Christadelphian Research Paper

This site is designed to give comprehensive information about the Christadelphian church (or ecclesia) and how it operates that is not easily available elsewhere.  It is a collation based upon personal experience and research as well as deep thought.  I believe it has relevance for many groups.  This includes those considering joining them, existing Christadelphians and those connected to them by birth, relationship or some other association.  It seeks to recognise both positive aspects as well as many obvious incongruities and may answer various questions that are asked, but for which satisfactory answers are not given.  It is not designed to be a substitute for individual research and it is a work in progress.

The Christadelphians are a small religious body who often claim that they are a restoration of original Christianity and believe they hold the true saving doctrines.  Whilst not limiting the possibility others hold the same beliefs, in reality they are unique to themselves.  Early Christadelphians by contrast were more bold and claimed that there was no salvation within the pale of other churches.  In practice they originated through the personal Bible studies of a medical doctor, Dr John Thomas, who lived in America in the mid nineteenth century. He initially promoted independence of thought and advocated against creeds, traditions, and religious authorities.  He eventually believed he had recovered the saving truths from scripture and dogmatically defended and promoted his findings in person and by pen.  His initial promotion of the importance of freedom to explore without sanctions and the right to individually examine scripture was replaced by a greater requirement of mental conformity from those who had associated with him to what he believed was the true gospel of the apostles.

A study of the history of the Christadelphians clearly shows that the movement has been shaped by both the personality of John Thomas as well as his beliefs.  This is not, however, the basis upon which the community would like to be examined which would suggest instead its position is established by the independent scriptural examination of its members.  Such a claim however fails to give due weight to the effect of a creedal basis in maintaining conformity of thought.  This is especially relevant to the Christadelphians because unlike more orthodox churches their initial success was based upon advocating the need for independence of thought rather than any need for the influence of the Holy Spirit, church authority, or even the role of taught faith.

Since John Thomas was primarily an exegetist or interpreter of scripture throughout his life it fell to others after his death to set it into a lasting form, which was accomplished through a very painful process of creed setting and division.  Without this the community would not be around today, because more liberal forms of organisation have always led to a greater association with mainstream Christianity.  It seems allowing independence of thought within the community does not in fact maintain the Christadelphian positions to those of John Thomas despite his initial promotion of that.  Creed setting, dogmatism and a belief in “protecting the Truth” have therefore been essential to its preservation and have in essence created a distinct status quo that in some respects has cult-like qualities, even though there is no defined leader.  As a community its survival has therefore been predicated on battling doctrinally that it alone has “the Truth” and which leads to its distinct emphases and focuses.

The movement today is largely in consensus on a set of doctrinal distinctives, although remnants from the various historical divisions remain and are generally called “fellowships”.  Some of these claim to be more true to the original Christadelphian positions, such as the Berean Christadelphians and the Old Paths Christadelphians.  Since the movement formed within the framework of the evolving positions of John Thomas (and his altering views of independence of thought and church authority) and the movement therefore incorporated diverse positions in its early days, their claim in practice is a greater conformity to the views of John Thomas (at the later stage of his life) and Robert Roberts.  Robert Roberts is especially relevant because he believed in his writings John Thomas had reached the “finality of truth” and the majority of the movement accepted his leadership in establishing a tightened creedal basis.  The smallest of the matters on which he believed importance rested has generally diminished today giving some weight to the views of the minority Christadelphian groups that the movement has changed.

In the early days of the Christadelphian movement the writings of John Thomas were placed on an elevated basis (as they still are in some of the smaller groups) and he stood in a position of accepted intellectual supremacy within the movement.  What he said had power with regards to how the community operated, its beliefs and what actions it took and his influence was moving the community towards a more creedal basis when he died.  His undoubted intellectual ability was noted by both friends and critics and that cast a spell over both the movement and adherents that persists to this day.  His friends saw a validation in this, his critics saw a danger here and a lack of balance in his approach.  It can still be heard sometimes when people will say “John Thomas said this or believed that” as though it answers a matter, although this is greatly diminished today.  A huge emphasis was also placed on the reading of his works and it was common for “Elpis Israel” and “Eureka” classes to be set up to study them.  From its inception respect and authority within the movement has been weighted largely towards intellectual knowledge of the Bible and the ability to “out prove” others using scripture, rather than perceptions of Christ-likeness or meditational capacity, although there are signs that some re-evaluations of its central values are taking place.  In practice the early movement treated him as though he had unique intellectual ability, rather than having any direct help or guidance by God to explain scripture.  Since the community has been based upon a broad adoption of his views there is a consideration of his role in pioneers and prophets.  It should be noted that he has not been followed in every respect.  For instance he had views on a pre-Adamic creation that few Christadelphians have accepted.  In addition his belief that the return of Christ would be by 1866 and later extended to 1906 with a seventh millenium starting in 1910 are no longer given credit.

Today the Christadelphian community has evolved into a religious denomination with its own set of trappings and with many challenges to its future.  Paradoxically the freedom the founder required for himself and advocated as a result is not encouraged in most of the community.  Our site is here to encourage those who visit to independently evaluate information the community at large would not present but which is necessary to gain the full picture.  It is therefore a site very much concerned with an original Christadelphian idea.  Truth.  As we read in the Bible, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbour comes and examines him”.  The intent of this site is to present information to aid in that task.

The Question of Freewill

Unless we unquestionably accept the authority of a person or group or are under total control, then some personal thought is involved in any decision to join a religion such as Christianity or one of its denominations.  In simple terms when presented with a faith people “choose” to believe or “choose” not to.  The “choice” that they make may be based on any number of factors.  It may be based on intellect, emotion or both.  In practice other factors may also have played a part.  A decision may have been influenced by conditioning for instance.  This would certainly explain why the majority of people follow the faith they are born into.  Circumstance does play a role and this is true for people without faith too.  People brought up in a secular environment are more likely to be atheist or agnostic than those brought up within a religious one.

This is a very deep area of thought.  Those who believe we have no freewill at all are determinists.  To them everything happens as a result of causality established by a “First Cause.”  Since we do not completely think outside of environment, experience and emotion they suggest we have no “free will” at all.  Our conscious perception of choice in practice is held to be subject to deeper unconscious limitations.  To others our experience of consciousness and the sense of making choices leads them to hold the opposite view that we have complete and absolute freewill.  They do not recognise limits at all.

The Role of Influence

In practice all branches of Christianity believe in the need for God to communicate with us in some way and that we are incapable of coming to God of ourselves.  To a Catholic is by means of apostolically transmitted authority through their organisation in a number of forms.  To some Protestants (such as the Christadelphians) it is only through the Bible and providence.  To others it is the influence of the Holy Spirit working directly on the human heart.

A consideration of the limits of free thought in respect of Christianity is necessary for an obvious reason.  Christianity has so many branches.  If there was only one grouping then which was the true form would be self evident.  To consider this further we need to look deeper into Christian history.

The next section looks at:  Some Church History

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