dianoigo blog

Friday 6 June 2014

Christadelphian Myths about Mainstream Christianity (1)

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

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

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

Myth #1: Mainstream Christianity is Homogeneous

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

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

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

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

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