By Dave Moore
(This originally appeared in the March/April 1997 MCOI Journal)
Ask the average person in the street if he knows who the Christadelphians are and he probably won’t have a clue. Even most Evangelical Christians don’t know who the Christadelphians are.
Recently, the 14,000 homes of Glen Ellyn, Illinois were introduced to the Christadelphians when they received a flyer in the mail inviting interested persons to a free seminar series to be held for six weeks at the local Holiday Inn. The seminar, called “How to Study the Bible More Effectively,” would attempt, as the seminar name indicated, to help students study the Bible more effectively as well as to give a basic introduction to the Bible. The flyer emphasized the fact that the seminar was “free” and that funds would not be solicited, further stating that the Christadelphians were a group interested in helping others learn the Bible and that they had no prophetic claims, prophets, or intents of proselytizing. I decided to attend the seminars to find out, firsthand, what the Christadelphians were all about.
The six—week seminar was held in an informal atmosphere in a comfortable conference room at the Holiday Inn. Generous refreshments were provided each session, courtesy of the ladies from the local Christadelphian congregation. There were about 20 class attendees of various backgrounds, who all seemed interested in learning more about the Bible. The two Christadelphian instructors, who would periodically alternate teaching during each session, provided interesting commentary and promised they would not get involved in any theological or doctrinal content. They said their goal was to help people become more interested in the Bible and Bible study, and not to gain converts, though they said that if people wanted to investigate or attend their church as a result of the seminar, that was okay.
The course was, indeed, a basic introduction to the Bible, with an overview of content, origin, and study helps. Each attendee was provided a three—ring workbook free of charge, which contained some of the following subject headings: Background of the Bible, Why two Testaments? The role of prophecy, Overview of the Books of the Bible, The Purpose of Gods, etc. Many of the topics discussed were similar to those taught many evangelical seminaries, colleges, and on Christian radio. There was even a weekly tribute to great men who helped give us the English translation of the Bible, such as Wycliffe and Tyndale.
Students were given the incentive to attend all the classes: the instructors promised to give a free video series at the end of the six-week series to all those with perfect attendance. At the final session during the six-week, the instructors concluded the series by again stating that the Christadelphians put on a seminar as a public service at no cost, however, they only ask that we accept her literature and videos on end — times events. A couple of people from the class indicated an interest in the Christadelphian church and said they would seek more information. After “graduating” from the class, I received literature and videos, which revealed the true nature of just the Christadelphians really.
The Christadelphians originated during the early 19th century the same time. Several other religions have their origin in America. The Church of Latter-day Saints, Church of Christ, disciples of Christ Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, watchtower, Christian Science, and Christadelphian church all have origins that can be traced directly to the Campbellite Movement in the early 1800s.
The Christadelphians were founded by John Thomas, an English physician. Thomas was born in London, England on April 12, 1805, the son of a Baptist minister. In 1832, Thomas was sailing for America when his ship was in danger of sinking during a violent storm. Afraid for his life, Thomas apparently realized she hadn’t been very dedicated to God or interested in religion. Taking stock of his life, he vowed to change his ways of God allowing them to survive the ordeal. He promised to find the truth about God and dedicate himself to studying about him. Thomas made good on his file when he survived the voyage and reached America. He became a serious Bible student.
Soon after his arrival in America, Thomas was baptized by an acquaintance when it was pointed out to him that baptism was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. This was Thomas’ introduction to the Campbellite movement. The present-day Church of Christ is a direct descendent of the Campbellites and their doctrine of baptism is necessary for salvation. In 1833, Thomas was introduced to the leader of the Campbellite movement, Alexander Campbell, and the two became close friends for a time.
In 1834, Thomas moved to Richmond, Virginia, and was called to take the pulpit of a Campbellite congregation there, where Thomas also became the editor of a publication called Apostolic Advocate. During this time, Thomas’ intense independent Bible study brought to the “discovery” that the Bible did not teach the immortality of the soul. Thomas wrote:
“As to the immortality of the soul, in the popular sense of that phrase, it is no were taught in the Bible. It is dogma of pagan philosophers, especially of Plato. Was adopted by origin, and other corrupters of the Christian church, as revealed truth.”1John Thomas, quoted by Norman Fadelle in John Thomas and His Rediscovery of Bible Truth, Appendix 3, 1982
Instead, Thomas believes that the souls of the dead went into an unconscious state rather than a conscious existence and heaven or hell. Thomas believes the dead would remain unconscious forever unless they’re resurrected by God. This belief apparently led Thomas to reconsider other traditional Christian doctrines, such as the existence of hell, the nature of God, and even salvation itself. It should be pointed out that Thomas, while apparently being an intelligent man and a physician, did not receive any theological, hermeneutical, or other formal religious training except what he gleaned for himself from his own Bible study and from the influence of others.
It was soon after this “discovery” that Thomas “rediscovered” other new “truth” about the Bible and other widely—held doctrines of the church. These “discoveries” led to the break of the Campbellites (as even they did not approve of Thomas’s new interpretations) which led Thomas to form an independent following or sect. Thomas called each individual congregation of the sect an “ecclesia” (Greek for “church”), though they all unofficially were known as “Thomasites” by outsiders.
Thomas went overseas and took his teachings home to England, where he also developed a following. At the outbreak of the Civil War in the U.S., Thomas preached pacifism. In 1864, the sect took the official name “Christadelphians” (Brethren in Christ) when the U.S. government required pacifistic religious denominations to register for the draft in order for their followers to be exempt from it. The Christadelphians grew into a church that claimed to have the scriptural truth of the apostles, which had finally been revived after being lost at the close of the first century A.D. While Christadelphians today do not consider Thomas a prophet or apostle, they credit him for finding the “truth” which, according to them, had been lost for many centuries.
Today, the Christadelphians are active around the world, especially in England, Canada, Australia, and the U.S. Actual membership numbers are not available, as there is no central office and, apparently, no attempts are made to compile statistics. Local congregations are not responsible to any district union or general assembly. Nonetheless, local Christadelphian congregations worldwide are consistent in their beliefs and teachings. In addition, the Christadelphians have a strong presence on the World Wide Web, where many Christadelphian congregations have web pages. Bible studies supervised by an experienced leader are mainly the way Christadelphians proselytize others.
Christadelphians claim the scriptures as their ONLY source of authority. They appeal to sources Evangelicals also use, such as concordances and lexicons, yet they fatally deviate from fundamental, orthodox, Biblical teaching in many respects. While they may be Evangelical sounding in their methods, they deny the basic teaching of Scripture by subtle twisting and misinterpretation. The following are some of the important distinctions:
GOD: Christadelphians believe there is only one, eternal, immortal God. They believe only the Father is God, denying the existence of a Trinity, which they claim has its origin in pagan mythology. They also deny the divinity of Christ and the personality of the Holy Spirit, which they consider God’s power or force. The Christadelphian view of God is similar to that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Dawn Bible Students. While the Christadelphians rightly claim that a correct knowledge of God is essential for salvation, it is apparent their view of God will lead them and any who believe similarly to eternal damnation.
JESUS: Thomas heretically believed that Jesus was only a man, the “Son of God” and not “God the Son,” and that Jesus did not have a pre-existence before being born. Thomas believed that Jesus could not be God because he shared the same human nature with the rest of mankind who was born under the law. Thomas reasoned that Jesus could not be part of a triune God because:
1. Jesus was tempted, whereas God cannot be tempted.
2 Jesus died, whereas God, being immortal, cannot die.
3. Jesus wearied, whereas God never “slumbers or sleeps.”2ibid, pp 27
Thomas’ reasoning here is similar to other groups that deny the deity of Christ. What they don’t consider is the dual nature of Jesus as described in the Bible, a being who is fully God AND man. When Jesus was on earth, he set aside his divine nature. His human nature could be tempted and his human body could be killed or could suffer as a human does. The Apostle Paul describes it this way:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, be¬ing in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of [sic] the cross (Philippians 2:5-8 KJV).
Christadelphians must necessarily deny and reinterpret any scriptures that indicate Jesus’ divinity and pre-existence in order to remain consistent with their heretical teaching about Jesus’ nature.
HOLY SPIRIT: The Holy Spirit, according to the Christadelphians, is God’s force or power, and not a person with traits of personality. To admit to such obviously would contradict the Christadelphian view of God and denial of the Trinity. Again, the Christadelphians demote another person of the Godhead (in this instance into an impersonal force), for which the Christadelphians must deny and reinterpret the Biblical teaching, which clearly indicates the Holy Spirit’s personality. They claim that Biblical references to any personality of the Spirit are all mere personifications of an impersonal object, which they say are similar to personifications made of impersonal objects in other parts of Scripture. Their view of the Holy Spirit is similar to that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
SALVATION: Salvation, according to the Christadelphians, is being able to enter the Kingdom of God by faith. For them, this means belief in the Bible and obedience to its requirements that men and women confess their sins, repent, be baptized, and follow Jesus faithfully.3ibid,. Appendix 6 Another way to describe their view would be this:
Belief + Baptism + Obedience = Salvation
Baptism is central to salvation for the Christadelphians. Their view is similar to that of the International Church of Christ (or Boson Church) and other churches that also believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. So important is this belief to the Christadelphians, that they even believe dual the thief on the cross had to have been baptized at some point prior to his crucifixion. Baptism, however, doesn’t guarantee salvation afterward for Christadelphians, it is only the first step. They must also remain faithful to God and live in obedience to him for the rest of their lives. Part of being faithful to God. for Christadelphians is the regular study of His word, the Bible. Thus, it becomes apparent that Bible study is a necessary part of salvation for Christadelphians, just as door-to-door work is for Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Christadelphians deny and redefine the clear Biblical teaching that salvation is by grace through faith ALONE. Fortunately for us, the Apostle Paul describes true salvation this way:
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Romans 3:27-30
For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2;8.9).
ETERNAL PUNISHMENT: As described previously, Thomas believed that the soul was not immortal and ceased to exist at death. Christadelphians deny conscious, eternal suffering and existence for the wicked after death. The eternal punishment is, to them, the ending of conscious existence for eternity. This view is similar to that of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who describe this concept as “annihilation,” and Seventh Day Adventists who call it “soul sleep,” Believers. according to the Christadelphians, will be resurrected and, thus, apparently “regain consciousness.”
THE KINGDOM: God’s Kingdom, according to the Christadelphians, is a vital part of the gospel which they say is ignored or demoted by traditional Christianity. Christadelphians believe that all believers will be bodily resurrected when Christ returns to earth, and will reign together with him in the Kingdom, with Christ as the King. The emphasis on the importance of the Kingdom for Christadelphians means they are also heavily concerned with end-times prophecy pointing toward the imminent return of Christ. Christadelphians use secular and traditional religious interests in end-times events to present their unique views to others. The content of the video series I received is almost entirely their view of end-time events.
Christadelphians, while not as well known as other groups, are making a ‘”comeback,” similar to other formerly dormant groups, such as Swedenborg. With their Evangelical approach, appeal, and high regard for the scriptures, and their lack of controlling hierarchy and sociological cultic traits, Christadelphians appear very Orthodox. These facts, along with their distorted, heretical theology, make them a formidable and spiritually-dangerous group. Much serious prayer, and careful Bible study. and good exegesis and reasoning especially are needed in contending with this group.
The Journal would like to thank our newest researcher, Dave Moore, for untangling this issue’s “spider’s web.” Dave has been a friend of Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. For several years and is a regular member of the Monday night “defend the faith” group meetings. Dave is a manager with the US Postal Service and has had a longtime interest in apologetics and cults. Dave lives in Carol Stream Illinois with his wife and two daughters.