Only in the Lord
Should an ecclesia withdraw fellowship from a member who gets married to someone in a different Christadelphian fellowship?
The ecclesial Guide gives sound scriptural advice as follows -
32.-Cases of Sin and Withdrawal.
Withdrawal is a serious step, and ought not to be lightly taken against any brother. It erects a barrier and inflicts a stain not easily removed. It ought never to be taken until all the resources of the Scriptural rule of procedure have been exhausted.
The rule laid down by Christ for the treatment of personal offences (Matt. xviii. 15-17) is doubtless applicable to sin in general. Sin of any kind on the part of a brother, becoming known to another brother, is a sin against that brother-more heinous, indeed, when Scripturally estimated, than a mere offence against himself. He is, therefore, bound to take the course Jesus prescribes, as John plainly indicates in the words, "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask," etc. It is usual with some not to act upon this rule at all. The usual way is to speak of the fault, whatever it is, to a third party. This itself is sin.
A brother's part (if the case be serious enough to speak of at all), is to be silent to all but the brother himself: first, go himself and discuss the matter between the two alone. If this is successful, a brother is gained and saved, and the matter is not to be mentioned to anyone else. If not successful, Christ commands the interview to be repeated with the assistance of one or two others; and only in the event of these failing is the matter to be mentioned to the ecclesia, or those representing it. It is then the ecclesia's part to bring their whole influence to bear upon the offender to forsake his evil ways.
Only when this has failed are we at liberty to withdraw. Nothing is so effectual as this rule for stopping evil speaking and ensuring merciful help to those who stumble, or the proper and timely treatment of incorrigible sin. Each brother then becomes a seeing eye and protecting hand of the ecclesia. There should be a stringent refusal to hear an evil report concerning anyone until the reporter has taken the Scriptural course.
Withdrawal, too, when it comes (it must be noted), is not expulsion. It is the apostolic form of separation which, though practically equivalent to expulsion in its effects on the separated, is more in harmony with the spirit enjoined by Christ upon his house than the form in vogue among professing bodies of all sorts. Withdrawal means that those withdrawing do modestly and sorrowfully step aside from the offender for fear of implication in his offence.
Expulsion means thrusting out, which is a different thing, and implies and generates the arrogant attitude of ecclesiastical excommunication. The careful preservation of right forms in these things is a help to the preservation of the right spirit.
Marriage is not what the ecclesiasticism of Christendom calls "one of the sacraments of the Church." Nevertheless, as a matter powerfully affecting the spiritual relations of brethren and sisters, it is an institution coming within the regulation of the law of Christ. Marriage with the alien is forbidden both by the general tenor of many precepts and by express intimation of liberty to marry "only in the Lord" (1 Cor. vii. 39). The law of Christ thus follows the law of Moses (that other "law of the Lord," in most points superseded, but not in this). It was a strict injunction to Israel not to marry the heathen on either side of the house. It is fitting that such a restriction should extend to saints, because the reason dictating it in the case of Israel after the flesh is more powerfully operative among Israel after the Spirit: "They will turn thee away from following me."
...But what is to be done in the case of an unmarried brother or sister who violates the apostolic law by marrying one not a believer (by which, of course, we are to understand, an obedient believer-one baptized into the faith of the gospel)? This is a difficult point to decide. Some are for taking no notice: others for withdrawing from the fellowship of the offender. Both courses are open to objection. 'Taking no notice' is to wink at the breach of the law of Christ, and implicate ourselves therein: a breach which gradually leads to other breaches until there is, in most cases, a complete falling away from the truth.
On the other hand, the marriage cannot be undone; and to refuse to have anything further to do with the offender is to say that he has committed an unpardonable sin. Should we be justified in taking this ground? If he defend his act as a Scriptural one, and contend for indiscriminate right of marriage on the part of believers with unbelievers, there would doubtless be no alternative but withdrawal, for we may not make ourselves responsible (by fellowship) for doctrines or maxims that are in opposition to the law of God.
But suppose there is a recognition of the Scriptural law in the case, and an admission of wrong, extenuated by necessity of marriage, and inability to find a sister, or some such plea, should we be justified in for ever refusing such an offender, as if he were a habitual drunkard or a thief? There must be some middle ground in such a case, and it is doubtless to be found in the practice of the London brethren . Brother J. J. Andrew, at whose suggestion this paragraph is inserted, says:
"You know our plan (in the case of marriage with an alien having taken place in our midst). We pass a resolution of disapproval and send it to the brother or sister concerned. And, as a counter act, marriages in the faith are announced from the table on Sunday morning, as an expression of approval by the ecclesia of the principle on which they have taken place. It also serves, in a large ecclesia, as an introduction to all, instead of spreading gradually in a private manner."
The author of this website believes there should be one common standard of belief and practice across the fellowship. All ecclesias assenting to that which is upheld to be clear scriptural teaching while allowing healthy discussion on matters which are considered uncertain details.
The guidance in the ecclesial guide is we believe the correct policy and demonstrates the spirit of Messiah. Here is an opportunity for an ecclesia to win over the unbeliever through good works. A principle in 1 Cor 7 which extends to the ecclesia..
''For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?''
Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (Jms 5:20)
Here is a test for the ecclesia. It takes patience and labour and love to build, and help and nurture.
A brother or sister in a different fellowship is not an unbeliever - if they have been baptised into the name of the Lord Yahoshua Anointed following a true confession of faith they are 'In Christ' and part of his body.
The most urgent consideration here is did the immersion count for baptism?
In cases of doubt their understanding should be examined with a view to correcting any fatal errors or deficiences; re-immersion (baptism) rendered once/if they are of sound mind concerning the One Faith. If it turns out that the candidate will not be persuaded then the situation is as described in the ecclesial guide. The brother or sister who married the unbeliever will need help and support from the ecclesia. Some unbelievers will be amiable and well-disposed mitigating the harm. Some technical believers are neither - as Bro Thomas pointed out.
Examples of fatal error - that there is no sin in the flesh, that the Kingdom is here now, that we are already saved by grace, present holy spirit possession, that we do not have to give account of ourselves at the judgement seat, that only Israel will be blessed in the millenium.
Bearing in mind the wise counsel in the 'Ecclesial Guide' not to withdraw from a person who marries an unbeliever (if they admit the wrong)...how much more is it the case that withdrawal is inappropriate when the marriage is in the Lord - but involves a different fellowship!
If withdrawal does occur - how is the ecclesia going to resolve the matter if the brother or sister presses to come back? How are they to 'repent'? Must they separate from their spouse? When can they return? Is there a time limit? Can they never return?
Marriage outside of the Lord
Below are some quotations from the foundation writings...
An unfortunate disagreement on a question of duty at present impairs the unity heretofore existing among the brethren in Edinburgh, and prevents a few from continuing to act on the apostolic injunction of assembling with the rest on the first day. The matter of difference is what is known as "the marriage question."
The majority hold the conviction that intermarriage with unbelievers is contrary to the law of Christ, as delivered through the apostles, and, therefore, a thing to be reprobated and repudiated by every community professing to be founded on apostolic tradition. The others think it is an inexpedient and unwise thing, but claim perfect liberty of individual action in the matter. The issue is direct and tangible, and unfortunately seems to be mutually taken with a tenacity that forbids the hope of compromise.
This is much to be regretted, as they are cordially united in their apprehensions of the truth in its doctrinal aspects. The question which divides them is, doubtless, an important one. Marriage affects every interest of man and woman more closely than any other act or relation of life. It is the closest union that can subsist between two human beings, so close as to justify the ancient, short, well-worn, but pithy, description of the two so united -"one flesh." It is scarcely conceivable, in view of this, that a man or woman who have surrendered themselves to Christ, could faithfully or harmlessly make themselves one with a stranger, whose tastes, affections, and schemes of life, must necessarily be alien to those of a faithful son or daughter of the Almighty.
Can it be the will of God that such a thing should happen? that believer and unbeliever should be so unequally yoked? that Christ and Belial should come into such incongruous alliance? Common sense should determine the question. But if more than common sense is wanted, we have only to quote the exhortations of Paul ( 1 Cor. 6:15 , 16 ; 2 Cor., 6:14 ), and especially his limitation of the widow's liberty, who desires re-marriage-"She is at liberty to be married to whom she will ONLY IN THE LORD ."-(1 Cor., 7:39 .)
The infraction of this liberty has been in all times, from the days before the flood ( Gen. 6:2 ), and notably in the history of Israel, a fruitful source of corruption and departure from God. No influence is more potent for good or evil than the power of the sexes upon each other. It is, therefore, reasonable that it should be the subject of divine regulation. The Jews were strictly prohibited from intermarrying with the heathen, from a fear that their hearts would be drawn away after other gods, and there is no less danger of intermarriage drawing aside a son or daughter of the Almighty from their allegiance now.
God's children - those men and women who "come out from among" the worldly rabble, and give themselves to Christ by the truth, are "holy to the Lord" - "set apart for himself" - and it, therefore, stands to reason to suppose that God would hold them under a special obligation to be faithful in the matter of marriage, by limiting their alliances to those who are pledged to the service of God.
There is no doubt that it is according to apostolic tradition that this kind of faithfulness should be observed, and there is less doubt that it is imperative in every community professing submission to the truth, as apostolically delivered, to put themselves in subjection to apostolic precept and sentiment, on this and every matter, and to demand this subjection on the part of all seeking their fellowship.
This is the attitude of the meeting as now constituted, and though it creates a difficulty for the present, it will, undoubtedly, operate healthily in the long run. It remains an open question how those should be dealt with who go beyond Christ's liberty in the matter. Acknowledgment of offence would condone the act, but an offender extenuating himself on the plea of the legitimacy of intermarriage, puts himself outside of that agreement which is essential to a walking together in the Word of Christ.
ECCLESIAL DISCIPLINE J. R.-When a brother or sister falls into open sin ("known and read of all men"), an ecclesia is bound in an open manner to signify its reprobation of the offence, to prevent the taunt arising among "those without" that iniquity is fellow-shipped with impunity. The enemy is too ready to make use of such a misfortune for malicious purposes. "We are not ignorant of his devices."-( 2 Cor. 2:11 .) The "very appearance of evil" must be avoided. An evil report obstructs the cause of the truth.
Paul evinces the utmost sensitiveness on this point in all his epistles, and it will be shared by every man of honour and good sense. What course should be pursued in the matter? If the brother or sister offending is callous and indifferent on the subject, there is only one course, and that is, the public repudiation of their company.
If they are sincerely repentant, the duty of the ecclesia is to receive them and help them, but at the same time, to vindicate the ecclesia's regard for righteousness, and the sullied honour of Christ, by subjecting their action to some open mark of disavowal. This is best done by asking them to refrain for a time from the breaking of bread, while not absenting themselves from the meetings. In this, there is an exhibition of humble submission on the part of the offender which is a guarantee of the genuineness of his sorrow; and on the part of the ecclesia, an effective washing of their hands of all complicity with his transgression.
This is the only remedy in our hands at the present time. It has nothing to do with judicial action. The friends of Christ are not allowed, in the present state, to employ coercive measures, in any form. The execution of the judgment written is a prerogative in reserve for such only as come through the present probation, with divine approval. Meanwhile, we are allowed to use the defensive weapon of non-association where there is non-compliance with the precepts of Christ.
"Excommunication" is an ordinance of the apostasy; ecclesial withdrawal is of apostolic prescription.
W.G.-Withdrawal from brethren or sisters for inter-marriage with unbelievers has only taken place, so far as we are aware, where the act is defended as a right and scriptural thing, or where some other cause springing out of it has existed. Where the wrong is admitted, withdrawal has not taken place. There was a recent case of this sort in the very place where the withdrawal was reported from. There is a great distinction between the two cases, the observance of which ought to obviate the hot-water difficulties you speak of. The Doctor's letter on the subject ( Ambassador , 1866, page 91) is good, but requires a little qualification on one or two points.
A brother is censured for marrying an alien: he leaves the meeting: he now sees he has made a mistake. He wants to come back, but you want to humble him, and make him confess formally before the body what all know he admits. This is wrong. You ought to run to meet him, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son. Do not be exacting in such cases. Remember your own sins and have mercy.
Noah's times were times in which violence filled the earth, and in which the wickedness of man was great, and the thoughts and intents of his heart wholly evil; for all flesh had corrupted the way of God, to an extent that rendered them only fit (in the divine estimation) for capture and destruction. Such was their utter disregard of Noah's preaching and testimony of coming evil, that, as Christ says, they ate and drank and married and gave in marriage until the very day Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came and took them all away ( Matt. 24:38 , 39 , Luke 17:26 , 27 ). One of the things that led to this state of universal corruption was the intermarriages that took place between the "sons of God," as we may suppose in the line of Enoch, and the "daughters of men," apparently in the line of Cain.
This sort of union is a thing to be avoided among the sons and daughters of faith in every age as at least frought with evil possibilities, and as altogether beset with influences that are adverse to the interests of the truth, and the true well-being of the children of God. With this agrees what Paul says incidentally about a widowed sister; says he, "she is at liberty to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord" ( 1 Cor. 7:39 ); and to the same effect are the words, "be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" ( 2 Cor. 6:14 ). Noah's, we may be sure, was a trying situation, and especially so when we look at the length of time he was upon the scene
On Friday, there was a meeting of the official brethren in brother Mitchell's house, to talk over various matters affecting the welfare of the truth. The question of "marriage with the alien" was one on which some seemed inclined to go to extremes. I said the question had been chronic for 40 years to my knowledge, and I did not think they could improve upon the way of dealing with it which was in vogue among themselves, requiring offenders to admit the wrong and leaving them to God. The idea of requiring them to separate and declaring their children illegitimate was monstrous. I pointed out why.
Those who argue it is lawful to marry unbelievers are not to be fellowshipped
MARRYING THE UNBELIEVER A faithful brother, of many years' standing, writes a letter, from which the following are extracts:- "You have learned, no doubt, of the division on the question of marriage with the alien; not how we were to deal with the brother or sister marrying the alien, but the question, 'Do the Scriptures forbid it?' Circumstances caused a certain brother to change his mind on the subject, and he finally came out and said that 'Believers were at liberty to marry unbelievers, and that there was no law against it.' This leaven worked in the ecclesia for about two years at the end of which a brother, formerly a presiding brother, married an alien. Then it turns out that two others in the ecclesia are engaged to aliens. On August 20th, 1896, a brother, in his lecture gave a Scriptural warning against believers marrying unbelievers, to which the four presiding brethren took exception, and declared the subject should never be spoken on again. Then we learned, for the first time, how many were being led astray by the teaching. A few faithful ones decided it best to call a halt, and get the mind of the meeting. We had an ecclesial meeting, and found the four presiding brethren and a score of others were setting the commandment aside. We could not be a party to it. We would advise the kindest t eatment to a brother or sister weak enough to break this commandment, but to be counted among those that defiantly set aside the teaching of Scripture from Genesis to Revelations, we could not do it. So that about half of the ecclesia withdrew from the four presiding brethren and all who endorsed their position. This is the position of the two meetings at present. We have refrained from having anything published, as we hoped a union might be effected, but the breach widens. Much has been made of the letter written by Dr. Thomas in May, 1866. If readers, after perusing that letter, would read page 106 in Elpis Israel , it would prove a good antidote to any doubt that letter might create. Jesus says, 'As it was in the days of Noah so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man.' They were 'marrying and giving in marriage.' Why does he mention marriage? We read that before the flood, the sons of God took them wives of all they choose: that is, they married and were given in marriage, unlawfully , which was the foundation of the apostacy that brought the flood upon the earth. "I wish you would publish something that would tend to strengthen the faith of weak ones on this subject, and to counteract the wave of disobedience that will surely follow in the wake of what has been published by the Advocate in January and the teaching of prominent brethren here."
REMARKS .-There is a combination of commonsense and Scripture authority on the side of the right view of this question that we have always found decisive with minds susceptible to spiritual impression. The common-sense of the thing is self-manifest, provided the status of a believer is Scripturally recognised. By this status, an obedient believer is one who has given himself or herself to God-in affection, in principle in loyalty, in relation, and in ownership, and in destiny-only waiting for the present to pass away that their true character may be manifest. Such are regarded not only with a loving, but with a jealous eye by God, who is a jealous God, and by Him who has purchased them from themselves for Himself as a peculiar people. He, therefore, not only demands their heart and service and praise, but He objects to their giving these to any other.
He asks them to reckon that they do not belong to the people around, and forbids them to be united with them, saying "What fellowship hath light with darkness? What concord hath Christ with Belial?' He says to them, "Ye are not of this world," "Be not conformed to this world," "The friendship of the world is enmity with God," "Be not unequally yoked with the unbeliever." Now, a man cannot, and must not in this mortal state go out of the world; but there are various ways of adjusting himself to it while he must be in it. The convenient way, no doubt, is to be friends with it; to unite with it, to recognise no hindrances, and to run with it in all its ways: but how is such a way to be reconciled with the precepts which tell us we are not to be of it: not to make friends with it: not to be yoked with it? The other way is to adjust ourselves to it as Christ adjusted himself to it: while in it, he stood not on its ground: testified of it that the works thereof were evil: and made friends only of those who "did the will of the Father," even as the Psalmist had foreshadowed of him: "I am a companion to all them that love thy righteous precepts."
Now, if there is a relation of life to which these considerations apply with more force than others, it is to marriage: for in marriage a man gives himself to the perpetual companionship of the woman he marries, and undertakes a perpetual duty of friendship, and subjects himself to her perpetual influence. Now, if this woman is a worlding-a woman who loves the present world, a woman who has no faith in God, no knowledge of His law, no interest in His purpose, and no idea of consecrating her life to God, where is the man? He has violated every principle of the calling to which the Gospel has called him in making himself one with the world in the person of his wife. He has put his will which ought to be untrammelled in the service of God, under mortgage to an enemy of God: for a man cannot act independently of the will of his wife. And he has placed himself in a position of great danger in having taken to his bosom an influence whose tendency will be to continually draw him away from God, even if it do not expressly oppose every endeavour he makes in the direction of godliness. And, then, look at his children: it is his duty to bring them up in subjection to divine principles: how can he do so if their mother is in opposition to those principles? He has sacrificed his power to perform his duty by marrying an unbeliever.
A man must have a poor sense of the obligations associated with the truth who cannot see that such a marriage is a violation of every principle of loyalty to Christ, quite apart from any question of express prohibition. But the express prohibitions are not wanting. It is admitted that the widow of 1 Cor. 7:39 , was at liberty to marry again "only in the Lord." Is not this enough? Is there one law for widows and another for spinsters? Is there one law for sisters and another for brethren? Why should a widow in particular be restricted in her matrimonial selections and all others at perfect liberty of "marriage with the alien"? The suggestion is childish. The reason why a widow should marry "only in the Lord" is a reason why every friend of Christ should do nothing else. "Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?" "Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of "those that are not Christ's?" "for two , saith he, shall be one flesh " ( 1 Cor. 6:15 ). Though Paul here was arguing against fornication, his remarks have application to union with those who, not being his, belong to the harlot community. "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers. . . . Come out from them and be ye separate" ( 2 Cor. 6:14-19 ).
This is express prohibition enough; for it cannot be maintained that Paul would forbid an unimportant unequal yoking and allow an important one. The commandment of the law on which the interdict is founded is itself eloquent of the meaning: "Thou shalt not plough (or put in one yoke) a horse and an ass together." Two creatures of unequal step cannot work advantageously together. The yoke must be for two of a sort. Paul deduces liberty of maintenance for preachers from the command not to muzzle the ox ( 1 Cor. 9:9 ). We may, therefore, easily follow him in drawing an interdict of alliance between believer and unbeliever in all matters of fellow-workmanship, and therefore in marriage, which is the highest co-operation of all. Israel were forbidden to make marriages with the Canaanites ( Deut. 7:3 ): and Bible history is one (18), daughter of brother Wheatly; May 29th, long illustration of the evil effects of disobedience in this matter ( Gen. 6:2 : Jude 3:6 : 1 Kings 11:4 : 2 Chron. 11:23 : Nehemiah 13:23-27 ).
It is no answer to cite the marriage of Joseph with the daughter of an Egyptian priest: or of Moses with an Ethiopian woman, or any similar case, because we do not know enough of such cases to know whether they were not outside the prohibition by reason of special mental qualification. The unknown should never be placed against the known. What we do know is that marriage with the alien is forbidden: that disobedience has always been disastrous: and that the interdict is based on the foundations of solid common-sense. In such a state of the case, it is disloyalty to trifle with the subject in the way referred to in the foregoing communication. To draw a distinction between God's law and God's "loving advice" is not characteristic of spiritual health. We sympathise utterly with the brethren who refuse to be compromised in the corruption that appears to be setting in.- ED .
In the article below Bro Thomas is making the case not to withdraw fellowship from a brother or sister marrying unbelievers. It is in this context he makes his remarks. The article is not intended to justify marrying unbelievers. This was never its purpose. The purpose was the prevention of unneccessary division over the issue.
Bro Roberts makes the following pertinent observation...
''The Doctor's letter on the subject ( Ambassador , 1866, page 91) is good, but requires a little qualification on one or two points.
IS IT LAWFUL TO MARRY UNBELIEVERS?
Letter from Dr. Thomas to certain brethren in Britain .
To them in ...... , who are there "the sanctified in Christ Jesus," favour be unto you, and peace from the Deity, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, for whose speedy manifestation they are all professedly waiting, and earnestly desiring.
In the words of the great teacher of the Gentiles, in whom was the mind of Christ, "I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing , and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind , and in the same judgment ." For it hath been delivered to me of you, my brethren, by our beloved ... with the request that I would address you, that there are contentions among you not at all creditable to you as "Brethren of Christ," by which designation we have taken our stand as his Faithful Witness (Antipas.)
Is it so, then, that after so many years' study of the enlightening word, ye are yet carnal? For whereas there is said to be among you strife and divisions; are ye not carnal, and walk as men? Know ye not that ye are the temple of the Deity, if he have any temple in your locality? and that "the Spirit which is the truth" dwelleth, or ought to dwell, in you? Now, if any man defile this temple by divisions, and unnecessary contentions and strifes, him will the Deity destroy; for his temple is holy, which temple I trust ye are.
If then ye be this temple. ye are Christ's house, "the Ecclesia of the Deity," and, therefore, if faithful to him who hath invited you out of heathen darkness into his marvellous light, ye are "the pillar and support of the truth," in the place of your sojourning. Hence you are collectively "stewards of the mysteries of the Deity," which are foolishness to "the wise and prudent" of this generation. Now it is required in stewards that they be found faithful, and that they keep their accounts correctly, so that when the Lord comes they may not be put to shame in his presence.
But, as stewards, are you fulfilling this necessity, while contending and striving to the disruption of the congregation, and the abolition of the table of the Lord in its midst? It is good and wholesome to "contend earnestly for the faith, once for all delivered to the saints," as in past years you have against the Laodiceans; such a contention as this will never divide a healthy body. It will cause it to grow with the increase of the Deity; but to contend for anything short of this, or irrelevant to it, developes only confusion and every evil work.
I need not tell you as ignorant of it, but because you know it; and by way of reminding you of what you know, that the sanctified in Christ Jesus, are those, and only those, who believe, "the things of the kingdom of the Deity, and the name of Jesus Christ," with a faith unspoiled by crotchets and traditions; a "faith that works by love," of these covenanted things; and are immersed thereupon into Jesus Christ. These are "the saints"; and "do you not know that the saints shall judge the world, and angels too"; that "judgment shall be given to them under the whole heaven"; and that in their execution of it, they shall cause wars and contentions, and strifes to cease to the end of the world?
Do you not know, beloved brethren, that this is your mission, if accepted as the called, and faithful, and chosen? And do you not know also, that the grand principle of the Divine Oracles to be practically developed in the saints while trodden under foot of the Gentiles, is absolute, unconditional, obedience to the truth? The Holy and the Just One was not exempted from this necessity; for "he learned obedience by the things which he suffered;" and when perfected, in ascending to the Father's nature, he was promoted to the command of angels and the world.
But it is said that there are contentions among you, which have baptized you in a "sea of trouble." Is it indeed so, that the truth hath not power in your midst to preserve you from division and confusion? If you cannot maintain peace and unanimity among yourselves, how will you ever become morally fit to command the peace of the world, and to maintain it? Is not this to your shame? Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one that is able to straighten out any difficulty that may arise among you?
Now, therefore, there is utterly a fault among you. What is it? Are any of your number possessed of the old demon of Puritanism, that would not permit a woman to kiss her child on "the sabbath day," because it broke the sabbath, and savored of the flesh? and that would not allow a man to work a ferry boat unless he were a member of the ecclesia or "in the Lord?" A demon that burned witches and hanged quakers, because they did not pronounce Shibboleth aright.
Beloved brethren, human nature is always tending to extremes, and transcending what is written. As the saying is, it will strain out gnats, and swallow camels by the herd. It set up the Inquisition, and is essentially and always inquisitorial, and incessantly prying into matters beyond its jurisdiction. It is very fond of playing the judge, and of executing its own decrees. It has a zeal, but not according to knowledge, and therefore, its zeal is intemperate, and not the zeal of wisdom, or knowledge rightly used. It professes great zeal for the purity of the ecclesia, and would purge out everything that offends its sensitive imagination.
But is it not a good thing to have an ecclesia without tares, without a black sheep, or spotted heifer? Yea, verily, it is an excellent thing. But, then, it is a thing the Holy Spirit has never yet developed; and cannot now be developed by any human judiciary in the administration of spiritual affairs. There are certain things that must be left to the Lord's own adjudication when he comes; as it is written, "He that judgeth is the Lord. Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come; who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of the Deity"-(1 Cor., 4:5 . Apoc. 11:18 )-"every man," whose hidden things and heart-counsels when brought to light will be accounted worthy much of praise.
Does not this teach us how more important it is that brethren be more diligent in examining themselves than in examining other brethren; and that the Lord expects them to leave something for him to do in the way of judging, condemning, excommunicating, cutting off, and casting out, in "the time of the dead that they should be judged?" "Brethren, be not children in understanding; howbeit, in malice be ye children, but in understanding be teleia perfect."-(1 Cor., 14:20 .)
Do not suppose that I write these things to shame you; no, but as beloved brethren, to warn you. I think the "sea of trouble," in which your barque is pitching, and lurching, and beating about, may have suggested some ideas that will prove useful in its future navigation.
Did you ever hear of a ship going to sea, and making a successful voyage without captain, pilot, mates, &c, in which all the crew were captains and pilots, and each one did what was right in his own eyes? Does not the New Testament reason, and the experience of society teach you, that to maintain decency and order in an assembly of man and woman, there must be an official staff, whose business it is to prevent confusion and evil works by the application of the rules and principles upon which the assembly is based?
Human nature is the devil, the flesh of sin, in which dwells no good thing; and its propensities and lusts are always ready for mischief. It is against this common and universal enemy we all have to fight, and defend the New Man : the inner man, created by knowledge, fed by knowledge, caused to grow by knowledge; by the knowledge of the unadulterated milk of the word, assimilated to what he is, as milk to the nature of a babe. But there are diversities among New Men, as there are differences among Old Ones of mere flesh.
New men are not all of equal stature, equal age, equal intelligence, equal wisdom, equal faith. Some are babes, others are young and strong men; others, wise fathers, who are not only strong, but sagacious in counsel. Now what doth reason teach you in view of this scripture fact? If you constitute an assembly of New Men with these diversities, and ye have cases and questions, or difficulties; or, in Paul's words, "If ye have judgment of things pertaining to this life, would ye set them to judge who are contemptible" in the ecclesia? - contemptible , mere babes, who, as judges , would be contemptible?
It seems that in Corinth they had done this. Instead of appointing wise fathers in Christ, they set the least entitled to consideration in the ecclesia to judge, and the consequence was the greatest disorder and confusion. Therefore Paul wrote saying, "I speak to your shame. Is it so that there is not a wise man among you? No, not one who shall be able to judge between his brethren?"
But, brethren, I think you have some wise men among you, and that if you had constituted them your witenagemote , to attend to "judgments of things pertaining to this life," instead of heedlessly proclaiming them to all without any previous counsel, you would have escaped submergence in the abyss in which you are unable to touch bottom, and, therefore, to you, a "bottomless pit." Are you all babes, all young men, all fathers? This is not to be supposed. There are diversities among you as in all other congregations; and, as a general rule, the babes are greatly in the majority.
These have had knowledge enough to attain to "the obedience of faith" for remission of sins, and "a right to the tree of life;" but they have not knowledge and experience combined to qualify them for "judgments of things pertaining to this life," according to the letter and spirit of the word. Babes, or "novices," being deficient in judicial wisdom, should not be appealed to as judges. Their attention should be concentrated on the truth, and not diverted from it by questions, about which even wise men in Christ are not agreed
Then what do scripture, reason, and experience dictate? Firstly , that you ignore the past follies you may have committed, and return to the as-you-were , before division was made. Secondly , that you drop the subject for the time being; or, at least, until the wise men among you see eye to eye, and understand it in all its circumstances. Thirdly , agree not to discuss before all babes in Christ things you do not thoroughly understand, and which tend only to corrupt their minds from "the simplicity that is in Christ." Fourthly , do not come to hasty conclusions on doubtful matters, and then try to force them upon one another. Fifthly , do not act as wayward children, and because you cannot have your own way, shy off in a tangent, and turn your backs pettishly on one another. Sixthly , choose a council of the wisest men among you, and let them be your Witenagemote.
Consult privately with them upon all things you desire to ventilate, and do not trouble the congregation in its public meetings. In these it meets to be instructed, to be edified, to be comforted, to be strengthened, to be warned, to be prepared for the apocalypse of the Lord and Judge of all. It comes together also in obedience to Him, to keep the ordinances delivered "by the apostles;" not to debate and strive, and talk vanity, which tends only to vexation of spirit. Whatever is submitted to the congregation, let it be through the counsel of wise men in Christ you may appoint, and let them submit nothing they do not thoroughly understand, and upon which they are not unanimous.
Let the truth be king in your midst, speaking and ruling through faithful men, who are at once intelligent in the word, wise in the use of it, and good. With a council of such men you will prosper, and all your affairs will be attended to decently, decorously, and in order; which, however objectionable to professors of factious tendencies, whose worship is the admiration of their own vagaries, will be well pleasing to the Deity, "who is not the author of confusion, but of peace, on all ecclesias of the saints."
In the letter before me, I am asked if marriage is a civil or a religious institution? Well, if by "civil" we understand relating to citizens and the state, it is civil; and, if by "religious," that which is ecclesiastical, it is religious also; for both the State and "the Church," as they call the names and denominations of the apostasy, regulate and dissolve it at their pleasure.
But, I suppose, the real question is, was marriage originally a divine or merely a human institution? If this is meant, the answer is, it was divinely instituted in the implantation of the sexual organism in our nature, and in the creation of one of each sex, the one being taken out of the other, and in the command, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth." All this was arranged before sin entered into the world, and, consequently, before religion (which is the system of means for the healing of the breach made by sin) was ordained.
The Laodicean apostacy has made matrimony a "holy sacrament of the church," which the same apostacy has forbidden to its pseudonymous "holy priests!" It is, however, no part of Christianity, or of Judaism. These only regulate it for the special benefit of Israel, and Israel's lords, the saints. 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 forbad divorce upon any other ground than the wife's unfaithfulness. The apostles, whose authority he declared equal to his own in teaching the things of 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 yourselves 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 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. After this manner is the human amativeness regulated by the Word, and placed by the New Man in subordination to it.
There is another question proposed, namely, " Does a believer commit sin in marrying an unbeliever? " What is sin? Paul says, "It is the transgression of law;" but it is also written, that "where there is no law there is no transgression." Paul delivers a judgment which he thinks would be approved by the Deity; and no doubt it would. But he does not lay it down as a law. He says, a widow is at liberty to marry "only in the Lord;" but he does not threaten her with any penalty if she did not take his advice. And, as Paul prescribed no punishment, I see no reason why you should be more stringent than the apostle.
Offer your advice as he did; show the possible evils that might come upon her in so marrying, if she take your advice, it is well; if not, so much the worse for her, perhaps; yet, you have done what you considered right; more than this should be left for the Lord's adjudication when he comes.
But the question; "Doth the believer commit sin in marrying an unbeliever?" is too vague for a direct affirmative or negative reply. There were some in Paul's day, as in ours, who believed "the truth as it is in Jesus," but who, from various considerations, did not obey it. Might an obedient believer marry such a believer? If she married such a believer, would Paul have turned her over to cursing, and have ordered a majority of babes in Christ, under a threat of his displeasure, to turn her out of the ecclesia? or, in the event that such a majority could not be created, would he have turned mulish, kicked up his heels, and galloped off with Sothenes and Titus, to break a factious loaf in solitude?
Would he have acted in this arbitrary, unseemly, and mulish fashion, and have thus determined his future to his beloved sons in Corinth? I am certain he would have done no such thing, as is apparent from the evidence of his whole letter, bearing on the case of that great criminal who had his father's wife; and if incest did not drive him into non-fellowship, how can brethren of Christ justify themselves in dividing, or, perhaps, breaking up the ecclesia, or withdrawing themselves from its ordinances, not because a sister had "sinned," but because she said she was going to do what, perhaps, you have all done before her!!
Brethren, this is mere child's play; it is converting the ordinances of Christ into mere playthings, for the sport of those who think and act as children of the flesh - a course of conduct infinitely more sinful and reprehensible than a brother or a sister marrying one who might even be an idolator. I say, than an idolator; for Paul commanded his brethren and sisters, if married to such an one, not to seek divorce, but to remain peacefully "in the same calling wherein they were called;" or "if bound to a wife, not to seek to be loosed;" for their remaining together legitimized their children, and, consequently, their own union, (1 Cor., 6:14 ; ) and might result in saving the worshipper of idols, or the Jew, as the case might be.
Now, "unbelievers," in Paul's use of the word, in 2 Cor., 7:14 , stands for Jews and Gentiles who hated Jesus, and denied his claims to be the anointed of the Deity, or a manifestation of Deity in our flesh. They said, Jesus is not the Christ, but a mere man, an impostor. Added to this the Gentiles denied the existence of the one living and true Deity, and worshipped stocks and stones; and in their worship committed acts too obscene to be written here. This all was Belial, or wickedness, which was domesticated in all the families of the Greeks and Latins. Such were those whom Paul styles "unbelievers."
Could a sister, (if married to one such) who had been widowed by his decease, marry such another again without sin? Or, could any sister marry such an one with Christ's and Paul's approval? By no means. Her act would prove that she loved Belial, or wickedness, better than Christ, or the righteousness of God. But, if she did so marry, in spite of the advice of Crispus and Gaius, she herself would be the sufferer. Should they, therefore, inflict more punishment upon her by anticipation, in getting the ecclesia to cut her off, and cast her adrift upon the sole protection of the infidel, and not this only, but punish all their brethren by divorcing them, because she did not take their advice?
But, is there no moral difference between Paul's infidels or unbelievers, and the mis believers of our day? Misbelievers acknowledge the existence of the Eternal Spirit, and that Jesus is Christ, the Son of Deity; that he died for sin, and rose again, and is now at the right hand of power. But, because of their ignorance, they do not believe the doctrine he taught, and commanded the apostles to teach. Yet, they are very conscientious, admire his character greatly, and are as correct in their deportment, socially, as the most enlightened saint.
Nevertheless, they cannot be saved, because they conform not to the conditions of the truth, not through wickedness, but through not being able to find the truth; for "many shall seek to enter in, but shall not be able.' If a saint married such a misbeliever, would it be sin? And, if it be sin, which I propose you postpone for the Lord's decision, as the sister in question will perhaps do, if she take not your well-meant advice. If it be sin, I say, with Paul's example before us, it is beyond your competency, dearly beloved brethren, scripturally to curse her, or to expel her from the ecclesia.
The passage in 2 Cor., 6:14 , "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers," does not seem to refer directly to marriage. Indirectly, however, it does. It is an injunction not to be slighted, and indicates a general principle , which it would be well for all the faithful to observe, in all the relations of life. But marriage establishes the most intimate fellowship between the subjects thereof; if, therefore, it would be wrong for a Christian man to yoke himself with an atheistic and blaspheming Jew or Pagan in secular affairs, how much more reprehensible would it be for him to yoke himself with an atheistic, blasphemous, or fashionable and silly woman of the world.
This would be an unequal yoking of an intensely immoral character- a touching of the unclean, that would in the judgment, probably, bring upon the believer the reprehension of the Lord Almighty. It would be a yoking very dangerous to experiment upon. Indeed, I doubt if any man truly enlightened, and earnestly devoted to the truth, could, by any possibility, be induced to subject himself to the defilement and intolerable nuisance of companionship with an ignorant, idolatrous, superstitious, and blasphemous antichristian woman. Such a union could hardly be termed that of Christ and Belial; for, surely, Christ could not be in the man who would permit such a yoke to come upon his neck.
But, would the case be parallel, if a Christian were yoked, in trade or marriage, with an amiable, well-disposed, tractable, and God-fearing misbeliever? Would he not be more unequally yoked if united to one who had by immersion been placed, technically, "in the Lord;" but whose walk was like too many females amongst us, characterized by the outward adornment of the toilet, the bedizening of their persons with jewellery, the fashionable putting on of apparel, backbiting, evil gossip, and so forth, to the neglect of the adornment of "the hidden man of the heart," in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which, in the sight of the Deity, is of great price?"
Do not many misbelievers put these technical believers "in the Lord" to shame? Is it not a risky thing in this nineteenth century, when "the truth as it is in Jesus," is so imperfectly understood, so little appreciated, and has so little practical influence upon the conduct of professors, for genuine believers to ally themselves with those who are technically said to be "in the Lord?"
If men and women "in the Lord" were really and truly what that phrase scripturally imports; if they were the legitimate sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah in well doing-there would be no risk of making shipwreck of peace, and patience, and domestic harmony in their being yoked together: but alas, our experience in this hemisphere proves it to be as hazardous to spiritual welfare, to marry technically "in the Lord," as to marry a misbeliever; so that it would seem almost the safer course to imitate the example of Paul, and not be yoked at all.
Things, then, in relation to "believers" and misbelievers in our day being thus, brethren should not legislate and arbitrarily affect one another in regard to the matter. Let every one be judged in their own case till the Lord come. If one marry a misbeliever, and he find he have married unhappily, he is the sufferer, not you who advised him to the contrary. In doing this, you have relieved yourself of all responsibility in the case.
All that remains for you to do, is to make the best of the situation, by making yourselves as agreeable as possible; and using all the influence you may thus acquire in teaching the misbeliever" the way of the Lord more perfectly." This is far better than "cutting off" a brother or a sister, and accounting them as heathens and publicans, because they do not accept your views of the subject as infallible, and as little to be questioned as the decrees of God. And remember, beloved brethren, we are not to do evil that good may come, any more than we should sin that grace may abound.
Paul exhorts you to "mark them who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine " he taught . You are all of one faith, one hope, one Lord, one baptism, one body. In these things, it is said, you agree, why then do you allow doubtful questions to divide you? You compass only evil by such a course. No possible good can come out of it. Your contentions and divisions bring reproach upon the truth, you ought to throw all your energy into this for its support; and not waste time and power in vain strife by which you crucify it, and put it to an open shame, and make yourselves a by-word in the lips of hypocrites and sinners.
"Let your moderation be known unto all; the Lord is at hand ."
Dare any of you work confusion among the friends of unadulterated truth in view of this fact? I beseech you, brethren, one and all, change your course and "be of the same mind in the Lord" which is much more important for you, than disputing about marrying in the Lord;" for this I say brethren, the time is short ; it remaineth that both they who have wives be as though they had none; and they who weep as though they wept not; and they who rejoice as though they rejoiceth not; they who buy as though they possessed not; and they who use this world as not using in excess; for the fashion of this world passeth away." Therefore in these things be without carefulness, that you may please the Lord.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, holy, just, pure, amiable and commendable; if there be any goodness, any praise, think on these things. Those things which ye have both learned, received, heard and may see of Paul's example as exhibited in his writings, do, and the God of peace will be with you, and supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Now unto him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the energy whereby the is able to subdue all things to himself; unto him be glory in the undivided ecclesia with Christ Jesus, during all the generations of the Æon of the Æons. Amen .
Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. And desiring only that the truth may prosper, I add my own salutation on subscribing myself faithfully and affectionately your brother, in the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God,
The Ambassador of the Coming Age, May 1866
Before continuing we need to consider the nature and conditions of fellowship in the Latter Days. There are many fellowships using the name Christadelphian. Some have dispensed with the name but agree to First Principles set forth by Bro Thomas and summarised in the BASF.
What responsibilties (if any) do we have towards other fellowships?
As the prophets recognised their own responsibility and confessed 'we have sinned' concerning natural Israel, so with spiritual Israel we must take responsibility as individuals for the whole of the Christadelphian community. WE, Christadelphia have sinned. Yahweh providentially caused the spirit of life from himself to stand again in the Isles of Tarshish and the Young Lions. What a precious gift - do we appreciate it fully? The Truth revived - the way of salvation made known. Without it we were dead in sins and condemned to go the way of all flesh without hope. WE have allowed that precious truth to be corrupted by false teachings and the commandments of men.
Every person who believes the gospel and is baptised has put on the Name of the Lord Yahoshua Anointed. As long as they have correctly believed the first principles of the gospel and are obediently disposed their baptism is valid. They are now in him and part of his body. His is the prerogative of judgement...who has fellowship with him, who is in darkness and who is in light. This is not our decision.
We do not condone the toleration of unscriptural teaching in the ecclesias. We believe that fellowship separation from any teaching which contradicts clear scripture is a commandment. This becomes a matter for individual conscience. There are men of corrupt minds, seducing spirits, perverters of the gospel who are to be shunned. They are not to be countenanced for even one hour after the apostolic example (Gal 2.5). These are wolves in sheeps' clothing devouring the flock.
Bro Thomas labouring to enlighten the people of his age remarked...
' An entire and uncompromising return to first principles is what is needed. The grand object the Apostolic doctrine sets before us is not the conversion of the world at large, but a preparation of true disciples, the Lamb's wife, to meet the Master, who is at the door.
I will use my influence in behalf of this as Scripturally as I know how'.
Dr Thomas Life and works Ch13.
Feed My Sheep
The sheep - innocent, sweet disposition, harmless, given to ruminating on the word, and sure footed in walking after the Lord's commandments as a rule of life.
An insular attitude that discounts brethren and sisters of sheep like disposition in different fellowships, and sees no duty of care to them forgets that it is the Lord's prerogative as to who is part of his body. Though we might refuse to break bread with some on account of our fellowship decisions, we do well to do what is in our power in offering temporal and spiritual solicitudes beyond our family connections and local ecclesia/ fellowship.
''And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day''. - Jhn 6:39
The Lord is impartial and infallible. He is judge concerning any spurious fellowship connections and the degree of accountability of individuals. Where there is willful sin unrepented, that is a rebellious disposition, the Lord himself knows this and we reap the consequences. He searches the hearts and discerns the motives with perfect perception. His just balance will take account of human frailty and ignorance and sincere mistakes.
A mistaken or ignorant position takes our mind to the sin's of ignorance under the law of Moses. We ask for forgiveness for anything we have done that grieves our heavenly father. He is not a 'hard man' but a merciful one according to the divine standard. Inevitably some mistakes are fatal. We can rest assured that those who faithfully continue in well doing and seeking for glory, honour and immortality to the end will not fail. The refining process of training and selection and cannot fail - it being guided by the fiat of omniscient and omnipotent will.
How we behave to brethren and sisters is a large part of our account on Judgement day - Matt 25:45. We must be careful not to be high-minded. We are merely unprofitable servants at best.
It is an interesting and worthwhile project to forensically investigate the various divisions within Christadelphia since the early days of the monthly periodicals beginning with The Ambassador of the Coming Age. Divisions follow discernible patterns and are essentially due to the two extremes of our fleshly natures - laxity and extremism.
We believe Bro Thomas was the providential agent for the revival of the One True Faith in all significant matters affecting salvation and Bro Roberts was a faithful pioneer in upholding and defending the faith.
Salvation is not determined by belonging to a particular Christadelphian grouping. Though we believe it is wise and prudent to take the utmost care in making this decision. It is based upon our own individual standing - whether or not we walk as children of the light. Our personal individual relationship with our heavenly Father and his Son in belief and obedience. Thou shalt love Yahweh thine Elohim with ALL thy heart, soul and mind is the measure for our acceptability.
No group exists that we are aware of that can stand in unity with Bro Thomas. He would not fellowship 'Central' due to widespread error and historical false unions. Every separated group has taken a position in which they would not accept him. Mainly by adding new tests of fellowship on moral issues contrary to his teaching. This is to the shame of Christadelphia in the Latter Days. We are convinced that Bro Thomas taught the scriptural balance in many moral matters which have since led to numerous unnecessary divisions among the separatist groups because his sound advice was not heeded (or Known). Only in a truly pioneer fellowship is it possible to experience true unity.
What we see now is a multiplicity of fellowships arising from historical positions taken by predecessors.
Many are unaware of the history of Christadelphia. They grew up in a Christadelphian family or a stranger learnt the truth from a local ecclesia and naturally adopt the history and legacy of that ecclesia and its historical fellowship position.
With each division comes responsibility. Personal examination of motive is of paramount importance at such times. The greatest of care needs to be taken to avoid respect of persons. Family connections and personal friendships or antagonisms greatly effect bias and judgement and therefore decision making. We must be calmly reflective and dispassionate taking the utmost care in these decisions - agonising over them as did our apostle to the gentiles - Paul.
The most important legacy experienced brothers and sisters can pass on to the young is to study the Bible using the foundation writings. All of them.
As a lifelong devotion.
By this means they become our constant and reliable friend and guide. A bedrock to our daily lives amplifying and instructing us in divine principles and the Christ-like mind. Strengthening conviction and hope, consoling, and encouraging us to overcome trials, that patience might be cultivated and joy increased.
Reading classes also around these works can be very profitable where they encourage joyful fraternisation for mutual benefit.
A safe course in these perilous times to encourage and instruct believers to continue on the strait and narrow way.