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What is Truth?
(a Christadelphian Commentary)

PREFACE:

This document was originally written as a report to the ecclesias of the Unamended community on the North American Continent.  That report dealt with the six major issues upon which doctrinal agreement could not be reached during an 11-year period of negotiations between the continental reunion committees representing the Unamended and Amended communities, respectively.

    A further aim of the report was to explain as simply as possible the Scriptural basis for the beliefs on these issues held by the Unamended community.  It was hoped that these simple explanations might lead some to a clearer understanding of these doctrines and a greater interest in fundamental truth.

    The evident shift in recent years away from emphasis upon fundamental doctrine toward visible, present-day concerns and interpersonal relationships has led some to suggest making the contents of this report readily available to all in the Unamended community.  The hope is that an understanding of the content of these pages will not only help others to a better grasp of the fundamental doctrines treated therein, but also that an enlivened interest in things eternal may supplant concerns with things merely temporal.  Unmistakable signs in the world about us herald the imminent return of our Lord and Master to judge his household.  These pages are thus offered for use by those, like the virgins in our Lord's parable (Matt. 25:1-13), who desire to keep their lamps trimmed so that they may be able with joy to welcome the Bridegroom upon his arrival.

INDEX:

Introduction: The Power and Importance of Truth

"Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth" (John 17:17).  In these few and simple words Jesus made one of the most profound and all-important statements ever uttered from human lips.  Though Jesus would in several hours go to arrest, trial and a most cruel death, his thoughts were not upon himself primarily, but upon his heavenly Father and upon the few simple men for whose protection and salvation he was anxiously concerned.  He knew that in the coming confrontation they would become utterly confused and would forsake him and flee.  He knew that only the Father could protect them and keep them from making a fatal mistake.

But the thoughts of Jesus extended far beyond that little company of men who were gathered around that table.  As Jesus continued in earnest prayer to the Father he said, "And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified through the truth.  Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word..." (vss. 19-20).

All who would believe on Jesus unto salvation should mark the import of those words here quoted from the prayer of Jesus.  They set forth the basis for the sanctification of any individual in this or any age following our Lord's ministry.   That basis is faith in and obedience to God's truth.  Jesus had made a similar statement earlier to the woman of Samaria: "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.  God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:22-23).  In his prayer Jesus had said specifically, "Thy word is truth."

Because of its sanctifying power and of its ability to make a person "wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus," God's word, the Holy Scriptures, must be hallowed and feared by all seeking salvation.  Not only is faithful adherence to the truth able to make us wise unto salvation, but God's word has been the means of our begettal as children of God.  James wrote, "Of his own begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures" (James 1:18).  The availability to us of sonship to God is only through that Word, from which alone we can come to know the will of God and the means provided by God for our reconciliation to himself, namely through his giving of his beloved and only begotten Son as an offering for taking away the sin of mankind.

It is written, "For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations" (Psa. 100:5).  God's truthfulness is a fundamental part of his character; consequently it is everlasting.  It is as inseparable from God as are his mercy, his goodness, his righteousness, his faithfulness, and all of the other aspects of the perfection of God's character.  It would be both inconsistent and impossible for God's word to be otherwise than truth.  By overcoming the propensities of his human nature, Jesus proved himself to be faithful and true; he has now been invested with his Father's nature and a full measure of the characteristics thereof.   Paul wrote, "If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself" (I Tim. 2:13).  We, on our part, can learn to be faithful only through developing a reverence for God's word, by being guided therein through the teachings of our Master and of his disciples and apostles, and by steadfastly refusing to accept the insinuation into that truth of the alloying elements of human thinking.

It may appear unnecessary to attempt to establish for the benefit of Christadelphian readers a reason for unquestioning and total acceptance of the Bible as wholly inspired and infallible.  It could logically be argued that if Jesus stated that "...the scripture cannot be broken..." (John 10:35), why attempt to belabor the matter?   To such a question we must respond that history has demonstrated that differing interpretations of certain passages of Scripture have crept into the reading and understanding of those passages.  If these interpretations are repeatedly emphasized by brethren held in esteem, and if those interpretations are heard often enough, they become fixed in our understanding and in our habits of thought, so that we may find it difficult (if not almost impossible) to imagine that there could be any other way than ours of understanding those portions of Scripture.  This problem of thought-reinforcement is not unique to the understanding of Biblical writings; it is a problem generally associated with any form of either written or spoken communication.

We humans are limited in our ability to understand what we read or what we hear spoken.   We are limited by the extend of our training in the use of languages and by our experiences in life.  Words, spoken or written, are only symbols for thoughts or concepts.  Our experiences and training exert definite influences upon the ways in which we perceive the thoughts that words are intended to express.  They may or may not have given us the ability to understand accurately the concepts someone else intended to express through his choice of words.  The greater our familiarity with the thinking of a writer or a speaker, the better we can perceive the meanings that he intended his words to express.  When it comes to the Bible, we have only translations out of the languages in which the text was originally written.  Few of us have adequate backgrounds in those languages.  As a result, we can get only occasional and incidental help from analytical concordances.  In any event, since it takes years of constant use of a language for full comprehension of what has been written or spoken in that language, the humble servant of our Lord will not be tempted to regard himself as expert in the use of either Hebrew or Greek.

In spite of the difficulties imposed by the use of other languages in the writing of the Biblical text, God has seen to it that an excellent translation out of those ancient languages into English has been made available to us.  Only in relatively rare cases must we depend upon authorities in the use of those tongues for the conveying to our minds of important details of God's life-giving message.  We can be most thankful that our salvation does not hang in the balance, depending on whether or not we understand either Hebrew or Greek.  In fact, our suspicions should be aroused whenever someone attempts to put over a doctrinal point by justifying his interpretation (or attempting to do so) upon some "technical" meaning of a word in the original language - a language which he can neither speak nor write.  God is not so obscure in the revelation of his will to his honest servants that they must rely upon a grammatical construction in a foreign language.

The mind of man can become very ingenious when it comes to "selling" one's favorite viewpoint to others.  The realm of religion (particularly within such a highly unstructured organization as the Christadelphian body, wherein is no authoritative hierarchy backed by political and military might, as was the case with the Papacy between 800 and 1800 A.D.) offers a very fertile field for self-promotion on the part of individuals with ambition to lead a following.  Not only are there those who desire to be leaders, but there are also those who find it far easier and more comfortable to follow those individuals who appear to them to have leadership qualities.  This combination results in a spiritually unhealthy situation closely paralleling the set-up in the popular churches.  In such cases the majority may give physical attendance at worship and financial support, but they leave in the hands of self-appointed leaders important decisions in matters of faith and doctrine.

The main purpose of this commentary is to urge and to warn our brethren and sisters against neglecting the careful study of God's Word against leaving decisions affecting their salvation, particularly in doctrinal matters, up to others.  We would be very foolish to fully entrust our salvation to someone else, as is the rule in popular churches.  Our present manner of conducting our lives is establishing day-by-day a record in God's memory and in that of our Lord, which will in time become the basis for determining our eternal welfare.  How we shall be rewarded by our Lord will depend upon our faithfulness to God's truth, as demonstrated by the quality of our works throughout our lives in the truth.  If we have allowed ourselves to be led out of truth's way under the influence of wrong teaching, wrong advice, or wrong example, we are the ones who must give account to our Lord; it is we who must bear the consequences of our lack of dedication to God's truth.  As was the case with Eve, so can we be beguiled out of the way of truth and suffer disaster for ourselves.

From these considerations it should be evident that the critical issue in our lives of probation is whether or not our association with God's truth has caused us to become true through emulation of the examples of our Lord and of his apostles.  It is written, "...holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, forever" (Psa. 93:5).  Holiness involves separation from the deceitful ways of the human heart (Jer. 17:9) and to the sanctity of truth.  It therefore behooves us to be careful as to what we accept from the lips or from the pens of others.  It requires dedication to and a love for truth to motivate us to subject what we hear or read to the test of Scripture.  It is far easier and fashionable in our day to assume a careless and "broad-minded" attitude toward what becomes widely publicized in Christadelphian literature, so becoming very tolerant of the speculations of others - especially of those who have attained a considerable measure of popularity.  It is entirely possible for us to be careful and judicious in subjecting what we hear or read to the test of Scripture, yet avoiding being hyper-critical for the evident objective of drawing attention to our personal erudition.   We can modestly and humbly follow the counsel given through Isaiah: "To the law and the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20).  No truly sincere and honest brother in Christ wishes to lead others astray, even to his own ideas and interpretations.

The better we have become grounded in God's Word, the lower is the probability that someone else will be able to confuse us and to convince us that he has found a new or fundamental doctrine with which to enlighten us.  The converse is, of course, true, namely that the weaker our grounding in Scripture, the more easily can we be led astray and be "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine..." (Eph. 4:14).  Such was the state of his people during the days of the ministry of Jesus.  The people had been led astray by their leaders who were interested more in guarding their power and control over the people than in teaching God's way in truth.   If the inspired apostle Paul was able to state categorically to the brethren at Ephesus, "For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), then we may have confidence in understanding that there has arisen no new doctrine in our time that is Scriptural.  Because of the appetite of the human mind for self-expression, there may be times when someone may come to us wishing to "straighten us out" doctrinally.  Upon such occasions our minds should be sufficiently open to permit us to be both discerning and courteous, but sufficiently guarded to cause us to apply the test of Scripture to what is being propounded.

As a matter of record, the Christadelphian body has been plagued for a century by strife and contention.  Certain doctrinal points have been at issue for decades.   Many articles and pamphlets have been written - even books - setting forth various interpretations on doctrine and prophecy.  Some of these propounded ideas have led to bitter controversy and even division within the body supposedly dedicated to the service of God, to the sharing of a glorious hope engendered by knowledge of God's will, and to constructive reinforcement of the mutual faith of the membership.  Clearly erroneous doctrines must of necessity be dealt with successfully in the past; they have been discarded and almost forgotten.  There remain, however, certain doctrines about which the Scriptural basis (or lack of it) cannot be as clearly delineated.  The efforts made in hope of establishing a Scriptural basis in support of these doctrines involve an extensive amount of arbitrary assignment of meanings to words in chosen Scriptural texts and an insistence that such words may have those assigned meanings and no others.   The object of this attempt to rule out other meanings that the words properly have is to try to limit interpretation of the portion of Scripture as being supportive of the doctrine that is being urged.  What this amounts to is building into the text the conclusion that the proponents of the doctrine wish to be drawn.  When the conclusion is built into the text, the text is valueless as proof, since the conclusion has already been drawn arbitrarily.  In the general field of logic this is known as circular reasoning, also as begging the question.  Among people experienced in the science of argument such "arguments" are never accepted as valid proof.

All mature believers in God's Word will concur in the conviction that Scripture is wholly inspired and infallible.  They will, however, recognize that God's truth as set forth in the Bible contains a mixture of elements of varying difficulty and complexity.  In the fifth chapter of Hebrews the writer employs such terms as "milk," "strong meat," and "first principles," indicating thereby gradations in difficulty, both in understanding the meanings of certain portions of Scripture and in developing "the mind of the spirit."  In the wisdom of God we have been provided with a supply of spiritual food to nourish both the "babes" in Christ and those with the spiritual stature of "full-grown men."

Even though we are expected to grow in knowledge of God's truth and his grace by regular study toward showing ourselves "approved unto God" and workmen without need to be ashamed, "rightly dividing the word of truth," each one of us has his own limitations.  Not all of those who take upon themselves the Name of Jesus Christ can attain unto the spiritual stature of full-grown manhood.  God "knoweth our frame," and he does not expect of us more than our capabilities make possible.   We are expected, however, to utilize the totality of our potential with which we have been endowed and not to become slothful or careless.  This means that we must become "rooted and grounded" both in love and in the hope of our calling.   However difficult we may find some of the "strong meat" of the truth, this does not excuse us from becoming established in accurate knowledge of the first principles of our belief.  These constitute the "bed rock" upon which our hope for eternal life must be built.  Jesus made this fact extremely clear in his parable at the end of his "Sermon on the Mount," in which he contrasted two men - the one who heard his words and kept them being likened to a man who built his house upon a rock, while the other man who did not give the teachings of Jesus his attention and diligent observance was likened to one who was foolish enough to build his house upon sand.   We could hardly be given more important and pointed advice and admonition.

It is our objective in preparing this commentary to review certain of the first principles of our faith - not all of them, but only certain ones about which varied interpretations have been taught within the Christadelphian body as a whole.  Since the beliefs of Christadelphians have in the past been quite distinct from doctrines held within the popular churches, it may surprise some to learn that significant variations exist as to how certain Scriptural teachings long considered to be first principles are presently understood within the Christadelphian body.  Accordingly, we shall attempt to set forth as clearly as possible how these doctrines are generally understood within that section of the body designated on the North American Continent as the Unamended - this designation arising from the fact that this portion of the body subscribes to the Birmingham Unamended Statement of Faith.

The Nature of Man

In the early days of the truth's revival such writers as Dr. Thomas, Robert Roberts, and Thomas Williams laid great stress upon Biblical teaching regarding the nature of man, drawing a clear distinction between it and the commonly-held doctrine of the "immortality of the soul."  The fundamental fabric of Biblical truth as expressed in both Old and New Testaments hangs upon the basic truth as to the kind of nature that we bear and of the effect of this nature upon our position in God's sight according as we may be in Christ or without Christ.

Among present-day Christadelphians there is no observable tendency to believe that man possesses an immortal soul.  However, reunion negotiations have brought to light the fact that differences exist among believers relative to Scriptural teaching as to the meaning and import of our mortality.  Mention was made in the previous section of the role played by interpretation.  In fact, interpretation cannot but have an effect in the formulation of one's religious beliefs.  The Bible contains many statements symbolic in character which require interpretation as, for example, in prophecy.   Unless these are interpreted carefully and in the light of general Scriptural teaching, our interpretations can lead to some unscriptural conclusions.  The Word of God contains all that is required for our spiritual instruction in matters both fundamental and of greater depth; however, the Bible was not organized in the manner of a textbook on basic science.  We must acquire a good, general knowledge of the contents of both testaments before we can form a dependably accurate understanding of "the whole counsel of God," and before we can become grounded well enough to be proof against being confused by the arguments others may put forth.  Until we acquire such a background of Scriptural knowledge, we are in danger of becoming confused and of taking up with one or another questionably founded school of interpretation.

Stated most simply, man is mortal because of sin: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12).  No one can deny these facts.  The force of the physical consequences of Adam's transgression is frequently brought painfully to our attention as we see our loved ones taken from us, and as we experience the steady declension of both our mental and physical powers.  Divergence in interpretation has arisen with regard to the effect produced by Adam's sin upon our relationship to God, both as members of the human race and as we may have become baptized believers of the gospel.   This important matter is currently given different interpretations among Christadelphians, with consequent difference of perception as to its spiritual implications.  As we advance into the realm of spiritual significance, we are forced to take into account the role played by the interpretation.

While it is necessary to employ interpretation in arriving at the meanings of many passages of Scripture, we need to be very cautious so as to avoid speculation, the injection of our own ideas into the process.  It is quite natural for us to be tempted to speculate, especially when we have an idea that makes a strong appeal to our emotions or prejudices.  For example, people have indulged in much speculation as to the details and implications of what transpired in the garden of Eden.  The Genesis account is extremely brief regarding this crucial period in human history that has had such a profound effect upon the lives of all of us.  However, speculations can lead to conclusions that may conflict with later Biblical revelation regarding God's ways, , especially as to his magnanimous arrangement for reconciling human beings unto himself.   We can form an estimate of the way God regards man's injection of his own ideas into divine arrangements by considering God's warning to the children of Israel regarding altars: "An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.  And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not built it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it" (Ex. 20:24-25).  What God then said of altars - devices for worship and for thanksgiving unto God - must have similar application against man's tampering with God's Word, also an essential element in the worship of God.   God confirms this in his message given through Isaiah: "...but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word" (Isa. 66:2).

While we dare not inject speculative details into our understanding and our exposition of the Bible message, there is a fully legitimate way for going about satisfying our desire to know more about certain passages found in the Old Testament.  Jesus and the inspired apostles made frequent reference to Old Testament writings, calling attention to the fulfillment of matters foretold, or using earlier writings as proof for the arguments put forth.  As an example, were it not for the enlightenment given us by the Letter to the Hebrews, we would have far less understanding of an appreciation for the beauty and spiritual significance of the Mosaic law.  It is through "comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (I Cor. 2:13) that we can build up and "round out" our spiritual understanding.  We should take to ourselves the admonition given to the Hebrew brethren: "...of whom [Jesus] we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.  For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God...Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection...And this we will do, if God permit" (Heb. 5:11-6:3).

We must all acknowledge the fact that our dying and disease-susceptible nature has been inherited from our first parents; we are all held in bondage to this nature for the duration of our mortal lives (Heb. 2:15).  This life holds for us no promise of anything better.  As born into this world, human beings are in the desperate position that applied to the Ephesian brethren before they took upon themselves the Name of Jesus Christ, as described by Paul: "That at that time ye were 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 Old Testament times the hope of salvation was available only through God's nation of Israel, either by being born an Israelite or by being adopted into that nation which God had chosen out of love for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God chose, in fact, on occasion to identify himself as the God of these faithful fathers of the nation (Ex. 3:16; Matt. 22:32).   Furthermore, God said to the nation, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth..." (Amos 3:2).  This restriction applied, even though God had revealed in certain prophecies his intent to open the way of salvation to the Gentiles.  Paul wrote of this as a mystery (something known only to the initiated) "Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel..." (Eph. 3:5-6).  This purpose of God revealed to Peter and to Paul, in particular, made possible the formerly desperate situation of the unbaptized Ephesians and of any other unbaptized Jew or Gentile in our day to be set aside and for them to become the beneficiaries of an incomparable privilege, as Paul expressed it: "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ...Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God..." (Eph. 2:13,19).

By disobedience to the law God gave to our first parents in Eden they separated themselves from the free fellowship with God and the angels that they had enjoyed in the garden.  This estrangement or alienation from God was dramatized by their expulsion from the garden and by their access to the tree of life being barred; that access has been guarded ever since and is restricted to those who in the future will have it granted to them (Rev. 2:7).

Just as the foretold consequence of disobedience, "Dying thou shalt die" (Gen. 2:17), took physical effect upon Adam and Eve following their transgression, there was a concurrent mental effect (Gen. 3:7-9).  This was reflected in their attitude toward the angels, with whom they had been in friendly fellowship and with their Creator, whom the angels represented.  These physical and mental consequences of Adam's disobedience have been passed on to all of his descendants, even though it has not been possible for his descendants to transgress in the same way and under the same conditions as did their first parents.  Thus, though suffering the consequences of the original sin (Rom. 5:12-14, 17-19), these descendants cannot be guilty of that sin.  The dying process is a part of our nature, as scientific evidence can prove.  The law of Moses taught very graphically that death is a defiling phenomenon in God's sight (Num. 19) because of its connection with sin, to say nothing of its obvious uncleanness.  Even degenerative processes short of death (e.g. leprosy, issues) created ceremonial defilement under the law and were to be treated as defiling the  tabernacle of God.

If physical defilement in humans is abhorrent to God, the corruption of the mind, the true individual, would be even more so (Jer. 17:9).  The very spontaneity of evil thoughts and the almost superhuman effort required to overcome them demonstrate that they are inherent in human nature, just as are the physical effects of Adam's transgression.   In his teaching Jesus laid bare the fact that all sinful acts have their origin in evil thoughts, the evil tendencies of the human mind (Matt. 5:21-30).  No truly dedicated servant of God will try to dispute the revelations of Holy Writ regarding this inherent uncleanness of his human nature, nor will he attempt to limit impurity to acts of transgression.  The very fact that he cannot avoid transgressing God's laws should tell him quite eloquently that there is a spirit within him that promotes rebellion against God.  Even though parents tend to idolize their infants and to consider them the acme of innocence, no psychologically discerning parent can fail to see the evidence in that tiny and inexperienced bit of humanity a determination to try to get its own way.   This desire to follow his own ways, rather than God's, has been man's besetting sin ever since the transgression in Eden.  This is not a matter of psychological speculation or interpretation; the Scriptural record bears eloquent testimony to this principle of sin that dwells within us.  If the inspired apostle, Paul, agonized over this force within himself that made him do contrary to the dictates of his enlightened conscience, who among more nearly ordinary mortals, such as ourselves, can make a Scriptural case against belief that we possess a nature wherein sin dwells?

In his agonizings over the difficult struggle going on within his conscience (Rom. 7:13-25), Paul mentioned the two opposing forces or "laws," as he termed them.   One of these he referred to as "the law of my mind," which we can understand from our similar experience to have been what today we would call Paul's conscience enlightened, both by his knowledge of the Old Testament and by the "visions and revelations of the Lord" (II Cor. 12:1-7) that Paul had been given.   The other force contending for his service Paul termed "the law of sin which is in my members."  What Paul referred to as "laws" in both cases are not understood as having legal significance, but rather as active principles or influences.  This "law of sin" Paul referred to was no abstract, philosophical concept having only theoretical significance, but a dominating force or tendency, against which Paul had to fight with all of the determination that he could muster - and even then with far less success than he could wish.  It was a force, irresistible at times, that produced sin in the form of actual transgressions, as it does in all of us.  This "law of sin" leads us into temptation through the lusts that are common to mankind and a part of our nature and of its defilement.  James attributes temptation to the drawing power of these desires (James 1:12-15) that are common to us all; even Jesus could experience temptation, even though he had the moral and spiritual strength to rule over it perfectly.

We must logically regard any influence that would draw us away from God as evil, whether or not we may on many occasions be able to rule over it.  Since this force is in all of us, it is unquestionably related to our nature.  We cannot attribute it to God, who does not oppose himself; God did not create sin - man did.  Its universality within the human race argues for a commonality of origin, and the Bible tells us that the origin lies with one man, through whom sin entered into the world.  Sin was the antecedent of death, and both have passed universally upon the whole human race.   Because sin is utterly abhorrent to God, the presence in humans of this defiling influence has put a barrier between man and his Creator, as has been mentioned in connection with the expulsion of our first parents from the garden in Eden.  As a consequence of this tragedy, God has provided a way - the only way - whereby weak, sinful man may be forgiven for those things that he cannot avoid doing because of the nature that he bears.  In this the incomparable mercy and goodness of God are demonstrated on behalf of repentant and deliberately obedient sinners.  For this unmerited mercy man owes to God a debt of gratitude and devotion and obedience.  He must, however, respond willingly and from his heart - not from threat or coercion.

We read: "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law..." (Gal. 4:4).  The law here referred to (as Paul's argument clearly implies) was what we commonly call the law of Moses.   It should more properly be called God's law given through Moses, as Paul testified, "...it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator."  It being God's law, it was "...holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good."  Jesus also testified, "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."  That law, remaining in force up to its fulfillment in the sacrifice of Jesus, required that a woman, upon giving birth, had to offer at a specified time (Lev. 12) two offerings for her purification - one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.  This Mary did following the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:22-24).

There can be no question or suggestion whatever of transgression having been involved in any sense in connection with the birth of our Lord.  The requirement in the law of a sin offering in such a connection had a spiritual significance, and the law being directly from God can in no way be considered as inconsistent or frivolous.  Every requirement of the law was designed to teach truth and righteousness, even thought it could not, through a routine observance of it, confer life and the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:20-21; Gal. 2:16).  In God's wisdom, therefore, the law taught that in human birth this sin principle, called by Paul in Romans 8:2 "the law of sin and death," is passed on from one generation to another, quite apart from involvement of mother or offspring in any overt transgression.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh..." (John 3:6).  Flesh reproduces only its own kind, and even in the unique instance of our Lord's divine paternity, it was necessary that God's beloved Son inherit the same nature as that of those whom Jesus was sent into the world to save (Heb. 2:14-18).  We shall have more to say about this matter in the following section dealing with the nature and sacrifice of our Lord.

There are other illustrations brought out by the provisions of the Mosaic law of the existence of sin as a principle in human nature, which are not merely consequences of an individual's transgressions.  There are some who would argue that the essence of saving truth is to be found only in the gospel as preached by Jesus and the apostles, and that what is written in the law is of little more than historical significance.  It is readily granted that Jesus and his work constitute a critical aspect of God's plan and purpose with the human race, being the focus of the means through which salvation has been made possible.  However, the whole purpose of God was determined from the very beginning, and God's plan was a gradually developing one.   Correspondingly, we cannot say that the only important part of an individual's existence begins at birth; the pre-natal influences and development play a crucial part in the process of human reproduction.  The law has enlightened us considerably as to God's way of thinking in relation to human affairs (Isa. 55:8-11).  Moreover, the later teachings of Jesus give us an even more intimate and comprehensive insight into the operations of the mind of God.

Following his expulsion of our first parents from the garden, God has tried repeatedly to impress upon human minds his abhorrence of sin in all of its manifestations.  God revealed this indwelling sin principle to Cain (Gen. 4:7).  Its effect upon the minds and behavior of humans has necessitated admonitions that are to be found throughout the Scripture record against God's people obeying the lusts generated by it.  Paul's intense struggle (already referred to) against this "law of sin" in his members, which was, as he wrote, "warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members," caused him to describe it as "the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2) - this because death is the final outworking of the sin principle in every one of us.  It is essential to an understanding of the gospel and of God's graciously provided atoning sacrifice that we have a clear and correct understanding regarding the existence of this principle that dwells in all human flesh without exception.

The universality of this indwelling principle is vividly demonstrated by the fact that infants can and do die before they have an opportunity consciously to disobey God.   In fact, they can and do die even before entering into this sinful world.   This is no fault of the infant; it is the consequence of their inheritance as one of Adam's posterity.  If mere absence of transgression were the basis for immortality, then such infants should be granted immortality, as the popular churches teach.  Were such a doctrine true, we all would have been better off not to have survived to the age when transgression against God's laws is possible.

However innocent we are of personal transgression through our possession of human nature, the fact that this sin-producing propensity is resident in us constitutes a barrier to our true fellowship with God in the absence of a sin-covering principle named by Paul "the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus," which alone can free us from "the law of sin and death."  This latter principle more simply termed sin by Paul (Rom. 7:8,11,14,17), unless covered by faith and the redemption for those in Christ Jesus, leaves us "without Christ...having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12).

Returning to the consideration of how the Mosaic law related sin to human nature quite apart from any overt transgression by the individual, we find this illustrated by at least three commandments of the law.  These are illustrated by (1) the commandment of a sin offering required for a person having had contact with a dead person, a bone, or a grave, however accidentally (Num. 19); (2) the requirement of a sin offering as part of the ceremonial cleansing of a leper (Lev. 14); and (3) the command to exclude from the congregation of the Lord those individuals whose accident of birth caused them to be a bastard, an Ammonite, or a Moabite (Deut. 23:2-4).  The bastard, the Ammonite, or the Moabite had not transgressed personally through being born of parents offensive to God; yet there had to have been something arising through their birth that rendered them as unclean, as contrasted with those born or adopted into the family of Israel and circumcised, if male.  This discrimination was not based upon a physical distinction, but upon a moral or spiritual contamination associated with the sins of ancestors who earned the anger of God.  These and other defiling influences (e.g. washing of clothes and bathing of flesh) and even sacrifices were required for purification and restoration to a state of ceremonial cleanness.

To summarize this section on the nature of man, we can do no better than to quote Paul's words: "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men to justification of life.  For as by one man's disobedience many were made (katestathesan = were constituted) sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made (katestathesontai = will be constituted) righteous" (Rom. 5:18-19).   Thus we see that our personal transgression or lack of such is not the whole determining factor in our being constituted either sinners or righteous; the actions of another (outside of our own actions) have a determinative effect.  Adam's actions constituted us all sinners; whereas, the actions of our Lord Jesus Christ in being perfectly righteous and obedient unto death are the essential factor in obedient sinners (bearing his Name and proving themselves faithful and obedient) being constituted righteous.  Paul expressed it thus: "But of him are we in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption..." (I Cor. 1:30).

We of the Unamended Christadelphian community believe firmly that it is essential to saving faith to accept with all due reverence before God his revelation of our former status of being without him and without hope, quite apart from the alienation increased by our personal transgressions.  Only by our confession of a need for removal of that status as a basic element in saving faith can we become covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ through baptism into his saving Name, whereupon past transgressions are forgiven for his sake.  We believe that it is essential to avoid the gross error of presumption, in common with that of the popular churches, of believing that our personal transgressions are all that could separate from God.  By God's grace and compassion the separation due to both causes is removed for us when we come to God through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  This relates us to the Father and the Son, as Paul explained (Eph. 2:13-22).  To err on the Scriptural teachings on the nature of man is to throw the whole process of reconciliation and justification into confusion and, in effect, to glorify the flesh through denying its inherent uncleanness.

The Nature and Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

Man cannot fathom all of the sublime wisdom and righteousness of the heavenly Father in trying to understand the modus operandi that God has provided for justifying such miserable sinners as all of us are.  The great miracle of reconciliation (or atonement) must remain, in part, a mystery to us.  It should be our part to accept God's provision on our behalf with extreme gratitude and reverence and not to exploit this "unspeakable gift" from God as an excuse for controversy.

This, however, does not imply that we may justly ignore what the Father has chosen to reveal for inquiring minds to search out.  It is evidence of human pride and that love of controversy which expresses pride that this sublime subject has been made an excuse for more strife, bitterness, and un-Christian conflict than almost any other theological doctrine.  It is our purpose in this commentary to set forth as simply and as clearly as we are able the understanding of the subject that is prevalent in Unamended Christadelphian communities.

The truth concerning the nature that our Lord Jesus Christ bore between the events of his birth and of his being raised to the divine nature is most closely tied to what is revealed concerning the nature of man.  In spite of his divine paternity, having been begotten by the Holy Spirit and not by man, our Lord entered this world in exactly the same manner that we all do.  He was, thus, a man, having been born of a woman according to the Father's determinate counsel and purpose.   Luke's gospel tells us that Jesus was accounted to be a son of Adam, a son of Abraham, a son of David, as well as being Son of God.  The Biblical account is explicit as to these facts; therefore they are beyond controversy.

Having been born of a human being in accordance with God's intent and wisdom, Jesus inherited through his human ancestry the same nature as the one we bear.   "Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren..." (Heb. 2:17).  It was necessary that Jesus bear our nature so that he might overcome it and "come to grips" with sin where it dwells - in human flesh.  This human nature was his inheritance from his mother and his other ancestors.  However, it is now well known that a child inherits characteristics from both parents.  Jesus was unique in his inheritance, for no other human being has had God for a parent by begettal.  From his Father our Lord evidently inherited a mind with a capacity for moral and spiritual strength and perception such as no other human being has ever possessed.  This is evident from the fact that Jesus was able to live a life without ever submitting to the temptations that, of whatever kind, involve all of the rest of us in transgression.  In addition to his moral and spiritual powers, Jesus had an intelligence superior to that of any other human being, as witnessed by his being able to outwit every one of the devices of his learned enemies.

The fact that Jesus possessed the nature in which sin dwells is demonstrated by his ability to be tempted to do evil in the sense of using the Holy Spirit power given to him at his baptism - using it for his own personal advantage.  Jesus knew full well what had been prophesied of him, and there was the obvious temptation to test its fulfillment at that time and thereby to reassure himself that he was indeed the Son of God.  There was also the temptation to take unto himself the rulership of the world without having to undergo the horrible death that he knew was required of him (Isa. 53:5-10; Luke 12:50).  Had Jesus been free from human weaknesses (II Cor. 13:4) in the form of temptation to gratify self and otherwise to submit to the promptings of  his nature, he would not have had to learn obedience by the things that he suffered (Heb. 5:8).  With an intelligence such as Jesus possessed, learning obedience through suffering would not have been required for one who had no tendencies to disobey.  That there was a conflict between his will and that of the Father was fully demonstrated in his agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

Some have thought through their reasoning to absolve Jesus of any taint of the flesh, and to make his sacrifice solely an altruistic act on behalf of the rest of us.  We have no intent or desire to downgrade Jesus' love for his friends for whom he laid down his life in the greatest exhibition of love ever witnessed.  The angel's assurance to Mary that the child she would bear would be an "holy thing" does not rule out the fact of the existence of the sin principle in Jesus.  He was most certainly holy, since the word holy means "set apart" or "dedicated."  Jesus was dedicated to the purpose of God as being a sin-bearer, though innocent of transgression, for his role as "the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world," and that he might bring "life and immortality to light through the gospel."  The term holy was applied to a variety of people in Scripture.  The Mosaic high priest bore on his head the golden crown inscribed with "HOLINESS TO THE LORD."  The prophets were termed holy by Peter (Acts 3:21; II Pet. 1:21).  The apostles were also termed holy (Eph. 3:5).  The Hebrew brethren in Christ were termed "holy brethren," and so were the members in the ecclesia in Colosse (Col. 3:12).  There is no question that of all of God's children none was as holy in the complete sense of the word as was Jesus; however, such holiness does not rule out the possession by Jesus of sin nature.   His possession of it was essential for his performance of the work given him by the Father - the overcoming of sin, in particular.  In fact, those who would attempt to glorify Jesus by denying that sin was present in his nature actually rob Jesus of his great accomplishment in being able to overcome sin.  He was able to give comfort to his disciples at the Last Supper by reminding them of his accomplishment: "...but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  What greater accomplishment could there be than overcoming perfectly what no other human being has been able to do, except only partially; Jesus deserves our highest praise and admiration for this.  By gaining this victory over sin, Jesus could say in his prayer to the Father, "I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do."  As reward for his glorifying the Father, the Father has glorified Jesus with his own nature and by delivering into his hand "all power in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18).

The work that the Father gave to the Son to accomplish had a number of aspects, which, in part, we may list as follows:

  1. to overcome sin in himself (John 16:33),
  2. to show the character of God by his conformity to God's requirements and thinking (John 3:11; 14:9),
  3. to confirm the promises made to the fathers (Abrahamic covenant) (Rom. 15:8-9),
  4. to testify to the world that its works are evil (John 7:7),
  5. to bear witness to God's nation that God was visiting his people by sending the Messiah, as witnessed by the Father's words and by the works that Jesus performed by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 15:22),
  6. to teach mankind righteousness (Psa. 40:9),
  7. to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 9:2),
  8. to obtain eternal redemption for himself and others (Heb. 5:5-7; 9:12), and
  9. to "abolish death and bring life and immortality to light through the gospel" (II Tim. 1:10).

With such a momentous assignment to carry out, and to do so without a single error or transgression while still bearing the same nature as his brethren and under extreme provocation by his enemies, our Lord had to wage an exhausting struggle against the sin-tendency within himself.  For such an accomplishment we can properly have nothing other than the greatest marvel and reverence.  The humility of a man with such exalted parentage and with the ability to perform flawlessly marks Jesus as perfect in every moral and spiritual aspect of his character.  Thus, with his perfection of character he was a true image of the Father (Heb. 1:3), so that he could truthfully say to Philip, "...he that hath seen me hath seen the Father..."   In spite of the perfect character of Jesus, his nature inherited from his mother was not perfect.  God arranged that Jesus be born under the Mosaic law and under "the law of sin and death," so that he could redeem the Jew from the curse of the Mosaic law (Gal. 3:13) and both Jew and Gentile from the entail of the law of sin and death.

In the face of this marvel of God's grace and goodness wrought through his Son, how can we lay claim to being God's grateful servants if we make of this sublime truth an issue for wrangling over rival claims to spiritual erudition?

Baptism

Consideration of the significance of and the changes resulting from baptism follows logically upon our considerations of the nature of man and of the nature and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  It is also very logically connected with a consideration of the significance of the Abrahamic covenant and of an individual's amenability or responsibility to a resurrectional judgment.

Our first Biblical acquaintance with the process of baptism is met in the New Testament with the baptism performed by John who was called the Baptist.  In a publication intended mainly for use by Christadelphians it would be useless to devote space to Scriptural justification for limiting the act of baptism to total immersion of the human body in water - this as contrasted with a mere sprinkling with water, which popular churches term "baptism."  Two references alone suffice for dismissing this point: Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:4-5.

The principal occasions for controversy among Christadelphians are related to the nature and significance of the changes in an individual's relationships to God resulting from a valid baptism, and to the role of baptism in relating the individual to a resurrectional judgment.

Since use has been made of the term, a valid baptism, the significance of the limiting term should be explained.  In the minds of some the word "baptism" has been associated almost entirely with the outward, physical ceremony of dipping in water.  That outward ceremony is an essential and required part of the process of assuring that a person is validly baptized, but it is only a part of the process.  As has always been true of human thinking, ceremony long practiced tends to become the emphasis and a substitute for what the ceremony was intended to symbolize.  For those whose minds do not seek to delve below the surface of things to discover the underlying reasons for required ceremonies, the ceremony itself is about all that concerns them.  This emphasis upon the symbol can result in the association of the symbol with some other substance than that for which the symbol was originally designed.  For example, it is entirely possible for some to think of the ritual of baptism solely as the means by which one becomes a member of a religious organization, and little more.  It could well be that our Lord, with his thorough knowledge of human nature, commanded only two rituals to be observed by his servants.  These are baptism and the breaking of bread.  By his omission of other rituals in the service of the Father and of himself, our Lord may have intended to minimize the opportunity for free rein in divine worship on the part of his servants.   His own nation had in their attention to minute detail lost sight of the spiritual significance of the Mosaic law and ritual.  Human fascination with ritual is evident from the ceremonies that characterize man's "religions."

Since baptism is intended to mark a decisive turning point in an individual's life and in his relationship to God and to Christ, merely submitting to a physical ceremony does not produce the change in that person's way of thinking and mode of living that God requires.  A commitment to the fundamental change from following the ways of the flesh to following the commandments of our Lord can only be made as a result of enlightenment of conscience based upon a sufficient amount of knowledge of what God has revealed in the Scriptures concerning himself, his ways, and his will.  Such a change cannot come about as the result of a sudden "conversion," but only following adequate study and instruction in the way of righteousness to lead one to a true repentance and a desire to devote the remainder of one's life to the service of God and of Christ, rather than following the way which seems right in one's own eyes.  In the absence of such a solemn commitment, one might be totally buried in water a thousand times, and not one of those times would constitute a valid baptism.

An individual's reasons for desiring to undergo the process of baptism should be governed by his clear understanding as to what is to be accomplished through baptism.  Understanding as to what is accomplished by baptism is not uniform throughout all sectors of the Christadelphian body.  Some seek to limit its effect to the washing away of personal transgressions, plus the taking upon one's self the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  There is no question in the minds of members of the Unamended sector of the body that these are both essential aspects of the significance and results of a valid baptism.  However, they believe firmly that there are additional elements in the overall process.

Paul wrote in the sixth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans about the fundamental change in an individual's life symbolized by baptism.  It is a symbolic death on the part of the individual - not a  physical death, obviously, but a planting together in the likeness of Christ's death - to be followed by a raising "in the likeness of his resurrection."   It implies a solemn obligation to walk in "newness of life" and for the remainder of the individual's life.  We may then say that an individual's baptism is the critical turning point in that person's life.  As indicated above, if there is no commitment to such a change in style and purpose in life, that individual has not been truly baptized; the outward ceremony of immersing in water has neither significance nor power to affect the individual's relationship with God - the "baptism" was not valid.  Peter termed baptism "the answer of a good conscience toward God;" i.e., the prescribed response by the individual to having acquired a consciousness as to what God wants of him.

In the above quotation there are tied together for our enlightenment several consequences of a valid baptism:

  1. we put on Christ,
  2. in the sight of God all present distinctions that play important roles in the world (nationality, social or economic status, or sex) are eliminated, so that each one of us stands before God and Jesus Christ solely on the basis of character, with no respect of persons shown or to be expected,
  3. we become accounted as members of the spiritual family of Abraham, the patriarch of the faithful, and thus reckoned as true or spiritual Israelites; and
  4. as members of Abraham's spiritual family we become heirs of the glorious promises that God made to him and to his seed.

By putting on Christ through being "baptized into his death" we identify ourselves with him, assuming that we do indeed walk in newness of life upon arising from the water.  This obligates us to "follow the Lamb withersoever he goeth."  As Paul wrote, "It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: if we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself" (II Tim. 2:11-13).  This identification with Jesus is not a matter of mere doctrinal formality.  The close identification between Jesus and his brethren (Christadelphians in the definitive sense of the name) is made clear from two examples taken from Scripture:

  1. "And the King shall answer and say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:40, and
  2. "For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones" (Eph. 5:30).

Such close identification with Christ implies a close identification with our Lord's Father.  Adding a verse to a quotation made above we are told, "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26).  This relationship of children to God is amplified by Paul as follows: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Rom. 8:16-17).

Sonship to God begins at baptism, upon which one enters the remaining period of his natural life under probation.  What requires proving is whether the individual will remain faithful to his commitment to God and Christ.  The problems and trials of life in this world serve to establish clearly in the minds of our God and of our Judge whether one serves them or one's self.  The record that one thus establishes in their infallible memories serves to determine whether the individual may be deemed worthy of permanent sonship and fellowship with the Father and the Son.  The children of God in this probationary state can enjoy the benefits of the degree of fellowship with the Father that is granted to them.  John wrote, "...and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ...If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth...But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (I John 1:3, 6-7).

Important as a valid baptism is to our salvation, the walking in light thereafter is a necessary condition for maintenance of that all-essential cleansing from all unrighteousness through the effectiveness for us of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  As John wrote, if we do not walk in the light of God's truth, but in the darkness of the world's ways, we make ourselves liars and are merely pretenders to righteousness and fellowship with our Maker and his Son.  Those who do not understand or who do not value sufficiently the change of relationship attendant upon baptism, namely from being only in Adam and, consequently "without hope and without God in the world' to being in personal fellowship with God and with Christ will realize too late their tragic mistake.  For such their baptism will not have served the purpose intended.  Even though their pre-baptismal sins may have been forgiven, they will suffer the consequences of the far greater sin of having, in effect, "counted the blood of the covenant" wherewith they had been sanctified an unholy (common) thing; they will have "done despite unto the Spirit of grace" (Heb. 10:29).

In view of the magnitude of the importance and the significance of true baptism, the decision to take that step is the most important and serious decision that a human being can make.  It definitely should not be made under duress, urgent persuasion, or other kinds of psychological pressure from anyone else.  With full appreciation of the mercy of God.  He does not approve of people taking His Name upon themselves in vain (Psa. 50:16).  God is preparing a glorious and holy temple; in it he purposes to dwell "for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2:21-22).  As when God commanded Moses concerning the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering...And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them" (Ex. 25:2,8).  From this and from the freewill offerings under the law we can readily conclude that God is honored only by voluntary and joyful service out of reverence and gratitude for God's goodness - not because people are motivated largely by fear.

The Covenants of Promise

A definite trend away from the study of the writings of the pioneers of our denomination is readily discernible within the Christadelphian body as a whole.  Also, there is an increasing tendency to pay less attention to the Old Testament foundations of our beliefs, and to center attention around Jesus Christ and modern-day interpretations of his teachings.  There can be no doubt whatever of the fact that Jesus occupies a central place in the outworking of God's plan and purpose with the human race and man's salvation.  As Paul wrote to the Ephesian brethren, both Jewish and Gentile believers, "...are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone..." (Eph. 2:20).  But the cornerstone is not the whole foundation, however prominently it figures in the finished building, bearing as it does the honor of having engraved upon it significant testimony as to the purpose that the building serves, and serving as the junction of two walls of the  building.

God's purpose of and plan for the salvation of mankind existed in God's Mind from the very beginning.  As mentioned earlier, it was to be an unfolding plan, of which only a "hint" was revealed in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15).  As time went on, more details were revealed on appropriate occasions.  Abraham's obedience and faithfulness were rewarded with a vision of the future affecting him and his seed in the form of glorious promises certified by God's oath and a covenant with him offered by God.  These promises to Abraham embraced momentous developments (Rom. 4:13), and referred to a seed, both singular and multitudinous, through whom and through Abraham all nations will be blessed.  In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul wrote in the above reference, "For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith."  To emphasize the solemnity and importance of his promise to Abraham and to Abraham's seed, God confirmed the immutability of his purpose by adding his solemn oath to his promise, in neither of which could the only true God ever lie (Heb. 6:13-20).  We dare not minimize the importance of making a matter that God regarded with such seriousness an integral part of the foundation of our belief.   The critically important part that Jesus and his teachings play in God's truth in no way reduces the incomparable importance of this fundamental doctrine.  The work and teachings of Jesus were, in fact, based upon that foundation.  Otherwise, why would Jesus have said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad?"

God's promises on behalf of Abraham and of those accounted to him for a seed were considered by Paul to be such glorious revelations that he termed them "the gospel" or good news (Gal. 3:8).  For one to whom God had revealed "the mystery of Christ" (Eph. 3:1-7), and to whom had been given "visions and revelations of the Lord" (II Cor. 12:1), Paul had the authority of inspiration for designating the promises made to Abraham as "the gospel."  In view of this, what justification can there be for anyone attempting to relegate this great and fundamental doctrine to mere background history?  Jesus quoted his Father as having said, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob..." (Matt. 22:32).  Jesus used his Father's statement to establish the surety of a resurrection, because, though the fathers of the nation were dead at the time Jesus was speaking, God's immutable promises to them could only be fulfilled by their resurrection.  Thus, the fulfillment of God's covenant with the fathers was inseparably linked with the gospel that Jesus preached: the gospel preached to Abraham and the gospel of the kingdom of God preached by Jesus were fundamentally the same.  The true gospel was not an entirely new phenomenon in the days of Jesus and the apostles; it was only more fully elaborated through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit granted to them.  Our understanding of the gospel of the kingdom of God is heavily dependent upon our knowledge of the writings of the Old Testament prophets, who made many references to God's covenant.

It is vitally important to keep these matters in perspective, for when we neglect to emphasize the fundamentally Israelitish foundation of the gospel message, we then drift (even though gradually and imperceptibly) very close to the camp of Protestantism.  In similar manner the Jewish rulers of Jesus' day had drifted into Judaism, Hellenism, and a totally ritual observance of the Mosaic law.

The apostle Paul termed the glorious and saving gospel "the Hope of Israel."  It ceases to be such when Israelitish foundations are discarded.  Paul also expressed the hope given us through our possession of the truth as our "inheritance" (Eph. 1:11); he termed Christ's servants "heirs" (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 3:29; Titus 3:7).  We find such terms used also by Peter (I Pet. 3:7) and by James (James 2:5).  For individuals to have the status of heirs there has to be either a familial or a legal relationship between the source of the inheritance and any who may properly be considered as heirs.  In the case of those who are in Christ, the relationship is both familial (through adoption into the family of Abraham) and legal through the covenants of promise; both adoption and covenants are legal devices.  Few, even worldly people, would consider discarding what is commonly known as a "last will and testament" of their benefactor, if such a testament (covenant) were entrusted to their care.

The Hebrew word berith (covenant), occurs over 275 times in the Old Testament.  Examination of its occurrences in the text shows in the majority of such passages either God's covenant or the ark of the covenant involved.  From this large number of references to God's covenant one is justified in concluding that God has always had a deep concern for his covenant and as to whether those accounted as his servants observed it faithfully.   Any breaking of that covenant is regarded by God as a very serious offence against him, since God proclaims his own faithfulness to it.

As discussed before in the section, THE NATURE OF MAN, Paul emphasized the great contrast in the positions before God of the Ephesian brethren after they had put on Christ and the one they had occupied before so doing (Eph. 2).  Their status beforehand Paul termed "strangers from the covenants [plural] of promise."  Mention so far has been made principally to the Abrahamic covenant and of its renewal to Isaac and to Jacob under different conditions and in different words.  But in the development of God's purpose and of his progressive revelations of it to man there followed later covenants.

When the nation of Israel was born out of Egypt and "baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (I Cor. 10:2), God brought them to Sinai.  There God met with his people through his angel (Acts 7:38), and he revealed to them both his covenant (Ex. 19:5) and his awesome power.  That covenant given at Sinai is usually spoken of as the Mosaic covenant or law.  It was a temporal arrangement "...till the seed should come to whom the promise was made..." (Gal. 3:19); Paul called it a "schoolmaster" (v. 24) to bring God's people to Christ.  The law could not give the people life, since "it was weak through the flesh;" human flesh is not able to keep it perfectly, the only exception being our Lord Jesus Christ.  When his perfect observance of the law had fulfilled it, the law was taken out of the way through Jesus "nailing it to his cross" (Col. 2:14).

Until the fullness of time arrived, the Mosaic covenant was to be observed rigorously by all Israelites and by the sojourner among them.  Great temporal benefits would attend the nation for faithful adherence to God's covenant (Ex. 19:5-6; Lev. 26:1-13; Deut. 28:1-14).  Though the blessings specifically pronounced were to be temporal, the Spirit revealed through the prophets eternal benefits for those in whom the spirit of the law inspired faith and righteousness.   The chapters referred to above from both Leviticus and Deuteronomy laid out in considerable detail both the blessings that would attend the keeping of the Mosaic covenant and the dire and long-lasting punishments that would befall a faithless Israel reprobate in its observance of that covenant.  The pages of human history give abundant testimony to the fulfillment of what had been predicted would happen to God's disobedient nation.

As matters progressed and as God's purpose unfolded, we find God making a further covenant of momentous import with another faithful man, King David.  It provided important details regarding God's plan and purpose that had not been specifically revealed to Abraham.  It promised to David a special seed who would be God's Son who should reign upon David's throne and establish it forever (II Sam. 7:8-17).  Thus we can see that God's purpose in providing Jesus for the work that he was given to perform was implicit in both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.   They together with the confirming sacrifice of our Lord are all elements of the everlasting covenant, through which mankind may have hope for salvation.  David recognized that this further development would come at some future time and that God's promise to him would have a sure fulfillment, as expressed in his own words: "Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation and all my desire..." (II Sam. 23:5).

It has already been mentioned in connection with the discussion on the nature and sacrifice of Christ that Paul stated, "Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers..." (Rom. 15:8).  By his sacrifice the Abrahamic covenant, which had been only typically ratified in the ceremony described in Genesis 15, was finally ratified.  In anticipation of what would be very shortly accomplished by his death, Jesus instituted at the "Last Supper" a memorial ritual of that confirmation when he said, "This cup is the new testament [diatheke = covenant] in my blood, which is shed for you" (Luke 22:20).  The blood which it signifies is referred to in Hebrews 13:20 as "the blood of the everlasting covenant," through which "the great shepherd of the sheep" was brought again from the dead.  Jesus is also referred to in Hebrews 12:24 as "the mediator of the new covenant."  Thus the work and teachings of Jesus cannot be truly and scripturally separated from the everlasting covenant, and any effort to relegate the covenants of promise to background history reveals a marked drifting away from the fundamentals of our faith.

As a final note on a matter that proved very confusing to Jewish believers who had been brought up on the Mosaic covenant and who therefore looked to it to give them life, the temporary nature of the Mosaic covenant was difficult for them to grasp.  In Scripture this problem was addressed in the Epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, and to the Hebrews.  wrote, "Is the law then against the promises of God?  God forbid;; for if there had been a law which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law" (Gal. 3:21).   Life was in all ages conditional upon faith and righteousness.  The Jews as a nation failed because, in spite of a kind of zeal for God (Rom. 10:2), they did not attain "to the law of righteousness...because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law" (Rom. 9:31-32).  With the appointment of Jesus to his foretold high priesthood, we are told, "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Heb. 7:12).  Instead of the law of Moses being opposed to the everlasting covenant, we may consider it as having been ancillary to it, having been "a schoolmaster" to bring God's people to Christ and to the implications of the everlasting covenant.

Fellowship

In the introductory part of this commentary a few of the difficulties that are encountered in the process of communication were mentioned.  Not only is it true that a high percentage of the words in the English language have more than one meaning, but if all shades of meaning that exist in human minds were to be taken into account, we should possibly have as many for each word as there are people.  There was also mentioned the compounding of the problem brought about by the necessity of translating what has been written or spoken in one language into the best equivalent rendering in another language.

This problem caused by words having different meanings to different people is the source of serious difficulties within the Christadelphian body.  Few words have inspired a wider range in behavior among ourselves than has the word fellowship.  However, before discussing the variant behavior, it would be well to give careful attention to the basic meaning (denotation) of this word fellowship.

This word is obviously based upon the word fellow, fellowship being the condition that exists among those who may be termed fellows.   Fellows are individuals having strong, common interests.  This English word is used in the translation of a prophetic statement made by God concerning Jesus in which God made reference to Jesus as "the man that is my fellow" (Zech. 13:7).  We know of the complete harmony of mind and purpose that existed between the Father and the Son.  Jesus expressed it thus, "And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him."  The harmony between Jesus and God was so complete that Jesus could say truthfully to Philip, "...he that hath seen me hath seen the Father."  Thus, Jesus was God's fellow through a complete harmony of purpose and affection.  The character of Jesus demonstrated by his words and his behavior reflected a true image of the Father's character, as stated in Hebrews 1:3.  This would be understood by those with sufficient spiritual discernment.  Those with such discernment and the sincere desire to serve God would be classed as the fellows of Jesus, as indicated in Psalm 45:7: "Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows."  In similar vein Jesus said, "For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Matt. 12:50).

In the New Testament fellowship is the English translation of the word koinonia in the original, whose basic meaning (according to Thayer's Lexicon) is that of sharing in what one has, of communion.   The uses of the word in the New Testament are in complete agreement with this concept.  For example, Paul wrote, "God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (I Cor. 1:9).  We have been called to share in a glorious hope, the Hope of Israel, and of eternal life in the company of our Lord, of the angels, and ultimately of the Almighty.  What else that may be shared is in any way comparable to such a hope?  Therefore, when we use the word fellowship we should have this sharing uppermost in our minds.  John wrote, "And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:3).   What more exalted association than this could there be?  The contemplation of such an association should be inspiring; it should motivate us to display the noblest behavior of which we are capable, for the honorable association carries with it an awesome responsibility to demonstrate by our behavior that we are indeed the true fellows of the Father and the Son.

Just as Jesus had been given the highest position of honor and power next to the Father on the basis of his loving righteousness and hating wickedness, what hope we may have for future honor and power will depend upon our ability to manifest similar characteristics.  Paul admonished us, "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.  For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret" (Eph. 5:11-12).  On the contrary, we are directed to "...take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints" (II Cor. 8:4).  In the same epistle Paul poses the rhetorical questions, "...for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?"

This concept of our having fellowship with the Father and with the Son, of sharing something with them, should put fellowship upon the highest mental and spiritual plane.  We cannot conceive of either the Father or the Son having fellowship with anything less than the maximum dignity and purity of which human flesh is capable.  John stated that "God is light, an in him is no darkness at all" (I John 1:5).  That being true, those in fellowship with God and the Son must exhibit light in their relationships, for John continues, "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth."  Thus whether we have fellowship with God is not based primarily upon the knowledge we have in our heads or upon the human organization to which we belong, but upon our walk - what we do; for, as John wrote, the truth is to be done, not merely assented to.  Our thoughts and the deeds that spring therefrom bespeak fellowship with God or the absence of it.  Our principal business in this life of probation is to acquire the ability to think in harmony with God and with Christ, to develop that true fellowship with them.  This is primarily an individual task and responsibility; others can neither do it for us nor prevent us from doing what we must, provided we do not allow ourselves to be unduly influenced by others who would confuse us and "take our crown."  This most important fellowship, our individual fellowship with the Father and the Son, cannot be denied us by others - none can snatch Jesus' sheep out of his or the Father's hand.  For those with sufficient faith to stand upon their own commitment to God, regardless of the actions of others, this should be a most fortifying assurance.  The sad fact is that far too many, as was true with the Galatian brethren, allow themselves to be "bewitched" by others.

So far, this commentary has dealt only with the fellowship of the individual with the Father and the Son.  But whatever our behavior may be, it has its effect upon others.  Others are watching our behavior, and they are influenced by it in one way or another and to a greater or lesser extent.   For this reason we must be thoughtful as to how others may be affected by our behavior, as Paul was so careful to point out in Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8.  The example that we set has a greater influence over others than our attempts to persuade or to admonish.  Preaching can serve the necessary function of informing others of the way of life, but our example will have the greater influence in either converting them or in driving them away from the truth.

As in other fields of human interest and endeavor, a common interest in spiritual matters, if consistently demonstrated by behavior in keeping, should stimulate a condition of true, spiritual fellowship.  This would be the kind of fellowship urged by the writings of the apostles.  Again quoting from John's epistle, "But if we walk in the light, as he [God] is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (I John 1:7).  Since God is light (vs. 5), light must characterize any who could possibly be in fellowship with him.  Thus, mutual walking in light is the only proper basis for human beings having true, spiritual fellowship with one another.   Those who love God sufficiently to be motivated to control their lives by his commandments and to esteem "the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified" a most precious privilege extended to them - these individuals are qualified to "have fellowship one with another."  Such fellowship should be an inspiring and spiritually uplifting relationship, ministering to the spiritual health and welfare of each individual.  This expresses the ideal situation and the one that Jesus desired his followers to have, as he stated, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."

But in this far from ideal and very imperfect world the ideal is seldom, if ever, realized.  Human nature with its gross imperfections leaves its mark upon all institutions with which it is associated, which means all human institutions without exception.  Not only does it compound the difficulties of the individual believer with possible internal conflict, but it also produces internal conflict within the organization with potentially disruptive results, no matter how lofty may have been the original purpose for which the organization was founded.  The passions and rival ambitions that are so characteristic of humans sooner or later give rise to internal strife.  James wrote, "From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" (James 4:1).  These stumbling blocks in the way of spiritual fellowship have taken a tragic toll.

The Christadelphian body has demonstrated itself to be an outstanding example of this departure from ideality.  In some areas it has established a reputation for itself of internal strife and division, also of behavior uncharacteristic of that of the apostles of our Lord.  While it is definitely and characteristically human to err, the very humanity of it does not justify aberrant behavior.  As witnesses for the saving truth that we espouse and proclaim, we have a responsibility to give consistent witness by our actions, a witness that is being constantly observed by those with whom we must associate in our daily lives.   The people of the world have a right to look for consistency between our professions and our behavior.  They see the indisputable  logic of our Master's standard of judgment: "By their fruits ye shall know them."  Most unhappily, the history of the Christadelphian body has not given adequate witness to the body's appreciation, even comprehension, of the true concept of fellowship.  Any human organization is made up of people who differ as to value standards and temperaments.   The Christadelphian body contains within its fold humble, obedient, and self-denying individuals.  It contains also outspoken, self-willed individuals who appropriate to themselves the prominent positions, and into whose hands those less self-willed leave judgments affecting ecclesial policies.  The aggressive individuals are usually the ones who precipitate controversies, being totally confident of the "rightness" of their opinions.  Thus, the meek tend to defer to them as the spokesmen for the organization.  This is often most unfortunate, because personal ambition and self-confidence, while indicative of greater energy, are seldom accompanied by greater spirituality and by sounder judgment.

It is instructive and profitable in relation to this modern problem to study the history of the early church that is generally regarded as Christian, particularly during the two centuries following the disappearance through death of the holy apostles.  The epistles of both John and Paul give testimony to the fact that even in their days pagan doctrines and the corrupting effect of rival ambitions for leadership were destroying the tranquility within the ecclesias and polluting the saving gospel.  Paul warned, "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work..." (II Thess. 2:7).  If the inspired apostles possessing the gifts of the Holy Spirit could scarcely restrain the development of the apostasy, we should e able to understand how difficult it must be in these days with only the written Word to guide us and to enable the body of Christ to maintain its purity of both doctrine and walk.  The almost irresistible infiltration of the thinking and standards of this ungodly generation confronts the believers at almost every step.  The impact of these upon the minds of the children of Christadelphians is particularly strong, because children tend to accept the behavior that they observe as normal; they lack a grounding in divine principles that would enable them to condemn what they see.

Confronted with these difficulties, the Christadelphian body has a thoroughly challenging problem in trying to maintain itself in a spiritually healthy condition.  Some people now recognize that the first and essential step toward solving a problem is to recognize the existence and the nature of the problem.  Unfortunately, there is evidence that the existence of a real problem is not widely recognized.  Some people may recognize that a problem exists, but the exact nature of the problem and how to deal with it may not be understood.  The same old methods that have been used unsuccessfully for decades are still being employed.

It has been pointed out above that fellowship, by Scriptural definition, is a matter of walking in the light; therefore in a given situation fellowship either exists or it does not exist, either as to the relationship between individuals with the Father and Son or as to the relationships between individuals.  Since "walking in light" is a metter of behavior, fellowship can neither be legislated nor defined according to documents, regardless of traditional views that such is possible.  The Statements of Faith are merely definitions and codifications of beliefs in terms of doctrines; they give little guidance, if any, about the walk of individuals.  Hence, they are not criteria of real fellowship, but only of the doctrinal beliefs and preferences of the individuals or communities ascribing to them.  When they are used as criteria for accepting or for excluding individuals from the privilege of worship at the table of the Lord, they are being used legalistically with the force of a code of laws - as shibboleths.

There can be no question as to the fact that we are under obligation to uphold the purity of God's truth.  The vexing problem lies in determining what methods members should employ in the attempt to uphold it.   Paul gave us clear guidance as to what should be done in one type of situation that must be dealt with.  In admonishing the Corinthian brethren to purge out the leavening influence caused by toleration of the wickedness in their midst Paul wrote, "Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (I Cor. 5:7-13).   This tells us that we should keep no company with moral offenders.  It is important to recognize that Paul limited this putting away to individuals, not to ecclesias or to ecclesial federations.

There can also be no question that such purging out of wicked persons becomes necessary for the sake of the honorable Name that we bear.  Paul wrote further, "Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals" (I Cor. 15:33, RSV).  All spiritually mature members are well aware of the truth of that quotation.  They know that bad examples are especially dangerous for their effect upon the young and upon those weak in the faith.  We have already referred to the appraising and critical eye with which people of the world scrutinize our behavior; all too often they hope to find something to condemn in both our behavior and our doctrine.  For this reason we must strive, as Paul admonished, to "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (I Thess. 5:22).  This admonition is not primarily for the sake of our personal reputations, but for the reputation of the gospel that we preach and for that of the One whom we claim to follow.  If the world's citizens observe us using tactics in our internal relationships that they can see clearly are far removed from the teachings of the Master, it will be evident to them that we have very little appreciation of the basic meaning of the word fellowship, even as they perceive it.

While we have commented upon our obligation to rid the body of wicked persons by putting such away from our midst, we must not overlook the mercy and forbearance that God demonstrated in dealing with his nation in that he first warned them of their sinful ways and then allowed them time for repentance.   Also, we should recall the opportunities for repentance given to most of the seven ecclesias to which John was commissioned by the glorified Jesus to write (Revelation 2 and 3).  Jesus pointed out to each ecclesia the specific errors of its ways, but he also commended each one on the basis of those ways  in which it was walking acceptably.   Thus, both God and our Lord have demonstrated their restraint in their dealings with those who offend.  If they who are flawless in righteousness can exercise restraint with those who are out of the way (Heb. 5:2), why do we, who are anything but flawless in righteousness, find it too difficult to show restraint in passing judgment upon our errant members?  They, too, need first warning and then opportunity for repentance, before we invoke the last resort in our effort to keep the body as pure as is possible.  We need to be mindful of the fact that those who have been prodigal with respect to their baptismal covenant remain the Lord's property (not ours) up to the time that they may renounce him totally; we should be most careful in how we treat the property of God and of our Lord.  With this in mind we should make every attempt to salvage whatever may be salvageable for our Lord's sake and theirs.

In the problem area of how to deal with the wicked person the Scriptural guidelines are relatively clear.  When it comes to the problem of how to deal with error in doctrine, the course to follow is less clearly defined.  The problem is more subtle for the reason that judgment is required in discerning the cause or motive for a person entertaining beliefs that are at odds with what has been generally understood to be true and accurate.  If possible, this cause should first be ascertained, because it is entirely possible for an individual or group of individuals to become confused when such are insufficiently grounded in the fundamentals of sound doctrine and to be misled.  We should remember Paul's example in this: "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth...?" If a member is either confused or has been led astray, that member needs help from loving and capable brethren - not a stern rebuke, which may drive away the faint-hearted and possibly cause him to lose his salvation.  The attitude of the individual will soon become evident through his reaction to patient and understanding counsel.  If such a person responds willingly and cheerfully to sound (not dogmatic) reasoning from the Scriptures, then that person is no heretic and is salvageable.  It is only when a person steadfastly refuses to listen to reasonable, friendly instruction that the situation calls for serious disciplinary action.

It should also be pointed out that for the person being deserving of disfellowship the errors  he entertains must be limited to what can clearly be established as first principles of truth.  In matters beyond first principles and passages which require interpretation, others must be willing to allow for latitude in understanding.  Though Christadelphians traditionally limit their identification of the term first principles to the theological elements of doctrine, there are also doctrines that pertain to our manner of "living the truth" that truly deserve to be classed as first principles.  Since living the truth is the essence of true fellowship, such latter class of first principles should always be taken into account in questions regarding fellowship.   Interpretations of Scripture aimed at rationalizing aberrant behavior cannot be permitted to be promulgated.  Here mature and sound judgment on the part of the ecclesia is required.  In matters of living the truth the Statements of Faith give little or no help and do not teach that kind of first principles, being only the theological documents that they are.

When the problems associated with fellowship and disfellowship are extended beyond the consideration of individuals to that of ecclesias or ecclesial federations, finding correct and spiritual solutions to the problems that arise becomes even more difficult and the guidelines definitely "fuzzy."  For example, there is no record in the New Testament of one first-century ecclesia "disfellowshipping" another ecclesia.  Neither do we find a record of any of the apostles who possessed the gift of the Holy Spirit with the knowledge and judgment such possession gave cutting off an ecclesia or recommending that one ecclesia "disfellowship" another ecclesia.  Of ecclesial problems and problem ecclesias there were many, as Paul testified.  We find none other than the glorified Jesus with the authority to "remove a candlestick" from any ecclesia.   Each ecclesia was charged with dealing with its own problems, except for whatever help the traveling apostles might give them, either through a visit or by letter.   The messages of the glorified Jesus to the seven ecclesias of Asia Minor give evidence of the fact that not all of those ecclesias had equivalent spiritual health.   It is no marvel that today there is also considerable variation in spiritual health of the ecclesias that make up the Christadelphian body.

As mentioned earlier, the situation within the body today is far from ideal.  The proper question is: What can and should be done about it?  Some delude themselves into thinking that they have a simple answer and proceed upon that assumption.  People tend to like simple "solutions" or "quick fixes."  Unfortunately, these simple "solutions" seldom solve the real problems, but give rise to a number of other problems which defy solution.   The body of Christ is not a mechanical entity that can be repaired by following simple instructions from within a "handbook," in spite of the fact that some wish to use just such a method in their attempts to solve very complex problems arising from the complexity of human beings and human organizations.  Jesus said, "It is impossible but that offenses will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come" (Luke 17:1).  From this broad statement of Jesus we may conclude that we have every reason to expect problems to arise within the body of Christ.  They are part of our trial and the development of our characters as true brethren of Christ.  How we handle our problems will demonstrate whether or not we deserve that designation; how we handle our problems will demonstrate whether or not we are "walking in light," hence whether we have fellowship with the Father and the Son.  If we rely upon humanly-devised, formal, organizational rules instead of relying upon the guidance of the Holy Scriptures, we shall end up (as the present situation in the Christadelphian body demonstrates) with virtually unresolvable situations.

The "easy solutions" that too many elect to employ fall into two broad categories:

  1. ignore the problem and hope that it will go away, and
  2. try to dispose of the problem by means of quick, "heroic," surgical methods - in other words, apply the mechanical, "rule-of-thumb" method of "disfellowshipping" those at odds with those in position of responsibility and authority.

The first of these "easy solutions" solves nothing.  It assures that the problem will not only stay around, but it will also grow worse, until one may observe an ecclesial situation exactly comparable to that described by the glorified Jesus as existing in the ecclesia at Laodicea; the ecclesia can adapt so completely to the problem that it finally becomes unaware that a problem exists.  This results in a hopeless situation, and Jesus promised in his message how he would deal with the membership.

The second of these "easy solutions" has only a marginally and apparently better degree of success, spiritually regarded, than the first.  Human organizations are complex entities made up of units that are likewise complex, and which have very complex interactions.  If we may be pardoned for using a physical analogy, an electronic appliance cannot be repaired unto the source of the malfunction has been located; you cannot repair a computer with a pipe wrench.  In similar fashion, human organizations cannot be restored to health and the internal cooperation, upon which their proper functioning depends, without careful and understanding analysis for the purpose of isolating the cause of the malfunction.  It is well nigh impossible for aggressive, opinionated brethren, who regard themselves as being divinely ordained to "lead" the flock, to employ healing methods; such methods do not accord with their dispositions.  They tend to regard gentle persuasion as being weak-kneed and temporizing.  One cannot be assured that gentle persuasion will solve the problem, but healing methods should be given their opportunity before surgery is resorted to.  Surgery always leaves its wounds, and some of these never heal.  Even though our efforts with regard to ecclesias may be less than totally effective, we need to recall the words of Jesus to Sardis: "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy (Rev. 3:4).  Thus, our Lord discerns as to those who are his, and he will not cut off those who are worthy of his fellowship on the basis of those with whom they are associated in ecclesial relationship.

In all situations involving human relationships it is entirely possible to look too closely - to let the present irritation blind us to the ultimate objective that we should be seeking to achieve.  It is the Lord's body with which we are dealing in matters of fellowship, every unit of which is his property, as has been pointed out.  We usually take very tender care of those parts of our own bodies that may be either injured or ill.  We try to give such parts every opportunity to become healed.  Should we not have comparable concern for our Lord's body?  In Matthew 25:31-46 we have the prediction of Jesus as to how he will judge his servants at his forthcoming judgment seat.  That judgment will take into account in every case of how the servant being judged had treated his fellow-servants during his period of probation.  Whether that treatment was given with their Lord's property in mind will have a significant bearing upon the kind of reward the particular servant will receive.  The same words of the Master apply in either case: "Inasmuch as ye have done (or did it not) unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done (or did it not) UNTO ME" (vss. 40, 45).

Finally, members whose objectives are effectively dictated by God's Word will not go beyond what is written, for they will recognize that to do so is human presumption.  David prayed, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression" (Psa. 19:13).  We all know how Moses was punished for one presumptuous slip.

Responsibility

As the final doctrinal issue to be dealt with in this commentary, the one that has been largely the focus of controversy between the Unamended and Amended communities upon the North American Continent will now be addressed.  What is usually termed the "Responsibility Question" has to do with the only significant difference between the two Statements of Faith in use upon this continent.  For the benefit of our members who have not lived in areas containing Amended ecclesias, or who may not have had the opportunity of having acquaintances from within the Amended community, the corresponding clauses from the two Statements of Faith are reproduced below.

Clause XXV - Birmingham Unamended Statement of Faith: "That at the appearing of Christ prior to the establishment of the Kingdom, the responsible (faithful and unfaithful), dead and living of both classes, will be summoned before his judgment seat "to be judged according to their works;" "and receive in body according to what they have done, whether it be good or bad" (II Cor. 5:10; II Tim. 4:1; Rom. 2:5-6,16; 14:10-12; Rev. 11:18).

Clause XXIV - Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith: "That at the appearing of Christ prior to the establishment of the Kingdom, the responsible (namely, those who know the revealed will of God, and have been called upon to submit to it) dead and living - obedient and disobedient - will be summoned before his judgment seat "to be judged according to their works;" and "receive in body according to what they have done, whether it be good or bad." (Note: Reverences cited are identical in both Statements of Faith.)

The Amendment, which is the basis of the designation, "Amended," to distinguish the community of Christadelphians ascribing to the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF) from those who ascribe to the Birmingham Unamended Statement of Faith (BUSF), has been italicized in the above copy of Clause XXIV of the BASF.  From this it can readily be seen how few words and concepts serve to document the avowed cause of division between the two communities of Christadelphians.  It is important for all to realize this formal basis for division.   As is true in nearly all of the complex interactions of human society, there are other factors which contribute to the problems encountered than those which are clearly "spelled out."

It may be seen from the nature of the Amendment that it is an attempt to give a narrower definition in the BASF to the group designated more generally in the BUSF as "the responsible."  It is the doctrinal position of the Amended community and of other Christadelphian communities on other continents who use the BASF that this distinction based upon the Amendment constitutes a first principle of saving faith and should be made a test of fellowship.  In other words, those communities regard the BUSF as inadequate and those ascribing to it as "out of fellowship" with the Amended community.  It is from the fact that there exist differences of understanding as to exactly who will be adjudged responsible by our Lord at his return that this passionately debated matter has become known as the "RESPONSIBILITY QUESTION."  This controversy has raged in some areas ever since the "turn of the century."

In contrast to the Amended community, the members of the Unamended community have not regarded the Amendment as defining a first principle of saving faith.  The opinion of the majority of Unamended Christadelphians has been that the determination as to whatever persons outside of the body of Christ, whom God and Jesus may decide, should be raised and judged, is the prerogative solely of the Father and the Son; they do not regard it as proper for them to attempt to specify who, outside of Abraham's seed, will be subject to a resurrectional judgment.

Even though the words, responsible and responsibility, do not occur in the King James Version (A.V.) of the Bible, there are related words carrying similar connotations.  The word responsible has the meaning of being able to render a response or an account.  A Scriptural passage conveying such a meaning follows immediately upon a verse which speaks of the members of the Lord's household having to appear before his judgment seat: "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  For it is written, As I lie, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God" (Rom. 14:10-12).  This passage is one of those listed by both Statements of Faith as proof of a coming judgment for the members of the household, one part of whom Paul was addressing.  As to whom Paul was writing there can be no question.  It becomes a matter of interpretation as to how this specific admonition to the Roman ecclesia is to be applied to other individuals not of God's household and living in an age far removed in time from that in which Paul lived.

The questions as to why and how a division came about over this interpretive matter is not a profitable matter for this commentary to discuss.  The fact is that a division did take place and that the fruits of suspicion and bitterness resulting from it are evident in our day over eighty years later.   Widely differing explanations as to the cause of an the justification for the division may be obtained, depending upon which community or which person the explanation comes from.  Both the cause and the avowed justification for the division having taken place are now a matter of record in the Mind of God.  Present-day Christadelphians are not responsible for its origins; however, they are responsible for their attitudes toward its preservation.  We need to examine ourselves and our motives very thoroughly and carefully in an effort to determine whether our decisions for or against the existing division are truly grounded in Scripture, or whether they are based upon tradition and a party spirit - the latter being a "work of the flesh" (Gal. 5:20).

It is not the intent of this commentary to debate the issue of the "responsibility of enlightened rejectors."   As mentioned in the introductory section, its intent is to explain as clearly, simply, and Scripturally as is possible the view of the majority of the members of the Unamended Christadelphian Continental Reunion Committee on the doctrinal issues that the committee has attempted to negotiate with Amended representatives.  The committee has been keenly aware of its responsibility to the Unamended community's membership to represent the community and its beliefs as accurately and concernedly as is possible.

It should be understood clearly that both the Unamended community and the Amended community believe that the members of Christ's body must appear before their Lord's judgment seat, as is sated both in Romans 14:10 and II Corinthians 5:10.  These two passages are the only ones in scripture in which the Greek word bema (judgment seat) appears in connection with Jesus' judgment for the purpose of making a distinction between the righteous and unrighteous, faithful and unfaithful, and for the purpose of rewarding eternal life to the faithful, but wrath and punishment to the unfaithful.  The word bema is used elsewhere in Scripture in connection with the administration of worldly justice under the rule of the Romans (e.g., John 19:13; Acts 18:12-17; 25:6,10,17).  Thus, the use of the word bema has to do with the appearance of individuals in the presence of one in authority for the purpose of having a sentence pronounced, either favorable or unfavorable. Our English word judgment is used in several senses in Scripture that are not necessarily connected with an appearance before an authority for having sentence pronounced (e.g., Matt. 7:1-2; Rom. 2:2-3; II Thess. 1:5); these are translated from words other than bema.

Upon another point regarding their understanding as to what classes of people who will be required to appear at our Lord's judgment seat the two communities are, at least formally, in agreement.  Both agree that the following classes would be exempt from a resurrectional judgment: perished infants, mental incompetents, and people living in total ignorance of their responsibility to God.  Of the latter class of Gentiles Paul wrote, "...having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them..." (Eph. 4:18.  Similarly, the Spirit said through Isaiah, "O Lord our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us; ...they are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise; therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish" (Isa. 26:13-14).

The Unamended Christadelphian community members do not presume to prescribe as to how God and Christ will or will not deal with unbaptized individuals from among the Gentiles at the return of our Lord with respect to appearance at the judgment seat of Christ.  Whatever decisions may be involved in such cases belong exclusively in the hands of God and of Jesus, neither of whom has need of our judgment or speculation regarding their prerogatives in administering divine justice.

The Unamended firmly believe that they must limit their assertions regarding these matters to what may be learned from clear, specific, an unambiguous statements in the Word of God.  We believe that there can be no salvation for any citizen of this age outside of Christ and of the everlasting covenant.  Those who are and those who are not the true children of God will be made manifest at our Lord's judgment seat to be instituted upon his return to this earth.   We have been told in general terms by Jesus and by his apostles what the rewards for faithful continuance in well doing will be.  Also, we have been told in general terms what will be the punishment of those whose walk has not been acceptable to God and Christ.  Beyond such general statements we do not consider ourselves authorized to affirm.

It has been pointed out that both Statements of Faith use an identical list of references as proofs for the clauses that attempt to define beliefs regarding the forthcoming resurrectional judgment.  The difference in the beliefs held in the respective communities of Christadelphians must therefore have its basis in the differing interpretations of these passages.  The Amended community employs several other passages, or rather their interpretations of those passages, in an effort to justify their differing conclusions.  To cite those other passages here and to comment upon the interpretations given to them by the Amended community would be to enter into polemics, which is not the intent of this commentary.   Such written commentaries belong to other types of publications, and to enter into debate on this matter would unduly lengthen this commentary.  This is not to imply that the Unamended do not have fully Scriptural and adequate reasoning for rejecting the interpretations put forth by the Amended; it means only that we are seeking to avoid becoming embroiled in polemical argument at this time.

The two clear statements in Scripture regarding the judgment seat (bema) of Jesus Christ specifically name those who must appear before it as "we."  Since these passages appear in letters (Rom. 14:10 and II Cor. 5:10), the "we" must refer to those to whom the letters were addressed.  The former letter was addressed to "...the called of Jesus Christ: to all that be in Rome beloved of God, called to be saints..." (Rom. 1:6-7).  The latter letter was addressed to "...the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in Achaia..." (II Cor. 1:1).  In applying Scripture messages written to or about people living in an age remote from ours, we must be careful to limit the application to those in our age who most closely correspond to those who were the recipients or objects of the inspired message.   We should be very conscientious in avoiding error in "going beyond" what is written.  In other words, if we find nothing in the way of a specific reference to Gentiles outside of the household appearing before the judgment seat of Christ, then we have no Scriptural authority for applying to such in our age an interpretation involving the judgment seat.  The words krima and krisis in the original which are rendered as judgment in our English translation, are general terms and imply nothing specific about a bema (judgment seat).  To make such an implication is to go beyond what is written and to be in danger of being presumptuous.

Since it has been stated that the Unamended, in being faithful to the written word, dare not go beyond what is written, it must be pointed out carefully and emphatically to them that they must resist a temptation on their part to do so.  For example, your committee has stated clearly to the Amended committee members that it will not defend as Scriptural an interpretation that some have made to the effect that God cannot, will not, or may not raise for judgment a single unbaptized person, if God and his Son determine that such should be raised for judgment.  To make such an assertion is definitely to go beyond what is written and to be guilty of the sin of presumption.  We are merely justified in saying that we find no statement in Scripture that such Gentiles will experience such a resurrectional judgment.  As the apostle Paul wrote, "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth..." (I Cor. 5:12-13).  We clearly recognize from the context of the chapter that Paul was dealing with intra-ecclesial matters and, therefore, matters of the present, rather than with those of the great day of judgment.  Such a statement as the foregoing does not dispute the truth of the principle that Paul states, namely that God judges them that are without the household; however, it in no way implies the exact form of the judgment that God in his wisdom and justice may determine should be executed upon such individuals.  The Scriptures have pointed out very clearly that God judges (punishes) nations according to his standards of justice, and a host of individuals suffer in such temporal judgments.  As an example we have God's promise to Abraham concerning the future deliverance of Abraham's descendants from their captivity in Egypt: "And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge..." (Gen. 15:14).   This passage was quoted by Stephen in his defense before the Sanhedrin, as recorded in Acts 7.

It has not been due to an attitude of stubbornness or to a party spirit that the members of the Unamended Christadelphian Continental Reunion Committee have found that they must refuse to accept as a first principle of truth essential for salvation the teaching that Gentiles in this age who know the revealed will of God must of necessity face our Lord at his judgment seat to be consigned to the second death.  They simply and clearly do not find any unambiguous statements in Scripture that establish such a conclusion as a first principle of truth.   They are fearful of taking such a presumptuous doctrinal stand on the basis of a rationalized conclusion based upon circular reasoning (begging the question).   Through being confronted with the arguments put forth in defense of that conclusion, its members have been forced to make a thorough and extensive study of this question.  As a result of that laborious study, they have found the doctrine that is very popular within the Christadelphian body worldwide lacking in solid, Scriptural proof.   As already indicated, this commentary makes no claim whatever of having set forth a thorough examination of the respective interpretations advanced by the two communities of believers.  It has, on the contrary, presented only a relatively brief and incomplete explanation for the benefit of the members of the Unamended community of how and why their committee has represented them as it has.

This commentary was not designed to be a challenge to the members of the Amended community; how such brethren and sisters choose to believe is a matter of their own responsibility, as it is for the members of the Unamended community.  As Paul wrote, "But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set t nought thy brother?..." (Rom. 14:10).  The issues will be clarified at the judgment seat of Christ, as Paul wrote further: "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bright to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God" (I Cor. 4:5).  Whether or not this commentary is challenged and answered by others will be their sole responsibility.  The Unamended community is sufficiently confident of the Scriptural soundness of its doctrinal position to experience no compulsion to be sensitively defensive of it.  Its members have continued for over eight decades in this position, despite the ostracism imposed upon them by those who insist that they ascribe to the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith as a basis for their fellowship and a healing of the division.  We firmly believe that God wills that all men might come to the knowledge of the truth; nevertheless, we know that by no means will all willingly come to that knowledge and the willing offer of themselves to his service.   Whatever decisions in that regard that people make is their personal responsibility, and each person is liable to whatever reward or punishment the righteous Judge of all flesh may determine.


Epilogue: What Is Truth to Us?

God's truth is absolute and everlasting (Psa. 100:5), expressing the mind and purpose of Deity, regardless of our attitude or response to it.  It is intended to impart to us knowledge of heavenly things, that we may learn to number our days and to apply our hearts unto wisdom (Psa. 90:12).  God wills that none of us perish, but that we should all come to repentance (II Pet. 3:9).  Deity desires that his Word of Truth be properly, intelligently, and reverently used (II Tim. 2:15), that our minds might be renewed and transformed from their worldly bent toward ignorance and folly to active demonstration of the good and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2).

Unless we know what is truth, that transformation and renewal of our minds will be impossible.  We cannot DO truth (I John 1:6) without knowing it.   Furthermore, we cannot teach truth without both knowing it and understanding it.   Pure truth, as living water, can become to one who partakes of it "a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14).  For it to be such, it must be kept pure and free from contamination from human sources, as with a stream of pure water  We need to remember always that the truth is God's property - not ours to attempt to alter in the interest of our ambitions or other lusts.

God's truth is, in itself, unassailable; but when corrupted by human thought, its status as truth is destroyed, and its power to save becomes lost.   Corruption of that truth began in the Garden of Eden, and the forces of corruption and human ignorance have been at work ever since.  God's chosen people have been the cause of great offense to him.  Through Jeremiah (ch. 9:3), God said of them, "And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the Lord."

This and many other passages from Scripture inform us unmistakably that Deity is very jealous of his truth, as well as of his glory.  Those who defile it and who keep it from those who might have "ears to hear" are the objects of his wrath.  Such could not be more forcefully stated than in Paul's words in Rom. 1:18: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [HINDER, RESTRAIN - Thayer's Lexicon] the truth in unrighteousness."  We may safely surmise that, among the dire sins of the Roman apostasy, its withholding of God's truth from untold millions of human beings will rank high among those that will justify the dire punishments upon her, such as those prophesied in Revelation 17 and 18.

In spite of the unique role that truth plays in establishing a covenant relationship between the Deity and a human being (Isa. 55:3), hence being incomparably the most precious and important possession that a person may have, we humans vary widely in our perception of its importance to us.  God's complaint against Judah through Jeremiah, quoted above, demonstrates how careless with that most precious of all possessions we humans can be.  It is not surprising that many really do not comprehend its importance and power.  For example, some have not had wise and capable teachers who could rightly explain to them the implications of the truth's importance, power, and the responsibility that it places upon those who covenant to obey it.

In many societies what passes for religion is largely a matter of custom, rather than of personal conviction.  Many traditional beliefs have been accepted with little or no question as to their true import.  The same can be true within families, even Christadelphian families.  If one merely "inherits" his beliefs without diligent study, there is the possibility that he possesses merely credence with little strength of conviction.  Where such is the case, that individual has developed little or no real faith, it having not been put to the test.  Such persons are most susceptible to any "wind of doctrine," particularly when such doctrines are presented with great appeal to the senses and when accompanied by "good words and fair speeches [which] deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom. 16:18).

Another influence that will destabilize those weak in faith is controversy, because controversy involves a conflict of ideas and interpretations of Scripture.  The stresses, both mental and emotional, induced by legitimate controversy test the mettle of those within the body.  Those whose faith is weak dread controversy since they are unsure of their foundations in the Word of God.   Such would stifle all airing of discordant views.  By so doing they imagine that they will avoid unsettling the faith and confidence of "Christ's little ones."

Controversy for the sake of controversy has little to commend it; but avoiding the defense of truth when that precious entity is being misrepresented is both cowardly and unworthy of the holy Name that we bear.  Most will assent to the fact that our Lord is the example given for us to follow.  Jesus fearlessly defended both his Father and the Father's truth when confronted and challenged by those of worldly motivations, who only hypocritically honored and obeyed the Father's Word and will (Matt. 23:13-36; John 8:13-47).  Moreover, Paul minced no words with the Galatian brethren, who were being led astray by false teachers (Gal. 1:6-9; 3:1-3).  Paul admonished Titus similarly, and Jude teaches that we should "contend earnestly" (v. 3).   Contending earnestly in defense of the faith (truth) is a far cry from merely being contentious.  Paul warned Timothy, and us (II Tim. 2:16-26), that challenges to God's truth will arise, which must be answered, but in the proper spirit of meekness, lest our defense be not for truth but our own opinions.  It is all too human for people, even believers in God's truth, to identify so emotionally with their own understandings, ideas, organizations, and pride that they lose sight of God's concerns in their sensitive concern for themselves or the group with which they have become identified.  When controversy reaches that subjective a level it becomes unprofitable and destructive.  Then, instead of being servants of God's truth, we actually use it for the defense of ourselves and for our own justification.

To follow the course of indifference as to whether God's truth is being misused or corrupted is to tell God that we are really not much concerned about what to him is so intensely important.  This tells God that our human interrelationships, which we do not want jeopardized, are more important to us than God is.  We would deeply resent another human being relegating us to unimportance.  Can we reasonably imagine that God is pleased by our indifference toward him and his distinguishing excellence?  To urge that our brethren overlook, out of a totally mistaken sense of compassion for others, corruption of God's Holy Word is to offend God's holiness and spotless righteousness.  Jesus told us that if we love others, even those nearest of kin to us, more than we love him, we are not worthy of him.  This is the divine standard of love, far transcending the love of our brethren, about which so much is made in these days of widespread confusion.  Jesus stated clearly that the words that he spoke were not his, but the Father's.

What is tragic for the body of Christ is for an erring brother for reasons of his own to persist in teaching error, and thereby to lead astray a following to the hazard of their individual salvations.  This is no new phenomenon; Paul and John had to contend with it in their days of inspired leadership.  Though in these days we are without benefit of inspired shepherds of the flock, that does not relieve those of full (spiritual) age (Heb. 5:14) from the responsibility to do whatever may lie within their power to counteract the onslaught upon pure truth.  They bear a responsibility to the whole body of Christ to call attention to developing apostasy.   As Ezekiel was warned of his responsibility to the Jews of the Babylonian captivity (Ez. 33) to be their watchman and to warn them lest they die in their sins, so in like manner mature and sound brethren in these climactic days just before our Lord comes to judge his people - so also those brethren might have the blood of the "sheep" upon their own heads, if they give not due warning to the straying flock.  If they be indeed mature and responsible brethren, they will undertake to warn the errant with the meekness and humility enjoined by Paul (Gal. 6:1-3).  The discharge of such responsibility would not gain them present glory, but rather scorn and suffering; nevertheless their Lord will know the quality of their motives; however their contemporaries may misjudge them.

To those who hold truth precious, because it is from God and of God fully as much as is love (I John 4:7), the adulteration of that precious truth pains such individuals.  To love truth is to love God and his faithful Son; this is love in its highest sense, the greatest and most abiding of the godly virtues (I Cor. 13:13).   The pain experienced by these true brethren of Christ is in a way comparable to that which they would feel, if one were grossly to slander their dearest relative.   The pain is felt for those defamed.  As with Elijah, we should be "very jealous for the Lord God of hosts" (I Kings 19:14).  We should also be pained for what effect such corruption of truth could possibly have upon Christ's "little ones;" they are often too confused to be able to look out for their own spiritual welfare and to discern between good and evil, particularly in such fundamentally important points of doctrine as the atoning sacrifice of our Lord.

The winds of change have swept violently over this world in the last half-century, changing radically its social structure and sense of values.  Our Christadelphian body has not escaped altogether from these worldly influences.  We and our children must have much contact with the world as we strive to survive in an increasingly complex society whose increased pace of life leaves people confused and exhausted.  Our children are subjected to the new ways of thinking and standards of morality; they naturally accept without too much question what they learn in schools and from their worldly associates.  Humanism and even atheism are increasingly supplanting religious thought in the more populous churches.  What people feel is good for survival and human concerns largely displaces concern for divine standards of human conduct.

As earnest and mature brethren witness the inroads of worldly thinking and values into the minds of the members of the brotherhood, they cannot avoid becoming deeply concerned.  It is tragic enough to see brethren and sisters of Christ succumbing to the worldly attitudes and values that surround them in their daily lives.  Walking in the "straight and narrow way that leads unto life" has never been easy, even in bygone days when life was much simpler, proceeded at a slower pace, and when parents could guide their children with the expectation of accepted values surviving in worldly society - especially that what was morally right or wrong would continue to be the standard that society would uphold.

What is even more tragic is for modern, humanistic concepts to have become alloyed with Bible teaching and to have become a part of accepted thinking within the Christadelphian body itself.  Again, this is not an altogether new phenomenon.  The flesh has always lusted against the spirit; hence, there has always been a struggle between those who would keep both doctrine and practice pure, on the one hand, and those seeking to make the way to the Kingdom of God less restrictive, on the other hand.  Natural human laziness and the desire to make life easy and pleasing to the emotions make any teaching that will pander to these desires far more attractive.   The wider the gate and the broader the way the road of life can be made to appear, the more popular will be the appeal of those who represent that philosophy.

Regrettably, the trend to liberalization and the lowering of standards, both of behavior and of the concept of fellowship, common in popular churches, has its parallel within the Christadelphian body.  What is gratifying to human emotion has been made by some teachers and leaders within the body to appear both beautiful and the "true spirit of Christ."  Of particular appeal to many are those passages in the New Testament that mention the Greek word, AGAPE.  This word is translated in the A.V. by the two English words LOVE and CHARITY (almost exclusively).  No one can deny the fact that love is a most fundamental Biblical concept, as has already been mentioned, and no mature believer would seek to relegate it to minor importance.

The problem generated by the current, popular overemphasis on love is that far too many view AGAPE in a predominantly emotional and interpersonal context.  It is expressed in its highest form in keeping of the first and great commandment (Matt. 22:37).  In verbal form it is defined by Jesus (John 14:21) as the having and keeping of his commandments.  This is not primarily an interpersonal function; it has its roots in accurate knowledge of truth and obedience to it.  To lull believers to complacency by making them think that because they have a good and kindly feeling toward their brethren and others is not an act of love; it could mean their going astray and losing their salvation.

An outgrowth of this emphasis upon interpersonal affection is the idea that because of our love for "fellow-Christians," we should lower the standards of fellowship and take into the body as our brethren and sisters those who hold a number of doctrines in common with the Unamended community of Christadelphians, but who also hold certain beliefs that are contrary to what we very seriously regard as FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS OF SCRIPTURE.  We are commanded to come out from among those who believe what is not in accord with fundamental truth, or those who do not walk according to truth.  Jesus shared many beliefs with the scribes and Pharisees, yet he vigorously opposed them and warned his disciples to have no fellowship with their teachings or works.  Jesus made it very specific by repeating the concept that the Father seeks only those who worship him in spirit AND IN TRUTH (John 4:23-24).  It is not through pride of exclusiveness that concerned brethren view with alarm the trend toward welcoming into fellowship those who believe untruth; it is a commandment from our Lord and from his apostles.  It is not in a spirit of divisiveness that concerned brethren seek to awaken the body of believers to a realization of the fact that many have lost their hold upon truth and their concern for its purity.  There is division of thinking already well established as a result of a trend toward popularizing God's truth and lowering the barriers of fellowship - this on the part of some within our ranks.

In conclusion, it is the desire of every spiritually-minded, mature brother in Christ to do whatever lies within his power to impress upon every member of the Unamended community that he or she is sanctified (constituted a saint) only through walking in truth (John 17:17; II Tim. 2:15-19; I John 4:1-3; Rev. 22:18-19).  We all know that salvation is an individual matter; but we know also that "no man liveth unto himself."  Therefore it is the responsibility of every one to try to build one another up in our most holy faith, warning those who are ignorant or out of the way (Heb. 5:2) that they may "In meekness instruct those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth..." (II Tim. 2:25).  As James wrote (ch. 5:20), "Let him know. that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."

By: Bro. John S. Peake

  
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Updated last on 2013-04-15.