Christadelphianism—of God or of Men?
“DO YOU believe in the trinity?” “No,” the rather religious stranger replied. “In eternal torment?” “No.” “In the earth being destroyed?” “No.” “In going to heaven?” “No.” “In tithing?” “No.” “In going to war?” “No, not as far as we ourselves are concerned.” “And what may your religion be?” “I am a Christadelphian.”
Christadelphians claim to base their answers to such questions on their acceptance of the Bible as wholly inspired. They encourage personal study of religion, and as a result they usually know far more about their religion than do most other professed Christians. Among them there is no salaried clergy, no clergy-laity distinction. Each ecclesia or congregation elects its own “serving brethren,” for a period of three years, to take care of matters, and all these must be males, although there is no objection to women contributing to their religious periodicals. The most important feature of their way of worship is the weekly Sunday celebration of the “Lord’s Supper.”
Christadelphians do not vote nor do they join unions of any kind. They are opposed to smoking, divorcing, going to court and marrying outsiders. According to their strictness they frown on worldly amusements.
The name “Christadelphian” means “of Christ’s brothers,” and was adopted by their founder, Dr. John Thomas, and his associates to distinguish them and their stand on war from others claiming to be Christians who had no such scruples. Dr. Thomas, shipwrecked on his way to the United States from England in 1832, had vowed to serve God if his life was spared. In carrying out this vow he came to associate with the Campbellites, later known as the Disciples of Christ, but broke with their founder in 1834; a chief point of disagreement being Thomas’ insistence that baptism (immersion) must accompany a change of belief.
Before long Dr. Thomas was devoting all his time to his religious interests, and between 1844 and 1847 he crystallized his position on what he considered to be Christianity, upon which he had himself rebaptized. He won a following in the United States and particularly in Great Britain, to which he returned on three occasions. When he died in 1871, a close associate, Robert Roberts, took the lead until his death in 1898. He was followed by one C. C. Walker, upon whose death, in turn, John Carter came to the fore. He, as his two predecessors had done, leads the main stem, the Birmingham Christadelphian Temperance Hall Ecclesia and the ecclesias associated with it, primarily by virtue of his editing its official organ, The Christadelphian.
Christadelphianism is one of the smallest sects of Christendom. Some 20,000, a majority most likely, are found in Great Britain, with the rest chiefly scattered throughout other English-speaking lands.
FOUR BASIC SHORTCOMINGS
The tenor of the foregoing may cause some to conclude that Christadelphianism is indeed of God. However, as we examine it more closely we find that it contains such gross shortcomings and false doctrines that it simply could not be of God but must be of men.
Christadelphianism first of all comes short in that it knows nothing of the issue of universal sovereignty, nor does one become aware from reading its many publications that the vindication of Jehovah’s name is more important than the salvation of human creatures. (Ezek. 36:22, 23) These truths pervade the Word of God from beginning to end. In fact, the name of Jehovah occurs nearly 7,000 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and in the book of Ezekiel alone we find the point made some sixty times that “they will have to know that I am Jehovah.” (Ezek. 25:17) Among others, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon and King Hezekiah appreciated the importance of these truths. See Exodus 7:5; 9:16; 12:12; 32:7-13; Joshua 7:7-9; 1 Samuel 17:45-47; 1 Kings 8:43; 2 Kings 19:15-19; Job, chapters 1 and 2; Psalm 83:18; Proverbs 27:11.
Jesus’ very name means “Jehovah Is Salvation.” Repeatedly Jesus called attention to his Father’s name. His followers did the same. In fact, they showed that the very reason why God “turned his attention to the nations” was “to take out of them a people for his name.” But all this stress on Jehovah’s name and the issue is lacking in Christadelphianism.—Matt. 6:9; John 12:28; 17:6; Acts 15:14.
A second vital and basic shortcoming of Christadelphianism is its lack of that unity for which Jesus prayed: “That they may all be one, . . . that they may be perfected into one.” Yes, as Paul showed, Christians ‘should all speak in agreement, be without divisions but fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.’ He included divisions and sects with the “works of the flesh.”—John 17:21-23; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Gal. 5:19, 20.
But within Christadelphianism there has been a spirit of divisiveness almost from the beginning. Admitting this weakness is the statement that appeared toward the end of 1923 in The Christadelphian: “The year now closing has seen phenomenal ‘sowing of discord among brethren.’” As a result there are ever so many sects and divisions. Each new group breaking off claims that it is the only true one and all the rest are in error. Of this spirit of divisiveness a prominent Christadelphian, F. G. Janaway, once stated in Christadelphians and Fellowship: ‘There are at least twelve fraternities calling themselves Christadelphians, each refusing to fellowship with the other eleven.’ That was in 1934. There is no telling how many separate groups there are today, as many consist of only a handful or a single ecclesia. Many veteran Christadelphians decry this divisiveness and some are working at reunion. Not a few among them hold that it is all due to splitting hairs.
How strongly some feel about the issues that have divided them can be seen from the statement that appears regularly in the official organ of one of the strictest factions, the Clapham group:
“The undernamed Ecclesias and Representatives recognize in fellowship only those who resist the errors of partial inspiration, non-resurrectional responsibility, immortal emergence of the dead, ‘clean flesh’ nature of Christ; who deny that we are at liberty to serve in State Forces, go to law, or seek divorce; and who are prepared to withdraw themselves from any who join a community where these errors exist.”
Why so much splitting? Why so many divisions? Does it not indicate a lack of love? a form of pride? May “opinionated” not be the word for it? Jesus not only prayed for his followers to be at unity but said that by their love for one another all would be able to recognize his followers. Surely this love is lacking among Christadelphians and therefore stamps their work as being, not of God, but of men.—John 13:34, 35.
A third basic shortcoming of Christadelphianism is in regard to its accepting the witnessing responsibility that Jesus Christ placed upon his followers. It does not at all recognize the obligation to preach “this good news of the kingdom . . . to all the nations” and to “make disciples of people of all the nations,” as mentioned at Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20. Rather, it holds that its “province is to make known the true Gospel to the people of so-called Christendom who have been led astray from the simplicity of the truth preached by Christ and his apostles.”—U.S. Census Report, 1941.
How can this sect be of God and yet come so far short of fulfilling this all-important commission? Will God leave practically the whole world without a witness to his truth, especially in these last days? How, then, could the foretold “great crowd” of worshipers of God be gathered from all nations?—Rev. 7:9.
The fourth basic shortcoming of Christadelphianism is its lack of hope for mankind’s dead. It holds that only those who have become acquainted with what it considers to be the truth become responsible and only such will be resurrected, either to life or to death.a It would have us believe that, except for this minute number, all the rest of mankind will remain dead forever, including all children—even those of Christadelphian parents—who died before reaching the (teen)age of responsibility.
But the Bible’s promises of a resurrection are not so limited. “Jesus Christ . . . is a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, yet not for ours only but also for the whole world’s.” Those words clearly show that there is hope for others beside the “little flock” of the Christian ecclesia or congregation. Yes, all those in the “sea,” “death” and “Haʹdes” will come forth, but not those in the “lake of fire,” in “Gehenna,” or in “second death.”—1 John 2:1, 2; Rev. 20:13-15; 21:8; Matt. 23:33; John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15; Heb. 2:9.
That the resurrection is not limited to “responsible” ones is further made clear from Matthew’s application of Jeremiah 31:15, 16 to the babes of Bethlehem, for Jeremiah goes on to show that these babes will come back from the land of the enemy and Rachel will be rewarded for her labors. (Matt. 2:17, 18) Further, would the children of believers be termed “holy” if their destiny was that of unholy mankind in the event they died before reaching the age of accountability?—1 Cor. 7:14.
Surely all these scriptures and arguments show what reason would indicate, namely, that Jehovah God’s wisdom, power and love have something better than annihilation in store for those of mankind who died without hearing of God’s truth but who are amenable to righteousness. Yes, God is ‘a God who gives hope’!—Rom. 15:13.
PRODUCT OF HUMAN REASONING
While the foregoing shortcomings stamp Christadelphianism as being the product of human wisdom rather than divine wisdom, this fact becomes even more apparent as we consider its arguments used to support its teachings. In instance after instance the reasoning seems plausible, persuasive, credible and factual enough on the surface, but upon more thorough examination it is found to be incomplete, tenuous, contrived, strained, at best an ingenious explanation to justify a teaching, but one that does not stand the test of sound Biblical scholarship. And may not this explain why there is so much division in Christadelphianism based on “splitting of hairs”?
Among the cardinal errors of Christadelphianism are its denial of the personality of Satan and the demons; its denial that Jesus had a prehuman existence; its denial that Jesus’ sacrifice was a corresponding ransom and its denial of the spiritual nature of God’s kingdom.
These errors have certain things in common. For one thing, it takes less faith to make these denials than to accept these teachings; secondly, their denial is common among modernistic clergymen, who do not believe that the Bible is inspired; thirdly, it seems that each in a way represents a rebellion against popular misconceptions, which rebellion went to the opposite extreme.
To give our readers a comprehensive statement of the Scriptural position on these teachings does not seem necessary in view of how often these have been published in this and other publications of the Watch Tower Society. Nor does space here permit answering all the erroneous interpretations made in Christadelphian literature. However, representative examples in proof of the foregoing observations will be given to the extent that space permits.
JESUS’ PREHUMAN EXISTENCE
Arguing against Jesus’ prehuman existence, a Christadelphian publication states that when God said, “Let us make man in our image,” he was using the plural pronouns, not to include his Son the Logos but solely to refer to himself, since his title in the Hebrew, Elohim, is in the plural form. (Gen. 1:26) But if this is the case here, then there should be other instances to show that God (Elohim) was accustomed to speak of himself in this way. But what do we find? Delitzsch, one of the leading Bible scholars of the nineteenth century, states in A New Commentary on Genesis: “A plural cannot be shown in Holy Scripture where God is speaking of himself.” That God was speaking to the Logos, his Son, when he said, “Let us make man,” is apparent from John 1:3 and Colossians 1:15, 16, where the Logos is shown to have been God’s active agent in creation.
Further, it is held that when Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify me alongside yourself with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was,” he was referring to a glory that existed only in the mind of God. (John 17:5) But as rendered here by the New World Translation Jesus’ words cannot be construed to refer to any situation that existed only in God’s mind, for he prays to be again alongside his Father. That this is not an arbitrary rendering is apparent from Tafel’s Interlinear Bible, which reads word for word under the Greek text: “And now glorify me, thou Father, near by thyself with the glory (with) which I had before (of) the the world being near by thee.” Obviously Jesus was referring to a certain place that he occupied alongside or near by his Father before the world was.
PERSONALITY OF SATAN AND DEMONS
Among the arguments used by Christadelphians against the personality of Satan and the demons is that, since the words satan (Hebrew) and satanas and diabolos (Greek) are at times translated and used as common nouns, these words should never be transliterated and used as proper nouns, “Satan,” “Devil.” The same argument is used regarding “Logos.”
But that does not at all follow. Adam is a Hebrew word that literally means “earthling; human,” and is usually translated as “man.” But that does not at all mean that it may not at times refer to a certain man and therefore should be transliterated as “Adam.”—Gen. 5:1, 2.
It is further claimed that demons exist only in the mind and that in casting them out Jesus merely went along with popular superstitions. So when he told a legion of them to go into a herd of swine, they claim he was transferring the insanity, the mental aberration of the man. But then how are we to understand James’ words: “The demons believe and shudder”?—Jas. 2:19.
Though all Christadelphians hold that Satan the Devil is merely sin in the flesh, they widely disagree on the identity of the serpent that tempted Eve and on who or what tempted Jesus in the wilderness. According to Roberts, in Christendom Astray, the serpent “was endowed with the gift of speech (no doubt, specially with a view to the part it had to perform in putting our first parents to the test.)” But to hold that idea is to make God responsible for the lie the serpent told, whereas “it is impossible for God to lie.” Further, it makes God a seducer, one who tempts, coaxes or deceives others to sin, in contradiction to the plain statement of James that “with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” While God tests in that he commands obedience, he does not tempt one to do wrong.—Heb. 6:18; Jas. 1:13; Gen. 22:1.
JESUS THE RANSOMER
Christadelphian writers deny that Jesus Christ became a “corresponding ransom” or substitute, but say that Jesus died merely in a representative capacity and for himself as well as for the rest of the believers. In particular do they object to this expression “corresponding ransom” in the New World Translation. (1 Tim. 2:6) However, while the Greek word lutron of itself means only to ransom or deliver, the Greek particle anti coming either before or after lutron has the thought of “corresponding.” Thus Strong’s Greek Lexicon says regarding anti: “A primitive particle; opposite, i.e., instead or because of . . . Often used in composition to denote contrast, requital, substitution, correspondence, etc.” This Greek article does appear before or after lutron at Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45 and 1 Timothy 2:6, clearly teaching a corresponding ransom or a ransom given in exchange.
THE HEAVENLY KINGDOM
In support of their position that no one of earth will ever go to heaven and that God’s kingdom will be wholly an earthly one Christadelphian writers cite such texts as: “The Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem.” “The Lord shall be king over all the earth.” “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”—Isa. 24:23; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 5:10, AV.
Because of such prophecies Christadelphians pin great hopes on the Jews’ returning to Palestine, overlooking the fact that all these are gathering in unbelief, merely for selfish considerations, and that the entire tenor of the Christian Greek Scriptures is that what counts is not being a Jew according to the flesh but according to the spirit.—Rom. 2:25-29; Gal. 3:28.
As for the first text quoted to prove their position, let it be noted that for Christians Jerusalem is above, a heavenly city or organization. (Gal. 4:26) The second text says nothing about Jesus reigning on the earth but refers to Jehovah (as the Hebrew shows) reigning over the earth. And as for the third text, telling of Christians reigning “on” the earth, the Greek word here translated “on” is epi, and it can just as well be rendered “over” as “on,” and in fact is rendered “over” by such Bible translators as Goodspeed, Knox, Weymouth and the New World Bible Translation Committee.
Yes, at first glance Christadelphianism appears to be of God, but not upon closer examination. Its ignoring the importance of the name of Jehovah and the issue of universal sovereignty, its glaring lack of unity, its failure to carry out Jesus’ command to preach the good news in all nations, its ignoring the Scriptural hope for mankind in general, its denial of Jesus’ prehuman existence, its denial of the personality of Satan and his demons, its denial of a corresponding ransom provided by Jesus and its denial of the heavenly, spiritual nature of God’s kingdom and of the heavenly reward of the saints all combines to stamp it to be deserving of the Scriptural description: “This scheme and this work is from men.”—Acts 5:38.
a Some Christadelphians insist that only those who also were baptized have become responsible and will be resurrected.