Nearly thirty years ago while in university I encountered my first Christadelphian. He was a student in the same hall of residence as myself. Together we talked about the Bible and started to consider spiritual truth in the light of the Scriptures. He believed sincerely that the Bible was the truth of God and as our conversations progressed it was a blessing to see him growing into a fuller understanding of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. The day came when he received Christ as his Lord and Saviour and entered into the wonderful experience of salvation. He eventually married a Christian girl and went overseas to serve the Lord in a Christian school. It wasn’t easy for him as his family members were all Christadelphians, and he was a third generation follower of Christadelphian teaching. How-ever, the reality of Christ’s presence enabled him to break with their false doctrine and be fully committed to the truth of the gospel.
This word ‘Christadelphian’ is made up of two Greek words and means ‘Christ’s brother’, and as the name implies Christadelphians regard themselves as brethren of Christ. The movement was known as ‘Thomasism’ in its early days and that was due to the fact that the founder was Dr. John Thomas (1805-1871). Thomas was British but lived his life in America. However, he propounded his views both orally and in writing during three extended trips to Britain. Thus, this religious movement is largely found in the United Kingdom and not in the United States.
It is one of the smallest of the religious cults in Britain and it was Thomas’s successor, Robert Roberts (baptized by Thomas in 1853, at the age of 14) who built upon the founder’s views and established the central organisation in Birmingham, in the English Midlands. This is not so much an official headquarters as a guiding light for local congregations, each of which is considered independent and autonomous. The movement is far from big and has less than 19,000 members in the United Kingdom, spread amongst 282 local congregations, (figures taken from Religious Trends’ 2000/2001).
Writers on new religious movements tend to by-pass Christadelphianism for at least two reasons. Firstly, it is quite a small organization and does not make headline news. Secondly, it is hardly found in the United States, and most writing on religious cults emanates from North America.
Christadelphians meet in their own halls and refer to a local congregation as an ecclesia. The word ecclesia is simply the Greek word for church. They have a commitment to, and believe in studying exclusively, the Authorised Version of the Bible and have preaching services with named subjects each week, with particular emphasis upon prophetical topics.
Thomas published his ideas in Elpis Israel a title that means ‘The Hope of Israel’. It is subtitled ‘An Exposition of the Kingdom of God, with reference to the Time of the End and the Age to Come’. This publication reveals that Thomas put his own ideas into interpretations of Scripture and stressed the importance of prophecy. The work is still revered by Christadelphians and a copy is presented to members at their baptism. Roberts also wrote an important book entitled, Christendom Astray from the Bible, and this is still considered one of Christadelphians’ most effective preaching aids.
In 1844 Thomas started a monthly magazine, The Herald of the Future Age, but this is now known as the The Christadelphian, and is regarded as the official mouthpiece of the organisation.
Christadelphians view salvation as possible only through: 1) an understanding of the Bible, 2) Christadelphian baptism (which is by full immersion), and, 3) the keeping of the commandments. Christadelphians cannot have any assurance of salvation and do not see the necessity to trust in the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
They deny the Trinity and view God very much in physical rather than spiritual terms. As Roberts wrote, ‘the Father is a tangible person’. They also deny the deity of Jesus Christ, stating that He had no existence before His birth in Bethlehem, and that He was not given the title of Christ until His baptism. They see His atoning work on the cross as of no importance. They do not accept the deity of the Holy Spirit and also deny His personality. They even claim that He is not at work in this present age, ‘there is no manifestation of the Spirit in these days’, (Roberts).
They deny the existence of the Devil, believing that the names given to the Evil One in Scripture are simply manifestations within man himself. They regard Heaven as the exclusive abode of God and that mankind ‘has no access into God’s presence in heaven’. Indeed, they believe that ‘heaven is not for man: his habitation, both now and in any future existence, is earth’. They believe that all the faithful will be raised and given immortality when Christ reigns in His kingdom on earth. They do not accept the eternal future punishment of the wicked, but believe in annihilation of the unfaithful ones.
They insist upon marriage within their own system and to break that rule or any of the other rules can lead to ‘disfellowshipping’. To be ‘disfellowshipped’ and put out of the church leads to the loss of any hope of eternal future blessing. Christadelphians must not serve in the armed forces or the police force and must not join political parties. In all they have a list of thirty-five doctrines to be rejected and a list of fifty-three commandments to be followed if they are to have any thought of future hope.
It is very much a religion of works rather than of faith and is a system that holds out the prospect of eternal blessing, with no assurance that it can ever be achieved.
4. Sharing our Faith
Many Christadelphians have a profound understanding of Scripture, and apparently it is true that many, while still in Christadelphianism, have found a living faith in Christ through reading and studying the Bible for themselves. This is encouraging because the word of God is essential in any form of witnessing. Thus, when we seek to share our faith we must not try to air knowledge or else we might find that they know more than we do. However, we must with patience and love listen, explain and read the Bible in context, especially in the areas where Christadelphians deviate from the historical Christian faith. We need to support our witness with words of personal testimony showing the wonderful effect of the gospel upon our own lives. Such personal testimony is a very powerful weapon in leading Christadelphians to the Lord. Thus we must live consistent Christian lives and support all we say with constant prayer to the Lord to make our witness effective for His glory.
‘Remember we are not trying to win arguments as we might lose against superior head knowledge of Scripture. We are presenting the reality of Jesus Christ both in what He has accomplished and what He means in our lives. This is what the Christadelphian needs’, (Harris).