Christadelphians (from the Greek for Brothers of Christ / Christ's Brethren: Christou Adelphoi; cf. Greek of - "brethren in Christ") are a Christian group that developed in the United Kingdom and North America in the 19th century. The name was coined by John Thomas, who was the group's founder. There are an estimated 50,000 Christadelphians in 120 countries.
There is no central Christadelphian organization or hierarchy and the way that congregations (commonly styled 'ecclesias') are organised is autonomous and largely down to tradition. The majority of Christadelphians belong to the Central Fellowship although there are many smaller breakaway organizations. Most ecclesias have a constitution and take as a 'basis of fellowship' belief in certain fundamental doctrines summarised in an accepted Statement of Faith. The most common of these is the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF), named after an ecclesia in central Birmingham. A formalised list of 'the Commandments of Christ' is also usually included with the constitution. With no central authority there has been a strong emphasis on maintaining correct doctrine (often referred to as 'the Truth') and the Statement of Faith is seen by many as necessary to keeping the purity and structure intact. The Statement of Faith acts as the official standard of most ecclesias to determine fellowship within and between ecclesias, and as the basis for co-operation between ecclesias. The organisational beliefs and framework is also maintained by ex-communication (called disfellowship) of those who are considered either immoral, have 'wrong beliefs' or simply challenge the consensus of the way things are done too forcefully.
The relative uniformity of organization and practice is undoubtedly due to the influence of a booklet, written early in Christadelphian history, called A Guide to the Formation and Conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias. It is designed to be a democratic arrangement where 'brothers' are voted into arranging duties and a lot of the actual arrangements revolves around committees. Christadelphians do not have paid ministers. Male members are assessed for their eligibility to teach and perform other duties, and these are usually assigned on a rotation basis, rather than having a designated preacher. Governance typically follows a democratic model, with an elected arranging committee for each individual ecclesia. This unpaid committee is responsible for the day-to-day running of the ecclesia and is answerable to the rest of the ecclesia's members.Anyone who publicly assents to the doctrines described in this statement and is in good standing in their "home ecclesia" is generally welcome to participate in the activities of any other ecclesia.
Inter-ecclesial organizations co-ordinate the running of, among other things, Christadelphian schools and elderly care homes, the Christadelphian Isolation League (which cares for those prevented by distance or infirmity from attending an ecclesia regularly) and the publication of Christadelphian magazines.
Due to the way the Christadelphian body is organised there is no central authority to establish and maintain a standardised set of beliefs and therefore the beliefs of Christadelphians can only be established by an understanding of their history and present condition. The Statement of Faith as stated above is the nearest thing to an authority on what Christadelphians believe, but after 150 years there are variances of approach and differences are tolerated in some ecclesias. However officially there are a list of 30 doctrines to be accepted and 35 to be rejected. In practice different congregations give different amounts of leeway, so whilst there is a general and historical understanding of what Christadelphians believe the true state is one of flux with a liberal wing and those who seek to maintain the original historical base understandings (sometimes called logos ecclesias). In other words there is a blend of official positions, tradition and social acceptability and the movement is evolving and beginning to question itself on many aspects both of what it believes and its emphasis on various issues. The degree of leeway varies within different congregations and how far the questioning goes and whether the issues raised are considered 'core issues' or not.
The following is a short summary of the core Christadelphian doctrinal beliefs written in the BASF which are widely accepted and historically consistent. Christadelphians state that their beliefs are based wholly on the Bible, and they accept no other texts as inspired by God. They believe that God is the creator of all things and the father of true believers, that he is a separate being from his son, Jesus Christ, and that the Holy Spirit is the power of God used in creation and for salvation. They also believe that the phrase Holy Spirit sometimes refers to God's character/mind, depending on the context in which the phrase appears., but reject the orthodox Christian view that we need strength, guidance and power to live the Christian life from God's Holy Spirit, believing instead that the Bible is a 'Spirit-word' and that we have the 'spirit' to the degree that we 'have the Bible in us' and have internally made it real in our own hearts.
Christadelphians assent that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah, in whom the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament find their fulfilment. They believe he is the Son of Man, in that he inherited sin-prone human nature from his mother, and the Son of God by virtue of his miraculous conception by the power of God. Although he was tempted, Jesus committed no sin, and was therefore a perfect representative sacrifice to bring salvation to sinful humankind. They believe that God raised Jesus from death and gave him immortality, and he ascended to Heaven, God's dwelling place. Christadelphians believe that he will return to the earth in person to set up the Kingdom of God in fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham and David. This includes the belief that the coming Kingdom will be the restoration of God's first Kingdom of Israel, which was under David and Solomon. For Christadelphians, this is the focal point of the gospel taught by Jesus and the apostles. Christadelphians believe that people are separated from God because of their sins, but can be reconciled to him by becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. This is by belief in correct doctrine, through repentance, and through baptism by total immersion in water. They do not believe we can be sure of being saved believing instead that salvation comes as a result of a life of obedience to the commands of Christ After death, believers are in a state of non-existence, knowing nothing until the Resurrection at the return of Christ. Following the judgement at that time, the accepted receive the gift of immortality, and live with Christ on a restored Earth, assisting him to establish the Kingdom of God and to rule over the mortal population for a thousand years (the Millennium). Christadelphians believe that the Kingdom will be centred upon Israel but Jesus Christ will also reign over all the other nations on the earth. Some believe that the Kingdom itself is not worldwide but limited to the land of Israel promised to Abraham and ruled over in the past by David, with a worldwide empire.
Christadelphians reject a number of doctrines held by many other Christians, notably the immortality of the soul, trinitarianism, the pre-existence of Jesus Christ, the baptism of infants, the personhood of the Holy Spirit and the present-day possession of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They believe that the words devil and satan are references to sin and human nature in opposition to God. According to Christadelphians, these terms are used in reference to specific political systems or individuals in opposition or conflict. Hell is understood to refer to death and the grave, rather than being a place of eternal torment. Christadelphians believe the doctrines they reject were introduced into Christendom after the 1st century, and cannot be demonstrated from the Bible.
Marriage and family life are important. Christadelphians believe that sexual relationships are limited to heterosexual marriage between baptised believers.
Ecclesias are typically involved in evangelism in the form of public lectures on Bible teaching, college-style seminars on reading the Bible, and Bible Reading Groups. Correspondence courses are also used widely, particularly in areas where there is no established Christadelphian presence. Some ecclesias, organisations or individuals also preach through other media like video, podcasts and internet forums.
Only baptised believers are considered members of the ecclesia. However, the children of members are encouraged to attend Christadelphian Sunday Schools and youth groups. Interaction between youth from different ecclesias is encouraged through regional and national youth gatherings.
Christadelphians understand the Bible to teach that male and female believers are equal in God's sight, and also that there is a distinction between the roles of male and female members. Women are typically not eligible to teach in formal gatherings of the ecclesia when male believers are present, and do not sit on ecclesial arranging committees. They do, however: participate in other ecclesial and inter-ecclesial committees; participate in discussions; teach children, other women and non-members; perform music; discuss and vote on business matters; and engage in the majority of other activities.
There are ecclesially-accountable committees for co-ordinated evangelism, youth and Sunday School work, military service issues, care of the elderly, and humanitarian work. These do not have any legislative authority, and are wholly dependent upon ecclesial support. Ecclesias in an area may regularly hold joint activities combining youth groups, fellowship, preaching, and Bible study.
Christadelphians refuse to participate in any military because they are conscientious objectors.
There is a strong emphasis on personal Bible reading (Christadelphians can use the Bible Companion to help them systematically read the Bible each year), Bible study, prayer, and morality.
Christadelphians are a non-liturgical denomination. Christadelphian ecclesias are autonomous and free to adopt whatever pattern of worship they choose. However, in the English-speaking world, there tends to be a great deal of uniformity in order of service and hymnody.
Christadelphian hymnody makes considerable use of the hymns of the Anglican and British Protestant traditions (even in North American ecclesias the hymnody is typically more British than American). In many Christadelphian hymn books a sizeable proportion of hymns are drawn from the Scottish Psalter and non-Christadelphian hymn-writers including Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, William Cowper and John Newton. The first Christadelphian hymn book was published for the use of Baptised Believers in the Kingdom of God (an early name for Christadelphians) by George Dowie in Edinburgh in 1864. In 1865 Robert Roberts published a collection of Scottish psalms and hymns called The Golden Harp (which was subtitled "Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, compiled for the use of Immersed Believers in 'The Things concerning the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ'"). This was replaced only five years later by the first "Christadelphian Hymn Book" (1869), and this was revised and expanded in 1874, 1932 and 1964. A thorough revision by the Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association resulted in the latest (2002) edition which is almost universally used by English-speaking Christadelphian ecclesias. In addition some Christadelphian fellowships have published their own hymn books.
A more contemporary worship style is now popular in some quarters. The Praise the Lord songbook was produced with the aim of making contemporary songs which are consistent with Christadelphian theology more widely available.
In the English-speaking world, worship is typically accompanied by organ or piano, though in recent years a few ecclesias have promoted the use of other instruments and the involvement of worship leaders. This trend has also seen the emergence of some Christadelphian bands and the establishment of the Christadelphian Arts Trust to support performing, visual and dramatic arts within the Christadelphian community.
In other countries, hymnbooks have been produced in local languages, sometimes resulting in styles of worship which reflect the local culture.
The Christadelphian movement can be traced back to John Thomas an English Doctor who moved to America in the mid-19th century. Following a near shipwreck he vowed to find out the truth about life and God and initially sought to avoid the kind of sectarianism he had seen in England. In this he found sympathy with the rapidly emerging Restoration Movement in America at the time. This movement sought for a reform based upon the Bible alone as a sufficient guide and rejected all creeds. However there was no unity of interpretation of the Bible and as John Thomas developed in his beliefs he became a contentious member of the movement writing journals and seeking debate. The history of this can be read in the book 'Dr. Thomas, His Life and Work' by Robert Roberts. He challenged his associates to continue with the process of restoring first century Christian beliefs and correct interpretation through a process of debate. In this desire to seek to establish Biblical truth and test out orthodox Christian beliefs through independent scriptural study he was not alone and amongst other churches he also had links with the Adventist and Church of the Blessed Hope. During this period of formulating his ideas he was baptised three times, each time renunciating the beliefs he previously held. This led to him being disfellowshipped by the Restoration movement with some people rejecting him for his contentiousness and others having sympathy for his aims.
Although the Christadelphian movement can be shown to originate through the activities of John Thomas he never sought to set up disciples. Rather he advocated for what he saw as the truth and some people were favourable in various degrees with the positions he established. Following his disfellowship he also toured England and subsequently wrote in 1849 (a decade and a half before the name Christadelphian was conceived) Elpis Israel in which he laid out his understanding of the main doctrines of the Bible.
Since his medium for bringing change was print and debate it was natural for the origins of the Christadelphian body to be associated with journals and books, namely the 'Herald of the Kingdom' and 'the Ambassador' (which later became 'The Christadelphian'. After his death this allowed the emerging movement to be influenced heavily by Robert Roberts and others who sought to establish the unique beliefs espoused by John Thomas into a creedal basis in Statements of Faith. Some of this process can be found in the book 'Robert Roberts - A study of his life and character' by Islip Collyer.
One of the arguments that have always been set against the Christadelphian movement is the incredible nature of the claim of John Thomas and Roberts Roberts to have rediscovered scriptural truth. It implied the true Christian doctrines were lost since very the very early days of Christianity despite well meaning men and sincere Christians. Attempts have since been made to try to establish a history of people with similar beliefs, particularly notable being Alan Eyre with two books 'the Brethren in Christ' and 'The Protesters in which they found evidence to show many many of their beliefs had been previous believed. In particular these are found within the Radical Reformation, particularly among the Socinians and other early Unitarians.
Groups associated with John Thomas met under various names, including Believers, Baptised Believers, the Royal Association of Believers, Baptised Believers in the Kingdom of God, Nazarines (or Nazarenes) and The Antipas until the time of the American Civil War. At that time, church affiliation was required to register for conscientious objector status and in 1865 Thomas chose for registration purposes the name Christadelphian.
These groups were consolidated into a community as a degree of uniformity in belief and practice was established, largely due to the organisation of Robert Roberts. The denomination grew in the English-speaking world, particularly in the English Midlands and parts of North America.
A number left in 1873 and became known as the Nazarene Fellowship, a small, separate religious denomination still in existence.
In 1884-5 a dispute arose concerning the inspiration of the Bible. Robert Ashcroft, a leading member, wrote an article which challenged commonly held views about inspiration which led to a division in the main body. One group formed a new ecclesia which later met in Suffolk Street, Birmingham. Other ecclesias throughout the world which supported them became known as the Suffolk Street Fellowship to distinguish itself from the group they were separated from, which became known as the Temperance Hall fellowship.
Another division occurred in 1898 in what had now become known as the Temperance Hall fellowship, and centred on whether the Judgement at the return of Christ would be limited to baptised believers, or would apply to anyone who had "heard" the Gospel message. The majority, who held the latter view, wanted to modify (or amend) the statement of faith to clarify this. A minorty, however, did not accept the amendment and a division followed. Those who associated on the basis of the unamended statement of faith became known as the Unamended Fellowship, and those who have associated on the basis of the amended statement become known, when in contrast to the Unamended fellowship, as the Amended Fellowship. There is still contention today over what the original established beliefs of the Christadelphian community as a whole were prior to the controversy leading up to the division in 1898, with members of each "fellowship" claiming that their current views were the original.
The post-war period saw an increase in co-operation and interaction between ecclesias, resulting in the establishment of a number of week-long Bible schools and the formation of national and international organisations such as the Christadelphian Bible Mission (for preaching) and the Christadelphian Meal-A-Day Fund (for pastoral and humanitarian work). This was accompanied by expansion in the developing world, which now accounts for around 40% of Christadelphians.
Some Christadelphian groups which are separated to a greater or lesser degree from the main body of Christadelphians use statements of faith which differ in some regard from the BASF and from each other. The Unamended Fellowship, for example, uses the Unamended Statement of Faith (BUSF), while the Dawn Fellowship use a statement of faith which is based on the original 1886 statement of faith, but has four additions addressing issues that have arisen since that time.
Despite success in reuniting large sections of the wider Christadelphian community (e.g. see _1945-present above) and periodic efforts at reuniting smaller offshoots, there are still a number of groups who remain separate from other bodies of Christadelphians. These include the Berean Fellowship (who use precisely the same BASF as the central fellowship), the Dawn Fellowship, the Old Paths Fellowship, the Companion Fellowship and the Pioneer-Maranatha Fellowship.. However, Dawn Christadelphians and Lightstand Christadelphian Fellowships united in November 2007.
Most of the divisions still in existence within the Christadelphian community today stem from further divisions of the Berean fellowship. These differences are, to some degree, localised; for example, the Unamended Fellowship exists only in North America, and some of the others are confined to the English-speaking world. The number of aderents to these smaller groups of Christadelphians varies from approximately 1,850 members (the Unamended Christadelphians as of 2006) to groups made up of little more than one or two immediate families - resulting in a very localised difference from the majority of the Christadelphian community. On average, each of the smaller divisions number less than approximately 50 members.
There are established Christadelphian ecclesias in many countries throughout the world, along with isolated members. No official membership figures are published, although there is an estimated number, given in the Columbian Encyclopedia, of 50,000 Christadelphians worldwide (i.e. in approximately 120 countries). Census statistics are available for some countries. Estimates for the main centres of Christadelphian population are as follows: United Kingdom (18,000), Australia (9,987), Malawi (7,000), United States (6,500), Canada (3,375), Mozambique (2,500), New Zealand (1,782), Kenya (1,700), India (1,300) and Tanzania (1,000).