Introducing a Bible-based community
THERE must be many people who feel that there is something outstandingly significant about the person and the teaching of Jesus Christ. Yet when they survey “Christianity”, both in its history and its modern forms, they find a wide variety of churches and communities, all with different foundations, teachings and practices. Feeling bewildered by the existence of so many groups claiming the name “Christian”, they may well give up the quest for “the truth” as hopeless.
This short booklet is written to draw the attention of the interested enquirer to the existence of a community of believers in Christ, calling themselves “Christadelphians”, organised in groups found throughout the world. Wherever they exist they have a fellowship founded upon an agreed basis of beliefs. Fundamental to their faith is the principle that what Christ and his apostles taught in the first century was truth, and it is still the truth today. The holy scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are their sole authority.
An apostolic fellowship
The community has no paid ministry, no robes or elaborate ceremonies, nor has it any “head of the church” or legislative council. Their ecclesias (the New Testament word for ‘church’) organise their own affairs, though the pattern is similar everywhere. Like the “elders” of New Testament times, members are appointed to manage the affairs of the ecclesia and to preside at its meetings.
At the meeting for the “breaking of bread” on “the first day of the week” there are hymns, prayers, readings from the scriptures and an exhortation. The bread and the wine circulate among all the “brothers and sisters” present. Voluntary collections are taken to meet all the expenses. If some of the early followers of the apostles in the first century could attend such meetings, it is believed that they would immediately recognise what was going on, for it is patterned on New Testament worship.
Like Jesus’ early disciples, they also proclaim his message of life to all willing to hear; they instruct their children and young people in Sunday Schools and Youth Groups, and promote a life of faith and prayer, and obedience to Christ’s commands, among their members.
The name “Christadelphians”
In the early days, members found that to preserve their identity they had to give themselves a name. “Christadelphians” was chosen because it means “brothers (and of course sisters) in Christ”. It has been used to distinguish the community for more than 120 years.
Since 1864 The Christadelphian Magazine has appeared monthly, issued from Birmingham, UK. It provides informative articles and contains items of news from the ecclesias worldwide. Pamphlets and books are also produced for the use of members and their friends. Other organisations throughout the world promote the preaching of the Gospel in areas where the ecclesia is small or non-existent, and there are special committees responsible for preaching the Gospel in other countries. Still another organisation circulates typed exhortations and Bible studies to those members who live some distance from an ecclesia.
The care of the infirm and the elderly has been seen as a pressing need: there are several Homes in various countries. Voluntary contributions are made to help individual members in need.
A distinctive foundation
But why should the Christadelphians deserve any more attention than other groups of “believers”, many claiming to be based on the Bible?
The brief answer is this: their understanding of the teachings of the Bible is quite different from that of other denominations. The difference arose from the conviction of one, John Thomas, that the teachings he was encountering in “Christendom” 150 years ago did not truly represent the faith of Christ and his apostles. Persuaded that the truth must be sought only in the Bible, he embarked upon a conscientious study of the scriptures. He made no claim to any vision or personal revelation.
He eventually came to an understanding of “the gospel of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12) which was different in a number of important points from that of the churches and other religious sects. His labours attracted the support of others who were convinced of the validity of his conclusions. This understanding of Bible truths has been rigorously tested by free enquiry for 150 years. The distinctive views of the Christadelphians today are the result of this process.
The whole Bible
What is this message of the Bible, and why is it different from popular “Christian” ideas?
It arises from the important principle that the Bible must be understood as a whole. It is easy to uphold certain teachings by accepting some parts of the scriptures and neglecting others. For instance it is popular today to dismiss much of the Old Testament. Yet these documents – the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets – were accepted by Jesus and his apostles as “the word of the Lord”. The Bible is a unity: the revelation of God for mankind begins in the pages of the Old Testament and is continued and expanded in the New. The “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) is to be derived from the whole book.
Christadelphians accept that all of the Bible is the wholly inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). They therefore read it carefully and regularly. A reading plan, called the Bible Companion, enables them to read the Old Testament once in a year, and the New Testament twice.
There is another point of great importance: if man is truly to understand the Bible, he must be prepared for the fact that it is absolutely frank about all issues, and primarily about ourselves. It is the most realistic book in the world, confronting the stark issues of life without wishful thinking. Human problems, both of the race and of individuals, are frankly assessed. The origin of the problems is explained and so is the solution to them. The Bible is the only source in the world to do this in harmony with the facts of history and of human life.
God, Creator and Father
The Bible portrays God as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He is “the King eternal, incorruptible, invisible … to whom be honour and power everlasting” (1 Timothy 1:17). Yet by His Holy Spirit, the expression of His power, He controls the affairs of the world according to His ultimate purpose with mankind. Holiness and truth are His attributes; there can be no deceit or falsehood with Him, nor can He regard with indifference persistent human rebellion. Yet He describes Himself as a God “full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy … forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6,7, RV). This is the portrait of an Eternal Creator, a supremely moral Being, who is also the Father of those who seek Him according to His word. And it is only in this word – in the Bible – that man can learn of Him.
The vital earth
There is a common impression that the Bible is not really interested in the earth and what happens there. Its major concern is said to be “heaven”, the abode of the righteous. This is a great mistake. The revelation of God’s purpose shows Him to be positively concerned with the earth and the human race upon it. As He said himself: “Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens … that formed the earth and made it … he created it not in vain: he formed it to be inhabited” (Isaiah 45:18).
God is concerned with the earth as a whole, and the nations inhabiting it. The careers of great empires are under God’s control and their fate is predicted. The severe troubles of the modern world are all foreseen, and so is their solution: the establishment by God of a new order in the earth as the only means by which the waywardness of mankind can be controlled.