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Christian faith groups

About the Christadelphians: 1848 to now

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Overview:

The Christadelphians are a small Christian denomination. They might best be described as a conservative Christian movement which differs from conventional denominations in their beliefs concerning the nature of God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and Satan. Some conservative Christians in the Counter-Cult Movement (CCM) consider the Christadelphians to be a cult. Religious liberals, academic researchers, and others consider them a new religious movement. Their theological beliefs are much closer to those of the original Christian movement -- the Jewish Christian church founded by Jesus' followers and centered in Jerusalem under the leadership of James -- than it is to most current Christian faith groups.

History:

The movement was founded by physician John Thomas (1805-1871) who had left the Disciples of Christ in 1844, because of a number of theological disagreements. He started a periodical that same year, called "The Herald of the Future Age". Thomas wrote a book in 1848, titled "Elpis Israel - An Exposition of the Kingdom of God." He founded a number of groups, starting in 1848. They were commonly referred to as the Thomasites. His motivation was to return to what he believed to be the beliefs of the very early Christian church. In 1864, the group adopted a formal name, the Christadelphians (Brothers of Christ).

The movement survived the death of its founder in 1871. However, a conflict started during the 1880's in the US over the topic of resurrectional responsibility:

bulletThe Unamended group believes that only the deceased who are "in Christ" will be raised from the dead and have eternal life; the rest will simply remain dead, without conscious existence.
 
bulletThe Amended group believes that all who are responsible will be raised from the dead at the time of the Final Judgment. The "responsible" are those who have been exposed to the Gospel. The righteous among the responsible ones will be judged according to their works, rewarded appropriately, and live forever. The wicked will be annihilated, and cease to exist. Those who are not responsible, since they had never heard the Gospel, will not be raised.

Before the split, the entire denomination agreed that Jesus was of fallen human flesh, not "pure flesh" or "clean flesh" or "free life." However, since then, some of the amended group have adopted the belief that Jesus was born pure. This concept has altered their views of the sacrifice of Christ and the atonement. Neither group believes in a Hell where the unsaved will be tortured forever.

The differences in belief between the amended and unamended groups led to a schism in the movement within North America. In the rest of the world, Christadelphians follow the Amended belief system.

During the 1970's, an unsuccessful attempt was made to merge the two groups in the US. They were unable to find a consensus on the matter of resurrection responsibility. They remain separate to this day. There are currently about 90 unamended and 80 amended congregations in the US. Worldwide, the two groups have some 850 congregations located in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, North America, South East Asia and throughout Europe.

Beliefs

They share many core beliefs with most other conservative Protestant Christian denominations:
bulletInerrancy (freedom from error) of the books of the Bible, as they were  originally written.
bulletThe Bible's authors were inspired directly by God.
bulletThe Bible is the source of all religious knowledge.
bulletThe virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
bullet Salvation through belief and acceptance of Christ as Savior.
bulletJesus will return to Earth soon.
bulletStrict unamended Christadelphians do believe in original sin. This is the concept that every child, at birth, has inherited part of the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As explained in the Encyclopedia Britannica, original sin means that every newborn deserves "God's wrath for its share in the original sin of mankind and before it acquires the guilt of its own actual sin." 8 Most Christadelphians reject the concept.

They differ from many other Christian denominations in other beliefs:

bulletThe soul is not immortal. People lose consciousness at death and do not regain it unless they are resurrected at the time of the Final Judgment at some date in the future.
bulletSalvation requires an adult to both accept the gospel message and be baptized.
bulletHell does not exist as a place of eternal torment. Those who do not attain eternal life are in a state of non-existence in the grave.
bulletAfter Jesus returns to Earth in the near future, the wicked will be destroyed and believers will reign with Christ for a millennium.
bulletChristadelphians believe that the Kingdom of God will be located on the Earth, with Jerusalem as its capital.

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Christadelphian beliefs concerning God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit:

There is considerable confusion concerning their beliefs in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
 
bulletMany information sources describe the group as having abandoned the traditional concept of the Trinity in favor of polytheism -- a belief in multiple Gods. The vast majority of Christian denominations follow the early Church councils and view God as a single deity composed of three persons: God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These sources external to the Christadelphians frequently base their assessment on writings by the group's founder, John Thomas. In this book Phanerosis, he wrote:

"There are not three Gods in the Godhead; nor are there but three in manifestation; nevertheless, the Father is God and Jesus is God; and we may add, so are all the brethren of Jesus gods; and 'a multitude which no man can number.' The Godhead is the homogeneous fountain of the Deity; these other gods are the many streams which form this fountain flow. The springhead of Deity is one, not many; the streams as numerous as the orbs of the universe, in which a manifestation of Deity may have hitherto occurred."

However, Christadelphians do not necessarily still accept all of Thomas' beliefs today -- including this one.

bulletAn accurate description of their beliefs is found in their Statement of Faith (a.k.a. the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith or BASF). They believe:
bulletGod the Father is a single indivisible unity. They reject the belief in a Trinity containing three separate personalities. They hold this belief in common with Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and the Jehovah's Witnesses.
bulletJesus is a God manifestation -- a reflection and representative of God. Jesus is fully a man. He was and remains distinctly separate from God. This agrees with the beliefs about Jesus held by the Jewish Christian church prior to the return of Paul to Judea circa 38 CE. But it conflicts with the beliefs of most Christian denominations who view Jesus as fully man and fully God.
bulletJesus had no existence prior to his conception circa 6 BCE by the virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit.
bulletJesus was born with a fully human nature. However, he lived without sin.
bulletOne proof of Jesus' nature being entirely human is that he died on the cross. He was raised by God the Father to eternal life. Afterwards, Jesus ascended to Heaven.
bulletJesus will return soon and create a kingdom of God in Jerusalem. This kingdom will then spread across the entire world.
bulletTheir document "Our Faith and Beliefs" states that salvation requires good works:

"We reject as unbiblical the idea that Christ could die as a replacement sacrifice for us, thus covering all our sins forever with that one act. Certainly it is through his sacrifice that we may be forgiven, but only if we walk the path of self-denial that he marked out for us." 12

bulletThey view the Holy Spirit is simply the Power of God; it is not a separate person, but is rather a:

"... radiant visible power from the Father. It is an unseen power emanating from the Deity, filling all space, and by which God is everywhere present. It is the medium by which God created all things..." 13

bulletMore information is available at: www.Biblebasicsonline.com

Christadelphian beliefs concerning the Devil and Satan:

The Devil is not viewed by Christadelphians as a quasi-deity with magical powers who travels the Earth trying to lure people into sin --as is believed by most conservative Christian groups. Based on Genesis 6:5, Jeremiah 7:21-28, Matthew 15:19, James 1:13-15, and other passages, they stress that "Temptation and hence sin, comes from inside the person, not outside." Satan is viewed as the principle of evil which resides in people and motivates them to sin and rebel against God.

They point out that the words "devil" does not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). In the New Testament, these terms are sometimes used to translate the Greek word "diabolos" which  means a human slanderer or false accuser. Examples are John 6:70, 1 Timothy 3:11, 2 Timothy 3:1-3 and Titus 2:3.

"Satan" in Hebrew and "satanas" in Greek means an opponent or adversary. Examples are: Matthew 16:23 when Peter was considered an adversary because he opposed what Jesus wanted to do at the time. In Acts 5, Sapphira was an adversary. 14

Practices

bulletThey meet weekly on Sundays for a Memorial Meeting or Breaking of Bread
bulletTheir local group is called an ecclesia which is Greek for "congregation". (Plural is "ecclesias.") They average about 20 members each.
bulletMost of the ecclesias meet in each other's homes or in rented halls. A few own their own buildings.
bulletThey have no central organization. Each ecclesia is autonomous. Coordination is largely through publishing houses.
bulletThey have no paid clergy or church hierarchy.
bulletTheir leaders are classified as lecturing brethren, managing brethren and presiding brethren. All are male volunteers who are elected to their posts. In common with many conservative Christian denominations, women are excluded from positions of authority. However, they are given equal voting rights.
bulletMembers do not vote, run for political office, or go to war.
bulletMany members read the Bible daily; some use a reading plan which completes the Old Testament once per year, and the New Testament twice.
bulletSome Christadelphians discourage their members having fellowship with Christians from other denominations.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today:

  1. G.A. Mather & L.A. Nichols, Dictonary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, (1993), P. 54-59
  2. F.S. Mead & S.S. Hill, Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 10th Edition, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN (1995)
  3. J.G. Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions, Triumph Books, New York, NY (1991)
  4. Amended Christadelphians, c/o Christadelphian Book Store, 14651 Livonia, Detroit, MI 48154
  5. Unamended Christadelphians, c/o Christadelphian Advocate Publishing Committee, 2506 Huntington Rd., Charlottesville, VA 22901
  6. The Christadelphian Magazine is published monthly in Birmingham, U.K.
  7. The Australian Christadelphian Home Page has a very complete collection of literature, courses, information, mailing lists etc. They are at: http://www.christadelphian.org.au/
  8. J. Thomas, & H. Mansfield, "Phanerosis: An exposition of the doctrines of the Old and New Testaments concerning the Manifestation of the invisible eternal God in Human Nature." Logos Publications (1997)
  9. "The Bible--God's Word Wholly Inspired and Infallible," The Christadelphians, 1997-OCT, at: http://users.aol.com/
  10. "The Way of Life, Part3," The Christadelphian Sunday School Union of Birmingham, UK, 1999-MAY, at: http://www.cssu.org.uk/ You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  11. "The Christadelphian Statement of Faith, Christadelphia Worldwide, at: http://www.christadelphia.org/
  12. "Our Faith and Beliefs, Christadelphia Worldwide, at: http://www.christadelphia.org/
  13. L. Hutchins, "Christadelphians," Falcon Books, (1970), Page 7.
  14. "What Christadelphians believe about the Devil," at: http://www.christadelphian.org.uk/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1996-SEP
Latest update: 2009-DEC-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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