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Concerning Cults

August 2002 | by Eryl Davies

Christadelphians

I

t is a small, active, but relatively unknown group. The membership is falling and now stands under 17,000 in the UK. There are only about 300 ‘ecclesias’ in Britain, with a further 100 or so smaller fellowships.

I am referring to Christadelphians. You may not have heard about them. One reason for this is that they tend to be overshadowed by Jehovah’s Witnesses who are much more aggressive in their outreach and recruitment.

Bible emphasis

Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians place a strong emphasis on the Bible. In the past, members claimed to read the Bible daily although, apart from their lay teachers, most members now read the Bible only three or four times a week. And they are knowledgeable on many Bible subjects.

Despite their regular study, they reject many major Bible doctrines such as the Holy Trinity and the deity and sinlessness of Christ.

They also reject Christ’s substitutionary, penal sacrifice on the cross, his physical resurrection, and salvation by grace through faith alone.

Concerning justification, their view is that faith, baptism and works are all part of our response, with each aspect being necessary and contributory to salvation.

Christadelphians have always denied that the Holy Spirit is the third person in the Holy Trinity but their explanations are varied and conflicting. Some have even interpreted references to the Holy Spirit in terms of an angel.

Divisions

In fact, divisions have taken place within this movement. For example, there is the ‘Berean Fellowship’, which is small and located mainly in America. Another group, with about 1,000 members worldwide, is named the ‘Dawn Fellowship’.

There are other small and medium-sized groups such as ‘Old Paths’, ‘Advocate’ and ‘Servants of Christ’. The main group worldwide is called the ‘Central Fellowship’ with approximately 40,000 members.

These divisions within Christadel-phianism have arisen because of theological differences over subjects like the inspiration of the Bible, the atonement, eschatology, church discipline, and practical matters relating to daily life in the world.

The social, corporate life of members tends to approximate to that of the strict and separatist stance of the more Exclusive Brethren groups.

Unorthodox

Although originating in America during the mid-nineteenth century, this cult was founded by an Englishman, John Thomas (1805-1871), whose father was a Congregational Church minister in London.

After qualifying as a medical doctor at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, he obtained his MRCS before sailing to America, intending to develop his medical career.

Surviving a shipwreck en route to America, he felt he should devote himself to God’s service. While practising medicine for some years in America, Thomas engaged himself in an intense study of the Bible.

He was soon fascinated by the last book in the Bible, Revelation, as well as some of the more difficult parts of the major and minor prophets in the Old Testament.

His views became increasingly unorthodox and intolerant; for example, he insisted that salvation was conditional on the acceptance of his own interpretation of the Bible.

Milestone

1848 was a significant milestone in Thomas’s life. That year, in addition to receiving the American medical degree of MD, he visited England in order to propagate his views.

He travelled and preached extensively throughout England for a two-year period. In 1862, when he returned to England, he discovered numerous small groups called Thomasites meeting in various towns and cities.

Initially, these groups met in their own homes for the breaking of bread. Soon the Birmingham group emerged as the most influential, providing guidance and speakers for the network of groups.

On this second visit to England Thomas wrote a large commentary on the book of Revelation, entitled Eureka, in which he claimed to have solved all the problems of interpretation!

Expansion

The growth of the movement was slow. In 1865 they only had about 1,000 adherents worldwide and most of these were from Britain.

It was an early recruit of Thomas’s, Robert Roberts, who led the British branch of the movement and he published a magazine entitled The Ambassador of the Coming Age. On his last visit to England in 1871, Thomas renamed the magazine The Christadelphian (from the Greek for ‘Christian brothers’).

Roberts assumed leadership of the cult when Thomas died.

One of the cult’s main textbooks, Christendom Astray, was written by Roberts with the purpose of criticising orthodox Christian doctrines and vindicating Christadelphian views.

Today, Christadelphianism remains one of the smaller cults and continues to receive more support from Britain than from any other country. This cult does not believe in ordained ministers, and the administration of the local ecclesia is the responsibility of all male members.

Deceiving themselves

As with all cults (as well as churches), what is at issue is nothing less than the revealed gospel of Christ. No question is more important. Can sinners be saved? If so, how?

The answer to that crucial question needs to be an accurate one, because wrong answers – and there are many of them at present – deceive people, leave them unsaved and in danger of hell itself.

Sadly, despite their emphasis on the Bible, Christadelphians distort the real gospel of Christ and deceive themselves as well as others in the process. Am I exaggerating? Not at all.

How do I substantiate my claim that they are distorting the gospel? I am able to quote directly from their website and a document there called ‘Our Faiths and Beliefs’.

Heretical

Despite saying that they ‘believe that salvation is attained through faith in Christ’ (para. 6), almost immediately, they tell us that faith is tied in with water baptism and that without the latter there can be no salvation.

The next paragraph is just as alarming. ‘Doctrinally’, they inform us, ‘the Christadelphians are unique in Christendom in our understanding of the nature of Christ and the way in which we are redeemed by his death’.

In fact, they are not ‘unique’ in this respect. But they are certainly heretical in teaching that the Lord Jesus was only a man who needed salvation himself because he had a sinful nature.

This teaching contradicts what the Lord says, for example, in John 1:1,14; 8:58 (cf. Exodus 3:14); and Colossians 2:9. Jesus was the exact representation of the nature of God (Hebrews 1:3) and was without sin (1 Peter 2:22).

The next question to ask Christadelphians concerns the death of Jesus Christ. How are we redeemed?

Once again their answer is distressing. ‘We reject … that Christ could die as a replacement sacrifice for us, thus covering all our sins for ever with that one act. Certainly it is through his sacrifice that we may be forgiven, but only if we walk the path of self-denial that he marked out for us’ (italics mine; para. 7, Our Faith and Beliefs).

Christ our Substitute

In order to underline the gospel of Christ as revealed in the Bible, I want to reply in three ways.

First of all, the Bible clearly teaches that the Lord Jesus died as a substitute for our sins on the cross. ‘He Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’, writes Peter in his first epistle (2:24).

This language of ‘bearing’ sin belongs to the Old Testament sacrificial system in which an innocent animal, without blemish, was sacrificed in place of the worshipper. The transfer of guilt and punishment was indicated when the worshipper identified himself with the victim by placing his hands on the head of the animal.

Substitution is also implied in Peter’s later statement: ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’ (3:18; see also 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Christ is sufficient

Secondly, the Bible emphasises that Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice was sufficient to cover all our sins: ‘Christ also once suffered for our sins… Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many…’ (1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 9:28; see also Hebrews 10:11-14).

Thirdly, we are saved wholly by what Christ did for us on the cross; there is no contribution at all that we can make to our salvation. Not even baptism is needed to supplement Christ’s work for us.

Listen to the glorious words of the gospel: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9).