Title

dianoigo blog Fellowship of Christian Bloggers Christian Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Friday, 6 June 2014

Christadelphian Myths about Mainstream Christianity (1)

I've associated with Christadelphians all my life. I grew up attending Christadelphian meetings every Sunday and was a baptized member of Christadelphian ecclesias for over a decade. During the past few years I've also gained an increased awareness of the beliefs and practices of Christians outside Christadelphia. This has occurred through reading books by Christian authors, through interacting with Christian people, and through firsthand experience as I've now been a member of two different Evangelical Christian churches (one non-denominational and one Baptist).

One thing that experience has taught me is that many Christadelphians have a very warped impression of what other Christians are, do and think. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. In the literature and minds of some Christadelphians, Christianity has remained static for the past 160 years while in reality, the Church has undergone important developments during that period. Second, Christadelphians have defined their identity in opposition to the apostate teachings of 'mainstream Christianity'. As such, any information that serves the Christadelphian narrative of a corrupt, apostate Church is accepted and propagated by some Christadelphians uncritically. Third, Christadelphian information about the broader Christian community comes from some dubious sources, such as televangelists, or firsthand reports from Christadelphian converts who have left other churches. (The latter are not necessarily unreliable reports, but one would not expect glowing reports about any religion from those who have left it!)

The misrepresentations of Christianity that remain popular among Christadelphians are unfortunate as they contribute to isolationism where dialogue is sorely needed. I want to draw attention to several myths about 'Christendom' or 'mainstream Christianity' that I have encountered among Christadelphians over the years. The word 'myth' here is used in its popular sense of a widely held but false idea and not in its technical, religious sense.

Myth #1: Mainstream Christianity is Homogeneous

Christadelphian polemical literature and talks distinguish between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, with criticism of the Roman Catholic Church being particularly vitriolic. Occasionally other sects such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are also singled out for criticism. However, one rarely encounters much acknowledgment of the vast diversity that exists under the umbrella of 'Protestantism'. Instead terms like 'mainstream Christianity', 'popular Christianity' and 'Christendom' are thrown around as though this is a homogeneous entity with a distinct set of doctrinal beliefs. In reality, within Protestantism one finds different views on many issues such as the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the means of salvation, the role of free will and election, the destiny of the unsaved, availability of Holy Spirit gifts, the mode and significance of baptism, the doctrine of the atonement, creation and evolution, the existence of miracles, demons and spirits, the structure of church government, the continuing place of natural Israel in God's purpose, the role of women in the church, different styles of worship, homosexuality, the Rapture, the millennium, and the list goes on. 

Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to identify any doctrine or characteristic that is shared unanimously within 'mainstream Christianity' and not by Christadelphians (apart, perhaps, from the Trinity, if one excludes Oneness, Unitarian and biblical unitarian movements from the definition of 'mainstream').

Most of the myths that will be discussed in the following posts are related to this first one, because they are generalizations about a 'mainstream Christianity' which, as a homogeneous entity, does not actually exist!

I believe there have been improvements on this front over the past few decades, as Christadelphians have begun to read more widely and have, in many cases, become more knowledgeable about (and sympathetic toward) at least some other Christian traditions. Nevertheless, this myth that we have a simple choice between 'us' (Christadelphians) or 'them' (mainstream Christianity) persists in some quarters. 

Christadelphians would do well to adapt their understanding of themselves and other Christians to reflect the reality that they are a tiny branch within a very large and diverse tree called Christianity. Some other branches are quite similar to theirs while others are extremely different. It could be that some branches are living and others are dead. However, the tree should be approached with the complexity that it deserves and not oversimplified to give the illusion of a straightforward, black-and-white choice.

13 comments:

Jesse Davis said...

hmm perhaps you have been exposed to more of that than I have been. It's pretty well known that there are a number of different groups, that have believers that believe quite similarly to christadelphians, messianic jews for instance if not to entrenched in the law, often come to the same conclusions that dr thomas did. The Cgaf, Jehovah's witnesses, and sometimes Non-denominational Christians with study, often express viewpoints so close that the only distinctions between the groups are developmental differences in phrasing.
Most of us that speak to other people are well aware of the variety of beliefs, and the fact that there are quite a few people out there studying to understand the scripture, and trying their honest best to be God's people.

I think perhaps on your part the misunderstanding resides, we know very well about the variety of other bible believers, as every discussion we have with someone else the views presented are a little bit different.

Often the reason for lambasting another group resides not in what we actually believe, but rather a few individuals that got into arguments with others outside of our faith, to the point that their personal anger hasn't faded over it yet, people being people, that of course has happened on both sides.

In a nutshell it is why there are also so may hate, and anti-christadelphian sites available on the internet today.

Unknown said...

>>
However, one rarely encounters much acknowledgment of the vast diversity that exists under the umbrella of 'Protestantism'.
>>

True, but this vast diversity makes little difference at the end of the day since they all uphold Trinitarianism as the touchstone of true Christianity. That's the glue which binds them together. Sure they're not truly homogeneous, but they still share a common benchmark for orthodoxy.

And where is the recognition of diversity within Christadelphia by mainstream Christians? They treat us all as a homogeneous group, when in fact Christadelphians are more varied now than we've ever been.

>>
Instead terms like 'mainstream Christianity', 'popular Christianity' and 'Christendom' are thrown around as though this is a homogeneous entity with a distinct set of doctrinal beliefs.
>>

Mainstream Christians use this same terminology (hell, they invented it). If it's OK for them to do this without being accused of sweeping generalisations, how can it not be OK for Christadelphians?

I recognise that most Christadelphians have a limited comprehension of the fundamental differences between various denominations, but there are plenty who do know the differences and have no intention of insinuating that all mainstream Christians are the same when using terms like 'Christendom.'

What term would you prefer Christadelphians to use when referring to mainstream Christendom?

>>
Nevertheless, this myth that we have a simple choice between 'us' (Christadelphians) or 'them' (mainstream Christianity) persists in some quarters.
>>

This is only a myth insofar as it excludes the third option: non-Christadelphian Unitarian churches. Aside from that, how is it not accurate, considering mainstream Christians themselves subscribe to it? And how is the choice *not* simple when so many mainstream Christians continue to insist Christadelphians aren't real Christians?

We can't get jobs in their seminaries (sometimes we can't get any kind of job in any mainstream Christian-owned business at all), we can't preach in their churches, they write books condemning us as an unChristian cult, and they invariably point to Unitarianism as our core heresy.

I think you've taken a legitimate criticism too far. Yes, Christadelphians shouldn't generalise. Yes, Christadelphians need to appreciate the diversity of mainstream Christianity (specifically, mainstream Protestantism). No, mainstream Christianity is not entirely homogeneous. But terms like 'mainstream Christianity' don't imply this in the first place, and mainstream Christians use these terms as well. So where do you go from here?

I think you should have stuck with the observation that not enough Christadelphians understand the full diversity of modern Christianity (specifically, modern Protestantism) and that this too often results in a shotgun approach which severely weakens the credibility of Christadelphian apologetics and polemic.

Dave

Janine Hennig said...

A study of psychology in the area of stereotypes reveals it is common for people in groups to exaggerate similarities within a group while exaggerating differences between groups. What this does is strengthen the group from within but at the cost of limiting its view.

Tom said...

>>>True, but this vast diversity makes little difference at the end of the day since they all uphold Trinitarianism as the touchstone of true Christianity.<<<
I fail to see how this common benchmark for orthodoxy renders the heterogeneity of Protestantism irrelevant, particularly when the Christadelphian benchmark for orthodoxy is significantly broader than one's stance on the Trinitarian/unitarian issue.

>>>And where is the recognition of diversity within Christadelphia by mainstream Christians? They treat us all as a homogeneous group, when in fact Christadelphians are more varied now than we've ever been.<<<
The reality is, most mainstream Christians have never heard of Christadelphians. Furthermore, to my knowledge the BASF, which outlines a very narrow and specific belief system, has remained unchanged for over a century.

>>>Mainstream Christians use this same terminology (hell, they invented it). If it's OK for them to do this without being accused of sweeping generalisations, how can it not be OK for Christadelphians?<<<
It is not the use of terminology that is the issue but the misunderstandings that often lie behind it. Any papering over of theological differences in order to give an illusion of uniformity should be opposed, no matter who is doing it. This is a separate issue from ecumenism, in which Christians acknowledge their differences but are willing to work together in the Lord's vineyard in spite of them (which in my view is admirable).

>>>...there are plenty who do know the differences and have no intention of insinuating that all mainstream Christians are the same when using terms like 'Christendom.'<<<
These then need to be more vocal and educate the rest.

>>>What term would you prefer Christadelphians to use when referring to mainstream Christendom?<<<
I think 'mainstream Christianity' is fine, so long as it isn't spoken of as a homogeneous entity, the one simple alternative to Christadelphianism.

>>>...how is the choice *not* simple when so many mainstream Christians continue to insist Christadelphians aren't real Christians?<<<
It is true that the Trinitarian/unitarian issue is a decisive boundary; however it is not the only one. Suppose a Christadelphian becomes convinced that Jesus pre-existed and is God incarnate. Should that person refrain from joining 'mainstream Christianity' because s/he is not prepared to accept the whole 'mainstream Christianity' package? No, because -- and this is precisely my point -- there is no such thing as the 'mainstream Christianity package' as Christadelphians often depict it.

I grew up being told that there were basically three alternatives: you either accept the mainstream Christianity package (which includes Trinity, souls playing harps in the clouds for eternity, replacement theology/OT no longer matters, the kingdom is the Church and/or is merely a feeling in our hearts, once saved always saved, red devil with pitchfork roasting the damned in hell, baptism is optional, etc.), or you accept the Christadelphian package, or you abandon religion altogether. Sometimes theologically liberal positions about creation, Scripture, morality, etc. are added to the 'mainstream Christian package' to make it even less palatable to theologically conservative Christadelphians. This portrayal of the options persists in many Christadelphian ecclesias but, as you well know, is woefully inaccurate.

It is one thing for Christadelphians to be labelled as unChristian on account of a doctrine they DO hold; it is something else for mainstream Christians en masse to be labelled as unChristian on account of doctrines which plenty of them DO NOT hold.

Anonymous said...

Tom,

This post is much more of an observational subject that your other posts. You yourself state " one would not expect glowing reports about any religion from those who have left it!".

I agree with you that there is great diversity. I personal have meet many Christians with beliefs ranging from large disagreement to almost complete agreement with Christadelphain's beliefs, and in varying combinations of what is disagreed upon. For instance if you disagree with the traditional Christadelphian teaching on Satan and the Devil but agree with everything else, i know of a group (non-christadelphian) very close to me that you could go to.

I was wondering what the main critique was in your post? If is not one of the ones below could you provide a one sentence summary for me.

a) Christadelphains are benignly ignorant of other groups beliefs and would benefit from understanding others and find allies on certain beliefs

b) Christadelphains are purposely ignorant in an attempt to keep people from joining groups similiar to them but having some differences

c)Christadelphains are ignorant of other groups who share many of their beliefs and should do more work together with them in preaching the gospel


In my view, attacking the term "Main Stream Christianity" and it's use, is not helpful in addressing what i think your critique is (ignorance within christadelphian circles as to the existence of groups with varying degrees of agreement or disagreement with the BASF) Main Stream Christianity can be anything you want it to be. It could stand for nothing beyond the does the person self-identify as a Christian, it could stand for the acceptance of the traditional trinity, it could stand for the mean belief among those who define themselves as christian, or it could be the Cathloic church. For many Christadelphains it simply means the most commonly held view that disagrees with what Christadelphains believe the bible teaches, the average opposing view.

What to me is more of an issue is to suggest that other Christians don't read their bible, are not searching for truth, don't lead moral or principled lives, or are bad people. God is the judge of all.

Could you help me to understand your view on the following:

1) Why is it important to understand all of the opposing doctrinal views to the ones you hold?

2)Do you think that the average Christadelphain is more ignorant of differing views between Christian denominations then the average Christian?

Thanks for your feedback








Tom said...

Dear Anonymous,

My post was indeed more observational than polemical, and made the observation about the lack of appreciation in Christadelphia for the heterogeneity of 'mainstream Christianity' without going too deep into why this is problematic.

I think both a) and c) are possible problems that arise out of this. The biggest problem I see is closer to what you've said in b), except that I don't think it's deliberate. Little Johnny growing up in a Christadelphian Sunday School is sometimes presented with a simple choice between the 'Christadelphian package' and the 'mainstream Christian package'. He isn't necessarily made aware that there are more than these two options; for instance there are other 'packages' that have some elements of Christadelphian theology and some elements of more traditional Christian theology. I don't think this is because of any conspiracy to shelter Johnny from reality, I just don't think Christadelphians have been proactive enough in keeping up to date with what's happening in Christianity.

Christadelphians effectively wrote off 'mainstream Christianity' 150 years ago and completely disengaged from it, and have never looked back. Perhaps it's time for a second, and closer, look.

As to your final two questions, perhaps you could rephrase the first one as it's not entirely clear to me. As to the second one, the answer is probably no. However, I think the ignorance is more consequential for Christadelphians because they claim that all of mainstream Christianity is apostate, whereas most Christians today don't view the bulk of Christian denominations other than their own as apostate.

Blessings,
Tom

Anonymous said...

Tom,

I think your comments clarified but let me try to rephrase the question.

If after studying the bible I come to the conclusion that Jesus physically pre-existed and was active in the creation of the earth, what benefit or what importance would it be to me to know that the christadelphians disagreed with that position. I don't see much importance in being able to articulate which groups hold doctrines different than my own.

Do you think it is important to be able to articulate which groups hold which doctrinal views or simply to be aware that there are a broad ranges of views on most doctrinal points?




Anonymous said...

Tom,

Not sure i understand your point about ignorance and apostate. Mainstream Christianity as i mentioned is simply a word used to describe the mean set of beliefs that are opposite to the ones we hold. It is true that we would say that (the doctrine) is apostate. Just as when i present my views to many Christians they tell me we are apostate and not christian.

Is your point that we should have a more open mind and assume that more christians we speak to may have similiar views than we expected?




Tom said...

The latter.

Tom said...

If Christadelphians are teaching their children, "Mainstream Christians believe X, Y and Z which is false doctrine," but in fact some mainstream Christians do not believe X, Y and Z, then negative consequences will result. Christadelphians may bring a certain closed-mindedness to discussions with mainstream Christians. Christadelphians may also have a certain closed-mindedness internally, such as when deciding whether to accept the Christadelphian belief system or explore others.

Suppose I'm a Christadelphian youth, and I'm firmly convinced that heaven-going is a false doctrine, but my mind isn't fully made up on other doctrines. If my perception is that all mainstream Christians believe in heaven-going, then I've already written off mainstream Christianity as a false belief system, and it will appear to me that there's no reasonable option left except the Christadelphian belief system.

By contrast, if I were aware that some mainstream Christians emphasize resurrection to an earthly, bodily existence like Christadelphians do, I might be interested in learning more about those Christians' beliefs concerning other doctrines where my mind isn't yet made up.

So where this myth of homogeneity prevails, there can be this 'domino effect' whereby once a young Christadelphian accepts one Christadelphian doctrine, he thinks by default he's got to accept all of them because he's already rejected 'mainstream Christianity', when in fact he may simply have rejected a doctrine held by SOME mainstream Christians.

I hope this illustration helps to make it clear what the potential negative consequences of this ignorance are.

Fortigurn said...

As long as non-Christadelphian scholarly literature continues to refer to 'mainstream Christian beliefs',[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] Christadelphians are entirely justified in doing the same. If you're not aware of this usage in the literature, you need to read more widely.

Your entire post should have started "I grew up being told", and ended about two sentences later. That's all this post is about, really; you.
_________

[1] Clarke, C. R. (2014). Pentecostal Theology in Africa. Wipf and Stock Publishers.
Harvey, P., & Blum, E. (2012). The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History. Columbia University Press.

[2] Kinney, R. (2012). Jewish Perspectives on Christian Privilege: a Consensual Qualitative Study. Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). Retrieved from http://scholarship.shu.edu/dissertations/1909

[3] Metzger, L. K. (2006). An Existential Perspective of Body Beliefs and Health Assessment. Journal of Religion and Health, 45(1), 130–146. doi:10.1007/s10943-005-9008-3

[4] O’Connor, S., & Vandenberg, B. (2005). Psychosis or Faith? Clinicians’ Assessment of Religious Beliefs. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73(4), 610–616. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.73.4.610

[5] Penman, D. (1987). Comment: Religions in Australia — can they cope with multiculturalism? Journal of Intercultural Studies, 8(1), 55–62. doi:10.1080/07256868.1987.9963312

[6] Siegler, E. (2013). Patrick Q. Mason The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South . By Patrick Q. Mason . New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xi+252. $29.95. History of Religions, 53(2), 221–223. doi:10.1086/673190

[7] Walker, A. C., & Thompson, T. (2009). Muscogee Creek Spirituality and Meaning of Death. OMEGA--Journal of Death and Dying, 59(2), 129–146. doi:10.2190/OM.59.2.c

[8] Williams, D. J. (2009). Deviant Leisure: Rethinking “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Leisure Sciences, 31(2), 207–213. doi:10.1080/01490400802686110

Tom said...

Jonno,

I'm not saying Christadelphians should avoid the term 'mainstream Christian beliefs'. I'm saying rather that Christadelphians need to be aware that there is not a simple choice between two homogeneous and monolithic belief systems, 'mainstream Christianity' and 'Christadelphia'.

As you've noticed, this blog did draw on my personal experiences growing up as a Christadelphian and thinking that 'mainstream Christianity' is a homogeneous, monolithic entity. However, I don't think I'm the only Christadelphian who has been under that misconception, which is why I thought it would be useful to draw attention to it.

EJK said...

Most Christo's attack Christian belief because Christians understand that Jesus pre-existed that he is part of Godhead, that He was "God manifest in the flesh " He was worshiped, and He did not rebuke anyone for that, Thomas called Him God, Thomas was not told off for that by Christ. Jesus said "My Father and I are one" and My Father is in me and I am in my Father".When I read what John Thomas said about Jesus, my mind boggles :" there are not three God's in the Godhead, nor are there three in manifestation, NEVERTHELESS the Father is God and Jesus is God, and we may add, so are all the brethren gods, and a multitude which no man can number. The Godhead is the homogenous fountain of Deity, these other gods are the many streams which from this fountain flow" So trinity a side, Jesus as God was accepted by J.Thomas. Also He said about Christ " because born by Gods Spirit, therefore Jesus, God. A brother wrote to his ecclesia that CD's "are privileged to hold the key of knowledge, to unlock the hidden secrets of the Bible " REALLY, most CD preaching is how good they are in knowledge, and end time prophesy, which many CD's made and those predictions failed miserably. As I see it the biggest problem is the trinity for CD's and that is why they call Christians " unbelievers ". My own experience with Christo's was not pleasant, however I am not going to call them "unbelievers" because they do not believe the way I do.