C H R I S T A D E L P H I A N R E S E A R C H
welcome to CHRISTADELPHIAN RESEARCH!!
This site is designed to give comprehensive information
about the Christadelphian church (or ecclesia) and how
it operates that is not easily available elsewhere. It is a
collation based upon personal experience and research
as well as deep thought. I believe it has relevance for
many groups. This includes those considering joining
them, existing Christadelphians and those connected
to them by birth, relationship or some other
association. It seeks to recognise both positive aspects
as well as many obvious incongruities and may answer
various questions that are asked, but for which
satisfactory answers are not given. It is not designed to
be a substitute for individual research and it is a work in progress.
The Christadelphians are a small religious body who often claim that they are a restoration of original Christianity and believe they hold the true saving doctrines. Whilst not limiting the possibility others hold the same beliefs, in reality they are unique to themselves. Early Christadelphians by contrast were more bold and claimed that there was no salvation within the pale of other churches. In practice they originated through the personal Bible studies of a medical doctor, Dr John Thomas, who lived in America in the mid nineteenth century. He initially promoted independence of thought and advocated against creeds, traditions, and religious authorities. He eventually believed he had recovered the saving truths from scripture and dogmatically defended and promoted his findings in person and by pen. His initial promotion of the importance of freedom to explore without sanctions and the right to individually examine scripture was replaced by a greater requirement of mental conformity from those who had associated with him to what he believed was the true gospel of the apostles.
A study of the history of the Christadelphians clearly shows that the movement has been shaped by both the personality of John Thomas as well as his beliefs. This is not, however, the basis upon which the community would like to be examined which would suggest instead its position is established by the independent scriptural examination of its members. Such a claim however fails to give due weight to the effect of a creedal basis in maintaining conformity of thought. This is especially relevant to the Christadelphians because unlike more orthodox churches their initial success was based upon advocating the need for independence of thought rather than any need for the influence of the Holy Spirit, church authority, or even the role of taught faith.
Since John Thomas was primarily an exegetist or interpreter of scripture throughout his life it fell to others after his death to set it into a lasting form, which was accomplished through a very painful process of creed setting and division. Without this the community would not be around today, because more liberal forms of organisation have always led to a greater association with mainstream Christianity. It seems allowing independence of thought within the community does not in fact maintain the Christadelphian positions to those of John Thomas despite his initial promotion of that. Creed setting, dogmatism and a belief in “protecting the Truth” have therefore been essential to its preservation and have in essence created a distinct status quo that in some respects has cult-like qualities, even though there is no defined leader. As a community its survival has therefore been predicated on battling doctrinally that it alone has “the Truth” and which leads to its distinct emphases and focuses.
The movement today is largely in consensus on a set of doctrinal distinctives, although remnants from the various historical divisions remain and are generally called “fellowships.” Some of these claim to be more true to the original Christadelphian positions, such as the Berean Christadelphians and the Old Paths Christadelphians. Since the movement formed within the framework of the evolving positions of John Thomas (and his altering views of independence of thought and church authority) and the movement therefore incorporated diverse positions in its early days, their claim in practice is a greater conformity to the views of John Thomas (at the later stage of his life) and Robert Roberts. Robert Roberts is especially relevant because he believed in his writings John Thomas had reached the “finality of truth” and the majority of the movement accepted his leadership in establishing a tightened creedal basis. The smallest of the matters on which he believed importance rested has generally diminished today giving some weight to the views of the minority Christadelphian groups that the movement has changed.
In the early days of the Christadelphian movement the writings of John Thomas were placed on an elevated basis (as they still are in some of the smaller groups) and he stood in a position of accepted intellectual supremacy within the movement. What he said had power with regards to how the community operated, its beliefs and what actions it took and his influence was moving the community towards a more creedal basis when he died. His undoubted intellectual ability was noted by both friends and critics and that cast a spell over both the movement and adherents that persists to this day. His friends saw a validation in this, his critics saw a danger here and a lack of balance in his approach. It can still be heard sometimes when people will say “John Thomas said this or believed that” as though it answers a matter, although this is greatly diminished today. A huge emphasis was also placed on the reading of his works and it was common for “Elpis Israel” and “Eureka” classes to be set up to study them. From its inception respect and authority within the movement has been weighted largely towards intellectual knowledge of the Bible and the ability to “out prove” others using scripture, rather than perceptions of Christ-likeness or meditational capacity, although there are signs that some re-evaluations of its central values are taking place. In practice the early movement treated him as though he had unique intellectual ability, rather than having any direct help or guidance by God to explain scripture. Since the community has been based upon a broad adoption of his views there is a consideration of his role in pioneers and prophets. It should be noted that he has not been followed in every respect. For instance he had views on a pre-Adamic creation that few Christadelphians have accepted. In addition his belief that the return of Christ would be by 1866 and later extended to 1906 with a seventh millenium starting in 1910 are no longer given credit.
Today the Christadelphian community has evolved into a religious denomination with its own set of trappings and with many challenges to its future. Paradoxically the freedom the founder required for himself and advocated as a result is not encouraged in most of the community. Our site is here to encourage those who visit to independently evaluate information the community at large would not present but which is necessary to gain the full picture. It is therefore a site very much concerned with an original Christadelphian idea. Truth. As we read in the Bible, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbour comes and examines him.” The intent of this site is to present information to aid in that task.
Site Progression Plan and the Difficulties Involved
The full development of this site will take a lot of thought and time because of the nature of the community. The difficulty involved here is writing in a way which is both fair and accurate for existing Christadelphians as well as understandable to those who are not. For instance the community has its own unique words and use of language. Some of the words that I will use therefore won’t sit well with some Christadelphians. For instance the word “church” to describe them and individual congregations. That, though, is an accurate term to most folk outside and more easily understood than the word “ecclesia” which is normally used. To explain everything in Christadelphian terminology would therefore make it overly complex for the outsider, who would need to first grasp their particular forms of internal logic.
A difficulty too is that words employed by Christadelphians are woven into complex series of explanations especially when it comes to the Bible. They use a method of proof quoting that involves jumping around the Bible that has the frequent consequence of making both prospects and even long-term Christadelphians feel that they both do not know enough and never in fact can know enough. This is incidentally an important consideration for prospects who are seeking to understand the religion. Over time too, like most churches it has developed a system of apologetics that determines how it answers any questions which are asked, how the Bible is considered and interpreted and how it deals with those who question any aspects of its operation or who ask “untaught questions.” Our aim can never be therefore to totally consider every issue of theology in depth, rather it is to progressively build a balanced picture of how the community works. We recognise the limitations of words and therefore in the final analysis it is up to individuals to believe which perceptions they find the most credible and at best this may be a helpful tool.
I believe many perceptions that the Christadelphian community extends cannot sustain investigation and thought. This site aims to deal simply with some of the most important ones and is an aid to the critical examination that the pursuit of the truth of matters involves. It does not claim to have all the answers.
In making this investigation it is intended to be a force for good. It is not intended to misrepresent positions and the dangers both of doing that and also the difficulties of finding the correct words and descriptions are recognised. It is hoped that by so doing people will not join whilst being unaware of facts they need to know, it will help those who have doubts but are unable to clarify them. It is also hoped that it may spur positive change within the community and will help those who have either left or been disfellowshipped find ways forward. Many have had similar thoughts, but find them hard to define. It is hoped this site will help aid both them and also it is also part of my own personal journey of clarification and understanding.
To follow the progress of this site with regular checking there is a NEW STUFF!! section.
Using This Site
This site aims to build a broad outline about the Christadelphians and it encourages individuals to do their own research and a brief article has been written on sources of information to help with that. It therefore uses competing sources of information with varying biases and the different links do not represent all the editor’s personal beliefs.
Christadelphians would suggest comparing their presented positions to the Bible using information they produce as a help, but there is an intellectual disadvantage to this approach by the newcomer as well as in-built assumptions that first need consideration such as how we regard the Bible, whether and how it was inspired, its intent and role, how it is interpreted, the limits of independence of thought as well as many other things. It is therefore suggested that a better initial approach may be to investigate them in a more holistic way and gain a complete overview. In other words it helps to understand something of the history of the Christadelphians, how they are structured, what forms of church authority are in place and how things work in practice. There is also a huge emphasis placed on having correct doctrines as the basis of salvation that influences both the process of conversion adopted by Christadelphians and also forms a challenge for those considering becoming a true believer.
Rather than seek to learn everything on the basis of our own experience it is also worth considering the experience of those who leave or who have been disfellowshipped. Churches by their nature seek to convert to a position and will be reticent at presenting facts or an image which could counteract that aim. For them to reconsider or change would involve a personal cost. Churches in general change very slowly and the Christadelphians are no different.
In community terms there is also an article on the sociological aspects involved and if you are in a relationship or considering one with a Christadelphian it is worth considering how the community will consider that and what position that would place you in with regards to them.
We also consider whether the Christadelphians are a cult group and if you are a Christadelphian we are seeking to provide a venue where you can research concerns without being under pressure to present yourself as orthodox. You do not have to risk any exclusion or make any decision to either leave or change how things work. You would be surprised to know how many people secretly have questions and concerns they don’t dare to raise because they are aware of the implications. For those who have left it is difficult to move forward. We have been told to “separate” from the world and we have been taught to see other Christians as part of an apostasy. Somehow we have to retain the valuable parts of our experience and move forward with understanding and this site is designed to help us develop further in understanding. For these groups I have a support section and you are welcome to contact me. A framework has also been put in place for an “Out of Fellowship Christadelphian Support Guide.”
VIEW THE MIND MAP
PAGE VISITS FROM 16/09/13
THE TRINITY HURDLE
NOVEL: HOLY BIBLE
You lay a great stress upon facts throughout your letters, and are incessant in your demand that I should attend to them. This is good; but facts have to be rightly put together, and then you must have all the facts. I do not think you put the facts rightly together, and you leave out some, I am sure.
(Robert Roberts, a Christadelphian Pioneer, quoted
by Ruth McHaffie in Brethren Indeed)
The Spirit of liberty, based upon the law of faith, is the Spirit of Christ; and this spirit all the Sons of God are privileged to possess, and having it, to breathe. I claim the right of exercising this privilege, as well as my contemporaries; and I require of them that they should do to me as once they loudly required others to do to them…
(written by John Thomas, the founder of the Christadelphians, when he was against creeds in
The Apostolic Advocate magazine, August 1836)
(John Thomas, from Apostacy Unveiled, p. 137,
quoted in The Christadelphian Magazine, January 1906)
Must a man never progress? If he discovers an error in his premises, must he for ever hold to it for the sake of consistency? May such a calamity never befall me! Rather let me change every day, till I get right at last.
(from a letter written by John Thomas in 1848, quoted by Robert Roberts, in Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work)
Do what is right; be valiant for the Truth; teach it without compromise, and all lovers of the Truth will approve you. For all others you need not care a rush!
(from a letter written by John Thomas to Robert Roberts and published in The Christadelphian magazine, February 1866)