The pathway to unity – Enfield Bible class 12 February 2020

Having considered the relevance of Robert Robert’s article “General Principles and Uncertain Details”, and largely used it to set up an attack on evolutionary creationists, the second and final Bible class at Enfield in the series was called “The pathway to unity”. It was a thinly veiled swing at evolutionary creationists and a call for accommodation of them to be abandoned.

The general thrust of the evening was around the creation and value of the Australian Unity Agreement. This was the position reached by Australian Christadelphians which brought the vast majority of the community together with the assistance of bre Cooper and Carter from England. Let’s be clear – unity is great and the reunion effort and basis is clearly valuable. As the speaker noted with regards to the BASF in his first class, human creeds:

have the limitations of human expression

and to this we could add the observation of bro Carter with regard to the BASF that:

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[1]

All would concur that it is dangerous to elevate human compositions to the level of inspired Scripture. Yet behaviour speaks louder than words. Word for word exegesis of human documents and strict demands are made based in legalist convenience and human tradition. Such has been publicly resisted in the past[2] but is a growing trend – and is in evidence in this class. Bro Carter himself noted that the Foundation Clause of the BASF requires a very generous non literal reading to avoid excising Luke, Acts, Jude and James from the Canon[3] (and that’s just for starters).

Consider the alignment of the BASF and CCA. It is a maxim in Australian Christadelphia that the Cooper Carter Addendum – the few paragraphs which formed the basis of the unity agreement – explain clause 5 & 12 of the BASF. They do not add or alter the BASF, just explain it, is the insistent line. The Addendum was necessary because the use of the word “defiled” in clause 5 of the BAS was “misunderstood” (1:40). The speaker emphasis the received dogma:

the Unity Agreement clarifies rather than changes the BASF (3:40]

This is repeated later when we are told:

note that it’s a defiled conscience which was the intention of that particular clause [ie clause 5 of the BASF] (26:42)

This oft repeated claim cannot be maintained on the evidence of a plain reading. Consider Clause 5 of the BASF:

…Adam broke this law, and was adjudged unworthy of immortality, and sentenced to return to the ground from whence he was taken—a sentence which defiled and became a physical law of his being, and was transmitted to all his posterity[4]

The clear reading is that the sentence to return to the dust is the sentence which defiled and became a physical law of Adam’s body/being. The Cooper Carter Addendum says:

because of disobedience to God’s Law, he was sentenced to return to the dust. He fell from his very good estate, and suffered the consequences of sin-— shame, a defiled conscience and mortality. As his descendants, we partake of that mortality that came by sin, and inherit a nature, prone to sin. By our own actions we become sinners and stand in need of forgiveness of sins before we can be acceptable before God[5]

In the BASF the judicial sentence pronounced by God defiles Adam. In the CCA the defilement is defined as Adam’s soiled conscience – his sin defiles him, not God’s sentence. We believe the CCA is correct in it’s use of the term defiled. While Scripture doesn’t provide much data, a defiled conscience is consistent with the symptoms of fear and hiding which Adam & Eve displayed in Genesis 3.

The claim that the CCA only clarifies a misunderstanding of the word defiled is a generous interpretation of how the language works. It is only maintainable if a very high-level approach is taken to creedal wording – something creation literalists rail against, except when it suits them. Rather than clarifying the wording, the CCA takes quite a different tack. Sin leads to a defiled conscience rather than the older document discussing a judicial sentence leading to a defiled body.

The speaker spends a significant amount of time condemning John Bell – a previous editor of The Shield Magazine, an Australian based publication (until recent time). John Bell (died 1927) had an ongoing dispute with CC Walker (the editor of The Christadelphian Magazine). The speaker informs us that the core of John Bell’s heresy is that he believed Adam was mortal pre fall.

We cannot speak for John Bell – we are not very familiar with his writings and he is unavailable for interviews.  We did locate a series of articles called “The Atonement” in The Shield Magazine.  Here’s an extract from one in July 1919 which the speaker would no doubt take exception to:

Others, in the early days not known to me, have found themselves stressed for definitions, which would fit theories which they have constructed, and so we find them devising a neutral kind of creature whom they say God made.  The man was neither mortal nor immortal.  They are strong and definite in this negation.  But ask for positive statement in terms known to experience, and they can and will find no answer.

Of man today they will speak readily enough as mortal; but then man, they say, is not mortal as Adam was made.  Something diabolical has got into him, how they will not say, lest they should commit themselves.  At one time they did say God implanted this extra factor, but they have now gone back on that, and are content to claim the alleged fact without assigning any cause.

From this false start they are in trouble all the way along.  Not only has man to make atonement morally, but he has also to atone for this extra alleged element in himself, which he did not put there, which he does not want, and which they cannot tell me how to get rid of.  Of only one thing are they sure, and that is that man is responsible for the existence of this devil in the flesh, and must atone for it, as well as for moral transgression.  It would be hard to beat this superstition in all the follies of the churches, which they so much deride.  In fact, its only near relative is to be found in the theory of original sins, as propounded by the Mother of Harlots.  Yet they are content to sit unashamed in this discreditable company.

Bell appears to be combatting what is commonly called the atonement for nature error.  He thinks Adam was mortal no doubt – but then the speaker in his first talk also plainly said mortal and immortal are the only two states of human existence (and then obfuscated what that meant…).  The speaker tells his audience plainly that Bell was deemed a heretic by the Central fellowship in the UK because Bell through Adam was mortal.  This is either a nonsense or a historical aberration since many English brethren – including editors of the Christadelphian Magazine – have said Adam was mortal subsequently.  In his words Bell describes rationale of for his rejection as being about atonement for nature as said below:

we are told that God is ashamed of the creature He made, which has become obnoxious to Him, that He cannot suffer it save under the shrouding incense of sacrifice.  In fact, one has to atone for being born at all, a transaction in which he had no volition.  Such is the funny theory that has been patented in Christadelphia.

So urgent is the demand to accept this curio of controversy, that it is sine qua non in the select circles of the fold, from which the writer has been expelled because he cannot find such nonsense in the Bible, and will not stand it from anyone else.

Not even the Lord Jesus has been allowed by them to escape from this degrading stain, so that He too, they say, had to offer sacrifice to God to propitiate Him for the birth of Himself

In Sept 1919 as part of the series Bell also wrote:

we have shown that at-one-ness is not Biblically applicable to physical considerations, for diversity of constitution, between the groundling and his Maker, is made apparent in the story of Eden, without in any way reflecting upon or disparaging the “very good” creature, which was at-one, in its early novitiate, with its Creator, although formed out of dust.

In this there is a perfect parallel between the two Adams.  Jesus, too, was a being of identical constitution to His progenitor Adam, and yet no one dare assert of Him that He was ever at any time anything but “at-one” with His God.  How absurd then and illogical to introduce any sin-in-the-flesh sectarian ideas of a constituent of His fleshly body, which they say divorced Him from His Father till He legally atoned for it.

This alleged difference in physical condition between the Saviour Adam and the Edenic Adam has no authority for its assertion from the Bible.  Not a word can be found in its pages of any physical change in man from his first creation.  His conditions were changed, but he himself remained as originally set in being.

Many and many a request and demand have we made of the Bible authority for the asserted alteration in Adam, but not once has any notice been taken by those who brazenly assert what they cannot prove, trusting in the docility of their followers to accept their dictum, whilst they decry all who dare question them.  

Clearly Bell is again arguing in the main against the error of atonement for nature, and as part of this makes comment on Adam which the speaker (and others) find objectionable.  Quite reasonably Bell points to the Scriptural record and requests explicit Scripture evidence for the detail of what happened to Adam (this was one of the criteria for True Principles our speaker gave in his first address!).  Now we are not here to defend Bell.  We never knew the man.  However, might it be that his “heresy” is just part of the “tendency of men to drive each other into extravagant positions through the sheer friction of personal antagonisms” as Roberts put it in his “True Principles & Uncertain Details” article which formed the basis of night 1.

We can’t judge what bro Bell did or didn’t think precisely, but when his own words are reviewed his view on the cause of division is markedly different.  Furthermore the charge levelled by the speaker was no hanging offence at many points in the English community.  The speaker appears to be grossly oversimplifying to make a convenient point – and so on he goes with his contemporary target:

we also have a new error called Theistic Evolution or Evolution Creationists (as they prefer to be called). Their thesis is that, as a consequence of having an evolved mortal race, you have an evolved mortal race of humanoids, coexisting with the adamic creation of Genesis they must possess identical natures hence Adam was created mortal before transgression thus aligning the status of the two (43:31)

The speaker goes on to quote from one of these Evolutionary Creationists (he doesn’t mention the author – it was Daniel Edgecombe albeit the precise source is uncertain). The points quoted (around 44:15) are:

the fall did not introduce mortality or proness to sin as new situations such qualities were in existence in the evolved humans replicated in Adam and Eve.

 a natural reading of the text is Adam was mortal pre fall, a clear teaching is Adam was mortal pre fall there is no scriptural support for this being a new condition post fall, Adam had all our unfortunate nature from the beginning [this text is a little confused and we can’t find any exact match in material published by ECs but so be it]

The speaker thinks he has a slam dunk against Evolutionary Creationists based on Adam’s state and proceeds to try and exploit it at 44:54.

what saith the unity agreement and so we refer to the Addendum once again, and our addendum says he , that is Adam, fell from a very good state and suffered the consequences of sin – shame, a defiled conscience and mortality. So note that’s what our Addendum says mortality came as a result of sin. As his descendants we partake of that mortality that came by sin and inherit a nature prone to sin that’s the Addendum that’s what we believe that’s the truth brethren and sisters and that underlines the importance of that unity agreement

Nice avoidance of the issues and simple rush to judgement. Strangely the speaker himself the previous night said that there was no third state other than mortal and immortal – so nuance is allowable in his position but not allowed for those he opposes!

There is zero support brought to bear to show a change in Adam’s nature from the Bible (as Bell found – decrying of those who question but no answers!). Despite two 45 minutes classes there is careful radio silence on Scriptural support. Nothing is said to address the evidence of Gen 3 and 1 Cor 15 that Adam was like us (albeit in a very different and very nice circumstance with access to the tree of life). There is no dealing with non-Evolutionary brethren who held Adam was mortal. Nope we just roll out a simplistic reading of creeds. Suddenly the literal creationist wants to apply these creeds at a word for word literal level – something they avoid in the Foundation Clause and skirt around when claiming the CCA just “clarifies” clause 5 of the BASF.

What are the facts (apart from the Scriptural objections!!!!)?

Evolutionary Creationists let the Bible NOT human tradition define “very good”. So Adam was in a very good state. No argument – with the Biblical definitions. Remember that the BASF and CCA are a summary of scripture? Ie they shouldn’t be adding new meanings (Rev 22:18 have a bit to say about adding words to Scripture & bro Brian Luke in The Lampstand Vol 26#2 March 2020 on page 80 applies the same verses to creed makers also). After the fall Adam was ejected from the wonderful garden. Very good lost.

The consequences of sin? Yes shame. Yes defiled conscience. Yes mortality – Adam died. The CCA does not say Adam was miraculously changed from neither moral nor immortal to being mortal. Just like God in Genesis 3 says nothing at ALL about a change in Adam’s physical makeup. What changed was a man whose fate previously depended on obedience was denied access to the tree of life and died. Just what God said. He suffered the consequence (or wages if you like) of his sin – death.

The speaker is reflecting inherited traditions that date right back to Augustine with his imagining of change in nature from near angelic to our sin prone burdensome nature.

But what about the addition section – beyond the comments on Adam – that “As his descendants we partake of that mortality that came by sin”. Yes we invite anyone to find precise alignment between these words and a Scriptural passage. Much speculation and extrapolation but no clear Bible verses. How does an Evolutionary Creationist understand this then and give assent? The words should be understood in context of Scripture. What does the Bible say? Adam and Eve’s sin led to them being expelled from the garden and no-one has had access the tree of life since. Because of their sin all and any humans (regardless of their parents – including Adam and Eve’s direct descendants) have the world as it is. Humans are mortal. Humans have no access to the tree of life and wear heavily a nature prone to sin.  Thanks Adam, we now partake of the mortality than came by sin.

The speaker concludes with an appeal to protect the Unity Agreement, to stand for what it represents. Sure we agree. Unity was a difficult to achieve and valuable. However the narrow demands of the speaker and his simple condemnation of others doesn’t bode well for unity. If narrow creedal readings and human traditions are elevated over Scripture, if inconvenient facts are dismissed or ignored, if those of a contrary view are thinly represented and their positions dismissed without genuine engagement, unity is indeed under threat.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

[4] The Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith. (1997). (electronic ed.). Birmingham, UK: The Christadelphian.

[5] Unity in Australia: The Accepted Basis. (n.d.). (p. 14).

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