dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label former Christadelphian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label former Christadelphian. Show all posts

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Journeys from Christadelphia to orthodoxy: guest article by Dave Ellis (Part 2 of 2)

Walk into the Light (continued from Part 1)

So we have walked along the route of my journey seeing my early years growing up in my family and within the Christadelphians, and finding myself asking questions of the brand of Christian living I had seen and experienced within the community, and reaching the point where I started to meet people who would have a marked influence on my life.

One such person was Neil Genders from the Kings Heath ecclesia in Birmingham. Neil organised annual week-long retreats in mid Wales, along with weekend events at his house in Kings Heath, Birmingham. Simply being invited made me feel wanted and accepted, which was a massive boost to me at the time.

This period of time marked a stage in my life where a number of events and friendships began to happen either at the same time, or overlapped with each other, and with hindsight it is clear that they were all part of the process of me moving towards leaving the Christadelphians. Although I can look back to my early years in Sunday school and see God beginning to move in my life, it was this particular period of time where my journey began to pick up pace, and events began to take on a greater significance.

I am going to jump back in time for a moment now to add another ingredient to the mix. In the early to mid-1970s my family began to run a charity holiday and club scheme for children in social services care, initially to provide a week’s holiday for children who wouldn’t normally get one. But very quickly we developed this into having a youth club for them every Wednesday evening as well. We ran this charity scheme for 10 years with hardly any help from the ecclesia apart from free use of the hall. We were actually really grateful to a number of friends and relatives who came to help out over that period of time, and that did include a small number of the young people from the ecclesia.

Although we started by giving a holiday to 20 children, the scheme quickly grew such that we ended up giving a holiday to more than 40 over a two-week period by the end. We were transporting something in the region of 50 to 60 children to and from the hall every Wednesday by this time. Remember, the CYC was struggling because the way it was run made it unattractive to people from outside the Christadelphian community, yet here we were having regular contact with a huge number of these very same young people! In addition, when we took the children on their camping holiday at a campsite in Whatstandwell in Derbyshire, we had contact with the majority of the people on the campsite, many of whom arranging their holidays to coincide with when we would be there. As well as contact during the daytime events, the focal point would be gathering in the marquee for singing songs, having a Bible talk for the children followed by cocoa and bed! We found that large numbers of people on the campsite would come and join us every night, so we would often give the gospel instead of a Bible talk simply because we had access to so many non-Christians! We had actually got something with enormous evangelistic potential.

Unfortunately the ecclesia made two decisions which brought this whole scheme to a very sad end. Firstly they decided to invest in new chairs for the main hall, which created a problem because the new chairs were not suitable for the Wednesday night club. No matter, we were able to store the old chairs away on top of one of the toilet blocks, but it meant getting them out and putting them away every Wednesday, on top of transporting all these children to and from the building. Never mind, we carried on regardless. Because of the number of children, we were using both the anteroom and the main hall, but this came to an end when the ecclesia decided to lay a carpet in the main hall. And rather than use an industrial or public use type of carpet, they laid an ordinary domestic carpet. So to stop it wearing out we were no longer allowed to take the children into the main hall for some of their activities. So the entire evening was now constrained to housing 50 to 60 children in a room that was only between 12 and 15 feet square - effectively bringing the whole scheme to an end. For years afterwards whenever any of these children saw us, they would come running across streets, even in the city centre, to say hello to us. We still have contact with some of them even now, some 35 years later! Yet this fantastic ministry was brought to an end for the sake of the cost of a few yards of the right carpet!

Towards the end of this era we started to get help from some friends who had come to Nottingham University. Once the evening’s activities were over, they would come back to our house to chill over coffee and music. This developed into a prayer time because we felt it was a better use of time, and what amazed me was that suddenly I was amongst another group of people who accepted me for who I was, and who took notice and valued what I had to say. This was a revelation to me, as you might imagine! We eventually started to meet on a Thursday evening as a bone fide house group. An offshoot was that we formed a Christian rock band in order primarily to minister to Christadelphian youth groups. We started making contact with other Christians, and also found ourselves playing at Methodist, Baptist and Anglican youth groups as well. This was the period of time when I began to notice the Christians belonging to denominations outside of Christadelphia were living lives more like the Christianity I saw described in the Bible.

It was also during this period of time that I came into contact with Neil Genders, as I have already mentioned. He seemed to have the knack of being able to make contact with people who were on the fringe of things and make them feel welcome and part of something. I was invited on a week’s retreat at Ty Carreg, an Outward Bound/conference facility near Brecon in mid Wales. There were about 20 others there for the week, and I knew virtually none of them at that time. Even so, I was made most welcome, and was accepted for who I was, which was once again very significant for me. Being accepted is important for most people, but it was probably the first time I had ever known it. Being amongst a group of people who were “open to God” (a phrase Neil used frequently about events which he organised) was an eye-opener for me because I was able to experience being part of a group that was interacting with God in a very real, immediate way.

That I had experienced an encounter with God only really became apparent on the Sunday after the retreat. I was due to speak at the Mansfield ecclesia, and although the Christadelphian movement is a lay ministry where “the brethren” are all expected to take part in speaking duties, calling or gifting in preaching or teaching was not an issue. It was more an expected duty. Lack of confidence meant that I would write out any exhortation or study longhand and then read it to the congregation, whilst trying to gain a modicum of eye contact with them.

I had prepared the sermon for Mansfield, but lost it during the week’s retreat. When I arrived at the entertaining brother’s house (entertaining is CD speak for host, not someone who would do a dance or tell jokes on my arrival) I asked for a concordance, quickly writing 6 headings, and found a Bible reference for each title, then rushed off to the meeting, where I spoke for just over 30 minutes just from those hastily assembled notes. I had never done that before, and was fearful of “drying up” because I didn’t have the message written out in full. The exhortation just flowed out, and I have never had to go back to “full script” type speaking. This was really exciting, because I went instantly from being unable to speak without a script to being able to speak from just a few notes. This wasn’t a natural ability, or a learned skill, it was a gift from God.

The fact that I had noticed that the Christianity I saw described in the Bible was lived out better by people outside of the Christadelphian community became an increasing issue with me, and I kept questioning why this was so. I began to look into it, reading books and commentaries widely, both from within and from outside the Christadelphians, but found that although the writers undoubtedly tried to give an independent and balanced view, their denominational background tended to shine through.

I reached a point where I went in prayer to God, and simply asked Him to speak to me as I read His word. I put down all the books and commentaries, and began reading. I was recommended by a number of people to read the gospel of John - it is a regular recommendation, even though a number of Christadelphians have described the gospel of John as “a difficult book”. I have since found out why, although I did not know at the time. It was probably the last gospel to be written, perhaps around 70-80 A.D., and may have been written to correct the false teachings by a man called Cerinthus. He taught that Jesus was not God, but just a man, which lines up with Christadelphian teaching, of course. However, he was coming at it from a different direction, that of Gnosticism. As such, the gospel of John is not only about what Jesus did and said, but about who He is. We are, of course getting into the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, although I did not know this at the time. In actual fact, the main topic of the day wasn’t to do with the Trinity, it was the issue of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, probably because mainstream Christianity was in the middle of charismatic renewal. But as I have said, I did not leave the Christadelphians for doctrinal reasons.

As I read the gospel I found myself having a completely new experience of reading the Bible. It was as though I was sitting in my grandparent’s house, which was a small terraced house, with a front room accessed directly from the street, a short corridor to the sitting room, then on to the kitchen. Reading John’s Gospel was as if there was an extremely bright light in the front room which was coming through the little corridor and lighting up the sitting room. I finished the gospel of John very quickly, as you might imagine, and moved on to a number of other books, both Old and New Testament, before eventually beginning to embrace books and commentaries once more.

What this period of reading and praying did was give validity to these other people who were demonstrating the Christian life whilst holding different beliefs or doctrines to the Christadelphians. But all this did was raise a new question, which was whether or not I should remain with the Christadelphians despite the problems with how they lived out their faith, or should I leave and begin fellowshipping with people from other denominations?

Moving back to the children’s charity which our family ran, as we embarked on the last ever week of camping holiday for them, I had been invited to go on the Anglesey Camp as a leader with the CYC from Rugby, which was held immediately after. I only knew one person from Rugby, which was Adrian Thomas. He had come to Derby to study at the university, and he wasn’t on the camp, so once again I was in unchartered territory. I was a bit wary, because I knew that bringing the charity to a finish at the end of the camp would be traumatic, but arrived at Anglesey in due course, emotions relatively intact! The week went well, and while I was there I got into a relationship with Esther Pearce, a lovely, innocent young girl from Rugby. She was about 5 years younger than me, which wasn’t a problem for me, but it was quite a large age difference for her as an 18 year old. She was also taller than me (an important issue in Christadelphia at the time). So it wasn’t a just case of physical attraction, simply that we got on well together.

By this time I was speaking in tongues and experiencing prophecy. That in itself is quite a story, but that will have to be for another time. But here’s the puzzle – here was I fellowshipping with non-Christadelphians, speaking in tongues and experiencing prophecy, yet going out with someone from an influential family within the Christadelphians. What is going on, Lord? Where is all this leading? I took it that God wanted me to stay within the Christadelphians and do His work there. Why else would I have been introduced to a family with such a good reputation within the Christadelphians, specifically in the Midlands area where I lived?

After about three weeks or so I invited Esther up to Derby to meet my family, and to show her some of the beauty of the Derbyshire countryside. At the end of the Sunday morning meeting I introduced her to my grandmother, whose opening comment was “Hello Esther. Do we hear the sound of wedding bells?” Spot the awkward moment! That is not the first question you ask a young eighteen year old, especially with me being her first ever boyfriend! Esther appeared to take things in her stride, but the damage was done and she brought the relationship to an end a few weeks later. It is always painful when a relationship comes to an end, especially when it is because of something outside of your own control, but it was especially confusing for me given the issues I was grappling with.

Despite the heartache I continued with things I was involved in, including the Tuesday night Bible class. I began to notice that as we read the Bible passage to introduce the subject for the evening, a number of words, phrases or points (usually three) would stand out to me, and that they would often be relevant for the discussion time at the main talk. This actually began to happen just after my encounter at the Ty Carreg retreat with Neil Genders, but was becoming more and more regular.  As with my time at Sunday School all those years ago, the Bible talk was still effectively a history lesson with a moral or a point to it. Yet the issues which appeared to me during the introductory reading were about the here and now, and were often challenging. And although some of the brothers and sisters enjoyed the discussion which would follow, it transpires that a number of others were getting upset. Eventually my brother had a quiet word with me suggesting that I toned down the challenges I was bringing.

This heightened the tensions of whether or not I should remain with the Christadelphians. I have become increasingly aware of the involvement of God in my life, not just for my blessing but because of work He wanted me to do, as He does with all of us. With what happened at Ty Careg I had become much more capable at public speaking, and while this seemed to yield a great deal of fruit at the Bible class, for example, I was now finding myself being restricted and constrained. I respected the requests of the ecclesia which came through my brother to quieten my discussion points down, but was also beginning to find that when God laid something on my heart, I had to respond and speak it out. But if I kept quiet, the issue would burn within me, which is what happened here.

So after a few weeks I began raising the issues that arose out of the readings at the Bible class. And once more, I began asking the questions. The fact that my relationship with God had grown so much over the last few months meant that I wanted to continue this growth, but felt that it would be somewhat restrained within the Christadelphians. Yet if that is where God wanted me to work, I would be happy to do so. However, I knew that I would grow and develop far quicker outside of the Christadelphians without those constraints.

While all this was going on, and completely out of the blue I got a phone call from Esther Pierce in the November of that year, wanting to start our relationship again. I was delighted, but asked her if she was sure this was what she wanted, as an “on-off” relationship would not be good for either of us. I sent her a Christmas card and gift, but never actually heard back from her again. Then in the spring, the Rugby CYC held a youth day which we were invited to, so I took our own young people there. Knowing that the situation with Esther would be an interesting one, I laid a fleece before the Lord. I asked God “If Esther comes over and greets me early in the day, I will take this as a sign that You want me to remain with the Christadelphians. But if this doesn’t happen until near the end, or even not at all, I will take that as a sign of the opposite”. Laying a fleece is seen as controversial by many, especially within the Christadelphians, but when God is intimately involved in our lives, I believe it is a valid conversation to have with Him. Needless to say, as we arrived at Rugby, Esther was nowhere to be seen, and I ended up going and finding her at the end of the day to have a pleasant enough, but brief conversation with her. To me, the sign was clear enough, so now it was just a matter of timing.

I once again said to God that I would be happy to remain and work within the Christadelphian community if that was His wish, but asked Him to give me three Scriptures to confirm when I should leave. I received two Scriptures almost immediately. I had been invited to a fraternal gathering at the Birmingham Soho ecclesia by Nick and Helen Andrews, who were good friends. Unfortunately, the speaker for the day had got his dates mixed up, and wasn’t there when the gathering started. While we waited for him to travel down we started to look at the daily readings, and as we did, two verses stood out to me during this morning period. I have no recollection of what the verses were, as it was over 30 years ago! This will no doubt fuel accusations of the dubious nature of asking God for Scriptures to confirm something.

However, unknown to me some friends of mine had just decided to start praying and fasting for me to be set free from the Christadelphians, and their decision was on the same day as I received those first two verses. I heard nothing more from the Lord right through the summer time, finally receiving the third verse in the middle of October, which was exactly the time that my friends stopped praying and fasting for me! This I found very interesting, because it was just after my two friends had gone to Canada to a Bible college for a year, with it being by no means certain that they would return to Derby. The timing ruled out any chance that I was leaving the Christadelphians to follow my friends to their church, because they were no longer there!

So it was time, and I handed in my resignation letter. I was summoned to the AB’s meeting to discuss the letter, and it was quite a tense affair. The only people who had resigned from the ecclesia had joined them because they had moved to Derby – I was the first ever “home-grown” brother to leave. The issue of the fleece was raised, but my explanation seemed to be accepted. Not so with asking God for the three scriptures. This was totally alien to them. One brother looked like he was about to explode, and another shouted at me that he could simply open the Bible at random and “come up with appropriate verses”. He promptly turned up a list of genealogies to prove his point. At which point he sat down rather quietly!

And so I was out! I was invited to numerous social events, such as Boxing Day and Good Friday walks, for example – all attempts to bring me back into the fold. But although I did respond to a couple of the invites, they were awkward affairs. There were two factors, firstly that I was the first one “of their own” to leave, and secondly, everybody else who had left the ecclesia had allegedly drifted away to unbelief, while I was even stronger in my faith. My mum also commented that I wasn’t “the nice lad I used to be when I was a Christadelphian”. What it boils down to is that I was no longer able to be pushed around as people saw fit. Suddenly I had my own opinions and was making my own decisions and was able to express them. It is amazing what a bit of confidence can do! I have also been to weddings and funerals along the way – even being asked to give the eulogy at my father’s funeral! That was strange, given that non-Christadelphians are not allowed to take part in official duties.

I am still going on strongly with God, who is continuing to change me and get rid of the debris from the past. I have changed even more than during the period of time I have covered in this piece, so the crayfish example I used at the beginning is still directly relevant. However the change from what I used to be back then is absolutely colossal as God has been involved in different circumstances and situations. A major factor has been Veronica, my wife, who has been incredibly supportive and encouraging and is an absolute gift from God.

What I can say to finish this article is that if you who have given up your faith in God because of what you experienced in Christadelphia, Please Think Again. Don’t give up on God because of what man has done to you. Call out to God, and ask Him to show you who He really is.

Saturday 1 October 2016

Journeys from Christadelphia to orthodoxy: Guest article by Dave Ellis (Part 1 of 2)

Walk into the Light

This is the story of my life growing up in and eventually leaving the Christadelphians. The title is from an Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) album, describing the short journey from the doorway onto the stage, and is appropriate in a number of ways, as you may see as you read through the article. The journey is quite long, and there is a lot of detail, so I have done it in two parts. Here is the first:

In the late 1980s and early 1990s I spent six years working in the Planning and Project Management Office for British Telecom in Nottingham. I had already left the Christadelphians by then, but had one of those “significant moments” which stand out and remain in the memory from that point onwards. My colleagues and I kept tropical fish in a tank in the office, and one day introduced a crayfish into the tank which made quite a contrast to its normal inhabitants. A couple of months later we arrived for work one morning to find the crayfish absolutely stationary in the middle of the tank. We immediately thought the worst and decided that we had wasted our money! Then one of us saw some movement behind some ornamental rocks in the tank and began to realise what had actually happened. This became a steep learning curve about tropical lifeforms!

A crayfish isn’t a vertebrate, it has an exoskeleton, pretty much like a suit of armour. This outer layer of protection doesn’t grow, but unfortunately the rest of the crayfish inside does! Eventually something has to give, and quite amazingly the crayfish manages to pull itself out of its suit of armour and grows a new one. It is quite an incredible achievement, because crayfish have a large number of joints in their legs and in their body, so it has to pull its body out of the exoskeleton, squeezing its flesh through all the narrowed pinch points at the joint of each limb. I still haven’t found the actual exit point which the crayfish used to actually get out of its old suit of clothes, and I’ve no idea how it didn’t leave any bits behind! But all of us in the office were astounded at what it had managed to do, with comments like “How did it get out of that?”

At that precise point the thought came into my head “How did you get out of that?” I am sure that this was a prompt from God because my mind immediately went to what I used to be like only a few years ago. A second thought came; “If you were to meet the old Dave Ellis, would you recognise him?” This is one of those “Eureka!” moments because I realised just how big a change there had been in such a relatively short space of time. So this is the story of my journey, of my life growing up in the Christadelphian community, of how I became the way I used to be, of how God has changed me into how I am now, and of how leaving the Christadelphians was a major part of that process.

Unlike many people who have left the Christadelphians, I didn’t leave because of doctrinal reasons, even though the issue of the day was the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, brought to prominence by the Charismatic Renewal in mainstream Christianity. Having said that, I didn’t have any major doctrinal differences at the time, as you might have imagined I would have. Neither did I leave because my faith drifted away, as is the case with so many others who have left. Instead, because of what I had experienced of Christian living within the Christadelphian community, I began to ask questions of the movement, because what I saw and experienced didn’t line up with what I read in the Bible. The contrast became even more marked as I began to meet Christians from other denominations. After all, the Christadelphians supposedly had “the truth”, and we were always being reminded that other denominations were in error. So why did I see more Biblical Christianity in how these people lived than what I saw being demonstrated by the “sole custodians of the truth”?

I was born into a 3rd-generation Christadelphian family with an older sister and a younger brother, and grew up only ever knowing life within the Christadelphian community at the Derby (Bass Street) ecclesia. In family life, both my sister and brother were quite strong personalities, and as is often the case in these situations, I tended to keep my head down as there was no room for a third strong personality in the mix.

The nature of my early childhood is marked by my first ever words, which weren’t “Mummy” or “Daddy” or something similar that you would normally expect. My first words were “Oooohhh Day Day!”, which was baby-talk for “Oh David”. It turned out to be the phrase my mum and dad would choose if something had gone wrong, implicating that I was involved in the going wrong of whatever had gone wrong! It also suggests that the phrase was used on a very regular basis.

The reality is that I grew up knowing little else other than criticism. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, or whose instructions I followed, the result was always the same, that I was wrong, or that I had done it wrong. Certain nicknames seem to hurtle my way on a regular basis, such as “You haven’t got much hayzem jayzem”, “Hello, gormless”, “You are like a fart in a cullinder” and “You are like a man I’m aunt to”. I still haven’t figured out what that last one means! It might not surprise you to know that I grew up with very little confidence, self-esteem or self-worth. This is very often the case with a person lacking in confidence, as is being socially very awkward and clumsy. I would often walk into things and trip over them, being nicknamed “Bumble Foot” as a result, which only made things worse.

For most of my life I held my parents responsible for the situation. It was only after my mum had passed away, and while my dad was in his last years, that I found out that they had both gone through far worse than I had ever experienced, even though I am still having to walk clear of the scars that still remain. They had been through much, much worse than me, and in many ways my scars were simply the outworking of their own, much deeper scars. I pray that I have not scarred my own children because of what I and my parents went through. Sadly, I remember going to see my dad while he was in his last few days, and after waiting for nearly an hour while another visitor was with him, I finally went into his room, but he was too tired to see me. This is perfectly understandable, but it meant that the last conversation I had with my dad was being told to go away and come back some other time. Sadly it typified family life, as my parents seemed to have plenty of time for everybody else, my brother and sister and their families included.

This is the baggage I took with me as I launched myself into social interaction with Christadelphians as a child, and it led to the inevitable results. In many ways, my family experience was mirrored in the Christadelphian community. So all the being sidelined, left out of things and being belittled and ridiculed were there just like being at home. So, for example, when it came to the Sunday School play I only ever got bit parts, often hidden away offstage, while my peers got all the plum roles. Even when there weren’t any parts to play on stage, instead of operating the lighting or PA system (such as it existed in those days), or even MC’ing the event, I would be hidden away out of sight. The only time that changed was when I was given the part of Abraham to play, but that didn’t give me any help with self-confidence. Let me tell you why - I had bought one of those silicon head masks, the sort that go over the whole head and come complete with hair and everything. They are quite realistic, apart from the fact that because they are covering your own head including the hair, they make your head look abnormally big. So there was I, in my early 20s, onstage with a whole load of 6 to 8-year-old children. You could say that that is an excellent depiction of Father Abraham, apart from the fact that he had this huge head and everyone in the audience was giggling and laughing.

Even from an early age I kept getting into trouble at Sunday School, but not because of bad behaviour. You know when you read the Bible, a word or passage can stand out to you and to me this was quite normal when doing my readings. I took it to be God speaking to me, because that’s what the Bible says He does. However, I was forever being told off for “reading between the lines”, and told to “stick to the basics”. It meant that Bible stories were merely accounts of historic events, with each one having a point or lesson to be learned, rather like the “moral of the story” you get from fairy stories and children’s fables. The notion that God couldn’t make a Bible story directly relevant to the here and now either never occurred to my Sunday School teachers, or wasn’t allowed to occur. This same attitude continued on into discussion time at the Bible class when I was old enough to go there. Looking back, getting told off for things which God was clearly showing me was confirmation of God’s intimate involvement in my life, rather than Him being just somebody we read about in a book.
I could give a whole catalogue of events throughout my time with the Christadelphians, but “if every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written”! (John chapter 21 verse 25). This quote is John explaining why he wrote the Gospel record, and I am “re-appropriating these words! In the light of this, I will just give a few examples.

The ecclesia had a very strong Youth Circle, such that it drew people in from a number of surrounding towns and cities, some travelling up to 30 miles to attend (not great distances in terms of Australia or the USA, but quite a long journey for good old Blighty). However, we were approaching one of those demographic phenomena that occur in closed communities, in that we were running out of young people to bring into the CYC, while existing members were growing out of it, going off to university or getting married. So numbers were falling, and the current leaders felt it was time to hand over the reins. The Arranging Brethren tended to oversee the group with rather a heavy hand, so bringing young people in from outside wasn’t successful at all, because we knew that our mates would simply find it all too dull and boring.

The changeover was actually going to be very straight forward, it seemed, as the existing CYC secretary was going to be replace by his younger brother. However, the younger brother wanted a vote rather than a straight handover, and asked someone to put their name forwards so that we could go through the motions of having a ballot. I was talked into giving my name, and actually produced the ballot sheets, but was told in a phone call the following Wednesday that the secretary in waiting had decided to pull out, leaving me high and dry holding the hot potato of a dying youth circle! I should have immediately withdrawn my name, as it is blatantly obvious that I had been set up, but my lack of self-confidence meant that I meekly accepted the inevitable.

I set about the new task with gusto, organising the programme for the next 6 months. I was asked by the youth group to do a series exploring well known phrases and sayings which the world uses, and putting them into their Biblical perspective. Good idea, I thought, so the opening phrase was going to be “What on earth are you doing, for heaven’s sake?” The Arranging Brethren criticised it as being “too worldly” (that was the whole point, of course), and insisted the title be “What are you doing on earth?” ………. ………. Spot the lame duck title! As a result I ditched that series, and just did the daily readings on the dates which had consequently become free.

We did go out and about quite a lot as a youth group, and I would go to great lengths to make sure that everyone had got transport to whatever event it was, and that no one was left out. As a result I got to memorise the phone numbers of everyone involved in the CYC. One of the things we did as a group was to form an orchestra - we actually called ourselves the Derby CYC Orchestra. In reality it was more of an oompah band, because it was just a random selection of people with an odd assortment of musical instruments! We would travel around to various CYC’s and sometimes to Fraternal Gatherings. We played three or four times at the Swanwick Youth Gathering, although the final time there my brother was prohibited from playing his drum kit. The reason given was that the drums would create a rhythm which might make our young people clap during the singing, and people who clapped would become charismatics! ……. I kid you not!

Another thing that we would do together was that we would go round to each other’s houses on Sundays after the evening lecture for “coffee and chill”. One night we were short of transport, and I was asked if I minded staying behind at the ecclesial hall, and wait for someone to come back and pick me up as I wasn’t able to drive in those days. I agreed because it meant that no one would be left out. All the CYC set off, and one by one all the adults went as well, with nobody offering to drop me off on their way, so I was left alone in the porch outside the locked front door. I waited for 30 or 40 minutes, but no one returned. My parents were taking my grandparents home and would be busy for another 30 minutes or so, leaving me no option but to set off on the long trudge home, in the pouring rain, without a coat and with no money for bus fares. So much for making sure that no one was left out! “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love, one for another”. Yeah, right!

The CYC would have a long weekend’s camping holiday every Bank Holiday, and one August we went off to our regular camp site in Wetton Mill, in Derbyshire. The theme of the weekend was “The Lamb of God”, with the focal point being a spit-roast lamb barbecue on the Saturday evening. We actually went to the local farmer/butcher to watch the lamb being slaughtered and partly being prepared for our barbecue. The barbecue had been highlighted and promoted for weeks before the actual event, and everybody was looking forward to it. As well as the 35 or so of us on camp, there would be a number of others coming up to visit us that evening because of all the publicity, and it was only about 25 miles or so from Derby.

A friend of mine had a Saturday job and was going to be picked up from the railway station by a couple on their way up to the camp, only they decided to set off an hour earlier, so they couldn’t pick Andy up. On arrival, they were asked “What about Andy?”, because they hadn’t told anybody of their decision to travel earlier. Everyone’s eyes turned to me. I was a keen biker in those days, and had a Triumph Trident T160V, which was quite a quick bike in its day, so I was most likely to bring Andy up to the camp the quickest. I set off on the quest, and after taking him to his  home to wash and change, we arrived back at about 7.30pm – only an hour after festivities were supposed to start. However, when we got back to this well promoted event with the promise of superb, succulent lamb roast, we found that they had started without us and scoffed the lot. Not a scrap of meat was to be seen. We were given a sandwich each, consisting of a slice of bread folded over, with a piece of lettuce, two slices of cucumber and a slice of tomato. And that was it. Talk about left out of things! If it wasn’t for the very strong attention of a couple of people, I would have just climbed back on my bike and gone home, and perhaps I should have done.

Back at the ecclesia, one Sunday evening the Recording Brother sat down next to me before the meeting started and began to complain about the number of times he had to do an exhortation or lecture at short notice because the visiting speaker had cancelled the appointment. This baffled me as I had been baptised for three years or so at that point and had never been asked to speak on a Sunday. I did speak at other ecclesias once or twice a month, and was invited to speak at the Bible Class and at the Mutual Improvement Class during the week. However, this was because speaking dates at these midweek classes were almost exclusively filled from within the ecclesia, whereas Sunday appointments drew on visiting speakers from all over the country. I did get to do one exhortation, and that was on an August Bank Holiday Sunday, effectively because nobody else was available, or more likely didn’t want to do it because it was holiday time. I even had to travel back to Derby from my holiday at the CYC camp on the Sunday morning to do it! (Note that this wasn’t the weekend of the notorious disappearing lamb roast!)

During that conversation with the Recording Brother, I asked him why a number of speakers I had heard at Youth Days or Fraternal Gatherings never seemed to come and speak at Derby. The answer that I was given was that they had “unusual views”, which puzzled me, so I “pondered these things in my heart”, as I had quite enjoyed listening to them and found what they had to say was very uplifting and had “life”. I started to organise youth days and managed to smuggle Nic Willis and Phil Hawkins in on that basis! They were well received at the Youth Days, but a friend of theirs from Birmingham, Neil Genders was eventually to have a marked influence on my life, even though I never managed to sneak him in to Derby!

(to be continued - check back in a few days for Part 2!)

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Journeys from Christadelphia to orthodoxy: Guest article by Nathan and Matthew Farrar

This guest article by Nathan and Matthew Farrar is the second in a series of articles from former Christadelphians who have embraced Christian orthodoxy. (The previous article in the series by Ruth Sutcliffe can be found here.)

The Canon Conundrum
How a table of contents made us rethink our faith

There is an easy temptation to look back on beliefs or practices that were formerly embraced, and cast them in the most negative light possible.  Nowhere is this more tempting than when explaining why one’s former beliefs were left behind or changed.  Both authors have come to embrace catholic Christianity, a significant move away from the beliefs given to us during our upbringing. We were both raised in a conservative, Unamended Christadelphian home and ecclesia in Ontario, Canada. Overall, our experiences were positive. Indeed, our family goes back at least 3 generations on both sides, and as such, it could be said that “Christadelphianism” is in our blood.  So, as we look back, we have no desire to tear down what was and is positive about Christadelphia.  But we did find ourselves unable, in good conscience, to embrace and teach portions of the statements of faith. Explaining all the details is beyond the scope of this post, but our move from being committed Christadelphians to orthodox1 Christians can really be summed up in two words: history matters. Specifically, Church history.

For both of us, the question of whether Christadelphians or orthodox Christians were correct concerning a doctrine like the divinity of Jesus could not ultimately be determined by interpreting the Bible alone. Why? Because both sides acknowledged that one should base doctrine upon the “clear teaching of Scripture” and then interpret “difficult passages” in that light.  The problem was that the “clear teaching” for one group was the “difficult passages” for the other, and vice versa!  

History provided a way to break the stalemate. It seemed reasonable to both of us to appeal to the earliest Christians in the post-Apostolic era, authors such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna and Irenaeus of Lyons. It seemed that the closer we went in time to the Apostles (Clement is thought to have possibly been their contemporary and Polycarp a direct disciple of John), the more likely we would be to converging on the teaching of the Apostles themselves. This type of consideration ultimately led us to embrace orthodox doctrines in favor of the distinctive teachings of Christadelphians.

In response to this approach, some Christadelphians have argued that the discovery of proto-orthodox Christian beliefs in the writings of the early Church Fathers2 is only evidence that apostate teaching was present earlier than we might have expected. Thus, it is argued that these writings can and should be rejected as heretical. However, there is one product of the early Church that Christadelphians universally accept, namely, the contents of the New Testament. This seems odd: why trust an apostate church to hand on a perfect and trustworthy canon?  Despite this peculiarity, Christadelphians and orthodox Christians use the same set of New Testament books.

Back to basics

One feature of Christadelphian belief that was firmly impressed upon us both was that God’s offer of salvation is revealed through Scripture alone, and that each individual has a duty to discern, through personal study of the Bible, what he or she must do and believe to be saved. The Christadelphian community can and does offer teaching and support, but ultimately the responsibility for obtaining saving truths from the Scriptures falls to the individual seeker. This way of thinking seems self-evident to many Christadelphians.  We say this not out of condescension, but because it also seemed self-evident to both of us! 

It began to become less self-evident when we learned that the authenticity of a few books in the New Testament canon –such as Hebrews and Jude– had been disputed in the early church.  Furthermore, the later subtraction, during the Reformation, of books from the Old Testament Scriptures that had been in use for the first 1500 years of the church was troubling.  Why did these observations give us pause?  Because if salvation depends on reading and responding to what is in the Bible, then there is a lot at stake in determining exactly what constitutes ‘the Bible’, i.e. which books are canonical. It is important to appreciate the difference between being able to say with certainty “here is the inspired canon, take and read” and “here is an argument for why our canon is the right one.”  In fact, a great difference exists between the two.  Why? Again, because when individual response to what is revealed in Scripture is a central pillar in the drama of salvation there cannot be any uncertainty regarding which books are actually Scripture, and which are apocryphal.  (It is bad enough to have disputes over what Scripture teaches, never mind what actually constitutes Scripture!)  As such, it only seems reasonable that a person should be able to understand the basis for his or her confidence in Scripture’s table of contents.  What we attempt to show in this brief article is that Christadelphians do not really have nor can they have a well-founded confidence that the canon on which they rely to “make persons wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15) is perfect.

Before we try to explain why we hold this view, we would like to set proper expectations for this post.  This article is not, nor is it meant to be a scholarly blog post. It also isn’t intended to trigger a protracted debate. We were asked to comment on why we ceased to be Christadelphians, and while many of the reasons have been covered on this blog, we are simply drawing attention to one critical factor that influenced us.

When the obvious becomes puzzling

One thing we both believe strongly in is being fair to those with whom we disagree.  It only seems fair then to begin by quoting from the statements of faith that explain clearly how Christadelphians understand the nature of the Scriptures:

“That the Scriptures, composing the book currently known as the Bible, are the only source now extant of knowledge concerning God and His purposes, and that they were given wholly by the unerring inspiration of God in the writers, and that such errors as have since crept in are due to transcription or translation.” 3

“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.” 4

These statements are puzzling because they presume that a source of authority existed prior to “now”, whether extant or not, that was capable of discerning the limits of the Scriptural canon.  The nature of this extra-Biblical knowledge is not specified.  That aside, if the Bible is the only source of knowledge that currently exists, then apart from simply accepting the (Protestant) canon as an act of faith, how could I really know that this collection of books is complete and perfect? Are there books that were excluded that should be included, or books included that ought to have been excluded? There seems to be no way to gauge whether one’s confidence in the canon of Scripture is well-placed or misguided. In order to explore this problem more fully, we need to examine some different possible avenues to answer this question and examine their respective implications.

The first possibility is to confirm the legitimacy of our Bible’s contents through internal tests.  For example,

Idea 1: Christ himself confirms what belongs in Scripture.
Answer: Christ does not tell us what constitutes the Scriptures.  He certainly speaks of the “law and the prophets” and the psalms but neglects to define the exact books beyond this. Furthermore, the Apostles do not tell us what constitutes the Scriptures, though they certainly acknowledge their importance and authority.

Idea 2: We can show what belongs in the canon of Scripture through the quotations the books use.  In other words, Scripture is self-contained because ‘Scripture quotes Scripture’.
Answer: This works to an extent, but is finally problematic.  Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes are not quoted in the New Testament, so would they have been included in the “Scripture” that is referred to in 2 Timothy 3: 16-17?  Or, does Jude’s use of the 1 Enoch mean that this book ought to be included in the canon?5 This approach seems to be fraught with difficulties.

Idea 3: Authentic books can be identified by their attestation to the authentic beliefs of Christians.
Answer:  This is a fascinating criterion and one that we think has much to be said for it, though not as a sole criteria. However, there are issues with this approach. Certain early Christian texts such as the Didache are alleged by some Christadelphians to reflect authentic Christian beliefs. Why then is the Didache not canonical? Perhaps more seriously, certain New Testament books appear to affirm beliefs that Christadelphians reject.  Take an obvious example:  Thomas calling Jesus “God” in John 20.  Is the gospel of John – being as different as it is from the synoptic gospels – really part of Scripture?  After all, the deity of Jesus is a serious corruption of the Christian faith according to Christadelphians.  Another major problem with this approach is its circularity: we need knowledge of correct Christian beliefs to define the canon, but we need to know the canon to identify these beliefs!

So, we have a collection of books that cannot be used to internally justify their own canonicity, and according to Christadelphian Statements of Faith, there remains no external authority to confirm the canon’s limits. So not only can we not definitively confirm what belongs in Scripture, we do not appear to have any objective basis for determining whether the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or some other Bible should be embraced!

Scripture – a work of man?

The Christadelphian community has adopted the traditional Protestant canon composed of 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books.  Consistent with Christadelphians’ understanding of Scripture, this set of books is understood to be the one and only source for all truth concerning doctrine and morals.  From this it is reasonably concluded that any doctrine not taught in the Bible or any claim to a definitive interpretive authority beyond the Bible itself is rejected as the “work of men”.  This formulation is interesting for two reasons:  one, since Scripture is not self-contained (i.e., you cannot determine the canon of Scripture from Scripture), and is therefore not taught in the Bible, should the canon be rejected?  If not, then Christadelphians should admit they hold core beliefs not drawn from Scripture; in fact, they accept part of Christian Tradition.  Second, since the canon underwent a period of development and refinement, ultimately being the subject of a number of early church councils (Rome (382), Hippo (393), Carthage (397, 419)), is the Bible’s table of contents a ‘work of men’?  If not, then why not?

The emphasis that Christadelphians place on the study of Scripture and its full supremacy above all other sources of knowledge about the Christian faith (e.g., Tradition) appears to be a straight-forward, coherent, and attractive picture of the nature of doctrine and salvation.  Indeed, we have heard testimony from many converts in Christadelphian ecclesias who have told us that part of what drew them in was the seriousness with which Christadelphians approached the Bible.  While we do not wish to disparage the importance of Scripture, the way in which it has been presented masks deeper questions about the origins of the canon and how Christadelphians can know that it is their particular collection of books that can make us “wise enough to have faith in Christ Jesus and be saved” (2 Tim. 3:15).

A Christadelphian New Testament?    

In this section we propose a short and simple thought experiment.  Of course, like any experiment, you will have to draw your own conclusions. Here is the question:  If the earliest church had believed as Christadelphians do–as is supposed–would they have handed down to us the same New Testament we have today? 

It seems plausible to think some of the books would have been selected.  We have never heard any Christadelphians express doubts about the legitimacy of Apostolic authorship as one of the marks of canonicity.  On this basis, we could certainly see the Pauline letters being included, for example. 

However, historically, the basis on which the books of Scripture were identified did not rest solely on Apostolic authorship but also on whether the theology bore witness to the faith of the church.  While this may initially seem exactly backwards – Scripture should be used to define the church’s belief – it is actually aligned with Paul’s own view of the church, which he identifies as the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).  Where our thought experiment gets interesting is when we ask, how would Christadelphians have applied the theology test to the New Testament books?  For example, is it conceivable that Christadelphians – who have no centralized authority – would have universally accepted the gospel of John that, at a minimum, appears to witness to the following:
  • Jesus is the Word, who is God (Jn 1:1)
  • This Word is an agent of Creation (Jn 1:2);
  • This Word is incarnated in flesh (Jn 1:14);
  • Jesus came from the Father’s side which is why he can make the Father known to us (Jn 1:18);
  • Jesus uses the divine name (Jn 8);
  • Jesus speaks of having personally come from Heaven;
  • Jesus teaches the personhood of the Holy Spirit in John 16-17; and
  • Jesus accepts Thomas directly calling him God (Jn. 20:28)
or other writings which include:
  • The song about Jesus' incarnation in Philippians 2;
  • The reference to sinful angels in chains in both the Epistle of Jude and the Second Epistle of Peter;
  • The “spirits of just men made perfect” clearly shown in Heaven (Hebrews 12);
  • The battle of Satan and the Archangel Michael in the Epistle of Jude; and
  • The depiction of the living souls of the martyrs in Revelation 6.
What is the point of this little thought experiment?  It is this: If it seems likely that an early community holding to beliefs and practices similar to the Christadelphians would not have given us the New Testament now universally affirmed, then perhaps it was a very different type of Christian community that did. 

By the book

Before summing up, we want to quickly pursue a closely related point.  Have you ever wondered why God would leave only a book for people to study, hoping that it will lead at least some to salvation?  On its face this seems unjust because individual abilities and aptitudes vary greatly.  Scripture appears to attest to this very fact:  the man Philip taught openly admitted he did not understand Isaiah and needed someone to teach him (Acts 8:31)!  Clearly Scripture alone wasn’t enough for this man.  The Christadelphian emphasis on personal Bible study and resultant culpability seems plainly at odds with Scripture’s own narrative testimony about how people come to learn the gospel.

But the matter is even more unsettling when we realize that estimates of literacy rates in the ancient world sat somewhere around 5%, with that number plummeting in the Middle Ages.  Personal copies of the Bible were not available to the general population (apart from the wealthy) prior to the invention of the printing press circa 1440.  So the whole notion that God has used the Bible alone to call and instruct people seems plausible in 2016, but much less so throughout much of Christian history.  Put more starkly, it is chilling to think that the only means of access to “knowledge concerning God and his purposes” was completely inaccessible to most people throughout history, and for that matter, many people in the developing world today. We must ask, does it really make sense to say that “God is willing that none should perish” (2 Pet. 3:9) yet makes salvation largely inaccessible because the details are locked up in a book that the seeker cannot read or afford? This may not be equivalent to giving a stone to a son who asks for bread (Matt. 7:9), but it does rather seem like putting that bread on the top shelf of the pantry! 

Canon and Church

At the end of the day, we find Christadelphians to be in an unusual position.  They accept a canon shaped by the consensus of the early church, which had lapsed into heresy by the time this consensus was achieved. Moreover, they accept a New Testament canon sealed by Catholic authority – an authority Christadelphians resolutely reject.  Meanwhile, Christadelphians accept the revised Protestant canon of the Old Testament, again handed down by a body of Christians they regard as thoroughly heretical.  The biblical canon used by Christadelphians seems to have a dubious pedigree – and yet certainty about the boundaries of the canon is at the very heart of Christadelphian belief.  It would therefore stand to reason that Christadelphians should have full assurance  that the canon they use contains all inspired books, adding no illegitimate books and lacking no authentic ones.

Perhaps God worked through a corrupt Church to preserve a non-corrupt canon.  But before you accept that idea, we encourage you to ask yourself how you know this to be trueWhat is the basis for such confidence within a context of great apostasy?  Furthermore, on what basis does one pick and choose where God guided the church and where He left the Church to apostatize? Can we reasonably affirm the lesser councils (Rome (382), Hippo (393), Carthage (397, 419)) that affirmed the canon of Scripture to be providentially-guided while denying the ecumenical councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) (which dogmatically defined the doctrine of the Trinity) as the corrupted ‘works of men’?  On the other hand, if the basis is your own reason or study, why then would the canon not be an open question for each Christadelphian to settle for him or herself as a matter of preliminary concern?  Remember:  You cannot define the canon from within the canon.  Therefore, the authority for determining what books belong in the Bible is located beyond the Bible itself.  The key question then for each Christadelphian is “What is the authority I accept for setting the contents of the Bible?”

If your answer is Christian tradition, the Church or some related answer, we consider this an invitation from the Holy Spirit to you to reflect more deeply on the nature of the Church. At the end of day no person, group or church can give what it does not possess.  Christadelphian ecclesias make no claim to special authority or any discernible direct guidance from God. As such they cannot authoritatively affirm or reject the canonicity of the Scriptures to which they hold.  However, if Christ had indeed invested a church with authority–His own authority–through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and therefore could definitively and authoritatively resolve issues over which well-meaning Christians differed, wouldn’t that actually be a tremendous blessing?  Wouldn’t that actually be the very kind of thing you’d hope would be true?  And wouldn’t that go a long way towards explaining how you would know which books were indeed divinely inspired and therefore rightly belong in the canon?  We think that is worth thinking about.

So here is what we came to see:

There appears to be no compelling way to identify the canon of Scripture.  It is possible to make arguments for the inclusion of books, but not to know that the collection of books that comprise the New Testament is complete and without error.  This is because to know what books belong in both the Christian New and Old Testaments is to know something that is outside of the Scriptures themselves, and rests on an external authority.

We came to have serious doubts that if Christadelphians were placed into a historical circumstance in which they had to define the canon of Scripture (rather than inherit it) they would identify the collection of books they currently use.  Taking John as an example:  With its significant differences from the three synoptic gospels would it have been accepted?  It certainly contains passages that appear to affirm the pre-existence and deity of Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, etc.  Indeed, it is said that many have been led astray by these very passages! 

You have to be able to explain why the books are binding on all Christians and who has the authority to bind the canon.  Finally, the answer to these two questions should result in a justified confidence in the perfection of the canon.

If Christadelphians have no definitive way to know what books belongs in the Scriptures, do not claim the divine authority to identify and bind the scriptural table of contents, and would in all probability not identify accepted canonical books as such (e.g., John due to chapter one’s prologue, etc.) how could the early church have looked anything like Christadelphians?  Looking from the other end of history, how could Christadelphians claim to be a restoration of the early church?

A Problem for Protestants?

Some readers may be wondering whether similar arguments could be brought to bear on any Protestant group just as easily as Christadelphians. In short, we believe that the answer to this question is “yes”. Specifically, Catholics claim that because of the deposit of faith granted to her by Christ through the Holy Spirit, the Church is protected from teaching error in matters of faith and morals, which would include the selection of canon. However, we acknowledge that the selection of canon is less problematic for some Protestants than for others.

Specifically, Protestants who consider themselves to be part of a reformationist movement do not distance themselves from the Church Fathers in the same way as those of restorationist traditions. For example, the Anglican Church accepts the first 5 ecumenical councils, and Lutherans maintain many Catholic teachings and practices. In essence, reformationists grant a limited authority to the early church, such as was necessary to provide the content of the New Testament. 6 Reformationists maintain that the Catholic Church drifted into heresy, but that this process was more gradual, and thus the break much later. Thus, the problem of canon is mitigated, though perhaps not eliminated.

By contrast, restorationism–which includes Christadelphiansallow for minimal or no historic continuity with the early church. Rather, it is maintained that the Apostles’ teaching was, at least visibly, lost very early and not re-discovered until much later. As such, no authority is granted to the early church and therefore the problem of canon remains.


These considerations, among others, have led the present authors to embrace as authoritative the early church in both its authority to define canon and key doctrines of the faith. This church claimed to have the authority necessary to define the boundaries of canon with confidence under the assurance of Divine guidance by the Holy Spirit. We believe this provides internally consistent answers to the types of thought experiments that we have considered in this paper. As such, we differ with Christadelphians on a number of issues.  However, were it not so, we still could not in good conscience remain Christadelphians simply because we would not be in an epistemologically sound position to identify the contents of the Bible itself.  We need to know, not simply have arguments for, what books the Bible rightly contains

Having now read this article, what is a person to do?  Unfortunately, most of the time we tend to read Facebook posts, click “Like” or offer a brief comment, and move on without much further thought. However, if nothing else, we hope that we have been able to draw attention to the importance of this topic and its need to be addressed. Here is our advice to you:  consider the possibility that the views expressed on this blog generally are correct, and that this may have implications for your life.  To be honest, we have both lost touch with friends whom we have known for years as a result of our convictions, which is unfortunate. Therefore, do not consider the views presented here lightly, and do not do so alone. Ask a brother or sister you respect about this article or another that troubles you.  Suggest that an article from this blog be the subject of Sunday school or an exhortation.  Be respectful and listen carefully to what is said, but ask yourself if the answers you receive really make sense.  And pray, asking God to show you the fullness of the Christian faith, “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt. 7:8). When the time comes, have the courage to act on your convictions. “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart” (Ps. 95:7-8).


  • 1 Throughout, we will use lower case ‘orthodox’ to denote the teachings of historic Christianity embraced by mainline churches and defined in the classical creeds, such as the Trinity doctrine, and upper case ‘Orthodox’ to denote the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
  • 2 'Church Fathers' is a traditional name for prominent early Christian writers
  • 3 Birmingham Unamended Statement of Faith, article 31, emphasis added.
  • 4 Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, The Foundation, emphasis added.
  • 5 In point of fact, 1 Enoch is affirmed as canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. However, this is the exception that proves the rule.
  • 6 Though it should be noted that for many of the Reformers, the rejection of Church authority did lead to a questioning of canon. Notably, Martin Luther struggled with the canonicity of James based on his sola fide doctrine of justification, referring to it as a 'straw-epistle', though in the end he did accept it as affirming the law of God. Luther moved Hebrews and James to a later position in the order of New Testament books, just before Jude and Revelation, reflecting his lower valuation of these books (as can be seen here).

Saturday 21 May 2016

Journeys from Christadelphia to orthodoxy: Guest article by Ruth Sutcliffe

This guest article by Ruth Sutcliffe is the first in a series of personal accounts from former Christadelphians who have embraced Christian orthodoxy.1 Ruth was raised as a Christadelphian and was a baptized member of the movement for 26 years before resigning in 2008. She now attends Willows Presbyterian Church. Holding a Master of Veterinary Studies degree (Murdoch University, 2007) and a Master of Divinity degree (Australian Theological College, 2012), Ruth is now enrolled in a PhD programme at Christ College, Sydney with patristic theology as her area of research. Married with two daughters, she resides in Townsville, North Queensland, Australia. Readers interested in a detailed scriptural and historical defence of the beliefs Ruth now holds in common with mainstream Evangelical Christianity, and a critique of Christadelphian theology, may visit her blog, The Trinity Hurdle. Alternatively readers may wish to contact her privately by email.

I was born in 1965, the only child of parents who were first generation committed Christadelphians. I grew up reading the Bible at home and going to Sunday School. Lessons covered Bible heroes and events in the history of Israel. The life and teachings of Jesus featured one year in five, with maybe one or two lessons on his death and resurrection and nothing from the NT epistles. I vaguely understood that when you grew up you got baptised, but baptism, like weddings, seemed very remote. I learnt I should have faith in God, like the Bible heroes did, but nothing about a personal relationship with Jesus. I knew Jesus saved you when you got baptised, but I didn’t understand how. I was taught that the key to understanding salvation was the complex doctrine of God manifestation. The notion of substitutionary atonement, meanwhile, was anathema. I figured that getting into The Kingdom was about believing the Bible and following God’s rules and being good.

Sadly, the ecclesia of my childhood withered almost overnight as its dynamics changed and the families moved away. At this time my Dad suffered a ten year crisis of faith and I became a rebellious adolescent. As an only child, with no close relatives and that peculiar distancing from children “Outside” the exclusive ecclesial community, I had no real friends and no social skills. I still read the Bible, but it was an enjoyable obligation, an acquisition of knowledge for a nerdy child whose sense of self-worth was invested in school work and solo activities. God’s word had no impact on my life in any meaningful way. Then I started attending another Christadelphian Sunday School and youth group and suddenly I had friends! I was the odd one out, a nerd, an awkward loner with, paradoxically, a good Bible knowledge. Incredibly, I was accepted and to this day I thank God for a group of open minded, warm-hearted friends who exerted a positive peer pressure that kept me on the rails.

I so wanted to be like my young Christadelphian friends. This was a great influence on my behaviour and it definitely changed me for the better and I have no doubt God was working through them. Eventually, we reached our late teens and became old enough to learn “First Principles” with the not-so-hidden agenda of preparing for baptism. Of course, that’s what I intended to do, when I knew enough and felt “ready.” You got baptised because the Bible said you had to, to be saved. But you had to know the Truth thoroughly first, as a friend of mine discovered when she “failed” her first baptismal interview. It was then that I really appreciated how different we were, as custodians of the Truth against the “churches” who had gone astray because they didn’t know their Bibles as well as we did, but accepted the teachings of the apostate church. Because I wanted to obey God (I’m not sure that I really loved him, I don’t know that I really understood what that meant) and to be like my adult mentors, I became a vigorous defender of Christadelphian doctrine and an equally vigorous opponent of my mainstream Christian acquaintances’ beliefs. Join a school Christian fellowship group who just wanted to “praise God” and have “fellowship” and not even debate doctrines? No way! How pathetic!  Personal relationship with Jesus? Far too touchy-feely and shallow.

The narrow way to acceptance with God was clearly defined for me, in doctrine and in behaviour, and I was determined to walk it. I was baptised at 17, within a year or two of most of my friends. I remember being frustrated with myself because after the warm feelings and the novelty of being welcomed as “Sister” died down, I felt nothing had really changed. I still sinned, and even though I knew I could now pray to God and ask for forgiveness, it strangely didn’t seem to make much difference to my life. (In line with Christadelphian tradition, I had been taught that the Holy Spirit doesn’t directly work in Christians’ lives today.) So I resolved to work harder at it and squeeze more firmly into the mould. Then I went to University. That wasn’t unheard of, but still a bit left-field for a young Christadelphian woman in the 80s, especially as I actually intended for it to become a career. I continued to keep my distance from Christian Union and anything to do with “the churches” and threw myself wholeheartedly into the Christadelphian youth scene. I brought friends along to Christadelphian youth events and Sunday night lectures occasionally, but couldn’t understand why they held no appeal; these things were my life!

Once I got talking to a young man who told me he was trying to renounce his life of alcohol-fuelled sin and come to know Jesus. I had no idea how to deal with that, but I told him I went to church and he actually wanted to come along. So I brought him, delighted that I was actually “preaching” to someone. It was Sunday morning. He was wearing torn jeans and a tee shirt and had long hair. We were ushered into the cry room because his appearance might cause offence to the older folk. He sang too loudly, raised his arms in praise and said things like, “Amen!” out loud during the exhortation, so someone had a quiet word with him afterwards. He never came back.

This and a few other incidents began to bother me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. We had some spirited discussions, my friends and I, but in the end it was easier to accept the status quo “out of love for our brothers and sisters.” Going anywhere else was never an option for me at this time. I couldn’t understand how anyone could leave “the truth,” and it pained me when some of my acquaintances did. Especially when they joined “other churches.” How could they do that, when those churches’ beliefs were so obviously wrong? Sure, the other churches did a lot of things that I wished we Christadelphians would do, like charitable stuff and welcoming people regardless of how they dressed, and knowing what to actually say to people who were drug addicted or who had sinned sexually and needed help. But it wasn’t right to sacrifice “The Truth” to do any of those things, was it?

One incident stays with me. It was some sort of a “preaching weekend,” in support of a country ecclesia’s “special effort.” We leafleted and held a lecture in a hall and even did some door-knocking. Coincidently, one of the local evangelical churches was also doing some sort of witnessing event and we all came face-to face in a car-park. I talked to the minister, expecting a good old verse-by-verse doctrinal debate, which of course I would win. (May God forgive my arrogance!) Not surprisingly, this minister wasn’t up for it (so I assumed!) but what DID surprise me was that he was mainly concerned to pray for me. Pray for me?! Why did I need anyone to pray for me, especially someone who would be praying directly to Jesus!! (How unscriptural!) He prayed for me then and there, in public, kindly, inoffensively, with an ease and a natural manner that I had rarely heard. Afterward, he just smiled warmly and said, “You’ll be back one day.”
Hah, no way! I thought. But he was right.

I met my future husband, a former nominal Anglican who was interested in attending church regularly. He “came in from Outside” and was baptised. We were married and had two children. We taught them the Bible and took them to Sunday School. We were thoroughly involved in ecclesial life. But for some time God had been working inside my head and heart. I loved my Christadelphian brothers and sisters and I still believed as they did. But because of my career, and our diverse interests outside of the Christadelphian community we were never completely “inside the box” socially. The girls went to a Christian school and we associated with genuinely Christian people. The girls began to ask challenging questions about beliefs. To cut a very long story short, I began to realise that mainstream Christians did not in fact have two heads. That many of them actually read their Bibles at least as much as Christadelphians did. The Christian world had scholars, real Bible scholars whose life’s work was to engage with Scripture and Christian thought. I began to engage with the wider Christian world and its thinking (as, incidentally, did some of my friends at this time). Because I worked shifts, I didn’t always fit into the standard Sunday morning and Wednesday night formula and so finally crossed The Line. I went to other churches occasionally, rather than miss out on Christian assembly altogether. I was exposed to the actual Gospel for the first time.

I cannot say I ever had an Ah-hah moment and just suddenly accepted the doctrine of the Trinity (or other doctrines I’ve now come to accept, such as substitutionary atonement.) But what I did start to seriously appreciate was that these Christians found their beliefs in the reading of Scripture. They were not finding them elsewhere and they were not placing any other authority over Scripture. I had some bad church experiences, yes, with TV-evangelism style “healings” and some pretty shallow teaching. But I began to see that they were not all tarred with the same brush. The real clincher for me though, was absolutely not that they were “nicer” or “kinder” or freer in their style of dress, behaviour or worship, or offered more opportunities for women, or they did more “good works.” Because mainstream churches vary in those respects too, as do Christadelphians. Those are not the issues. Certainly the biblical groundedness of mainstream churches varies. No argument with any of that. Those are not reasons why I began to leave Christadelphia.

The thing that really started me moving away, in a process that took several years and an enormous amount of thought, Bible reading and prayer, was, “Why do we believe what we believe when most others believe something else?” More particularly, how do mainstream Christians find their beliefs in the Bible, while we find completely different doctrines there? Are we really the only ones with The Truth? If that is the case, why do all the other Christians who accept the Bible as God’s infallible inspired word and who earnestly search for truth in its pages, believe something completely different? Would God really have allowed The Truth to remain hidden for nearly 2000 years? Perhaps the answer lay in a review of church history; perhaps there were plenty of Christadelphian-like Protesters through the centuries (there weren’t, actually). This deep dissatisfaction with simplistic responses such as “other people don’t know the Bible as well as us” or “They just don’t read all of the Bible as objectively as us” or “they are still blinded by apostasy and church tradition,” was combined with a growing restlessness to know more of the meat of Scripture. I wanted to learn more about the Bible, about church history, I wanted to learn to read it in its original languages. So I did the obvious thing. I went to Bible College.

I thank God that he led me to a thoroughly Bible-based, welcoming Bible College. They accepted me with a smile and a prayer, heretic as I was. Nobody argued with me, they just asked interested questions and discussed issues. They never coerced me, just pointed to God’s word. They prayed with me. I studied the Bible as I’d never studied it before. Everything was open to prayerful, biblically oriented discussion. I learnt what mainstream Christian doctrine actually taught and why, and found I had never understood correctly what others believed. I learnt what key words and phrases actually meant in the original Greek and it opened up a whole new world of interpretation. I learnt the history of the church and its doctrinal development and what the creeds really meant (as opposed to what I assumed they did). I understood the biblical basis of the doctrines that mattered and the ones that were open to interpretation. I understood how heresies arose. I learnt to view the Bible as a whole, under the overarching movement of the story of salvation in Christ and came to understand his absolute centrality. No more verse-by verse patchwork.

Probably the biggest challenge was the revelation that I had never really understood God’s grace and the assurance it supplied. My mother had always worried that she would not be found “worthy” at the judgement, and almost every Christadelphian with whom I had discussed “assurance” said they couldn’t be sure they’d be in the Kingdom. When I first read about Christadelphians in a book on different sects, one thing stood out. Not all the stuff we didn’t believe, I got that. But the statement that Christadelphians advocated a works based salvation. “No we don’t!” I remember saying adamantly to someone. “The Bible says we are saved by grace not works, and we believe the Bible!” But then it all started coming back to me. Doctrines to be rejected, number 24, “That the Gospel alone will save, without the obedience of Christ’s commandments.” That Christ died as our representative, whom we must emulate in order to please God; he did not take our punishment. That a certain way of life and manner of behaviour was necessary to win God’s love and favour. Snippets of conversation; “If we are found worthy...” “I will do that, I want to be in the kingdom too, you know.” A rejection of the belief in “Jesus is Lord” as adequate for salvation but instead a heaping of burdens grievous to be borne. I now realise that the official Christadelphian view of the atonement does rely on an inadequate works basis, because it is built on an inadequate understanding of the person and sufficient work of Christ. It requires salvation by identification and imitation; it requires faith itself to be a “work” by which we assent to a specific set of beliefs, and it provides no real assurance.

I have no axe to grind. My experiences as a Christadelphian were predominantly positive and I still count a number of them as friends, albeit somewhat estranged by distance. I did not leave the Christadelphians because they offended me, or rejected me, or were too boring, or didn’t let women do stuff in the church, or because I had been led astray from the Bible or just found “a nice church” and wanted to fit in — each of these accusations has been levelled at me. I left the Christadelphians because I discovered that the emperor has no clothes. Their beliefs about things of eternal consequence are wrong and that burdens me, which is why I spent years researching and writing. I discovered what the Bible really teaches about fundamental doctrines and what it means for Christ to be my Lord and Saviour. I left Christadelphia because I studied the Bible and prayed more, not less, and because I was prepared to try to understand others’ beliefs and do the Berean thing. I searched the Scriptures. I prayed that God would show me “the truth of the matter.” And he did. I did what that minister knew God could make happen, but my hard heart could not; I came back.


  • 1 'Orthodoxy' is defined in terms of the classical creeds of Nicea-Constantinople and Chalcedon.