A Rallying Cry

In the year 1900, while on a visit to England and Wales, Bro Thomas Williams wrote "A Rallying Point" in response to "the divided state of the brethren of the British isles". Brother Williams challenged the English brethren to seek peace, quit "hair-splitting strife" and rally around the "Old Birmingham Statement of Faith and Basis of Fellowship", which he suggested be renamed "The Statement of Faith of the Christadelphians", thus ending its connection to local names. At that time Brother Williams commented, "The brethren in America have succeeded in keeping these troubles from their shores..." However, much has happened to the ecclesias in America in the 105 years since Brother Williams penned his appeal. In addition to the doctrinal disputes that have arisen over the years, the Unamended Community has been through three major unity initiatives in the past generation as well as various local arrangements addressing division. We have experienced brethren and ecclesias separating from one another as well as from the Unamended Community.

A majority of Unamended Ecclesias has recently rejected the North American Statement of Understanding (NASU), but the process has taken a toll. Ironically, the recent unity initiative has increased suspicion, distrust and divisions between Unamended brethren and ecclesias. The Unamended Community may be as fragmented and divided as it has ever been, despite broad assent to a common statement of faith. Now that the Unamended Community has spoken regarding NASU, should we not turn our attention to healing and promoting unity within our community, uniting and strengthening our brethren and our ecclesias? Our common denominator is our tenacious adherence to those beliefs as expressed in our Statement of Faith and held among us for the past 150 years. It is with that shared understanding in mind that a "rallying cry" is issued to unamended brethren...to seek peace, quit hair-splitting strife and rally around the Unamended Statement of Faith and Basis of Fellowship.

In an attempt to rally interest and action in restoring harmony within the Unamended Community, this special issue of The Christadelphian Advocate is dedicated to expounding and defining the beliefs we hold, with special attention to those unique beliefs that define us as "Unamended". Our purpose is to reaffirm those beliefs, to expound upon the distinctions that characterize them, and to explain why they are important.

If the immediate concern is the lack of cohesion within the Unamended Household, why do those unique beliefs, which the Unamended Community discerns from the scripture, beliefs here described as "held among us" and "adhered to", warrant a special edition of The Christadelphian Advocate? There are several considerations driving this decision:

  1. These beliefs represent the fullness of divine truth and therefore should be proclaimed and made known with zeal. The message of scripture is, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak. (2 Corinthians 4:13)

  2. The coming generation needs to be instructed in these scriptural beliefs so they can both understand and hold them fast. This duty falls to all of us and it is one in which we can take delight and joy.

  3. As the brethren in the mid-nineteenth century understood, believed and proclaimed these scriptural beliefs in this manner, our proclamation of these truths is intended to contribute to ensuring that the truth is neither lost nor changed.

  4. The Truth is the bond that unites and defines us. If the Unamended Community does not rise to the occasion to teach and preserve these Bible truths with strength and unified determination, they may be lost, as no other community holds them.

Much of the contention and fragmentation within the Unamended Community has evolved around perceived differences in the significance of divergent beliefs held by other "Christadelphian" communities, as well as upon perceived differences regarding believer relationships and responsibilities toward those who share varying degrees of Christadelphian understanding. In many cases, it is from understandings of conscience, as opposed to strictly doctrinal issues, that much of the "hair-splitting strife" within the Unamended Community has resulted, and it is in these areas that brethren must exercise caution and brotherly love as they assess and react to approaches different from their own.

This is not to imply that false teaching or sinful conduct is to be placated, nor should we embrace social relationships at the expense of our convictions and our ability to proclaim them, but differences in understandings of conscience outside tenets of faith should not be cause for rancor or separation in the ecclesia. Prayerful consideration must guide brethren in reciprocally addressing and resolving these often-contentious issues, with particular attention to the commandments of Christ and the principles of fellowship.

"The Commandments of Christ" have appeared in Unamended Statements of Faith since the early part of the 20th Century. Their appearance serves as a helpful reminder as to the character and conduct that we expect to be called upon to give account of at the judgment seat. In regard to our responsibilities toward brethren, we are reminded to "grudge not, judge not...condemn not" and "put away anger, wrath, bitterness, and all evil speaking,"- among other commands. Even more specific regarding relationships between brethren, Christ said, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you."

Admonitions for and examples of brotherly love abound throughout the scripture, and all brethren admit to the excellence and necessity of this expectation. When differences arise, we must guard against the flesh, against temper and heated argument that result in anger and strife. In cases where conscience leads one to disagree, to admonish, or to withdraw from participation in specific ecclesial activities or from the ecclesia itself, we too often see parties so embittered that continuing rancor and vindictiveness displace the very brotherly love that all agree is essential. Fleshy impulses and reactions are common to all, requiring that we be ever vigilant to keep them in check, for both ours and our brother's sake. Considering that we are commanded to love our enemies, how much more should we love, bless and pray for our brethren?

Amos asks, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" Fellowship is more than the act of breaking of bread at the Lord's Table. Fellowship involves things held "in common", and John bears witness that doctrine ("that which we have seen and heard"), as well as walk ("if we walk in the light") constitutes fellowship. (1 John 1:3-7) Though there is "liberty" in Christ, it exists only within the framework and boundaries of the commands provided for our instruction. Conscience must guide that liberty, but as long as it remains within the prescribed boundaries, it should not be cause for offence. Paul asks, "why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience" and, "brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another...Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh."

The Unamended Community is truly at a crossroads. Our community is fragile and subject to forces within and without that threatens our vitality as brethren in Christ and even our ecclesial communal existence. Though the vision of a united Unamended Household may not be embraced by everyone, surely peace and goodwill among brethren, based upon a shared understanding of like precious faith, will be endorsed. The return of our Lord is at the door. We must pull together to the extent possible to strengthen and encourage both individuals and ecclesias; we must put away "all bitterness, and wrath...and evil speaking" while we have opportunity. Each one of us can contribute to healing rifts that exist in our ecclesias and in our community through our words and our deeds. We are blessed to know and hold the Truth, and it is to this shared understanding, as represented in the Unamended Statement of Faith, that we must place our focus in our effort "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-4) It is in this spirit that we present this Special Issue, "Confirming and Defending Our Faith in the 21st Century."

The Christadelphian Advocate Committee

Although it is not our usual custom, in this issue all of the articles have been written by the four members of the Advocate committee. This approach enabled the committee to collaborate on topics that we believe are important to all of our readers with a view to presenting a balanced, scriptural case for our understanding. While individual brothers took the lead for writing each of the articles, the entire committee was involved in the editing and review process. As a result, the articles are viewed as the collective work of the committee and not the individual labour of any brother. Our community also needs to work together to ensure that the coming generation is well grounded in the things most surely believed among us. Our prayer is that this issue might be a contribution in that direction.