A Basis of Fellowship

In the past few weeks, hundreds of our readers will have received a booklet from “The Dawn Christadelphians” regarding their views on “Belief, Practice and Fellowship.” No doubt the booklet was spurred by concern over a recent decline in membership and is attempting to reinforce the Dawn communities reason for separate existence in order to prevent further departures.

Difference from Central Fellowship

Several pages concentrate on the need “to withdraw ourselves from persistent and unrepentant wrongdoers.” And it is conceded that, “If in this section we seem to have paid more attention to withdrawal than to the positive aspects of fellowship, it is not because we consider it more important, but because it is the one aspect of fellowship on which we differ from some other Christadelphian communities.” No specifics are given and the conclusion would hardly be applicable to any Christadelphian communities with which we are familiar, all of whom do withdraw themselves from individuals who deliberately, openly and without remorse walk in sin.

Neither would we challenge the summary statement “that there must be unanimity of belief and practice on all the fundamental issues throughout the whole body of believers.” A possible extreme application of this position is tempered with the comment: “Withdrawal, it must be emphasized, although undoubtedly a command of Christ, is a last resort after all effort (sometimes over a long period of time) has been unsuccessful.” And the additional assurance is given, “On non-fundamental matters there must be ecclesial independence.”

All of this sounds like the way our ecclesias function, so there must be a difference in what is regarded as “fundamental” teaching. And there is. The Dawn Christadelphians view their particular teaching in respect to divorce and remarriage after divorce to be a fundamental of the gospel upon which there must be unanimity of agreement “throughout the whole body of believers.”

Their position as presented in the booklet includes two very debatable conclusions regarding the exceptive clause and a state of adultery.

Exceptive clause

Commenting on Christ’s interchange with the Pharisees related in Matthew 19:1-9, the booklet comments, “The question and its answer related to an interpretation of the Law of Moses. The ‘exceptive clause’ (whatever it might mean) does not therefore apply to spiritual Israel.” In other words, they feel Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:1-9 doesn’t apply to us!

This is an extraordinary conclusion considering Christ’s answer overrode the Law with a command forming part of the new covenant. Under the law of Moses, those divorcing one woman to marry another did not commit adultery. Under the law of Christ, they do. By all reasonable principles of exposition, the exceptive clause is part of this new system of instruction which is applicable now. To argue otherwise is highly suspect, and, to go so far as to say that rejection of the exceptive clause must be accepted as a fundamental of the gospel, is absolutely without warrant.

State of adultery

The reasoning is that if it is adultery for a divorcee to marry, the adulterous situation can only be remedied by breaking up the new relationship. “What then are the options for the individual who bitterly regrets remarriage after a divorce? As far as our admittedly limited human judgment goes, the remarried divorcee should cease from the adulterous association, making suitable provision for the welfare of dependants…” We are dismayed that an admittedly “limited human judgment”should be considered a fundamental of the gospel and be applied with highly damaging and unscriptural consequences.

Of course the pamphlet’s teaching must be regarded as a human judgment because a state of adultery did not exist upon marriage of a divorced person under the Law of Moses and there is no direct statement that it now exists. Before terming something a fundamental of the gospel surely we should have clear, explicit scripture passages supporting our position.

A most remarkable feature to the teaching presented is that divorced and remarried persons coming to baptism are not regarded as living in a state of adultery. “This past life with all its failure to honor God, is washed away at baptism. There is no exception to this general rule.” True, sins are forgiven, but marriage is still marriage, divorce is still divorce and remarriage is still remarriage whether or not we are baptized. If a state of adultery exists because a former partner is still alive, that doesn’t change with baptism. The logic of the pamphlet’s position confounds the mind, yet it is presented as a fundamental of the gospel to which all must agree.

A basis of fellowship

We can be thankful for the basis of fellowship that we do share. In this regard, we commend to your reading the October, 1998 editorial in The Christadelphianmagazine. It presents a clear and balanced explanation of the Central Fellowship position, and it expresses the distinction between our approach and that of those who would go further than the fundamental doctrines summarized in the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF).

Of particular importance is the editorial’s continued use of the words “teaching,” “issues,” and “doctrine” as expressing that which forms our basis of fellowship. This echoes a position articulated by that magazine in 1972: “When someone wishes to become a Christadelphian, the question is not primarily whether he accepts the Statement of Faith but whether he holds the Bible teaching on which it is based…Statements other than the Birmingham Amended Statement have always been regarded as acceptable amongst ecclesias in the Central Fellowship, provided they uphold the same Bible Teaching” (“Fellowship: Its Spirit and Practice,” The Committee of The Christadelphian, The Christadelphian, 1/72, pp. 9,13).

In Central Fellowship, it has never been the intent that the Statement of Faith would replace scripture in the expression of divine truths. This having been said, however, we owe a very great debt of gratitude to the authors of the BASF, which is the statement most commonly used among us.

The test of time

Having reread “What are the First Principles?” by Bro. George Booker (see review, Tidings, 11/98, p. 425), we are pleasantly surprised at how well the BASF stood up to an independent and thorough comparison to scripture. Realizing the Birmingham Temperance Hall Ecclesia prepared this statement in 1886, when some issues could be taken for granted which need comment today, and other issues received comment which have dimmed with time, and when the writing style and vocabulary were more expansive than today’s, we find Bro. George’s minimal list of weaknesses to be remarkable. In fact, the matters omitted have not resulted in the development of error. Indeed, if our ecclesia were to produce a document so extensive and important, we would be thrilled if it passed such a test 110 years later. It is for good reason that the BASF has become the touchstone statement of fundamental teachings in our fellowship and is used throughout the world as the vehicle of inter-ecclesial fellowship.

The doctrines summarized therein truly comprise a workable and effective basis of fellowship and the pamphlet recently received does nothing to convince us to make any changes in that which has worked effectively for so long.

Don Styles