C H R I S T A D E L P H I A N R E S E A R C H
Sociological Overview of the Christadelphians
Christadelphians are generally good law-abiding citizens of the countries in which they live. Although they don’t believe in active participation in politics or society they work hard to maintain themselves, pay taxes and in the main are honest folk. They focus a lot on the family and seek to avoid swearing and bring up their children to be well behaved. In that sense they are peaceful, non threatening neighbours to have and most would give neighbourly help if required.
They are by theology and ingrained nature highly insular and have a very exclusive attitude towards outsiders. This is the source of many of their difficulties because they don’t feel any commonship with those who view things differently in any way. It is also why those who leave or question anything struggle to move forward. However, this position is generally held with integrity and without malice and it also means they have a strong sense of community, although in many places it can be fragmented and isolating due to small numbers particularly for those who are single.
They are the most committed kind of Bible students and very much have a work-orientated ethic towards their affairs as a result of a theology which centres on obedience and striving, although as a community it is softening that emphasis with more meditational approaches and a growing realisation of the importance of grace.
There is a cultural divide within the community between its historical origins in the English speaking nations and the results of the growing numbers of converts in poorer countries.
In Western countries they have middle class values, are generally very intelligent and well educated. A high percentage of Christadelphian children go on to further education and gain well paid employment, although they are not unaffected by the growing economic pressures.
Status within the community is not supposed to exist, but in practice it does and there is a concept of those with “good standing.” Respect is based upon a perception of orthodoxy to Christadelphian positions on matters, being married, having a family and children and being “active” in the meetings. In other words a good Christadelphian man is considered to be one who is involved in committees, preaching efforts, organising the meetings and for brothers speaking. For ladies those who are respected are those who help with catering and also visiting those who are sick or unwell.
A high emphasis is placed upon “duty” which can be understood better when we appreciate the community operates without any full-time paid ministers or leaders. On top of everyday jobs and commitments the formal activities need to be arranged and sustained. For the community to work as it does requires a strong status quo. This is the source of certain strengths as well as many of the weaknesses documented elsewhere on this site.
In practice ecclesias have a core of committed people, often certain families who do a lion’s share of the work. Some function very rigidly and formally with little outside the scheduled events, others are more involved informally. Those who are involved actively get hospitable treatment when they travel often from people they don’t know that well.
A huge effort is placed in organising events for the young folk in particular and the prime recruitment occurs from within. This is partly because it is a complex religion for outsiders to grasp and also because it requires embracing high rigidity of thought (intend article about similarities to autism) and a fairly unemotional approach towards life. The paradox involved is that it survives because of a strong status quo that is also the source of many of its difficulties. The activities for the young enable them to find partners and also create an environment where an enthusiasm to become committed to the Christadelphian faith is generated. Once they are married and committed such social involvements will be harder to maintain. It should also be realised that to play a full part in the social environment requires both the time and money to be able to travel in many places.
Social cohesion in the community is also provided by meetings between different churches called “fraternal gatherings.” These usually involve a few talks by well recognised speakers followed by a buffet of food where people get a chance to talk with each other and exchange news. In addition there are “Bible schools” often arranged at different times. These again revolve around formal activities and can be very costly to attend particularly for those with families or who don’t have well paid jobs.
This area was studied by an outside observer, Bryan R Wilson in depth and was titled “Sects and Society: A Sociological Study of the Elim Tabernacle, Christian Science and Christadelphians” providing a view of the community in 1961. It is currently out of print, although used copies can be bought through Amazon online.
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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)