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Showing posts with label Alexander Campbell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alexander Campbell. Show all posts

Monday 27 December 2021

Baconianism and the Intellectual Origins of the Christadelphian Movement

One cannot properly evaluate a religious movement without understanding its intellectual pedigree. The purpose of this article is to delve into a philosophical and hermeneutical school of thought called Baconianism that rose to prominence in early 19th-century America—especially among restorationists such as Alexander Campbell—and undoubtedly influenced John Thomas, founder of the Christadelphians. At a descriptive level this will hopefully contribute to a better understanding of Christadelphian origins (for Christadelphians and anyone else interested in the movement). At a prescriptive level, the article also offers a critique of Baconianism.

Restorationism was a religious ideal that rose to prominence in the United States in the first half of the 19th century. Although the ideal took many forms, one of the most influential was that of the Stone-Campbell Movement. I have written on this movement elsewhere, but briefly, it was founded by a Scottish Presbyterian minister, Thomas Campbell (1763-1854), and his son Alexander (1788-1866). The two other most influential leaders in the movement were Barton W. Stone (whose movement merged with the Campbells') and Walter Scott. This movement eventually gave rise to several denominations or groups that still exist today, including the Disciples of Christ, Christian churches, Church of Christ, and Christadelphians (whose founder, John Thomas, broke with Campbell and established his own sect in the late 1840s).

The key premises of the "restoration" spearheaded by Alexander Campbell were that (a) the Catholic Church and the Protestant denominations of the day were all apostate, and (b) the antidote was to restore and spread what Campbell called the "ancient gospel and order of things," by attending to the plain truths of the Bible. This would "result in the unity of Christians and the conversion of the world."1

The focus of this article is on the method by which Campbell and his fellow restorationists sought to arrive at true doctrine. This has been called the Baconian hermeneutical2 method because of its conscious indebtedness to Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), an English lawyer and philosopher who is regarded as the father of the scientific method. Before we describe the Baconian theological method, however, we need to provide background on Bacon's philosophy.

Bacon's main contributions on natural philosophy—what might today be called the philosophy of science—came toward the end of his life. He was a kind of scientific restorationist, in that he called for a "Great Instauration," which aimed at a "total reconstruction of the sciences, arts, and all human knowledge, raised upon the proper foundations."3 This restoration was necessitated by deficiencies in the level of knowledge available in his day, in which words often counted more than facts, and superstition and error could easily be perpetuated. If only people used the right methods, Bacon believed, nature could be understood and controlled much better.

Bacon's work Novum Organum was intended to supplant Aristotle's Organum, which represented the traditional account of reasoning in science. The main features of Bacon's method were that it was inductive and experimental.4 It was inductive in the sense that it entailed inferring a general conclusion from particular facts, and experimental in the sense that these facts were to be ascertained from real, practical, systematic experiments. Indeed, Bacon called for new "experimental histories" to be written on almost every area of science as he understood it, creating catalogues of observed phenomena that could then serve as a basis for inductive reasoning. These histories had to be created anew because, in Bacon's judgment, experiments had been undertaken haphazardly in the past, without a view to inducing general principles.

Scottish Common Sense Realism was a philosophy founded by Thomas Reid (1710-1796), a Presbyterian minister and professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow University, where both Thomas and Alexander Campbell studied.5 As Foster explains,
Central to this philosophy was the belief that the data collected by the human senses, when confirmed by the testimony of others, was a reliable source of knowledge. Against the skeptical philosophy of David Hume, Reid insisted that the things humans perceive are the real external objects themselves, not images created by the mind. Through a careful, slow, painstaking process of experimentation and observation, of collecting data and inducing patterns, one could arrive at the facts—theoretically about anything.6
Reid's philosophy revitalised both realism and the inductive method of reasoning. It entailed a radically optimistic view of the observer's objectivity and a favourable view of the inductive approach to learning and science championed by Sir Francis Bacon.7 Baconianism, as articulated by the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy (SCSP), entailed a scrupulous empiricism grounded in confidence in the senses, and inductive control of generalisations by constant reference to "facts".8 As a corollary, "Abstract concepts not immediately forged from observed data have no place in scientific explanation."9

It would be difficult to overstate the influence of SCSP, and Baconianism in particular, on some parts of American Protestantism during the antebellum period.10  As Noll writes,
the Common Sense philosophy has been the sole intellectual tradition for some evangelicals... for these evangelicals most of the functions normally fulfilled by a world view—habits of inquiry, assumptions about the construction and accessibility of truth, attitudes toward certainty and self-reflection—are the product almost exclusively of the Common Sense tradition.11
Allen concurs:
For significant sectors of American Protestantism during this period, Baconianism was held up as the true method for study of both the natural world and the Bible.12

Noll notes that, "As a general rule, when a group professes to live by 'no creed but the Bible,' it is a good indication that it relies consistently, if not necessarily self-consciously, on the Common Sense tradition."13 And this was one of Alexander Campbell's most cherished slogans. "Let the Bible be substituted for all human creeds," he wrote;14 and "We choose to speak of Bible things by Bible words."15 Waers argues that Campbell's appropriation of Scottish Common Sense philosophy was one of the major factors in his rejection of certain Reformed doctrines.16 Equally, Campbell was an enthusiastic admirer of Bacon and his inductive method. He grouped Bacon with Locke and Newton as the three great thinkers of modernity,17 and his movement's first higher education institution was named Bacon College.

Bacon's natural philosophy was at the heart of Campbell's reformation movement. While Bacon had sought a scientific restoration, Campbell sought to employ Bacon's methods in a religious restoration. Having outlined "Lord Bacon's philosophy" of science, Campbell declared, "Now all that we want is to carry the same lesson and the same principle to theology."18 As recent Campbell biographer Douglas Foster puts it, "Campbell would come to rely entirely on the Baconian method to arrive at Christian doctrine".19 In Campbell's theological method, the plain testimony of Scripture provided the "facts" (the data set) from which doctrines (generalisations) could be induced.20 In Allen's words,
In order to bring about 'a restoration of the ancient order of things,' systematic theology was to be rejected and religious discussion confined to the 'plain declarations recorded in the Bible'... In the same way that Bacon wanted to abolish the medieval scholastic theories of science and place science upon an inductive basis, so Campbell wanted to abolish the dogmatic creeds and systems of religion and place Christianity upon an inductive basis.21
Allen notes that the most explicit articulation of this Baconian hermeneutic is found in James S. Lamar's 1860 book The Organon of Scripture.22 Lamar was a graduate of Bacon College and his book received a glowing endorsement from the aged Campbell. For Lamar, the conflict of opposing creeds and doctrines in Christianity was due to "the uncertainty of biblical interpretation," which however was not due either to the ambiguity of the Bible or the depravity or incompetence of its interpreters, but to the use of flawed methods of interpretation.23 What is required, therefore, is "the establishment of an all-comprehensive and pervading method" of biblical interpretation (or "hermeneutical science").24 This is none other than the Baconian method, which he proceeds to explain in great detail. Lamar touts the success of the Baconian method as implemented within the Stone-Campbell reformation:
Their movement, in its incipiency, was a grand and determined effort to burst the bonds of ecclesiastical authority, to separate the Bible from its unholy and unnatural alliance with philosophy, to bring it to bear upon the minds and hearts of men responsible for the reception given to it, and to determine its meaning from its own words, without respect to recognized and consecrated dogmata. Their success is known and read of all... Their sturdy and manly blows battered down the walls which shut out the light of scientific truth, at the same time that they forced the corrupters of the faith to retire from the contest, and leave the Bible in the hands of responsible men in the exercise of common sense.25

 5.1. Hints of Indebtedness to Baconianism

John Thomas (1805-71) was a British medical doctor who emigrated to the United States in 1832. Within a few weeks he had taken up with the Campbells' restoration movement and was baptised by one of its leaders, Walter Scott. By 1834, Thomas had become a protégé of Alexander Campbell and launched his own periodical, The Apostolic Advocate. Within a few years, however, Thomas and Campbell fell out over two issues: Thomas' practice of (re-)baptising Baptists who joined the movement, and Thomas' teaching that death annihilates the human person. The two reconciled but soon fell out again, and by the early 1840s Thomas was persona non grata in many of the movement's churches (though he retained some loyal sympathisers, especially in Virginia). Thomas launched a new periodical, Herald of the Future Age, where in 1847 he published a "Confession and Abjuration," renouncing many of his previous beliefs. Now convinced that Campbell's movement was teaching heresy, he had himself re-baptised and began to enthusiastically spread the gospel as he understood it, both in North America and Great Britain. The result was what would (from 1864 onwards) be known as the Christadelphian community. Thomas continued itinerant preaching, editing the Herald (until 1860),26 and writing books and pamphlets until his death in 1871.

At the beginning of his career as a religious writer, Thomas refers to Bacon when outlining his approach to interpreting the Book of Revelation:
Be it observed, however, that there is not a single speculation in the religion or doctrine of Christ. In my investigation, therefore, I have renounced speculation and substituted, according to the suggestion of lord Bacon, the simple narration of historical facts.27
This is a Baconian statement worthy of Campbell, and suggests that Thomas was basically on board with the movement's SCSP-influenced Baconian hermeneutical programme. Further support for this can be found in Thomas' later writings,28 and he nowhere renounces the programme's basic principles of common-sense interpretation and constructing doctrine inductively.

 5.2. De-Emphasis on Baconian (and all other) Hermeneutics

Despite Thomas' apparent acceptance of Baconianism, his writings differ sharply from Campbell's in the degree of importance assigned to the method. For Campbell, the Baconian method of biblical interpretation was the key to the whole reformation, and if implemented consistently would unlock the door of doctrinal unity among Christians. Therefore he discusses the method frequently and in detail. Thomas seems to have adopted Baconianism, but he very rarely mentions it, or the methodology of biblical interpretation in general. Why is this?

At least three reasons (which are not mutually exclusive) may be suggested. First, the beginning of the restoration movement is usually dated to 1809, when Thomas Campbell published his Declaration and Address. By the time John Thomas joined the movement in 1832, its Baconian hermeneutic was well-established and would have been assumed by most of Thomas' subsequent readers. Moreover, if this hermeneutic were self-evident "common sense," there was no need to defend it or theorise about it; one could just get on with practicing it. Hence, Thomas' relative silence on Baconianism could be attributed to his taking the method for granted.

The second reason is a rhetorical one. Consider the following tension in Campbell's writings. On the one hand, he blames the schisms and parties that have abounded since the Reformation on "philosophy" and "opinions," and calls for "human philosophy" to "be thrown overboard into the sea," substituted by "the Bible only, in word and deed, in profession and practice."29 On the other hand, he is clearly operating within a Scottish Common Sense philosophical framework, and acknowledges his debt to Bacon, Locke, and other philosophers.30 Waers suggests that Campbell did not, or was unable to, see Baconianism as a philosophical theory.31 While Campbell may have missed the irony of using Enlightenment-era philosophy to "restore" ancient Christianity, Thomas may have perceived it. To successfully argue that one is a true "Bible-only" Protestant, one must downplay one's indebtedness to any post-biblical philosophy or hermeneutic. Therefore, by straightforwardly identifying his own interpretations with the "common-sense" or "natural" meaning of the Bible, Thomas could present himself as an independent, objective witness to Christian truth.

The third reason stems from Thomas' schism with Campbell and other schisms in the restoration movement. If all were using the same (Baconian) method of interpretation, and yet were arriving at conflicting doctrines, the method itself must be insufficient. That Thomas thought in such terms is evident from his criticism of disparagement of the hermeneutical training of others, including Alexander Campbell. In assailing Bishop Robert Lowth's translation of Isaiah 18, he writes sarcastically of both Lowth and Campbell,
Yet [Lowth] was profoundly skilled in 'hermeneutics,' at least as much so as any 'bible unionists' of our time, who are making so broad their phylacteries in new translationism, and the laws of exegesis! ... [Campbell] is of course well-skilled in all the settled canons of translation and interpretation sanctioned by the Protestant educated world... [but] what obscurity has he not deepened by his hermeneutics? Pshaw! What are 'canons' worth that reduce prophetic writings to a level with 'an old Jewish almanac?' ... A man may be profoundly skilled in hermeneutics, and yet profoundly incompetent to translate and interpret the Scriptures correctly. He is like one who can name his tools, but knows not how to use them.32
Indeed, Thomas elsewhere dismisses the very term "hermeneutics" as part of a campaign of subterfuge! Commenting on the false knowledge mentioned in 1 Timothy 6:20, he states,
The same thing is styled in our day 'theological science,' 'divinity,' 'ethics,' 'hermeneutics,' and so forth; terms invented to amaze the ignorant, and to impress them with the necessity of schools and colleges for the indoctrination of pious youth in the mysteries they learnedly conceal.33
Elsewhere, Thomas cites biblical passages about the need to be child-like, and about God using the foolish things of the world to confound the wise,34 to argue that hermeneutics and philosophy hinder rather than help the theologian. Indeed, he scolds his former mentor Walter Scott for taking too much interest in Bacon:
Though a very amiable gentleman, Mr. Scott has not yet become 'a little child;' and without this, the Great Teacher saith, we 'cannot enter into the kingdom of the heavens.' Mr. Scott must empty himself of his modern reformers, and the jargon of the schools; he must forget Bacon, Locke, and Logic... his brains are bewildered with analytic and synthetic synopsed until he can see no more; this must all be abandoned. A head under the pressure of all this learned lumber is unfit for the study of 'the word.' The heads of babes and sucklings out of whose mouths the Deity perfecteth praise, are not befuddled with such speculative twaddle. Mr. Scott must cease to ape 'the wise and prudent,' and become as a little child. So skilled in analytic, let him analyze the mentality of a child; and then let him synthesize the elements into a proposition, and conform thereto.35
 5.3. A Common Sense Antihermeneutic

If "hermeneutics" and even "logic" ought to be forgotten, it is clear that for Thomas, neither the Baconian method nor any other method is the way to restore the apostolic order. This reading of Thomas' thought seems to be confirmed by the introduction to Elpis Israel—his evangelistic manifesto, first published in 1848. Thomas does provide information about his approach to the Bible, but he does not lay out his hermeneutic, or even admit to having one. Given this, together with his attacks on "hermeneutics" elsewhere, his hermeneutic would be best described as an antimethodology—defined by Wiktionary as "An approach to study or analysis that eschews the usual methodology, or methodologies in general"36—or antihermeneutic. But how does Thomas propose to interpret the Bible if "hermeneutics" are off the table?

Elpis Israel makes clear that, for Thomas, the only way to arrive at religious truth is to know "the true meaning of the Bible."37 However, there is an evil conspiracy at work: "the human mind has developed the organisation of a system of things impiously hostile to the institutions and wisdom of Jehovah"38; its name is "MYSTERY" and it is none other than Catholic and Protestant Christendom. To arrive at biblical truth, therefore, one must 
Cast away to the owls and to the bats the traditions of men, and the prejudices indoctrinated into thy mind by their means; make a whole burnt offering of their creeds, confessions, catechisms, and articles of religion... Let us repudiate their dogmatisms; let us renounce their mysteries; and let us declare our independence of all human authority in matters of faith and practice extra the word of God.39
Having jettisoned all ecclesiastical dogma and tradition and begun anew with a blank slate, the individual must "Search the scriptures with the teachableness of a little child," believing nothing but what can be "demonstrated by the grammatical sense of the scriptures."40 The virtues that maximise the chances of correctly interpreting the Bible are "humility, teachableness, and independence of mind," and diligent seeking.41 In his other major work, Eureka, Thomas asks a rhetorical question that captures his common-sense antihermeneutic succinctly: "Suppose a man of common sense...study only the sacred books, is it not conceivable that he may acquire a competent, nay, even an eminent knowledge of the scriptures?"42 

Thus, for Thomas, the ingredients for sound doctrine are nothing more than the Bible itself and common sense, exercised with independence, humility, and diligence. One should not fail to notice the Baconian flavour of this antihermeneutic: dumping creeds and dogmas and limiting oneself to what is demonstrable from the grammatical sense of Scripture as adjudicated by common sense are axiomatic in Baconianism. However, Thomas does not place any emphasis or trust in a method. The locus of common sense interpretation is not the method (as with Lamar) but the interpreter. Common sense is a high virtue, and one that ironically—as Thomas writes elsewhere—"is common only to the few."43

Before concluding, we will offer a critique of the Baconian hermeneutic, as espoused by the restoration movement and as practiced (more as an antihermeneutic) by John Thomas. The critique of Baconianism consists of three main points. First, it failed to deliver on its promise of producing doctrinal uniformity among Christians. Second, it failed to recognise important differences between natural science and textual hermeneutics. Third, it is fundamentally anachronistic and foreign to the theological method of the early church.

 6.1. Failure to Deliver Doctrinal Unity

While the young Alexander Campbell was optimistic that application of the Baconian method to biblical interpretation would usher in a golden age of Christian unity, his life's work was in fact beset by "constant and unrelenting conflicts with opponents and colleagues alike".44 Instead of putting an end to denominational sectarianism in Christianity, the restoration simply added more denominations to the list: "in a movement long marked by theological and cultural rifts, the outcome finally was a bitter fundamentalist/modernist controversy and permanent division."45 Foster's biography of Campbell devotes an eight-chapter section to "Defense and Conflict," describing bitter doctrinal disagreements between Campbell and others both inside and outside of his movement.46

Similarly, the young James Lamar was almost triumphal in his book The Organon of Scripture about the Baconian hermeneutic's potential to put an end to doctrinal disagreement. However, 
The intellectual and spiritual odyssey of James S. Lamar from the 1850s to 1900 reflects his increasing disillusionment with the Baconian method as a tool to bring about Alexander Campbell's goal of unity through restoration of the 'ancient order.'47
Lamar would live to see the definitive split of the Stone-Campbell Movement into two denominations, the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ, in 1906. Thus, Baconianism failed to deliver the uniformity of doctrine that its proponents sought. And the reason for this probably lies in our next criticism of the method: its downplaying of subjectivity. 

 6.2. (Mis-)Application of a Scientific Method to Biblical Interpretation

Bacon developed his inductive method for the natural sciences, and in this discipline there is some plausibility in the idea of assembling a set of experimental "facts" and reasoning inductively to a conclusion.48 However, when Campbell and others argued for using the same method to construct Christian doctrine, they were overlooking the vast differences between natural sciences and biblical hermeneutics. Notwithstanding the best efforts of Joseph Smith,49 the biblical "data set" is static and cannot be augmented through experimentation. Moreover, "the facts" in the case of a scientific data set typically involve precise measurement of numerical quantities (e.g., temperature, volume, etc.) With good instrumentation, measurement error will be negligible. Assembling "the facts" from the Bible is a far thornier affair: it entails translating and interpreting ancient texts. Translation is not just a matter of "common sense"; it is a complex, multi-faceted task. It requires, inter alia, reconstructing the original text as closely as possible (textual criticism), choosing the degree of formal or dynamic equivalence desired, resolving syntactic and semantic ambiguities, and adding punctuation. Translation already entails a degree of interpretation, but even exegetes who agree on the translation of a text may differ radically on its meaning and theological significance. In short, Scripture is nothing like a simple set of "facts" on which induction can be performed. Hence, the Baconian hermeneutic greatly exaggerates interpreters' objectivity and tempts them to equate their own disputable opinions with "the facts." As Allen summarises:
[James Lamar] seems never to have been struck by the deep irony that marked the movement almost from its inception—the irony of claiming to overturn all human traditions and interpretive schemes while at the same time being wedded to an empirical theological method drawn from early Enlightenment thought. By virtually denying the necessity of human interpretation and the inevitable impact of extra-biblical ideas and traditions, the Disciples allowed their interpretive traditions to become all the more entrenched for being unrecognized.50
 6.3. The Irony of "Restoring" Ancient Christianity Using Enlightenment-Era Philosophy

The third problem is even more fundamental. Baconianism is rooted in the philosophy of Bacon in the 17th century and Reid in the 18th. How could modern philosophy restore primitive Christianity? Or how could the apostolic order be recovered using a hermeneutic that post-dates the apostles by over 1500 years?51 The question answers itself. And if the Baconian approach entails "calling Bible things by Bible names," what is the Bible's name for the Baconian method? Is it not an extrabiblical imposition from human philosophy—the very sort of thing that "Bible only" Protestants seek to abolish from theology?

A defender of Baconianism might respond that the method need not be explained in Scripture because it is accessible to all by common sense. However, if that were the case, we should expect it to have been used in the early church (unless common sense is a modern invention!) Let us look at the thought of Irenaeus of Lyons (writing c. 180 A.D.) as a test case. Irenaeus is a good example because he is one of the Church's earliest "biblical theologians." Notably, he is the earliest extant writer to use the terms "Old Testament" and "New Testament" to refer to portions of the biblical canon and to defend four as the complete number of canonical gospels.

If Irenaeus were Baconian in his hermeneutic, we would expect him to construct his theology by assembling "facts"—various statements in Scripture—and combining them inductively into doctrines. To use John Thomas' language, we would expect him to be independent of any dogmatic traditions or ecclesiastical authority and to rely only on what is demonstrable directly from Scripture.

Instead, Irenaeus introduces his famous summary of Christian doctrine, the rule of faith, thus: "The church, dispersed throughout the world to the ends of the earth, received from the apostles and their disciples the faith" (Against Heresies 1.10.1).52 Similarly, in his other surviving work, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, he introduces the Christian faith with the words, "So, faith procures this for us, as the elders, the disciples of the apostles, have handed down to us."53 Thus Irenaeus regards "the elders, disciples of the apostles" as an authoritative source of doctrine.

Opposing the Gnostic heretics, Irenaeus explains in what the true Gnosis (knowledge) consists:
This is true Gnosis: the teaching of the apostles, and the ancient institution of the church, spread throughout the entire world, and the distinctive mark of the body of Christ in accordance with the succession of bishops, to whom the apostles entrusted each local church, and the unfeigned preservation, coming down to us, of the scriptures, with a complete collection allowing for neither addition nor subtraction; a reading without falsification and, in conformity with the scriptures, an interpretation that is legitimate, careful, without danger or blasphemy. (Against Heresies, 4.33.8)
Notice that Irenaeus stresses the importance of the Scriptures and their correct interpretation, but in the same breath acknowledges the importance of apostolic succession for preserving the teaching of the apostles in the Church. Hence, once can recognise heretics precisely by their independence from ecclesiastical authority:
This is why one must hear the presbyters who are in the church, those who have the succession from the apostles, as we have shown, and with the succession in the episcopate have received the sure spiritual gift of truth according to the good pleasure of the Father. As for all the others who are separate from the original succession, in whatever place they gather, they are suspect. They are heretics with false doctrine or schismatics full of pride and audacity and self-willed or, again, hypocrites looking only for gain and vainglory. (Against Heresies, 4.26.2)
These few quotations suffice to show that the Baconian hermeneutic is at odds with the theology of Irenaeus of Lyons. One might argue that Irenaeus had already apostatised from biblical truth, despite being only two degrees separated from the apostles (in his youth he heard Polycarp teach, who was taught by John).54 But if this were the case, what evidence can be brought forth to show that other early Christian writers sought to practice a Baconian theological method?

 6.4. Other Problems with John Thomas' Antihermeneutic

The above criticisms apply to John Thomas to the extent that he, too, applied the Baconian method. Thomas, however, merits further criticism for what we have termed his antihermeneutic. Thomas scoffed at "hermeneutics" and "logic" and conflated his own philosophical and methodological presuppositions with "common sense." In his optimism for common sense, Thomas was a man of his times. It was nonetheless breathtakingly naïve for Thomas to dismiss logic and hermeneutics, as though he were not using them himself. Here is a certainty: every theologian uses logic and hermeneutics, which are simply the theory and method of reasoning and interpretation respectively. The one who denies using them merely surrenders much of his capacity for intellectual self-examination and correction. Forthrightness about one's methods and presuppositions is far better than hiding behind the nebulous rule of "common sense."

One person's common sense differs from her neighbour's; Thomas himself wrote (cited earlier) that common sense was "common only to the few." He adds other virtues that enhance the interpreter's chances of success, such as independence, humility, teachableness, and diligence. As correct interpretation is made a function of personal virtues rather than methods and rules of interpretation, objectivity recedes further. Are we sinful human beings well qualified to judge the humility, teachableness, and diligence of ourselves and others? It is no surprise that subsequent Christadelphian writers extolled John Thomas' intellectual virtues and suggested that a restoration of apostolic truth probably would not have happened but for his remarkable attributes.55

The notion that "independence" is a virtue in theologians is, as noted above, totally at odds with the worldview of early Church Fathers like Irenaeus, being instead a characteristic Irenaeus assigns to the heretics he opposes. Indeed, independence and humility seem to be self-contradictory, since the virtue of humility entails submission to legitimate authority, including ecclesiastical (see, e.g., Heb. 13:17). As parents, if our children disregard our rules and make up their own, do we reward them for "independence" or discipline them for disobedience?

In this writer's experience, John Thomas' antihermeneutic legacy lives on in that Christadelphians generally show little interest in, or even acknowledgment of, their movement's intellectual roots. Very little "critical history" of Christadelphian origins has emerged from within the movement;56 Christadelphian historiography has been largely hagiographical. This stands in marked contrast to the wider Stone-Campbell tradition, which has produced voluminous critical research into its own intellectual origins.
Regardless of whether one believes that the Christadelphian belief system is true or not, it does not help anyone when the philosophical presuppositions and hermeneutical methods that gave rise to it go unrecognised and continue to be conflated, in early-19th-century fashion, with "common sense." There is a sector of Christadelphians who have, in recent years, sought to bring Christadelphian theology into conversation with contemporary biblical scholarship. Hopefully, this article may inspire similar scholarly engagement in the matter of Christadelphian history. Even if not, I hope it contributes to the reader's understanding of the Christadelphian movement.
  • 1 Douglas A. Foster, Alexander Campbell (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020), 59-60.
  • 2 The term "hermeneutics" refers to the theory and methods of interpretation of texts, especially the Bible.
  • 3 Barry Gower, Scientific Method: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction (London: Taylor & Francis, 1997), 41. The description of Bacon's method here is largely based on Gower.
  • 4 Gower, Scientific Method, 52.
  • 5 Richard M. Tristano, The Origins of the Restoration Movement: An Intellectual History (Atlanta: Glenmary Research Center, 1998), 20-21.
  • 6 Foster, Alexander Campbell, 36-37
  • 7 Tristano, Origins of the Restoration Movement, 20-21.
  • 8 Tristano, Origins of the Restoration Movement, 21
  • 9 Tristano, Origins of the Restoration Movement, 21
  • 10 For those unfamiliar with the term, "antebellum" means "before the war" and refers here to the decades that preceded the American Civil War (1861-65).
  • 11 Mark A. Noll, "Common Sense Traditions and American Evangelical Thought," American Quarterly 37 (1985): 233.
  • 12 C. Leonard Allen, "Baconianism and the Bible in the Disciples of Christ: James S. Lamar and 'The Organon of Scripture,'" Church History 55 (1986): 67.
  • 13 Noll, "Common Sense Traditions," 234.
  • 14 A Connected View of the Principles and Rules by which the Living Oracles May Be Intelligibly and Certainly Interpreted (Bethany, VA: M'Vay & Ewing, 1835), 106.
  • 15 The Christian System in Reference to the Union of Christians and a Restoration of Primitive Christianity as Plead in the Current Reformation (Pittsburgh: Forrester & Campbell, 1840), 125.
  • 16 Stephen Waers, "Common Sense Regeneration: Alexander Campbell on Regeneration, Conversion, and the Work of the Holy Spirit," Harvard Theological Review 109 (2016): 612.
  • 17 "Their writings have done more for the world than all the rhetoricians of two thousand years" (The Millennial Harbinger 5 [1834]: 622); "History records no more illustrious names than those of Bacon, Locke, and Newton" (The Millennial Harbinger 7 [1836], 247).
  • 18 The Christian Baptist 6 (1828): 227. Similarly, "Since the days of Bacon our scientific men have adopted the practical and truly scientific mode...We plead for the same principle in the contemplation of religious truth... By inducing matter by every process to give out its qualities, and to deduce nothing from hypothesis; so religious truth is to be deduced from the revelation which the deity has been pleased to give to man" ("Speculation in Religion," The Christian Baptist 4 [1827]: 241).
  • 19 Foster, Alexander Campbell, 38. Allen concurs: "The evidence is strong that Alexander Campbell appropriated Scottish Baconianism to a considerable degree and employed it in the service of his primitivist theology" ("Baconianism and the Bible," 69).
  • 20 "The Bible is a book of facts, not of opinions, theories, abstract generalities, nor of verbal definitions." (The Christian System, 18).
  • 21 "Baconianism and the Bible," 68-70.
  • 22 The Organon of Scripture, Or, The Inductive Method of Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co, 1860).
  • 23 Lamar, The Organon of Scripture, 24; cf. Allen, "Baconianism and the Bible," 73.
  • 24 Lamar, The Organon of Scripture, 25.
  • 25 Lamar, The Organon of Scripture, 130-31.
  • 26 The name changed to Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come from 1851. The periodical was discontinued due to the American Civil War and was not reprised thereafter.
  • 27 "Observations on the Apocalypse," The Apostolic Advocate 1 (1834): 197.
  • 28 For instance, in 1852, Thomas favourably quotes another British physician's views on the subject of "the investigation of the truth"; that physician was advocating that the Baconian inductive method be applied in biblical interpretation, as in natural science, so that the uniformity of belief enjoyed in science would also be enjoyed in religion ("The Bible Doctrine concerning the Tempter Considered, No. 1," Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come 2 [1852]: np. The quotation is from an unpaginated transcription available here.). In 1858, Thomas includes the following "selection" in his periodical: "Our duty in reference to knowledge in general is to observe facts, rather than to form hypotheses; to go on, as Bacon teaches, in the modest accumulation of positive data, aware that there are eternal truths, whatever may come of your opinions" (Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come 8 [1858]: 47).
  • 29 The Christian System, 5-6, 127.
  • 30 "When I begin to think of my debts of thought, I see an immense crowd of claimants...Euclid, and Locke, and Bacon, and Newton, and ten thousand others cast an eye upon me." ("Letter to William Jones," The Millennial Harbinger 6 [1835]: 304.)
  • 31 "It should be noted here that Campbell often inveighed against the use of any theories, philosophical or otherwise, when interpreting scripture. Campbell did not seem to lump his use of SCSP into this category of theorization. For him, the SCSP understanding of the human mind was self-evident and therefore not theoretical or speculative. Perhaps we could say that he was unable to see beyond its horizons. Campbell thought that Francis Bacon corrected the fanciful speculations into which philosophy had declined prior to his time. Because Bacon’s inductive method was so important to SCSP, it is likely that Campbell saw his adoption of SCSP as combatting speculation and theorization"("Common Sense Regeneration," 613 n. 8).
  • 32 Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come 3 (1853): np. The quotation is from an unpaginated transcription available here.
  • 33 Eureka: An Exposition of the Apocalypse, 3 vols. (Adelaide: Logos, originally published 1861), 1:198.
  • 34 For instance, at the end of his above-mentioned series on Isaiah, where he argues that it foretells contemporary political events involving Russia, he writes, "Paul gloried in his weakness; and so do we. If one so weak as our stupid self can make 'the most difficult passage of Isaiah' so intelligible and plain, how blind must they be, who with all their classical, theological, hermeneutic, erudition, and 'logic,' can give no better sense to this portion of the word than the translators so often named in this! So true is it, that 'God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.'" Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come 3 (1853): np. The quotation is from an unpaginated transcription available here.
  • 35 "Scotto-Campbellism Reviewed," Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come 10 (1860): 60.
  • 36 This term has been used elsewhere for the hermeneutic of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), women's rights activist and author of The Woman's Bible, where she "she calls on her readers to 'be guided by their own unassisted common sense' (2:159) and to read the 'unvarnished texts' of the Scriptures 'in plain English' (1:8) and 'in harmony with science, common sense, and the experience of mankind in natural laws' (1:20)" (Carolyn A. Haynes, Divine Destiny: Gender and Race in Nineteenth-Century Protestantism [Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998], 146). Haynes comments, "Such an exegetical methodology (or antimethodology) is in keeping with the Common Sense school and with fundamentalist hermeneutical practices."
  • 37 Elpis Israel (Findon: Logos Publications, 1866/2000), 3.
  • 38 Elpis Israel, 4.
  • 39 Elpis Israel, 5, 8.
  • 40 Elpis Israel, 5-6.
  • 41 Elpis Israel, 6, 8-9.
  • 42 Eureka, 1:341. The ellipsis reads, "perfectly unacquainted with all the learned lore of Ammonius." In context, Thomas is criticising Origen's reliance on the Neoplatonist philosopher Ammonius in his theological method. However, the broader question obtained by removing this ellipsis certainly characterises Thomas' approach to Scripture in general.
  • 43 "A Few First Principles of Common Sense," Apostolic Advocate 2 (1835): 229.
  • 44 Foster, Alexander Campbell, 254.
  • 45 Allen, "Baconianism and the Bible," 80.
  • 46 Foster, Alexander Campbell, 151-272. Conflicts of a doctrinal nature involving Campbell included the clash with John Thomas over "re-immersion" and the immortality of the soul, clashes with Barton W. Stone over the Trinity and Christology, and conflict with a minister named Jesse B. Ferguson over universalism and spiritualism. The conflicts with Thomas and Ferguson ended with schisms.
  • 47 "Baconianism and the Bible," 79.
  • 48 It should be noted, however, that Baconian inductivism has been out of favour since the later 19th century even as a scientific method.
  • 49 The founder of the Latter-Day Saints movement ("Mormons").
  • 50 "Baconianism and the Bible," 79.
  • 51 One might argue that the New Testament writers themselves used an anachronistic hermeneutic in that they often interpreted the Old Testament Christologically and not according to the grammatical-historical sense. However, the early church read the Scriptures Christologically because its worldview had been radically realigned by the Christ-event. Did the Bacon-event really warrant another hermeneutical revolution?.
  • 52 All translations from Against Heresies are taken from Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons (London: Routledge, 1997).
  • 53 John Behr, On the Apostolic Preaching: Translated and with an Introduction (Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997), 42.
  • 54 A reader interested in exploring the early Church Fathers further may wish to consult works such Jimmy Akin's The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church (El Cajon: Catholic Answers Press, 2010) or (for a more academic treatment) William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (3 vols; Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1979).
  • 55 "Dr Thomas was fitted by natural qualification for the great work achieved by his hand. His intellect was a fine balance between perception and reflection, adapting him for full and accurate observation and correct reasoning, while a scientific education brought out those powers to the fullest advantage... The Doctor was a remarkable man, and was the instrument of a remarkable work, which required strongly-marked characteristics for its accomplishment... firstly, a clear, well-balanced, scientific intellect, and a non-emotional, executive nature, enabling him to reason accurately, and perceive and embrace conclusions in the teeth of prejudice and sentiment; secondly, self-reliance and an independence almost to the point of eccentricity, disposing him to think and act without reference to any second person, and if need be, in opposition to friend as well as foe; thirdly, a predominating conscientiousness impelling him in the direction of right and duty; and fourthly, great boldness and fluency of speech which qualified him for the enunciation of the truth discovered in the face of the world in arms... To a man of different characteristics, the work would probably have been impossible. Dr. Thomas possessed a combination of traits that enabled him to persevere in his course whatever difficulties had to be faced... such, in brief, is the history of that application of his mental powers to Scripture study and polemics which, in the wisdom of God, has uncovered the oracles of divine truth from the mass of ignorance and misinterpretation which for centuries overlaid and obscured them'" (Robert Roberts, Dr Thomas: His Life and Work (web version); "The peculiar mental and moral organisation of Dr. Thomas admirably fitted him for the work he accomplished. His sterling honesty, great faith, resolute will, utter disregard of human opinion, and what seemed a reckless independence of leadership of men, enabled him to do a work that would have failed under other conditions" (L. B. Welch, "The Recovered Truth in the Latter Days," The Christadelphian 31 [1894]: 144-48).
  • 56 A site search of the online archives of two Christadelphian magazines (The Christadelphian Tidings and Testimony) yields no content devoted to the influence of Scottish Common Sense Philosophy or Baconianism on Christadelphian origins.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

The Spirit-Word, then and now: A history of Christadelphian hyper-cessationism

An overview of Christadelphian pneumatology

This article looks at Christadelphian pneumatology, i.e. the Christadelphian doctrine of the Holy Spirit, from a historical point of view (as opposed to an exegetical or theological point of view). Note that the article is not as long as it looks: some of the footnotes are very lengthy and take up a lot of space at the bottom.

Both the Roman Catholic1 and Reformed2 traditions affirm the ongoing, direct activity of the Holy Spirit in the world. Some key areas of this activity are held to be (i) enabling people's hearts to receive the gospel; (ii) enabling spiritual and moral development of believers; (iii) enabling correct interpretation of Scripture. In the case of (iii), Roman Catholics regard the Spirit as active mainly at the macro Church level through the Magisterium, whereas Protestants regard the Spirit as active mainly at the individual level.3

In Evangelical circles, the debate continues between cessationists (who affirm that charismata such as tongues, prophecy and healings have ceased) and continuationists or charismatics (who affirm that such manifestations of the Holy Spirit are still available today). However, the most zealous Evangelical defenders of cessationism, such as John MacArthur,4 ardently affirm the present work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers.

What is the Christadelphian pneumatology, or doctrine of the Holy Spirit? From an ontological standpoint, Christadelphians reject the orthodox position that the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity.5 However, our focus here is functional: what do Christadelphians teach about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church (or Ecclesia, to use Christadelphian terminology)?

The BASF6 has little explicitly to say about this question. It rejects the doctrine 'that a man cannot believe without possessing the Spirit of God'.7 This seems to deny a direct role for the Holy Spirit in conversion, and would prevent Christadelphians from fellowship with Catholics and most Protestants even if all other doctrinal differences were resolved. Indeed, in view of this article, it is difficult to see how a Christadelphian who came to believe in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers today could remain in fellowship. Passages such as Rom. 8:9 and 1 Cor. 12:3, if they refer to such indwelling, teach that which the BASF explicitly rejects.

Other than this, the only mentions of the Spirit in the BASF are in relation to God's attribute of omnipresence8 and in relation to the earthly life of Jesus.9 Nothing is said about the Holy Spirit's work in individual believers or the Ecclesia/Church as a whole.10 The BASF is a very brief outline of Christadelphian theology, so one could not argue from its silence that Christadelphians see no role for the Holy Spirit in the Ecclesia/Church. Nevertheless, complete silence on a subject regarded as vital to Christian life by most denominations certainly says something about Christadelphian theological priorities. By the letter of the BASF, one could deny that the Holy Spirit had ever been poured out at Pentecost and still remain in fellowship with Christadelphians!11

One can gain a better idea of traditional Christadelphian teaching about the present role of the Holy Spirit by consulting the writings of the two most influential founders of the Christadelphian movement: Dr. John Thomas and his protégé Robert Roberts. As we shall see, they teach a much more radical cessation of Holy Spirit activity than that taught by Evangelical cessationists. Hence, traditional Christadelphian pneumatology can aptly be termed 'hyper-cessationism'.12

Dr. John Thomas

The quotation below comes from a debate between Dr. Thomas and a Presbyterian minister which took place in 1837. This was still a decade before Dr. Thomas' final baptism, which would seem to represent the formal beginning of the Christadelphian movement. Nevertheless, this debate was published in 1872 with a glowing preface by Robert Roberts, and the passage below was quoted favourably a century later by Graham Pearce in his book The Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit Gifts. There does not seem to be evidence that Dr. Thomas' position changed from the following:
If the sacred Scriptures are able to make us wise, we need no other instrumentality. The Holy Spirit by the word, without infusing a single idea into it more than it actually and ordinarily contains, and without any collateral influence, teaches us all wisdom and knowledge that is necessary.13
Evidently Dr. Thomas restricted the teaching function of the Holy Spirit to the production of Scripture. The same is true of the converting function of the Holy Spirit. In a fictional dialogue entitled Clerical Theology Unscriptural (apparently first published in 1850),14 Dr. Thomas has Boanerges, the interlocutor representing his viewpoint, offer the following interpretation of the 'renewing of the Holy Spirit' (Titus 3:5):
His Spirit is His power by which He effects intellectual, moral, and physical results. When He wills to produce intellectual and moral effects, it is by knowledge revealed by His Spirit through the prophets and apostles. This knowledge becomes power when received into “good and honest hearts”... The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles were the channels through which it was transmitted to mankind; and the spirit the agent by which the knowledge was conveyed to them. Hence, the knowledge or the truth being suggested to the prophets by the spirit is sometimes styled “the spirit” (Rom. ii. 20). The spirit is to the truth as cause and effect; and by a very common figure of speech, the one is put for the other in speaking of them relatively to the mind and heart of man. So that the phrase “renewed by the holy spirit” is equivalent to renewed by the belief of the truth testified by the Holy Spirit (John xv. 26: xiv. 13-14).15
Here, Dr. Thomas divides the effects of the Holy Spirit on people into three categories: intellectual, moral, and physical. In the case of the former two, he again restricts the function of the Holy Spirit to the production of Scripture.16 No divine help is available for the interpretation of Scripture; it is apparently left to the individual to ensure he has a 'good and honest heart' and so arrives at a correct understanding. As to physical effects, Dr. Thomas has the other interlocutor, Heresian, ask, 'But doth the Spirit of God exert no physical energy upon man in his regeneration?' Boanerges replies: 'Certainly it does but not in the renewal of his character. It will operate physically upon “the new creature in Christ Jesus,” when through Jesus it raises him from the dead (2 Cor. iv. 14).' Heresian then comprehends, to Boanerges' approval, that
regeneration is not an instantaneous mesmeric action upon an immortal soul; but a process beginning with the truth understood and believed, and ending with the resurrection of the believer from the dead
Hence, Dr. Thomas denies that the Holy Spirit exercises any direct influence on the believer in this life. It exercises an indirect intellectual and moral influence due to its role in the production of Scripture, and will exercise a direct physical influence at the Resurrection of the Dead. As he writes in Elpis Israel, 'The Holy Spirit does not renew the heart of man as He renews the mortal body, when through Jesus He raises it from the dead. In this case, the power is purely physical. But when the heart is the subject of renewal, it is by the knowledge of the written testimony of God, or the word.17

What is remarkable about Elpis Israel, given that it was Dr. Thomas' main work of systematic theology, is the paucity of its teaching about the Holy Spirit. A search for the exact phrase 'Holy Spirit' yields only 23 occurrences (by comparison, the phrase occurs 89 times in the NASB New Testament). Of these, ten are in direct quotations from Scripture, six are in passing references narrating biblical events, and three are in usage of the baptismal formula from Matt. 28:19. Of the four remaining cases, two refer to practices of which Dr. Thomas is critical,18 and only two contain affirmative teaching about the function of the Holy Spirit.19 A search for the phrase 'Spirit of God' yields little more. Some ontological teaching on the Spirit is present, focusing on its relationship to God's person and creation, and its relationship to the resurrection.20 However, Dr. Thomas has remarkably little to say about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Ecclesia/Church, past or present. Pneumatological language largely dissolves into terminology concerning Scripture and the human intellect: 'word', 'truth', 'knowledge', etc. For all practical purposes, Dr. Thomas reduces pneumatology to a facet of his doctrine of Scripture.

Dr. Thomas also apparently authored a work entitled The Holy Spirit not a present possession, but I have not been able to obtain access to this.

Robert Roberts

In his best-known work of core doctrine, Christendom Astray, Robert Roberts discusses the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit, at some length in a chapter on 'God, Angels, Jesus Christ, and the Crucifixion'. His main concerns are ontological. He defines the spirit of God as 'an actual element in universal creation', which is none other than electricity!21 'Holy Spirit' is defined as 'Spirit concentrated under the Almighty's will... as distinct from spirit in its free, spontaneous form.'22 Apparently, then, the Holy Spirit is a special, divine use of electricity. Of 'this form of the Spirit's manifestation', Roberts starkly states, 'It is given to none in the present day.'23 After describing its outpouring and supernatural effects in the apostles' time, and arguing for its necessity for their work, he proceeds to argue for its redundancy in the post-apostolic period. Quoting Eph. 4:11-14,24 he takes 'until' in v. 13 to refer to the post-apostolic period:
This is perfectly intelligible: If the early churches, consisting of men and women fresh from the abominations and immoralities of heathenism, and without the authoritative standard of the completed Scripture which now exists, had been left to the mere power of apostolic tradition intellectually received, they could not have held together. The winds of doctrine, blowing about through the activity of "men of corrupt minds," would have broken them from their moorings, and they would have been tossed to and fro in the billows of uncertain and conflicting report and opinion, and finally stranded in hopeless shipwreck. This catastrophe was prevented by the gifts of the spirit. Properly qualified men, as to moral and intellectual parts, were made the repositories of these gifts, and empowered to "speak and exhort, and rebuke with all authority." They "ruled" the communities over which they were placed, feeding the flock of God over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind, neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock (Acts 20v28; 1 Peter 5v2,3). In this way the early churches were built up and edified. The work of the apostles was conserved, improved, and carried to a consummation. The faith was completed and consolidated by the voice of inspiration speaking through the spiritually-appointed leaders of the churches. By this means the results of gospel-preaching in the first century, when there were no railways, telegraphs, or other means of a rapid circulation of ideas, instead of evaporating to nothing, as, otherwise, they would have done, were secured and made permanent, both as regards that generation and succeeding centuries. But it must be obvious that the case stands very differently now. There is no manifestation of the Spirit in these days. The power of continuing the manifestation doubtless died with the apostles; not that God could not have transferred it to others, but that He selected them as the channels of its bestowment in their age, and never, so far as we have any evidence, appointed "successors." There are many who claim to be their successors; but it is not the word but the power of a man that must be taken as the test in this matter. Let those who think they have the Spirit produce their evidences. There is a great outcry about the Holy Spirit in popular preaching; but nothing more. There are phenomena which are considered outpourings of the Holy Spirit; but they bear no resemblance to those of apostolic experience, and, therefore, must be rejected. They are explicable on natural principles... The result of an intelligent apprehension of what the word of God teaches and requires, is different from this; this [result] has its seat in the judgment, and lays hold of the entire mental man, creating new ideas and new affections, and, in general, evolving a new man. In this work, the Spirit has no participation, except in the shape of the written word. This is the product of the Spirit - the ideas of the Spirit reduced to writing by the ancient men who were moved by it. It is, therefore, the instrumentality of the Spirit, historically wielded the sword of the Spirit by a metaphor which contemplates the Spirit in prophets and apostles in ancient times, as the warrior... The present days are barren days, as regards the Spirit's direct operations.25
On another occasion, quoted on the Christadelphian Research website, a reader of The Christadelphian magazine (1893) posed a question about the Holy Spirit to which Robert Roberts, as Editor, responded. The question was essentially this. Petitionary prayer presupposes the hope that God will directly intervene (through His Spirit) in response to the request, e.g. for comfort, strength, or guidance. If it is only through the written Word that the Holy Spirit is available today, what is the point of petitionary prayer? The question concludes:
If it is only through the Word and by our own effort such prayers are answered, why do we not go to the Word at once, and use our own effort?  What faith or reason can there be in such prayers if we do not receive the Spirit?
Roberts' answer to the question proceeds thus. He reiterates that God is silent today; He does not speak, and the manifestation of 'the gift of His Spirit' 'has now lapsed'. Those 'who profess to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit' are mistaken. He then asks whether God is therefore 'unregardful of those upon the earth' who seek Him today? No, he replies, emphasizing that 'we may draw nigh [in prayer] from day to day with full assurance of heart' and that 'In His response to these advances, He will work by His Spirit; but in what way we know not; we cannot know; we need not care to know'. It appears that Roberts is not prepared to say that God works by His Holy Spirit in response to prayer today.26 However, this would seem to follow from his definition of the Holy Spirit: a response to prayer would necessarily be 'Spirit concentrated under the Almighty's will... as distinct from spirit in its free, spontaneous form'.

Roberts further emphasizes, 'But in all this, God is the worker. Man is the subject, without possessing in himself the Spirit of God as it was in the apostles'. In contrast, he claims, 'When God granted the gift of His Spirit, the Spirit was in the control of those who received it'. The implicit claim seems to be that God was not the worker when the apostles did things by the Holy Spirit! Roberts appears to be creating this distinction to avoid a contradiction in his position: he claims on the one hand that 'There is no manifestation of the Spirit in these days' and on the other hand that God works today 'by His Spirit' in a way 'we cannot know' in response to petitionary prayer.

He concludes by denouncing 'prayers which are childish', e.g. 'that the speaker (who perhaps has his address prepared) "may speak acceptable words"; that the hearers (who are already there just as they are) "may have good and honest hearts" &c., &c.' He describes these as 'prayers that are unreasonable, that could not be answered, that are a mere rattle of words... an insult to the majesty of God.' While he allows that prayer ought to include 'supplication for the various things we need', Roberts does not give any positive examples of the kind of supplications that he envisions God might grant 'by His Spirit'; only negative examples of the kind of supplications that he regards as unreasonable and insulting to God's majesty.

The Spirit-Word concept

Traditional Christadelphian pneumatology is perhaps best characterized by the Spirit-Word concept, which is explained thus by Christadelphian writer H.P. Mansfield:
The Holy Spirit relates to God's power, which was then (but not now) poured out upon men, enabling them to speak foreign languages without having learned them, or to perform miracles. The prophets were moved by the Spirit to record their teaching (Nehemiah 9:30; 2 Pet. 1:21), and by the same means God spake to men through His Son (Heb. 1:1). In consequence of this the revelation of God's truth can be described as the spirit-word (see John 6:63; Eph. 6:17; 1 John 5:7). It is this spirit only that is available to men today, but that is also capable of performing miracles, for it can cause the hard hearts of men to become softened and pliable to the Divine will, and to reflect this in a changed way of life (see Gal. 5:22-25).27
Essentially, the term 'Spirit-Word' is substituted for 'Spirit' in Christadelphian interpretations of many New Testament passages about the Spirit, in order to stress that the Spirit is only working indirectly, through the instrumentality of the written Word of God. 'Spirit-Word' indicates that the interpreter should not look further than the intellectual process of reading and understanding Scripture to explain the Spirit's present role. The Spirit's input into this process occurred in antiquity when the biblical writers were inspired; the Spirit has no active role today. The term 'Spirit-Word' never occurs in Scripture, but as Mansfield's explanation shows, Christadelphians think the concept can be inferred from passages which link '(the) word(s)' with '(the) S/spirit' in some way or other.28

This terminology appears already in the writings of Dr. Thomas, albeit sparingly. He uses the term 'Spirit-Word' in passing in the Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, 1855: 'Does the Spirit-Word beget people to the belief of nonsense?' Since he does not explain the term 'Spirit-Word' here, it seems he could already assume his audience's familiarity with it.

In his magnum opus, Eureka: An Exposition of the Apocalypse, another, similar passing reference occurs which indicates that the concept is dependent upon John 6:63:
It is the Spirit-Word that quickeneth; and therefore Jesus says, "It is the Spirit which is life making; Spirit is and life is the words which I speak to you" (John vi. 63).29
The logic behind the 'Spirit-Word' can be seen in Dr. Thomas' comments on Titus 3:5 quoted earlier:
The spirit is to the truth as cause and effect; and by a very common figure of speech, the one is put for the other in speaking of them relatively to the mind and heart of man.
If Dr. Thomas can argue that by a figure of speech, 'Holy Spirit' in Titus 3:5 actually means 'truth' due to their cause-and-effect relationship, he could similarly argue that other references to the Spirit actually mean 'Word' due to the same cause-and-effect relationship. 'Spirit-Word' then becomes a convenient shorthand expressing that by 'Spirit' we should actually understand 'Word'. What is surprising is that the other two occurrences of the term 'Spirit-Word' in Eureka actually refer to Jesus personally:
The Eternal Spirit-Word was the High Priestly Offerer of His own Flesh, whose character was without spot -- "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners;" "who knew no sin;" yet whose nature was in all points like ours -- "sin’s flesh," in which dwells no good thing (Heb. ix. 14; vii. 26; 2 Cor. v. 21; Rom. viii. 3; vii. 18; Heb. ii. 14-17)... Suspended on the tree by the voluntary offering of the Spirit-Word (John x. 18), "sin was condemned in the flesh," when the soul-blood thereof was poured out unto death. The Spirit-Word made his soul thus an offering for sin (Isa. liii. 10); and by it sanctified the Altar-Body on the tree.30
Jesus, then, like all his brethren, is to be considered in two states, each state having a nature peculiar to it. In the former state, "he was crucified through weakness;" but in the after state wherein he now is, "he liveth by the power of the Deity" (2 Cor. 13:4). In the former state, the flesh was "the filthy garments" with which the SPIRIT-WORD was clothed (Zech. 3:3); "the iniquity of us all" that was laid upon him; "the soul made an offering for sin" (Isa. 43:6,10); but, as He now is, the filthy garments have been taken away; "his iniquity has passed from him," and he is clothed with "change of raiment."31
Hence, it appears that Dr. Thomas had a complex, nuanced Spirit-Word concept. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any detailed explanation of how he comes to identify the Spirit-Word with Christ. Presumably this is related to Christ's identification with the Word in John 1.

Antecedents of Christadelphian hyper-cessationism

We have seen that Dr. Thomas was able to use the term 'Spirit-Word' without explanation as early as 1855. We have also seen that in Elpis Israel (1848), his treatment of pneumatology was very cursory. This may suggest that within the circles in which he moved, a 'Spirit-Word' concept was already widely held and needed no comprehensive defense. I have not been able to find this term used in any religious literature prior to 1855.32 However, research into the Restorationist movement has found that 'hyper-cessationism' similar to that of Christadelphians has arisen within this movement.

The 19th-century Restorationist movement is usually referred to by historians as the Stone-Campbell movement because it was founded by Barton W. Stone and Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander. In his essay on pneumatology in the Stone-Campbell movement, Kurka speaks of a general conviction among Evangelicals 'that for the euangelion to either be preached or heard, the Holy Spirit must be present in some real sense'.33 He says that this belief spans the Reformed and Wesleyan/Arminian traditions. However, he notes a nuance in the Stone-Campbell tradition not found elsewhere, i.e. that 'The Holy Spirit indwells the hearts of God’s saints through the instrumentality of the Word'.34

He identifies
a fairly typical, early to mid-twentieth century Restorationist pneumatology which suggests "tighter" Word/Spirit relationship than most other evangelicals would comfortably allow. While virtually all evangelicals would eagerly admit to a close connection between the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s work, these descendants of Campbell’s (more than Stone’s) theological tradition have expressed a view of the testimonium spiritus that appears to nearly "swallow up" the Spirit in the divine writ.35
Since, as a rule, Stone-Campbell Restoration literature maintains a Trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit, Kurka stresses that 'the apparent loss of the Spirit within the Scriptures is less an evidence of a binitarian view of God than a by-product of an "extreme" form of cessationism'.36

Kurka thinks this pneumatology owes much to the influence of Alexander Campbell, who, more than anyone else, eventually controlled Restorationist soteriology. He stresses Campbell's 'almost intellectualized definition of faith'37 and 'theological and philosophical indebtedness to Scottish Common Sense Realism.'38 The latter philosophy is the product of a more conservative and religious branch of the Enlightenment which elevated human reason and rejected ecclesiastical hierarchies but still accepted biblical revelation. Since God's communication to man in the Bible was held to be fundamentally clear,39 'a special interpreter such as the Holy Spirit is not needed, nor for that matter, specially trained teachers to interpret the Bible.'40 Campbell optimistically expressed the belief that if everyone applied the same common-sense rules of interpretation to the Bible, a greater uniformity in doctrine would result. He viewed the Bible as 'a book of facts' and the New Testament as 'a sort of legal constitution'.41

According to Kurka, one aspect of Campbell's Christian rationalism was a 'hyper-cessationism' which makes the Bible 'the consummate supernatural expression of this age'.42 He criticizes this view inasmuch as it 'forces an improbable "canon" interpretation on 1 Corinthians 13:10' (a passage I have discussed previously).

He notes that Campbell refused to completely equate the Spirit with the biblical text, but that he made statements that suggested such an equation. For instance, in 1824 he wrote, 'Since those gifts (of the Spirit) have ceased, the Holy Spirit now operates upon the minds of men only by the Word.'43 This sounds very much like the Christadelphian Spirit-Word concept.

Hughes, however, observes that 'Campbell's view of the Holy Spirit was more complex than many of his later followers recognized'.44 While he denied that the Spirit works in miraculous ways today, he held that Word and Spirit 'are always united in the great work [of conversion]' and that 'No one is converted by the Word alone, nor by the Spirit alone.'45 In his book The Christian System, he wrote that
Whatever the word does, the Spirit does; and whatever the Spirit does in the work of converting men, the word does. We neither believe nor teach abstract Spirit nor abstract word - but word and Spirit, and Spirit and word.46
In this he seemed to shackle the Spirit to the Word as in the Christadelphian Spirit-Word concept. However, according to Hughes, when his later followers 'contended that the Spirit works only in the pages of Holy Writ', they were going beyond Campbell, who had emphasized only 'that the Spirit always works in conjunction with the word.'47 As Campbell wrote further in The Christian System,
The Spirit of God inspired all the spiritual ideas in the New Testament, and confirmed them by miracles; and he is ever present with the word that he inspired. He descended from heaven on the day of Pentecost, and has not formally ascended since. In the sense in which he descended he certainly has not ascended: for he is to animate and inspire with new life the church or temple of the Lord.48
He regarded the work of the Spirit as important not only in conversion but in sanctification:
Christians are, therefore, clearly and unequivocally temples of the Holy Spirit; and they are quickened, animated, encouraged, and sanctified by the power and influence of the Spirit of God, working in them through the truth... when through faith, repentance, and baptism, we have assumed him as our rightful Sovereign, by his Holy Spirit, in answer to our prayers, he worked in us, and by us, and for us, all that is needful to our present, spiritual, and eternal salvation.49
It appears, then, that Alexander Campbell was a cessationist who, despite leaning toward hyper-cessationism in some respects, affirmed a direct influence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Some of his followers developed his pneumatology further into full-blown hyper-cessationism. Among these was Dr. John Thomas, his protégé during the 1830s until doctrinal disagreements led to a rift between the two, culminating in Campbell disfellowshipping Dr. Thomas in 1837. Although Dr. Thomas' pneumatology may have been shaped by the rationalism of his scientific education, it is also likely that Alexander Campbell exerted an influence on him in this regard. Whatever the case, it appears that by 1837, and for the remainder of his life, Dr. Thomas was a hyper-cessationist.

Beyond hyper-cessationism?

Kurka concludes his essay by noting that many of today's descendants of the Stone-Campbell Restorationist movement (in the Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ denominations) 'have recognized the philosophical liabilities and rigidities of their brilliant forebear and have tended to find a comfortable niche among mainstream Arminian theologians.'50 This reform has included 'A more supernaturally appreciative view of the Holy Spirit and his presence in conversion', 'admitting a more direct influence from the Spirit upon the lost person than in years past'.51

What about the Christadelphians? Since the latter half of the 20th century, a number of Christadelphians have written literature challenging the movement's traditional hyper-cessationism. The 1975 booklet The Holy Spirit and the Believer Today, by Alfred Norris, challenges the notion that the promise of 'the gift of the Holy Spirit' in Acts 2:38 was valid only for one or two generations. Norris does not identify this gift with 'miraculous powers', which he thinks have ceased. However, he cautiously affirms the direct influence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers today, while not claiming to be able to 'chart the course of the Spirit's activities.' 

Also in 1975, a longer study was published by Edgar Wille entitled The Holy Spirit: An Exploratory Survey of Scripture Teaching. In a foreword to the Second Edition (2000), Wille states the central thesis of his book: 'that the Holy Spirit is God at work within the hearts and minds of those who have faith in him through Jesus Christ.' Wille challenges the traditional Spirit-Word idea head-on when he writes concerning conversion that, while 'The written Word is obviously the basic source of our information', Christianity is 'the precious gift of God, not the hard earned outcome of the exercise of man's mental powers.'52 Wille emphasizes the experiential side of faith in Christ without abandoning the intellectual side. He affirms that 'The Spirit of God somehow takes hold of the cross of Christ and the whole redemptive work of Jesus and works it into the experience of the believer.'53 He summarizes the work of the Spirit thus: 'that the absent Lord is present in his church, moving it how he will; whether the outward appearances are normal or supernatural'.54 He goes on to argue that life in Christ is a matter of 'receiving - not achieving'.55 He stresses in his conclusion that 'the work of the Holy Spirit is an essential part of the gospel.'56 Wille seems to be a moderate cessationist who is not prepared to assert the present reality of miraculous manifestations of the Spirit, nor to deny them outright.57 Wille's ideas have apparently not won widespread acceptance. A critical review was published in The Christadelphian,58 and Wille himself apparently left the Christadelphian community soon after writing the book. To this day a website is maintained specifically to oppose the 'false doctrine' in this book, while participants in a Christadelphian discussion forum strongly discouraged another participant from reading the book.

It seems the torch lit by Norris and Wille is today being carried primarily by Nathan Trevor Brierly, who maintains a website partially devoted to educating other Christadelphians about the present role of the Holy Spirit. Particularly relevant to this post is Brierly's critique of the Spirit-Word idea. Otherwise, criticism of Christadelphian pneumatology has largely come from former Christadelphians, such as Stephen Cook (who helpfully debunks the Christadelphian claim that the 'Holy Spirit' and the 'Spirit of God' are two different things in Scripture), Tim Woodall (who states that he was disfellowshipped by Christadelphians 'over the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer'), and myself (I haven't written extensively on the Holy Spirit but see my articles on God's Down Payment on Eternal Life and on 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). It seems that generally, Christadelphians who challenge the traditional hyper-cessationist pneumatology eventually end up outside the movement (as noted earlier, it would be difficult for a non-hyper-cessationist to endorse article 25 of the BASF's Doctrines to be Rejected). Additionally, Christadelphians who leave the movement for other reasons will almost inevitably rethink hyper-cessationism.


The traditional Christadelphian view of the Holy Spirit's work may be termed 'hyper-cessationism'. It holds that the Holy Spirit influences the human intellect and character only indirectly, through the Scriptures which were inspired by it in the ancient past. Thus New Testament references to inward manifestations of the Holy Spirit are interpreted as referring to the 'Spirit-Word', i.e. to the transformative power of Scripture. This view was held by the founders of the Christadelphian movement, Dr. John Thomas and Robert Roberts. Dr. Thomas' pneumatology appears to have been influenced by his estranged mentor Alexander Campbell, a pioneer of the Restoration movement, who had in turn been influenced by Scottish Common Sense Realism, a religious breed of Enlightenment rationalism.

Although Christadelphian hyper-cessationism has been challenged from within during the past half-century by writers who advocate something akin to Evangelical cessationism, these challenges have largely remained at the margins of the movement. Hyper-cessationist doctrine remains entrenched, and in this respect Christadelphians seem to be virtually unique among Christian denominations and sects. This may be news to some Christadelphians, who may not be fully aware of the distinctiveness of the Christadelphian view of the Holy Spirit's present work (perhaps because this is not made explicit in the BASF and does not figure prominently in Christadelphian counter-orthodox apologetics teaching).

Amendment (added 30/12/2015): This post has generated some discussion on Christadelphian Facebook groups. One piece of feedback I have received is that I have underestimated the contemporary prevalence of views other than the traditional hyper-cessationism / Spirit-Word teaching. Seemingly, the rethinking of pneumatology advocated by Norris, Wille, and more recently Brierly has been more influential than I realized. These views do not seem to be well-represented in print, with Pearce's and Crawford's hyper-cessationist works being the standard works linked to on major Christadelphian websites (christadelphia.org; christadelphianbooks.org) (though I did overlook an apparently recent book by Peter Schwartzkopf linked to on the latter site).59 It may be the case that what is happening in practice does not correspond to what is happening in literature.


  • 1 The following are excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which highlight some major Catholic teachings about the Holy Spirit. Note that footnotes have been omitted: 'If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."' (CCC 108); 'According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church").' (CCC 113); 'Interpretation of the inspired Scripture must be attentive above all to what God wants to reveal through the sacred authors for our salvation. What comes from the Spirit is not fully "understood except by the Spirit's action"' (CCC 137); 'This knowledge of faith is possible only in the Holy Spirit: to be in touch with Christ, we must first have been touched by the Holy Spirit. He comes to meet us and kindles faith in us. By virtue of our Baptism, the first sacrament of the faith, the Holy Spirit in the Church communicates to us, intimately and personally, the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son.' (CCC 683); 'Through his grace, the Holy Spirit is the first to awaken faith in us and to communicate to us the new life, which is to "know the Father and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ."' (CCC 684); 'The Holy Spirit is at work with the Father and the Son from the beginning to the completion of the plan for our salvation. But in these "end times," ushered in by the Son's redeeming Incarnation, the Spirit is revealed and given, recognized and welcomed as a person. Now can this divine plan, accomplished in Christ, the firstborn and head of the new creation, be embodied in mankind by the outpouring of the Spirit: as the Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.' (CCC 686); 'By his coming, which never ceases, the Holy Spirit causes the world to enter into the "last days," the time of the Church, the Kingdom already inherited though not yet consummated.' (CCC 732); 'By this power of the Spirit, God's children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear "the fruit of the Spirit: . . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." "We live by the Spirit"; the more we renounce ourselves, the more we "walk by the Spirit."' (CCC 736); 'The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. This joint mission henceforth brings Christ's faithful to share in his communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, to bring them into communion with God, that they may "bear much fruit."' (CCC 737); '"The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with sighs too deep for words." The Holy Spirit, the artisan of God's works, is the master of prayer.' (CCC 741); 'The Holy Spirit, whom Christ the head pours out on his members, builds, animates, and sanctifies the Church. She is the sacrament of the Holy Trinity's communion with men.' (CCC 747); 'In the Church's liturgy the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated. The Father is acknowledged and adored as the source and the end of all the blessings of creation and salvation. In his Word who became incarnate, died, and rose for us, he fills us with his blessings. Through his Word, he pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all gifts, the Holy Spirit.' (CCC 1082); 'Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying: they became sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors. This "apostolic succession" structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders.' (CCC 1087); 'The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one "anointed" by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king.' (CCC 1241); 'Christ himself declared that he was marked with his Father's seal. Christians are also marked with a seal: "It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; he has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial.' (CCC 1296); 'Confirmation... increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us... it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross' (CCC 1303); 'The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.' (CCC 1813); 'The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon Christians are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.' (CCC 1845); 'The Holy Spirit, whose anointing permeates our whole being, is the interior Master of Christian prayer. He is the artisan of the living tradition of prayer. To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all. It is in the communion of the Holy Spirit that Christian prayer is prayer in the Church.' (CCC 2672); 'Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more.8 But he knows that the love he is returning is poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God.' (CCC 2712)
  • 2 The following are excerpts from the Westminster Confession of Faith which highlight some major Reformed teachings about the Holy Spirit. Note that footnotes have been omitted: '...yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.' (WCF I.V); 'The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word' (WCF I.VI); 'The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.' (WCF I.X); 'Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.' (WCF VII.III); 'This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.' (WCF X.II); 'Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, beside the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit, to work in them to will, and to do, of His good pleasure: yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.' (WCF XVI.III)
  • 3 Of course these three categories certainly do not exhaust the activity of the Holy Spirit according to the Catholic and Protestant traditions. See the excerpts quoted above and the respective confessional documents in their entirety.
  • 4 Asked in an interview about continuationist claims that cessationists regard the Holy Spirit as inactive since they don't believe the Spirit performs miracles, MacArthur responded thus: 'Well, that is such a tragedy, that kind of thinking, that I recently did a, I don’t know, how many part? 13 messages or something trying to bring honor to the Holy Spirit because of the horrible dishonor that is being heaped upon Him? The Holy Spirit is accused of all kinds of satanic things, all kinds of human things. To understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit, you go to the New Testament. And the Holy Spirit is the source of divine revelation, He is the author of Holy Scripture, He is the one who illuminates the believer. We have been given the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. We have an anointing from God. It’s an amazing gift that the Holy Spirit is to us for the understanding of Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, internally. The Holy Spirit drives us to Christ. The Holy Spirit helps our prayers, with groanings that can’t be uttered. The Holy Spirit secures us and gives us assurance so that we cry, “Abba Father.” The primary work of the Holy Spirit, the wondrous work, is to conforming us to Christ, making us more and more like Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:18, “from one level of glory to the next, as we gaze at Christ.” We look at the Bible, we see Christ revealed. The Holy Spirit illuminates Christ as revealed in Scripture, and then changes us into His image. These are the things the Holy Spirit is really doing.'
  • 5 Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, Doctrines to be Rejected, article 6: 'We reject the doctrine - that the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from the Father.'
  • 6 Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, used as a basis of fellowship by the majority (but not all) of Christadelphians worldwide.
  • 7 BASF, DTBR, article 25.
  • 8 BASF article 1. Note that 'the Spirit' here may be intended to denote an entity distinct from 'the Holy Spirit', since traditional Christadelphian theology distinguishes between the two.
  • 9 BASF article 2 acknowledges the Holy Spirit's role in the Virgin Birth and anointing of Jesus Christ, while article 10 acknowledges the 'indwelling of the Holy Spirit' in Jesus.
  • 10 In fact, the BASF's main articles do not even mention the Ecclesia/Church! A casual reader might be forgiven for concluding that Christadelphians have no ecclesiology.
  • 11 This is not to say that Christadelphians would, in practice, accept one who held such a position. However, it remains telling that the author(s) of the BASF did not deem it necessary to safeguard the Christadelphian community against even the most extreme minimalist pneumatology, at least with respect to the life of the Ecclesia/Church.
  • 12 This term is not of my own coinage, but has been used by scholars in historical study of the Restorationist movement - of which Christadelphians are a product. See below for more on this history.
  • 13 The full context of this passage is as follows: ‘As to the work of the Holy Spirit, we believe it to its fullest extent. It is a work which has been elaborated on a most magnificent scale. All nature around is a part of His stupendous work. By Him was a place appointed for the sun, the moon, and the stars; by Him were the heavens constituted, and peopled by the hosts thereof; by Him, man lives and enjoys the life that is; by Him, is he indebted for all: for it is by God, who is Spirit, that we are saved with a temporal and an eternal salvation.’ [Having objected to the Calvinistic doctrine of total depravity, he continues:] ‘Now you will observe the tendency of these Presbyterian dogmata. If man has no ability to obey God’s commands, it is necessary that God should operate upon him in some physical manner by His Holy Spirit, in order to enable him to believe; and if this be received, the machine can work comfortably enough. For God commands men to obey Him; but they cannot unless He enables them; it is therefore, not man’s fault if he continues in disobedience; for he is willing, but unable to do his duty. Hence God is made responsible for the disobedience of every one who does not obey Him. Again, some men want to be saved; the clergy are also anxious that they should be saved, because it will increase their flocks and so enlarge the fleece; they therefore besiege heaven with their prayers: but some of these are not saved – why? Because God has not given them His Holy Spirit to enable them to obey, and therefore, it is God’s fault, and not the clergy’s, that sinners are not converted. This is the gospel according to Presbyterianism.’... ‘But, my friends, as I said before, so now I reiterate, that though I reject the traditions of men concerning the work of the Holy Spirit, yet I do most heartily believe in the Scripture account thereof. And here permit me to observe that you should always make a distinction between things that differ – between the opinions of a thing, and the thing itself. The work of the Holy Spirit is the thing; Presbyterian and popular views of this work are the opinions of the thing. Now the self-complacent critics of orthodox communities anathematize us, because we do not agree with them in their opinions of this work; and denounce us blasphemers of the Spirit; thus making our rejection of their dogmata tantamount to a rejection of the Holy One Himself. But this is not to be wondered at, for it has been the spirit of Antichrist through all ages; and it was this spirit of proscription which conferred the crown of martyrdom upon the victim of Geneva tyranny. 
    For myself, I believe that the Holy Spirit is the only authoritative, infallible, efficient, and sufficient teacher of the Christian religion, in all its parts. If I be asked what is the manner in which he teaches this religion, I reply in the same way that all teachers convey instruction to their pupils; by words, either spoken or written. Hence, it is by the sacred Scripture that he convinces men of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come in these times, and indeed, in all times subsequent to the apostolic age. God is simple in all His plans. He appears never to use intricate means, when the end to be effected can be produced by simple ones. Simplicity is the characteristic of all that he performs. He rules the heavens, he regulates the seasons, and he saves men upon few, but powerful principles. If one means is able to make man wise, we need not expect to find any other institution than that one to effect the same end. Now Paul, the author of my friend’s text, says that the sacred Scriptures are able to make us wise to salvation, by the faith (or gospel) which is through Christ Jesus. What more do we want than wisdom in relation to this matter? If the sacred Scriptures are able to make us wise, we need no other instrumentality. The Holy Spirit by the word, without infusing a single idea into it more than it actually and ordinarily contains, and without any collateral influence, teaches us all wisdom and knowledge that is necessary. It instructs man concerning his origin, his constitution, his sinful state, and how he may, though mortal, absolutely and unqualifiedly mortal, yet attain to life and incorruptibility; it informs him concerning the attributes of God, the creation, and the destiny of the earth and the race by which it is inhabited. Why, then, my friends, can we not be content with the means within the grasp of every one who owns the volume of inspiration? If the ecclesiastical world were content to learn the truth from “the Bible alone,” and it honestly desired to obey the Messiah, there would soon be an end to Presbyterian and every other ism, by which “Christendom” as it is called, or “anti-Christendom,” as it should be termed, has been for ages desolated. But the world loves not the truth; because therefore, they have “not embraced the love of the truth that they might be saved, God has sent them strong delusion that they might believe a lie; that all might be condemned who have not obeyed the truth.” The sacred Scriptures are not a dead letter, as the clergy teach you; they are “living and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword:” this is Paul’s testimony and ought therefore to be received as true by all believers.’ (Roberts, R. (ed.). (1872).The Apostasy Unveiled: Being a Debate between John Thomas, M.D., and a Presbyterian Clergyman, thirty-four years ago, on the popular doctrines of immortality, heaven, hell, election, and kindred topics. London: George John Stevenson, pp. 19-22).
  • 14 Bryan Wilson notes that this work was published in 1877 but had been previously published in 1850 under the title The Wise Taken in their own Craftiness (Wilson, B.R. (1961) Sects and Society: A Sociological Study of the Elim Tabernacle, Christian Science, and Christadelphians. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, p. 219 n. 3).
  • 15 The saying in its entirety reads thus: 'He also says, we are renewed by knowledge” (Col. iii. 10). In this, however, he does not contradict himself, but rather makes the one phrase explanatory of the other; as if he had said, “we are renewed by the Holy Spirit through knowledge.” The Holy Spirit renews or regenerates man intellectually and morally by the truth believed. “Sanctify them by thy truth,” says Jesus; “thy word, O Father, is truth” (John xvii. 17). “Ye are clean,” said he to his apostles, “through the word which I have spoken to you” (John xv. 3). God’s power is manifested through means. His Spirit is His power by which He effects intellectual, moral, and physical results. When He wills to produce intellectual and moral effects, it is by knowledge revealed by His Spirit through the prophets and apostles. This knowledge becomes power when received into “good and honest hearts”; and because God is the author of it, it is styled “the Knowledge of God” (2 Pet. i. 2), or “the word of truth” (James i. 18), by which He begets sinners to Himself as His sons and daughters. “The word of the truth of the gospel,”” the gospel of the kingdom.” “the incorruptible seed,” “the word,” “the truth as it is in Jesus,”” the word of the kingdom,”” the word of reconciliation,” “the law and the testimony,” “the word of faith,” “the sword of the spirit which is the word of God,” “the word of Christ,” “the perfection of liberty,” etc.-are all phrases richly expressive of” the power of God” by which He saves His people from their sins, and translates them into the Hope of the kingdom and glory to which He invites them. The truth is the power that makes men free indeed (John viii. 32, 36). Hence Jesus says, “My words are spirit, and they are life.” The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles were the channels through which it was transmitted to mankind; and the spirit the agent by which the knowledge was conveyed to them. Hence, the knowledge or the truth being suggested to the prophets by the spirit is sometimes styled “the spirit” (Rom. ii. 20). The spirit is to the truth as cause and effect; and by a very common figure of speech, the one is put for the other in speaking of them relatively to the mind and heart of man. So that the phrase “renewed by the holy spirit” is equivalent to renewed by the belief of the truth testified by the Holy Spirit (John xv. 26: xiv. 13-14).'
  • 16 Similarly, in Elpis Israel, Dr. Thomas wrote that the 'effects of the word believed are attributed to the spirit' because 'the "testimony of God" came by the Holy Spirit, by which God testified in His prophets...and, in the last days...spoke through His son...and the apostles' (Thomas, J. (1866). Elpis Israel (4th ed.). Findon: Logos Publications, p. 53. The elliptical words are scripture references.)
  • 17 ibid., p. 53. In context, Dr. Thomas is here concerned to argue against infant baptism by showing that the spiritual renewal associated with baptism is inextricably tied to knowledge. He does not directly interact with the idea that man requires more help than the written Word alone to overcome his intellectual and moral fallenness.
  • 18 In ibid., p. 31, Dr. Thomas condemns 'the Romish conceit of the rhantismal regeneration of infants by the Holy Spirit in the scattering of a few drops of water upon the face, and the use of a certain form of words.' On p. 167, he rebukes men who 'pray for the Holy Spirit; profess to preach under its guidance; and often in a very bad spirit, protest that they received it when converted.' While he does not explicitly condemn these practices here, he opines that those 'sincerely desirous of the spirit of God' ought to renounce unscriptural human traditions, 'search the scriptures' and so 'believe the truth and obey it'.
  • 19 Both on ibid., p. 53, which is discussed above.
  • 20 ibid., p. 34ff.
  • 21 Roberts, R. (1884). Christendom Astray. Birmingham: Christadelphian Publication Society, pp. 143-144.
  • 22 ibid., pp. 144-145.
  • 23 ibid., p. 145.
  • 24 '11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;' (NASB; Roberts, of course, quotes the AV)
  • 25 Roberts, op. cit., pp. 148-150; italics original, boldface added.
  • 26 Remember that Roberts distinguishes the Spirit of God from the Holy Spirit - see above.
  • 27 Mansfield, H.P. (1968). Key To The Understanding of The Scriptures. Findon: Logos Publications, p. 114; emphasis added.
  • 28 It is surprising that Mansfield cites 1 John 5:7, since it is universally agreed by textual critics that the Trine formula found here in Textus Receptus is not part of the original text.
  • 29 Thomas, J. Eureka, vol. 1, 3.1.3. Notice how Dr. Thomas reverses the subject and predicates in his translation and capitalizes the second 'Spirit' so that the text appears to identify 'Spirit' as 'the words that I speak to you'.
  • 30 Thomas, J. Eureka, vol. 2, 6.5.2.
  • 31 Thomas, J. Eureka, vol. 1, 1.2.3.
  • 32 My search was not very extensive, so further research is needed in this direction.
  • 33 Kurka, R.C. (2002). The Role of the Holy Spirit in Conversion: Why Restorationists Appear to be Out of the Evangelical Mainstream. In William R. Baker (ed.), Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement (pp. 138-151). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 138.
  • 34 ibid., p. 140.
  • 35 ibid.
  • 36 ibid., p. 141.
  • 37 ibid., p. 142.
  • 38 ibid., p. 144.
  • 39 Or 'perspicuous' to use a more technical term.
  • 40 ibid., p. 145.
  • 41 Hughes, R.T. (1991). Are Restorationists Evangelical? In Donald W. Dayton & Robert K. Johnson, The Variety of American Evangelicalism (pp. 109-134). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, p. 115.
  • 42 Kurka, op. cit., p. 147.
  • 43 ibid., p. 148.
  • 44 Hughes, op. cit., p. 117.
  • 45 ibid.
  • 46 Campbell, A. (1839). The Christian System. Pittsburgh: Forrester & Campbell, p. 93.
  • 47 Hughes, op. cit., p. 117.
  • 48 Campbell, op. cit., p. 93.
  • 49 ibid., pp. 94-95.
  • 50 Kurka, op. cit., p. 149.
  • 51 Kurka, op. cit., p. 151.
  • 52 Wille, E. (1975). The Holy Spirit: An exploratory survey of Scripture Teaching. Accessed at http://welivebythespirit.org/Holy_Spirit_Exploratory_Survey/Holy_Spirit.pdf.
  • 53 ibid., p. 32.
  • 54 ibid., p. 41.
  • 55 ibid., p. 62.
  • 56 ibid., p. 88.
  • 57 For instance, he writes that 'The gift of healing is not recognised among us in the "miraculous" sense' (ibid., p. 50). This is a much less dogmatic statement than a strict cessationist might have made, such as, 'The gift of healing is not available today in the "miraculous" sense.'
  • 58 It is, however, interesting to note that the author of the review, Fred Pearce, appears to step guardedly back from hyper-cessationism. While maintaining the exclusive role of the written Word in drawing people's minds to God, he adds: 'When the mind is prepared by intimate contact with the "sacred Scriptures, inspired of God, profitable for... instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete" (2 Tim. 3: 16-17, RV), then God will surely add, according to His promise what blessing is needed and appropriate, and He will do it by His Spirit.'
  • 59 Schwartzkopf's book does not directly challenge traditional Christadelphian pneumatology, but is willing to grant a broader scope to the present work of the Holy Spirit than the traditional view would allow, in language that sounds close to Evangelical cessationism. For him, 'God’s Spirit acts in all sorts of diverse ways: By the effect of the Word of God in the minds of believers, By the actions of other believers, By the answer to prayers with God using miraculous and non-miraculous means, By God intervening in a multitude of ways in peoples lives to bring about his purpose even if they have not prayed for the intervention… The Spirit of God is received when people believe the gospel. All true believers will have the Spirit. It is a down payment on who we will be when immortal. Its indwelling indicates that a person belongs to God. Its indwelling marks out a person as destined for salvation. The role of the Spirit is to both sanctify and transform us into the sort of people God wants us to be.' (Schwartzkopf, P. (n.d.). The Spirit of God, p. 39).