The Christadelphians - Who Are They? What Do They Believe?
Posted 13 July 2007 - 12:43 AM
Who Are They? What Do They Believe?
Two events, both of which occurred in Germany at the turn of the 15th Century, marked the dawn of what is commonly called the Protestant Reformation: In 1456, Johann Gutenberg and his assistants produced the first book ever printed from movable type; and in 1522, Martin Luther, a former Catholic monk, translated that same book into the common language of the people.
The book, of course, was the Bible. And within a generation, it would be freely circulating throughout much of the continent — made accessible for the first time by the new printing technology, and intelligible by virtue of Martin Luther's work.
Wearied of centuries of superstition and spiritual tyranny, people now turned with eagerness to the message of hope and love they discovered in God's Word. Rapidly, there sprang up communities of "Bible-believers" known by a variety of names — including "Anabaptists" or "Re-baptizers", because of their belief in the necessity of adult baptism; and "Adventists", because of their firm hope in the literal return of Christ. Most commonly, they were called simply "Brethren".
Persecuted by both Catholic and Protestant "state" churches (including Lutherans, Calvinists and Anglicans), the "Brethren" suffered on all sides because of their unpopular doctrines, such as:
* There is one, eternal God — not a three-part godhead — and Jesus is His only begotten Son, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, which is the power of God (Isa. 45:5; 1 Tim. 1:17; Luke 1:35).
* Man is mortal; thus, his only hope for eternal life is through a resurrection—in contrast to the unscriptural idea of an immortal soul that goes to heaven at death (Psa. 49:12-20; 1 Cor. 15:12-50; John 11:25; Rev. 20:4).
* There is an absolute necessity for adult baptism, as opposed to the sprinkling of infants (Acts 2:37; Mark 16:15,16).
* Christ's true followers understand they are "strangers and pilgrims" in the earth; with no vested interest in the political, military, and social affairs of a world order destined to pass away (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11-13; Matt. 5:38-45; James 4:4).
Under the steady, unremitting pressure of their enemies, congregations of "Brethren" disbanded and scattered throughout Europe, fleeing for their lives from one country to another. When apprehended, many Brethren and their children were summarily executed
— by Catholics and Protestants alike. Other groups of the Brethren survived persecution by modifying their doctrinal positions, continuing for some years as "Mennonites" or "Baptists" or "Unitarians". But in the process, these Brethren lost, with each passing generation, more of their unique birthright of Bible truth.
THE MODERN BRETHREN
The brethren today, called by the Greek name "Christ-adelphians" or "Brethren in Christ" (compare Col. 1:2; Heb. 2:11), trace their modern history to the pre-Civil War era. It was in the mid-19th Century that an English physician, having decided to emigrate to America, set off as ship's doctor in a sailing ship. Dr. John Thomas had shown no particular interest in religious matters when he began his medical career in the 1830' s, but an event was soon to happen that would change that, and alter the entire course of his life.
Most Atlantic crossings were routine affairs by this time, but on Dr. Thomas' voyage, the ship met some unexpected bad weather and almost sank. For the first time, John Thomas faced the reality of his own mortality and discovered to his dismay that he had no certain idea of what lay in store for him beyond death. In the midst of the storm at sea, he vowed that, should he survive the crisis, he would not rest until he found a satisfactory answer.
The ship weathered the storm, arriving late but safe in the New World, and John Thomas kept his vow, beginning a life-long search for the Truth.
For a time, Thomas associated with a small sect that showed some promise of helping him find his answer. But soon it became evident to the doctor that many of the doctrines they taught were inconsistent with the Bible. Dissatisfied with "popular" teachings, Thomas found nowhere else to turn but to the Bible itself. And, having come to the source of Truth at last, he devoted the remainder of his life to a careful independent study of the Scriptures.
What he found led him to the unavoidable conclusion that the Christian church had strayed far from Divine teaching in the 19 centuries since the days of Christ and his apostles.
Despite their relatively recent beginnings, the Christadelphians (the name John Thomas suggested for those who came to share his beliefs) are not a new sect in the same sense, for example, that Mormons are: the founder of that group claimed to have received some new revelation from God. John Thomas made no such claim, nor do Christadelphians who have come after him. Thomas' beliefs were the result of a careful and thorough study of the Bible alone nothing more! He was in no sense "inspired" — nor did he claim to be.
Posted 13 July 2007 - 12:47 AM
THE THINGS WE BELIEVE
Just what do Christadelphians believe? What distinguishes us from others, and why do we feel we must stand alone?
Considering the almost endless variety of churches in the world, a fairly small community with an uncommon name will naturally raise questions. After all, in every denomination, there are people who find it unthinkable that someone would be of another faith. Well-established and respectable communities cannot easily find justification for smaller and lesser-known bodies; meanwhile numerous evangelical bodies, with great enthusiasm in their own camps, differ profoundly from one another.
It is a bewildering spectacle. Faced with it, Catholics are apt to be indignant; the larger churches, content with their own positions and faintly amused by the variety beneath them; and that variety itself, dogmatic and mutually exclusive. Outside it all, the perplexed inquirer might very well conclude that if organized modern Christianity has come to this, there is a case for doing without it altogether.
Everywhere, men of good will have recognized this dilemma.
In efforts to remove the reproach, many churches have gone so far as to disregard almost all doctrinal differences. Many different Canadian churches have united in just such an effort and the process of breaking down barriers continues elsewhere (in Australia, for example).
Yet there still remain worshipers who see no possibility of their churches taking part in such an "ecumenical" movement: they consider their beliefs too precious to be compromised in the interests of such a "peace". These people, who include Christadelphians, have a particular duty to explain themselves. Inquirers have a right to ask why we continue to emphasize the disunities of Christendom, and to stand apart from all others.
As Christadelphians, we are a community with convictions. If we were not, compromise would be easy. Christadelphians could open their doors to any who might care to join them. As it is, we believe Christadelphians stand for a truth that is something precious, and we must speak and write in its defense. Doing so must involve criticism of others; in fact, if we were not critical, we should not be disposed to be separate. Yet any whose church is named, or whose opinion is opposed, must realize that we intend no malice. Anyone is free to judge whether we are right or wrong; we ask him only to accept that we are sincere in our desire to help make the Truth known.
SERIOUS BIBLE STUDY
Christadelphians continue with their daily devotions as they have for generations. In our homes, apart from our morning and evening prayers, the Bible is very much in evidence. There are likely to be at least as many copies of this book in the home as there are members of the family who can read; and each copy is probably well-used.
It is our widespread custom to read the Bible every day, using a reading plan which enables us to systematically read the Old Testament once, and the New Testament twice, each year. It is the same all over the world, wherever Christadelphians are found. Many, of course, read more widely than this, and study specially for the duties they have as teachers and preachers, but the daily reading discipline is the minimum with which a "good Christadelphian" is content.
Apart from this reading, we may attend one or more evening Bible classes each week. Every Sunday, we hold a service which a visitor might find similar to the "Communion" of other bodies, but which Christadelphians refer to as the "Memorial Service" or "Breaking of Bread". Here, all our members partake of bread and wine, and here, too, the Bible is publicly read, followed by a talk or "exhortation" based on the Bible. Attendance at this service is the focus of our religious life.
In short, we are people of the Bible. Of course, we are not alone as such: there are other people and religious bodies who read the Bible, and give it prominence. In fact, there is probably no sect which does not give some attention to the Book, although we believe there are few who read the whole Book as consistently and as thoroughly as Christadelphians. Whenever reading the Bible helps anyone to develop faith and a closer relationship with God, we can only give God thanks. But Christadelphians maintain that, at least as important as reading the Bible, is understanding its message and having a healthy respect for its authority and power in our lives.
So the way we look at the Bible is important, also. It is, for Christadelphians, the "Word of God", containing all that is necessary for salvation: that is, its message is given by God, with His authority behind it, and it is not subject to human criticism. Here, regrettably, we begin to part company with other churches. To varying degrees, most churches tolerate a view of the Bible as largely a human production, not wholly reliable on matters of fact, nor wholly reflecting the mind of God on matters of doctrine or morals. While it is not for us to question that these other views are honestly held, Christadelphians are bound to hold ourselves apart from them. The Book, to us, is "given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16), and its authors "spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). We do not doubt its infallibility.
Nor can we agree with the opinion that there are authorities in addition to the Bible, to which we must look. Christadelphians oppose the Roman Catholic contention that the Pope and his Council, in specified circumstances, are infallible and therefore must be trusted and accepted in matters of doctrine or Bible interpretation. We refuse to set the Bible side by side with the Book of Mormon, as the Mormons do, or with Mrs. Eddy's "Science and Health", as the Christian Scientists do, or with the "inner light" of the heart, as the Quakers do, or with the presumed revelations of departed spirits, as do those Spiritualists who also claim to be Christian. Christadelphians publish and circulate their own writings to defend the Bible and to explain its teaching, of course; but our constant advice is that the reader should test these writings by the Bible. Christadelphians do not claim that the Bible can only be understood in conjunction with our writings, as some other exclusive churches do.
If this consideration at once isolates us from the biggest of all denominations, as well as a variety of smaller ones, it is an unfortunate but unavoidable price of our belief. And that is only part of the price: there are other points of the Christadelphian faith which set us apart even from the many earnest evangelicals who look upon the Bible in much the same way as we.
Posted 13 July 2007 - 12:48 AM
The opening chapters of the Bible teach some things so clearly, as we believe, that we can do nothing but believe them. They are not things men would be proud to stand for, and we accept them as true in spite of a very natural human desire to believe the opposite.
Genesis 3 contains the record of how sin and death came into the world, resulting in two consequences for all of us. The first has to do with our moral make-up. When Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of the garden, a disposition toward sin became part of the make-up of human flesh, so that "the mind of the flesh (became) enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7). The dreadful consequences became very clear when Cain murdered his brother Abel in the next generation (Gen. 4), and the abrupt and alarming decline of human behavior was such that God saw that "all flesh had corrupted His way on the earth" (6:12). The Rood was only a temporary remedy to man's inclination to sin; through recurring crises since, it has been revealed that "the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9). We feel in our minds, too, what the Bible also reveals: that the tendency of our spirit is constantly to go our own way, in spite of God's claims upon us. We also know, with Paul, that left to ourselves we have no power to overcome our waywardness (Rom. 7:22-24).
It is not pleasing to hold such a belief, but it is essential. If we deny the truth of our sinful nature, we may come to think of ourselves as "good people", and subsequently to suppose that, given good advice (such as we might get from watching the behavior of the Lord Jesus), we can succeed by our own strength in pleasing God and gaining a reward to come. To subscribe to this theory of "humanism" is to deny the need of a Savior. Such humanism is common to Quakers, modern Unitarians, and the more liberal mainline churches. But for Christadelphians it is intolerable, for Christianity is the religion of the Savior — Christ — who came to call helpless sinners to repentance (Rom. 5:6-9), or it is no religion at all.
The second consequence of the sin in the garden concerns our bodily nature. In short, Adam's sin led to his ultimate, inevitable death. He was expelled from Eden, and in time returned to dust. The words, "Dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return" (Gen. 3:19) were spoken to the one who sinned, and it seems to us a great perversion of truth to say, as the poet did, that these words "were not spoken of the soul". They were, of course: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). We find it absurd to suppose that, when the "soul" of Adam conceived the sin in the garden, God would have been satisfied to pronounce punishment on the body of Adam alone. Adam, like any man, was considered as a whole being — body and soul — and it was upon that whole being that God pronounced the sentence of death.
We find this understanding of human beings confirmed in numerous parts of Scripture: our nature is compared to "the beasts that perish" (Psa. 49:20), and to the "grass" that withers and dies (Isa. 40:6,7; 1 Pet. 1:24). The unconscious condition of the dead is described as "sleep" (Dan. 12:2), and it is said to be the fate of all the children of Adam, since "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:19; 5:20).
Further, Christadelphians do not find in the Bible the elaborate doctrine of immediate rewards and punishments at death which is so widespread, in one form of another, in most religious bodies. It is not in accordance with Scripture to suppose that all men, immediately at death, go either to endless bliss or endless torment. Yet this doctrine has so taken possession of Christendom that most worshipers, and most religious bodies, pin their hope on this expectation. In deference to the teaching of Scripture, we must hold ourselves free from such compromising opinions. We must teach the Bible doctrines of death and the Resurrection without espousing any contradictory teaching which would nullify them.
Posted 13 July 2007 - 12:50 AM
Given the Bible doctrine of human nature as inherently sinful —and unquestionably mortal—it follows that we should believe that God can both save us from sin, and deliver us from death. Reaching these conclusions we are led from Eden to the New Testament, and our path of discovery is brightened by the many precious promises which point the way. In God's message to the Serpent that the woman's Child should "bruise thy head" (Gen. 3:15), we see as others do the promise of the coming conquest of sin by the Savior. Unlike almost any other group, however, we also attach great significance to the promises God gave to Abraham: that his Seed (whom Paul identifies as Christ and secondly those "in Christ"—Gal. 3:16,26-29) would be victorious over all enemies (Gen. 22:17), would be a source of blessing to all nations (12:3), would inherit the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession (13:14-17), and would be multiplied as the stars of heaven and as the sand of the seashore (15:5). We believe the nation of Israel played an important part in keeping alive the promises of God (Rom. 3:1), receiving the Law and providing the mother of the Messiah. Guided by many Scripture prophecies, we look forward to the completion of the restoration of Israel to the land of Palestine, and to the final repentance and conversion of the Jews. We also look to that time to see the promised King of David's house (Christ, of course) ruling over the nations from Jerusalem (2 Sam. 7:12-16).
When the time spoken of in the promises was fulfilled, the Son of God came. The New Testament records leave us in no doubt that Jesus is called "Son of God" because he had no other Father than God Himself (Luke 1:35); this is our firm belief as Christadelphians, but other quite different views are found among other church bodies. The Unitarian church, for example, believes Jesus was begotten and born in the same natural way as other children, and was "Son of God" only in a special, spiritual sense which had nothing to do with the way in which he was conceived. We contend that it is impossible to accept both this Unitarian view and the first chapter of Luke; but while the modern Unitarian prefers to reject Luke, we reject the Unitarian view.
A different view, the Doctrine of the Trinity, as stated in the Athanasian Creed, claims Jesus was Son of God after his birth because he had been Son of God before it; that is, Jesus' birth made him "Son of man", but had no bearing on his relationship to God, which (so the doctrine says) has remained the same since time eternal. We have rejected utterly the Unitarian or humanist view of Christ, for it is contrary to all the Bible says about the divine origin of Jesus (John 1:14; Gal. 4:4). But the Trinitarian view of Jesus is just as unacceptable to us, for the same reason: it is contrary to Bible teaching. Not only is it inconsistent with the birth records, but it contradicts the Bible teaching that Jesus was highly exalted by his Father because of his conquest of sin (Phil. 2:9); whereas, according to the Trinitarian view, the resurrected Jesus was simply taking up the power he formerly had laid down. If this were so, where then is the "conquest"?
In attributing such power to Jesus before he "became" a man, the Trinitarian view not only detracts from his "conquest", but also casts doubt on the very nature of the temptations he endured. The absolute reality of Jesus' temptations is very important, and very clearly established by Scripture: "He was tempted in all points like as we, yet without sin"(Heb. 4:15); he "learned obedience by the things which he suffered" (5:8). Could Jesus have been, before his "birth", an "eternal God" and still be "tempted" or "suffer"? No; God who "cannot be tempted with evil"(James 1:13) must from the start have been beyond our human infirmities. Jesus could never have been "God" in that sense, and still fulfill his role as Savior.
For Christadelphians, as for all true believers, the value of Christ's defeat of sin and the meaning of his priesthood depend upon the reality of the battle. We see the Lord conquering as Son of Man, by the strength which comes from the Word of God, and the power of God through prayer. We see him providing forgiveness as Son of God, offering a salvation which could never have come merely by the will of man. All his life, Jesus fought the temptations which came to him as a man, and he conquered them, in spite of their deep appeal to every human heart, his included. Then, in his willing death, he subdued forever the human disposition shared with us all. And he voluntarily laid down his life as a means of declaring the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:19-26), and as the means whereby sinners may find forgiveness by faith.
Posted 13 July 2007 - 12:51 AM
By dying, Jesus "destroyed him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14). It's easy to see how Jesus' death could destroy the power of sin in his own body (Rom. 8:3), but we cannot see how any supernatural devil could have been destroyed in this way. Therefore such a devil is not part of Christadelphian belief. We do not share the belief of Catholics and modern Baptists and "Jehovah's Witnesses", nor that of many other churches, that a "fallen angel" controls the fate of sinners. Of the origin of such a being we find no trace in Scripture (for the much-quoted Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 plainly have nothing to do with the case). Because the world-wide presence of human sin is more than sufficient to explain all the many Scriptural images, Christadelphians look upon the "devil" (the word literally means "liar" or "enemy") as a fitting representation of the many aspects of the wrongness of human hearts. The Biblical "devil"— in contrast to the mythological "devil"— is inside man, not outside him. This was the "devil" which Jesus conquered totally in and for himself. This was also the "devil" which he conquered for us — but only in prospect, and only insofar as we exercise faith to avail ourselves of the benefit.
CHRIST'S RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION
After his death, the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. This we understand literally: the tomb in which the body had been placed was empty; the body which had been there was alive, marvelously glorified, but bearing the marks which show it to have been the same body nonetheless. The bodily resurrection of the Lord is the pivot of Christian confidence, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:1-28, and we can have no part of any alternative. It was "many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3) which confirmed to the earliest disciples that Jesus was alive again, and these same infallible proofs now confirm our belief; we will not renounce or deny them. If Jesus were not risen, we could not believe that he is alive.
The risen Lord, then, is now in heaven. He is there both waiting and acting: waiting for a future return to earth, and acting meanwhile to give help to his faithful followers in all their needs. Any and all who truly believe may approach through him to the throne of grace, and find forgiveness of their sins and strength against their temptations (Heb. 4:14-16). However, any notion that believers are therefore automatically beyond the reach of sin is unacceptable to Christadelphians; rather, we cherish the hope that no sin is too strong to be overcome when it is Christ who strengthens us.
THE SECOND COMING
When we come to the Lord's second advent, Christadelphians find themselves in a strange position. We believe, as stated explicitly in most common creeds, that Jesus will return to earth to judge the living and the dead. The difference is, each and every Christadelphian believes it wholeheartedly, and has nothing that he or she would want to put in its place. And in a world where contemporary opinion often runs contrary to the word of God, this absolute and uncompromising conviction of so ancient a belief is yet another position apart.
It is our firm conviction, then, that the Lord will return in glorious bodily form from heaven (Acts 1:11). We believe that, when he comes, he will find a world unwilling, on the whole, to receive him; indeed, to the contrary: willing to engage in open rebellion against him (Psa. 2; Rev. 19:19). Christadelphians also believe that Christ will, as he must, establish political rule over the kingdoms of the world for himself (Dan. 2:44; Rev. 20:4). We believe that Israel, brought back to Palestine from all nations, will repent from its former wickedness in crucifying him (Zech. 12:10) and will then see him there in his glory. (We do not believe, as does the "Church of Christ", that the "Kingdom of God" began when the church was established on the day of Pentecost; the "church" and the "kingdom" are two very different Biblical concepts.) We believe that the Lord's coming will be accompanied by the raising of the dead (2 Tim. 4:1), so that those who have known him may be judged before him according to their works (Dan. 12:2; John 5:28,29). Then, we believe, and then only, will immortality be conferred in a physical body upon those whom the Lord finds faithful, immortality along with an endless inheritance in a blessed earth (2 Tim. 4:8; Phil. 3:20,21; Matt. 5:5).
From those men who believe the earth will be destroyed forever, and the righteous rewarded in heaven, we must stand apart. From those who, while professing to believe in the ultimate return of the Lord Jesus, reduce the hope to unimportance by their more immediate hope of heaven, we must also stand apart if we are to stand for the true teaching of the Scriptures.
Posted 13 July 2007 - 12:53 AM
The Christadelphian understanding of the true gospel, something of which has been discussed above, requires of us a precise act of obedience called baptism. Paul compares baptism to the crucifixion (Rom. 6:1-6), as those baptized recognize what the Lord has done by his death, and imitate his willing submission to death. In accepting baptism they also admit that there is nothing to be hoped for from the former way of life, and they are born again (John 3:3-5; Tit. 3:3-5). But all this demands choice: intelligent, informed and humble choice. "Repent, and be baptized", cried Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38,41). Given its full implication, it is hard to understand how man can invent reasons for not accepting such an appeal.
According to our understanding of Scripture, two aspects of baptism are clear and inescapable: (1) those who were to be baptized were first taught, and then believed and repented; and (2) they were baptized, being totally immersed in water. Neither aspect is common to "Christian baptism" today. In fact, the modern practice (of Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and others) of "baptizing" under the guarantee of "godparents", by pouring a little water over an infant, is foreign both to the Bible and to the earliest church practice.
No man has the right to anticipate the faith of another; nor has any religious body the right to change (for the sake of convenience or any other reason) the commandments of God!
Therefore, we believe adult baptism is God's command (Matt. 28:19,20; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 8:12,26-40; 9:18; 10:43-48), the rite of initiation whereby men, women, and grown children enter the family of faith. Only those who share this faith and receive baptism are invited to partake of the memorials of the Lord's death with us. Admittedly, this makes Christadelphians an "exclusive" body, but not in the sense which implies: "We are good and you are wicked". Rather, Christadelphians say, "We are all sinners. Sinners must take the way that is offered, and cannot 'invent' others for themselves. God has appointed this ordinance and we have no right to tamper with it." It is not because we want to separate ourselves from others that we keep ourselves apart in worship. It is because we cannot even implicitly encourage anyone to be disobedient by allowing him to think that obedience is unimportant.
A SEPARATE PEOPLE
While we stand firm for our faith as Christadelphians, we hope and pray that we may always stand in God's strength, not our own. Our present responsibility is so to humble ourselves before God that the likeness of His Son may be fashioned in us. Before men we cannot appear as political "reformers", nor may we fight to gain our ends, or to overturn human governments. We must refrain from bearing arms, for "the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, and patient" (2 Tim. 2:24). Our Lord himself will direct his servants in truly changing the world when he returns, but since his kingdom is not of this present age, we will not now fight (John 18:36). In an unbelieving world the Lord's servants are spiritually stateless, strangers and pilgrims (1 Pet. 2:11), having here no continuing city (Heb. 13:14). For this reason they consider the world's politics no concern of theirs, and they are only concerned to be obedient, where conscience does not forbid, to the powers who rule over them (Rom. 13:1-7).
Christadelphians must stand for all these things, for we believe that they are true and faithful. But we have no wish to stand apart from any who on these satisfying terms would wish to join us. It is always a pleasure and a joy to hear from those who want to know more about our hope, and who are willing to be taught by the word of God.
If these simple things which Christadelphians believe have struck a responsive chord in you the reader, then we invite you to visit with us, to write to us, or to attend our Bible studies, and to discuss these matters further. God has promised that He will draw to Himself all those who humbly seek Him with all their hearts.
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