dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label cessationism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cessationism. Show all posts

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Christadelphian ecclesial deism (2): five counterarguments

This article continues from the previous post on ecclesial deism, which could be defined as a doctrinal position which minimizes present divine activity in the Ecclesia and regards her work as almost exclusively a human responsibility. The previous post emphasized that Christadelphians have traditionally held to a radical version of this ecclesiology as a corollary of their view that the Holy Spirit has been inactive since shortly after the apostles died. We noted that Christadelphian literature tends to take an earthbound view of the Ecclesia, emphasizing what kind of Ecclesia we ought to be without emphasizing what the powerful presence of the Head of the Body of Christ causes the Ecclesia to be.

The last part of the post began a critique of Christadelphian ecclesial deism, noting that it is out of sync with abundant biblical testimony about the perpetual presence of the Holy Spirit and God's ongoing role in building, nourishing and protecting the Ecclesia. It seems to reflect a pessimistic lack of faith concerning Christ's promises to His Bride. There is, quite simply, no biblical warrant for ecclesial deism. In this post we will continue the critique of Christadelphian ecclesial deism with five additional lines of argument.

If we hold that the Ecclesia was established by Christ with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father, which endured throughout the days of the apostles, but that the Holy Spirit ceased operations shortly thereafter, an important theological question we need to answer is why this happened. If Christ loves and nourishes His Ecclesia, why would He have withdrawn this gift? I am aware of two main explanations that have been proposed by Christadelphians. In fact, both of them can be found in the writings of Robert Roberts, although they seem to be mutually exclusive.

The first explanation holds that the Holy Spirit was withdrawn because it was no longer needed. It had been given to get the Ecclesia up and running, so to speak. With the Ecclesia off to a running start and with the apostolic writings having been divinely inspired, the Holy Spirit's work was complete and the gift could safely lapse.

Robert Roberts explains it this way:
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... 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."1
How plausible is this explanation? To begin, Roberts' contrast between converts to Christianity in the apostolic period and thereafter is completely backwards. Firstly, the first generation of Christians was predominantly made up of Jews. It was only toward the end of the first century that the Ecclesia became predominantly Gentile.2 Moreover, scholars who regard Acts as historically accurate generally conclude, like Skarsaune, that 'The Christian mission continued for a long time to work primarily among the God-fearing Gentiles surrounding the Diaspora synagogues.'3 Skarsaune explains how this changed in the second century:
Most of the first Gentile converts to Christianity, the God-fearers, had this break with paganism behind them when they became Christians. In the second century this changed. An increasing number of converts came directly from paganism. They went, so to speak, directly from the ‘table of the demons’ (1 Cor 10:21) to the table of the Lord. This posed a challenge to the growing church.4
To summarize, then, in the apostolic period the Ecclesia was made up largely of (a) Jews, and (b) God-fearing Gentiles, neither of which were 'men and women fresh from the abominations and immoralities of heathenism'. As the apostolic period drew to a close, Gentiles became the majority, and in the second century, the Ecclesia increasingly evangelized 'raw' Gentiles who were still steeped in paganism. Hence, according to Roberts' own reasoning, the second-century Ecclesia needed the Holy Spirit more than the first-century Ecclesia did!

A further contradiction ensues when one recalls that, according to the Christadelphian meta-narrative, the Great Apostasy shifted into high gear in the late first and early second centuries. So it is being claimed on the one hand that the Ecclesia no longer needed the Holy Spirit, and on the other hand that as the Holy Spirit faded, the Ecclesia was progressively engulfed by apostasy.

Nor is it apparent that modern advances in technology have rendered the Holy Spirit surplus to the Ecclesia's requirements, as Roberts suggests. If anything, modern technology has been a secularizing force which has made faith in a theistic God more difficult, augmenting the need for divine activity in the Ecclesia! And in another place, contradicting his position here, Roberts admits that 'It would be an unspeakable source of comfort and strength to see the gift of the Spirit again restored.'

So much for the first explanation (though one aspect of it, that it was specifically the writing of the New Testament that rendered the work of the Holy Spirit complete, will be considered below). Perhaps sensing its weakness, Roberts elsewhere put forth a completely different explanation for why the Holy Spirit was withdrawn:
The apostasy prevailed more and more, as the Apostles, by the Spirit, predicted would be the case (2 Tim. 4: 1-4; 2: 17), until all trace of primitive truth disappeared, and the Spirit of the Lord was withdrawn from all association with an empty Christian name. Whatever genuine profession may have existed since then, has not been honoured by a return of the Spirit's witnessing and governing presence.5
Elsewhere, commenting on the Lord's threat to the ecclesia at Ephesus to 'remove your lampstand out of its place' (Rev. 2:5) unless they repent, Roberts clarifies further:
Oil symbolically used stands for the Spirit of God, as proved in many ways which we need not refer to. The Spirit of God was bestowed upon the ecclesias in the first century. It was this that constituted them the Spirit's candlesticks. Hence the threat was a threat of the withdrawal of the Spirit. The threat was duly carried into effect. The reformation desired did not set in. The Apostasy, which Paul declared to be in active progress before his death, got the upper hand everywhere, and the candlesticks were removed in all senses, since which day, the light of inspiration has been extinct, except in so far as it survives in the writings of the Spirit -- the oracles of God which are to us a treasure beyond price.6
Roberts' second explanation for why the Holy Spirit was withdrawn, then, is that it was a punishment inflicted on the Ecclesia for disobedience and apostasy. We will first consider whether this can be inferred from Revelation 2-3, and then offer some broader objections.

One can begin by observing that oil is never mentioned in Revelation 2-3. The Lord's threat was not to withdraw the oil from the candlestick, but to remove the candlestick. And, as Rev. 1:20 plainly states, 'the seven lampstands are the seven churches'. The threat, then, is not to withdraw the Spirit from the ecclesia but to withdraw the ecclesia itself! And one must not overlook that this threat was issued to one local ecclesia at Ephesus, not to the Ecclesia universally, nor even to these seven ecclesias of Asia. While the tenor of Jesus' letters to the seven ecclesias in Revelation 2-3 is one of rebuke, two of the seven ecclesias addressed (Smyrna and Philadelphia) receive no rebuke at all. Hence, we can conclude that in this passage (i) the threat is not to withdraw the Spirit, but to remove the ecclesia; and (ii) the threat is not to the universal Ecclesia but to one local ecclesia. Of course the Lord Jesus would never threaten to remove the universal Ecclesia, since to do so would renege on His promise that the gates of Hades would not overpower her (Matt. 16:18). Revelation 2-3 provides no evidence that Christ ever threatened to withdraw the Holy Spirit from the Ecclesia, much less that He ever carried out this threat.7

A broader objection is that surely not all ecclesias and believers were apostate. Christadelphians themselves typically maintain that the true body of Christ has persisted as a remnant through all the ages of darkness and apostasy. Thus, while it is entirely plausible that Christ would withdraw the Spirit 'from all association with an empty Christian name' in apostate ecclesias, the punishment explanation offers no plausible reason why Christ should also, at the same time, withdraw the Spirit from all association with the elect remnant that faithfully bore Christ's name! There is just no logic to it.

In view of the implausibility of the two reasons proposed by Robert Roberts, my challenge to hyper-cessationist Christadelphians today is to offer a reasonable explanation for why Christ withdrew the Holy Spirit from His Bride at a time when she was under great duress due to persecution, heresy, and an increasing number of converts directly from paganism.

We have so far discussed the 'why' of the alleged withdrawal of the Holy Spirit from the Ecclesia. What of the 'how'? According to a standard Christadelphian account, only the apostles received the power to transfer the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Thus, once the apostles died, no one else could receive the Holy Spirit, and so the Holy Spirit's activity dwindled into nothingness as those on whom the apostles had bestowed the gift gradually died out.

Remarkably, this entire version of events is reconstructed ex silencio from a few passages in Acts that describe the apostles laying their hands on others for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. Of particular note is Acts 8:17-21:
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. (NASB)
Hyper-cessationist Christadelphians take 'the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands' to be an exclusive, universal statement: the Spirit was only ever bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands. But this is to read into the text something that is not there. Indeed, Peter's response offers no hint that Simon's request for this authority was intrinsically impossible because he was not an apostle. Rather, it focuses on the bad state of Simon's heart. Other passages in the New Testament suggest that non-apostles could have the authority to bestow the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. Paul instructs Timothy not to neglect 'the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery' (1 Tim. 4:14). While this ordaining body seems to have included the apostle Paul himself (2 Tim. 1:6), the emphasis in this passage is on the presbytery or council of elders, which was surely not made up only of apostles. Moreover, 1 Tim. 5:22 presupposes that Timothy himself, a non-apostle, now had the authority to carry out the rite of the laying on of hands, and the context provides no basis for differentiating this laying on of hands from that which bestowed the Holy Spirit. Finally, the Book of Hebrews, probably not written by an apostle or to apostles, refers to 'instructions about washings and laying on of hands' among the 'elementary teachings' or, to use KJV and traditional Christadelphian language, 'first principles'. This gives the impression that 'laying on of hands' was a widespread practice in the early Ecclesia apart from the apostles themselves.

This Christadelphian argument for the total cessation of the Holy Spirit also rests on the premise that the laying on of hands is the only means by which the Holy Spirit can be bestowed on a person. Yet following the example of Christ, we must regard regeneration in baptism as a work of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; Mark 1:8-10; John 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:13; Tit. 3:5); hence all Christians have the Holy Spirit poured out in their hearts (Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 12:13; 2 Cor. 1:22; 3:3; Gal. 4:6). Much more could be said on this subject, but it is sufficient for us to conclude that the argument from silence offered for the cessation of the Holy Spirit carries no weight, in view of the many, many New Testament passages that presuppose the Holy Spirit as a going concern in the Ecclesia.

If the Christadelphian version of events is true, then after the last apostle died (traditionally understood to be John, c. 100 A.D.), the Ecclesia would have been aware that no further bestowal of the Holy Spirit was possible and that the heavenly gift would cease as soon as those individuals died on whom the apostles had laid their hands. If this were the case, we could reasonably expect Christian writings from the early second century to make reference to: (1) an expectation of the Holy Spirit's withdrawal; and (2) special attention paid to those last remaining individuals who had the Holy Spirit.

In fact, we find nothing of the kind in second century Christian literature. Although there is an awareness of the apostles' uniqueness (which the Ecclesia has always maintained), there is no mention anywhere of the idea that Holy Spirit activity died out with them, or would soon do so. It may be claimed that this is an argument from silence, but one can also point to abundant positive evidence that the post-apostolic Ecclesia regarded the Holy Spirit as still active.

Here is a quick survey of this positive evidence, which ranges in date roughly from the late first century to the middle of the second century. (For dates of individual texts, see my blog series on supernatural evil in the Apostolic Fathers.)
  • The Didache contains a whole section devoted to distinguishing between true and false prophets (chapter 11), which presupposes ongoing prophetic activity
  • The author of 1 Clement refers to the 'full outpouring of the Holy Spirit' that 'came upon everyone' in the Corinthian ecclesia (1 Clement 2.2),8 and later asks, 'Do we not have one God, and one Christ, and one gracious Spirit that has been poured out upon us...?' (1 Clement 46.6). He begins a statement with, 'For as God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit all live...' (1 Clement 58.2). Near the close of the letter he says, 'For you will make us joyful and happy if you become obedient to what we have written through the Holy Spirit and excise the wanton anger expressed through your jealousy' (1 Clement 63.2).
  • In his Epistle to Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch instructs Polycarp to pray that the invisible things may be revealed to him and that he may 'abound in every gracious gift (charismatos)' (2.2). In the prescript of the Epistle to the Philadelphians Ignatius asserts that the bishop, presbyters and deacons are 'those who have been securely set in place by his [Jesus Christ's] Holy Spirit according to his own will'. In his Epistle to the Ephesians Ignatius uses the following metaphor: 'For you are being carried up to the heights by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, using as a cable the Holy Spirit' (9.1). He also describes his relationship with the bishop in Ephesus as 'an intimacy that was not human but spiritual' (5.1).9
  • The Epistle of Barnabas opens thus: 'So great and abundant are the righteous acts of God toward you that I am exceedingly overjoyed, beyond measure, by your blessed and glorious spirits. For you have received such a measure of his grace planted within you, the spiritual gift! And so I share your joy all the more within myself [Or: I congratulate myself all the more], hoping to be saved; for truly I see that, in your midst, the Spirit has been poured out upon you from the abundance of the Lord's fountain' (Barnabas 1.2-1.3) Later, having emphasized that the habitation of our heart was formerly a house of demons, the writer states that now, 'God truly resides within our place of dwelling - within us' (Barnabas 16.8).
  • The Martyrdom of Polycarp reports that when Polycarp, at his martyrdom, was stabbed with a dagger, a dove came out (16.1). In view of the story of Jesus' baptism, this is probably to be understood as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.10 
  • The Shepherd of Hermas contains clear references to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Mandates 5.1.2-5.1.3, 5.2.5-5.2.6, 10.2.5, 11.1.8-11.1.9. For instance, 'For if you are patient, the holy spirit that dwells in you will be pure and will not be overshadowed by another, evil spirit; but dwelling in a broad place it will rejoice and be glad with the vessel it inhabits, and it will serve God with great cheerfulness, flourishing in itself. But if any irascibility should enter in, immediately the holy spirit, which is sensitive, feels cramped; and not having a pure place it seeks to leave.' (Hermas, Mandates 5.1.2-5.1.3; cf. Mandates 5.2.5-5.2.6, 10.2.5).11 The Visions and Similitudes  sections of the work consists of revelations which the author claimed to have received in the Spirit.
  • The Epistle to Diognetus says, 'This is the eternal one who "today" is considered to be the Son, through whom the church is enriched and unfolding grace is multiplied among the saints. This grace provides understanding, manifests mysteries, proclaims the seasons, rejoices in the faithful, and is given to those who seek, among whom pledges of faith are not broken and the boundaries of the fathers are not transgressed' (Diognetus 11.5)
  • Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho, tells Trypho, 'You should realize from the fact that among us Christians the charisms of prophecy exist down to the present day that the gifts that previously resided among your people have now been transferred to us' (Dialogue 82.1),12 and, 'Now if you look around, you can see among us Christians both male and female endowed with charisms from the Spirit of God.' (Dialogue 88.1)13
  • There are some second century writings, such as 2 Clement and Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians, that make no unambiguous mention of the Holy Spirit (though see Polycarp Philippians 5.3). However, we can no more interpret this silence as a belief that the Holy Spirit had lapsed than we can interpret the Epistle of James' silence as a belief that the Holy Spirit had lapsed in the first century.
There is thus abundant evidence that Christians soon after the apostolic period held a robust belief in the continuing activity of the Holy Spirit, with no hint of expectation that this activity would soon cease. Of course, some Christadelphians may want to claim that these writers were all apostate and deceived, but such persons ought to admit that their hyper-cessationist views cannot be found in early Christian texts.

As we saw in the previous post, Christadelphians have taught that the definitive product of the Holy Spirit's activity in the first century was the New Testament, and that once this was written, the Holy Spirit was no longer needed. As Robert Roberts stated in the passage quoted above, the early Ecclesia needed the Spirit because they lacked 'the authoritative standard of the completed Scripture which now exists'. Hinton wrote that 'Within two generations from the apostles, the New Testament had been written, and the purpose for which the Holy Spirit was given had been accomplished', while Crawford explains, '1 Cor. 13:10 demonstrates that the manifestations of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Cor. 12 "will be done away", i.e. when the canon was completed.' The Agora Bible Commentary, by Christadelphian George Booker, comments on 1 Cor. 13:10:
The canon of Scripture was completed in first century. Therefore, the main purpose of Holy Spirit (i.e. to produce and confirm inspired Bible) was accomplished.
One can note in passing that Booker provides no evidence for his claim that the production and confirmation of the Bible was the main purpose of the Holy Spirit (or for the implicit corollary that once the Bible was complete, the Holy Spirit was surplus to requirements). However, it is important that Booker here acknowledges that not only the production but also the confirmation of the biblical canon was the work of the Holy Spirit. Hence, by Booker's own admission, we must conclude that the Holy Spirit was active in the Ecclesia until the complete New Testament canon was confirmed. The all-important question, then, is when this occurred.

It may be granted that all the individual books that now form the New Testament were produced (i.e. written) by the first century, according to the traditional dating. However, the development from individual books to 'the authoritative standard of the completed Scripture' was a gradual process. The exact details of this process remain a subject of much debate among scholars.14 Du Toit describes the general contours of this process according to four stages:
Phase 1 ('latter part of first century CE'): 'Creation of various early Christian documents'
Phase 2 ('roughly from the close of the first century to the middle of the second'): 'Growing recognition of the normative character and collection into groups of a basic number of writings'
Phase 3 ('ca. mid-second century to 190 CE'): 'The New Testament canon becomes a reality... by now the idea of the canon has materialized; its broad base is fixed, but uncertainty still exists over the books on its periphery'
Phase 4 ('ca. 190-400 CE'): 'The closing of the canon'15
It may be eye opening to some Christadelphians to know how little use the Apostolic Fathers (writing from the late first to mid second centuries) made of the New Testament writings. The standard work in this respect is still The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (NTAF, which is in the public domain), published in 1905,16 although contemporary scholarship is more conservative about attributing New Testament parallels in the Apostolic Fathers to direct literary dependence.17 NTAF helpfully provides a fourfold classification system which classifies the use of a New Testament book in an Apostolic Father as 'A' (beyond reasonable doubt), 'B' (highly probable), 'C' (less probable), and 'D' (possibly, but without reliable evidence).18 NTAF further provides a helpful table in the appendix giving the authors' results for each Apostolic Father. Consider these below, remembering that contemporary scholarship would be more conservative:
Barnabas: B - Rom.; C - Eph., Heb.; D - Matt., 1 & 2 Cor., Col., 1 & 2 Tim., Tit., 1 Pet.; Unclassed - Luke, John, Rev.
Didache: B - Synoptic tradition; C? - Matthew; D - Luke, 1 Cor., 1 Pet.; D? - Acts, Rom.; Unclassed: John, Heb., Jude.
1 Clement: A - Rom., 1 Cor., Heb.; C - Acts, Tit.; D - 2 Cor., Gal., Phil., Col., 1 Tim., 1 Pet., 1 John, Apoc.
Ignatius: A - 1 Cor.; B - Matt., John, Eph.; C - Rom., 2 Cor. (?), Gal., Phil., 1 & 2 Tim., Tit.; D - Mark (?), Luke, Acts, Col., 1 & 2 Thess. (?), Philem. (?), Heb., 1 Pet.
Polycarp: A - 1 Cor., 1 Pet.; B - Rom., 2 Cor., Gal., Eph., Phil., 2 Thess., 1 & 2 Tim.; C - John, Acts, Heb., 1 John; D - Col.
Hermas: B - 1 Cor., Eph.; C - Matt., Mark, Heb., Jas; D - Luke, John, Acts, Rom., 1 Thess., 1 Pet.
2 Clement: C - Matt., Heb.; D - Luke, 1 Cor., Eph., Jas, 1 Pet.; Unclassed: Rom., 1 Tim., 2 Pet., Jude19
Of course, absence of evidence that a writer knew a New Testament book is not proof of the writer's ignorance of that book. However, it is clear that these leading Christians in the late first through mid second centuries were not writing with anything remotely like a 27-book New Testament open next to them.

It is apparent that something approaching our New Testament was in place by the late second century (particularly if the widely held but disputed second-century date for the Muratorian fragment is correct). Indeed,
The specific designation “New Testament” for Christian Scripture began to be used in the late second century, as the church began to select those documents that bore authentic witness to God’s act in Christ.20
However, the earliest extant listing of the 27 books which now form the New Testament canon occurs in a letter from Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in 367 A.D.21 (Yes, this is the same Athanasius who was a passionate defender of Trinitarian orthodoxy.) He is also the earliest writer to use the Greek word for 'canon' with reference to that list. The earliest extant listing of our 27-book New Testament in a communal decision comes from the regional Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. In other words, the earliest date when we could plausibly say the New Testament canon was complete and normative is the end of the fourth century.22 23 Hence, by Booker's reasoning, we are required to conclude that the Holy Spirit was active in the Ecclesia - specifically, the catholic Ecclesia - until at least the end of the fourth century.

This highlights two fundamental inconsistencies in the Christadelphian account of early Christian history. The first inconsistency is the claim that, on the one hand, the Holy Spirit ceased to be active in the Ecclesia by the mid second century but that, on the other hand, the New Testament canon that was set around the end of the fourth century infallibly defines the boundaries of Scripture.24 The foundational article of the Christadelphian Statement of Faith takes the canon of Scripture as an a priori:
That the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth, and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers, and are consequently without error in all parts of them, except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation.25
This proposition cites several Scripture passages in support (2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Cor. 2:13; Heb. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:21; 1 Cor. 14:37; Neh. 9:30; John 10:35), but none of these passages tell us which books constitute 'Scripture'. None of them prove that Scripture consists exactly of 'the book currently known as the Bible'. Hence, Booker rightly asserted that the Holy Spirit needed not only to produce the books of the Bible but also to confirm them; and this confirmation, as we have seen, was only completed in the fourth century at the earliest. Christadelphians must either deny the infallibility of the New Testament canon, or else must affirm that the Holy Spirit was active in the Ecclesia at least until the late fourth century.

The second fundamental inconsistency in the Christadelphian account of early Christian history is this: on the one hand, Christadelphians accept as infallible the New Testament canon as first mentioned in the second half of the fourth century (by a Trinitarian bishop). On the other hand, Christadelphians assert that the Ecclesia was hopelessly apostate long before the fourth century (the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. being regarded as a particularly egregious embrace of apostate doctrine). Hence, Christadelphians accept a canon that, in their view, was defined by an apostate Ecclesia that had long since abandoned the essentials of the gospel. Again, Christadelphians are faced with a difficult choice. They must either deny the infallibility of the New Testament canon, or else must affirm that the Holy Spirit was active in the Ecclesia in the late fourth century, in which case they can hardly regard the fourth century Ecclesia as apostate. It would be arbitrary to claim that the Holy Spirit guided the fourth century Ecclesia to an infallibly correct definition of the New Testament canon but allowed the fourth century Ecclesia to completely misunderstand its contents.

Having looked at these historical issues, the bottom line is this: one cannot have ecclesial deism of the Christadelphian variety and also have a divinely sanctioned New Testament canon. Logically, one must allow either for Holy Spirit activity in the Ecclesia through the fourth century, with all that this entails, or else one must give up the foundation on which the entire Christadelphian Statement of Faith rests - the idea of an infallible New Testament canon.26

Besides the logical inconsistencies in the Christadelphian narrative of early Christian history, there is an additional theological problem that should be mentioned. The Christadelphian narrative implies the existence of a 'dark age' during which the Ecclesia had neither the Holy Spirit nor a canonical New Testament. This state of affairs would have existed from the time when the Holy Spirit passed off the scene (mid second century) until the canon was effectively closed (late fourth century). The problem would have been particularly acute in the mid second century when the Holy Spirit was extinct and yet even the idea of a New Testament canon had not yet developed (as far as we have evidence). It is as though the Lord abandoned His Bride for a time; and this abandonment had devastating effects, since - according to the Christadelphian paradigm - this was precisely the time when the great apostasy became entrenched in the catholic Ecclesia.

If the Bible 'is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth', as the BASF asserts, then how can one know that one's theological understanding of the Bible is correct? This question is very pertinent given the proliferation of competing, mutually exclusive doctrinal systems, particularly over the past two centuries. The ecclesial deism paradigm is closed to answers given by Protestants (one can know through the internal witness of the Holy Spirit) and Catholics (one can know through submission to a visible, divinely sanctioned ecclesiastical authority). In fact, in answering this question the ecclesial deist can appeal to no higher authority than himself. I can be as confident in the soundness of my theology as I am confident in my own intellectual prowess and honesty. Indeed, if I am confident in my theology, it is perfectly reasonable for me to boast about it (and I may even give my magnum opus the title, 'I have found it', Eureka!, like any other natural scientist might.)

We noted in the previous post how Robert Roberts emphasized Dr. Thomas' natural qualities as a major factor in his rediscovery of the Truth. For an ecclesial deist to cross the hermeneutical bridge from Scripture to theology, it is necessary to put confidence in man - whether that man is oneself, Dr. Thomas, or someone else. When asked if we understand the Scriptures, we are not allowed to ask, with the Ethiopian eunuch, 'Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?' (Acts 8:30 NASB) We must simply study harder, and avoid the fatal risk of wresting the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16) apparently through sheer willpower.

It should be clear that the epistemology of ecclesial deism is radically humanistic, and it ultimately confronts the seeker of divine truth with one of two options. The first option is to elevate myself, regarding my own interpretations of Scripture as more trustworthy than anyone else's. If I want to maintain that I understand the true gospel while the vast majority of professing Christians do not, and yet that the true gospel is understood through a purely human process of reflective Bible study, then I must either maintain that my own intellectual qualities are extraordinarily good, or that the intellectual qualities of the masses are extraordinarily bad while mine are ordinary. Either way, I am elevating myself relative to the masses. This is theological narcissism or elitism.

The second option is a retreat from dogma. Why is this? If I am unwilling to elevate myself, then I cannot be confident that my theology is sound. Neither, for that matter, can anyone else, since all are in the same boat. Hence, if I am to maintain my Christian profession, I must assert that sound theology really doesn't matter. All Jesus cares about is our sincere belief in an absolute minimum of the gospel, and/or our character. Theologizing beyond that is at best an interesting hobby and at worst a Pharisaical distraction. However, given the widespread concerns about false doctrine in the New Testament, it is clear that sound theology matters to Jesus.

In short, for the hyper-cessationist, the ecclesial deist, there is no logical basis for being theologically humble and confident at the same time.

In this article, following on the brief critique of ecclesial deism in the previous article, we have given five reasons why ecclesial deism is biblically, historically, and epistemologically untenable. To recap: (1) Ecclesial deists are unable to provide a principled, internally consistent reason why the Holy Spirit should have become inactive in the early Ecclesia. (2) The New Testament did not teach that the Holy Spirit would become inactive. (3) Second century Christians, as exemplified by the Apostolic Fathers, continue to presuppose the activity of the Holy Spirit and do not show the slightest awareness that the gift had ceased or would soon cease. (4) Ecclesial deists have no epistemological basis for maintaining an authoritative New Testament canon, since the canon was defined at a time when, according to the narrative of ecclesial deism, the Holy Spirit had ceased and the Ecclesia had been almost totally corrupted. (5) An ecclesial deist cannot appeal his/her interpretation of Scripture to any higher authority than his/her own natural intellect. Hence, one must either elevate oneself, or belittle others, or both.

Hopefully the reader is convinced that ecclesial deism is not a viable ecclesiology, just as hyper-cessationism is not a viable pneumatology. If Jesus is Lord, then the Holy Spirit must be active in His Ecclesia until the end of the age, just as He promised. I would like to make an appeal to Christadelphian readers who find themselves in agreement with the previous sentence. You belong to a sect founded on a very specific theological system. The founders of the sect, Dr. John Thomas and Robert Roberts, were emphatic proponents of hyper-cessationism and ecclesial deism, among other distinctive theological positions. If you now acknowledge they were seriously mistaken in this area of their theology, might it not be time for a more critical look at other aspects of Christadelphian theology? After all, by their own testimony, the founders of this system were not led by the Spirit in their interpretation of Scripture.


  • 1 Roberts, Robert. Christendom Astray
  • 2 'One of the remarkable features of the early church was its transition from a Jewish Christianity to a Gentile Christianity in the Greco-Roman world. Jesus himself, of course, was a Jew, deeply rooted in the faith and traditions of his people. The earliest believers after the resurrection were Jews, natives of Palestine and inhabitants of the diaspora. But it was not long before there were evangelizing efforts among those who were not Jews... In the course of the first century the Christian church moved from its Jewish Christian beginnings to become a new and distinct religion, predominantly Gentile, seeking to find a place in the Greco-Roman world.' (Cwiekowski, Frederick J. (1988). The Beginnings of the Church. Mahwah: Paulist Press, p. 199)
  • 3 Skarsaune, Oskar. (2002). In the shadow of the temple: Jewish influences on early Christianity. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 83.
  • 4 op. cit., p. 228
  • 5 Roberts, Robert. A Guide to the Formation and Conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias.
  • 6 Roberts, Robert. Thirteen Lectures on the Apocalypse, p. 17
  • 7 It seems that the threat was not carried out even in the case of Ephesus, since this ecclesia is the recipient of a letter from Ignatius of Antioch only a few years or decades later.
  • 8 Unless otherwise indicated, translations of Apostolic Fathers passages are from Ehrman, Bart D. (2003). The Apostolic Fathers (2 vols.). Harvard: Cambridge University Press.
  • 9 See also Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians 17.2.
  • 10 See also Martyrdom of Polycarp 7.3.
  • 11 Similarly, 'The holy spirit does not speak when the person wants to speak, but when God wants him to speak. When, then, the person who has the divine spirit comes into a gathering of upright men who have the faith of the divine spirit, and a petition comes to God from the upright men who are gathered together, then the angel of the prophetic spirit lying upon that person fills him; and once he is filled, that one speaks in the holy spirit to the congregation, just as the Lord desires. In this way the divine spirit will be evident to you. This, then, is the kind of power that the divine spirit of the Lord has.' (Hermas, Mandates 11.1.8-10)
  • 12 trans. Slusser, Michael. (ed.). (2003). St. Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho: translated by Thomas B. Falls, revised and with a new introduction by Thomas P. Halton. Washington: Catholic University of America Press, p. 128).
  • 13 trans. Slusser, op. cit., p. 137.
  • 14 'The question of how, when, and why the New Testament came into being – a firmly delimited collection of precisely 27 documents – is still very much in dispute among biblical scholars and church historians.' (Gamble, Harry. (2004). Literacy, Liturgy, and the Shaping of the New Testament Canon. In Charles Horton (Ed.), The Origins and Transmission of the Earliest Christian Gospels – The Contribution of the Chester Beatty Gospel Codex P45 (pp. 27-39). London: T&T Clark International, p. 35).
  • 15 Du Toit, Andrie B. (1993). Canon. In Bruce M. Metzger & Michael David Coogan (Eds.), The Oxford Companion to the Bible (pp. 98-104). Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 102-103.
  • 16 A Committee of the Oxford Society of Historical Theology. (1905). The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • 17 Williams, in a review of a more recent work entitled The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, notes that 'As would be expected, they generally find fewer certain references of the NT in the Apostolic Fathers' than the 1905 volume (Williams III, H. Drake. (2009). Review of Gregory & Tuckett, eds. ‘The Receptionof the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers’. Themelios, 34(2), 232-234; here p. 233.)
  • 18 The NTAF description of the classification system is as follows: 'It was decided to arrange the books of the New Testament in four classes, distinguished by the letters A, B, C, and D, according to the degree of probability of their use by the several authors. Class A includes those books about which there can be no reasonable doubt, either because they are expressly mentioned, or because there are other certain indications of their use. Class B comprises those books the use of which, in the judgement of the editors, reaches a high degree of probability. With class C we come to a lower degree of probability ; and in class D are placed those books which may possibly be referred to, but in regard to which the evidence appeared too uncertain to allow any reliance to be placed upon it.' (op. cit., p. iii.)
  • 19 op. cit., p. 137.
  • 20 Boring, M. Eugene & Craddock, Fred B. (2009). The People’s New Testament Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 2. Clark-Soles similarly notes, 'By the end of the 2nd century, many of the New Testament books in the canon today were being used scripturally' (Clark-Soles, Jaime. (2010). Engaging the Word: The New Testament and the Christian Believer. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 91).
  • 21 This letter is 'most widely remembered... for its inclusion of an inventory of the 27 books of the New Testament that is the first mention of the canonical list as it has been used ever since. It also features the earliest use of a form of the Greek word for "canon" applied to that list.' (Gallagher, Eugene V. (2014). Reading and Writing Scripture in New Religious Movements. New York: Palmgrave McMillan, p. 1.
  • 22 Debate still continued thereafter, in some quarters, for several centuries; and no ecumenical, magisterial pronouncement on the canon of Scripture was made until the Council of Trent in the 16th century.
  • 23 'The North African Council of Carthage in 397 CE asked for Rome's approval of the list. So, by the close of the 4th century, we have our New Testament. However, not all Christian congregations and individuals agreed with that list or ceased using other books that they had considered authoritative.' (Clark-Soles, op. cit.)
  • 24 I have not dealt with the issue of the Old Testament canon here, since Christadelphians might plausibly claim that this was fixed by the end of the first century.
  • 25 The Christadelphian pioneers, Dr. John Thomas and Robert Roberts, seem never to have opened the canon to any serious scrutiny.
  • 26 An objection that might be raised is that the New Testament canon is somehow self-evident. But if this was not the case for the early Ecclesia (as evinced by the gradual development of the canon, the extensive debate that took place over certain books, and the adoption of narrower or wider canons in, for example, the Nestorian and Ethiopian churches), it is unclear why it should be the case today.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Christadelphian ecclesial deism (1)

Ecclesial deism defined
The Christadelphian ecclesial meta-narrative
Why the Christadelphian ecclesial meta-narrative is acutely deistic
Christadelphians' low ecclesiology
A brief critique of Christadelphian ecclesial deism

When one sets out to differentiate Christadelphians from historic Christian orthodoxy, a few key doctrinal distinctives will usually be emphasized, such as the Christadelphian position on the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, and the devil. This is true regardless of whether the author or speaker is engaging in Christadelphian apologetics, counter-Christadelphian apologetics, or is a neutral observer (e.g. a journalist or sociologist). However, there are two doctrinal distinctives which receive a lot less recognition0 but are, in my view, just as uniquely Christadelphian and just as important for understanding the Christadelphian worldview. These are the Christadelphian doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology), which I would call hyper-cessationism, and the Christadelphian doctrine of the Ecclesia or Church (ecclesiology), which I would call ecclesial deism. I have described hyper-cessationism in a previous post, so I will now turn my attention to ecclesial deism. This article will be mainly descriptive, but with a brief critique at the end; I hope to continue the critique will continue in a follow-up article.

Ecclesial deism defined

Deism is
The belief that understands God as distant, in that God created the universe but then left it to run its course on its own, following certain "laws of nature" that God had built into the universe. An analogy often used to illustrate the deist view is that of an artisan who creates a mechanical clock, winds it up and then leaves the clock alone to "run out."1
Ecclesial deism, then, is deism applied not to the world in general but specifically to the Church or Ecclesia:
ecclesial deism may be considered, as the ecclesial version of deism, as an attitude towards the mystery of God. Like deism, it restricts God's activity with respect to the Church to the beginning (foundation by Christ) and, if desired, to the end of history (Reign of God). God's activity, however, is not perceived as a current event. Ecclesial deism implies that responsibility for the Church's mission and organization is considered to be human business almost exclusively.2
If you Google the term 'ecclesial deism', you will find that it is used mainly in Roman Catholic counter-Protestant apologetics, with Catholics claiming that Protestants are ecclesial deists. Our intention here is not to wade into this Catholic-Protestant debate, but simply to borrow the term 'ecclesial deism' because it is a particularly apt descriptor of Christadelphian ecclesiology.

The Christadelphian ecclesial meta-narrative

Before explaining how the Christadelphians are ecclesial deists, it will be helpful to summarize the Christadelphian meta-narrative of Ecclesial/Church history. In my own words, it runs something like this:
1) Jesus sent out the apostles, who through the guidance of the Holy Spirit established the Ecclesia in doctrinal purity.3 
2) The ultimate objective of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostolic Ecclesia was the composition of the New Testament.4 5 6 7
3) Because only the apostles were empowered to transfer the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit lapsed soon after the apostles died, and was certainly unavailable by the mid-second century A.D.8 9 10 11 The loss of the Holy Spirit may also have been a punishment inflicted by God for apostasy.12
4) The Great Apostasy, foretold in the New Testament, began to infiltrate the Ecclesia before the end of the first century A.D.13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Its influence spread rapidly in the Spirit-deprived second century Ecclesia20 and by the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), the 'Church' had thoroughly corrupted the apostolic gospel.21 The Apostasy reached its zenith soon afterward as the papacy assumed total ecclesiastical and temporal power.22 The true Ecclesia endured only as a persecuted remnant, if she always existed at all.23 24 25 26 27 28 
5) The Reformers of the sixteenth century did not rediscover the true gospel, but did reintroduce the primacy of Scripture, setting in motion a chain of events that would culminate in the revival of the apostolic gospel.29  30 31 Some groups in the Radical Reformation may have revived true apostolic doctrine in its fullness.32 33 
6) The apostolic gospel ('the Truth') was definitively recovered in the mid-nineteenth century by Dr. John Thomas using his exceptional natural abilities34 through diligent study of the Scriptures.35 36 37 It is thanks to Dr. Thomas that the Truth has been revived in modern times.38 39 Dr. Thomas achieved this without any direct influence from the Holy Spirit,40 although his life circumstances were guided by Providence.41 42
7) The sect founded by Dr. Thomas, the Christadelphians, are the latter-day Ecclesia,43 44 45 and they will persist in defending the Truth until Christ returns, through their own diligence,46 and because Scripture foretells it.47 48
Why the Christadelphian ecclesial meta-narrative is acutely deistic

Two aspects of the meta-narrative outlined above foster ecclesial deism.
i) In contrast to Roman Catholics and Protestants alike, Christadelphians have traditionally denied that God (through the Holy Spirit) actively guides the Ecclesia into truth.49 This is a corollary of the traditional50 Christadelphian doctrine of hyper-cessationismnamely, that the Holy Spirit has been totally inactive since shortly after the apostolic era. The analogy to deism is clear. In deism, God creates the world, puts natural laws in place and then observes passively as history unfolds. In the Christadelphian meta-narrative, Christ establishes the Ecclesia, the Holy Spirit gets her off and running and provides her with the Bible, and then God withdraws the Spirit and observes passively as ecclesial history unfolds (until the appointed time of the Second Coming). Hence, Robert Roberts urges Christadelphians to '[make] the most of the unprivileged circumstances of a time succeeding to a long period of divine absence and ecclesial chaos'.51 Essentially, Roberts is telling the Christadelphian Ecclesia, 'You're on your own.' It is no wonder that he placed such emphasis on Dr. Thomas' natural qualities as a necessary prerequisite for the revival of gospel truth.
ii) Most Protestant denominations accept the judgments of at least the first four Ecumenical Councils (Nicea, 325 A.D.; Constantinople, 381 A.D.; Ephesus, 431 A.D.; Chalcedon, 451 A.D.)52 This means that Protestants are comfortable affirming that, thanks to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the catholic53 Church managed to correctly define its core doctrines concerning God and Christ, and to avoid major doctrinal errors at least through the mid-fifth century. By contrast, Christadelphians affirm that the catholic Church had fallen into serious error by the late second century at the latest, and was totally corrupt by the time of the Council of Nicea. We will see in the next post why this difference of a couple of centuries is highly significant. For now, we can just note the Christadelphian contention that after the apostles died and the Holy Spirit lapsed, the Ecclesia went completely awry almost immediately: 'The Truth has survived longer with the Scriptures [i.e. since Dr. Thomas recovered it through Bible study] than it did with the gifts [i.e. in the apostolic era] (about 150 years compared to 70).'54 Hence, Christadelphians take a particularly dim view of early ecclesial history.
Christadelphians' low ecclesiology

Christadelphian theology is characterized by a low ecclesiology. While Christadelphians of course affirm the existence of the Ecclesia, a doctrine of the Ecclesia is not a major emphasis in Christadelphian literature. Due to a focus on the autonomy of local congregations, Christadelphians seem to use the word 'ecclesia' more frequently to refer to a local congregation than the collective body of Christ (though these two senses are of course not antithetical).55 It is semantically significant that Christadelphians usually write the word 'ecclesia' in all lower case, even when it bears the latter sense. A good indication of the low priority that ecclesiology receives in Christadelphian theology is the complete absence of the words 'ecclesia' and 'church' from the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, including the Truth to be Received, Doctrines to be Rejected, and Commandments of Christ, with the exception of one Doctrine to be Rejected which negates a proposition about the church.56 Besides this silence in the Statement of Faith, I personally am not aware of any Christadelphian book that has been written on ecclesiology from a primarily doctrinal point of view.

Christadelphian works which discuss or define the Ecclesia tend to focus on self-directed imperatives: what kind of Ecclesia we ought to be, and not on divine promises to the Ecclesia.57 It is remarkable that in reading Christadelphian literature in preparation for this post, I twice read that Paul's reference to the Ecclesia as 'the pillar and ground of the truth' (1 Tim. 3:15) emphasizes something the Ecclesia does for itself, with no mention of what God does for the Ecclesia.58
Christadelphian ecclesiology is anthropocentric and earthbound; it radically de-emphasizes God's active role in building, nourishing and protecting the Ecclesia.

It must be noted that although Christadelphian deism is radical, is not absolute. If it were, Christadelphians would not condone supplicatory prayer. Moreover, we have seen that Christadelphians allow a role for 'providence' in the present. But what is providence? In his book on the subject, The Ways of Providence, Robert Roberts states that the central idea of providence is 'a special discrimination and influence in the shaping of circumstances in particular cases'. Yet this seems to be little more than a reverent way of referring to good fortune, of bringing luck within the divine remit. The real effect of elevating 'providence' is to restrict the scope of divine activity and describe it vaguely enough to neutralize its threat to human autonomy. Providence is offered as an alternative to belief in the activity of the Holy Spirit. Yet the former term is never used in the Bible,59 while the latter floods its pages, especially in the New Testament.

Christadelphians appear to give short shrift to biblical passages which emphasize the Lord's care and nourishment of the Ecclesia (Matt. 16:18-19; 28:18-20; Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:18-23; 3:20-21; 5:29-32; Col. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 12:22-24), and the perpetual availability and necessity of the Holy Spirit in the Ecclesia (Luke 11:13; Acts 2:38-39; John 14:16-18; Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; 12:13; Eph. 2:18; 4:4). The Christadelphian doctrine of hyper-cessationism, too, is biblically bankrupt. We cannot treat the subject here, but there are plenty of passages that straightforwardly refute the notion that the Holy Spirit would become unavailable to the Ecclesia . The notion of the Spirit as a down-payment on eternal life also militates against the Spirit's withdrawal. There is not one passage in the New Testament stating that the Holy Spirit would lapse, or become available only in the written form of Scripture. Hyper-cessationism relies heavily on an anachronistic 'New Testament Canon' interpretation of 'the perfect' in 1 Cor. 13:8 (see below).

For my part, I cannot help but think that Christadelphian ecclesial deism boils down to a pessimistic lack of faith. There is a lack of faith in Christ's promise that the gates of Hades would not prevail against the Ecclesia; that Christ - who has been given all authority and heaven and earth - actively rules and nourishes the Ecclesia; that the Holy Spirit would remain and guide the Ecclesia into truth. All of this is set aside in the face of passages which foretell the infiltration of the Ecclesia by false teachers. But can false teachers overcome the power of Christ? Writings from the post-apostolic era such as Ignatius' epistles and Irenaeus' Against Heresies document the many false teachings that did arise (as the apostles foretold), but also document how Christ preserved the Ecclesia from these errors. As we have seen above, Robert Roberts took the letters to the seven ecclesias in Rev. 2-3 as evidence that apostasy was rampant and the Ecclesia in spiritual freefall by the end of the first century. He assumes without evidence that the readers did not heed Christ's call to repentance, whereas the very fact of the letters' preservation suggests otherwise. These writers also overlook that the letters are addressed to situations facing specific historical congregations. There is no threat of removing the lampstand of the Ecclesia as a whole, and two of the seven ecclesias (Smyrna and Philadelphia) receive no rebuke at all.

This pessimistic spirit, which elevates the New Testament's warnings about false teachers while marginalizing the New Testament's promises from Christ to the Ecclesia, is exemplified well in Dr. Thomas' assertion that even the apostles were impotent in the face of apostates:
Nor were the apostles able to extinguish their evil influence. Their reasonings and denunciations and threatenings, although sanctioned by the Spirit, failed to check or restrain the rapidly developing apostasy... and as error always progresses more rapidly than truth, the apostles found their influence waning, and the faithful falling into a minority60
'Error always progresses more rapidly than truth'? Can any statement be more antithetical to the optimism with which the apostles undertook to fulfill the Great Commission, founded on the promise of their mighty Lord to be with them to the end of the age? Can error outpace the 'growth which is from God' (Col. 2:19)? Had the good Doctor overlooked the promise given in 1 John 4:4 in the teeth of the threat of the antichrist, 'You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world'?

For me, a statement that epitomizes the oddness of Christadelphian ecclesial deism is that of Reg Carr, who describes the Christadelphian community as
a conscious attempt to revive the teaching of the apostles and to carry on their efforts to make ready a people prepared for the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth.61
An attempt? The Ecclesia of God is an attempt to revive the teaching of the apostles and carry on their efforts? This feeble ecclesiology stands in radical contrast to Paul, who writes of
the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:19-23 NASB)
In the following post, we will continue our critique of Christadelphian ecclesial deism using three lines of argument.
  • First, we will argue that Christadelphians have been unable to articulate a plausible explanation for why the Holy Spirit should have lapsed from the Ecclesia at the close of the apostolic era, and that those explanations which have been proffered are self-contradictory.
  • Second, we will draw attention to two fundamental chronological flaws in the Christadelphian ecclesial meta-narrative. Specifically, this meta-narrative implies that (1) the Ecclesia went through a period in which she was deprived of both the Holy Spirit and the New Testament Canon; and (2) that the New Testament Canon was set by a Spirit-less, apostate Ecclesia and yet remains the infallible, authoritative foundation for knowledge of Christ.
  • Third, we will argue that under Christadelphian ecclesial deism, the Lord's truth and sovereignty in His Ecclesia is mediated through a purely human process of biblical interpretation. Confidence in the Lord exists, therefore, only in proportion to confidence in the flesh, i.e., in one's own natural abilities as an interpreter of Scripture.


  • 0 A possible reason why these two positions receive less recognition is that they are not enshrined in the Christadelphian Statement of Faith, or at least not explicitly - we can infer something from the Statement of Faith's near silence on these two topics. Because they are not enjoined in the Statement of Faith, diversity does exist in Christadelphian pneumatology and ecclesiology. My focus is on positions which are found in the writings of the pioneers (Dr. John Thomas and Robert Roberts) as well as contemporary writings and can therefore be considered historically normative or mainstream within the movement.
  • 1 Grenz, Stanley J., Guretzki, David, & Nordling, Cherith Fee. (1999). Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p. 36
  • 2 Witte, Henk. (2012). "Ecclesia, quid dicis de teipsa?" Can Ecclesiology Be of Any Help to the Church to Deal with Advanced Modernity? In Staf Hellemans & Jozef Wissink (Eds.), Towards a New Catholic Church in Advanced Modernity: Transformations, Visions, Tensions (pp. 121-146). Z├╝rich: LIT Verlag, p. 137 n. 21.
  • 3 '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; 1Peter 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.' (Robert Roberts, Christendom Astray, p. 148)
  • 4 Commenting on 'the perfect' in 1 Cor. 13:8, O'Connor writes: 'This means that "THE PERFECT" had come when the Bible was complete and the original ecclesias had been developed to maturity, cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6; Philippians 3:15; Colossians 1:28. Then in the first century the gifts began to vanish' (Rick O'Connor, The Things of the Kingdom and the Things of the Name)
  • 5 '1 Cor. 13:10 demonstrates that the manifestations of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Cor. 12 "will be done away", i.e. when the canon was completed.' (Aleck Crawford, The Spirit: A General Exposition on New Testament Usage
  • 6 'This is the product of the Spirit - the ideas of the Spirit reduced to writing by the ancient men who were moved by it.' (Roberts, op. cit., p. 149)
  • 7 'Within two generations from the apostles, the New Testament had been written, and the purpose for which the Holy Spirit was given had been accomplished (1 Cor. 13:8-10)' (Carl Hinton, 
Apostasy and Revival of the Truth)
  • 8 'Seeing that the gifts of the spirit were only imparted by the laying on of the Apostles' hands, it is obvious that with the death of the last of these Apostles (John), the spirit-gifts would gradually cease to be manifested. That is what happened.' (Anonymous, The Claim to Speak in Tongues and Perform Miracles)
  • 9 'Acts 8:18 shows that only the Apostles could pass on the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (even Philip the evangelist could not pass it on). When the last of the Apostles died around the end of the first century A.D. the ability to pass on the gift also ceased. This ability was not transferred to their ‘successors’ because it was not necessary that the gifts continue any longer. The result was that those who had received a gift, dwindle away in number to nothing during the second century.' (O'Connor, op. cit.)
  • 10 'As to when, and why, the Holy Spirit was withdrawn, the following from the pens of Dr. Thomas and Brother Roberts is to the point: "It was necessary, as a confirmation of the word preached (Heb. ii. 4; Acts v. 82; iv. 29, 30, 33), and for the upbuilding of the community of believers (1 Cor. xii. 28; Ephes. iv. 11-16). When this purpose was served, the manifestation of the Spirit subsided with the death of those possessing it" - Dr. John Thomas. "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" - Robert Roberts.' (F.G. Jannaway, Christadelphian Answers, p. 15)
  • 11 'The "Laying on of hands" was a rite, or ceremony, whereby the Holy Spirit was bestowed by the Apostles (Acts viii. 18; xix. 6), and sanction given for special missionary work (Acts vi. 6; xiii. 3). The "laying on of hands" ceased with the Apostolic Age; the "Gift of the Holy Spirit" having been withdrawn when its necessary work of confirming the word spoken had been completed (1 Cor. xiii. 8), and signs and wonders were no longer necessary (Mark xvi. 17, 20; Acts ii. 43; v. 12; Heb. ii. 4).' (F.G. Jannaway, Christadelphian Answers, pp. 206-207)
  • 12 Concerning Revelation 2-3, Robert Roberts writes, 'Oil symbolically used stands for the Spirit of God, as proved in many ways which we need not refer to. The Spirit of God was bestowed upon the ecclesias in the first century. It was this that constituted them the Spirit's candlesticks. Hence the threat was a threat of the withdrawal of the Spirit. The threat was duly carried into effect. The reformation desired did not set in. The Apostasy, which Paul declared to be in active progress before his death, got the upper hand everywhere, and the candlesticks were removed in all senses, since which day, the light of inspiration has been extinct, except in so far as it survives in the writings of the Spirit -- the oracles of God which are to us a treasure beyond price.' (Thirteen Lectures on the Apocalypse, p. 17)
  • 13 Concerning the Judaizers opposed by Paul in Galatians, Dr. Thomas writes, 'It was the beginning of that awful apostasy, the fruit of which we behold in the ecclesiastical system of our day.' (Elpis Israel, p. 209)
  • 14 'Yet in the face of triumph, there lay the threat of apostasy. So it transpired. When the apostles died, apostasy set in, and darkness returned. But even in the midst of the long darkness of Gentile power, the light of the Truth flickered, ready to be rekindled in the nineteenth century... The letters of Christ to the ecclesias in Revelation 2 and 3 witness the decline that had already commenced.' (Carl Hinton, Apostasy and Revival of the Truth)
  • 15 'The apostasy had its beginning in the first century ecclesia, otherwise it could not be a "falling away". The apostasy has continued to the present day and will continue until the return of the Lord when it will be destroyed (2:8). It is important to note that the apostasy goes back to the first century when the "mystery of iniquity" already worked (2:7).' (Abel, Ron. (1984). The Man of Sin: A Future Fuehrer in Jerusalem or Roman Catholic Apostasy? Torrens Park: Christadelphian Scripture Study Service, p. 23).
  • 16 John Ullman describes Dr. Thomas' view thus: 'Through his study of the way in which apostasy began to sweep aside apostolic teaching in the first century, he had become deeply aware of the way fleshly philosophy corrupted the Truth' (Obey the Shepherd's Voice, p. 105)
  • 17 One Christadelphian writer describes the state of affairs at the end of the first century as 'a church drifting rapidly towards apostasy' (Anonymous, The Name of God in the NT)
  • 18 'The history of the "Christian" community since the first century, however, is a sad case of falling away from the simple truths believed by those early disciples of Christ—a process grimly predicted many times by the apostles themselves, speaking by Divine authority (Acts 20:29,30; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:3,4; 1 Jno. 2:18.19; Jude v. 18). The death of the inspired apostles, and of those who shared with them the Spirit-gifts and the Divinely appointed oversight of the household of faith, only served to contribute to this decay, as the third-generation Christians—like the children of Israel before them (Judg. 2:7)—fell into apostasy. As one writer so aptly puts it, "all trace of primitive truth disappeared, and the Spirit of the Lord was withdrawn from all association with an empty Christian name".' (Reg Carr, The Organisation of the Christadelphian Community)
  • 19 'If the first Century Ecclesia became apostate, can the same trends that developed into the "Apostasy" 1,900 years ago, be discerned within our Christadelphian communities today?' (Anonymous, I will place upon you no other burden: A scriptural appeal to the Christadelphian brotherhood)
  • 20 'This ministration of the Spirit, and this presence of divine authority in the ecclesias or communities, continued during the days of the apostles, and the generation next ensuing. After that, an apostasy arose in the apostolic community, after the analogy of the case of Israel, in their first settlement of Canaan; who “served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that out-lived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord that he did for Israel” (Judges 2:7). The apostasy prevailed more and more, as the Apostles, by the Spirit, predicted would be the case (2 Timothy 4:1-4; 2:17), until all trace of primitive truth disappeared, and the Spirit of the Lord was withdrawn from all association with an empty Christian name. Whatever genuine profession may have existed since then, has not been honoured by a return of the Spirit’s witnessing and governing presence.' (Robert Roberts, A guide to the formation and conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias); 'But the day of open communication was suspended for a time, when, after the final word by the hand of the Lord Jesus, the apostasy came in like a flood and submerged the light in darkness. It was a day spoken of beforehand, that it would come when there would be a famine, “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord,” when men should run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord and should not find it (Amos 8:11-12); when there should be “no answer of God” (Micah 3:7).' (Robert Roberts, The Ways of Providence)
  • 21 Abel provides a detailed timeline of the Church's adoption of apostate doctrines. Up to the end of the fourth century, the list runs as follows: 'Immortality of the soul (approx.) 124; Pre-human existence of Christ 124; Substitutionary sacrifice 124; Sprinkling instead of immersion 150; Greek word "trias" used for the trinity 180; The term "priest" applied to church officials 200; Millennial reign of Christ regarded as an allegory 200; Platonic philosophy introduced by Origen 200; Perpetual virginity of Mary 250; Primacy of Peter 250; Apostolic succession 250; Infant baptism 250; Monasticism founded 270; Prayers for the dead (approx.) 300; Making the sign of the cross (approx.) 300; Emperor Constantine makes apostate Christianity the state religion—wholesale inclusion of Christianized pagans 312; Wax candles 320; Jesus a person within the Godhead (Council of Nicaea—from which came the Nicene Creed) 325; Veneration of dead "saints" and angels 375; Use of images 375; The "Holy Ghost" a person within the Godhead (Council of Constantinople) 381; Emperor Theodosius makes apostate Christianity compulsory 395; "Pontifex Maximus" (formerly title of Caesar and high priest of heathen religion) taken as title of Bishop of Rome 395' (op. cit., p. 28)
  • 22 'Then we behold, succeeding, a period of great and prosperous activity among the apostles, the rapid multiplication of believers, the formation of communities of brethren everywhere, the prevalence of comfort and joy and the fear of the Lord among the thousands who received the Word. Then we see persecution and trouble; then delay in the expected judgments on Jerusalem; then the uprise of questions, strifes of words, heresies; the perverse disputing of men of corrupt minds; the death of the apostles one by one except John; the cooling of zeal among professors, the growth of corruption among them in faith and practice; then the publication of Christ's message to seven typical ecclesias in Asia, through John in Patmos, shining out in the thickening gloom with the brightness of a great light in heaven. Then John dies, the light goes out, darkness settles on the scene; philosophy and vain deceit prevail over the simplicity of the Gospel, through the ingenuities of carnally-minded teachers; Christians (so-called) turn soldiers and politicians; they become a party in the State; and in less than three centuries, they put "Christianity" on the throne by the sword of Constantine.' (Robert Roberts, Christ Past and Future)
  • 23 'Your petitioners respectfully submit that they belong to “a very small remnant” of that sect, which in the days of the Apostles was “everywhere spoken against” because of its testimony against “the world rulers of the darkness of that age; and against the spirituals of the wickedness in the high places of the State (Eph. 6:12).  This has been their testimony in all ages of their standing before the “Powers that be.”   Inheriting their principles, your petitioners are brought under the obligation of maintaining their testimony; although, as in past experience of thousands of them, it may be necessary to seal it with the loss of goods, liberty, or life. During the past eighteen hundred years they have been distinguished from heterogeneous “names and denominations” of the kingdom of the clergy, by various titles imposed upon them by their enemies. These names they repudiate; and, in accordance with apostolic teaching, that al the real children of God are the brethren of Jesus (a relationship in which their brethren in all ages have glorified), your petitioners choose to be known as CHRISTADELPHIANS, or brethren of Christ.' (John Thomas, Letter to U.S. Congress, quoted in Robert Roberts, My Days and My Ways: An Autobiography)
  • 24 'The result of these lectures will be to show that in the course of religious history there has been a great departure from the truth revealed by the prophets and apostles, and that the religious systems of the present day are an incongruous mixture of truth and error that tends, more than anything else, to perplex and baffle devout and intelligent mind, and to prepare the way for scepticism. Do you mean to say, asks the incredulous enquirer, that the Bible has been studied by men of learning for eighteen centuries without being understood? and that the thousands of clergy men and ministers set apart for the very purpose of ministering in its holy things are all mistaken? A moment's reflection ought to induce moderation and patience in the consideration of these questions. It will be admitted, as a matter of history, that in the early ages, Christianity became so corrupted as to lose even the form of sound doctrine - that for more than ten centuries, Roman Catholic superstition was universal, and enshrouded the world in moral, intellectual, and religious darkness, so gross as to procure for that period of the world's history the epithet of "the dark ages." Here then is a long period unanimously disposed of with a verdict in which all Protestants, at least, will agree, viz., "Truth almost absent from the earth though the Bible was in the hands of the teachers."' (Robert Roberts, Christendom Astray)
  • 25 'This shining of the truth in the darkness of the nations was considerably increased by the apostolic labors; for "their sound went into all the land, and their words unto the ends of the habitable."... Now, although this light was almost extinguished by the apostasy, lamps were still kept burning in its presence; so that the eclipse was not so total as that the darkness of the gentile mind was reduced to a savage state.' (John Thomas, Elpis Israel, p. 125)
  • 26 'It hath pleased God in these last times of the Gentiles, to cause a revival of promulgation of the "one gospel" which had for ages been perverted and almost-if not altogether-extinguished, by the power of that "mystery of iniquity", whose coming has been "after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish."... The revival of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus came about in the mid-eighteen hundreds through one John Thomas, whose indefatigable labors in the glorious cause of truth, have resulted in arresting the attention of many good and honest hearts.' (Thomas Williams, from inaugural issue of The Christadelphian Advocate)
  • 27 'Since the apostolic age, outside influences have led to apostasy. God has, however, preserved a remnant over the ages and has in these latter days caused the Truth to re-emerge... While this state of spiritual darkness continued, the true witnesses existed as small and persecuted minorities who were branded as heretics by "the church". They often sealed their faithful testimony with their own blood (e.g. Rev. 6:9-11). Some of these communities were known as Novations, Donatists, Paulicians, Albigenses, Waldenses and Huguenots…' (Carl Hinton, Apostasy and Revival of the Truth)
  • 28 'Reflecting the natural inclinations of human nature, false brethren advanced the cause of apostasy which became dominantly influential not long after the apostles had completed their labors and given their lives for Christ's cause. The light of the Truth was all but extinguished (Rev. 12:14, 17). This disastrous development — foretold by the apostles, but opposed by them as long as they drew breath — cost many brethren and sisters their hope of eternal salvation' (John Ullman, Serving the Law of God, pp. 335-336)
  • 29 'When the scriptures were again disseminated in the tongues of the nations in the sixteenth century, the light of truth began again to stream in upon them. The scriptures were then like a book just fallen from heaven. The world was astonished at their contents; but "comprehended them not." Men discussed it, tortured it, perverted it, fought about it; until the stronger party established the foundation of the world as at present construed.' (John Thomas, op. cit., p. 125)
  • 30 Robert Roberts writes concerning the Reformation, 'Was it to be expected that from the midst of great darkness there should instantly come out the blaze of truth? Was it not more likely that their achievements in the matter would only be partial, and that their newborn Reformation would be swaddled with many of the rags and tatters of the apostate church against which they rebelled? History and Scripture show that this was the case - that though it was a "glorious Reformation," in the sense of liberating the human intellect from priestly thraldom, and establishing individual liberty in the discussion and discernment of religious truth, it was a very partial Reformation, so far as doctrinal rectification was concerned - that but a very small part of the truth was brought to light, and that many of the greatest heresies of the church of Rome were retained, and still continue to be the groundwork of the Protestant Church.' (Christendom Astray)
  • 31 'When the right time came for a revival in these latter days, Providence could be seen at work. The invention of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into different languages meant that more and more people were able to read the Bible. As they understood, they began to challenge the commonly accepted but wrong views of the Roman Catholic Church. Men like William Tyndale in England and Martin Luther in Germany, from their Bible studies exposed some of the false doctrines of Rome. Others joined them in the struggle of protest against Rome, which was known as the Reformation and the Reformed or Protestant Churches were established. Their reforms, however, were incomplete and much of the tradition and false teaching of the Roman Church was retained.' (Carl Hinton, Apostasy and Revival of the Truth)
  • 32 'Some small groups though saw the need to take the reforms much further and some, such as the "Brethren of Christ" in 16th century Poland, came substantially to the Truth.' (Hinton, op. cit.) This work, which was written for Christadelphian catechesis in Tanzania, lists 'Novations [sic], Donatists, Paulicians, Albigenses, Waldenses and Huguenots' among the 'true witnesses' of Christian history. This remarkable claim cannot be dealt with here in detail, but one can simply point out one example of how far from historical reality it is: Novatian declared himself pope in 251 A.D. and also wrote a treatise entitled On the Trinity which survives.
  • 33 See especially Alan Eyre's book The Protesters, which attempts to paint many individuals and groups of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as proto-Christadelphians. His main point is that 'Today the Christadelphian community --"Brothers in Christ" -- is the inheritor of a noble tradition, by which elements of the Truth were from century to century hammered out on the anvil of controversy, affliction and even anguish... The purpose of this book is to tell how a number of little-known individuals, groups and religious communities strove to preserve or revive the original Christianity of apostolic times.' To Eyre's credit, he does admit reluctantly that 'Some recorded herein perhaps did not have "all the truth"'. Another Christadelphian writer, Ruth McHaffie, has criticized Eyre's findings in a book called Finding Founders and Facing Facts, which is epitomized in a work available online entitled Brethren Indeed? Her main conclusions are worth quoting here: 'If we merely wish to prove that doctrines held by Christadelphians were believed among reformers who preceded John Thomas, then we are travelling an easy road and can find ample evidence. It is entirely legitimate to select one or another and quote from him on the particular point under consideration... But if we wish to see that courageous character as one of the faithful “believers of the Truth” who were “contending for the same promises and doctrines as the Christadelphians today...” then we are travelling along a different path. We then have to investigate, as far as possible, to what extent he was in agreement with our “first principles”, and to what extent he was not. We have to consider whether, if he were alive today, we would be able to hold out to him the hand of fellowship and welcome him round “our” table... Great though the temptation might be, we cannot identify any one of those early reformers as a proto-Christadelphian if that identification demands moulding him or her like plasticine into our own shape, or, in more scriptural terminology, like clay in the potter’s hand. Though we might unintentionally misunderstand the meaning of a writer or fail to realise that he later changed his view, we should not select passages from various documents which appear to agree with Christadelphian beliefs, while choosing to shut our eyes to passages written by the same hand further down the page which modify the writer’s meaning or express beliefs to which we have grave objection.'
  • 34 '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. The work is patent to all who know and love the truth. He performed the work of an apostle, and lived long enough to see that work placed upon a permanent basis. The peculiarities necessary to do the work were: —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)
  • 35 Dr. Thomas himself, in a published Statement of Faith no less, asserted that Christadelphians 'claim to be "the sect everywhere spoken against," in the first century, newly revived and rest their identification therewith upon the likeness of their faith and practice with the apostolic original' (John Thomas, Concerning "This New Sect," the Christadelphians, reproduced in Peter Hemingray, John Thomas: His Faith and His Friends, p. 335). 'The revival of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus came about in the mid-eighteen hundreds through one John Thomas, whose indefatigable labors in the glorious cause of truth, have resulted in arresting the attention of many good and honest hearts. Their studies caused them to embrace the one gospel apostolically delivered almost two thousand years ago.' (Thomas Williams, from inaugural issue of The Christadelphian Advocate)
  • 36 'As the era of the latter days, the end of "the times of the Gentiles", and the time for the return of Christ drew near, it was nevertheless appropriate that God, in His providence, should revive a corporate witness to the truths revealed in His Word and taught by His Son, the Word made flesh...The ferment of Bible study in the first half of the nineteenth century led to a thoroughgoing, fundamental rediscovery of those truths which Jesus and his earliest disciples believed and taught. Those who shared this understanding found themselves, inevitably, in collision with those who continued to prefer the teachings of the various ‘Christian’ churches and denominations, and thus the Christadelphian community was formed. Based on the demonstrable certainty that Christendom is “astray” from the teaching of the Bible, the community was a conscious attempt to revive the teaching of the apostles and to carry on their efforts to make ready a people prepared for the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth.' (Reg Carr, op. cit.)
  • 37 'Notwithstanding the work of others, however, the history of the revival of the Truth in the latter days centres around the life of Dr. Thomas.' (Carl Hinton, op. cit.)
  • 38 Robert Roberts sets out to tell 'The interesting and instructive story of the truth’s revival in our century' and refers to Dr. Thomas as 'that man by whom that revival was effected'. He states emphatically, 'so far as we can see, but for John Thomas, those who now rejoice in the truth, would still have been sitting, like the rest of the world, in "darkness and the shadow of death"' (Roberts, Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work)
  • 39 'Brother Thomas assembled the total Truth. Admittedly, others had disjointed parts, some this, some that. He revealed a beautiful, harmonious, living whole. His critics and scorners owe what knowledge they have of it to him, squirm as they may under this embarrassing fact. Intelligent men will recognize their debt and dependency, and will be humbly thankful.' (G.V. Growcott, Search me O God)
  • 40 Under the heading 'Revival of the Apostolic Faith', Roberts writes: 'In these days, when the times of the Gentiles are nearing their end, and the era of the Lord’s return has approached, there has been a revival of the original apostolic faith, through the agency of Scriptural study and demonstration. This work has been perfectly natural in its proximate features (see The Life and Work of Dr. Thomas), but thoroughly spiritual and apostolic in its results. It has been unaccompanied by any visible manifestation of the Spirit, such as characterized the apostolic era, but is nonetheless the evolution of the Spirit’s work in its individual and collective achievements. There is no reason to expect any recurrence of this manifestation of the Spirit until the Lord’s actual reappearance in the earth. On the contrary, there are reasons for believing the divine programme to be such that it cannot take place' (A guide to the formation and conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias)
  • 41 '[The revival of the Truth] came about as the effect of a providential concatenation of circumstances, without plan or anticipation on the part of the Dr... From his resolve made in the dangers of shipwreck, a providential series of events led to the consummation... [after discussing Dr. Thomas' exceptional personal qualities] Yet, left to himself, those natural qualifications must have taken a totally different direction from what they did. It required the circumstances to which he was subjected to bring him into the path of Biblical discovery' (Robert Roberts, Dr. Thomas: His Life and Work)
  • 42 'Had not Dr. Thomas been subjected to the terrible antagonism he experienced in his search for the truth, he would never have found it. Had not that antagonism arisen in the Campbellite body and through his continued connection with it, he would equally have failed. There was an overruling providence in the whole matter. 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, And it was only through identification with a so-called Christian body taking the Bible alone as its rule of faith and hope and practice that the above qualifications could have full play in the discovery of the truth. There was, therefore, a providence in the whole course pursued by Dr. Thomas from the time he set out to find the truth till he discovered it in its entirety, and whoever condemns him in any part of that course condemns the providence overruling all.' (L.B. Welch, The Recovered Truth in the Latter Days)
  • 43 'The Christadelphian Ecclesia is the Bride of Christ' (Robert Roberts, The True Christadelphian Ecclesia)
  • 44 'With a creed firmly based on the saving truths found only in the Bible, and with a fellowship tightly circumscribed by a common standard of faith and practice, the members of the Christadelphian body maintain their resistance to the tempting wiles of ecumenism and continue to repudiate the many unfortunate errors of Christianity in general. For them, instead, there remains the call to single-minded zeal in the service of the Lord, the upward and often demanding path that alone can lead to everlasting life, and the humbling awareness of their privileged status as part of that “chosen generation”, that “royal priesthood”, that “holy nation”, and that “peculiar (or ‘purchased’) people” of whom the Apostle Peter speaks (1 Pet. 2:9).' (Reg Carr, op. cit.)
  • 45 'If there are divisions, then it is evident that they only exist in the minds of Christadelphians- not in that of God, for whom there is only one body. If we admit that our brother is validly baptized and in Christ (i.e. a Christadelphian), then we are intimately connected with him, regardless of what his background, colour, language, geographical location etc. may be... And so it is with those like the Dawn fellowship who say they have broken away from Christadelphians; because they say they are not of the body doesn't mean they are not of the body… The essential divide is not between Christadelphians, but between Christadelphia and the world.' (Anonymous, "Who should I fellowship?" Christadelphian Divisions)
  • 46 'The ecclesia is the “House of God”, the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), and the Lord Jesus Christ is it's head (Heb. 3:6). We can be assured that our Master will not permit the Truth to be extinguished altogether, for in each generation there have arisen contenders for the faith: men who wield the sword of the spirit to cut down the high things that exalt themselves against a knowledge of the Truth. These are the salt of the earth – a preserving influence that keeps men from being given over to total destruction. These men are amongst “the children of light,” who cause their light to shine before men.' (Christopher Maddocks, Hidden in the House)
  • 47 'The scriptures indicate that a remnant will be waiting for Christ when he returns (1 Cor. 15:51-58; 1 Thess. 4:15-18).' (Carl Hinton, op. cit.)
  • 48 'We have the consolation that the second apostasy, which is now stalking through the brotherhood, will not be allowed to extinguish the truth a second time. It is comforting to know that the Lord, at his coming, finds some who are ready (Matt. xxv. 10); some who will not taste of death (1 Cor. xv. 51; 1 Thess. iv. 17); some, who in the midst of a general forgetfulness of the Lord's coming, will be "found watching" (Luke xii. 37); and, therefore, some who will steer safely through all the complications, snares, pitfalls, and dangers of the latter days, and remain steadfast to the end in the one faith and practice of the apostles.' (Robert Roberts, The Breaking of Bread)
  • 49 The difference between Catholics and Protestants in this respect is that Catholics affirm that this Holy Spirit guidance is infallibly manifested in a concrete ecclesiological structure, the Magisterium, while Protestants deny such an infallible and concrete manifestation of the Holy Spirit's guidance.
  • 50 The qualifying word 'traditional' stresses that this seems to have been virtually a unanimous position for the first century of Christadelphian history, but that it has been challenged by a vocal minority during the past 50 years or so. See my post on hyper-cessationism for more information.
  • 51 A guide to the formation and conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias
  • 52 Note, however, that Protestants do not regard these Councils as possessing intrinsic authority but accept their judgments because they are believed to be in line with Scripture.
  • 53 Small-'c' catholic here means universal, representing the orthodox system that came to dominate the Church throughout the Empire.
  • 54 Crawford, op. cit.
  • 55 'The word "church" (ecclesia) is clearly used in two ways: one referring to the total body of believers spanning all places and all generations, the other alluding to a specific group of believers who came together in one meeting place.' (Don Styles, Principles of Ecclesial Life)
  • 56 DTBR 12: 'We reject the doctrine - that the Kingdom of God is "the church."'
  • 57 See, e.g., two articles in the Christadelphian Advocate by David Hill (Do all to the glory of God) and Scott Cram (Perfecting of the saints); and pre-eminently, Robert Roberts' work The Ecclesial Guide. The same emphasis can be found in the Christadelphian Bible Mission's catechetical lesson on The Ecclesia of God, and in Don Styles' book Principles of Ecclesial Lifethough in these two works there is a theological emphasis on the unity of the body of Christ. Styles begins his book with the helpful remark, 'The ecclesial community is not man's idea; it is not a Christadelphian idea; it is God's idea.' One could wish that he had pressed further with this notion of divine involvement in the Ecclesia.
  • 58 'The Apostle Paul states that the Ecclesia is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). This is a grave responsibility. God’s Truth is supported by, and grounded upon, the Ecclesia, and our responsibility in these last days is to ensure that the Truth is upheld.' (Anonymous, The Statement of Faith and the Central Community); 'In this twofold aim the true ecclesia of Christ is what the Apostle Paul calls “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), where “pillar” (Gk. stulos) seems to refer to the supporting strength of the believers themselves, gained and communicated, no doubt, by fellowship together (Gal. 2:9; Rev. 3:12).' (Reg Carr, op. cit.)
  • 59 The word does occur in Job 10:12 NIV, but is in no way a technical term for a theological concept there. Other translations, e.g. NASB and NRSV, have 'care' instead of 'providence'.
  • 60 Eureka, Vol. 4, pp. 50-51, emphasis added.
  • 61 (The Organisation of the Christadelphian Community)