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Saturday, November 22, 2014


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The Protesters
By Alan Eyre




As a Christadelphian, the author has witnessed a tremendous change during the past few years in the community of which he is a member. In some areas where ecclesias more than a century old exist (parts of the eastern seaboard of the United States, for example) more than half the present membership has become so within that time. In a few English speaking countries no member has been such longer than ten years. This is, of course, most gratifying, and a healthy indication that Christadelphians are not, as one famous encyclopaedia has it, followers of one John Thomas, but followers of Christ, even as he and others were. But as, sadly perhaps for a dwindling majority, a widening distance of time separates this new generation from 6hristadelphian "pioneers", so appreciation of the furnace through which this faith was refined grows less. There are many, who, while knowing and loving Bible truth, would like to know more of those who struggled to preserve it for us.

There are, however, other reasons which have prompted this study. The writer, once naively and unquestioningly accepting a popular view that Dr. John Thomas "discovered", as if from a void, the totality of Bible truth as believed by Christadelphians, was amazed to discover source after source which showed that this was at least a serious misrepresentation. It is indeed one which he believes John Thomas himself, were he alive, would be the first to repudiate, as the abundant quotations from earlier sources in his journals indicate. The nineteenth century, however, was one in which few intellectual debts were acknowledged. The neglect of the writings of nineteenth century Christadelphian authors by some of the new generation of believers is as unfortunate; so are the excesses of others who would pay them alone an honour of which some share is due to others who had paved the way before them. It is hoped that this study will put in perspective the work of many without whose selfless efforts we today would be the poorer.


It should be remembered that we do not diminish the teachings of the work of the Lord Jesus by pointing out how much of what he said came straight out of the Old Testament; rather indeed do we give them added richness. So it is with those who have been long respected and honoured among us.

A Noble Tradition

Today the Christadelphian community --"Brothers in Christ" -- is the inheritor of a noble tradition, by which elements of the Truth were from century to century hammered out on the anvil of controversy, affliction and even anguish. These pages may help us to appreciate a Bible doctrine that God does not establish truth by the counting of heads, but by the trying of hearts, and also to understand why we as Christadelphians today resist the outstretched hands of broad oecumenical unity, and consider as traitors any among us who sell their birthright for this cause.

There is always an element of danger in appearing in the role of advocate for a misjudged minority, and if there appears in the present work to have been excessive swinging of the pendulum in the opposite direction at any point, that would be meagre compensation for centuries of harsh and bitter judgements. An effort has been made to avoid the use of ethically loaded words such as martyr, and to let those concerned reveal what manner of death, and life, was involved. It is also hoped that the story of the siffierings of those recorded here will not be the dominant interest; this is certainly not intended as a Christadelphian version of Foxe's Book of Maryrs, but as a sober appraisal of work done well.

When Jesus described his apostles as the salt of the earth they were then far from having themselves a full and complete understanding of the Gospel. Yet they were sent by Jesus two by two to preach the Kingdom of God. Salt serves as a preservative from corruption, and it seems fitting that the efforts of men to preserve from decay and corruption various elements of the truth through the long years of the Master's absence should be similarly regarded. In the case of those now sleeping it is the prerogative of the Lord, not of ourselves, to determine the degree to which their faith will be counted for righteousness. Many who grasped eagerly only one element of Gospel truth out of the morass of prevailing corruption and proclaimed it upon the housetops have in so doing acted as the salt of the earth in so far as their work aided the preservation


of truth and virtue. Some recorded herein perhaps did not have "all the truth" -- so the writer has been reminded -- but he hopes that no reader of these pages will be so bold as to consider that he understands all truth. If one does not know more of the truth at the end of one's pilgrimage than at the beginning or the middle, then he is a poor disciple indeed.

A Desperate Need

All this does not mean that insistence upon a doctrinal basis for faith and fellowship is misguided. Indeed, on the contrary, to uphold Scriptural teaching was the aim of many whose exploits are recreated in these studies. Their success varied, and the process was continuous, dynamic and even painful, needing to be adapted to the changing character of the corruption prevailing. If contention over dogma and statements of faith has produced schism and unChristlike action, it has also promoted intense study of the Word of God and powerful, burning loyalties and convictions -- all things this spineless generation of ours desperately needs. If the faith of Christ means anything at all, it is worthy of our highest and our all. This, more than any other, is the basic message of this book. Better one who, like Paul, "gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you", than one who, half ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, sells his salty birthright for a mess of contemporary corruption.

Some may consider that Christadelphians have over-defined their faith. These pages do not encourage such a view. The fact that in the next chapter nine elements of early Christian faith are chosen as a basic theme to follow, and measure men by, later in the series does not imply that there are only nine, and no others are worthy of definition, but that at least nine are absolutely vital; to have gone into great detail with others would have made the study tedious. Our purpose is not to elaborate the whole Gospel, but to trace the transmission of many basic elements of it. Hence the abundance of carefully chosen quotations throughout.

A Source of Controversy

The author's view that Christadelphians are making in this modern age a serious endeavour to uphold the New Testament form of Christianity (and what can any other form be but human speculation?) is not surprising, for we have the shoulders of our


predecessors to stand on. One element of the faith especially may be noted: the teaching of the Bible concerning the nature of Jesus Christ. Nothing in Christianity, even in Christadelphian circles, has stirred controversy so frequently or so readily as this. We are "unitarians" in the correct sense, that we believe in the unity of the Godhead as revealed to Moses and confirmed by Christ, the Son of God. But in the incorrect sense, adopted by the denomination of that name in the nineteenth century, of believing that Jesus was not a theophany but a man having no divine origin at all, merely morally superior, we are not. Neither was the John Biddle of our story, though denominational Unitarians in their literature sometimes allege that he was. Actually, he would have been horrified, since far from dishonouring the Lord Jesus, he is reputed to have bowed his head in reverence every time the sacred name of the Saviour passed his lips. No "Unitarian" in the incorrect sense has been included in this brief history.

Because these believers were combating an over-mystical and thoroughly unscriptural trinitarianism, some of them may seem to overstress the humanity of our Lord. This was perhaps inevitable in the circumstances. But none of those referred to, who fought to uphold the true humanity of our Saviour, would have denied, as do so many professing Christians today, that he was the Son of God and the supreme manifestation of the Almighty Creator for our salvation. Detailed elaboration of the Scriptural doctrine of God-manifestation and a reasoned reconciliation of the divine and the human in a historically manifested Saviour as expounded by later Christadelphian writers is the richest culmination of the story told in the chapters which follow.