HISTORY: From Beyond Your Walls:
Some Lessons from a Road Less Traveled
- January 2009)
we meet relatives we have heard about but have
never actually met. It may be the crazy uncle of family legend. It may
be the second cousin once removed who lives on another continent. It
may be a close relative lost over time through the quirks of history
and personal travail. But when we finally do cross paths with one of
them, it is always a time of curiosity and wonderment. We see faint
signs of similarity, but notice more immediately how different they
seem. In every case, though, the lost relative provides a sort of
mirror on our own lives, a chance to reflect with someone who shares so
much yet who has traveled a very different path.
This is an account of just such a meeting. In this case,
though, the familial ties are not in our DNA but rather in our
spiritual parentage. I write as part of the family that has lived
beyond your walls — the long-lost relative. I write as one
who has taken the road less traveled. I write in the hope that there
may be some lessons from which all members of the family can benefit.
A Life in
I was born into a family with long ties to the Church of
God of the Abrahamic Faith (CGAF). Even more remarkable, I was born
into a family that represented a very thin slice of the larger CGAF
— no more than 5 per cent. As a boy, of course, none of this
was obvious to me. What was plain was that my parents and grandparents
loved the Bible. I also knew they defended their faith with unswerving
dedication and vigilance. For me, that was underlined by driving 30
miles to church every Sunday, even when it meant going to a very small
Sunday school class. What was also evident was that no one ever went
hungry after meeting, since food was a frequent and common bond on
Sundays — especially the pie and cake at the end. (One of the
loving sisters in my home church believed to the day she died that no
Sunday dinner was complete without both cake and pie!)
As I grew older, I would hear the tales of the dear
brothers and sisters who shared our common faith. Names like Huggins,
Long, Tabor, Titman and Ross were uttered with loving care and deep
respect. In every case, they lived at least one state away, or even
more. Yet they seemed much closer. My Grandpa Ernest and Grandma Laura
would often regale me with tales of going to Bro. and Sis.
Long’s farm in Kentucky. Occasionally, there were stories of
longer trips to the Carolinas with Bro. and Sis. Huggins. I knew these
brothers and sisters lived far away. Yet the longer I listened to the
tales, I came to realize they were also the pillars and beams of the
When I was old enough to actually travel with my
parents, I met some of these people of spiritual-family legend. They
took on faces and smiles and voices. I learned firsthand why my
grandparents loved them so. They loved the Bible. They loved the Lord.
And they held to the very first principles I was learning.
My world changed when I was 14, after my grandmother
received a letter from a Christadelphian sister in Illinois. She had
known Sis. Jenny Keller since the 1930s. Hers was another name that
would occasionally arise in family conversation. They had met many
years before when Bro. Robert Huggins went to Marion, Illinois, for a
weekend fraternal gathering and invited along my grandparents and
father. Sis. Keller’s letter informed my grandparents of a
new Christadelphian Bible School in West Baden, Indiana. She urged them
was not a strange name to me, but it had no face. My grandfather kept a
tall stack of sundry Christadelphian magazines in his garage, right
next to his rocking chair. Whenever my grandmother’s "to-do" list grew
too long, he would slip out to the garage and start reading through the
My grandparents decided to go to West Baden, and invited
me along. When we arrived I was simply amazed. I was used to a Sunday
school class with two others. Now I was surrounded by what seemed like
a sea of teenagers. Thus began for me what has now been 40 years of
contact with Christadelphians on four different continents.
to right: Sis. Laura & Bro. Ernest
& Bro. Robert Huggins on one of their
frequent trips together
that time, I have deepened my appreciation for the CGAF, but I have
also benefited much from loving ties with many Christadelphian breth-
ren. I have seen the very best of both worlds.
That said, I must also confess that, like all families, there
are moments I would just as easily forget. I firmly believe more
brethren — from all sides — would benefit from the
blessings that sometimes only happen when you meet a long-lost relative.
What are we to make of these two groups? I leave it to
each reader to draw his or her own conclusion. But based on 40 years of
observation, I conclude these two communities of believers are members
of the same spiritual family that has been separated for a very long
time. As with any long-lost relatives, it is not surprising that
initial meetings produce a natural wariness and suspicion. If we yield
only to such human reactions, however, we will miss the real value of
relatives — especially spiritual ones. We
can be stronger together
than apart. It is the divine law of all families. And it is certainly
true with the body of Christ. By the grace of God, we are
entering a critical time period when,
with His help, we can draw together with spirit and conviction.
Whenever long-lost relatives meet, the starting point is
always history. Each side wants to know where the other has been. It is
part of piecing together common DNA and common ground. Because the CGAF
is such a small spiritual community, we have actually known about and
relied on our bigger "relative"
for several decades. We make common use of Christadelphian books,
magazines, preaching materials, hymnals, and events such as fraternal
gatherings and Bible schools.
Yet the reverse is much less true. Because you are the
big brother, you have ready access to nearly everything you need. Thus,
I frequently encounter Christadelphians who know little if anything
about the CGAF. Sadly, what they do know is often based on hearsay. And
because there are actually two CGAFs, chances are they may only know
the other one.
So, a bit of historical review is in order. The recent
article by Bro. Peter Hemingray provides a helpful review of some
common history [Tidings,
11/2008]. So rather than repeat
his comments, I would like to focus on a few key points in CGAF history
that are especially relevant to the current period of discussions on
our common future. The first is the beginning of the CGAF and Bro.
Benjamin Wilson. He is, in many respects, our Bro. Thomas. The second
is the modern CGAF era defined by Bro. Robert Huggins. He is, in like
fashion, very much like your Bro. Roberts. Both were towering Bible
scholars, but they manifested fruits of the spirit that far transcended
Wilson and CGAF beginnings
As noted elsewhere, there were several spiritual
forerunners to the Christadelphians and the CGAF. As readers here know
far better than I, Bros. John Thomas and Robert Roberts played a
crucial role in forging the Christadelphian community that we all know
today. In the same way, Bro. Benjamin Wilson was the pioneer who framed
the CGAF community as we know it.
Christadelphians will know him best as the author of The
Emphatic Diaglott. In my experience, however, the knowledge of his work
often exceeds that of the author himself. For instance, I have often
noted CGAF connections with Wilson only to hear the reply: "Oh yes, he was a Russellite!"
I can assure you he was never such. The confusion probably arises
because the copyright for The Diaglott was purchased in the early 20th
century by an anonymous buyer who then donated it to the Watchtower
Society. The fact that they published his work is a sad, ironic twist
of history — nothing more. It must be emphasized that there
was never any connection between Benjamin Wilson and the group now
known as the "Jehovah’s
Witnesses". By the time they had acquired the copyright,
Wilson had died, and there is no evidence at all that Benjamin Wilson
ever came in contact with anyone from the "Millennial Dawn Bible Students",
as the denomination was popularly referred to before 1931. (There is a
much happier ending to this story, as many may know. In 2004, the
Abrahamic Faith Beacon Publishing Society brought home The Emphatic
Diaglott and re-published a new version of it, working in partnership
with The Christadelphian Advancement Trust.)
Benjamin Wilson was a towering man of faith. He was a
printer by trade and printed a newspaper, The Western Mercury, after he
settled in Geneva — a small town west of Chicago —
in 1844. But he was far more than just a printer. He was also a
diligent Bible scholar, to which The Diaglott attests. This translation
was truly a labor of love for him. Not only did he spend hours, days,
and months poring over the Greek — he probably spent just as
much time setting the type for its publication:
now in my mind’s eye see my Uncle Benjamin, sitting at his
desk, making a literal word for word translation of the New Testament.
I remember seeing the Greek type arrive from England. Many readers of
the Diaglott may not be aware that my Uncle not only translated the
Diaglott, but took charge of the mechanical work as well. He
electro-typed the entire book himself" (Thomas Wilson, "How, When, Where, and By Whom
was the Gospel of the Kingdom First Introduced into the Western States?",
The Restitution, Nov. 28, 1906).
Benjamin Wilson believed in the virtue of independent
Bible study. He fully understood that it falls to each of us to "prove what is true"
and "hold fast that
which is good." It was evident in the many columns he
wrote as editor of The Gospel Banner for some 15 years.
This leaning on the Word is nowhere more evident than
the Confession of Faith that he, along with fellow brethren, crafted in
1868 when they formed their first congregation of believers in Geneva.
It is both elegant in simplicity and gracious in expression. The main
points are listed here:
To the Congregation of Disciples of Jesus Christ
assembling at Geneva, Illinois;
DEAR FRIENDS: Having for some time been engaged in
examining the teachings of God’s Word, we now respectfully
present the following as a synopsis of our Faith:
- We believe that there is but "one God, even the Father, who
is above all, and through all, and in all them that believe; and one
Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things." (Eph. 4:6; 1
- We believe that the Scriptures are of Divine origin,
that the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles spoke by the inspiration of
the Spirit of God. (2 Tim. 3:16.)
- We believe that on account of the disobedience of
all mankind are rendered mortal, and placed under the law of sin and
death. (Gen. 3:19; Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21.)
- We believe that God in His mercy has provided a way
which man may be delivered from the law of sin and death, and attain to
life and incorruptibility through Jesus Christ.
- We believe that a partial unfolding of this way of
is found in the promises which God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
to whom He gave by promise, and to their seed, the whole land of
Canaan, for an everlasting inheritance; and that in them and in their
seed should all the families of the earth be blessed, and that this
promised seed is Christ. (Gen. 12:2,3,7; 13:15-17; 15:18-21; 17:7-8;
26:2,4; 28:12,14; Gal. 3:16.)
- We believe that a further development of the plan of
redemption is contained in the promises which God made to David,
concerning his seed, "which
should be of his sons", who should sit upon his throne
forever. (2 Sam. 7:12-14; 1 Chron. 17:11-15.)
- We believe that this promised seed is Jesus the
Anointed; who, being begotten by the Holy Spirit, was born of Mary, who
was of the Royal line of David; and hence Jesus is the Son of David and
of God. (Matt. 1:8-20; Luke 1:26-76; Matt. 3:17.)
- We believe that this Jesus, when He had finished the
work which the Father gave Him to do, "was taken and by wicked hands
was crucified and slain"; that His death was accepted by
God as a sacrifice for the sins of the world; that He was buried, and
rose again from the dead, for the justification and pardon of all who
believe the things concerning Him. And that, having been with His
disciples for the space of forty days "speaking of the things
pertaining to the kingdom of God," He was parted from them
and carried up into heaven, where God hath highly exalted Him, and
given Him a name "which
is above every name," and has given to Him "all power both in heaven and on
earth." (John 17:4; Isa. 53:5-7; Gal. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:3;
Heb. 2:9; 9:9-26; Matt. 27:59-66; 28:5,6; Luke 24:50; Acts 2:33; Matt.
28:19; Phil 2:9.)
- We believe that, while Jesus is in the heavens, He is
acting as High Priest and Mediator between God and His people. (Heb.
8:1; 1 Tim. 2:5.)
- We believe that this same Jesus who is gone into
will return when "the
times of the Gentiles are fulfilled"; and that His return
will be signalized by the resurrection to life of the sleeping saints,
who will be changed from a corruptible to an incorruptible state; and
the living ones from a mortal to an immortal state. (Acts 1:11;
3:20,21; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-56.)
- We believe that Jesus is appointed the Judge of the
living and the dead, and will "give
reward to his servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to all that
fear his name both small and great"; and will appoint them
as rulers in His Kingdom; while the "wicked will he punish with
everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the
glory of his power." (1 Peter 2:5; Acts 10:42; Rev. 11:18;
2 Thess. 1:9.)
- We believe that Jesus, at His return, will "assemble the outcasts of
Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah, from the four
corners of the earth," and establish them in the land
promised to Abraham, as the subjects of His Kingdom, with Jerusalem as
its capital; and that the Kingdom will increase until it has absorbed
all nations into it. (Isa. 11:12; Jer. 3:17,18; Rev. 11:15.)
- We believe that Jesus will then be the Prince of
that the nations will "beat
their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
shall not rise up against nation, neither shall
they learn war anymore." And that over this peaceful
Jesus and His glorified saints will reign for one thousand years. That "at the name of Jesus every knee
shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the
glory of God the Father." "For he must reign until he has
put all enemies under his feet." "Then cometh the end, when he
shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father."
Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him,
that God may be all in all." (1 Cor. 15:24-28.)
- We believe that the appointed means by which men may
obtain remission of sins, become children of God, and heirs with
Abraham and Christ, is through a belief "of the things concerning the
kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ," (as briefly
developed in the foregoing synopsis), repentance (by which we
understand reformation of life), and immersion in water for the
remission of sins, "into
the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
For, says the Apostle Paul: "Know
ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were
baptized into his death?... that like as Christ was raised up from the
dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness
of life." Then, by a "patient
continuance in well doing, seeking for glory, honor, and immortality."
(Gal. 3:26,29; Acts 8:12; 2:38; Mark 16:13-16; Matt. 28:19; Rom. 2:7;
- We believe that it is the duty of all who have taken
upon them the name of Christ to meet regularly on the first day of the
week, to attend to the breaking of the memorial loaf, and the drinking
of the memorial cup, and the teachings, exhortations, prayers, songs of
praise, etc. (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11:23-29; Eph. 4:11-16.)
We, therefore, desire immersion at your hands, that as
faithful soldiers of Christ, we may "fight the good fight of faith,
and lay hold on eternal life."
[The foregoing "(Signed)"
indicates that all candidates for baptism were expected to subscribe to
the "Confession of
Faith" and to sign it.]
* * * * *
Benjamin Wilson knew Bro. Thomas when he lived in
Illinois. There is strong suggestion that Bro. Thomas was the one who
baptized him. While that is not conclusive, it is ironic that the two
were together in Illinois. Both had emigrated from Britain (Wilson
coming from Halifax). Both were editors of magazines and had an
in-depth understanding of the printing trade. Both had associated with
Alexander Campbell, but both had been led by the Bible to go much
further in their faith.
Notwithstanding these many things in common, their
relationship ended in some difficulty. There was intense interest in
resurrection and judgment at the time, coupled with a strong desire to
nail down the details. Even after his final baptism, John Thomas
continued to develop his thinking on certain details, and finally
treated them as first principles. Benjamin Wilson maintained slightly
different views on some of the same details, but concluded the
particular details were not first principles. Even so,
Wilson’s complete views on "incorruptible" and
are not altogether clear.
What is clear, however, is that Wilson believed strongly
that the CGAF and the Christadelphians needed each other as brethren.
Even more, he felt it was wrong to be divided. An address he gave in
1868 is typical of the spirit he presented:
there are extremists on both sides: there are those attached to us in
particular, as well as those of the Christadelphian order, who run to
opposite extremes, and who endeavour to reason the thing out, the one
against the other, that each other is out of the faith, and
consequently they cannot receive one another. It is hard to talk with
such. It is harder still to reason with such, and yet I would, if
possible, endeavour to bring these extremists together."
Huggins and the great divide
The CGAF prospered in the late 19th century. There are
written accounts of several hundred congregations scattered throughout
the greater Midwest. This rapid growth was due in part to zealous
preachers of the Word, preachers who devoted their lives to spreading
the gospel message. One fine example of this work was Bro. Almus Adams
of Omaha, Nebraska. He would leave Omaha by train on Sunday
visit various places to preach the gospel, then return the following
Saturday afternoon to spend Sunday meeting with his family. Some
suggest that during his prolific life of faith he baptized more than
Sis. Elizabeth and Bro. Almus
from Omaha, Nebraska
Throughout this period, the CGAF was largely a loose
confederation. There were family connections and occasional state
conferences, but the CGAF community was mostly a collection of small
congregations, often located in farm towns, much like the one in which
I grew up in Indiana.
The one common thread at the time was a CGAF
publication, The Restitution. This weekly publication was actually
published like a newspaper, and distributed beyond CGAF members
themselves. (The Restitution was the successor publication to
Wilson’s Gospel Banner.) It supplied the "glue" that held
the CGAF together. It also became the focus for a great turning point
in the history of the CGAF.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, storm clouds
gathered over the CGAF community when a group of "reformers" came
onto the scene. The reformers appear to have been influenced by the
Christian Advent church — some of these churches had contact
with the CGAF in the late 19th century. A small but powerful group of
CGAF leaders began fomenting a significant shift from
Wilson’s founding set of beliefs. In particular, they pushed
forward three issues: (1) universal resurrection; (2) open communion,
and (3) the idea that sincerity of one’s belief is more
important than what one believes.
The Restitution was the bulwark against the "reformists" during
this period. Its editor at that time, Bro. A.R. Underwood, consistently
upheld the Scriptural merits of the Geneva beliefs [See Confession of
Faith]. Unable to win on Scriptural merit, the reformer
antagonists attacked the character of Bro. Underwood. Secret meetings
were held to accuse him of fraud in the finances of the magazine. The
five members of the so-called "Ministerial
Association" were the driving force in this attack.
Underwood was a steadfast brother. Despite the stinging
and unfounded attacks, he refused to give in. Above all, he wanted The
Restitution to remain the voice for the first principles espoused by
Wilson and others in Geneva. To avoid having it fall into the wrong
hands, therefore, he handed over the job of editor to his assistant,
Bro. Robert Huggins. So it was that in 1911 The Restitution moved from
Plymouth, Indiana (Underwood’s home) to Cleveland, Ohio
Unable to wrest control of the CGAF organ, the
Ministerial Association did an end run. They started their own
publication, The Restitution Herald. Its first editor was F.L. Austin,
one of the five members of the Ministerial Association.
Ironically, the new publication was issued from Oregon,
Illinois, less than 50 miles from Geneva. Theologically, though, the
distance was much greater. They adopted universal resurrection (also
referred to as "broader
hope") and open communion as standing doctrinal planks.
The Illinois group built a strong organization. In 1921, they founded
The National Bible Institution, which led in the 1930s to Oregon Bible
College, where pastors were trained. This college continues today in
Atlanta, GA. The Restitution Herald claimed to be the official CGAF
organ, and due to its name and the false charges still swirling around
Underwood, many believed the claim.
More than 95 percent of the CGAF churches in existence
at this great turning point ultimately affiliated with the Oregon, IL,
organization, which declared itself the Church of God General
Conference. However, many individual churches still kept their old
signs, "Church of God
of the Abrahamic Faith".
The Church of God General Conference has been a source
of no small confusion for many Christadelphians. Several of these
churches still use the name "Church
of God of the Abrahamic Faith", so Christadelphians
naturally have some serious questions once they see some of the
doctrines that some of these congregations hold (these now include
belief in a personal devil). I can assure you that Benjamin Wilson,
Robert Huggins, and all of us who follow in their footsteps have the
same objections to the General Conference! It must be clearly
understood that, since this great divide, the remaining CGAF
congregations have neither fellowship nor formal ties with the General
Bro. Huggins was our true shepherd through this
turbulent period. Under his leadership as editor of The Restitution,
five CGAF congregations (Cleveland, OH; Unionville, OH: Salem,
OH; Roll, IN; and Perryville, KY)
stood together against the General Conference. They disassociated
themselves through their teaching and their fellowship practice. These
five became a closely-knit band largely cut off from other believers.
The Cleveland, Ohio congregation,
Fellowship bonds within the five churches were strong
and intensely personal. These were the stories of my youth around the
dinner table. The fellowship transcended many miles and slow mail
Service — mail that took a lot longer to deliver than the
instantaneous communication to which we are now accustomed. Through it
all, there was devotion and dedication to the faith of those who went
Having watched the loss of so many churches to new
doctrines, Huggins wrote prolifically to defend Bible first principles.
He began a series of twelve Bible lessons in 1917 and completed them a
year later. These were published in The Restitution. These lessons
became the definitive theology of the CGAF. Importantly, they were
written to rebut the doctrinal battles of the day with the General
Conference. Robert Huggins was the pivotal figure in that battle.
Sometime in the 1920s, the twelve lessons were "epitomized" to
become the CGAF "Confession
of Faith". The Confession was adopted by all five churches
as their statement of faith. Later, Huggins would write The Bible: Its
Principles and Texts.
Like Bro. Wilson, Bro. Huggins had strong connections
with Christadelphians. In fact, he was baptized in 1895 by a
Christadelphian brother in Henderson, Kentucky. He would maintain ties
with Christadelphians all his life.
Above all, like Benjamin Wilson, Huggins was convinced
that the CGAF and Christadelphians were members of the same spiritual
family. He steadfastly followed a fellowship principle of welcoming
Christadelphians to the memorial table (a principle never written down,
but which has been a guiding CGAF principle for more than a century).
He was similarly steadfast that the CGAF practice a closed fellowship
with respect to other Christian churches, including the General
Conference Church of God. By common consent, that has remained the
practice of the CGAF to this day.
family, a strong house
When long-lost relatives meet, it can be a time when the
family is made stronger. A stronger family can create a stronger house,
one better able to withstand the storms of life. This principle is also
true in our spiritual family and in our spiritual house. The CGAF is
acutely aware of this principle because we are a small group of
believers, and a small group — like a small house —
feels those storms more intensely. That said, the storms are hitting
all of us.
My home church in Roll, Indiana, provides a vivid
illustration. There was a time when that congregation numbered upwards
of 100 people. At the turn of the 20th century, they built a large
building to hold their meetings. The community of Roll thrived on the
twin economic engines of natural gas (there were gas fields literally
in the middle of town, and gas lamps in the building!) and farming.
However, over time the natural gas ran out, and the farming began to
change. The church building remained, but many of the members were
has been a wonderful home base for many brothers and sisters, a special
place that gave me as well as others our first spiritual com- pass. But
there is an important fact today that cannot be ignored: those of us
who are formerly Roll members clearly outnumber those who are currently
Roll members. To be sure, following Christ is not just about the
numbers. The congregation in Roll today is a wonderful, loving,
faithful bunch. Yet the congregation there would themselves admit that
their walk of faith is made more difficult by their dwindling numbers.
Cantwell Drabenstott (my great uncle) and
Vaughn Long (the
brother who baptized me).
were both baptized at Roll in the early
were CGAF stalwarts
Roll is not alone in the CGAF community — and
the Christadelphian community is familiar with similar stories. A
careful review of the numbers would bear out that many of our
ecclesias, whether CGAF or Christadelphian, have fewer active members
today than they did at their peak. In many cases, that peak came more
than a few decades ago. This trend should give us all pause.
In every congregation, critical mass is an important
issue. It was God’s wisdom to place believers together in
congregations. They are the crucibles in which our faith grows. Yet a
critical mass — a certain threshold of membership —
is necessary to create a rich environment conducive to maximum
This principle is founded in the instructions given to
Israel for keeping the Passover:
the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they
shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers’
houses, a lamb for a household; and if the household is
too small for a
lamb, then a man and his neighbor next to his house shall take
according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you
shall make your count for the lamb" (Exod 12:3,4, RSV).
Why did the Lord want the small houses to join together?
Was His deliverance granted only to homes that reached a certain
threshold number? His angel surely knows those who are His! No, the
reason was because there is strength in numbers. The Lord knew that His
people, by joining together, would draw strength from one another. As
with Israel, so with us: we draw strength when those who are few in
number come together to share our Passover lamb.
The CGAF and Christadelphians both have much for which
to give thanks. But the trend lines cannot be ignored. We are on the
verge of losing critical mass in some of our congregations and
ecclesias. The time to address that is while we still can —
not when it is too late. What is more, we have an obligation to
consider the spiritual future of those who will live in places far
beyond our traditional sites.
We will bequeath a stronger spiritual home to our
children and grandchildren if we build it together. Building a home
together with brethren is the right thing to do. It upholds the
Passover principle — joining those near us when we lack
critical mass. It honors a doctrine many of us have lovingly practiced
for a century and a half, that the unity of the body of Christ is first
among first principles. It will benefit those in our midst who are
moving to new places, while also strengthening those who remain where
our roots have long been planted.
Building a strong spiritual house is, in fact, a
recurring theme in the writings of the apostle Paul. Over and over, he
exhorts us to be "house-builders".
This is the very essence of our responsibility as both disciples and
shepherds of our flocks. Both of these Scriptures use the same Greek
root word that literally means "to
be a house builder":
then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding"
(Rom 14:19, RSV).
encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing"
(1Thes 5:11, RSV).
Together, we have a choice to make. The CGAF and
Christadelphians are long-lost relatives who have finally met. We can
go our separate ways — each building our own house. Or, we
can build one house together. As we make that decision, though, let us
clearly understand the consequences. If we build together we will all
have a stronger spiritual home, better able to withstand the perils and
Based on my 40 years of experience, I believe both
communities, working together, can contribute to one stronger house.
For our part, CGAF brethren are faithful and loyal, with a long history
of devotion to preserving gospel truth. We have a weeklong summer
gathering, other gatherings, and an outstanding youth camp. In
addition, we have other qualities that can lift the spirits of our
Christadelphian brethren. We are generous and charitable. We emphasize
the fruit of the spirit. We are enthusiastic and willing workers. Our
musical worship is important to us; we sing well and with all our
Christadelphian brethren also have much to contribute.
You are faithful and loyal, with your own history of devotion to the
truth. You are dedicated to preaching the Word, both at home and
abroad. You offer opportunities for eager workers to help in spreading
the gospel. You have many Bible schools, gatherings, and youth
activities, which provide an ongoing stimulus to growth in grace and
A final and important consideration is that both sides
have meetings near those of the other, highlighting regions where
mutual support would be welcome.
God’s natural creation offers many lessons for
the spiritual. As a farm boy at heart and an agricultural economist by
training, I have witnessed many of these in agriculture.
Today’s corn plants yield upwards of 200 bushels per acre,
roughly double the level of 50 years ago. Those incredible gains were
made possible through the ongoing development of powerful hybrids. A
hybrid plant brings together traits that would otherwise lie separate.
The real power is realized only when the traits are combined. Without
such combination, corn yields in the United States would be half what
they are today, and more of the world would go hungry.
The apostle Paul was no agronomist, but he certainly
understood the power of bringing together complementary strengths. This
was, in fact, his oft-repeated exhortation on how we should view the
body of Christ. He used the human body to illustrate the principle. The
human body needs eyes, hands, feet, ears, arms and legs. Each brings a
completely unique "trait"
to what is an incredibly powerful hybrid. It would be silly for the eye
to say, ‘What good are you, hands?’ We all know how
important hands are to the human body!
Yet one of the lessons I take away from my 40 years of
experience with both communities is that there are brethren on both
sides who confuse unity and uniformity. Unity is a Biblical principle;
uniformity is a human one.
Uniformity believes that unity derives from everyone
being exactly the same. It holds that strength comes from similarity.
It would have the body of Christ become all eyes, or ears, or noses, or
Unity, on the other hand, is Paul’s principle
of strength founded on complementary skills. It holds that there is one
body, but many members. It recognizes the importance of common
Scriptural first principles, but it knows that by God’s grace
we all have quite different gifts. It understands that the body of
Christ can do far more together than apart.
These are, in fact, the very elements of
Paul’s powerful exhortation on the one body in Romans 12. He
implores us to begin with a humble spirit. He reminds us that we are
one body yet many members. He urges us to take advantage of the many
talents in our midst. And above all, he reminds us that it is love that
binds us together, as well as the faith we share (the same points are
made in Ephesians 4:1-16).
The CGAF and Christadelphians have lived apart for 150
years. There is a lot of inertia on both sides. Bringing the long-lost
relatives into the same house will not happen easily. But the benefits
are unmistakable. Whether we look to Paul’s analogy of the
human body or the wonder of a modern corn plant, the lesson is the
same: we will be stronger together than apart.
Building this house together will not happen by itself.
We all have work to do. Hard feelings on both sides must be salved.
Assurances on our common faith must be concluded. Yet what will be far
more important than any of these is our commitment to building a
stronger house together. Such commitment can be found on both sides,
but it must be fortified, especially against those who want only
uniformity and not true unity.
Though the world has changed much since his time, Bro.
Benjamin Wilson would be a loud voice for moving forward together were
he alive today. Indeed, his words from 140 years ago ring as true today
as they did then:
to be done? Have we not a duty to perform? I should be most happy,
my brethren, if any word or advice of mine would
be useful to any of you in endeavoring to call your attention
to the fact
of the important truth that there cannot be two bodies of the
One… I would endeavor to teach [all] the lesson that we are
the Scriptures — that, as they believe they are
the body of Christ, as they believe they are Christ’s, they
should bear and forbear one another in love. The spirit of forbearance,
you know, is taught, and as disciples of Jesus we are bound to carry
out these principles of the gospel of Christ. We are to love as
brethren, to be pitiful, to be courteous. How this is lost sight of!
Are we always courteous to one another? Do we not rather at times frown
and retaliate, and inflict a wound, rather than heal it? This should
not be. This is not the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus. He has
said, ‘Learn of me’ — mark the injunction
— ‘for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you shall
find rest unto your souls.’ We are to learn of Jesus the
spirit of meekness, the spirit of lowliness, and we shall find that the
same doctrine is inculcated all throughout the apostolic epistles
— to forbear with each other, to learn these lessons of
humility and lowliness, and not to think more highly than we ought to
think, but to think soberly… Brethren, let us then cultivate
this spirit of affection and love, this unity of the faith, and I think
we may counteract some of the pernicious tendencies of others, who are
too domineering in their spirit, and too overbearing, and who do not
exhibit the spirit of Christ. And, oh, let us as brethren in the
Christ, live like Christ; let us cultivate all those traits of
character which were so pre-eminently developed in him… We
shall be lights to irradiate the darkness by which we are surrounded,
and be as cities set on a hill, which cannot be hid" (Address by
Benjamin Wilson, October 25, 1868, Edinburgh, Scotland, published in
The Messenger of the Churches, Vol. IV, No. 12, December 1, 1868).