In 1965, in the middle of the evolution controversy with Ralph Lovelock, Bro Osborn had an article published in the Christadelphian Magazine called “Is Christ Divided”. Contrary to the actions of The Lampstand Magazine, ACBM and South Australian groups, Bro Osborn recommended ecclesias be left alone to deal with their own issues – in line with scriptural precedent. Inter ecclesial action promotes strife and destruction. Below are his words – neglected for the most part today.
When fire breaks out there is need for calm, careful action. Panic is disastrous. Fanning of the flames is foolish. Spreading the fire to other places would be criminal.
When controversy breaks out there is need for calm, careful thought, and all the facts of fire drill have their spiritual counterpart. Our history as a community sadly illustrates the dangers of spreading controversy, and the evil of provoking controversy.
The object of the present meditation is to suggest some sober reflections for the days ahead.
The example of Corinth
Today, there is no lightstand in Corinth. The gospel is no longer preached; and the love which abides has gone. Paul’s exhortation was not heeded for long. How earnestly he had pleaded, “that there should be no divisions among you, but that ye all be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”. His words will not have been in vain if we learn the lesson today.
Knowing that Corinth had once been destroyed by fire, Paul used this incident for another powerful exhortation. He warned that “Every man’s work shall be made manifest . . . the fire shall try every man’s work”. Let us remember, however, that it is “THE DAY” which “shall declare it”.
With all the zeal of Elijah the apostles James and John were eager for the Divine fire, and the Master rebuked them saying, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of”. Our spirit should be to put fires out.
“Brethren, behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire.” There are fires smouldering now in some Ecclesias, bursting forth in others, and being carried, unwisely, to peaceful Ecclesias.
Contending for the Truth
As a community we have a history of contentions. We, and our fathers, have contended for the Truth; and rightly set up a constitution in the form of a clearly defined set of doctrines. We need to contend, with equal vigour, for “the way”. He who is the Truth, and the Way, left on record some advice:
“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
Brethren, when there is controversy and division in our midst, how will men know that we are his disciples? We shall dishonour Christ’s name when we preach to those in darkness if we are not striving together in unity. Let us think of the “interested friends”, of our children, and of the young in faith. There are many who can be considered as “little ones”.
We all know cases where natural parents have a clash of opinions, and if they are wise, they will discipline themselves, and settle their differences without separation, for the sake of the children. The Master tells us “It is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him through whom they come”, and he warns against causing offences to “little ones”. Let us learn to discipline ourselves and to settle our differences peaceably—“for the sake of the little ones”.
Wrong teaching must be stopped, and the Arranging Brethren of each ecclesia have the obvious responsibility of exercising discipline. Let it, however, be done firmly, with patience, longsuffering and mercy. Let us never forget that whilst the “wisdom from above is first pure”, yet it is also “peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits . . . and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace”.
Let the ecclesia decide, by a majority vote, the correct time to withdraw from a persistently erring member. Let the minority submit in a spirit of humility to the timing, and judgment, chosen by the majority, “each esteeming other better than themselves”.
The messages to the ecclesias clearly show that each ecclesia is held solely responsible for its own affairs. Ecclesias are not responsible for their neighbouring ecclesia. One hundred and twenty years of Christadelphian history has shown the tragedy of spreading ecclesial problems from one to another, and the divisions of the past did not strengthen the Household. When the Son of man cometh, will he find a house divided against itself?
Self-examination is the urgent need today. Let us not be over anxious about defilement from others. The Lord has left on record concerning Sardis that there were only “a few” there who “had not defiled their garments”, but he added that “these are worthy”. When meetings in the same city are split in division, then those who separate themselves should seriously consider whether they are “discerning the Lord’s Body”. We need to discern the Lord’s Body and to keep it intact.
Who is on the LORD’S side?
“We being many are one bread, and one body.” Let us strive to put an “ing” on the controversial word “endeavour”. As Paul exhorted, we need to forbear one another in love endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace . . . There is one body, one hope, one Lord, one faith and one baptism. Let us be on the Lord’s side to fight for unity, to put out fires of controversy, to rebuke those who would spread the fires afield. Together let us all pray that Christ may not be divided today, as in Corinth of old
Osborn, Howard (1965) “Is Christ Divided” The Christadelphian, 102 (electronic ed.), 213–214.