The Christadelphians

Picture of Dr John Thomas
Dr John Thomas

The Christadelphians (CDs) were founded in America through the teachings of an Englishman, Dr. John Thomas. Thomas, surviving a shipwreck in 1832, vowed that he would devote his life to searching Bible truths. Thomas was no stranger to Bible doctrine, being the son of a Congregationalist minister. However, he developed his own theories on the definition of many scriptures, with an emphasis on prophecy.

As their name implies, they regard themselves as brethren of Christ, [Greek – Christouadelphoi – cf. Hebrews 2:11 and Colossians 1:2.] Their life is based on head knowledge and obedience to the law. For instance there can be no marriage to anyone outside their own system. This, and other incidents where an individual breaks the rules can result in disfellowshipping, thus losing any hope of an eternal future. They must not serve in the armed forces, police force, or a political party. In all the CDs have a list of 35 doctrines to be rejected and a list of 53 commandments to be followed, if there is to be any future hope.

History

When John Thomas first arrived in America he joined himself to Alexander Campbell’s, Church of Christ. He left them because he felt they were neglecting many Bible doctrines and did not preach the whole truth. In 1844 he began a monthly magazine, The Herald of the Future Age.

Returning to England in 1848, Thomas published his ideas in, Elpis Israel [The Hope of Israel] subtitled, An Exposition of the Kingdom of God, with reference to the Time of the End and the Age to Come.

An early convert was Robert Roberts, who, in 1853, at the age of 14 was baptised by Thomas. Roberts wrote a series of pamphlets later published as, Christendom Astray from the Bible. After Thomas died in 1871, it was Roberts who gradually became regarded as the leader. Roberts changed the title of a magazine he edited to, The Christadelphian. Now with over 120 volumes it is regarded by many as the official mouthpiece of the organisation. There are other publications today such as The Testimony and Endeavour. The latter often presents unorthodox views and is largely shunned by most CDs.

Elpis Israel and Christendom Astray are still two of the most important works of the CDs, the latter seen as:

“one of the Christadelphians most effective preaching aids.” Glad Tidings, 100th year, p.1201.<

In Thomas’ day CDs would not accept mainstream Christendom.

“Convinced that this is the only scriptural constitution of the “one body” of which Jesus Christ is alone the head, and who has no personal representative on earth, we repudiate the popular churches and all their adjuncts, as no part thereof, and affirm that there is no salvation within the pale of any of them… We object to the fundamental doctrines of Christendom; the religion of the churches and chapels is a negation of Bible teaching on almost all points… We hold it to be the “abominations of the earth” with all dissenting names and denominations, aggregately styled “names of blasphemy”, of which the European body politic, symbolised by the eight-headed, scarlet coloured beast is said to be full, (Rev.17:3)” – We are the Christadelphians, Thomas, pp.3,6,8.

Today many Christadelphians would begrudgingly accept that those in other Christian groups can also be saved.

There are no ‘official’ statistics available for this group but one former CD estimates that there are approximately 30,000 members world-wide in the ‘Central’ fellowship with maybe up to another 5,000 in splinter groups. In Britain there are probably around 20,000 members mainly found within the West Midlands area. Of this number it is estimated that 50% are traditional CDs, 30% liberal and 20% are ‘on-the-fence’.

Main Beliefs

CDs are convinced by doctrine and as many are firmly entrenched in their views, we need to be able to show them that we believe that the Scriptures really teach something different. This may be a difficult task and it is pointless just swapping texts. We need to lovingly show the differences between their beliefs and Scriptures, and, in some cases, this can be rewarding.

We may not be theologians, but we must be able to share what we believe in simple ways. We should put in context verses that have been removed from the sense of the surrounding passage. We have given some examples in the notes below of how this can be done.

We also need to be aware that some CDs will have moved away from the original doctrines. It is always good practice to find out, from their own mouth, what they believe. What we have tried to do in these notes is first give the original belief; then we add any quotations from more modern publications, if there has been a moving away from the original doctrinal position.

Salvation

CDs who continue in the original doctrines do not fully believe that Christ bore our sins at Calvary, it still requires something from us.

“The idea that Christ has borne our punishment and paid our debts, and that his righteousness is placed to our credit, and that all we have to do is believe it is demoralising… blighting results are to be witnessed in all communities where the doctrine of a substitutionary sacrifice and an imputed righteousness holds sway.” – The Blood of Christ, Roberts, undated reprint by the Christadelphians, p.30.

“Christ has given Him [God the Father}no satisfaction, paid no debt in the commercial sense.” – The Slain Lamb, Roberts, 1873, reprinted 1984, p.23.

Many would have moved away from this position but still would feel that we need to earn our salvation in some way.

“God offers the gift of eternal life… But though we cannot earn it in the sense that we cannot pay the price commensurate to its value, God has set down conditions upon which alone His gift will be made. They constitute three steps to salvation: belief, baptism, obedience… The reward for doing so is life eternal upon earth at Christ’s coming.” – Baptism – Essential to Salvation, Logos, p.15.

CD salvation depends on an understanding of the Bible, baptism, and the keeping of commandments. Clearly, from this definition, no CD can have assurance of salvation; at any time he or she can lose that hope of resurrection to eternal life on earth. This raises many questions. Is baptism essential for salvation? Can a Christian have assurance of salvation?, etc. This is the area we should use to share what evangelical Christians believe.

“Philosophy or no philosophy, the Scriptures quoted plainly teach that the Father is a tangible person, in whom all the powers of the Universe converge.” – Christendom Astray, Roberts, 1944, p.92.

This however would not be a true reflection on what most believe today, and maybe not even what Roberts believed in totality.

“The nature of God is defined by the Lord Jesus Christ in the words: ‘God is a Spirit…’ He dwells personally in heaven… God has a located existence somewhere in the Universe… In the full sense, man is incapable of understanding what God is… Though personally located in heaven, God is everywhere present by His spirit…” – Is there a God?, Dawn Booklet No.1, 1975, pp.11,12.

Jesus Christ

The CDs strip Jesus Christ of His Deity, His title of Christ until His baptism, and His atoning work on the cross.

“He was not God, neither a mere man, nor had he any existence prior to His supernatural birth.” – The Christadelphian, Vol.XI, 1874, p.56.

“He was the Son of God, the manifestation of God by spirit-power, but not God himself. “- Christendom Astray, Roberts, 1944, p.107.

They also deny that He had any existence before His birth by Mary.

“. . . the Bible clearly shows that Jesus had no existence prior to his birth in Bethlehem . . . Nowhere is it suggested that he existed before his birth.” – Who is Jesus Christ? – Not a pre-existent Being, but Saviour of Mankind, p.2.

The Resurrection of Christ

CDs believe that Christ’s resurrection was a physical one and that He has not changed since then.

“There is no doubt that Jesus rose bodily from the tomb… Only by his literal bodily presence were they convinced. This is resurrection – a literal bodily rising again to life.” – Resurrection and Judgement, Dawn Booklet No.19, 1972, p.7.

Holy Spirit

In the fourth century we hear of a group known as the Pneumatomachians, literally, ‘fighters against the Spirit’, who attacked the Deity of the Holy Spirit. Many CDs echo this sentiment but go further and deny His personality, claiming that He is not at work in this age.

“There is no manifestation of the Spirit in these days. The power of continuing the manifestation doubtless died with the apostles.” – Christendom Astray, Roberts, 1944, p.99.

“We may here remark that there is no scriptural authority whatever for regarding the Holy Spirit as the third person of a ‘trinity’…” The Holy Spirit, Dawn Booklet No.4, 1971, p.10.

If you deny the work of the Holy Spirit you also deny His ability to lead into all truth [Jn.16:13]. CDs have therefore placed much importance on their own writings.

In our view the basic error lies in stating that the Spirit is not a person. It is clear from the Bible that He is Power [see Lk.1:35] but the Scriptures also give conclusive evidence of His personality and Deity. Jesus said of the Spirit,

“I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.” – John 14:16

W.E.Vine in his Greek Expository Dictionary points out that the Greek word for another in John 14:16:

“… denotes another of the same kind.” – Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol.1, p.60.

Christ is called the Advocate [1 John 2:1], the same Greek word as Comforter [John 14:16]. The One coming will be of the same kind as Christ, an impersonal force cannot fulfil this! The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, meaning someone who went to court to speak for you. An impersonal force cannot do that!

Personality is not dependent on outward form but on the life within. The Spirit can love [Rom.15:30]; comfort [Acts 9:31]; be grieved [Eph.4:30]; all of which stem from the heart. The Spirit also has a mind [Rom.8:27 and 1 Cor.2:10-11]. The Spirit has a will, [Acts 8:29,39; 10:19-20; 16:6-7 and 1 Cor.12:11].

Jesus uses”He” of the Holy Spirit twelve times in John 16:7-15 alone.

The Trinity

The natural assumption is of course to deny the Trinity.

“. . . Trinitarianism propounds-not a mystery but a contradiction-a stultification- an impossibility.” – Christendom Astray, Roberts, 1944, p.89.

This is one area that CDs still agree with their founders on. Most CDs will use logic and say that it is impossible to believe the doctrine of the Trinity. Do not try and prove it with your mind, as you will never succeed. Define that the Trinity means that the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are all God. Does the Bible show these three to be God? This is a question you can answer.

Death and Resurrection

“So we arrive at the clear Bible truth that the reward of the righteous does not consist of the some ‘spirit existence’ somewhere; . . . Those who are granted resurrection from the grave will move about in the world as real, tangible people engaged in the practical task of enlightening the nations of the world in the truth of God which they have either ignored or perverted for so many centuries.” – After Death – What?, F.Pearce, undated., p.10

“When man dies he is dead and in the grave, unconscious and not knowing anything. Those who do not ‘believe on’ Jesus will simply cease to exist. Those who have believed will be resurrected with a tangible, incorruptible body that will not waste away or perish. Such ones will be used to preach the truth of God to the nations. During the millennium only these ‘resurrected ones’ will be immortal those of the nations could still die but they can come into harmony with God during the 1,000 years and they will not be destroyed. Those who refuse to accept the truth of God, still alive at the end of the 1,000 years will be destroyed.” – Ibid.

A mainstream Biblical response to this doctrine could include the following,

Matthew 22:32 – departed saints are living and conscious with an immortal life that goes beyond the grave.

1 Thessalonians 5:10 – even if someone is asleep [the term used in Scripture of death] they are still alive in an immortal sense with Christ.

Matthew 10:28 – no one on earth can destroy the soul. Only God who created it can destroy if it was His will. In other words the soul is beyond the mortal, i.e. it’s immortal.

Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, and Philippians 1:23, all show that at death our soul is separated from the body and goes straight to be with the Lord.

Hebrews 12:23 shows that the spirits of the dead are already with the Lord.

Devil

“We know, of course, that there is no personal supernatural devil… It will be necessary… to demonstrate the falseness of the traditional belief that the devil is a superhuman being . . . – The Devil the Great Deceiver, Peter Watkins, 1976, p.13.

CDs show how the names given to the ‘Evil One’ in Scripture are all manifestations within man himself. But in John 13:27, we read, ‘and after the sop, Satan entered into him’. Satan entered from the outside.

In Psalm 82:6 and Exodus 7:1, Elohim the Hebrew term for God, is used of men. Does this prove that there is no Almighty God? Similarly names such as, Satan and Devil being used of man do not prove there is no supernatural Devil. Matthew 16:23 does not deny the working of an outside being through Peter.

1 Peter 5:8 is explained as persecution by the government but verse 9 tells them to, ‘resist him’. James exhorts, ‘resist the devil and he will flee’. Other passages to refer to include, Luke 4:1-13 and Ephesians 6:12. Christ defeated the real enemy at Calvary, Hebrews 2:14. This was not just some ideas in a man.

CDs ask if the Devil is a real person, why did God create him? He did not create the Devil but the angel who fell and became Satan. God Himself said that His completed creation was very good. Later the angel Lucifer attempted to rise above His Creator and he was cast down and became Satan. See Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-19.

Heaven and Hell

“Heaven is not for man: his habitation, both now and in any future existence, is the earth.” – Heaven and Hell, D.Fifiled, undated p.7

“There are three main words in the Authorised Version which have been rendered ‘Hell’… Sheol is therefore the grave, the common place of the dead where men’s bodies are subject to decay… In the New Testament the word hades is the equivalent of the Hebrew sheol… gehenna, a term always associated with fire… The reference to fires that are never quenched… are used to express the nature of divine judgement… nothing can prevent or interfere with the declared judgement of God upon those who turn their backs on him.” – Ibid., pp.7-9

There are a number of Scriptures that can be shared here including,

Mark 9:43 – how is it better to be crippled in this life than to go off into annihilation? This only makes sense if we are talking about eternal punishment.

Matthew 25:46 uses the same word ‘eternal’ both for the punishment of the wicked and the life of the righteous. It must have the same meaning in both cases, i.e. lasting forever.

Fuller notes are available to order in booklet form from Reachout Trust

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