In 1987 articles in a liberal Christadelphian Magazine (The Endeavour), caused quite a stir and calls for dramatic action being circulated to many UK ecclesias. Overseas groups also contributed to the clamour. In response a large number of believers signed a joint letter published in the Christadelphian Magazine. The letter pointed out the BASF was a human document with human limitations, exploring Scripture and questioning isn’t wrong and that ecclesias – not groups or associations of ecclesias – should moderate their member’s activities. Useful counsel today, although our magazines now and Australian ecclesia groups (like the South Australian IEAC) would likely disagree. The letter is below:
“…In making this appeal, we want also to make three points.
Firstly, as to the B.A.S.F.: we no less than the circular-writers accept the Statement of Faith as summarising for us those Scriptural beliefs which have distinguished our Community for a century and a half. It has provided a valuable touchstone for fellowship worldwide. While therefore we accept that mature reflection on the terms and emphases of the Statement is legitimate, we deplore any irresponsible or provocative disregard of the Statement. Equally we deplore the way that, in some quarters, the Statement of Faith is being wielded (sometimes in an unbrotherly fashion) more as a weapon for exclusion and schism than as a basis for developing, in the meekness and gentleness of Christ, “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (2 Corinthians 10:1; Ephesians 4:3).
We all need to recognise that 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. Hitherto, some ecclesias have elected to use their own Statements which they deem to be the equivalent of the B.A.S.F. but which they prefer, for historical or other reasons, to the Birmingham Statement. And the rest of the Brotherhood has accepted this situation, honouring the decision of those ecclesias and not seeking to coerce them to adopt a standardised wording to represent our common basis. That attitude of trust is surely the right one and should continue to operate between brethren.
Our fundamental doctrines are of vital importance as a foundation for living the life of Christ in this world, and we do not condone any weakening of our presentation of them. But if they are so handled as to lead us to “bite and devour one another”, they have failed in their object (Galatians 5:15). It is in love and gentleness that the truth of God manifests itself, and if a man says that God is love, but does not love his brother, he really denies that truth (1 John 4:20).
Secondly, there is the question as to how we should react to different or unusual Bible interpretations that may be proposed for our consideration.
We are all agreed upon the simple elements of the Gospel such as are required to be accepted at every interview for baptism, and are the substance of our Sunday evening lectures in one form or another. Levels of comprehension of the deeper aspects of Bible teaching will, however, vary with the mental and spiritual apprehension and the development of each individual. Provided the basic truths remain our foundation, sincere but responsible exploration of Bible teaching should be encouraged, not suppressed. Christadelphians have always been distinguished by their habit of thinking for themselves on religious matters, and it would be a disaster if our freedom of thought and speech were to be crushed. But this freedom needs to be exercised sensibly and sensitively.
Inevitably, because we are human and fallible, matters are bound to arise where we differ significantly on interpretations of Scripture and on its application to our life in this complex world. Even in New Testament times this was so, as a study of such passages as Romans 14, Philippians 4:1–5, 1 Corinthians 8 etc. will show. It is important that we should neither sit in censorious judgement on our brethren and sisters, nor cause any of Christ’s little ones to stumble. Or we may find that, though our interpretation be right, our wrong treatment of others exposes us to judgement (Romans 14:4–11; Matthew 7:1–2).
Whatever is done, therefore, should be done in love so as to promote a spirit of compassion in our dealings with one another, and with all men. Only then can we hope to avoid bigotry and self-assurance (always a lurking danger in any religious community) and ensure a humble recognition of our own spiritual limitations and of the dependence of every one of us on the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thirdly, there is the question of responsibility for action when brethren in the judgement of others act out of line. We cannot stress enough that this is a matter for the ecclesia(s) to which the brethren belong, as you have more than once observed in the Magazine. That is the way Paul dealt with problems in the first century church and Jesus too in the letters to the seven ecclesias in Asia. If, instead, other ecclesias, or groups of ecclesias, or journals intervene, this is likely to do much more injury to the community and our hold on the common faith than the brethren being accused of infidelity. In saying this, we do not in any way justify or support unscriptural doctrines or practices, but we do urge caution lest the handling of such itself becomes a greater sin.
Brother John Thomas once said, “If all desire to do what is right, the right is surely within their grasp.“If we sincerely desire peace and unity, and are prepared to listen to others rather than to condemn them or dictate to them, the vision of a peaceable united Brotherhood should surely be within our grasp. The signatories of this letter invite all who are distressed by divisions within the Christadelphian body and schisms within our own fellowship to work for unity and to pray constantly to the Father for this to be realised.”
Letter to the Editor [signed by over 100 individuals] (1989). The Christadelphian, Vol 126 pages 310–311.
Note: We have previously commented on how to handle fellowship statements.