An alternative history of Australian views on Adam

As has well been pointed out an Adam based faith is focused on the wrong man.  Jesus is the basis of salvation, Adam brings death, division and failure.  Below is a letter from the precursor of the AACE from 1987.  The letter was controversial at the time. It demonstrates a range of opinions existed on Adam’s nature in Australia (and the pioneers!).  It’s language at times seems unsoundly optimistic about our relationship with sin.  However it provides important context on the Australian Unity Agreement which brought two opinions into fellowship.  It also makes important observations about what the Unity Agreement did not address
FEBRUARY, 1987

THE HISTORICAL RELATIONSHIP OF UK AND AUSTRALIAN
ECCLESIAS FROM THE AUSTRALIAN PERSPECTIVE
with reference to the present position of Petrie Terrace & Beverly Hills

The 1885 UK division split Christadelphia into two major groups – Central Fellowship (CF) and Suffolk Street Fellowship (SSF). It was called the Inspiration Division but those who dissented from Bro. Roberts’ position did so mainly because of his “signed entry card ticket” method of identifying his supporters without a full debate of the issues involved (see The History of the Christadelphians, 1864-1885:The Emergence of a Denomination” by bro. Andrew R.Wilson, pages 213 to 217).

This UK division did not seem to have great relevance in Australia in the late 1800’s. The acceptance of the CF in Australian ecclesias in general is demonstrated by the very successful tour of Australian ecclesias by Bro. Robert Roberts. This contrasts sharply with the official alignment of most Australian ecclesias with the SSF in 1928 and alerts us to the fact that a big change in Australian relationships away from CF occurred in the 30 years to 1928.

Although the immediate cause of the 1885 break was not a doctrinal one, the issue between most Australian ecclesias and the CF was about the nature of man, the effects of sin thereupon, and the relationship of Christ to both.

It is important to note that the SSF and the Australian ecclesias who differed with the CF on these doctrinal questions were still prepared to fellowship Central brethren because the differences were not regarded as fundamental to fellowship. Fellowship was disrupted because the non-Central brethren had refused to sign the entry cards, being of the opinion that this method of dealing with error was inappropriate. The organisational results of the circumstances of 1885 – CF refusing to fellowship, SSF and Shield prepared to fellowship despite differences – continued until unity in the UK (1957) and in Australia(1958).

 

THE MAGAZINES

The development of the doctrinal differences between most Australian ecclesias and the UK CF was pursued at several levels but may be conveniently traced through magazine articles. (The term “most ecclesias” is employed because around 90% generally endorsed the views put forward in the “Shield” magazine – hereafter called Australian ecclesias unless otherwise noted; a small fraction of Australian ecclesias, Concord, for example, maintained fellowship links with UK CF).

As a younger man, Bro. John Bell (Sydney) seemed to get on well with Bro. Robert Roberts, and by request, chaired many of Roberts’ meetings here. In 1898, two things happened – “The Shield” began publishing with John Bell as editor (who had had the encouragement of R.R.); and in September Bro. Roberts died whereupon Bro. C.C. Walker assumed editorship of “The Christadelphian”.

 

THE DOCTRINAL DIFFERENCES

In response to the need for more formal organisation, many Australian ecclesias began the process of adopting the Birmingham Statement of Faith as their basis of fellowship, some substituting the word “degraded” in Clause 5 for the original “defiled”. This seems to have been the trigger point which led to increasingly vehement expressions of divergent viewpoints with CF and the refusal of CF to fellowship “Shield” brethren.

A summary of the reasoning behind the substitution of the word by the Australian brethren is as follows –

Jesus was made in all points like unto his brethren (Heb.2:17). He not only was made of the same mortal nature but partook of the same sort of flesh. The B.S.F. described this flesh as “defiled” by the processes arising out of Adam’s fall but the Bible says of Jesus, who partook of this same flesh, that he was “holy, harmless, undefiled” (Heb.7:26). In normal human beings the Bible describes the process by which sin “defiles” but another word needs to be found to describe, not the actual defilement which Jesus did not experience, but the flesh’s propensity (proneness, tendency) to sin which Jesus did experience. The word chosen by some Australian ecclesias in 1903 to express this further principle operating in the flesh was “degraded”.

The greater proportion of Australian ecclesias supported the reasoning behind the word change (although the change of wording was eventually dropped). “The Shield” was blamed as the chief influence for disagreement on the original wording and from 1904 may be dated the public debate between UK and Australia on the issue.

It is important to note that this characteristic Australian position on the effects of sin upon human nature and the relation of Jesus to such effects has been strongly maintained until the present day within the Unity Agreement. This historic and persistent Australian ecclesia view, with a number of related subjects such as no physical change after the sentence in Eden, the possibility of all men being sinless as was Jesus (but never attaining it), was a consistent feature of articles in “The Shield”.

Just one of dozens of examples of “Shield” statements is as follows –

“We believe that Jesus came in the flesh and that his flesh was the same as our flesh. We believe that Jesus had experience of “grooming”, and desired that his, mortality might be swallowed up of life. If it be that in that sense Jesus is called “defiled”, then to that extent he was not “undefiled in every sense”. But, to our mind, to use “defiled” in that sense is “nonsense”. Still, as we have always said, if any choose to misuse language, in order to bolster up a fad, we have no objection when we know their meaning. On them we leave the onus and worry of explaining laboriously and circuitously their uns”criptural language. But for ourselves, we claim the right to speak of our Lord in the language of inspiration. For this we can advance clear verbal supporting proof. So we say that Jesus came in the flesh, and that His flesh was identical with ours, but that He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” (“Shield” November 1911, p.216)

Further “Shield” quotes on a variety of related subjects, by a variety of authors –

1908 pages 29, 72, 3,184-5, 236
1909 page 183
1911 pages 132, 135, 196, 231
1912 pages 322, 343, 413, 421, 443-6, 469-71

1913 pages, 67-9, 101, 105-7, 121, 161, 184

The differences between Australia and UK seem to intensify from the 1910’s to the mid-20’s. In 1924-5, newly every monthly issue of “The Shield” contained articles about the dispute.

1924 pages 17, 30, 43, 69, 85, 90, 104-6, 121-4, 169-72, 191-2, 201-4, 230
1925 pages 1-4, 10, 63-4, 92-4, 134, 141-3, 148-50,161-4, 174 -5, 181 –
2, 201-4, 215-6, 221-2

From these sources it is clear that a consistent, well-argued, Scriptural position had been developed which differed from the CF dogma. Shield brethren maintained

1) no physical change arising out of the fall in Eden
2) mortal flesh is “not given to sin”
3) evil in human beings is not inevitable nor is it impossible for “sinful flesh” to keep the law
4) defilement is of character and not physical

Further it is clear that the editor John Bell was supported in these points of view by, a variety of authors including Bre.A.J. Webb, R.Irving, J.B.Watson, A.E.Harvey.

“The Shield” noted that the B.S.F. had been amended several times by the Birmingham ecclesia including the replacement of a phrase describing God as having “implanted” a principle in human nature, by a less offending one, demonstrating that the biasing of human nature by such a description was too much for some, even in the UK. In Bro. Bell’s view the B.A.S.F, was still faulty and Christadelphian beliefs should only be expressed in Biblical words and phrases. (In 1938, some 8 years after his death, a Sydney conference adopted an amended Clause 5 which omitted the word “defiled”.) While the “Shield” brethren recognised a difference in beliefs with CF, they maintained that these differences were not a bar to fellowship.

In the UK, there appeared to be some difficulty in the principle of the administration of fellowship. Bro.C.C.Walker, editor of “The Christadelphian”, told Bro.C.P.Wauchope in the UK in 1925 that he (Bro. Walker) did not think that Bro. Bell held error (“Shield” 1925 p.216; 1926 p.53; 1928 p.89), yet fellowship was never extended to bro. C.P.Wauchope by CF while he was in the UK.

 

ATTEMPTED REUNION

An initiative for reunion emerged from the Adelaide ecclesia in late 1924. Bro. and Sis.C.P.Wauchope (Bro.Chas. was to become editor of “The Shield” in 1928) left for the UK January, 1925 and returned 12 months later. His mission was to attempt reunion between the two major divisions in UK and merge the Australian ecclesias with that union. Although the Wauchopes were cordially received in nearly every quarter, CF would not extend fellowship to them. Bro. Wauchope reported that

“having satisfied ourselves that the Fraternal Visitor brethren (SSF) did not hold the belief of partial inspiration attributed to them, and recognising in them a Christ-like desire to help in our work, we put our belief of them into practice, and had no hesitation in meeting with them at the Lord’s Table” (“Shield” 1925 p. 215).

The aim of unity was not achieved and, by these circumstances the Australian ecclesias, who had not formally cast in their lot with either faction in the UK, became joined in fellowship with SSF.

The failing health of Bro. Bell forced a change in the editorship of “The Shield” and in 1928 Bro. C.P.Wauchope was appointed to the post. His primary aim was to find a way to reunion and the magazine reflected this changed emphasis. Bro. Wauchope would not publish articles of a controversial nature and, as a result, the differences were pursued in the main by tract and booklet.

The unaltered position of the Australian brethren can be demonstrated by a number of booklets written over a period from 1938 to 1945 by Bre.A.E.Harvey and J.B.Watson on subjects such as the atonement, mortality of man and the nature of Christ.

Bro. Harvey published a booklet “Dr. Thomas and the Mortality of Man” in which he showed that Bro. Thomas’ earlier writings had supported the “Shield’ position on this subject. Bro. Roberts’ earlier writings had done so too, but Bro. Harvey claimed that, later, Bro. Roberts changed his mind. One of Bro. Harvey’s examples is Bro. Thomas’ statement about human nature after the fall (p.12 quoting “Eureka” p.248, 1889 edition) that

“there was no need of a miracle for the infliction of death”

while Bro. Roberts in “The Visible Hand of God” (p.32 Logos edition) says

“it required what men call a miracle, to depress to the level of the beasts that perish, that noble creature” called man.

Earlier Bro. Bell had discovered that in reprinting some of Bro. Thomas’ works some of the text had been altered. The first amended reprints had not been marked with footnotes where amended. The alterations had disguised the differences with Bro. Roberts’ later opinions and suppressed the parallels between Bro. Thomas and the Australian position. The combination of these circumstances with the writings of Bro. Harvey reflected adversely on the UK position. With the passing of Bro. Walker as “The Christadelphian” editor, a further opportunity for unity emerged.

 

UNITY

Unity between UK and Australia was finally achieved in 1958 as a sequel to unity between SSF and CF in the UK in 1957. Bro. J. Carter had become editor of “The Christadelphian” and Bro. C. Cooper was prominent in the representation of SSF. Having achieved the UK result, they turned their attention to Australia.

Both brethren visited Australia separately to come to grips with the reasons behind the Australian objections to some of the expressions of the BASF. The solution proposed was not the alteration of the wording of the BASF but an addendum by which the disputed passages might be understood taking into account the Australian point of view. There was no requirement to believe that a physical change took place in Eden resulting from the first sin. The Carter/Cooper Addendum statement that human nature is “prone to sin” did not exclude the belief that flesh was not inevitably “given to sin”.

Disputed phrases such as “a sentence which defiles” and “condemned nature” were to be understood in harmony with the Cooper/Carter Addendum. There were to be no implications read into, or restrictions of belief applied beyond, that stated. On this basis, the “Shield” ecclesias accepted the Unity Agreement and fellowship was re-established with CF in the UK.

In Australia, a small group of ecclesias that had been in fellowship with CF in UK had opposed the “Shield” ecclesias with extremes of the later Robertsian views. Some of these brethren would not accept the Unity Agreement. In fact, Bro. Carter found that in Australia the “Shield” ecclesias were more Central than those who had been calling themselves Central.

The special significance of the Cooper/Carter Addendum becomes apparent when it is placed alongside the historical doctrinal arguments of Australian Christadelphians since 1903, especially when the relevance of the present fellowship difficulties of Petrie Terrace and Beverly Hills is noted. No renunciation of the propositions of John Bell, J.B.Watson, A.J.Webb or A.E.Harvey were called for, required or given. Many of the assertions about fellowship and salvation levelled by those who opposed the “Shield” brethren were set aside. What seemed to be opposing points of view affecting fellowship between UK and Australia were replaced as far as fellowship was concerned with a memorandum of understanding to which all parties agreed. The acceptance of this, understanding replaced the previous criteria for fellowship.

The relevance of this historical data to the present problems of fellowship of the Petrie Terrace and Beverly Hills ecclesias will be apparent.

The purpose of this document is to examine what has been said in the past concerning the perceived requirements for fellowship as they have unfolded in the past 80 years. It is the view of the A.C.C, from its awareness of the doctrinal positions of the Petrie Terrace and Beverly Hills ecclesias that their fellowship positions conform with the Unity Agreement. However, the A.C.C. does not necessarily endorse any views outside those affecting fellowship of any ecclesias or of any Christadelphian magazines.

 

AUSTRALIAN CHRISTADELPHIAN COMMITTEE EXECUTIVE

Reproduced from an original copy with the assistance of OCR software

 

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