C H R I S T A D E L P H I A N R E S E A R C H
CHAPTER 3: Lay Organisation
This section discusses the organisational structure of the Christadelphians, its maintenance and the written documentation associated with that. In general, it has a fairly non hierarchical setup. There is not a fixed division between clergy and laity and it is a lay community in that most roles are fulfilled by the members without any payments for services rendered. This is generally explained to outsiders almost as being absent of any form of church structure. In other words they would present themselves as being a set of “autonomous ecclesias” which are “simply” connected by having the same set of beliefs. This suggests that it almost happens spontaneously as individuals simply find agreement. In fact it came about as a result of an historical process that involved prominent roles being played by certain individuals, that centred around the readership of certain magazines and involved the formulation of statements of faith and schism when congregations would not conform to requirements. Far from being simply the natural result of individuals reading the Bible and coming to the same conclusions for themselves as suggested and finding other people had done the same in fact it is a conformed community as a result of attempts to limit diversity and discussions. In reality some individuals have always had more weight and influence in the community and under their leadership minority elements that would not conform have been disassociated from.
It is therefore not absent of a system, although it is a minimal one.
It is also often suggested that this is a restoration of the first century communities read about in the Bible in contrast to the hierarchical forms of governance of many churches. And indeed we do read in the New Testament of a very spontaneous spread of the gospel and little communities developing. In fact the difficulties of organisation occur after this happens and we read of many of these difficulties in the Bible. For instance we find the early apostles struggling to deal with the administrative difficulties of distributed goods brought to them that people were sharing in common.
In practice as Bryan Wilson a sociologist noted, leadership has been indispensable to the community and the simple theory about the uniting power of the Bible have in practice had underlying organisational forces acting to create compliance.
This section examines the organisation of the Christadelphians in its two main facets. The first is the practical need to be organised in some way. The second considers church authority and the theological questions it raises as well as the difficulties for those who are affected.
The idea of any form of hierarchy has been strongly resisted within the Christadelphian community. The idea of paid ministry in particular has been especially resisted with early Christadelphians calling paid minsters “hirelings” and the idea of a distinct division between a trained ministry and a congregation was called “priest-craft.” Christadelphians were to all be “brothers” and words that separated like secretaries, ministers, presidents as well as established terms like bishop or pastor avoided. In practice the need for leaders has been indispensable to the community and the problems of democracy were widely accepted by early Christadelphians. That can be found in the Christadelphian Ecclesial Guide which calls democratic arrangements both “evil” and “necessary” in the absence of any direct help from God.
Therefore whilst in theory all members were to be equal in practice some have always gained recognition, dominance and weight of influence above others. The phrase used for them is “prominent brethren” and such people were able to take the bulk of the early followers into accepting defined creeds as a basis of inter-church acceptance.
Apart from the established creeds, each congregation manages its affairs autonomously and ecclesial independence has been well guarded in that respect. That means on many issues undefined within the statements of faith such as the role of women and divorce there is no denominational position. In some ways this is now moderated because various committees and inter-congregational committees and foundations have now been set up. These deal with issues such as preaching, the management of care homes and youth groups and magazines. They may in turn set up their own procedures and rules which are sometimes out of line with the initial principles set out in the ecclesial guide. In other words at times they do not accept the principles of ecclesial autonomy on matters undefined within the accepted statements of faith.
The result of a lay community is therefore politics and the complexity of trying to get results within committee structures that have been in place and upheld for many years. It is a structure which is very resistant and inflexible to change in many places. That is sometimes ameliorated by establishing a new congregation, although any significant divergence or belief, practice or thinking can lead to censorship by other congregations.
The lay form of organisation has also meant on every issue whether creedal or practical each congregation takes a stance or position and therefore schisms have tended to be complex and hard to resolve. The community has as a result adopted a strong status quo today and controversial issues are kept under wraps. This adds to the difficulty of changing or altering or discussing anything in an upfront or open manner.
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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)