Being a brother or sister in Christ

Problem

There is a growing trend of people claiming to be ‘‘Christadelphians’’ but who are holding to and publicly proclaiming beliefs which are against the Christadelphian Statement of Faith. 

Some of them are not challenged within the ecclesia, leading to a confusing situation where, within the community called ‘‘Christadelphians’’ there are some who hold to a completely different faith to the rest of the community. 

Solution

Just because someone calls themselves a child of God does not, in fact, make them one. The scriptures actually define who a Christadelphian is. Consider these points:

  1. Early believers were called “Christadelphians” – “brethren in Christ”. This was not a mere label but a scriptural title in Colossians 1: 2 given to people who were faithful to “the word of the truth of the gospel”. This qualification is very important because it explains who is a Christadelphian and who is not: who is our brother or sister in Christ and who is not. The dividing line is a faith in “the gospel” and a commitment through baptism based on that faith.
  2. We know that the gospel means “the good news” and is contained in the “great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:3-4) of the scriptures. God’s promises in Eden (Genesis 3), to Abraham (Genesis 12-22 – see also Galatians 3:8) and to David (2 Samuel 7 – see also Romans 1:1-4). 

We read in Acts 8:12 that there are two parts to the gospel that the apostles preached, namely “the things concerning the kingdom of God” and “the name of Jesus Christ”. These two parts of the gospel cover two distinct themes, each uniquely understood and believed by Christadelphians – one of “God manifestation” and one of “the atonement”. 

These things constitute “the word of the truth of the gospel” (Col. 1:5). Compared to the churches around, our community has a very different understanding of what the gospel is. Because of the fundamental errors within mainstream Christianity it has been necessary for us to define our understanding in our ‘statement of faith’ known as the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF). The first 17 clauses set out our understanding of “the name of Jesus Christ” and the final 13 clauses “the things concerning the kingdom of God”. This summary of the golden thread of the gospel which runs through scripture underpins the doctrines of our hope. If one apostolic doctrine is rejected it has an impact on the whole. For this reason, we call many of the ideas in our statement of faith, “first principles” and only accept a person as a Christadelphian when they subscribe to every clause in the BASF.

  1. The reason it is important for us to uphold this is that the scriptures tell us a faith in the gospel is essential for salvation (Mark 16:16, Romans 1:16). It also tells us that those that preach or believe in “another gospel” should be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6, 2 Corinthians 11:4).
  2. Just as Israel forsook God yet engaged in temple worship, brothers and sisters in Christ can do the same. If a brother or sister rejects saving truth they forfeit true fellowship with God and His children, though they might continue going through the motions and have an outward appearance. However, such a former believer is no longer a “Christadelphian” as defined by the scriptures. They are actually “unbelievers” of the gospel that saves. They are “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). In this scenario the way we must show love to them by plainly speaking truth to help bring them back to the Lord. 

Calling and election

Problem

Some argue that, If God is a God of love (which He is) He would surely want every human to have salvation? 2 Peter 3:9 (“The Lord is… not willing that any should perish”) and 1Timothy 2:3-4 (“God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved”) are passages used to support this view. Yet God clearly does not give every human the opportunity to accept the gospel. How are we to reconcile this?

Solution

First, we have to submit to God’s supreme majesty and prerogative. The principle by which God operates is one of calling and election. Once we appreciate this, we can see that God does not, in fact, want everyone to be saved but, in His mercy, He has chosen and called some undeserving people to be part of His purpose. We are truly humbled that God has given us this opportunity. Consider the following points:

  1. God chooses those who will receive the opportunity to know of His saving grace. He “calls” them. In Romans we read that this is “the purpose of God according to election . . . is not of works, but of Him that calleth” (Rom. 9:11). In Acts 15: 14 we read that the current purpose of God with the Gentiles is “to take out of them a people for his name” and we are exhorted in 2 Peter 1:10 to make our “calling and election” sure.
  2. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 we read how it is that God “chooses” and “calls” individuals. It is by the “gospel”. God “elects” or “selects” people to come to a knowledge of the gospel and gives them an opportunity to believe in it and act on their faith (1 Peter 1:1-2, 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5, Colossians 3:12).
  3. This privileged “calling” is therefore not open to all. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in His presence.” This way of operating is God’s sovereign right. His reason is “that no flesh should glory”. This is how He shows His mercy and love and this is exercised as He pleases. We don’t know who he is calling, so we preach to any who will listen. It is God who gives the increase to the seed or word which is planted (1 Corinthians 3:7).
  4. The apostle Paul was inspired to write: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” (Romans 1:16). 

Therefore, the mechanism by which we might obtain knowledge of salvation is through belief in the gospel. This is the “power of God” which saves. If God wanted everyone to be saved He would do so by giving everyone the opportunity to be saved. The fact is that He does not. Many live their lives in complete ignorance of the gospel of salvation. 

Regarding those verses which are sometimes submitted to suggest the idea that God does want everyone to be saved, we need to read them carefully. If we look at the context of 2 Peter 3:9 we will see that this has to do with God not being willing that any who have been called should perish. Again, a careful examination of the context of 1Tim 2:3-8 reveals that this has to do with brothers and sisters, not everyone. God has set out in Christ a way that all types of men, whether Jew or Gentile, can be saved but it is conditional on them being called by election and reacting acceptably..

Matters of Doctrine

Problem

With a desire to be accommodating and lovingly inclusive, an ecclesia might open their breaking of bread memorial service to people of other Christian denominations. 

This “open table” policy deliberately makes no distinction between believers of the true gospel and those who do not.

Some might go further and even accept the latter as brothers or sisters, as full members of the body.

Another unscriptural accommodation arises when an ecclesia does not challenge a member who openly proclaims that they do not hold to the first principle doctrines of the gospel as defined in the BASF. 

Solution

Those who choose to believe different doctrines usually depart of their own will. 

If they do not believe the same gospel as those in the community of believers they should not remain.

The “common sharing” of faith is lost. They are no longer ‘‘Christadelphians’’ in the scriptural sense and if they do not depart, they should not be permitted membership of the ecclesia or break bread within the ecclesia, until they humbly come to their right mind. Consider the following key points:

  1. Fellowship can only exist between people who have the same faith in the gospel. Consider these passages:
    • “I thank my God… for your fellowship in the gospel” Phil 1:3-5
    • “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized…  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” Act 2: 41-42
    • “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” 1 Cor. 1:9 
  2. “Fellowship” means “to have a common sharing”. The gospel that God uses to call us brings us into, and keeps us in, a state of fellowship. It is a common belief which unites us with The Father, the Son, with each other and with all the faithful of old who believed in the same promises of God. It is a relationship based on faith (1 John 1:1-3 and 1 John 1:5-7). The scriptures tell us fellowship cannot and does not exist with unbelievers of the gospel. For example, we read in Corinthians: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” 2 Cor. 6:14. 
  3. The scriptures use the metaphor of a body to describe the close relationship of those who have been called, believed and are committed to the gospel in baptism. In Ephesians 1:22-23 we read that the ecclesia is Christ’s body. We read in Ephesians 3:6 how an individual becomes part of this body: it is “by the gospel”. We read that this “body” does not include anyone who does not have a faith in this gospel, for later we read “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” (Ephesians 4:4-6). There is only one true community which has been called to the one hope. If someone does not hold to the same fundamental beliefs in regard to the gospel, then they cannot truly be part of that community.
  4. In Acts we read of the early believers who “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread.” They met to break bread and this revealed their common faith in the gospel and in the Lord Jesus Christ who had died for them. We read that they were of “one accord” and their practice was to “break bread” from house to house (Acts 2:46). To break bread with someone who is not of “one accord” or who does not share our understanding of the doctrine of the gospel is not scriptural fellowship. This is further emphasised in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (literally “fellowship”) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion (literally “fellowship”) of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread”. The act of breaking bread and drinking wine declares our understanding that we are all members of the spiritual “body” of Christ. It is a practical demonstration of our collective faith. We therefore cannot break bread with unbelievers who are not part of that body, symbolized by the one loaf. A believer cannot therefore accept an “open table” policy. How could we, with unity of mind, remember Christ in fellowship with a Trinitarian while they thought about and worshipped another god?
  5. In 2 Corinthians 6:17 the ecclesia is exhorted to “come out from among” unbelievers and “be ye separate”. In Acts 19:8-9 we see the example of how this should be done: “(Paul)… spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples”. We can clearly see that, after an attempt to preach the Gospel became fruitless, Paul separated himself and the disciples from these unbelievers. We must likewise separate from those who do not have the same faith as us. Paul, by inspiration, later reminded the Ephesian ecclesia of this principle in Ephesians 5:6-11 where he warns them to not be deceived by “vain words”, that God’s wrath will come upon the “children of disobedience” (or unbelief), that they were not to be “partakers with them” and that they should therefore “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather reprove them”. In 1 Timothy 6:1-5, Timothy is told to “withdraw” himself from those “destitute of the truth”.
  6. In 2 John 7-11 we read of a warning that deceivers who would corrupt the teaching of the gospel and, in particular, the doctrine that Jesus came in the flesh. This is a matter of first principle as it violates the revealed purpose of God. Those that step outside of this set of beliefs are in a state of transgression and do not abide in “the doctrine of Christ”: they “have not God.” John tells us that if such a person comes to our ecclesial house we should not receive him. It is clear then that on a local level there is a responsibility to deny false teachers a place in the ecclesia. This passage also tells us not to bid them “God speed” for by doing so we also will partake in their evil deeds. The word translated “God speed” simply means “rejoice” (in fact it’s the same word used in verse 4). So we are not to rejoice in those who teach error because if we accommodate it and become sympathetic to it, we will lose the very basis of our calling. 
  7. There are various apostolic examples of a rejection of those who teach things contrary to the gospel. See 1 Timothy 1:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:16-18, 2 Timothy 4:14-15, Titus 3:10-11, Romans 16:17-18, 2 Corinthians 11:2-4. In these instances those who have fallen away from the faith are never called a ‘brother’. They are no longer Christadelphians (or Brethren of Christ) because they do not hold a faith in saving truth. Though named a child of God at baptism, like the prodigal, they remain one and can repent and be restored to fellowship in Christ’s ecclesia.

We should then also likewise avoid communion with those who do not believe the gospel. We cannot break bread with them. We have to remain separate from them and not allow them into our ecclesial houses if we are to follow the example of scripture. Sadly, they have left the doctrine of Christ, or perhaps never understood it in the first place. Either way they are ‘unbelievers’ and we must seek to restore them to the faith before letting them into our ecclesias, all the while being careful not to ‘rejoice’ with them – to do so would be unloving. We should “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;” Phil 1:27. It is therefore important ecclesias interview any requesting membership or access to the emblems to ensure that they are, in fact, whole-hearted believers in the truth. 

Matters of Practice

Problem

Some ecclesias are not challenging or separating from Brothers or Sisters who are openly and regularly breaking Christ’s commands, as a way of life. 

Solution

Those who hold to lifestyles which are contrary to the commands of Christ need to be avoided and, wherever possible, restored with the wisdom of scripture.  We have already established that “unbelievers” were to be excluded from the ecclesias. The points below show that an ecclesia can and should also withdraw from somebody whose walk is not in keeping with the practice of the apostles. Consider the following:

  1. All brothers and sisters should be striving to keep the commands of Christ (James 1:22, Matthew 7:21, 28:19-20, John 15:14, 1 John 2:4)
  2. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 we have the apostolic principle to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly” and that we should “have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy but admonish him as a brother.” We desire his repentance.
  3. In Corinthians we read of the shocking behaviour and sexual immortality of some of the Corinthian members. The inspired apostle writes: “And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already… To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 5:2-5. Satan means “adversary”. If this person was avoided and not welcomed into the ecclesia then they would be outside with the “adversary”, the darkness of the world. This situation would in itself be an “adversary” to the offender and is intended to help them reflect upon their actions and be a “destruction of the flesh” – or, in other words, help them to destroy their rebellious fleshly thinking. It is clear what this phrase means, as the Spirit through Paul later says “now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator” (v11). On an ecclesial level then we have a duty to “avoid” and “not keep company” with brethren and sisters who blatantly disobey the commands of Christ and whose ungodly influence (leaven – see v6) can have an effect upon us. Note that, again, the offender in v11 is still termed a ‘brother’ because of the common faith in the gospel.
  4. Following on from point 3 it is also interesting to note what is written in 2 Corinthians 3:6-8: “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” Here, later on, Paul then is asking the ecclesia to accept this brother back into their midst – in effect taking away the punishment inflicted by many. In the Greek the word “many” is “majority” or as Strong’s puts it “greater in quantity”. This case gives us an amazing insight into how we should conduct ourselves in regard to matters of practice. The ecclesia is to “gather together” (Corinthians 5:4) to consider the conduct of a member (Matthew 18:15-17). Then the majority are to decide to withdraw or not based on scripture and the evidence.
  5. Individuals who are not trying to follow the commands of Christ should be withdrawn from by the whole ecclesia and avoided for the following reasons:
    1. For the individual’s sake – to make the offender ashamed and address their wrong doing – to win them back. (1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Thessalonians 3:14)
    2. Influence spreading (1 Corinthians 5:6,7, Galatians 5:9)
    3. We are commanded to! (1 Corinthians 5:11-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:6)
%d bloggers like this: