Unamended Christadelphians


Unamended Christadelphians

The Unamended Christadelphians are a fellowship within the broader Christadelphian movement located primarily in the United States and Canada. They are, like all Christadelphians, millennialist and non-Trinitarian. The Term "Unamended Christadelphian" is not the name of this community but is used to identify the Statement of Faith used by this community. Similarly, the much larger group of "Amended Christadelphians" use a Statement of Faith that has been Amended and hence the prefix added to those communities of Christadelphians. Nevertheless, both Amended and Unamended Christadelphians and share fundamentally the same doctrines, with a few exceptions.

The name Christadelphian derives from the Koine Greek meaning “Brethren of Christ”. Like all Christadelphians, The "Unamended" Christadelphians’ have neither formal, ordained, or paid clergy.

Doctrine

The "Unamended" Christadelphians’ understanding of the nature and person of Jesus Christ, the nature of man, and millennial expectations sets the group apart from the majority of Christian denominations.

Unamended Christadelphians are staunchly non-Trinitarian. The belief Jesus Christ is not co-equal or co-eternal with God the Father is a fundamental doctrine. Furthermore, the Unamended Christadelphians maintain the Holy Spirit is not a distinct member of the Godhead, but the manifestation of God’s power. As such, this doctrine is contrary to the Nicene Creed. The group, while non-Trinitarian, are not adoptionists. The Unamended Christadelphians affirm a belief in the Virgin Birth of Jesus as the literal son of God and Mary. [The Christadelphian Statement of Faith: or Doctrines forming the basis of fellowship, also doctrines to be rejected, with the epitome of the commandments of Christ, Christadelphian Advocate Publications: Richmond, VA.]

An additional distinguishing feature of doctrine is the teaching on the nature of man, particularly the rejection of a belief in a Platonic immortal soul. Unamended Christadelphians contend the Bible does not teach the soul is an immortal component of mankind. Therefore, the group does not proclaim the afterlife is the soul’s ascension to heaven or descent to eternal punishment in hell. Hell is merely the grave.

In addition to teaching the complete mortality of mankind, Unamended Christadelphians also teach that because of Adam and Eve's disobedience in the Garden of Eden, mankind is inherently sinful and separated from God from birth. Through breaking God's law they created a breach in their relationship with God, and were destined to die. The very nature of mankind was no longer “very good” (Genesis 1), but became unclean in God's sight. Since Adam and Eve are the progenitor’s all people, their children inherit their fallen nature. By birth, mankind is separated from God. Unamended Christadelphians believe that because Adam and Eve ceased to be very good, their children could not be born very good, or of a nature that is acceptable to God. This understanding is used to explain infant deaths. No person is held personally responsible or guilty for Adam's transgression

This understanding of the nature of man extends to Jesus Christ, since he was born of a woman. The Unamended teach Jesus, like all mankind, was born into a state separated from God. Because he committed no personal sins, he was the only acceptable sacrifice to atone for the condemned nature of mankind. His sacrificial death (shedding of blood) was necessary to atone for the condemned nature he had like all mankind. He was not a substitute for all men, but a representative, because he also benefited from his death.

Unamended Christadelphians believe that both a correct knowledge and baptism are necessary for salvation. By baptism, mankind may also escape their inherited condemnation to death and enter an atoned state, justified before God. Following the New Testament examples, only adult immersions are considered valid baptisms. The Unamended do not baptize infants, or those who do not profess a knowledge of and agree with these outlined doctrinal positions. Furthermore, the Unamended do not preach a doctrine of “once saved always saved”. Faithful service is required after baptism for salvation.

Since, under Unamended Christadelphian doctrines, the hope of mankind does not depend on an immortal soul, the group proclaims a bodily resurrection of the dead at the literal return of Jesus Christ to the earth. The purpose of resurrection is for judgment of the servants of Jesus Christ. This eschatological interpretation of Biblical prophecy means the Unamended Christadelphians are millenialists. Unamended Christadelphians see the return of Jesus as setting up the literal kingdom of Israel on earth. The kingdom will be worldwide and last for 1,000 years, after which sin and death will be completely eradicated and “God will be all in all.”(1 Corth 15)

Further distinguishing the Unamended Christadelphians from other Christian denominations is the absence of any church hierarchy or compensated clergy. See Organization below. The group believes in an inerrancy of the Bible and no other word of modern or ancient times is considered divinely inspired.

Historical development

Foundation

The Christadelphians were founded through the preaching efforts of a British physician, Dr. John Thomas (1805-1871). Son of a pastor, Dr. Thomas emigrated to America in 1832, settling in Cincinnati, Ohio. There he meet Alexander Campbell and began preaching for Campbellite movement. By 1836, Dr. Thomas concluded adults who had been previously baptized by a different denomination had to be re-immersed in order to join the Campbellites. This view was not held by Campbell, and within the year Campbell disfellowshipped Thomas. Also during the final years with the Campbellites, Dr Thomas began proclaiming a bodily resurrection at the second coming of Jesus Christ.Lippy, C.H., "The Christadelphians in North America". "Studies in American Religion". Vol. 43. 1989, Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press.] [Roberts, R., "Dr. Thomas: His life and work". 1873.]

During his tenure with the Campbellites, Dr. Thomas had gained some notoriety – to the extent that some in Richmond, Virginia and New York City left the Campbellites and formed new meetings in line with Dr. Thomas' teachings. Through ardent preaching efforts to Campbellite and Millerist congregations and publications, Dr. Thomas’ message about the “Truth” spread throughout America and Great Britain.

In New York, the meeting of Dr. Thomas’ converts used the name “The Royal Association of Believers” for their congregation. Across the U.S. others were known as “Thomasites”, or had no formal name at all. The name Christadelphian originated in the days of the American Civil War. Brethren in Freeport, Illinois were threatened with conscription in 1864. Conscientious objectors from known denominations were excluded from military service by law in the United States. However, the believers following Dr. Thomas were not known or recognized as a denomination, since no single name was used to identify the members in the U.S. or England. In order to obtain exemption, the name Christadelphians was selected. [Brock, P., ed. "Liberty and Conscience : A Documentary History of the Experiences of Conscientious Objectors in America through the Civil War" 2002, Oxford University Press.]

With the death of Dr. Thomas, Christadelphian meetings continued. Since no formal hierarchical structure existed within Christadelphians (see Organization), the death of the founding member was a sad occurrence, but did not result in a collapse of the denomination. Lippy commented this phenomenon was one of the unique features of Christadelphians. Each individual meeting continued as an independent unit. Scriptural instruction and cohesion was aided by the work of Robert Roberts in Birmingham, England and Thomas Williams in Chicago, Illinois. Both men traveled to local meetings edifying the brotherhood, and served as editors of The Christadelphian and [http://www.christadelphian-advocate.org "The Christadelphian Advocate"] periodicals, respectively.

tatement of Faith & Division of Christadelphian Fellowships

The statement of faith (or creed, or confession of faith) the Unamended Christadelphians’ utilized as a basis of fellowship originated in 1887, after the death of the founder. Prior that year, formal declarations of faith determining fellowship were not utilized. Due to a doctrinal dispute arising between different Christadelphian meetings in England, a statement of faith was authored in Birmingham, England. The doctrine in dispute was known as the “Renunciationist”, “Free life”, or “Turneyism” after the originator Edward Turney. Turney essentially preached Jesus Christ was not born of a condemned nature (that is a free life) and therefore he did not benefit in any way from his own death. [Pursell, R., "Christadelphians: The Untold Story". 2006.] The doctrine was argued against in a united front by Robert Roberts in Birmingham, Thomas Williams in America, and John James Andrews of London.

The document begins with, “A statement of the ‘One Faith,’ upon which the Christadelphian Ecclesia of Birmingham is founded; together with a specification of the fables current in the religious world, of which they require a rejection on the part of all applying for their fellowship.” The 1877 Birmingham Statement of Faith contained seventeen provisions outlining the “Truth to be Believed” and seventeen “Fables to be Refused”. This statement of beliefs became basis of fellowship for the majority of Christadelphian meetings in England and North America. Those disagreeing with the Birmingham positions left fellowship. During the next ten years the organization and wording of the statement was revised, but no doctrinal changes were made. [Farrar, J.E., "Seven Reservations Concerning the Amended Statement of Faith". 1995, Grimsby, ON.]

In 1898, a larger division of Christadelphians occurred over “resurrectional responsibility”. Since Christadelphians teach a bodily resurrection and judgment at the return of Jesus Christ to earth, the controversy was over who would be resurrected and called to judgment. At question was whether or not persons who knew the word of God would be judged and condemned for rejecting the “Truth”, so-called “enlightened rejectors”. The existing statement of faith stated only the “responsible (faithful and unfaithful)” would be judged. This proposition was amended to read “the responsible (namely, those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it)”. The change in wording meant, individuals who were not baptized would be called to the judgment seat of Christ along with baptized individuals, and that the reason for resurrection was knowledge of God will, not an association with Christ’s sacrifice. This change pitted Roberts (in favor of the amendment) against Williams and Andrews; all had been former allies against Turney's teachings. Practically, this change made a belief in the “enlightened rejector” a requirement of fellowship. Williams, Lippy, Farrar and Pursell outline larger doctrinal problems involving the change.

The result of the amendment was a division of the Christadelphians. The old statement of faith, within Christadelphian circles, is referred to as the Birmingham Unamended Statement of Faith (or the BUSF), or the Unamended Statement of Faith, and is where the Unamended Christadelphians take their name. Those accepting the amendment of 1898 became known as the or Central fellowship.

In 1909, the BUSF was revised and clarified in both title and in six propositions. [Williams, T., The Birmingham Statement of Faith. The Christadelphian Advocate, 1909 (November): p. 315-317.] “Birmingham” was dropped from the title and only the “palable errors”…”none of which, however, causes doctrinal trouble” were changed. [Williams, T., "The Statement of Faith". "The Christadelphian Advocate", 1909 (December): p. 343-344.] Thomas Williams, editor of the "Advocate", explained: “It is a mistake to think that we intended to get up another Statement of Faith. The one we have published is the Old Birmingham Statement, with a few corrections made, which the original writers of it would have made if their attention had been called to the errors – not serious errors of doctrine, but yet errors that were awkward. The reason for calling it “The Christadelphian Statement,” and omitting “Birmingham” lies against calling it “The Chicago,” etc. It is undesirable to have any place named as more prominent than others. Therefore it is “The Christadelphian Statement of Faith,” and each ecclesia can have its own address printed on the cover, as many are now doing.” [Williams, T., Editorial. "The Christadelphian Advocate", 1910 (February): p. 49.] The current Unamended Statement of Faith is available [http://www.monroechristadelphians.com/browser/unamendedsof.html here] .

Classification

Locating the Unamended Christadelphians within larger Christendom is not an easy endeavor. According to the Encyclopedia of American Religions, the Unamended Christadelphians are members of the Baptist tradition of Christian denominations, based on their historical split with the Campbelites (Church of Christ / Disciples of Christ).Melton, J.G., "Encyclopedia of American Religions". 7th ed. 2003, Detroit: Thomson Gale.] The Unamended Christadelphians share an eschewing of infant baptism with the Anabaptists of the Reformation. However, [http://www.thearda.com/ the American Religious Data Archives] includes Christadelphians under the “Other Group” denominational profiles. As outlined above, the group's doctrinal positions are contrary to most mainstream Christianity, and are recognized to view both Catholic and Protestant denominations as having lost the 1st century beliefs of the apostles. [Wilson, BR. "Sects and society; a sociological study of the Elim Tabernacle, Christian Science, and Christadelphians". California University Press. 1961] The Unamended Christadelphians could also be identified as one of the 19th century restoration movements, [David Edwin Harrell, J., "Restorationism and the Stone-Campbell Tradition", in "Encyclopedia of the American Religions Experience: Studies of Traditions and Movements", C.H. Lippy and P.W. Williams, Editors. 1988, Charles Scribner's Sons: New York.] which would better suit their open proclamation that mainstream Christianity is corrupted and adheres to false beliefs. Paul Conkin, in book on American religious reformers, wrote that Unamended Christadelphians remain “the only sect that blends an extreme restorationist or primitivist bent with separatism and Adventism." [Conkin, P.K., "American Originals: homade varieties of Christianity". 1997: The University of North Carolina Press.] The millennialism or adventism faith of the Unamended Christadelphians has also grouped the denomination into a broad category with Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, despite obvious doctrinal differences. ["The Hutchinson Dictionary of World Religions" 2005, Abingdon, UK: Helicon Publishing Limited.]

The previously mentioned references classify Christadelphians as a denomination, but few make the distinction between the differing fellowships. In The Christadelphians in North America, Charles Lippy concluded the Unamended Christadelphians were best considered a sect based on the definitions of sociologists like Max Weber, Ernst Troeltsch and Richard Niebuhr. However, he noted the Unamended Christadelphians do not completely fit any single sect typology.

Organization & worship

The fundamental organizational unit of the Unamended Christadelphians is the local ecclesia. Ecclesia is the transliteration of the Greek evkklesiva, means called out ones and is translated “church” in the King James Version (example 1 Corinthians 15:19). [Thayer, J.H., "Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament". 2003, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.] The word “church” was rejected because the association with larger Christendom, and it does not have the meaning of an assembly of separated ones. In 2006, the number of organized North American Unamended Christadelphian ecclesias in listed in the “Ecclesial Directory” was 83. Ecclesias were located in twenty-six states and two Canadian provinces. These counts do not include those individuals and families living in areas without an organized ecclesia (so-called isolation). The Unamended have always been few in number, with approximately 1,850 baptized adult members in 2006. ["2006 Christadelphian Ecclesial Directory". 2006.] The Unamended are a much small group than the Central fellowship, which is worldwide and has as many as 50,000 members. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christadelphians] Ecclesia size ranges from less than ten baptized members to nearly one hundred. The existence of very small ecclesias has been a feature throughout Christadelphian history.M'Clintock, J. and J. Strong, "Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature". 1894, Harper & Brothers: New York.] Small ecclesias usually meet in member’s homes for worship services, whereas larger ecclesias usually own or rent a building to serve as a meeting hall. The ecclesia is attended by baptized members, their children, and un-baptized individuals (sometimes referred to as “friends of the Truth” or “guests”).

Number of ecclesias and members, by year Members Year (source) Ecclesias Unamended No distinction made 1936 [12] 109 2,755 1984 [12] ~6,000 1997 [10] 95 ~2,000 (2) 2006 [19] 83 ~1,850 (2)

(2) Baptized adults only

Baptized males (“brethren” or “brothers”) assume all administration, teaching, and leadership duties in the ecclesia. All duties are uncompensated and on a volunteer basis. Brothers fulfilling the administrative roles (secretary, treasurer, etc) are selected either by vote of the baptized ecclesial members, by drawing lots, or by virtue of being the only males in the ecclesia. Baptized men in good standing with the ecclesia preside over the memorial service, offer prayers, lecture and teach adult classes. Baptized women (“sisters”) may vote in ecclesia decisions, but do not assume any of the duties taken on by the brethren. Most ecclesias meet at least twice weekly. Once on Sunday for exhortation, the memorial service, and Sunday school. The sisters frequently teach the children’s Sunday school classes. In addition, many ecclesias will meet during the week for Bible study. Some ecclesias also have sisters’ classes, or young persons’ classes during the week.

Each ecclesia is an autonomous entity.Roberts, R., A guide to the formation and conduct of Christadelphian ecclesias in the characteristic circumstances of an age when the Truth as apostolically delivered has been revived in the ways of divine providence, without the co-operation and living guidance of the holy spirit as enjoyed in the apostolic age. 1883.] No larger formal hierarchical structure exists among the Unamended Christadelphians. Each individual ecclesia is responsible for issues of fellowship and instruction. By historical agreement, individual ecclesias respect each other’s decisions on fellowship regarding an individual. Ecclesias are linked or networked together via three mechanisms. First, publications, particularly the "Christadelphian Advocate", serve to spread ecclesial news and propagate Christadelphian doctrines. The "Advocate" has been so influential, that the Unamended are sometimes referred to as the “Advocate ecclesias”. Second, national or regional fraternal meetings known as Bible schools and gatherings connect a dispersed body. Both Bible schools and gatherings are usually annual occurrences hosted by a local ecclesia, with the only distinction being length. Bible schools traditionally last one week, and gatherings a (long) weekend. At Bible schools and gatherings individuals are exposed to guest teachers and lectures and meet fellow believers from different ecclesias. Both of publications and fraternal meetings maintain doctrinal order through essentially a system of peer-review. Thirdly, family ties link ecclesias across the nation. Family ties are prominent, given the statement of faith lists marriage with an unbelieving person is a belief to be rejected.

ocial views

Based on Biblical texts, such as James 4:4 (“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”) and 1 John 2:15-16 (“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”), the Unamended see the world as fundamentally evil and in contrast to God’s will. Therefore, baptized members see themselves as “strangers and pilgrims on earth”(Heb 11:13) and preach a degree of separatism from the world at large. This is not a monastic view, but attempt to prefer biblical study and fellowship over the offerings of the world.

Unamended Christadelphians recognize the world as belonging to God, and they are servants of God and Christ. They refrain from politics, voting, [ [http://www.christadelphian-advocate.org/qbox/qbox26.html "Christadelphian Advocate". Question Box] ] and jury duty. From the founding of the Christadelphians, the group have been conscientious objectors.

References


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