metaphor for knowledge and understanding. Only God knows when a person has sufficient understanding of His plan to be responsible for his actions at the judgment seat of Christ. Refusing baptism will not hinder a man (who had "light") coming forth from the grave.In 1894 J. J. Andrew began insisting that all in his ecclesia embrace his views. This led to a long discussion among Christadelphians, a debate between J. J. Andrew and the Christadelphian Magazine editor Robert Roberts, and ultimately a division. The point of the controversy can be seen in the following questions from the debate.(J. J. Andrew) I am speaking about the moral. Is not "sin in the flesh" the subject of justification in a moral or legal sense (I think legal is better)?
(R. Roberts) You are mixing up two terms. "Sin in the flesh" is a physical attribute, forgiveness is a moral relation. Do not confound the two. "Resurrectional Responsibility Debate". Q. 270.(J. J. Andrew) "Is "sin in the flesh" the subject of justification through the blood of Christ? (R. Roberts) "It will be ultimately." (J. J. Andrew) "Is it now? (R. Roberts) "No; we have it with us now." (J. J. Andrew) "Is that proof that it is not the subject of justification? (R. Roberts) "It depends upon what you mean by justification; there are different kinds of justification, moral and physical." (J. J. Andrew) "I defined the term. I said acquittal from actual or imputed guilt." "Res.Resp. Debate". Q. 111-114.
In the above, one can see the conflict between Christadelphian teaching and the new teaching of J. J. Andrew. To Andrew "sin in the flesh" was actual, or imputed guilt. It was moral, or legal. To Robert Roberts, it was a physical attribute, not needing forgiveness, but simply needing cleansing.
Turney and Andrew had started from the same erroneous point, and reached opposite conclusions. Turney said all sin is moral, and there is no such thing as physical sin; therefore, there is no such thing as "sin in the flesh." Andrew agreed with him that all sin was moral, but reached an opposite conclusion: possessing "sin in the flesh" was a moral crime.
The men who followed J. J. Andrew took the name "Advocates," and in some areas were called "Suffolk Street". This group of Christadelphians exists today, mostly in the USA, but are normally referred to as "Unamended Christadelphians". The reasons for these various names will be explained later.
During the J. J. Andrew discussions, it was clear there were (again) groups of individuals who were going to miss the center ground of Christadelphian belief. These men had argued so hard against J. J. Andrew that they took an opposite extreme from J. J. Andrew, back to the teachings of Edward Turney, only not going as far as Turney. And further, instead of the problems being confined to England, this new problem had now expanded to all continents where there were Christadelphians.
These new teachers were quickly labeled as teaching "clean flesh", like Turney, but the label was confusing. Turney taught that Jesus had a different nature from the rest of human kind. To him, mankind had a defiled, sinful nature, (being guilty of Adam's sin) but Jesus' nature was "clean", or undefiled. This new group of men taught that Jesus' nature and mankind's nature were identical, but neither were sinful. They embraced the foundation principle of both Turney and Andrew, arguing that sin is moral, not physical. They concluded, therefore, that sinful flesh really cannot be considered sinful in any real sense.
To this new group of men, the term "sinful flesh" was not a literal description of the physical condition of human nature as taught by the pioneer Christadelphians, nor was it guilt inherited from Adam as taught by Turney and Andrew, but rather only a symbolical expression. To them the flesh was not sin, but only symbolized sin. To them, Jesus did not destroy sin literally on the cross (as Christadelphians had taught), but symbolically destroyed sin through a symbolical sacrifice.
The problem first broke out in England in 1898, in the teachings of Harold Fry. It was quickly resolved by his meeting, and it had little effect. Shortly after the resolution of this problem, editor Robert Roberts died. It next broke out in 1902 in the teachings of John Bell in Australia. A division ensued and a new group of Christadelphians was formed, calling themselves the "Shield".
The Berean Christadelphians perspective
I reject the Berean position on suing at law
Page Two: The Corruption of the Body.
The Formation of the Bereans and the relationship of Bereans to Central from 1923 to present
In 1923 the same problem broke out in the United States in the teachings of A. D. Strickler. Stickler denied that the physical nature was of itself, sin. He wrote:"Why does he [Paul] call the evil in his flesh sin? For the simple reason that it is the cause that produces sin. In and of itself it is not sin... If human nature is a synonym for sin, and sin for human nature, it must be so in the primary meaning of the word sin. It cannot be sin as a concrete physical thing, "sin in the flesh", or sin as a metaphor, because that is human nature itself considered as a moral thing. "Out of Darkness, Into Light" pg. 84 . And again from the same book:"Just before Christ was nailed to the tree, he was a clean and holy altar, but immediately when he willingly took the attitude or position of the sinner to work out a symbolism, he symbolically became unclean because of the sins which he bare as the sin offering, and whose blood was sprinkled upon the Christ altar. When he arose from the dead triumphant on the third day, he was only justified from all symbolic and figurative uncleanness; but he was the same clean and holy altar that he had been before he was crucified...." "Out of Darkness, Into Light" pg. 64.
Like those before him, A. D. Strickler believed that sin can only be moral, and that atonement is only for moral transgression. He could not consider the physical principle, sin in the flesh, to be actually sinful, for as he said, that would be considering "sin in the flesh" as a moral thing.
This inevitably created another division within the body, but a different one than any before. Overwhelmingly, the United States brethren withdrew fellowship from A. D. Strickler and his followers. "The Christadelphian Magazine", and many brethren in England refused to acknowledge this withdrawal. Unwilling to fellowship either this idea or fellowship those brethren who would, a major division took place in the body. Those who fellowshipped A. D. Strickler came to be known as Central. Those who refused to fellowship him came to be known as the Bereans.
1952 Berean DivisionIn 1938, A. D. Strickler died. In 1939, then editor of "The Christadelphian Magazine" John Carter, admitted that Strickler had been an errorist, and that the decision they had made in 1923 was wrong. He wrote:"A criticism by bro. Strickler, of a pamphlet published by this office, led to a correspondence for about eighteen months--this led to the conclusion that he DID NOT accept without reserve, some of the clauses of "The Statement of Faith". (Chdn. 1939:84)
Here was a clear admission from the editor of Central's magazine that the Berean brethren had made the correct choice in 1923. In 1940 John Carter printed a "10 Point Statement" that had been drawn up by an American Central ecclesia as the basis for a reunion between Central and the Bereans, and which concerned the Nature and Sacrifice of Christ under the title, "A Time to Heal."
In 1944 the 10 Point Statement was circulated among Berean and Central ecclesias in the United States to receive approval. It was quickly accepted by all Berean ecclesias. Among the Central ecclesias, it was accepted by 10, rejected by 1 (Philadelphia), and two ecclesias (including A. D. Strickler's former ecclesia, Buffalo) refused to respond.An effort was made by all to get unanimous approval to the 10 Point statement till it was clear that this would not happen. In 1947, John Carter wrote of the two Central ecclesias where the Strickler teaching was the most prevalent: "(The Philadelphia and Buffalo, Central meetings) "attached a meaning to his [Robert Roberts] words that he did not intend."... "The interpretation which is being imposed upon the BASF (the Christadelphian Statement of Faith) by the Philadelphia Circular is contrary to that understood by others, and contrary to all other statements on the subject in all the writings of Dr. Thomas and bro. Roberts." (Chdn. 1947, Intelligence.) By the end of 1947, it was clear that the Central group would not unanimously accept the 10 Point Statement. Particularly, they could not accept the following, which had been taken word for word from a previous editor, Robert Roberts.5. That it was therefore necessary that Jesus should offer for himself for the purging of his own nature, first from the uncleanness of death, that, having by his own blood obtained eternal redemption for himself, he might be able afterward to save to the uttermost those that come to God by him.
Those who had accepted the new teachings could not accept that any sacrifice was necessary for the cleansing of the physical sin. Sin, they argued, is only moral. Therefore, only the moral needs cleansed. Jesus was not morally defiled, and therefore he required no sacrifice for himself. Though Central could not agree with the original basis for Re-union, the momentum for reunion was very strong in both camps. In 1952 a large number of Bereans dropped their desire to have the 10 Point Statement affirmed, and went to Central based on a simple declaration that all Central ecclesias accepted the Statement of Faith without reservation: in a document called the Jersey City Resolution.
Central/Advocate & Shield Reunion
Having unified the largest division in the Christadelphian body, John Carter turned his attention to the other two principle divisions, the Advocate and the Shield groups. In a document called the "Final Statement", the Advocate brethren in Britain were taken into fellowship on a majority vote, acknowledging that some still believed as J. J. Andrew had believed.
In Australia, an addendum to the Statement of Faith was drawn up called the Cooper-Carter Addendum. This Addendum removed the words "defiled his nature" in Clause 5, and "sin in the flesh" in Clause 12, from the Statement of Faith, making the Statement of Faith acceptable to those in the Shield group. So while in 1952, Central had agreed to the Statement of Faith enforced in fellowship, only five years later they had made two separate compromises to it.
The bringing in of these two groups caused further division to Central. Brethren who believed the truth as laid down by the pioneers of the Christadelphian movement separated from Central. Some of these joined the Bereans. Some, for reasons best explained by them, formed a new group called the Old Paths.
In the above, I have briefly outlined the main principle upon which Christadelphians have divided over our 150 year history. There was another theme running side by side all of this, which is the principle of "legalism".
As its name implies, Legalism is the elevation of law (legalities) over all else. The principle of "legalism" is best exhibited in American Law. A law enforcement officer may witness a murder, but if he fails to follow the law when arresting the murderer, (in reading him his rights,) the murderer is set free. Law is thereby elevated over principle.
In recent years, the Central group has come to change the meaning of "legalism". In a recent article an author wrote:
"Legalism describes a fundamental approach to life and religion."
This definition is linguistically wrong. "Fundamentalism" describes a fundamental approach to life and religion. "Legalism" is a legalistic or "governed by law" approach to life and religion. It would appear that the Central group has now so far departed from the fundamental principles upon which the Christadelphian movement was born, that words need to be redefined to justify its continued course.
In 1884, a group of men began teaching that the Bible was not the wholly inspired word of God. They taught that the writers of the Bible were given the events by God, and they chose to write down what seemed best to them. This actually was a very popular doctrine in the Churches at that time as well.
When the arguments were made against it (from 2 Tim. 3:16 and 2 Pet. 1:20) many men argued that it didn't matter anyway, as the Christadelphian Statement of Faith did not deal with this subject. This is "legalism" at its finest. It said that the principle was not significant, the laws (in this case the Christadelphian Statement of Faith) were all important.
"The Christadelphian Magazine" editor, Robert Roberts, wrote the preamble to the Statement of Faith, eliminating any views that the Bible is not the wholly inspired word of God. A division ensued and the new group took on the name Suffolk Street.
Writing in response to those who argued that the constitution could somehow supersede the Truth, bro. Roberts wrote:
The Christadelphian Magazine 1885, pg 309 "A society of people are bound by their laws as long as the principles that underlie these laws are upheld. An ecclesia exists first for the truth of God (which is independent of all constitutions, and cannot be made the subject of legislation, but only of formulation for concurrent agreement); secondly, for the duty arising out of the truth; and thirdly, for its corporate operations as regulated by constitution (otherwise, concurrent assent). The foundation of the whole structure is the truth; and the first part of the truth, in our day, is that the Bible is the wholly-inspired and infallible word of God. The denial, or the toleration of the denial of this, is interference with a vital condition of ecclesial life, and calls for the disregard of human constitutionalities that may stand in the way of its resistance.
When the J. J. Andrew Division referred to above came about, "Legalism" came back into play. Some men, while not agreeing with J. J. Andrew, argued that the matter should be left alone, as the subject of who comes out of the grave to judgment was not in the "Christadelphian Statement of Faith". In 1898 an Amendment was made to the "Statement of Faith" to clarify a point accepted by all Christadelphians from the beginning of the movement.
The Advocates (those leaving in the J. J. Andrew division) were immediately received by the Suffolk Street group; hence the reason of two names for the same group. Still others who divided at this time preferred to call themselves "Unamended," indicating they refused the amendment to the "Christadelphian Statement of Faith."
In 1923, A. D. Strickler followed a slightly different course toward "legalism." He interpreted the "Statement of Faith" in such a way that he could say he agreed with it, while at the same time changing its very meaning. By changing the literal meaning of clauses into symbolical meanings (much like the churches of Christendom symbolize all the Old Testament promises concerning the nation of Israel) he could say he agreed with clauses directly intended to exclude his views.It was in this manner that he always claimed he agreed with the Statement of Faith. It was "legalism" that caused those responsible for "The Christadelphian Magazine" not to withdraw from him, even though, as editor John Carter pointed out: "The interpretation which is being imposed upon the BASF (the Christadelphian Statement of Faith) by the Philadelphia Circular is contrary to that understood by others, and contrary to all other statements on the subject in all the writings of Dr. Thomas and bro. Roberts." (Chdn. 1947, Intelligence.)
When John Carter failed to convince these men that their interpretations were wrong, and when he discarded the 10 Point Statement as a basis for reunion, he gave "legalism" its official place in Central. The message was that if you can find some way to agree with what is written, no matter how bazaar or distorted, you will be welcomed.
Then, in 1956, when the Advocates were brought back into Central through the document called "The Final Statement" as mentioned above, the Suffolk Street group was included as well. "The Final Statement" had the exact clause, word for word, concerning the inspiration of the Scriptures that had been rejected by Robert Roberts and the pioneer brethren in 1888.
* * * * *
Conclusions Concerning CentralWe often hear, "That was then and this is now! Tell us why you stand aside from Central today." The answer is simple. We believe the words of the apostle Paul: 1CO 5:6-8 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Apart from some specific effort to purge out the leaven that was brought into Central in 1923, 1956, and 1957, why would we think that the words of the Apostle would not be true? If the Bible is true, the direction of the leavening effect will always be to become more corrupt and apostate, not less. Was it in vain that the Apostle warned:ACT 20:28 "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears." Observe the Christadelphian Magazine's own testimony as to the condition of things 50 years after the start of the toleration of error: Christadelphian Magazine. 1981, October "...At least twice in the last few years (one of them within the last twelve months) private meetings have been called by individuals -- that is, attendance, which has been considerable, has been by personal invitation only. At those meetings the Christadelphian position on fellowship has been attacked and the suggestion openly made that the foundation of the community is mistaken and that fellowship with other (usually evangelical) bodies is to be advocated. The question having been explicitly raised, 'Shall we advise members to leave the Christadelphian community or to stay?' The clear answer has been that they should stay and seek to propagate their views secretly, especially among younger members -- the older members being regarded as beyond conversion -- so subverting the community from within. There can be no doubt that this process has been going on and that the developments we have seen quite recently are some of its effects. The attitude advocated may fairly be called devious, if not downright dishonest, and does something to explain the conviction of many of our members that those who disagree with our foundations should very seriously consider their position and not continue to claim the benefits of fellowship in a community whose basic principles they can no longer endorse." Three years later, another article appeared in the Christadelphian outlining the errors which were perplexing Central ecclesias, due to the fellowshipping of other Churches described above. Christadelphian Magazine, 1984, October "It is doubtful whether there is a single case in which a brother or sister has begun to attend regularly another place of worship in addition to worship within the ecclesias where changes in attitude in respect of doctrine and fellowship have not taken place. "Sooner or later these changes in attitude become changes in conviction about the rightness of or the necessity for the doctrines which Christadelphians hold. These doctrines are the very foundation stones upon which our community exists. Experience has shown that the following 'new' doctrines are accepted, tolerated or suggested in whole or in part (and there are others, too):
"1 . The eternal Sonship of Christ, whether or not this is stated in a trinitarian form;
"3. The substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ;
"4. A "power of darkness", usually bordering on if not entirely accepting the orthodox doctrine of Satan and the Devil; In some cases, there is a belief in demons as the personal agents of a personal Satan;
"5. Conscious survival of death. This is often stated in very vague terms.
"All of us will admit that these are fundamental and serious matters. It is not possible to be a Christadelphian and hold these beliefs. It is not possible to be a Christadelphian and to doubt the corresponding Christadelphian doctrines to those listed above. Furthermore, it is not possible to be a true evangelical and not believe in (at least) doctrines 1 and 3 above."
What the above writers do not understand is that the Nature and Sacrifice of Christ is the hub of the wheel, from which all other doctrines proceed like spokes. When it was compromised in 1923, 1956, and 1957, the leavening began and will continue. Corruption on all other points of Scriptural truth was both unavoidable and inevitable. It is simply not possible that the Word of God can be wrong. Paul prophesied it. That settles it.The concept that we must stay and fight the corruption sounds noble to the flesh, but at its root, it means that the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul gave poor advice. Paul wrote:2CO 6:17-18 "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
Currently, on the web, there is a commentary by a Central brother on a Central Christadelphian publication called "The Endeavour Magazine." The article is entitled "Endeavour--Seeking to Undermine Bible Truth.". This article clearly details direct attacks on the truth made in the magazine in the year 2000. The brother begins criticizing "The Endeavour" for advocating fellowship with other denominations. He follows this up with a criticism of an "Endeavour" article which argues against the Christadelphian belief that Christ's Kingdom will be the Kingdom of Israel restored. Next the brother argues against an Endeavour article which advocates women speaking (a now long practiced tradition of those responsible for this magazine).
Leaving "The Endeavor Magazine" this Central brother goes on to criticize attacks made against the BASF in popular (albeit heretical) Central publication called "Saved by His Life" by John Martin. In an article entitled The BASF--It's Importance and Teaching he quotes from an editorial in a 1993 Christadelphian where it was written: "But as he bore no moral accountability for his mortality, he did not have to make an offering for the nature he received at birth (Editorial, The Christadelphian, December 1993)." We agree with most of what is written in the article by this Central brother. The only disagreement we have is with the brother's contention that this concept, which he calls the saved by his life theory after John Martin's book, originated in that book in these last days. In fact, John Martin's book is just evidence of a leavening which has been taking place in Central since 1923. The leaven has now so permeated the loaf that what once was spoken only in the shadows is now proclaimed from the platform.
The teachings of John Martin have so corrupted the Central body that the last vestige of solid truth in Central, those represented by the Logos magazine, now have come face to face with the corrupting influences of the past. Writing in 2004 about the effects of past compromises, a trio of Central brethren wrote a response to a man who has departed from true Christadelphian teachings, and who was rewriting history and criticizing as errorists, those who had separated from Central over the compromises of 1956 and 1957 which I have already described. They wrote:
A Grave Concern: Truth under Threat by Philip Taylor, Graeham Mansfield (Editor of the Logos Magazine,) and Keith Cook "The letter also reveals ignorance concerning the history of reunion and the reason for the formation of the Old Paths Fellowship. That fellowship was not formed by those in Australia who retained what Brighton describes as "those unscriptural views." It was first formed in the UK by those who rejected reunion there in February 1957 and who objected to the fellowship of the Suffolk Street fellowship, [which was based on a document called the "Final Statement"--JP] claiming that it permitted doctrinal error. The doctrine of the Atonement was not mentioned in that Reunion Statement, and in fact there was agreement on the doctrinal issues covered by the statement. The problem arose over its implementation. Reunion took place between ecclesias who accepted the statement on a majority vote which left a possibility of a minority in ecclesias who were accepted into fellowship even though they may not have been in agreement with those doctrines, and who in fact did not accept the BASF without reservation. There was no action proposed with regard to such individuals, but those who formed the Old Paths believed that they should be withdrawn from. The original separation of the Old Paths from Central was with regard to the doctrine of fellowship, as it remains to this day.
When reunion took place in Australia the following year, again it was on the basis of a majority vote within ecclesias, which again left the possibility of a minority which did not accept the Basis of Fellowship. Those who later joined the Old Paths Fellowship in Australia considered the Cooper-Carter Addendum to be a clumsy statement, and not clearly defining the BASF. They had always been part of the Temperance Hall (Central) fellowship, and saw the CCA to be inadequate, and unnecessary. Regrettably, subsequent events would appear to show that such fears were justified.
The fears of those brethren forming the Old Paths, and those brethren who at that time joined the Bereans were justified. It could be no other way, if the Bible is true. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." The leavening was inevitable, and Scripturally prophesied. It is for all these reasons that I am a Berean Christadelphian, and that I recommend this to all others.
After the formation of the Berean Fellowship in 1923, the constant push to corrupt our foundation principles left the Berean body. We really haven't been troubled in any significant way by ones corrupting divine principals. What few problems have come up in those areas, have all been resolved by the local ecclesia involved. Usually, those who wish to corrupt the foundation principles leave us for Central long before the proper fellowship procedures (described in Matt. 18) run their course.
However, an equally dangerous tendency took its place regarding walk and conduct issues. Certain men decided they needed to push their particular views, especially relating to divorce and remarriage, on to the brotherhood as a whole, and demanded agreement upon points of view which differed from those of our pioneer brethren.
From the foundation of the Christadelphian movement, ecclesias were free to order themselves on walk and conduct matters without interference from others. There was no clergy to which to appeal, and no central office that would make decisions. Providing the divine principles were acknowledged and believed, how ecclesias resolved their difficult and sad cases were left to the individual ecclesia. A wide variety of views pertaining to divorce and remarriage were accepted, and it was thought best to allow every ecclesia to handle its own difficulties the best it could.Generally speaking, all Christadelphians believed that divorce is wrong, but most also believed that Jesus permitted divorce and remarriage for fornication. (Matt. 5:37; 19:9). Commenting on this, G. V. Growcott, editor of the Berean for a number of years, wrote: "TO SUMMARIZE: The teachings of bre. Thomas, Roberts, Jannaway, and the whole brotherhood up till at least the 1920's is clearly established: Mt. 5:32 & 19:9 are part of Christ's law, and permit divorce and remarriage in case of adultery." (Divorce Circular, 1971)
Other Christadelphians, notably John Thomas, also believed that Paul also permitted divorce and remarriage if an unbelieving spouse departed from the marriage.
In the 1920's, a move away from the clear teachings of Matt. 5:37 and 19:9 occurred in the Christadelphian movement generally, and the Berean Fellowship was not immune. It was not easy to do this among the Berean Brotherhood. We do not regard the writings of bre. Thomas and Roberts as inspired, but we do regard them as wonderful Bible students with excellent judgment and understanding. To challenge their understanding on a matter of fellowship would have been very difficult. Recognizing this, some men began arguing that by "divorce," all the pioneer brethren meant was "separation," and not what they began to call "legal divorce". These argued that Matt. 5:37 and 19:9 permitted couples to separate for fornication, but not to "legally divorce" or remarry."Legal divorce" was a term used by the pioneers to distinguish the difference between what was legal, and what was Scriptural. The law agencies where the brethren lived could legally grant divorce for a cause other than what was Scriptural (such as cruelty or desertion). This was a legal divorce, in that the law agencies recognized it, but not a Scriptural one. Further, some Scriptural divorce was not legal. These problems can be seen in the writing of John Thomas: "The world of outer darkness is a law to itself, and orders it to suit its own notions of right. The Law of Moses allowed a plurality of wives, and divorce, and punished the 'social evil' with death. Jesus, who was 'made under the law,' did not interfere with the law, but forbade divorce upon any other ground than the wife's unfaithfulness. The apostle, whose authority he declared equal to his own in teaching the things of the Deity, allowed divorce on another ground, and for the sake of peace to the Christian party. But to carry out this gospel liberty would place a man or woman as a criminal at the bar of Gentile justice and law. Therefore, Peter has said: 'submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake' provided, of course, that in so doing, his precepts were not transgressed; this apostolic tradition applies also to their ordinances of marriage. They [the world] forbid two contemporary wives, allow divorce on unscriptural grounds, and tolerate the 'social evil' to any extent without punishment. Hence a saint, regulated by the word, would have only one wife at a time; he would seek divorce only on scriptural grounds, and avoid the 'social evil' as the plague." (Ambassador, 1866, pg. 94)
According to John Thomas, Paul allowed divorce "for the sake of peace to the Christian party." Paul said, "if the unbelieving depart, let him depart." But the nations at that time would not recognize divorce for the reason of religious differences. To presume yourself divorced and marry again based only on Paul's permission, and apart from a legal divorce would make one legally a polygamist, and a criminal at the bar of Gentile justice.During the 1920s, to try to make the pioneer brethren say something they never said the term "legal divorce" was given a new meaning. Its original meaning is clear enough. A legal divorce is one not illegal in the land where a saint is living. G. V. Growcott used this definition in his writings while discussing the writings of the pioneer brethren: "...Bro. Roberts says the same as bro. Thomas: there must be a legal divorce (a divorce not contravening man's laws) before there can be remarriage." "Bro. Thomas just says there cannot be marriage without 'legal divorce'--a divorce not illegal according to man's laws. He had to say that or some would have taken him to imply that the laws of Christ were all we had to consider, and we could flout the laws of man in this matter...."
But by using the term as G. V. Growcott used the term, it would never be possible to revise the writings of the pioneers brethren. Therefore, new definitions were brought to the fore. "Scriptural divorce" was said to mean separation, while "legal divorce" was said to be obtaining any divorce through Gentile law, which would allow for remarriage.
To defend this new view (new to the 1920's) that divorce is not the subject of Matt. 5:32 and Matt. 19:9, merely separation; there needed to be some way to avoid the force of the exception clause given in those verses. A reason had to be developed to justify saying that "put away" and "divorce" do not really mean "divorce." To do that the following argument was introduced.This new belief stated that Christ taught:MAT 19:6 "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
They reasoned that Jesus would not have stated the divine Edenic Law of marriage, only to have "contradicted" it three verses later in allowing a putting away of a spouse for fornication. Therefore, they reasoned, if you merely separated from an adulterous spouse, you would not be "putting asunder" the marriage bond.
It was pointed out to these men that an exception is not a contradiction. The exception proves the rule, not contradicts it. Further, it was pointed out that we have no authority to determine that Jesus could not make an exception to the Edenic Law. It is clearly written that he did. We only have the authority to accept what is plainly written, as the pioneer brethren did.
As to the issue itself, why couldn't there be an exception to the Edenic Law in the law of Christ? Certainly God, through Moses, made many exceptions to the Edenic Law when giving the Law of Moses. Finally, it was pointed out that Jesus made other exceptions to what he spoke. He spoke concerning his generation: "...there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas". No one argues that "the sign of the prophet Jonas" contradicts his statement that "no sign shall be given to it."
But to those in the 1920's who had become obsessed with the divorce/remarriage issue, this fell on deaf ears. New and different ways to interpret Matt. 19:9 were brought forward: all of them unknown to the pioneer brethren.
In opposition to the new idea of the 1920's, there arose a class of men who knew this new idea was wrong. They knew that Jesus had permitted divorce and remarriage, and they began to argue in defense of what Jesus had spoken. But, like so many on this issue, they too became obsessed with the matter, and soon were drawn into a false position in relation to it.It was pointed out to these men that the whole argument was immaterial, for the laws of the land where Christadelphians lived at that time (1920s) required a law suit against their spouse, and regardless of the divorce issue, this was not permitted. Paul's teaching is quite clear that we may not go to law against another for any cause whatsoever. To secure a divorce for adultery in the 1920s, required going to law against the spouse in charging and proving a spouse to be guilty of adultery. Further, the matter was left up to the discretion of a judge. Christadelphians cannot submit their disputes to a worldly judge for arbitration. John Thomas had written from the earliest days: Elpis Israel, pp. 244-245 "Do ye not know that the Saints should judge the world?" The verb here rendered "judge" is the same as is translated 'go to law' in the preceding verse. The apostle, therefore, asks if they do not know that they will sit judicially, and dispense justice to the world, according to the divine law; and because this is their destiny he positively forbids believers in the covenants of promise to submit themselves to the judgment of the unjust. It is better, says he, for one to be defrauded then to submit to such a humiliation. Let the heirs of the world arbitrate their own affairs in the present state: for it is a strange thing if men whose destiny is to judge the world and angels, cannot settle things pertaining to this life." .
So our established position was that we could not bring charges against another at the court of the world, nor could we submit a matter to them for their decision.
Nevertheless, some men, in their zeal to maintain the clear permission Christ granted in Matt. 5:37 and Matt 19:9 against the new ideas restricting divorce to only mean separation, ignored the Apostle Paul's restriction. They said that Jesus would not have granted us the permission to divorce for adultery on one hand, and then have the Apostle Paul take it away with his commands concerning not going to law, on the other.
I don't believe that this argument can appeal to anyone not already obsessed with the overall Divorce/Remarriage issue. Paul didn't take away the ability to divorce for adultery. The Roman Catholic Church did, when she made marriage a "Holy Sacrament" and forbade divorce. Ultimately, she succeeded in having her laws incorporated into the national laws of the nations, and the brethren suffered the consequences of this, no less than they have suffered in other, more severe ways during the two thousand years history of the Catholic Church.
A little reflection on the matter proves this. When the brethren lived under Catholic domination, divorce was unthinkable because it was illegal according to the laws of the land. Such is still the case in modern Catholic states such as Ireland. Would those men who counsel breaking the divine law in going to law against another (bring charges of adultery into court) to exercise Christ's permission, counsel committing polygamy to exercise Christ's permission if brethren lived during the Catholic dominated ages? Certainly not! Again to the point, in the very early 1800's it was not possible to obtain a divorce in England, unless you were a member of the Church of England. Would these brethren also counsel joining the Church of England to take advantage of Christ's permission? Why then would anyone justify making charges and submitting to the judgment of worldly judges to take advantage of Christ's permission, now? It doesn't make sense now, and it didn't then.
Those men who maintained that a brother or sister could be correct in bringing charges and submitting to the judgment of a Gentile court found it necessary to separate and formed a group called "Family Journal."
The Dawn Division
With the most ardent, if misled, defenders of Jesus' precepts pertaining to marriage and divorce out of the way, this set the stage for those who had been agitating that there is no exception to the Edenic law to begin to force that position. In the very late 20s, an ecclesia in California experienced a situation where a brother whose wife had committed adultery and left him, remarried, and applied for membership. The ecclesia ultimately voted not to receive him back into fellowship. Some members of that ecclesia voted that they should, and other ecclesias had voiced concerns that the ecclesia had made a poor decision, but as from our foundation we allowed ecclesias to govern themselves on this matter, the ecclesias were satisfied not to intervene in another ecclesia's affairs.
But the criticism ruffled those pushing the new concept that the exception clause does not allow for "legal divorce." Following the events of the late '20s, those brethren who insisted there could be no "legal divorce," and no remarriage after divorce, began to insist that their belief be accepted by all in the Berean fellowship. In the early 1940s, they constructed a four-point statement to which they demanded all agree. This stated there could be no remarriage after divorce while the spouse was still alive, regardless of the circumstances. This statement was a contradiction to Matt. 5:37, 19:9, and to the writings of the pioneer Christadelphians. It was rejected by the Bereans, and there was a division. The new body was called the "Dawn Fellowship."
Throughout the 1940s there was a very strong "back to Central movement" as discussed previously, culminating in the division of 1952.
Following this, the Berean Fellowship attempted to be ready to receive those who were leaving Central due to their dissatisfaction with the unions of the Suffolk Street/Advocates (in 1956), and the Shield group (in 1957). To guard against the errors of the Central group, the Berean body formed a Berean Restatement, which stated the way all Berean Ecclesias understood the "Christadelphian Statement of Faith" relevant to areas of disagreement between themselves and the Central body that these men were now leaving.
Fairly soon into the process, however, it appeared that those coming out of Central desired to go their own way. They formed the Old Paths group. This left the Bereans predominantly in the USA and Canada, while the Old Paths occupied a similar position in Britain and Australia. If there were differences between the Old Paths and the Bereans at that time, it would have been in the arena of divorce and remarriage. Both groups have suffered division on this issue since that time, and the exact differences are difficult to say.
The Four Points
An Exception is not a ContradictionIn 1972, the Bereans were again agitated by those insisting upon a particular view of divorce and remarriage. This division, like the Dawn before them, had its roots in the idea that Jesus would not have stated the Edenic Law in verse 6, and then contradicted it in verse 9. A typical exchange would be as follows: (From a supporter of the 1972 divorce movement) "I believe we will all agree that there cannot be and must not be any contradictions in God's Word. Christ would not say in two places to his disciples that one cannot divorce and remarry, then in another place contradict what Christ said..." (G.V. Growcott, editor of the Berean, in direct answer to the above) "No contradiction in God's word. Absolutely right! But we must be careful not to infer and create contradiction when there is none, just to support a theory. I am tremendously saddened at attempts to see 'contradiction' both in Jesus' clear and consistent teachings, and also in the writings of our pioneer brethren on those teachings.
"An exception is not a contradiction. It is axiomatic that 'the exception proves the rule.' An exception confirms and establishes a rule, showing the rule is not just indefinite and general, but universal outside the stated exception. Many rules are general and exceptions are understood to be possible, but if we say 'This is the only exception', we confirm the rule's universality in every other case. This is surely an obvious and elementary fact of language and reason, and to try to stigmatize a clearly expressed exception as a contradiction is to make language and reasoning meaningless. "It is recorded in Mark 8:12 that Jesus said (to the Pharisees-note) 'There shall no sign be given unto this generation'; PERIOD ; no exception.
"In Matt. 16:4, the same incident is recorded 'There shall no sign be given unto it, BUT the sign of the prophet Jonas.'
"It is not essential that we prove this is the same incident. The illustration is just as clear otherwise, but actually this can be demonstrated to be the same incident beyond any reasonable doubt. Why did Mark omit the exception that Matthew recorded in the same incident?
"Are we to throw out this beautiful exception the sign of the prophet Jonas just because Mark does not mention it? Are we to demand that Mark have it in before we will believe? Are we to charge 'contradiction' as the world is so quick to do in any seeming discrepancy? Note again, Matt. gives the exception; Mark recording the same incident does not. Is it conceivably possible that the supporters of this article have any difficulty with this contradiction?"
These brethren ultimately issued a Four-Point Statement that forbids remarriage while the first spouse was still alive. It was a little more extreme than the Dawn position in the details, but essentially the same thing. Its roots were the same. It argues that Christ would not have restated the Divine Edenic Law, only to have contradicted it three verses later. (This erroneous statement appears to be the common thread of all those who attack the foundation Christadelphian position, regardless of how the details play out later.)
The difference between the Dawn and the new group which chose no name, but which has been referred to as "Four Points" by others, is simply this: the Dawn believe that if a person comes to the knowledge of the truth divorced but not remarried, they are free to remarry. The Four Point believes that such a person would not be free to remarry.
Another Berean Fellowship
Finally, in 1997, these old issues combined with the changes in the worlds divorce laws to again divide the body. The change from the divorce laws which required making and proving charges in open court, and the submitting of evidence to a Gentile judge for a decision had ended in some nations, and had been greatly modified in others. The old Catholic inspired laws called, "For Fault" law, had been replaced with various forms of "No fault" law, or the even less litigious "Dissolution" law.The change had been coming for over thirty years. In 1972, then Berean editor, G. V. Growcott, had been asked directly about this. Question 3: "Can a divorce be obtained in this (Canada) or your country (US) without going to law?" Answer: This question clearly means going to law against, not just "going to law" as when getting married. With this clear, the answer is Yes, as concerns many states of the US (including, I now believe, Michigan). Increasingly so. More and more states are adopting "no fault" divorce laws in which (as I understand it) there is no accusation, no charging with sin, no suing at law, no going to law against; any more than there is in getting married in the first place. I do not have any specific information, but this appears to be a very rapidly developing trend. And in the light of this, it should be noted (as having a large bearing on this whole question), that what in the world is called "marriage" today is merely legalized, temporary, terminable fornication. If a couple, when "married," do not regard it as for life, but merely for mutual convenience to be terminated at will, then it is fornication, whatever the world may call it. They are never, in any true sense, married at all.
Divorce in the US appears to be quite quickly moving in the direction of the conditions it was in Christ's day under Roman law a purely personal affair no more regulated than marriage was regulated. Truly there are certain regulations, and forms to be gone through, just as there are with marriage. For instance, with marriage, the authorities have rules as to residency, medical examination, age, consanguinity, etc. Conforming with all this is "going to law," but it is not "going to law against." Such seems to increasingly be the case with divorce.
Actually, governmental prohibition and regulation of divorce is a hangover from Papal Catholic rule of the "Christian" world. In one way it has been a very helpful shield for us against the problem, but in another way it has greatly complicated and obscured it, and prevented us from facing the real issues of the matter. When the trend (to looser legal divorce) started, I greatly feared it, feeling it would strip away our outer line of defense against the divorce evil, but more and more I feel it is the hand of God making us face the deeper issues involved, which is much healthier and safer.
The change in national laws brought out questions concerning which of the new laws were truly "going to law against another" which is forbidden by Paul, and which laws were "going to law, but not "going to law against another." Most were satisfied to leave this question up to the local ecclesia involved. Some were not.
A small group of brethren decided that all others must agree with them that a specific Texas No Fault law was, in every instance, going to law against another because of the legal language involved. Others pointed out to them that while they agreed that the legal language was aggressive, still, there were no charges of sin, no presentation of evidence, and no decision to be made by a judge (beyond verifying that the paperwork was correctly filled out). These felt it was dangerous to take such a technical approach to the matter, to call this "going to law against another." But, for the sake of peace, the latter agreed to submit to the sensitivities of the former so unity could continue.
This was not satisfactory to those wanting complete agreement that this matter was definitely "going to law against another." This argument, which began about which law is or isn't "going to law against another," soon aroused those who still held aspects of the Dawn/Four Point position on the subject.
To those who held the old arguments pertaining to "legal divorce," the type of law didn't matter. Rather than accept the simple clear meaning that "legal divorce is a divorce not illegal in the land," the arguments of the Dawn division were brought back that "legal divorce" is "any mans-law-related divorce." It was argued that if everywhere the pioneer brethren wrote "divorce," you understand that as "separation" and never "legal divorce," then their ideas could be supported by the pioneer brethren. This is probably true. And if everywhere that the pioneer brethren wrote "defiled" and 'sin in the flesh" we understand this as a symbol, instead of a physical principle, A. D. Strickler's views would harmonize with the pioneers.
But these men had defined these terms. There is no reason that we should give their words a meaning they never did. It would only make sense to use their own definitions to define their words. As G. V. Growcott wrote, "Legal Divorce" is one that does not contravene the laws of the land. Never had the pioneer brethren wrote that divorce only means "separation." .
Nevertheless, these men forced their definition that all of man's-law-related divorce was going to law against another. They argued that any divorce which goes through the law is forbidden, and they demanded agreement by all others on this point. This set the stage for a further division.Further, the old argument that Jesus would not give the "Edenic Law" in verse 6, and contradict it in verse 9 of Matt. 19 was brought back. They changed the words from "contradict to "reverse himself", but the argument was the same. (See Above discussion.) One circular of the times against the established Berean position stated: "...Jesus said, '...Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder' (Matt 19:4-6). Having put forth this argument, Jesus is not going to reverse himself just 3 verses later, when he says, '....whosoever shall put away his wife, except if be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery...' (Matt. 19:9)"
These two arguments from the past combined in such a way to say that if anyone believed that Matt. 5:37 & 19:9 permitted ones to initiate a legal divorce for adultery, even if there is no "going to law against another", that such an one is not fit for fellowship.This position that ones may never initiate a legal divorce struck full force against the established Christadelphian position. An example of this had clearly been given by then Berean Magazine editor, G. V. Growcott. He wrote: "2. But I do not believe in divorce. I believe it is an 'evil,' as the Restatement says. I believe cutting off your arm is an evil. It can never be anything else but evil. Every effort should be made to heal it. But if it is hopelessly corrupt, and corrupting the rest of the body, there may be no other alternative.
"It is only in this light that I can see the possibility of anyone using the Ex Cl (provided no laws of God are broken -- as Suing at Law).
"If someone said to me: 'My partner is utterly corrupt in whoredom, and determined to continue in it. I must put her (or him) away, and I am so constituted as to come under the description of Paul in 1 Cor 7:5,9, etc. I must choose either corruption or remarriage.' If they said this, I would find it difficult to condemn them.
"My own private thought would be that if they sought strength from God in constant prayer, they would be given the ability to endure any condition they found themselves in. This would be my private inner view, but in the light of what Paul says, and not being able to judge how others are constituted, I could not force this view upon them as a matter of First Principle, and therefore of fellowship. I would leave the judgment to God. God has made a provision. I believe (with Paul) that they would be 'happier' if they did not feel they had to use it, but it is very easy to get 'holier' than God in our regulations upon our fellow servants.
And if they added the fact that they had several young children that needed a mother (or a father), I would not see in this of itself any proof of their right to remarry, but I would be impressed by the fact that what bre. Thomas and Roberts understood to be God's way and provision in such a case would have the merit of bringing possible good out of evil, and creating a normal family relationship with hope for the future. Compare this with the dangerous, unnatural condition the new theories create."
So here was the clear and consistent Christadelphian teaching on the matter. If someone said they must put their spouse away and remarry, providing they did not go to law against them as forbidden by the apostle Paul, that this should not be forced as a First Principle or a matter of fellowship. In spite of this clear example, those agitating that there can be no "legal divorce" ran roughshod over these principles and demanded agreement.As the debate moved forward, the original cause of the unrest fell further into the background. When the final document was prepared defining the division, it was clear that division was over the initiation of any divorce, not just what laws can or cannot be used. In the letter declaring the division those withdrawing wrote (and remember, they continue to call themselves Berean): "Berean Christadelphians do not believe that they may initiate 'legal divorce' of any description, regardless of the country in which they live, or in whatever way 'legal divorces' are stated. 'Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery' (Matt. 5:32).
"If there is adultery, and if there is man's-law-related divorce (legal divorce), then there may be remarriage by the injured partner, without any sin or stigma..."
The above statement would seem to have excluded those who originally began the debate on the matter. They originally appeared to be concerned with which law could or could not be used, but this states that no mans-related-law could be used. In any case, they agreed to the above, and the division went forward.
As the established Berean position was that each ecclesia should work out its own sad problems within the framework of the teachings of Christ and the apostles, these new demands were not readily accepted by the body, and a division took place. This new group, a minority of brethren, have taken the unusual step of leaving the body but not dropping the name. They allow themselves to continue to be identified with us as Bereans. While this is most unusual, there is nothing that can be done about it.
When the Bereans were formed in 1923, the Berean brotherhood was quite anxious to disassociate itself from the Central group and the errors of A. D. Strickler. Apparently, the new group does not feel the same need to disassociate themselves from those it feels are in error, as did the faithful brethren of old.
From the standpoint of the divorce issue itself, the Bereans have no problem in identifying with the new group, as we take no fellowship stand on these things, one way or the other. We allow each ecclesia to resolve its own sad problems. The Bereans do have a problem with their behavior pertaining to the doctrine of fellowship. If they wish to continue to be "Bereans", they should then fellowship "Bereans" and not refuse the fellowship of those with whom they share a name. If they do not wish to associate with us, they should choose a new name and move on.
In any case, while it is embarrassing, it is not within our power to do anything about it. As bro. John Thomas said, "What cannot be cured must be endured."
There have been other men with other issues who walked with us for a time, but who came to believe they had some new point of truth and insisted on all others excepting their position, and moving away from the guidance and council of the Christadelphian movement. These too have separated from us, but never created the divisions that the divorce question has. You can even find one such article on the Web entitled "A matter of Fellowship." All of the reasons given by this brother (whom I personally have a great deal of admiration for) are reasons upon which we have never legislated in the past, and refused to legislate now. One article on his site even has a direct attack on the fellowship position of an early editor, Robert Roberts, pertaining to head coverings.
Those who wish to add to our original foundation, and those who wish to take from our original foundation will not find the Bereans a satisfactory movement. We believe we are too close to the return of Christ to go changing our movement at this late date. The foundations laid 150 years ago have served us well to this point, and I doubt any see any need to change now.
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Conclusions Concerning BereansAs has been demonstrated in this history, the path chosen by the Berean Christadelphians has not been smooth. The words of the Scriptures have rung so very true:LUK 12:51-53 "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law."
It has been through much effort and many tears that the original position of those who rediscovered the Truth from the superstitions of Christendom has been maintained. Some have wished to take away from it. Some have tried to add to it. To the best of our ability, we have tried to maintain the narrow and confined path that leads to life.We know that our detractors say we "follow men, not God." To those we simply say that we maintain the original foundation, not because it is the original, but because we believe that the position these men took was the proper position in relation to divine things. We don't follow men, but we do respect men for their work's sake in uncovering the truth from the darkness that is in the world. After nearly 150 years of sincere brethren examining the foundation that was laid down by John Thomas, we can say with Robert Roberts: Christadelphian 1898, p. 128. "To the charge of holding 'that the knowledge of Scripture, in the writings of Dr. Thomas, have reached a finality,' we plead guilty...Our judgment is distinctly to the effect imputed-- that in the writings of Dr. Thomas the Truth is developed as a finality, and that they are a depot of the Christian doctrine. In this sense we are 'committed to Dr. Thomas.' God used him in the doing of His work. In His sight, and with His help, we shall hold fast to the Truth brought to light by his means."
We encourage all who are like minded to come and walk with us.