By One Man – a misleading incomplete picture of Christadelphian positions

In May 2017 bro Colin Byrnes (a rightly well-regarded individual), published a document called “By One Man”.  The document was largely in response to a presentation at the 2016 Australian Conference which demonstrated a wide range of views have been accepted in the community on Genesis 1-3 (note that presentation specifically stayed away from EC as requested by the conference organisers).

Bro Byrnes presented copious quotations from various early and high-profile Christadelphians to try and demonstrate that they never accepted evolutionary creation.  This should not surprise anyone as no one has ever claimed they did.  Bro Byrne’s document does acknowledge and support some of the points that EC brethren and sisters have been making.  For instance he notes:

  • There is no basis in the Hebrew to suggest a time gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2” He includes the gap theory favoured by Old Earth Creationists (OEC) as speculation without biblical support.  We agree and have gone into detail on the same.
  • Various non-literal positions – he calls them “speculation” – have been tolerated on Genesis 1. This stands in plain contrast to demands in South Australia for everyone to interpret Genesis 1 as “literal in all its details”.  Whether such demands will be walked back in light of the evidence Bro Byrnes has tabulated (which has previously been produced by COD in any case) is doubtful.  Of course Bro Byrnes labels the common position in SA (of OEC) as speculation…

However there are some major weaknesses in “By One Man”.  The work takes the view that Adam was definitively NOT made mortal but became so as a consequence of sin and no alternative is permissible or found historically.  Hence the work proclaims that all and sundry of those with non-literal views of Genesis 1-3 absolutely believed in:

A real Adam who was created neither mortal (subject to death) nor immortal, but with a natural body that was “very good” in kind and condition, and not an Adam who was mortal before he sinned

Here the critical flaws of the work emerge, being

  1. The range of views presented are not exhaustive but selective – contrary witnesses are absent. This is a crucial problem.  By One Man is proclaiming a unified historical position which is false
  2. Some individuals quoted are done so carefully, glossing over areas of disagreement or even contradiction with Bro Byrnes’ position
  3. The approach fundamentally is one long appeal to human tradition/authority

Following is an imitation of the “By One Man” summary table.  The blue cells (and orange) are as presented in the work.  The green cells have been added as representing major omissions and unpacking of the instances of two questions being combined into one in his table.

by one man

These omissions are serious.  No-one would imagine from By One Man that WF Barling publicly stated EC should not be a fellowship issue.  No-one would imagine that LG Sargent and H Whittaker explicitly stated Adam was made mortal.  Other contrary evidence like David Levin’s and Alan Fowler’s views are absent.  So too the case of John Weaving who wrote about evolution in The Endeavour Magazine.  When his ecclesia was challenged they put a notice in The Christadelphian Magazine which asserted some basic truths but the lack of the fundamentals Bro Colin and others demand are obviously absent.  Bro Byrnes is quick to point to the example of the Watford ecclesia’s handling of Ralph Lovelock but ignores a later example which doesn’t suit his desired narrative.  These omissions enable “By One Man” to present a unified view which is mere fantasy.

In fairness to Bro Byrnes at least in respect of the views of Bre Thomas and Roberts he writes

“While some of the earlier writings of Bro. Thomas and Bro. Roberts may appear to be ambiguous on this subject it is clear from their subsequent writings that they firmly believed that mortality followed the fall. After all Bro. Roberts wrote the bulk of the statement of faith”

However this is gilding the lily.  The uncomfortable truth is that Robert Roberts changed his opinion not once but twice on the nature of Adam as created.  While he didn’t acknowledge the bald facts of his modification, it is evident from his extensive statements made in 1869 and finally before his death as per below:

there is a misapprehension lurking under the proposition which we are combating. Our friend imagines there was a change in the nature of Adam when he became disobedient. There is no evidence of this whatever, and the presumption and evidence are entirely the contrary way. There was a change in Adam’s relation to his maker, but not in the nature of his organization. What are the facts? He was formed from the dust a “living soul,” or natural body. His mental constitution gave him moral relation to God. He was given a law to observe: the law he disobeyed, and sentence was passed that he (the disobedient living soul) should return to mother earth. What was the difference between his position before disobedience and his position after? Simply this; that in the one case he was a living soul or natural body in probation for immortality; and in the other, he was a living soul or natural body under sentence of death. He was a living soul or natural body in both cases. The phrase “sin in the flesh” is metonymical. It is not expressive of a literal element or principle pervading the physical organization. Literally, sin is disobedience, or the act of rebellion. The impulses that lead to this, reside in the flesh, and therefore come to be called by the name of the act to which they give birth. In determining first principles, we must be accurate in our conceptions. The impulses that lead to sin existed in Adam before disobedience, as much as they did afterwards; else disobedience would not have occurred. These impulses are in their own place legitimate enough. We can judge of this matter by experience, because the human nature under discussion is the human nature we have upon ourselves and see in operation around us. There is no such thing as essential evil or sin. Evil and sin are relative terms. There is no propensity but subserves a good purpose in its own place. Sin is forbidden use; evil, interference with desired conditions as a punishment of sin, sometimes flowing out of sin itself. The difficulty is to keep the impulses in the legitimate channel. This difficulty is insuperable so far as perfect righteousness is concerned. A child comes into the world with impulses, but no knowledge or experience to guide the action of them. The result is that “folly is bound up in the heart of a child,” which the judicious administration of the rod will help to take out of him—(Prov. 22:15). For the same reason, “there liveth not a man that (at some time of his life or other) sinneth not.” The reason is to some extent applicable to Adam. He was in a state of innocency, or non-experience. Obedience seemed the natural thing till there was temptation. When good results were presented to the mind as the effect of disobedience, his want of experience left his mind a prey to the impulses excited by the prospect[1]

This is extremely plain and contrary to the impression given in Bro Byrne’s summary.  Lest this be construed as a one off, correspondents challenged Bro Robert’s position, so he further repeated and explained it in a following magazine article again in 1869:

My explanation is, first, as to ‘ran in the blood,’ ‘made sin,’ &c. Adam, before transgression, though a living soul (or natural body—1 Cor. 15:44–5), was not necessarily destined to die, as obedience would have ended in life immortal. After transgression, his relation to destiny was changed. Death (by sentence,) was constituted the inevitable upshot of his career. He was, therefore, in a new condition as regarded the future, though not in a new condition as regarded the actual state of his nature. In actual nature, he was a corruptible groundling before sentence, and a corruptible groundling after sentence; but there was this difference: before sentence, ultimate immortality was possible; after sentence, death was a certainty. This change in the destiny lying before him, was the result of sin. That is, his disobedience evoked from God a decree of ultimate dissolution. This was the sentence of death, which, though effecting no change as regarded his constitution at the moment it was pronounced, determined a great physical fact concerning his future experience, viz., that immortality, by change to spirit nature, was impossible, and decay and decease inevitable. The sentence of death, therefore, appertained to his physical nature, and was necessarily transmitted in his blood, to every being resulting from the propagation of his own species. This explains the first class of terms which seem to you to affirm sin to be a physical principle. The second class of expressions are, therefore, in harmony with the ideas embodied in the first; e.g., ‘there was a change in Adam’s relation to his maker (that is, in the purpose of God concerning the future of Adam’s experience: immortality being made impossible, and death inevitable); but not in the nature of his organization.’ Again, ‘it (sin in the flesh,) is not expressive of a literal element or principle pervading the physical organization,’ but of the impulses which lead to sin, and sin (in the results it evokes from the mind of God,) re-acts upon the flesh in bringing upon it a condition in which it is mortal, and physically impure.”[2]

Ie Brother Roberts was adamant that Adam was mortal before the fall (although the outcome was uncertain) and the nature he possessed with our desires was changed by experience but was in essence already in place.  In 1877 when setting out a position aligned with Br Byrnes, Bro Roberts stated that his mind hadn’t changed on the subject but details facts had been clarified.  This is an overly generous glossing of history given his extensive and explicit statements above.  What he wrote in 1869 (with scriptural support – 1 Cor 15) contradicts his later 1877 position (which includes no direct scriptural support).

At the end of this life, Bro Roberts softened his position again to be closer (though different) to his 1869 view saying of Adam:

Would he have died if left alone, unchanged, in that state if he had not sinned? Who can tell? The testimony is that death came by sin: but the fact also is that, not being a spiritual body, he was presumably not immortal. Are we going to insist upon an opinion on a point like this, which no man can be certain about? We shall act unwarrantably if we do so. It is sufficient if a man believe that Adam after creation was a very good form of flesh and blood, untainted by curse. The uncertain points must be left to private judgment[3]

Ie the individual who was the driving force behind the BASF (in it’s many versions) did not think the nature of Adam prior to sin was a big deal.  This stands in stark contrast with those like Bro Byrnes who think the BASF requires people think Adam was neither mortal nor immortal – (something bro LG Sargent called “absurd[4] which you would hardly imagine from Bro Byrne’s work when he quotes from LG as though LG agrees with “By One Man”‘s claims!).

Of course all of this tabulation of history is merely a restatement of human understanding.  Human tradition if you will.  As CC Walker stated about the science of his day:

The professors tell us for instance that some of these ancient birds…were like gigantic ostriches. Supposing that it were ever established that they were the actual progenitors of our smaller forms…would the credibility of the Mosaic narrative suffer? Not at all, in our estimation. We should indeed have to revise somewhat our interpretation of the brief cosmogony of Gen. 1.; but should not waver as concerning its divinity[5]

A community which was once prepared to deal with the facts is being challenged to live up to this history.  Portraying a partial view of our positions as the whole truth is not a valuable contribution to addressing the challenge before us of reconciling our understanding of God’s word with our understanding of His works.

______________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Brother Roberts. (1869) ‘The relation of Jesus to the Law of Sin and Death’, The Christadelphian Volume 6 page 85

[2] Brother Roberts. (1869) “Notes on the Mystery of Godliness” Volume 6 page 242-243.

[3] Roberts, Robert, (1898) “Uncertain Details” The Christadelphian, volume 35 page 183

[4] Sargent (1941) “Adam in Innocence” The Christadelphian Volume 78, page 12-14

[5] Walker (1910) “Genesis” The Christadelphian, Volume 47 (electronic ed.), page 501..

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “By One Man – a misleading incomplete picture of Christadelphian positions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s