How to read fellowship statements

Foundation Clause

Obviously I believe the Scripture doesn’t rule out EC.  The argument is made that EC is inconsistent with the BASF.  On one hand this is clearly less significant than being inconsistent with Scripture, however the BASF is an important document underpinning our fellowship.  As Brethren Carter & Cooper noted “To decry a Statement as man-made and to speak of the Bible as alone sufficient reveals a marked failure to perceive the problems of ecclesial life and its duties[1]

It is a useful definition of our faith as Bro Roberts commented on the value of a statement of faith saying

So long as it is understood that the written definition is not an authority, but merely the written expression of our identical convictions, there is not only no disadvantage, but the reverse, in reducing the faith to a form that shuts the door against misunderstanding[2]

While combatting various issues on the atonement, Bro Carter noted

we base our case on the Scriptures as the ultimate authority. Bro. Snelling’s comment does raise the issue of what is the final basis of authority.  The Statement of Faith is a worthy effort to define what we believe the Scriptures teach.  It necessarily reflects the emphases of the time when it was compiled[3]

In the context, Bro Carter was vigorously defending the Statement of Faith but noting it couldn’t anticipate future issues. However common sense echoes Bro Carter’s comments – any statement is a point in time position.  Bro Benson similarly in a 1998 article in the Testimony also provided extensive comments in his consideration of the BASF noting its value but also its origination in history, a time and place.[4]  Taking these documents out of their limited context and demanding once and for all readings is not wise.

We recognize the BASF is not an inspired document. As disturbing as some may find it, the BASF plainly contains errors as any work of man (particularly this document) inevitably will. This is hardly a new observation – Bro Carter noted regarding the Foundation Clause:

Now the Bible consists of more than the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets and the apostles. Many psalms, the writings of Solomon and, for anything we know, some of the histories, were not the work of prophets. Luke, James and Jude were not apostles. Either, then, the definition is defective or by it we should exclude from the Canon the writings of these men.[5]

Given I and all Christadelphians accept the protestant canon, it is axiomatic that we like Bro Carter, accept the Foundation Clause is deficient.  However we do not insist on a word for word literalness in the BASF – we accept the vibe of the thing (and yes that is an allusion to The Castle).

Later in 1989 a wide number of prominent brethren (including WF Barling), wrote an open letter to The Christadelphian defending the BASF while at the same time saying

it is not possible for fallible minds to devise any Statement which is infallible and covers all situations. Were that possible, one would be entitled to demand the endorsement of every single word of the Statement by everybody in the truth. But because it is not possible, such a demand is unwarranted, and is a mistaken attempt to exalt the B.A.S.F. to the level of inspired Scripture[6]

The CCA itself reads

We agree that the doctrines to be believed and taught by us, without reservation, are the first principles of the One Faith as revealed in the Scriptures, of which the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (with positive and negative clauses and the Commandments of Christ) gives a true definition. Clauses 5 and 12 are understood in harmony with the explanations provided by Brethren Carter and Cooper:”[7].

This points to straight up the overriding fact that Scripture is the authority on truth. The brethren involved I believe carefully say the BASF is “a” not “the” true definition. Consequently other forms of words can be used consistent with the Scriptures. The fact that Clause 5 & 12 of the BASF needed further explanation demonstrates they can be misinterpreted and further addition/clarification/qualification is of value (particular as it so happened in the Australian context).

I have no issue with the BASF and no desire to see it changed. It is a valuable but uninspired document which unites our community. However brethren expositing off the BASF and CCA and demanding a particular form of words or understanding is inconsistent with the considered approach of most of our community. We should understand the BASF/CCA through the lens of Scripture – as the Bible is THE authority.

_______________________________

[1] Carter, J & Cooper, C. “Letter on Unity”  Unity Book. (1963)

[2] Roberts, R. “The Ecclesial Guide” (p. 23). Birmingham: The Christadelphian (1989)

[3] Carter, J. ”The Statement of Faith” The Christadelphian, 95(electronic ed.), page 510 (1958)

[4] Benson, T “The Basis of an Ecclesia Today”  The Testimony Volume 68 page 183-191 (1998)

[5] Carter, John “Open letter to brother Snelling” The Christadelphian, Volume 96 page 84 (1959)

[6] Many brethren….”Letter to the Editor” The Christadelphian, Volume 126 Page 310 (1989)

[7] Carter. (n.d.). Unity Book.

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One thought on “How to read fellowship statements

  1. Pingback: The first man Adam and The Lampstand | Christadelphians Origins Discussion

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