Why These Things Matter

Bible students familiar with the beliefs of the Unamended Community would agree that we, for the most part, reflect a different emphasis in facets of the Bible teachings addressed in this special issue than other contemporary Christadelphian fellowships. While we believe that our emphasis is consistent with what is revealed in the Scriptures of truth, the point of this article is to consider the question, "Do these differences in understanding really matter and need to be preserved?"

If the answer to this question is "no", that the differences only amount to so much striving about words to the detriment of the weightier matters of the Spirit, then there is no reason for the Unamended Community to continue with its own independent identity. If, on the other hand, the answer to this question is "yes", that the differences concern things that do matter, then it is important that through our Bible Schools and publications like The Advocate, the emphasis of the Scriptures, as we understand it, continues to be taught, defended and explained to the coming generation. In this world of gross darkness and increasing hostility to the values we have in Christ, it is understandable why there is interest among young people in particular in increasing the level of interaction with those who hold similar beliefs to our own - who use the same hymn book and share in common many of the same foundation writings. The social and emotional appeal is particularly strong with those who are at an age in which the differences are least likely to be fully understood. Thus, there is a particular need to ensure that the coming generation in our ecclesias is instructed in these matters from the Scriptures. At the very least, giving this instruction will enable the coming generation to make a scripturally informed decision about the relevance and importance of the differences, based on reasoning from the Scriptures and not on feelings.

Differences among brethren are never pleasant things. It is important that they be kept in perspective. It is not right to magnify differences, to make them appear larger and greater than they really are; nor is it right to minimize differences, to wish them away, as if there are contrary yet equally valid ways of understanding a point of Bible truth. It is necessary to seek to be fair, honest and balanced and, above all, to make the Scriptures the court of appeal. We cannot agree to offer up what we believe to be the Truth for the sake of goodwill, however much we might desire peace and unity among brethren. The best course is to state our beliefs plainly, provide our scriptural reasons for them and invite others to join with us if they are in agreement.

In this summary, as in the articles in this special issue, it is our purpose to offer reasons why we believe that the differences are of such scriptural significance that they cannot be overlooked. Indifference to these matters could allow the scriptural emphasis, for which the unamended ecclesias have historically stood, to be lost over time.

(1) We must recognize why status before God's law matters. A primary difference in emphasis concerns the relationship of man to God's law and how that relationship is changed by the ordinances God has given. The point can be illustrated by reference to marriage. It is the status of the parties before God's law that sanctifies a marriage or defines a relationship as sin. The apostle Paul expounds on this point in relation to how a wife's relationship to her husband is changed by his death. Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law toher husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law ofher husband.So then if, whileher husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man(Romans 7:1-3). In this account, a woman is "loosed from" and "free from" the law by the death of her husband. Her status is changed and she is at liberty to marry a second time without committing adultery. The apostle goes on to draw an analogy to the death of Christ as the means for releasing Israel from the Law of Moses (Romans 7:4) and, by implication, as the means for freeing the sons of Adam from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). The status before God of the one under condemnation is changed; freedom from the curse of the law is gained.

A parallel analogy between marriage and baptism has been well expounded: "When a woman is united to a man according to law, his name becomes hers; and in acquiring that new name, she acquires all that it legally imports; so, also, when a believer of the 'things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ' is united to Jesus according to 'the law of faith,' the name of the Christ becomes his; and he becomes by the adoption a son of the Eternal Father and a brother of Jesus Christ (Christadelphos); and in that act by which the Christ Name is named upon the believer, he acquires a right to all it scripturally imports."[1]

The teachings of the word related to a man's status before God and man's relation to the everlasting covenant have their counterpart in teaching related to the status of husband and wife and their relation to their marriage covenant: the principles are common to both. The legal status of the parties, as determined by God's law, is absolutely vital to correctly understand. At this time in history, fewer and fewer people of this world pay any heed to the marriage law God has given. As moral relativism becomes a defining philosophy of the age, it is more important than ever that we uphold our reverence for the absolutes of God's law and the importance of our status before that law. As those teachings of the word which concern legal status became less and less emphasized and understood, it will become more difficult to uphold the teaching of the Word concerning God's marriage law and the necessity for baptism.

There are many aspects of Bible teaching that are based on understanding the application of legal status. For example, the whole concept of the imputation of righteousness (Romans 4:22) is a concept of status conferred by God and not inherent in the nature or attributes of the recipient. Overmuch emphasis on the physical and moral consequences of sin, to the neglect of the legal consequences, acts as a veil over the eyes in understanding the fullness of Bible truth. As the Scriptures testify, a threefold cord is not quickly broken, so the interweaving of the legal, physical and moral consequences of sin in the Scriptures forms a cord that cannot be broken. To leave the legal strands out of the cord is to omit a vital part of the truth without which the gospel cannot be fully understood.

(2) We must understand and teach the root problem. It is an axiom of many disciplines that the first step towards solving a problem is to obtain a clear, accurate and thorough definition of the problem. Without a full understanding of the problem, it is not possible to fully appreciate any solution that might be offered to address it.

The Scriptures conform to this approach also. They open by providing an account of the origin of the problem of the human condition in Eden. The first human pair sinned and, as a consequence, brought on themselves the curse of sin and death. The nature of this problem is amplified many times in the Scriptures. The Law of Moses, termed by the apostle Paul the ministration of death and the ministration of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:7, 9), testifies to the comprehensive scope of the problem. After expounding the Adamic problem and the remedy which God has provided in Christ (Romans 5:12-19), Paul provides this explanation of the purpose of the law: Moreover the law entered [margin: came in beside], that the offence might abound. (Romans 5:20). The Law of Moses was given to amplify the root problem of sin and death that came by one man's sin.

Our understanding of the Bible diverges from nearly every other part of Christendom in that we believe that, as a consequence of Adam's sin, man was brought under the reign of death and in his natural birth condition, he is "without hope and without God in the world." The human spirit, since the beginning, has sought to moderate the gravity of this sentence to death, according to the serpent's lie, "Thou shalt not surely die" (Genesis 3:4). In its most extreme form, this denial involves embracing the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, but a belief that man can be brought again from the dead, other than through the blood of the everlasting covenant, is also a challenge to this truth. It is important that we testify to the full severity of the Adamic problem by teaching that man is mortal and will perish as the beasts. Teaching the certainty of resurrection for those not redeemed from the grave by the death of Christ has the effect of mitigating the force of Bible teaching that by man came death (1 Corinthians 15:21). This teaching (about the resurrection of unbaptized sinners with knowledge) necessarily requires de-emphasizing the relationship of man to God's judgment to condemnation, in coming under the original sentence passed on Adam. As this condemnation is the root problem for the fallen race of Adam, it must be understood in its fullness as revealed in the Scriptures, lest any traces of the serpent's denial begin to overtake our understanding.

(3) We must guard against the potential for teaching another Jesus or another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4, Galatians 1:8-9). As expressed by our Lord in his prayer, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3)," it is vital that we have as full an understanding of the Father and the Son as we are able to gain from study of the Scriptures. It is honour neither to the Father nor the Son to believe in another Jesus. At what point do differences in understanding cross the line where they become another Jesus? In our understanding, not to believe that the Lord Jesus was born under the same condemnation to death that came by Adam's sin, and not to believe, therefore, that his offering was necessary for his own salvation from death, as well as for ours, is to believe and teach another Jesus, which is another gospel. We come to this conclusion because such a denial does not confess that our Lord Jesus came in the flesh with the full import with which that term is used in Scripture (Ephesians 2:15, 1 John 4:2-3). When the root problem is correctly defined and understood according to the Scriptures, the simplicity of the remedy that God has provided in Christ and the necessity for his own offering are easier to appreciate.

(4) We must uphold the Righteousness of God. In the Scriptures, it is testified that the death of Christ was a demonstration of the righteousness of God. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:23-26). There is nothing just in the concept of an innocent man dying in the place of guilty men, as the substitutionary view of the atonement, widely believed in Christendom, proclaims.

In order to uphold the righteousness of God proclaimed in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, it is necessary to understand that our Lord himself needed salvation from death on his own account (Hebrews 5:7). This issue of the righteousness of God in relation to the atonement is expounded further in the 5th chapter of Romans. In this chapter (verses 12-19), the apostle Paul expounds what has been appropriately called the federal principle, meaning that the eternal consequences for the human race flow from relationship to two respective heads. On the one hand, Adam is the head responsible for condemnation to death: "by the offence of one." On the other hand, Christ is the head responsible for justification unto life: "by the righteousness of one." There is a profound symmetry in this section of Scripture. The denial of the full consequences of Adam's offence by attempting to define the human problem in individual moral terms alone (i.e., as personal sin), breaks the symmetry and the corresponding importance of the need for connection to the sacrificial work of Christ. It is not only that we have personal sins for which we need forgiveness; we also need to change our relationship from the death-stricken state of Adam to the life-giving state of Christ. As it was once well expounded, "The phrase 'the righteousness of God' is expressive of that system of means whereby sinners who are subjected to it become righteous in heart and state."[2] Keeping a sound scriptural balance concerning the change of state, as well as change of heart, is essential to the preservation of the truth. The change of state necessarily requires understanding the change in legal status, as reckoned by God, and wrought by baptism, and not the moral change in heart alone.

(5) We must not distort the Scriptural balance between the place of law and the need for faith. The Bible teaches that eternal inheritance will be granted under the terms of the everlasting covenant ratified by the blood of Christ: Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the wordwhich he commanded to a thousand generations;Even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac; And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law,and to Israelfor an everlasting covenant, Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance (1 Chronicles 16:15-18). The Law of Moses conferred its offices, such as the position of high priest, according to fleshly lineage and hence it is termed "the law of a carnal commandment" (Hebrews 7:16). There were teachers in the first century who insisted that salvation was obtained according to these principles of the Law of Moses (Acts 15:1, 2).

When the apostle Paul said that the promise, that he should be the heir of the world,was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith (Romans 4:13), he was testifying to the higher principle on which eternal inheritance is conferred. It is not according to the carnal arrangements of the old covenant, in which entitlement came by reason of family birth (Numbers 27:7), but by reason of faith in the redeeming sacrifice of Christ (Galatians 3:29).

As Bible students, we need to exercise great care in recognizing that the principle of inheritance being granted by covenant was not among the defining characteristics of "legalism." Eternal inheritance is a divine arrangement that has a legal structure under the terms of the everlasting covenant and in the Scripture it is also referred to as "a law" (1 Chronicles 16:17). The Unamended Community must continue to emphasize a proper balance in understanding the divine legal arrangements for salvation, undeterred by critics who may incorrectly associate the terms of inheritance, according to covenant principles, with "legalism."

When expounding the desire of the Almighty to show "the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel," the writer to the Hebrews relates how the Most High used legal custom in confirming it by an oath in His own name: For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife (Hebrews 6:16-18). In an analogous way to the legal custom in drawing up a will for determining the distribution of the owner's estate on his death, he explains that the everlasting covenant also required the death of the covenant victim in order to bring its terms into effect (Hebrews 9:16,17). Just as the beneficiaries of a will are limited to those named by the testator as heirs, so eternal inheritance, promised under the terms of the everlasting covenant, is confined to the heirs of promise who have embraced the faith of Abraham. This legal structure does not conflict with the bestowal of God's grace, for none of us would be heirs without His grace (1 Peter 3:7). We who were by nature sinners of the Gentiles have been brought nigh the covenants of promise by the blood of Christ (Galatians 2:15, 16; Ephesians 2:12-13). The concepts of inheritance by covenant and the entitlement of heirs are legal arrangements that the Most High has used to invite our fallen race to eternal salvation.

Summary thoughts: If we had to summarize in few words the reason why these things matter, we would reduce it to this: the honour of God. It is no credit to the victory wrought by Christ to understand our Lord as without condemnation or above temptation in all points like as we are; it is no honour to his work to suppose that the prison of the grave will be unlocked other than through the keys given him of his Father by his redeeming sacrifice (Revelation 1:18); it is no honour to his righteousness to suppose that we do not need to be made righteousness in him (1 Corinthians 1:30) as a matter of state as well as of heart; it is no honour to the shedding of his blood to fail to give prominence to the teaching that the covenant of eternal inheritance was brought into force by this precious means (Hebrews 9:15-17). For conscience's sake, we must seek to uphold the honour of God as we believe and understand it has been revealed in His word.

Our prayer is that what is written in this issue might reinforce our brothers and sisters in the Unamended Community with the truth as it is in Jesus, and serve as a basis for instruction of the coming generation. To the extent that what is here presented may find its way into the hands of those who differ from us, our prayer is that it might encourage them to re-examine their own emphasis to be fully persuaded that it is according to the scriptures. Nothing would be more desirable than, by reasoning together from the Scriptures, to gain our brother.

[1] The Revealed Mystery, John Thomas, Article XXXVI. The following verse references are given: Luke 24:47; John 1:12-13; 20:31,17; Acts 2:38, 4:12, 10:43, 13:26,28-29; 1 John 2:12.

[2] The Revealed Mystery, John Thomas, Article XXVII